Page 11 of Bayou Hero

He could let her go—should let her go—but the idea of her questioning Miss Viola alone made a muscle twitch at the back of his neck. The old lady knew all the family secrets. She also knew to keep them to herself. He trusted her on that. At least, he always had.

It was Kingsley he didn’t trust.

“I’m headed that way. I’ll give you a ride.”

She stopped, maybe twenty feet away, and gave him a steady look. He would bet she didn’t believe his plan to go by the Fulsom house was more than a minute old, but she returned to the driveway, opened the passenger door and slid into the seat. She rested her hands in her lap. Long fingers, no jewelry, unpolished nails. Was there no Mr. Special Agent Kingsley, or was she one of those people who preferred to not wear a wedding ring?

As he backed the car into the street, he waited for her to start with a new line of questions. She didn’t. She didn’t complain about the heat in the car, didn’t ask him to turn on the air-conditioning for the short drive. For all she made her presence known, he could have been alone.

When he pulled into Miss Viola’s drive for the second time that morning, she undid her seat belt and opened the door. “You don’t have to get out. I can introduce myself.”

“Right.” He shut off the engine. Obviously she didn’t want him interfering in her interview, but not quite as much as he didn’t want Miss Viola letting anything slip.

They climbed the steps, and he rang the bell. A pretty redhead answered, let them into the foyer and left to get Miss Viola. He stood, hands in his pockets, and hoped his cousin was taking a nap, heading out the door to an appointment that couldn’t wait or entertaining someone she wouldn’t put off just to talk to a cop. The mayor would be nice, the governor even better. Both were frequent guests.

No such luck. A moment later she came into sight, a smile creasing her face. “This is my lucky day, seeing you again so soon after the last time.” Her gaze shifted from him to the investigator, but he had no intentions of providing introductions. He wasn’t here to make things easier for Alia.

“Ms. Fulsom, I’m Special Agent Alia Kingsley with NCIS. That’s the Naval—”

“I know what it is. I watch TV. That Special Agent Gibbs is a fine-looking man, isn’t he?” She sighed, then turned serious. “I assume you’re here about Jeremiah.”

“Yes, ma’am. Is there someplace we can talk privately?”

Miss Viola’s frail hand fluttered in his direction. “Oh, honey, Landry knows everything I do. Jeremiah was his father, after all. We’ll go into the library.” She gestured to the door behind Alia. “The furniture is much more comfortable than the antiques in the rest of the house. Landry, will you bring us iced tea, please?”

Why couldn’t she just ask the housekeeper to bring it? he groused. But for the most part, when Miss Viola asked, he obeyed. After giving Alia a sharp look, he went down the hall to the kitchen.

* * *

Landry didn’t want to leave her alone with Miss Viola. Alia considered that as she followed the woman into the library. Was it just distrust? Or because, turning Ms. Fulsom’s words around, she knew everything about Jeremiah that Landry did? Including what had come between father and son.

“You have a lovely home,” she said as she took a seat in a black leather chair. The sides curved around, almost like a cocoon, and the cushions had just the right amount of give. It was quite possibly the most comfortable chair she’d ever sat in, and as a bonus, it swiveled and rocked, too.

“It is. I’d give you a tour, but the interesting parts are upstairs, and I don’t go up there anymore. Broken hip. Last year. My children turned the ladies’ parlor and a few other rooms into a bedroom suite for me, and I haven’t been upstairs since.”

Her stab at being social taken care of, Alia went right into her questions. Maybe she would learn something before Landry returned. “Ms. Fulsom—”

“Oh, call me Viola like everyone else.”

Alia smiled politely. “Miss Viola, how long have you known the admiral?”

“All of his wo—” Viola stopped, grimaced, then finished. “Life.”

What had she been about to say? His worthless life?

“You don’t regret his passing.”

“That would be unchristian of me, wouldn’t it?” Then the woman shrugged. “I’ve been a good Christian my entire life. God will forgive me this lapse, don’t you think?”

“Why did you dislike him?”

“Did you know him?” she asked in a manner that suggested that would be explanation enough. “The way he treated Camilla, the children, everyone he thought was somehow inferior to him—which included pretty much everyone he ever met.”