Today, we originally planned to interview our prolific author Kent Conwell, but he has been interviewed twice already on this blog, and so we thought up something else for a change: Today, we'll just let his novel speak for itself. Below, you'll find the next to last scene of Kent's Tony Boudreaux mystery, cycle 6, The Diamonds of Ghost Bayou.
I turned around in time to see him pulling his revolver. I lunged at him, knocking the magnum from his hand and sending both of us to the deck of the careening powerboat.
He dug his finger into my throat. “I’ll kill you. If it’s the last thing—“
I slammed a fist into his face, smashing his nose. Blood spewed over both of us. I hit him again, sending him tumbling against the gunwale.
I jumped to my feet just as the bow of the Wellcraft smashed into a thick cypress, sending both of us flying through the night into the black water. Moments later, the boat exploded, lighting the swamp with leaping yellow flames. The blazing fire would bring every alligator within five miles.
Even before I hit the water, I was flailing my arms, swimming for the nearest cypress with all my strength.
The towering tree couldn’t have been more than ten feet away, but it seemed like ten miles.
Nothing had ever felt as good as the rough bark of the cypress against my palm. I admit I was scared when I was swimming, but nothing compared to the fear I felt that last few seconds in the water before I shinnied up the cypress, ignoring the more than even chance of running into snakes in the tree.
When I was about ten feet up, I looked down. My blood ran cold when I saw several wakes converging on the inferno.
From somewhere back in the darkness, I heard a scream, and the churning of water. I searched the firelight for sign of Sheriff Lacoutrue, but saw no sign of him.
I clung to the cypress, my feet resting on protruding branches. The fire died away as the powerboat sank beneath the black waters of the swamp. I caught my breath when I spotted a wake moving away from the boat toward me. There was just enough reflection from the fire to see the eight-foot alligator lift its scaly head and open its toothy jaws. I don’t know if that sucker could see me or not, but there was no question in my mind he knew that somewhere above him in that cypress was something good to eat.
Flexing my stiffening fingers about the branches to which I clung, I glanced over my head into the darkness of the tree above. If I could hang on until morning, then I had a chance. Maybe there was a fork above that would afford me a chance to rest.
A flickering of lights fluttered through the trees. Despite my disregard for local superstition, my first thought was of the feu follet. Then a spotlight cut through the thick stand of cypress trunks.
The strong beam wound its way through the trees, steadily growing closer. “Here! Over here,” I shouted, knowing chances were slim that anyone in the approaching boat could hear me.
Then I heard Valsin. “Boudreaux! Where you be at? Boudreaux!”
If I am ever fortunate enough to hear heavenly voices, they couldn’t be any sweeter than his.
“Valsin! Over here.”
The Ranger powerboat began to take shape in the peripheral glow of its spotlight. I made out Valsin behind the wheel, and his two brothers, August and Dolzin at his side.
Then the brilliant beam of light hit me.
“There he be,” one of the brothers shouted.
Skillfully, Valsin guided the Ranger forward, gently bouncing off the protruding cypress knees until the bow of the boat steadied against its trunk.
I lost no time in scampering down and stepping onto the bow. I grabbed each of them in a bear hug. “Where in the blazes did you come from? I figured I was out here for a couple days at least.”
August grabbed Dolzin by the shoulder. “Thank this one. He be shoeing one of T-Ball’s horses when he hear T-Ball talk to sheriff about dumping you in the swamp.”
“That be right,” Valsin added. “We call you at your friends, but them, they say you done gone to sheriff’s.”
“By the time Dolzin and me get there, he was driving away.” August put in. “Us, we see your white pickup behind Thertule’s police car, so we follow. Valsin, he was following us in the boat. When we saw where he was taking you, we jump in boat with Valsin.”
“Oui!” August said, reaching under the console and pulling out a jar of moonshine. “We got lucky. That calls for a drink, what you say?”
Far be it from me to argue with the ones who saved my life. I reached for the jar. “I say, drink up.”
A terrified scream interrupted us. Valsin grinned. “That be the sheriff,” he drawled. “What you think, Boudreaux?”
“Probably.” I squinted into the darkness behind us. “T-Ball fell out a good piece back.”
Another scream ripped through the night. Sheriff Lacoutrue’s voice seemed to rise two octaves. “Snake. I be snakebit! Cottonmouth.”
Backing skillfully through the cypress knees, Valsin followed the spotlight with his eyes as Dolzin used it to search the dark swamp. On a distant cypress, the beam found the sheriff who was shaking his arm to throw off the cottonmouth.
The black snake went flying through the air, landing with a loud splash.
“Hurry!” Lacoutrue shouted. “Me, I got to get to the hospital.”
Just before we reached the tree, Valsin throttled back. I looked at him. “What are you doing?”
He ignored me. “You want help, Sheriff? You tell truth about old Benoit and the others.”
Panic filled Lacoutrue’s eyes. “What—me? I don’t know what you mean.”
Valsin backed away. “Too bad.”
I grabbed Valsin’s arm. “You can’t leave him. We’ve got to get him to the hospital.”
The lanky young man leered at me. “Why? We all better off leaving him out here.”
“No, no!” Lacoutrue paused, clutching his forearm. “Oui! Me, I tell you. It be T-Ball. He want Theriot’s diamonds. He kill old Benoit.”
Valsin back farther away. “The truth, Sheriff. Me, I want the truth, the whole truth.”
Chewing on his bottom lip, Sheriff Thertule Lacoutrue wore a deer-in-the-headlights look on his face before dropping his chin to his chest. “Oui. Me and T-Ball, we plan it.”
I spoke up. “What about your deputy, Thibodeaux?”
“No. He know nothing. He just dumb Cajun. He do whatever I say.” Lacoutrue went on to spill it all, incriminating himself as well as T-Ball and the latter’s three thugs, Mule, Turk, and Buzz.
Deputy Thibodeaux met us at the boathouse, where I gave him the whole story. When I finished, Lacoutrue tried to crawfish, to back away from his confession, but when the deputy promised to threaten Mule with murder one, Sheriff Lacoutrue saw the proverbial handwriting on the wall.
All we found of T-Ball was half of his shirt.