Page 85 of Bayou Hero

“Why I tell you?”

It seemed each person she talked to in the bar spoke in successively shorter fragments. Would Maxine send her to the bouncer, who would grunt indistinguishably to her questions? Alia breathed. “I’m a friend of his. More than a friend. And I know all about the police investigation. I was supposed to call him tonight, and he’s not answering.”

“Family business. He not answering.”

“I know. I just want to make sure he’s okay.” Impatience sneaked into Alia’s voice and earned her a less-than-impressed look from Maxine.

“You wanna talk, you find him. You cop, ain’t you?”

Alia fixed a smile on her face. “Find him. Of course, why didn’t I think of that? Nice chatting with you.” Spinning on her heel, she stalked back toward the door, getting caught up in the conga line that was now seven, eight, nine, ten women long. The tenth one grabbed at her arm to add her to the dance, but Alia raised one hand threateningly. “You touch me, you’re gonna be limping out of here.”

“Sheesh,” the woman whined, then added in a loud drunken whisper. “Bitch.”

Clearing a path, Alia exited the nearest set of doors and tried Landry’s number again. “Sorry to keep calling. I’m worried about you, Landry. If you could just let me know you’re okay...”

Gripping the phone, she paced the sidewalk. The second time she passed the gate into the courtyard, she acknowledged that she could vault it with little effort. She could kick in his apartment door, she knew. But she wouldn’t find him there. He wouldn’t be home when his car was gone. He wouldn’t handle a family problem at his apartment because who was left in the family to deal with? Mary Ellen, and he always went to her. She would stand out like a sore thumb on Bourbon, especially after dark.

Maybe something had come up at the funeral home. Maybe there was a problem with one of the kids. Maybe Mary Ellen was back in the hospital or someone else had died or—or something.

The only way to get any answers was to follow Maxine’s advice and go find Landry. If she eliminated all the places he wasn’t, then what was left was where he was.

Yeah. Sure. That was going to be easy.

The DeVille funeral home was on Alia’s way to the Garden District. She swung into the parking lot, half-filled with cars for another poor soul’s visitation. Neither Landry’s car nor either of the Davison vehicles was among them. Just to be sure, her next call was to the funeral home to get the deceased’s name. No one she’d ever heard of.

From there she drove past Miss Viola’s house, looking sadly empty in the middle of its lush lawn. She turned right and found herself a moment later in front of Mary Ellen’s house. A few lights were lit against the early darkness—in the parlor, long fingers of light reaching out from the sunroom at the back. The driveway, like at the Fulsom house, was empty.

Alia parked, trotted up the steps and rang the bell, hoping the housekeeper or a babysitter was inside. After ringing it again, she peered through the windows. Everything looked fine, except for the absence of occupants.

She started pacing again as she dialed her phone once more. Jimmy answered, his words garbled by food in his mouth. “Hey, Jimmy, I’ve been trying to reach Landry. He left work a while ago to take care of a family problem and is late getting back. He’s not answering his phone. No one’s home at his sister’s house. Maybe I’m being clingy—” Jimmy snorted “—but you know what we forgot? He knew what the men were doing, and he didn’t do enough to stop it. He looked out for himself and Mary Ellen, but he didn’t try to protect any of the others. He could be on the killer’s list, too.”

“Hang on a minute.”

A shudder went through her as she walked from one end of the porch to the other. A doll sat, forgotten, in the chair there, an expensive thing, prissy-looking with perfect ringlet curls and turn-of-the-century clothing. Her name was probably Charlotte or Annabelle, and she probably looked on with her sky-blue eyes and perfect little open mouth while her owner played with her real toys.

Who was her owner? Faith or Mariela? It was hard to guess. Alia had never played with dolls herself, but she would put her money on Mariela. Surely the older Faith had discovered there were far better ways to entertain herself.

Turning her back on the doll, Alia walked the length of the porch. Something was poking at her brain, and it wasn’t just worry about Landry. That elusive little detail she’d thought about earlier, that one little clue that would make everything come together...or might turn out to be nothing, a coincidence, just a pointless bit of information.

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