Page 27 of Bayou Hero

“I don’t like Vietnamese food, remember?”

She smirked as she stood again, swinging the strap of her bag over one shoulder. “Oh, Jimmy, your ego would shrivel if you knew how much I’ve forgotten about you.” It wasn’t true, but he didn’t know it. She remembered the first time they’d gone to visit her parents, the first time they’d visited her mother’s parents. The way he’d carried on, a reasonable person would have been forgiven for thinking he was going to starve to death after his first taste of pho ga, a savory chicken and noodle soup, bo luc lac and mi xao don. He’d hated lemongrass and cilantro and nuoc mam, three of her favorite food items in the world.

Landry apparently had a finer appreciation for her culture’s food.

When they walked out of the building, she automatically turned right, and Jimmy followed her. She wouldn’t force him to eat something he didn’t like, so she headed for a little Cajun place they’d frequented in their years together.

“How are your mom and dad?” he asked, holding the restaurant door for her.

“They’re fine. Mom still hates you.”

“Good to know.”

“I talked to Dad last night. He knew Jackson.”

Jimmy nodded absently, checking out the hostess who led them to a table. “Anything useful to add?”

“Nothing we haven’t already heard.” She didn’t bother with the menu the petite blonde set in front of her but looked around for the waitperson instead. Quint, a thin, young redhead and the best waiter in five square blocks, signaled one minute with his finger when he saw her, delivered drinks to another table, then swooped over to their table.

“Kingsley and DiBiase, my favorite cops.” His accent was pure Southern drawl, his blue eyes shifting from her to Jimmy. “Aw, don’t tell me you two are back together.”

“Not in this lifetime,” she replied.

His smile spread as he gave Jimmy an appreciative look. It made her ex’s cheeks turn as red as Quint’s hair.

Alia ordered her usual—a shrimp cocktail, a basket of warm bread and jambalaya, along with sweet tea—and Jimmy ordered a shrimp po’boy and bottled water.

“I talked to more people wearing khaki yesterday than I can count,” Jimmy said once Quint left to get their drinks. His reference was to the standard uniform worn by senior enlisted navy personnel and officers. She had interviewed plenty of sailors in her career; she’d been happy to let him have a run at them. “Nobody had anything interesting to say. He was a good officer, he was big on discipline and order, so on and so on. Funny thing, though—none of them knew the first thing about his family. Weren’t even sure he had one.”

“My dad never met Jackson’s wife, knew he had a daughter, didn’t have a clue there was a son.”

“You find out what caused the split between them?”

“Nope.” She tore apart a piece of still-warm rye bread, breathing deeply of its aroma. “Miss Viola knew, but she didn’t tell me anything he didn’t want me to know.” After a pause to butter the bread, she added, “Landry said he wished he’d killed Jeremiah.”

The comment made no more impact on Jimmy than it had on her. “That’s one of the problems with homicide. A lot of people who get murdered tend to do something to deserve it. We just have to find out what that was.”

And why Miss Viola had to die, too.

* * *

Friday promised to be the hottest day so far this year. Given a choice, Landry wouldn’t leave this block. He would get a mess of shrimp from the restaurant across the street, pick up a newspaper and a tall glass of iced tea, settle into a chair in the courtyard near the fountain and let the lazy breezes and the sharp-edged rays of the sun lull him into a stupor.

But he didn’t have a choice.

Facing the mirror over the bureau, he tried one last time to knot the tie draped around his neck without any more success than the first three times. He swore, thought how Jeremiah would react to his inability to tie a simple knot and smiled tautly.

The light gray suit was uncomfortable. He had no use for dressy clothes, so he’d bought it just for this occasion. The dress shirt had a crisp, freshly pressed smell to it, and the shoes, also new, made him wish for sandals. There was a reason he lived in jeans, cargo shorts and T-shirts or aloha shirts. They suited him, didn’t choke him and didn’t remind him in the least of the life he’d escaped.

Yet in the end, the bastard had managed to drag him back into it.

Leaving the tie dangling, he scooped up his keys and cell and left the apartment. The family—extended to include a few aunts, uncles and cousins—were meeting at Mary Ellen and Scott’s, where the family cars would pick them up for delivery to the church. With all the lying that would be going on, he hoped they made it through the service without God striking someone dead.