“Sounds really good. But, no, I do have to meet Detective DiBiase.”
“What, doesn’t he eat?”
“Not like he means it,” she muttered.
When they reached Miss Viola’s house, the ambulance was gone, along with the coroner’s people, and the only vehicles left were official. He was grateful. He didn’t know Miss Viola’s kids nearly as well as Mary Ellen did. About all he would have to discuss with them was the methods of their parents’ murders.
Thirty-plus stab wounds beat a shove down the stairs any day.
Alia unbuckled her seat belt and gave him a narrow-eyed look. “Mama’s Table, huh?”
“At the far end of Decatur. Don’t let the outside fool you.”
With a nod, she got out of the car and climbed the steps to the gallery. She really had great legs, he thought again, and taking down that braid would be like unraveling a puzzle of silk strands that would tangle around his fingers before sliding free.
Him taking down her braid wasn’t gonna happen, but he wouldn’t be a man if he didn’t think about it.
Landry shifted into Reverse, but just sat there a moment. He would likely never come back to Miss Viola’s house. It had always been a haven for him, a place his mother had brought him and Mary Ellen for family time out when Jeremiah was out of town, the place he’d run to for escape when Jeremiah was home. He’d never been close to his grandmothers, but it had never mattered because he’d had a cousin who was better than all the grandmothers in the world combined. He’d loved Miss Viola, and she’d loved him back.
Now he didn’t have anyone who truly understood...
Grimly he swiped one hand across his eyes, then backed out of the driveway. He had every intention of visiting Mama’s Table, as he’d told Alia, but he had to make one stop first.
Mary Ellen lay on the chaise in the sunroom, a pillow tucked beneath her cheek, its lace edging obscuring part of the writing on her nightshirt: Best Mom Ever. Her makeup had been cried off, the color washed out of her face. She was nibbling on a fingertip and looking sad and heartbroken and lost, even more so than when he’d left her to live alone with their ineffectual mother and their lousy father.
She smiled wanly. “Did you get everything taken care of?”
“Sort of. Mr. DeVille’s doing it all.”
“Oh, Aunt Louisianne will hate that. She’s held the honor for most outrageous funeral for Uncle Orland for twenty years. Mr. DeVille will surely top that for Daddy’s service.”
Landry vaguely remembered Uncle Orland’s passage, drawing a smile. “How do you top a spectacle? Harp-playing cats? Flying chimps swooping in to carry the casket away?”
Mary Ellen tried to keep her expression somber, but a tiny smile worked free. “Daddy did like a spectacle—as long as you, Mama and I weren’t involved.” When Landry pulled a stool closer and sat, she grasped his hand. “I’m so sorry I let you down today, Landry. Finding out about Miss Viola, I just couldn’t—I’m sorry you had to go to the funeral home alone.”
“I didn’t go alone. Special Agent Kingsley went with me.”
Mary Ellen’s brows arched with surprise. “I guess that’s part of the navy’s service to the grieving family.”
Only if the family member is a person of interest in the murder. Mary Ellen was so naive, so convinced of the natural goodness in everyone, that it probably hadn’t occurred to her yet that she and Landry were almost definitely people of interest.
Her fingers tightened on his hand, and shadows darkened her eyes. “Why would anyone hurt Miss Viola? She was the sweetest person in the world and would have given that precious ruby off her finger to help someone in need. God, Landry, it’s like someone has it in for our family. First Mama goes off to God knows where, then Daddy dies, and then Miss Viola—I don’t understand what’s going on!”
She drew a sobbing breath and smiled through her tears. “Bad things come in threes, they say, so the Jackson family has officially had its three. I hereby declare that nothing else will happen to us.”
Landry hoped like hell she was right.
But deep down inside, he doubted it.
“I swear, Jeremiah Jackson and Viola Fulsom had enough family, friends and acquaintances to fill a good-sized book.”
In the process of tearing open a package of vending-machine cookies, Alia glanced across the scarred conference room table at Jimmy. Though her ex had a tendency to exaggerate, this time he’d stated God’s honest truth. The Jackson and Landry families had taken to heart the advice to go forth and multiply. Add in their social, political and charitable contacts, as well as the admiral’s navy associates, and she and Jimmy had more names than they and their fellow detectives/special agents could interview in a year’s time.