Page 37 of Bayou Hero

“Okay,” she challenged. “How long was it?”

“Uh...sorry, I don’t do math in my head.”

“You can’t answer because you didn’t get a starting time.” Giving him a chastising look, she waited a beat, then asked, “So, did you? Know Constance, I mean.”

Landry sighed. “Never to say more than hi-how-are-you. She was picking up new clients and working long hours. Miss Viola regretted that Constance didn’t have time to chat much anymore. Have you talked to her family and friends?”

“No, but some of our team have. She was single, loved her work and being her own boss. She dated but never exclusively. She could be a bitch at times but had a knack for dealing with difficult people. Her career goals were princess or lawn service entrepreneur, her brother said, but since there weren’t many princes seeking wives, she’d opted for the lawn service. Her five-year plan included franchises within the state; in ten years, she intended to have them everywhere.”

But then she’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time. End of hopes and goals and plans.

“Is it possible your mother could have been having an affair?” Of course once the subject had been reopened, Alia had thought of another question. No matter what she said about having a life outside of work, he’d bet this was the norm for her: focusing intently on the mystery in front of her, searching and probing until she resolved it.

Music drifting on the sodden air drew his gaze to a restaurant half a block down the street on Decatur. The blues guitar came from there, the band set up underneath the canopy that sheltered the restaurant’s patio dining area.

“I’m hungry,” he said and realized it was true. Though there had been enough food at Mary Ellen’s to feed half the city, he’d got out of there as quickly as he could, without tasting even one oyster on the half shell. “Are you?”

“I can always eat.”

They stopped, waiting for the light to turn green, and crossed the street, then he steered Alia toward the music as he finally responded to her question. “I wonder what it’s like to have a normal family, where you don’t get asked questions like, ‘Who would want your father dead?’ or ‘Was your mother sleeping with anyone other than your father?’”

“Sorry.”

She probably was, he acknowledged. But she had a job to do, and he’d already seen that she didn’t shy away from the tough parts.

They reached the brighter lights of the restaurant and within minutes were seated at a table on the patio as the band launched into an old Bobby Bland tune. There was a slight slope to the bricks that made up the patio, not even noticeable if not for thin streams of rain running toward the curb.

He ordered a shrimp po’ boy and beer; she got a shrimp cocktail, oysters and tea, and finally he returned to her question. “You’re asking a pretty personal thing about someone I only see—” Pain sliced through him, and he corrected himself. “Someone I only saw twice a year for a few hours. Anything’s possible. I’d like to think maybe she was, just to have the satisfaction of knowing she’d betrayed the old man. It would be nice to believe that, at least for a while, she’d had some guy in her life who actually gave a damn about her. But anything I say would only be a guess. I have no more idea about Camilla’s faithfulness than I’d have about yours when you were married.”

There was an extra napkin on the table. She used it to pat her face, then combed back her hair so it dripped down her back. “I had to be faithful enough for both Jimmy and me. Who would your mother have confided in?”

It took a moment for her first statement to sink in, thrown out there so casually as if it was something everyone knew or was so insignificant that she didn’t care who knew it. “Wait. Say that again?”

She pulled off her slicker, exposing her long bare arms, lacking the impressive muscles of her legs but none too shabby, either. Once she hung the jacket over the back of her chair, she tugged her tank top down, paying particular attention to the part covering the weapons he’d grown accustomed to, and then her dark gaze locked with his. “Your response indicates that you heard it perfectly well the first time.”

“And you let him live?”

She smiled. “Divorce was a lot easier than going to prison.”

What had been going through DiBiase’s mind, having a woman like this to go home to and looking elsewhere? The guy was crazy. But she seemed all right with it, now, at least. There wasn’t any hurt in her expression, no anger or regret. No leftover love, no broken heart. He’d been a fool, but she’d moved on.

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