The interview had gone on about five minutes when Landry made the mistake of exhaling and setting the delicate leaves of the plant beside him fluttering. Alia Kingsley’s gaze cut his way, laserlike in its intensity, and recognition flashed in her eyes. She interrupted DiBiase in the middle of a question and bluntly spoke.
“You were outside the house earlier.” The smooth skin wrinkled between her eyes as her gaze zeroed in on his face, cataloging it, he had no doubt, for future-suspect reference. “Why? Who are you?”
Mary Ellen glanced over her shoulder, her eyes widening, pink spots forming high on her cheeks. “Oh, where are my manners? I’m sorry. Sometimes he’s so quiet, I forget he’s around.” Her smile fluttered, and so did her hands. “Special Agent Kingsley, Detective DiBiase, this is my brother, Jeremiah Jackson the third.”
As a sardonic smile slowly tilted the corner of Jeremiah III’s mouth, it popped into Alia’s mind that, unlike his sister, he had no manners. The air of quiet about him was almost predatory. He didn’t look the son of Louisiana privilege. His shorts were khaki, faded and worn, and his Hawaiian shirt, though subdued, was still a Hawaiian shirt. It was difficult to tell if his unruly dark brown hair needed a trim or was expensively cut to look that way, but there was no missing the quality of his running shoes, the aged patina of his wristwatch or the distrust and keep your distance shimmering the air around him.
It was hard to believe the uncomfortable boy in the Jackson family portrait had grown into this confident man. But weren’t her own middle school pictures proof that a person didn’t stay gawky, clumsy and a misfit forever?
Her jaw tightened before she could stop it. “You were at your father’s house. Why didn’t you identify yourself?”
“The officer at the gate?”
“Surely you knew we would want to talk to you.”
With easy, lithe movements the failed ballerina in her envied, he pushed away from the wall and moved to stand directly behind Mary Ellen. He rested one hand on the back of her chair, the other on her shoulder, and she reached up to cling to it. “I have nothing to tell you.”
Alia ignored his flat statement. “When was the last time you saw your father?”
“A long time ago.”
“How long? A year? Two? Ten?”
Landry and Mary Ellen exchanged looks. “Twelve years.”
“You’re sure of that?”
“It was my wedding,” Mary Ellen supplied in a helpful tone. She struck Alia as the peacemaker, the giver, the one who wanted things to go smoothly for everyone else. Such a task could be exhausting work, especially with a father accustomed to command and a brother on the outs with him.
“No family Christmases since then?” Jimmy asked. “Funerals, christenings, anniversaries, birthdays?”
Landry didn’t respond. He’d given his answer and was apparently satisfied that it required no explanation.
Mary Ellen’s free hand fluttered. “Our family doesn’t... Landry isn’t big on formal events. He doesn’t care about things like holidays and birthdays, except for my girls’. He never misses my girls’ birthdays.”
But he never saw his father then. Separate occasions, Alia guessed. The grandparents one day, the uncle next. What had happened between the admiral and his son that they couldn’t set their problems aside for two hours for a child’s birthday party?
“Did your father have any enemies?” Jimmy asked.
For the first time, Scott Davison spoke. “He was an admiral in the United States Navy. You don’t reach that rank without making a few enemies along the way.”
The higher in pay grade an officer advanced, the fewer the billets, the fiercer the competition. But Jackson’s death hadn’t been caused by professional envy. It had been much too personal for that.
Beside Alia, Jimmy shifted. “You know, Mr. and Mrs. Davison, Mr. Jackson, things’ll go quicker if we talk to you separately. Why don’t we—” he gestured to the Davisons “—stay here, and maybe Special Agent Kingsley could take Mr. Jackson into another room...”
Mary Ellen was quick to agree, to start a suggestion on which room, but her brother overrode her. “You like flowers, Special Agent Kingsley? Because my sister grows some of the prettiest ones around.”
Alia glanced out the windows at the lush garden, catching a glimpse of Jimmy’s mouth twitching in the process. The sunroom was only marginally cooler than the outside temperature, though at least the ceiling fans created a breeze. Outside she would swelter—no doubt the reason Jackson had suggested it.