Page 16 of Bayou Hero

Knowing she couldn’t reassure her mom about the first two—Lien Hieu Kingsley would never believe her daughter was grown enough to see ugly things or deal with ugly people—Alia said lightly, “I’m immune to Jimmy now.”

“You loved him so much.”

“I did. Until I didn’t.” It hadn’t been easy, especially when she’d thought he meant the vows he’d taken, but trust and love could survive only so many betrayals. One too many, and her love had stopped. One moment it was there. The next it was gone, never to return.

“Uh-oh. Your father found me. You be careful, sweetie.”

“I will, Mom.”

Again, there was the soft sound of conversation before her father came on the line. “How are you, scooter?”

“Never gonna live down that name, am I?”

“Aw, but you were so cute with that toy scooter. You rode it everywhere you went, to meet me at the door, to the dining room, to the potty.”

“I tell people you call me that because I ate scooter pies after every meal for years.”

“Well, there is that.” His chuckle was followed by a hesitation, then... “Are you assigned to the case?”

“Yes, sir.” He’d never made her call him sir. There had been Daddy, then Dad and the occasional rank. But when it came to work, well, she was an NCIS agent, and he was an admiral. Retired or not, it was hard to shake the sir.

She would bet sir or rank had been the only titles Jeremiah Junior had accepted from Landry and Mary Ellen.

Finally she got to the point of tonight’s call. “Did you know him?”

“There aren’t that many admirals. You can’t help but meet them all sooner or later.”

“What did you think of him?”

“Jerry was a good officer. Hard-nosed. Strict. By the book, but fair. He never asked more of the people under his command than he gave himself.”

“Did you ever meet his wife?”

“Hmm. Not that I can recall.”

“She and the son and daughter didn’t accompany him to any of his duty stations, but I thought maybe she’d shown up for some official functions.”

“I remember him talking about his daughter like she was the prettiest, smartest, best daughter in the world, which was ridiculous since everyone already knew that was you. But I never knew he had a son. Huh. I would have figured any son of Jeremiah Jackson would have wound up in the navy himself.”

Just like any son of Charles Kingsley’s. Alia hadn’t been willing to go quite that far, but she couldn’t deny his approval had played a role in her application to NCIS.

Though he would have loved her no matter what career path she’d chosen. Could Landry Jackson say that about his own father?

She doubted it.

“It’s gonna be one hell of a funeral,” Dad said.

“I bet it will be.” It would have been a spectacle even if he’d died peacefully in his sleep, between all the senior-ranking officers and Pentagon officials, the upper crust of New Orleans society and the city’s love of a good funeral. But with the admiral brutally murdered, his daughter in shock, his son’s presence unwilling, his wife’s whereabouts unknown and law enforcement scrutinizing everyone in attendance, it just might be a circus.

“If you weren’t working, I’d be tempted to come. Show my respects to Jerry. See New Orleans. See you. It’s been a long time.”

Alia smiled. She’d flown to California for Christmas and stayed nearly two weeks. Still, it was nice to know he missed her. “I’ll let you know all the gaudy details. Maybe someone will collapse beside the casket and confess all.”

“It would be convenient, wouldn’t it? You watch out for yourself, okay?”

“I always do, Dad.” She hung up, then unwrapped a candy bar. She bit it in half and let the chocolate slowly dissolve in her mouth while thinking about what her father had said. Jerry was a good officer. How much had Jeremiah hated being called Jerry? Likely someone who outranked him had first called him that, and others had picked up on it.

But the admiral hadn’t been murdered because he was a good officer. His death had had nothing to do with the navy and everything to do with being a privileged man who felt entitled to whatever he wanted.

So what had he wanted that led to his death?

* * *

Alia was pulling out of her driveway Tuesday morning at a quarter to eight, with an oversize travel mug of coffee in the cup holder, a .40 caliber pistol and a Taser in their holsters, and a cream cheese–slathered bagel in her left hand. It was going to be another hot and muggy day, and she expected to spend little, if any, time in the office, so she’d dressed accordingly in a sleeveless blouse and skirt with a belt to hold her badge and weapons. A jacket, to cover the weapons, sat on the passenger seat.