Page 62 of Bayou Hero

He held up the beer bottle.

“—to excess, and no messes in your personal lives. Excepting the murders.”

“Those pesky little murders do tend to get messy.”

She leaned back against the steps and drew a long suck of drink through the straw. She looked about fifteen years old. Maybe it was the Kool-Aid, or the absence of her weapons and badge—on the counter just inside the door—or her hair falling loose from its braid.

She was the kind of girl he’d stopped dreaming about when he was fourteen. It was hard for a boy who was getting sexually assaulted every few weeks to think about normal boy-girl stuff like having crushes, holding hands, kissing with tongues. It had been impossible for a long time to even imagine willingly getting intimate.

He’d made up for that during and after therapy. He’d been intimate, maybe with too many women, to forget how his first few years of sex had gone.

He wanted to get intimate with Alia. How did that work, given her job and his relation to four murder victims? Could it even work? Was she interested?

His ego said yes. It wasn’t standard policy for her to spend so much time with someone like him. He didn’t see Jimmy DiBiase coming around on his time off or hear Jack Murphy sharing the details of his personal life.

There was more than the job between him and Alia. He felt it. But the job between them was one hell of an obstacle. No more television than he watched, he knew cops weren’t supposed to get personally involved with the subjects of their investigations.

And yet it sometimes happened. Jack and Evie Murphy were proof.

Abruptly, as Alia popped another candy bar into her mouth, he asked, “Am I a suspect in these crimes?”

She chewed the chocolate and crumpled the wrapper into a tiny ball. “You’re on my list, but your alibi keeps you from getting a big red question mark beside your name.”

After a moment, he asked, “Do you really have an actual list?”

“Yep.”

“With red question marks?”

“Yep. I’m a visual person.” She ate the last candy bar, then checked the time on her phone. “Aren’t you getting hungry?”

He considered saying no, making her wait for another hour, but he’d be lying. He was always ready for corn on the cob and green tomatoes, hot off the grill. Besides, who knew how cranky she’d get if she was really hungry?

While she watched, he removed the grill cover, lit the burners, scrubbed the grates and wiped them with oil-soaked paper towels. Together they brought out the food and utensils, then she stood nearby while the chicken sizzled in the hot spot, the corn browned and melting butter caused flare-ups under the grate. The tomatoes, basted with oil, went on last.

“I’m surprised. I didn’t peg you for a cook.”

“I’m not a cook. I’m a griller. Easiest way in the world to fix a burger, steak or fish.”

She snorted. “Sometime I’ll introduce you to my binder full of take-out and delivery menus for every restaurant in a ten-mile radius.”

He shook his head, and she gave him a warning finger. “Don’t try to make me feel guilty with that look. My mom gives it to me often. She’s the expert at it.”

Her gaze settled on the food, and an expression came across her face—and it wasn’t admiring the crosshatch lines on the tomatoes, the black bits on the corn or the lovely sear on the chicken. The case was forefront in her mind again. Soon there would come a comment or a question he wouldn’t have an answer to, but he didn’t mind. He didn’t have a giant red question mark on her list, and that was enough for him.

“Why kill Camilla first? Why not Jeremiah?”

And there were the questions. Taking her glass, he pushed the straw aside and took a long drink of sweet liquid. “I don’t know. Opportunity? Jeremiah told people she was out of town. Maybe she really was planning on leaving, so that made her first.”

She acknowledged the possibility with a nod. “I wonder if she was first. If there have been any other deaths associated with these people besides the daughter’s suicide. Maybe we just don’t know.”

Landry carefully flipped a piece of chicken to the cooler side of the grill with tongs, then said, “Maybe Camilla intended to tell someone. Maybe it was finally time to clear her conscience.”

Alia considered that. “Confession is good for the soul, they say. A friend, a pastor, a psychologist? And she could have unwisely—”

She said the last word tactfully, but he corrected it. “Drunkenly.”

“—admitted her plans. Your father—any of the men, all of them—could have put her in that crypt.”

Landry wished for another beer, larger and stronger and colder then the last, then Alia laid her hand on his forearm. That was better than all the cold beer in the world.

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