Page 33 of Bayou Hero

As the leaves overhead grew more sodden, more rain slipped through. He ignored it, though, staring at Alia, aware of the activity in the distance but unwilling to break his gaze and look that way. “I thought...I thought maybe she’d finally found the courage to leave Jeremiah, or that the old man had committed her somewhere for her drinking. But I never thought...”

...that someone had hated her enough to want her dead. Had despised her enough to leave her body inside the family crypt—

A chill passed through him, knotting in his gut. What if she hadn’t been dead when she was put inside? Dear God, what if she had been buried alive? She’d apparently been huddled next to the door. Banging on it? Screaming for help? Trying to claw her way free? Knowing she was going to die, suffering from dehydration, sweltering in the heat and humidity, horrified by what was happening with no way to prevent it or hasten it.

His stomach heaved, and he clamped one hand over his mouth.

Wishing the numbness would return, Landry got into the car. Alia did the same, starting the engine, buckling her seat belt. It took only a few minutes to reach Mary Ellen and Scott’s house, where she took advantage of an empty space in the driveway. Guests were visible through the open windows and gathered in small groups on the veranda. No doubt they had wondered what had taken so long for the immediate family to return, and now, seeing only him and the girls, they began stepping outside, staring, speaking in low voices to one another. The only face he was happy to see was Miss Geneva’s. As he freed the girls from the backseat, he instructed them to go straight to the housekeeper and tell her he’d talk to her in a minute.

Mariela and Faith knew when to press their luck. Ordinarily, they would have stopped at each group of people who called their names, but this time they did exactly as he requested, not talking to anyone until they reached Geneva.

Landry walked around to the driver’s door, and Alia rolled down the window. There were about a dozen things he could say, but not one of them could make its way past the shock keeping him stiff and cold. He settled on the easiest. “Thanks for the ride.”

“You’re welcome. Let me know how Mary Ellen is.” She offered him a business card, identical to the one he’d left in the backyard on Monday, and their fingers touched when he took it. It was the same contact he made every day, passing drinks to customers, taking credit cards, returning change, impersonal, over and done with in seconds.

Except this time. It felt anything but impersonal: sympathetic, reassuring, just plain...nice. He looked at the cell number, an easy one to recall, and slid it into his coat pocket.

“When you find out something about Camilla...”

“I’ll let you know.”

The coroner could tell them a few interesting facts—how Camilla died, when—but would he be able to answer the important stuff, like how she had wound up inside a sealed tomb? Had she gone willingly with the person who locked her inside or been forced by someone armed, someone dangerous? Had she been conscious and alert or drugged only to awaken alone in the dark? Would the coroner have an explanation for what kind of sick person chose a nightmare like this to kill?

Someone called his name from the steps—a cousin on the Landry side of the family, he thought—and he glanced that way before looking back at Alia. He didn’t have anything else to say, though. She smiled faintly, waited for him to step back, then pulled out of the driveway.

Hands in his pockets, he climbed the porch steps where all the little knots of people were consolidating into one large crowd. Ignoring their looks, he wrapped his arm around Geneva’s shoulders and walked inside with her and the girls, located Scott’s parents and went onto the sunporch to break the news.

* * *

Nothing spoke to Alia’s soul like the blues on a rainy New Orleans evening.

She stood just inside the doors of Blue Orleans, listening to the mournful wail of a solitary saxophone, its notes high and clear, sending a wave of melancholy and pleasure and pure emotion through to her bones.

The bar was crowded, every table occupied, customers three-deep at the bar. Given the rain that flowed in small rivers down the street, she would bet most of the customers were tourists, unwilling to let a little bad weather interfere with their limited time in the Big Easy. Umbrellas lay scattered beneath tables, and cheap ponchos dangled from chair backs, their advertising visible only in folds. Raucous laughter echoed off the high ceiling, bounced off the brick walls and drifted out the four sets of open double doors, the best kind of advertising: fun being had here.

According to her notes, Landry had an apartment in the building, somewhere through the locked gate around to the right. She could have called him—could have waited until working hours on Monday—but she’d been in a mood to get out, to remind herself that the city was still filled with polite, funny, rude, arrogant, living people, that not everything right now was about death.