Page 57 of Bayou Hero

Alia leaned against the post that supported the front corner of the pergola, hands folded together. “I’m guessing you want to talk.”

“Not particularly.” But...justice for Miss Viola, he reminded himself. Protection for Mary Ellen.

Making the decision to tell Alia what she wanted to know had been hard enough. Knowing how to begin...that was a lot tougher. He’d only ever told two people: Miss Viola and Dr. Granville. Miss Viola had cornered him when he was weak, his defenses down and his panic way up. She’d coaxed him into telling her everything, had held him in her arms and dried his tears and promised to take care of things. Dr. Granville had told him, “Just spit it out.” At two hundred and fifty of Miss Viola’s dollars an hour for her services, he’d done just that.

But Miss Viola had been his surrogate grandmother and godmother all in one, and Dr. Granville was a shrink. He’d been guaranteed some sort of privacy with them both, and he hadn’t had to tell anyone else’s stories that they didn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t want told.

Anything he told Alia would be passed on to everyone involved in the case, including DiBiase. It could make it into the media, maybe the courts. Public record for any and all. The others would hate him, would probably deny it, and he’d be considered some kind of freak.

Miss Viola wouldn’t ask him to talk. She hadn’t saved his life to have it destroyed over her death. And Mary Ellen...he would make sure Scott kept a close watch on her, beefed up security, maybe even hired a bodyguard.

“What do you think the Fulsom kids will do with their mother’s garden?”

Alia’s voice was conversational, her question unexpected. He’d guess her motto was When in doubt, discuss food.

“The market on Serenity would love to have produce like this,” she went on. “Because they keep prices so low, some of the neighbors plant big gardens to share with them. I tried a couple times, but it just proved Mom was right—it really does help to have a clue what you’re doing.”

“I’ll mention it to my cousins.”

He sounded stiff and wooden, even to himself. Apparently, not telling wasn’t going to be any easier than telling.

* * *

After shifting her weight a few times and feeling the third trickle of sweat coursing from her nape all the way down to her panties, Alia joined Landry on the bench. It was big enough for two in today’s supersized world, so they fit comfortably with room for one or two of Murphy’s kids between them.

“Murphy’s interviewing the older two Wallace kids this afternoon,” she began quietly. “Mrs. Wallace didn’t even acknowledge a son. Maybe he died after you last saw him.”

As she hoped, Landry felt obligated to answer. “Maybe. But who knows how many times Jeremiah answered the kids question with, ‘Yes, my daughter’s the light of my life’ and forgetting that I existed?”

At least once, Alia acknowledged, according to her own father.

“We know the admiral and Brad Wallace had three other good friends. Did you know them?”

Landry dragged his fingers through his hair, leaving it pointing every which way. With the dark skin and casual clothes and careless style, he could pass for a beach bum if he could just get rid of the ghosts in his eyes.

“Yeah, I knew them. The families hung out a lot. The men had a name for themselves, for their little merry band of drunks and reprobates, but it was secret. No one knew but the five of them, not even the wives.”

Drunks and reprobates. It sounded a fitting description. The bar in the Jackson house had been extraordinarily well stocked, both in the main parlor and in his study. And he was the type to carry a huge sense of entitlement. Between his position in the admiralty and his background and family wealth, he’d probably been able to do anything and get away with it. Not all flag officers took advantage of that ability—her father certainly hadn’t—but Jeremiah Jackson seemed a prime candidate to do so.

“The admiral knew them a long time.”

“Their whole lives. They all lived within a six-block radius. Same schools, same church, same interests.”

“What sort of interests?” Alia asked.

Landry breathed deeply, his nostrils flaring. “The usual, to start. Sports. Drinking. Mischief.” He gave her a sidelong look. “That was what the parents and the police called it then. Today, it would be auto theft, vandalism, DUI, assault.” He reflected for a moment, a cynical smile quirking his mouth. “Or maybe not. Family name and money still go a long way in New Orleans covering up crime.”

Alia could easily imagine Jeremiah and his friends—spoiled, indulged, handsome, irresponsible—being rowdy and wild with no one to answer to but the parents who’d done the spoiling and indulging. Then the irrepressible Jeremiah had sought a commission in the US Navy, and suddenly he’d had a reason to behave. Family reputation might have protected him from consequences in the real world, but it hadn’t carried any weight in the navy. He’d found himself in a position where he’d had to work and accept responsibility, where he’d been judged on all aspects of his life, except family name, and he’d had to straighten up.