Page 8 of Bayou Hero

As she stood, he made a gesture, long lean fingers indicating a set of open doors. Fingers and hands that bore a few scars and calluses but no cuts. No injuries where a blood-slick knife had sliced through skin.

Though a killer with any sense would have worn gloves. Even a crime of passion would have allowed a few moments for finding a pair in the house.

She took the steps down onto the patio, and sweat broke out along her hairline. She loved New Orleans—even kind of loved the humidity—but this was turning out to be one of the heavy, muggy days best spent over an air-conditioning vent. Already her shirt was clinging to her body, and tiny rivulets were rolling down her spine. She swore she could feel blisters forming inside her shoes, and she was already regretting her choice of a suit this morning.

Landry crossed the patio to the yard. With the first step, Alia’s heel sank into recently watered grass. She put on her best blank expression, gritted her teeth and walked with him toward the nearest flower bed. “Do you know any of your father’s enemies?” she asked evenly.

“Twelve years since I saw him,” he reminded her. He’d shoved his hands into his pockets, his gaze on flowers that were, indeed, pretty: tall, strong and healthy, vibrant colors against lush grass and graceful trees.

“What about your mother?”

He tilted his head to one side. “They were married longer than I’ve been alive. If she were going to kill him, don’t you think she would have done it sooner?”

Alia waited a beat before clarifying her question. “Where is your mother?”

“I don’t know.”

“When was the last time you saw her?”

“Christmas.”

Six months ago. The only reason more than a week passed without Alia seeing her own mother was the thousand miles between them. She could hardly imagine living in the same town, only a few miles apart, and having virtually no contact.

“Is she on vacation? Visiting family or friends? Doing a grand tour of Europe? Volunteering in the rain forests of South America?”

That earned her a sidelong glance but nothing more.

“She must be somewhere, Mr. Jackson.”

“I don’t know where.” Before she could open her mouth again, he went on. “In case you haven’t figured it out yet, my parents and I aren’t close. Here’s what I know about my mother’s current whereabouts—one day about three weeks ago, Miss Viola called and asked if I knew she was gone. I didn’t. We weren’t due to see each other again until September. Mary Ellen confirmed that she was, indeed, gone, off to visit relatives. I asked her which relatives. She said the admiral hadn’t told her.” He raised both hands in a final that’s all you’re gonna get ’cause that’s all I know gesture.

Alia gazed at a giant orange zinnia so brilliant that it made her eyes hurt. So Admiral Jackson had given his daughter minimal information, and she’d accepted it. Because that was how their relationship had always been? He’d dominated and she’d accepted?

Could Camilla be dead? Were the rumors true that she’d been institutionalized or had taken off with a lover?

Feeling Landry’s gaze on her, she gently flicked a beetle from the zinnia, then resumed their slow pace. “Who is Miss Viola?”

“Viola Fulsom. She’s my mother’s father’s second cousin three times removed or something.”

In simpler words, family. In Louisiana, it didn’t matter how many times removed; a cousin was a cousin. And yet in this particular family, father and son were estranged, mother and son virtually so. Father was dead, mother was missing, and son...

Was Jeremiah Jackson III a killer? Had he gone into his childhood home, taken a knife from the kitchen drawer and plunged it into his father’s sleeping body more than thirty times?

Alia shuddered deep inside. It didn’t matter how many cases she worked, how many crime scenes she saw or what gruesome details she noted in reports and photographs. She couldn’t quite grasp the character flaw that made it so easy for a person to take another’s life. She could read and talk and investigate, but she couldn’t—wouldn’t—crawl inside a killer’s mind any more than she had to.

“Where does Miss Viola live?”

“Where everyone in our family except me has lived for the past five generations.”

The Garden District, with its beautiful houses and wealthy families who sometimes hid more secrets than the darkest bayou.

Alia committed the name to memory. Members of the Jackson and Landry families couldn’t hide in Louisiana even if they wanted to. Too much money to spend, too many parties to attend, too many decades of history to uphold. Miss Viola would be easy to locate.

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