Page 31 of Bayou Hero

The next gust of breeze was harder, flapping the open edges of her jacket back enough to reveal her badge, pistol and Taser. It pulled a few strands of hair loose from its chignon and whipped her bangs to the side.

A few creaks and low conversation came from the area of the crypt. Alia stayed back far enough to get the general idea—there were some sort of fastenings holding the front plate to the marble that they had to undo—but she had no desire to match the imaginings in her head with what a real crypt looked like inside. She gazed at the family, then at the rows of tombs across the grass, some built of brick, some of concrete, most of marble, and she wondered how a cemetery had grown to encompass so much land in a neighborhood where small lots sold for six figures. Wealthy people, wanting the best address in life, apparently needed it in death, as well.

“Another minute,” Jimmy said, and without thinking, she moved her gaze back to the crypt. The front panel was loose at the top, but the workers were having trouble with the bottom right corner. After a moment, one of the men jerked it to the sound of tearing fabric. They lifted it out of place, then it clattered to the ground, banging marble on the way down.

The two men spoke at the same time, one muttering, “Holy Mother of God!” while the other shrieked a profane version of the same words. Alia remained frozen for an instant, then caught up to Jimmy’s long strides. He was speaking into his radio, calling the remaining team members to the crypt.

Abruptly he stopped, and she automatically sidestepped before pulling up short herself.

A form lay at the bottom of the crypt, dragged halfway out by the front that had snagged on fabric. It was curled into the fetal position and looked—God help her, she couldn’t let herself focus on how it looked unless she wanted grotesque nightmares for the rest of her life. Holding her hand to her nose and mouth, she focused on the clothing: shades of pink and white, a jacket, a solid pink skirt. The shoes that no longer fit the decaying feet were pink, too, finely made, Louboutin, she thought. Alia’s mother’s only vice, her father often said, was those pricy red-soled shoes she loved so much.

“I guess the mystery regarding Camilla Jackson’s whereabouts is solved.” Jimmy sounded queasy, grim. He gestured the cemetery workers to wait near a crypt off in the distance, then said sourly, “Landry and his brother-in-law are on their way over here. I’ll take care of this. You keep them away.”

“I owe you, Jimmy.” She took long strides, happy to find the air quality clearing significantly the farther she went. Catching Landry’s arm, then Scott’s with enough strength to turn them around, she said, “You can’t go over there. In fact, it’s best if you guys go home now.” Miss Viola’s family, she saw, were driving away without a clue that something had happened. Only Mary Ellen and the two girls waited next to the family car while the driver sat on a bench thirty feet away.

“What’s going on?” Landry demanded, trying to pull free of her, twisting to look over his shoulder. She didn’t let go, didn’t slow her steps but continued to force them along with her. “What happened?”

At last, he dug in his heels, turning around, blocking her way with his body, making her stop or plow into him. His eyes dark and stormy, he stared at her, silently demanding an answer. She gave it quietly.

“It appears we’ve found your mother.”

Chapter 6

Landry stared at her, the words echoing in his head, needing a minute to grasp their meaning. He looked at the crypt, at the bundle lying half in, half out. It didn’t belong there, some part of his rational brain thought. When a crypt was opened, the remains of the last person buried were swept to the back, into a sort of well. There shouldn’t be anything that close to the door, close enough to fall out.

Then that same part of his brain noticed the blond hair and the pink material—clothing—and remembered that his mother loved pink before it shut down. Blankness spread through him. He couldn’t think, couldn’t feel, couldn’t shrug off Alia’s hold and move closer.

It appears we’ve found your mother.

His stomach roiled, bile rising into his throat. He jerked his gaze back to Alia, searching her face for some sign that he’d misunderstood her words, but her features were solemn, sympathetic.

It appears we’ve found your mother.

Beside him, Scott murmured something—Oh, dear God—then a delicate hand gripped Landry’s left arm. Not Alia’s. He could still feel it, the pressure of her fingers, the warmth of her touch, on his right arm. He looked at Mary Ellen, whose pale face was marked with five days of heartbreaking grief, whose eyes were so wide that they looked as if they might pop right out of her head.