Chapter One

Most people considered Ancil Gagnon a recluse, but he was not a recluse. There were times when he felt a great need to interact with people, to intimidate people, sometimes to hurt people, but he didn’t want to live where they lived. He had enough experience in the outside world to handle it if he had to, but he didn’t have to. Unlike most of his clan today, he was perfectly capable of living where he was born some seventy years ago—in a virtually inaccessible region of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

Outsiders could only imagine the hardships of a solitary life in the wilderness, but there were great advantages, too. Today, after he killed the mayor’s son, he would return to his shanty in the remote swampland, where not even his own kin, save his brother, Oz, knew where to find him.

A January afternoon on the Gulf Coast could be sunny and seventy degrees, like today, or blustery and thirty. To Gagnon, one was as good as the other. The thing he liked most about winter was the fact that there weren’t nearly as many boats churning up the rivers as there were in the other seasons. He didn’t like how it got dark so early, though. It cramped his hunting, fishing and trapping. Here it was four o’clock, and he was running out of daylight.

There was a familiar sense of excitement growing in his chest as he approached the mayor’s house. He could see it about a half mile ahead on the bend in the river, up on a hill. He cut his motor and began to cruise in the dark shadows of the tree line. He thought about his brother, and how he was missing out. They were alike in almost every way, except that when he felt like doing something, he did it, and Oz always held himself back for one reason or another. Ancil couldn’t understand it. To him, a guy needed a thrill every once in a while—needed to make his presence felt in the world.

Gagnon put ashore in the woodsy area at the edge of the mayor’s yard, and approached the guest house with a rope in his hand. Just as they had told him, the main house on the street at the top of the long, sloping back yard was dark. The guest house had a light in one room. It was a one-story structure but from the river it looked like a two-story house, because it was built into an incline, so it had an exposed basement wall beneath a deck.

The basement door was unlocked, as promised. Gagnon slipped into the house and crept up the stairs.