Page 2 of Bayou Hero

Three people efficiently killed and one overkilled. It was safe to assume he’d been the real target, and the others had merely been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jeez, how could being asleep in your own bed be the wrong place at the wrong time?

“You wanna go in?”

She could think of a hundred things she’d rather do, but she nodded and followed him to the back door, where the officer standing guard offered them both gloves and protective booties. The door was an old-fashioned one made of wood with a nine-paned window looking out. The pane closest to the knob was broken out.

The door opened into a space that did double duty as mudroom and laundry room, and then into a kitchen. The house might be two hundred years old, but the kitchen was definitely of the twenty-first century. Appliances, surfaces, cabinets—all were top-of-the-line and pricey. The commercial-grade stove and the refrigerator alone cost more than everything in her little house combined.

The smell of coffee coming from the maker on the countertop made her mouth water. “Is that on a timer?”

“Yeah.” It was a crime scene tech who answered. “No help there.”

Jimmy came to a stop beside the body facedown on the kitchen floor. “Constance Marks, age twenty-four. That’s her blue pickup out there. Self-employed, worked for the admiral, his daughter and some of their friends.”

Constance was slim and tanned, wore shorts with a lot of pockets and sneakers with good support, and her blond hair was matted with blood on the crown. More blood stained her shirt and seeped onto the cream-and-white tile of the floor. All that outdoor work had given her solid muscles, which hadn’t mattered a damn in the end.

“The servants’ quarters are down here.” Jimmy led the way through a door between the refrigerator and the wine cooler. Several doors opened off the hallway—a pantry, a closet—and at the end was a living room, kitchen, two bedrooms, and a bath. The rooms were small, the furnishings good but worn. Judging by the kitchen, no expense had been spared in the main house, while none had been wasted here.

Crime Scene Unit techs were at work in both bedrooms. The smells of blood and bodily waste were strong in the air, competing with the scents of furniture polish and antiseptic cleaner. Jimmy stopped in the doorway on the right. “Laura Owen. She put up a struggle—broke the lamp on the nightstand and knocked a pillow off the bed. She has defensive wounds on her hands.”

Laura lay on her side, a pair of thick-lensed glasses broken next to her. She was short, chubby and her face bore the distinctive features of Down syndrome. Her nightgown was white cotton, sleeveless, covered with pastel bunnies, and a ragged stuffed rabbit lay on the floor near her, its floppy ear just touching the blood.

“What kind of guy kills a mentally disabled kid just for being here?” Jimmy asked with a shake of his head.

“You think a low IQ should be a disqualifying condition for murder?” The CSU techs snickered. “Then you’d be safe, wouldn’t you?”

Alia turned across the hall to the other bedroom, and Jimmy followed her. “Wilma Owen. Killed in her sleep. No defensive wounds.”

Wilma Owen was in her late sixties, maybe early seventies, her hair white, her face bearing the lines of long life and troubles. If not for the blood that turned much of her bedding red, she would appear peacefully asleep.

Alia stepped back as two ME’s investigators came in with body bags, then she and Jimmy returned the way they’d come. “Any sign of forced entry besides the broken glass in the rear door?”

“No. And that lock’s not double-keyed, so someone could get in there easily.”

They walked through a swinging door into the formal dining room, filled with antiques. Jeremiah Jackson might have spent his life serving his country, but there’d been no need. His ancestors had amassed a fortune before the Civil War and had been among the few to hold onto it postwar. Jeremiah could have lived in luxury without ever working a day.

First question of a homicide investigation: who stood to benefit from the victim’s death?

They left the dining room for a broad hallway, easily bigger than some of the rooms. The rugs underfoot were old and valuable, the furniture costly, the art objects rare. And the man who’d owned it all had worked seventy and eighty-hour weeks, deploying for months at a time, missing important family events, being an absentee husband and father for thirty years.

As they approached the elaborate front door, she gestured toward the alarm keypad nearby. The light glowed green. “Was the alarm set?”

“We’re guessing not. You know how many people invest in fancy alarm systems, then not use them. Somebody like Jackson probably thought he was above common crime.”