Page 23 of Bayou Hero

That done, he turned to Alia. His gaze slid over her badge and weapons without the slightest change in expression. “I’m Matthieu DeVille. And you are?”

Landry answered for her. “A friend of the family.”

Surprised by Landry’s response, she accepted Mr. DeVille’s handshake. His skin was softer than her own. He had a better manicure, too. Did he deal only with the living, or did these hands also help prepare their clients’ bodies? She had to restrain a shiver as she quickly let go.

“If you’ll follow me, please.”

He led them through broad halls, past chapels, offices and casket-display rooms until they finally reached his office. He seated himself behind a mahogany desk, leaving two finely carved matching chairs for Alia and Landry. She didn’t want to sit down any more than Landry did, but she did.

She sat quietly, legs crossed, hands clasped and fought the impulse to tap her toes or bounce one foot in the air. She wasn’t a fidgeter, she’d told Landry, but energy bubbled and roiled inside her, needing an outlet of some sort. She concentrated on regulating her breathing and on ignoring the fact that somewhere in the building were corpses being cleaned up, dressed up, made up for their last viewing on earth.

She was going to be cremated, she decided on a breath filled with overly sweet flowers.

“What about the admiral’s personal information?” Mr. DeVille asked, looking from Landry to her. They had scheduled the service for Friday at the church the Jacksons and the Landrys had attended for more than a century; the interment would be in one of the family vaults; the family would receive mourners at Mary Ellen’s house.

“Personal information?” Landry blankly repeated.

“For the obituary. Pertinent dates, education, career highlights, surviving family.”

Alia removed her tablet from her purse and, after a quick search, found the admiral’s biography online. The page gave great detail to his education and navy career and spared one small paragraph for his family. The way of his life, she thought as she asked for Mr. DeVille’s email address.

With a word of thanks, he opened the email on his computer, then printed a copy to go into Jackson’s file. He studied the top page a moment, right about where her email address appeared: @ncis.navy.mil. His gaze flickered from the page to her, to the badge and weapons he’d noticed earlier but couldn’t see now. How many questions was he wishing he could ask? Dozens. Though in his line of work, certainly he would be the soul of discretion.

Once the paperwork was finished, DeVille escorted them back to the first of the display rooms filled with caskets. Alia would hazard a guess from all the gleaming wood and metal, silk and bronze and just pure impression the caskets made that these were the expensive ones. Jeremiah Jackson had surrounded himself with luxury in life; why would death be any different?

She walked in, looked at a few—mahogany, ash, teak, all perfectly fitted and designed as exquisitely as high-end furniture. None of them bore price tags—If you have to ask, you can’t afford it—and all of them struck her as obscene. The man was dead. Cremate him; donate any usable organs or bones; give his body to a medical school; do anything besides spend a fortune getting him from the coroner’s office to the family vault.

DeVille cleared his throat, and she turned to see that Landry hadn’t yet crossed the threshold into the room and didn’t appear likely to anytime soon. He hadn’t wanted to come here in the first place, she would bet, and damn well hated it without his sister to make the decisions.

“You knew him,” he said, his voice hoarse. “You know what Mary Ellen would want. You choose.”

DeVille couldn’t stop the fleeting surprise—and pleasure—that crossed his face, but he tamped it back into sympathetic concern. “Of course, we can do that, Mr. Jackson. Don’t worry. We’ll take care of Jeremiah as if he were one of our own. But then, he was one of our own, wasn’t he?” From an inside pocket, he produced a piece of notepaper with a flourish. “Here is a list of things to be done—meeting with Father Callaghan, choosing the music, ordering flowers, catering the family meal before the service. If you or Mary Ellen need help with any of it, please don’t hesitate to call us.”

Landry looked at the page a moment before, folding it to fit in his pocket, then walking away toward the exit.

Alia glanced after him, then shrugged. “Sorry. He, uh...”

This time DeVille’s smile struck her as sincere. “Don’t apologize. People react all kinds of ways to death. You’ve probably seen that yourself.”

Yep, he’d definitely noticed the ncis in her email address.

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