ALEXANDER MARCHED TOWARDS Ned McIver’s office on the 5th floor, mentally going over his argument and chock full of justified concern. Siobhan’s birth mother had been his fiancé; it was natural for him to take an interest in the child of the woman he had planned to marry. That he was once a person of interest in her murder was of no consequence. He loved Estella, and he wanted to help her daughter.
It was plausible. Ned wouldn’t buy it, but it was par for the course. Ned was a dick.
Focus. Someone had been feeding lines to Siobhan about her mother, which was bullshit, because Ned had decreed that Siobhan would never have anything to do with Estella. In Siobhan, Ned’s wife had the daughter she always wanted. That Ned’s wife died almost a year to the day after Siobhan’s birth was poignant, but unimportant. Ned didn’t want Siobhan to know she was adopted, and Siobhan did not need to know she was adopted. End of story.
Estella, her face puffy and tear stained. “You said you would help me! You said you could get her back! You lie! All you do is lie! Feet pue tan!”
Alexander closed his eyes and pushed the memory down. Estella had understood what she was signing when she gave Siobhan away. She had no one to blame but herself. Now she was dead. She was dead, the adoption was final and binding, and that was that. Better to focus on the now. The present. The impending conversation with the only honest partner in the firm. Ned was a moralistic prick, which made him a challenging man to fool.
He walked up to the secretary with a professional smile. Alexander liked to smile. Smiles relaxed people. They were easy to hide behind. “I have an appointment to see Ned.”
The secretary smiled back. She was attractive for a older woman. Ned was probably fucking her. Women were Ned’s one weakness. He had loved his wife, but he had never been faithful to her. Fucking hypocrite. “He’s expecting you.”
Alexander nodded and breezed into the office. Ned sat in the living area, drink in hand, a fresh bottle of Dewars on the coffee table. Alexander was not surprised. Ned was also a drunk. He extended his hand. “Ned. Thanks for seeing me on short notice.”
Ned stood up a little and gave it a shake. “Alexander. Have a seat.” He turned and gestured at the leather chair across from him. “Help yourself.”
Of Dewars? Alexander knew an insult when he saw it. Besides, it was 11:30 am. “No, I’m fine. Thank you.” Alexander unbuttoned his jacket and sat down. “I appreciate your taking time out of your busy day to see me.”
“My pleasure.” Ned smiled the same thin, closed mouth smile that all McIvers shared. “You said it was about Siobhan?”
Alexander nodded. “Yes, sir. I saw Siobhan in the nursery yesterday and she said some things I found troubling. I thought you should know.”
Ned swirled his drink. “You were in the nursery yesterday?”
“May I ask why?”
Alexander shrugged, nonchalant. “I care for Siobhan. I know how much she meant to Estella, and I like to keep an eye on her.”
“Do you?” Ned took a long drink of scotch. “That’s very generous, considering how you ended things.”
Keep it cool. Alexander sighed. “You know, Ned, not a day goes by I don’t regret my actions. I loved Estella very much, and I take full responsibility. I blame myself for how things ended.”
Ned finished his drink and poured another. “I understand they’ve charged an associate of the boyfriend for the murders.” He toasted him. “Congratulations. You’re off the hook.”
Alexander could feel his good humor slipping away. The authorities found Estella’s body in a Cosetino garbage dump. “I didn’t kill her, Ned.”
“So you say.” Ned sipped the scotch. “Still. You have to be relieved.
“I didn’t kill her,” Alexander repeated, a touch of petulance in his voice. “I loved her.”
“Ah, but she didn’t love you, did she? That’s a difficult pain for a man. Makes you a little crazy, when you consider that the girl was a piece of nothing. She should love you. Hell, she should have been grateful to you.” Ned smiled. “A piece of swamp trash like that.”
Alexander refused to be baited. “Ned, with all due respect, Estella’s death benefited you far more than me. But that’s not why I’m here. Did you know that Siobhan has an imaginary friend named Estella?
Ned frowned. “So?”
“Someone is speaking to her about Estella. I don’t think it’s healthy for Siobhan to know about Estella at this stage of her life.”
Ned’s lips turned up. “As if you have a say in what is or what Siobhan knows at this, or any, stage of her life.”
Alexander felt himself flush. “Ned, all I’m trying to say is that Siobhan was using phrases that Estella often used, in the same intonation and dialect.” He paused for a breath. “Somebody’s coached her, Ned. I thought you should know.”
“I see.” Ned stared at his drink. “What did she say?”
“I don’t know. Cajun French words. She said them like Estella said them.” Alexander did not mention the blood stain. When he returned to the nursery the next morning, there was no stain. The cleaning staff had most likely switched out table clothes.
Even if it looked like they hadn’t.
Ned sighed and looked much older than his age. “You know Siobhan met Estella a few weeks before she… died.” He swallowed the rest of his drink. “It was fascinating, how Siobhan bonded with her.” He reached over to the coffee table and poured himself another glassful. “I should have relented. I should have let Estella have visitation. I will regret that decision for the rest of my life.”
Alex nearly rolled his eyes. He had tried to tell Ned this when Estella was alive, but Ned didn’t want to listen. “She didn’t want visitation, Ned. She wanted Siobhan.”
“I know. That’s why I said no. I’ll pay for that.” Ned glanced out the window and drank. “Have you considered that maybe Siobhan is speaking to Estella?”
Oh, for God’s sake. Alexander stood up and buttoned his jacket. “Well, then. Thanks for the appointment, Ned – ”
“Sit down.” Ned’s face remained bland, but the words were sharp. “We’re not finished.”
Ned was a senior partner. Alexander sat.
“You say Siobhan is imitating Estella, which leads to one of three explanations. Either someone is coaching her, or she has a memory of her, or she’s speaking to her. ” Ned smiled at him. “First, I know she’s not being coached. Why would anyone do it? It makes no difference if she sounds like her mother.” Ned smirked. “I’m sure it does to you.”
Alexander ground his teeth but said nothing.
“Second, Siobhan’s brief memory of Estella was not long enough to pick up vocabulary and intonation.” He took a deep drink. “She does, however, incessantly sing a French nursery rhyme. It’s enough to make your head explode.” He eyed Alexander. “You’re not talking about that, are you?”
“No.” Alex, you miss me, cher? Alexander shivered a little. “No, it wasn’t a song.”
Ned saw the shiver and smiled. “Then the answer is that she’s speaking to Estella.”
Alexander rolled his eyes. Out of all the McIver Group senior partners, Ned was the most eccentric. Alexander didn’t do eccentric. “She’s not speaking to Estella, sir,” Alexander said through clenched teeth. “Estella’s dead.”
“Estella is dead,” Ned agreed. “I doubt if she’s happy about it.”
“I DID NOT KILL HER!” The words came out sharp and way too loud. “I’m sorry.” Alexander shifted in his seat and straightened his tie. “I do not mean to yell, but I did not kill her, and I’m tired of your insinuations to the contrary.”
Ned stared at him, hard and emotionless. “Alexander, you did kill her. You gave the order that ended her life and the life of her friend. You didn’t pull the trigger, but you’re responsible, nonetheless. Your father would be proud of you.”
Alexander threw up his hands in frustration. “Fine. Believe what you want. I did not give an execution order. I did not take part in, or have anything to do, with Estella’s death. You’ve always hated my father, Ned, and now, you hate me, too – ”
“That’s not true, Alexander.” Ned shook his glass, unperturbed. “I don’t hate you, and I like your father well enough. I say that you killed Estella because I know who you hired and how much you paid.” Ned’s blue eyes affixed to his. “I know this because Siobhan is my child, and the man who murdered her mother is paying her an unsettling amount of attention to her.”
Alexander clenched his fists, then wiped his sweating palms on his trousers. “May I leave?”
Ned smirked, enjoying his discomfort. “No. You think someone is coaching Siobhan? I don’t. I think Siobhan may be talking to Estella, and I think this for a reason.”
Alexander didn’t even bother to hide his condescending tone. “Which is?”
“It runs in the family.”
Alexander barked a laugh. “Bullshit.”
Ned stared at him, his blue eyes clear and unwavering. “Back before the family moved here, my great-grandfather woke up one night to noises in the parlor. He came downstairs to find the body of his eldest son laid out in a coffin and the house in mourning. It was a dream. The next day his son was murdered and the funeral was exactly as he had seen in that dream.” Ned downed the rest of his drink and killed the bottle. “I myself have memories of my grandmother tucking me in at night. She died a year before I was born.
Alexander snorted. “Please, Ned. This is bullshit. If you don’t want to take me seriously, that’s fine. She is your daughter.”
“What I’m saying, Alexander, is that there’s more to this world than what we can see. If it’s any consolation, we grow out of it. Chances are Siobhan will, too.” Ned smiled; this time it appeared genuine. “Thank you for telling me, Alexander. I take comfort in knowing her mother is watching over her.”
“You’re wrong.” Alexander stood up. “She’s either being coached, or if she is suffering from a psychotic or anti-social personality disorder, then this could be a sign of a more serious underlying mental issue. You should be more concerned. I know I am.” He moved towards the door. “If you’ll excuse me, Ned. I have to get back to work.”
“Alexander,” Ned called, “I never told you about Siobhan’s…troubles. Who did?”
Alexander stopped. “It’s no secret. The other children don’t include her, and she’s always alone.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Whatever is wrong with her makes it hard for her to socialize in a group. But I’m sure you’re on top of it.”
“I’ll speak to Aidan,” Ned muttered. “She should spend time with children her own age.”
Alexander turned. “Aidan’s wife won’t allow her daughters near her. You know how they felt about Estella. Siobhan’s a pariah, and someone is taking advantage of that.” He bowed. “Again, I am sure you know best.”
“I do,” Ned replied, his eyes flashing dangerously. “Alexander. Heed my words. Stay away from Siobhan.”
Alexander allowed himself a smirk. “You want me to stay away from her when I’m the only one who consistently pays attention to her? Her brothers – ” he air-quoted ” – ignore her, Patrick hates her, and the rest of your family wants nothing to do with her because her birth mother was black.”
Ned’s visage of good humor failed; he glared at Alexander with a look of uncompromising contempt. “You don’t want to fuck with me, son.”
Alexander took a deep breath. He was treading on thin ice, but Ned needed to understand. “I loved Estella and I love her daughter. I approached you on this with the best of intentions. The information is yours to do with as you will. As for Siobhan, if you think it’s best for me to stay away from her, I will. Despite what you think of me, I only want the best for her.”
He exited the office before Ned could reply. Fuck Ned. Siobhan was already in his pocket. He didn’t have to approach her; she would find him, and there wasn’t a damn thing Ned could do about it. In fact, it would benefit him if Ned told Siobhan to stay away. Siobhan would rebel because it was in her nature to rebel, and Alexander could train her to think of him as her one safe space. The only one who ever loved her.
Alexander smiled and took off his tie. Twelve years. Twelve years was no time at all. In twelve years, she’d be legal, and he’d be ready to settle down. In twelve years, he’d have her so trained up it wouldn’t occur to her to not do what he told her to do. Optimism burst his cloud of fury and embarrassment. Siobhan would be his, and if Ned was smart he wouldn’t fuck with him.
Fuck Ned. Fuck the McIvers. Fuck this shit. He was clearing his schedule and going to Vegas.