Page 6 of Bayou Hero

“Yeah, he is.”

The tears that had concerned Scott welled in her brown eyes, so much like Landry’s, but didn’t spill over. “I knew,” she whispered. “I felt it all the way deep inside, but I kept thinking...”

That it might be a mistake. That it was never good to celebrate prematurely.

Though she seemed to be leaning toward mourning. Why? What had she seen in the admiral that made him worth mourning? Things had been no better for her than for Landry, worse even. She’d been fragile, like their mother, and in her eyes, her escape had been as bad as the situation she’d left.

But the concept of family had always been important to Mary Ellen. She heaped her family with love and respect and expectations; she forgave them anything. She stood by them no matter what. She’d even been trying from the day he left the family to bring him back into it. She’d succeeded only as far as the next generation. No way was he going to let the admiral drive him away from his nieces.

Mary Ellen’s eyes widened as if she’d just thought of something, and her fingers tightened around his in a grip that was painful. So much for fragile. “Oh, Landry, how will we tell Mama? She’ll be so heartbroken. He was her life.”

Landry blinked. He’d never been sure their mother loved their father. Camilla was wellborn, but the family had fallen on hard times. Her daddy would have sold her to the highest bidder to hold on to the family property. Jeremiah, a mere ensign at the time, had been looking for a wife suitable to the illustrious Jackson family as well as his journey into the upper echelons of navy command. Landry had never figured their marriage for anything more than a business arrangement.

“Mary Ellen, we don’t even know where she is.” After too many years with the old man, Camilla had finally taken off. Miss Viola had been the one to tell Landry, calling him at the bar, asking if Camilla had discussed her plans with him. You know I only see her twice a year. From the time he’d left home, she’d always tracked him down on his birthday and at Christmas. He’d visited with her awhile at Mary Ellen’s wedding—with the admiral glowering from a distance—and again when the girls were born. That was it.

Mary Ellen’s expression turned wistful. “Every time the phone rings, I hope... The girls and I pray for her every night before bed.” Her gaze slanted his way. “We pray for you, too.”

Landry wasn’t sure what to say to that. They’d gone to mass every week as kids, and he’d said a lot of prayers, but the only answer he’d ever got was silence. God’s ears were obviously closed to some people’s pleas, and he was one of them.

Ignoring her last comment, he watched her closely as he asked, “Did you know she was leaving? Did she say goodbye to you? Did she say anything at all to suggest...?”

He could see Camilla neglecting to mention it to him. Their mother-son relationship had run its course. But after Mary Ellen’s years away at boarding school, the two had been close, especially once the babies had come along.

There were no shadows in Mary Ellen’s eyes, no guilt or deceit crossing her face, just a wounded-deer look. “No. I never understood. But Daddy said...”

Like the bastard wouldn’t lie? Rear Admiral Jeremiah Jackson Junior would be the last man to admit that his wife of more than thirty years had taken off for a better life. The disrespect would be more than his ego could afford.

Wherever Camilla was, Landry hoped she was happy. God knew, she deserved it.

Soft footsteps sounded in the hall a moment before Geneva appeared in the doorway. “Mr. Scott, the police are here. They want to talk to Miss Mary Ellen.”

As Scott nodded, Landry pried his hand free of his sister’s and stood, the muscles in his calves stinging in relief. He moved behind her, finding a spot to lean against the wall, grateful for the tall plants and busy wallpaper that would buy him a few minutes of time, and watched silently as Jimmy DiBiase came through the doorway. Following a few steps behind him was Alia Kingsley.

They introduced themselves to Mary Ellen and Scott, expressed their condolences, took a seat and began asking questions. When was the last time you saw your father? Talked to him? Were at his house? Landry listened to his sister’s answer, one to cover them all: I was at the house last night. Scott was working late, and the girls and I walked over to have dinner with him. We stayed until eight. I had to get them home for bedtime.

If she’d forgiven their father, she was a bigger person than Landry. Granted, he wasn’t big on forgiveness in general. He would have sooner killed the man than forgiven him—a sentiment better kept to himself under the circumstances.

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