Page 38 of Bayou Hero

Did DiBiase have regrets? When he looked at her, worked a case with her, shared a meal with her, did he wish they were still together?

The waitress set their food in front of them, and Alia removed the silverware from her napkin before shaking out the linen and laying it across her lap. Wasting no time, she peeled a jumbo shrimp, coated it liberally with cocktail sauce and took a bite before closing her eyes and sighing. “Mmm. Ketchup, of course. Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, horseradish and...” She dipped the shrimp again, took another bite, her brow wrinkling. “There’s something else...”

Landry leaned across to pick up the glass. One sniff, and he answered for her. “Gin.” At her glance, he shrugged. “When you spend eight to ten hours a day pouring booze, you get familiar with the smells.”

They both fell silent, switching their attention to their food. It had taken only a few bites of po’ boy to settle the pangs in his stomach, but he forced a few more. It had been a tough few days, he’d told Alia earlier, but the truth was, the bad days, they were still coming, with Miss Viola’s funeral scheduled for tomorrow and, soon as the coroner released Camilla’s body, hers to arrange and get through.

Seemed like a hell of a good time to take a vacation. Someplace tropical, maybe, with salt-rimmed margaritas, good food and fine-sand beaches, lying in a hammock and letting the pounding waves lull him into a state where nothing mattered but that minute, that drink, that nap, that meal.

He was feeling a little lulled right now: the hammock turning into a chair, the margarita looking and tasting more like a beer, rain pounding instead of waves, good food and definitely good company.

Alia had finished the shrimp and was squeezing lemon over the oysters, nestled in their shells on a bed of ice. Apparently having taken the edge off her hunger, she dried her hands fastidiously on her napkin, then fixed her gaze on him. “Want an oyster?”

“No, thanks.”

She didn’t miss a beat. “We were talking about who Camilla would have told about an affair.”

“It never would have been me or Mary Ellen. You’d do better asking her who Camilla’s friends were once she’s feeling better.”

“Maybe Miss Viola?”

He appreciated the chance to smile, however ruefully. “Oh, hell, no. Miss Viola didn’t tolerate adulterers. Her father ran around on her mother every chance he got, and the word discreetly wasn’t in his vocabulary. Her mother just shrugged and said that’s the way men are. He topped it all off by dying in a hotel room with a prostitute half his age.” He shook his head, remembering when the old lady had told him the story. She’d meant it as a teachable moment, but he’d been old enough to figure out fidelity, commitment and honor on his own. “Much as she despised Jeremiah, Miss Viola never would have forgiven Camilla for breaking her marriage vows.”

Alia sprinkled a tiny bit of salt, no more than five or six grains, on an oyster, lifted the shell and tilted it into her mouth. The look on her face was one of sheer pleasure. Food, it seemed, made her very happy.

He liked a woman who appreciated the simple things in life.

Swiping her mouth with a napkin, she took a drink, then frowned. “Well, that rules out that theory. We thought Camilla might have been killed by a spurned lover, who then killed the admiral for standing in the way of his happiness, and because Miss Viola was aware of the affair, he had to silence her, as well. But if Miss Viola didn’t know...”

Then why was she killed? Landry supposed it was possible that there could have been two murderers, two motives, but he didn’t buy it for a moment. Jeremiah’s and Miss Viola’s deaths had to be connected. They’d lived in the same city, the same neighborhood, known the same people, had gone to the same parties, had the same kind of influence. But the only connection of any substance between them was Camilla, Mary Ellen and the girls and, more distantly, Landry. No reason there for murder.

“Could have been a family dispute of some sort,” Alia said in a dubious voice that suggested she was thinking aloud rather than putting forth a real theory.

“Except they weren’t family.”

“Yeah, there is that.” She turned her chair to face him, then drew her feet into the seat. To go with the white tank, she wore denim shorts, snug-fitting and showing a lot of shapely brown leg, and sandals. She looked younger than he felt, energy humming just below the surface but lacking any nervous habits to dispel any of it. She was still and thoughtful and prettier than he’d thought the first time he’d seen her.

...You look like every woman’s fantasy of the quintessential bad boy.

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