Page 4 of Bayou Hero

“The splatter is cast-off from the knife.” Jimmy gestured to the deadly blade still sticking out of Jackson’s chest. “It’s a butcher knife from downstairs.”

“Time of death?”

“About 5:00 a.m., best guess. We’ll know more when we get him on the table,” answered the coroner’s investigator. “He was likely asleep. Didn’t even get his hands up to defend himself.”

“So someone comes here, breaks in without a weapon and kills four people?” What’s wrong with this picture? It wasn’t a burglary gone wrong—too many small items of great value left in place. It wasn’t a planned murder. No one on a mission to kill would come without a weapon. That left a crime of passion or a killer too disorganized to plan. A killer with serious psychological problems. “Is anything obvious missing?”

“Don’t know,” Jimmy said. “The daughter’s going to come over tomorrow, after the bodies have been removed, and take a look around. She’s here four, five times a week according to the neighbor.”

He gestured to the door, and she went back into the broad hallway.

“Remember when you served me with divorce papers, you said that was the end of us?” He grinned that big ole grin. “Guess you were wrong about that. Sweet pea, we’re gonna be working this case together. You’re gonna be my partner.”

* * *

Landry Jackson had driven to the Garden District intending to go straight to his sister’s house, but he hadn’t been able to resist stopping at the family home. He’d parked a few blocks over, added a baseball cap to help the dark shades for a bit of camouflage and had been standing in the shade of a crape myrtle for the past half hour, just one more among the neighbors, reporters and the morbidly curious milling around. A few of the older neighbors seemed vaguely familiar, but he doubted any of them remembered him or would recognize him if they did.

There were whispers that confirmed what Mary Ellen had told him in her hysterical phone call earlier, that the admiral was dead. They didn’t stir any emotion in him, not even the relief he’d always expected to feel once the old man passed. Certainly no sadness. No regret.

His shrink’s voice echoed from years past. You don’t owe him anything. Being a parent doesn’t automatically entitle a person to respect or love or anything else.

In the Jackson household, being a child didn’t entitle a person to those things, either.

He stared at the house where he’d grown up, too much, too fast, and tried to summon a few happy memories. They were there. They just didn’t want to sneak out into the light at the moment. Mostly, he remembered relief every time the admiral went away, dread every time he came back. Mostly he didn’t want to remember anything, good or bad.

A murmur went up around him as two people started down the driveway toward the gate. The reporter next to him was muttering into his cell phone, and Landry listened without much interest. “Primaries appear to be Jimmy DiBiase with NOPD, and the woman is NCIS. Uh, Leah, Lina. No, Alia. Alia Kingsley. Huh.”

Landry was familiar with DiBiase from the news, the paper and his regular partying on Bourbon Street. He didn’t think he’d ever seen Alia Kingsley, though he could have and just skimmed right over her. Her hair was stark black, tightly braided, her features average with a hint of the East—Filipina, maybe, or Japanese—and her navy skirt and jacket with light blue shirt and ugly heels were just slightly this side of flattering. Did she not know how to dress to suit her less than curvy body or did she downplay her looks deliberately?

They stopped in the middle of the drive to talk to a group of men in suits—NOPD detectives, NCIS agents—who all listened while Kingsley spoke. Her gaze roamed dismissively over the media—they showed up for every major crime—and settled briefly on the others. Landry was turning away when it reached him, like a laser between his shoulder blades. He couldn’t resist glancing back at her, their gazes connecting for an instant, then he slipped through the crowd and headed to his car.

His skin was damp with sweat by the time he’d jogged the few blocks to Miss Viola’s house, whose driveway he’d borrowed. The old lady was waiting on her porch, a mug of hot tea on a table next to a half-eaten slice of buttered toast and a bottle of cold water. “Well?” For an eighty-one-year-old woman, she put a wealth of meaning into that single word.

Bypassing his car, he climbed the steps and leaned against the railing near her. She offered the bottle, and he drank half of it before answering. “They’re not releasing any information yet, but the rumors appear to be true.”