Page 40 of Bayou Hero

He remained silent for so long that she slanted a look his way. “That was meant to be humorous.”

“You have an odd sense of humor.”

“I work with dead people and the criminals who made them that way.” Almost immediately, she winced. “I shouldn’t be flippant.”

His shoulders shifted in the slightest of accepting shrugs. “If you can’t laugh, you have to drink until you cry.”

A moment passed, fewer people trailing out of the church. She, Jimmy and the rest of the squad would be studying their photographs later, looking for a person who might have pushed a frail eighty-one-year-old lady down the stairs. Landry was right. If she couldn’t laugh, booze would be a tempting alternative.

“How is your sister?”

“The doctor released her today. She wanted to come, but...” His tone turned dark, laced with pain. “She couldn’t stop shaking long enough to get dressed. Scott said the doctor sent a medicine cabinet full of sedatives, sleeping pills and antianxiety drugs with her.”

Like Miss Viola—even more than Miss Viola—Mary Ellen was frail. Given the past week, even the strongest woman Alia knew would have taken to her bed with a handful of pills.

“I’m really sorry about Miss Viola,” she said at last.

Finally he looked at her. Shadows smudged across his cheeks, making his eyes seem even darker, and lines etched outward from the corners of his eyes and his mouth. “Thank you.”

“Are you going to the cemetery?”

“Are there any other missing people who might fall out of the crypt when they open it?”

“None that I know of. We’ll cross our fingers.” She raised her left hand, showing her index and middle fingers twined together.

Again, silence settled between them, but it was comfortable, not the kind she felt the urge to fill with chatter. A good thing, since she’d never had much talent for chatter.

Finally the church doors were propped open wide, and the funeral director led six young men bearing the casket down the steps and to the hearse. Jimmy had identified them before the service: three grandsons and three grandsons-in-law. They carried out this last task they could do for the old lady stoically, though tears streaked silently down the face of the youngest.

“I’ve never had to bury anyone I loved,” she murmured.

“Not even a dog?”

“The only pet we ever had is my mother’s Chihuahua. He’s too mean to die. Every time I see him, he snaps and snarls like I’m some stray trying to steal the juicy T-bone he’s got his eye on.”

Unexpectedly, Landry grinned. “Aw, come on, admit it—you’d steal a T-bone from him if he had one, wouldn’t you?”

She allowed a slow smile in response. “On the eighth day, God created steak, cooked it rare and it was good.”

“Eat it raw, baby,” he murmured with a chuckle.

From the far side of the church doors, Jimmy signaled, and she nodded. “Time to move out.” She would bring up the rear of the procession today, giving her a little more time in the air-conditioned comfort of her vehicle, time to rejuvenate before getting out into the heat to wilt all over again.

She and Landry headed in different directions. The inside of her car was a pretty good approximation of hell itself, at least until she’d lowered all four windows and turned the AC on arctic blast. The breeze lifted damp tendrils of hair from her forehead and stirred the heavier braided strands on her neck. She’d worn a skirt today, linen in the same shade of khaki as the navy uniforms she saw at work every day, with a matching jacket and a sleeveless white blouse. She’d thought bare legs would be a little cooler, but that didn’t seem to be the case.

After the last car had joined the procession, she pulled into line, followed only by the police escort bringing up the rear. There were enough cars that she imagined the first had arrived at the cemetery by the time she’d left the church. Lucky for her, she didn’t have to worry about parking violations, or she would have been hiking five or six blocks back to the cemetery. Instead, she double-parked beside Jimmy’s car, leaving just enough room for traffic to go around, and went in search of him.

She found him walking the southeast side of the graveyard. His face was flushed, his hair sticking to his forehead, his sunglasses pressing into the bridge of his nose. Fortunately, hot and sweaty was a good look for him. In the few moments it took her to catch up to him, she’d noticed a number of women, one from her own office, watching him with great appreciation.

Only Jimmy could hook up in the middle of a funeral. She shook her head with vague amusement.

“You look pretty, sweet pea,” he drawled. “How ’bout you and I go out for a little dinner and dancing when this mess is over?”