Page 30 of Bayou Hero

“Here you go.” She tugged the tie over her head, stepped closer and lowered it over his head. It took her seconds to straighten, snug, slide, and then she stepped away again.

But he still smelled her. No longer than the tie had been around her neck, no more than it had touched her bare skin, it had picked up traces of her perfume, rich and sexy and intimate.

He hoped it stayed with him through the rest of the day.

* * *

By two thirty-seven that afternoon, Alia was officially pooped. First, it was about a hundred and ninety degrees outside, and the accompanying humidity hovered somewhere around “that’s impossible.” Second, even low heels that weren’t supposed to torture her feet did torture them after three hours constantly moving at the Davison home, the church and the cemetery. Third, dehydration had kicked in because she got minimal bathroom breaks, which prevented her from drinking anywhere near the amount of water she needed to stave off the heat and sweat.

“Thank God it’s almost over.” Jimmy swiped a handkerchief across his forehead before returning it to his pocket. He’d just returned from checking in with everybody around the perimeter of the cemetery.

Alia hadn’t counted how many NCIS agents and police officers were there. The admirals who’d traveled in from various commands, their white dress uniforms a splendid contrast to the many dark outfits, had brought their own security details with them. But those agents’ focus was on protecting their own flag officer, not assisting in the surveillance.

Thanks to digital photography, Alia and Jimmy would have snapshots of every single person in attendance, of who was talking to whom, who prayed fervently and who didn’t pray at all, who seemed particularly grief-stricken, resigned, sad or, more importantly, unconcerned or even satisfied.

Odds were good they would get a shot of the killer. The investigative team just had to recognize it.

Though the casket had been open at the church—the admiral visible from the middle up, his expression stern, his dress white coat covered with row after row of medals—there had been no reception line. After the final prayer, the casket had been secured, and the pallbearers, half navy, half civilian, had carried the casket outside and to the hearse.

So the mourners had formed a ragged reception line here in the cemetery, near the vehicles, with live oaks for shade, a good distance from the family crypts. Endless handshakes, hugs, words of regret. Did it mean anything to them? Alia wondered. Mary Ellen seemed the type to find comfort in so many people saying good things about her father. Landry looked like walking home barefoot on sunbaked pavement sounded more enticing than hearing a second’s more praise about Jeremiah.

“As soon as the others leave, the cemetery workers will open the crypt.” Jimmy gestured toward the structure twenty feet away that reminded her of a small marble temple with elaborate carvings on the outside. “They’ll slide him inside, then seal it up until the next family member croaks. If it’s less than a year and a day, the next one will have to go into another crypt. That’s why so many families have more than one.”

Alia blocked a bead of sweat before it reached the corner of her eye, then wrinkled her nose in a sniff. “The flowers are going bad.”

Jimmy laughed. “Haven’t you ever smelled decomp? Bodies stink, sweet pea, and nothing out here seals totally airtight. A little stench escapes in all cemeteries.”

“I try not to hang out in cemeteries,” she retorted.

With the number of mourners dwindling, the cemetery workers who would finish the burial moved to the Jackson crypt, one carrying a wide broom with a long handle, just like the one her dad used for sweeping out his garage. It brought her a shudder.

While they went to work, she deliberately shifted her attention to the small group of people still talking under the trees. Mary Ellen and Scott, their daughters’ hands gripped between them. Two older couples, husbands and wives: Miss Viola’s children and their spouses, Jimmy had said. Landry, a few feet off to the side, his back to her, hands in his pockets, looking at something she couldn’t identify.

She’d watched him off and on through the service, as circumstances allowed. A lot of mourners had greeted him with hugs and kisses on his cheek—female mourners, most old enough to be his parents’ friends, the others young enough to be the friends’ daughters, girls he had grown up with. Everyone from the navy side of the house had shaken hands with him, but at least some of the civilians in outrageously expensive custom suits—Jeremiah’s friends, best bet—had hardly acknowledged that he was there.

Interesting.

Hot, tired, anxious to get out of the sun, she was thinking an early dinner would be nice, comfort food that she could take home, curl up on her couch and make happy with, when the sky darkened and a breeze stirred her clothes. It was damp and smelled of rain, sweet scents that teased heartlessly through the summer days, occasionally delivering, just as often scudding away without spilling more than a few drops. A thunderstorm sounded so appealing—would make her comfort food that much more comforting and be the perfect ending to this sucky day.

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