Page 5 of Bayou Hero

“Jeremiah Jackson Junior is dead.” Miss Viola wasn’t any sorrier than he was, though she’d known the admiral his entire life. “This much fuss for just him?”

“No. Apparently the Owens, too, and the gardener’s truck was there.”

“Poor Laura. And Constance...oh, she loved her work and was finally making good money at it. She takes care of my lawn, too, and she’s meticulous.” Miss Viola’s gaze wandered across the yard as if realizing she would never see Constance in it again.

After a solemn moment, she said, “I understand why someone would kill Jeremiah, but why the others? Why Laura? The girl wouldn’t have hurt a fly and couldn’t have been much of a witness.”

“You know the kind of people the admiral associated with.”

“May they all rot in hell.” After sipping her tea, Miss Viola waved toward his car. “Go on now and get over to Mary Ellen’s. You don’t know how this is going to hit her. Tell her to call me if she needs a thing.”

“I will.” Landry finished the water in another swallow, then set the bottle back on the table. He was halfway down the steps when she called out.

“Obviously you remember where I live. Come by once in a while. I miss your face.”

He smiled fondly and repeated his answer. “I will.”

It wasn’t far from Miss Viola’s house to Mary Ellen’s. Like the Jackson house, it dated to the early 1800s and was large, gracious, the very image of a Southern mansion with its broad porches and tall columns. It sat in the middle of the block, large expanses of lawn on either side, an American flag flying from a bracket on one column, a small pink bicycle overturned on the sidewalk.

Landry parked behind his brother-in-law’s Mercedes and took the side steps onto the porch. His knock at the door was answered so quickly that the housekeeper must have been hovering nearby. “Mr. Landry,” she greeted him grimly.

“Miss Geneva.”

“Your sister is in the sunroom.” As an afterthought, she added, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

Don’t be. I’m not. But he politely thanked her. “Are the girls here?”

“No, Mr. Scott dropped them at a friend’s house.”

He nodded and headed down the wide corridor to the sunroom at the back of the house. He was sorry to have missed Faith and Mariela—they were the very best of the Jackson family—but glad they weren’t here to deal with emotions they didn’t understand.

The sun porch spanned the width of the house, enclosed on three sides with glass, with double doors that opened onto the porch and the yard beyond. Despite the heat of the day, the windows and doors were open, the ceiling fans overhead moving the heavy air in a futile attempt to provide cooling. Mary Ellen liked the heat. Sometimes she joked that she was just a tropical girl, but once, in a particularly melancholy moment, she’d told him that she could never get warm, no matter how she tried.

He understood the feeling.

She sat in a wicker rocker, arms folded across her middle, staring into the distance at something no one else could see. She did that a lot, and if questioned about it, she laughed and said her mind liked to wander. If she could see the stark, gut-wrenching look on her face at those times, she would probably never laugh again.

Her husband, sitting on a footstool in front of her, was first to notice Landry. “Mary Ellen, look, your brother’s here.”

She didn’t look. Didn’t give any sign that she’d heard Scott.

Scott met Landry halfway and shook hands. “I’m glad you came. Have you heard anything else?”

Breathing deeply of the flowering plants that filled the room, Landry shook his head. He would let the authorities tell them that the old man wasn’t the only victim. She knew Constance and the Owens way better than he did, and he’d always been the one experiencing bad news. He didn’t deliver it. “How is she holding up?”

“She’s been like that since she called you. Hasn’t cried a tear.”

Scott sounded worried, but Landry wasn’t. Tears were overrated. Their mother had cried thousands of them when they were still a family. So had Mary Ellen, and Landry had shed a few of his own. It hadn’t changed anything. It hadn’t made them feel better. There’d been no catharsis.

Navigating around furniture and plants, he crouched in front of his sister and took her hand in his. It was ice-cold. “Hey, Mary Ellen.”

Her gaze shifted slowly, a millimeter at a time, until it connected with his. A wobbly smile touched her mouth, then slipped away. “It’s true, isn’t it, Landry? It really is true. Daddy’s dead.”