Page 15 of Bayou Hero

Landry filled an order for one of the waitresses, who smiled coyly at DiBiase while she waited. “You two work together often?” he asked when she left to deliver the drinks. Just making conversation. He didn’t give a damn about either DiBiase or Alia Kingsley. He just wanted them out of his—and more importantly, Mary Ellen’s—life.

“Nah. We’re only doing it now because we’ve got civilians among the victims, although they tend to get lost in the admiral’s shadow.”

A lot of people had got lost in the admiral’s shadow, pretty much everyone who spent any time with him. Camilla had once said he was the sun around which the world rotated. Her smile at the time, Landry remembered, had been sickly. Sad.

“Your sister’s pretty shaken up.”

The muscles in Landry’s neck tensed. “She’s got a soft heart. She cries over roadkill.”

DiBiase chuckled, then turned serious in the space of a heartbeat. “I asked her for a list of your parents’ friends. We’d like the same from you.”

Landry filled an order for another waitress, who also smiled coyly at the cop while she waited, then traded full bottles of Corona for empties for the two guys sitting at the opposite end of the bar. When he returned to DiBiase, he said levelly, “I haven’t been part of the family for a long time. I don’t really remember any names.”

Except for Jeremiah’s special friends. He could recite those names in his sleep: a lawyer, the head of New Orleans’s largest advertising firm, a university dean, an adviser to a governor. People hidden deep in memory, frequently appearing in bad dreams.

Maybe the dreams would stop when they were all dead, too.

“See what you can come up with,” DiBiase said. Rising from the stool, he drained the last of the water, then headed out the door.

Or maybe the dreams wouldn’t stop until he was dead.

* * *

With notes scattered around her, her laptop and tablet both on the coffee table and a bowl of buttered popcorn next to her, Alia looked up to give her eyes a break. The ceiling fan swirled slowly, enough to cool, not enough to mess up her piles, and an impossibly thin woman on the television talked in an impossibly cheery voice about the miracle bra she held in her hands.

A glance at the clock showed it was nine, which made it seven in Coronado, California, where her parents lived. She called them most Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, except when social plans interfered—her parents’, not hers. She went on dates occasionally and had a girls’ night out once a month. Otherwise, it was pretty much work all the time.

How am I going to get grandchildren at this rate? her mother good-naturedly complained.

Better adopt them, was Alia’s usual response. It was her job to protect kids when she could, to get justice for them when she couldn’t. Let someone else have them. Hell, she didn’t even want a pet.

Wriggling out from under everything without upsetting it, she got to her feet and padded into the kitchen for a refill on her drink. Mornings, she mainlined coffee; during the day, she stuck with water; alone in the evenings, she drank Kool-Aid. Jimmy had given her a hard time about it until she’d put him in a wrist lock and brought him to his knees.

He’d learned not to get between a girl and her Kool-Aid.

With her glass in one hand, she grabbed a half dozen bite-size candy bars from the dish on the counter and headed back to the living room, where she traded the candy for her cell phone. Her mother answered after only two rings.

“Hey, mamacita.”

Her mother sniffed. “That’s m? to you, chica. Hold on. Your father’s trying to take the phone away from me.” There was an admonishment, then the sound of a door closing before her mom said, “I’m back.”

“I take it Dad’s seen the news.”

“The news, the internet, his old navy shipmates’ gossip loop. We saw you just for a few seconds on the national news. You looked thin.”

“I am thin, Mom.”

“Are you sleeping well?”

“Yes.”

“Eating well?”

Alia looked at the empty wrappers on the coffee table: one hamburger, superlarge fries and two tacos, along with butter-stained napkins from the popcorn. “Yep.” Was it her fault if her mother defined eating well as a balanced meal while Alia took it to refer to quantity?

Mom sniffed again. “We also saw Jimmy on that news clip. You keep your distance from him.”

“Kind of hard, Mom. We’re working the case together.”

There was a moment of silence before Lisa sighed. “I don’t know whether to be more worried about the ugly things you see or that you’re looking for a crazed killer or that you’re spending time with Jimmy DiBiase.”

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