ALEXANDER COSETINO RUBBED the back of his head and stared at the work calendar in front of him. Only five years, give or take, and he could get the fuck out of this bullshit Midwestern American suburb. Five years. It wasn’t so long. He’d be thirty, but that’s not old. What was it, 30 was the new 20, or whatever that bullshit was? All he had to do was keep his head down, eyes open, and soon he’d be back in New York.
He could cope. He had a plan. The key to coping was planning.
Besides, there was a shit ton of good coming from his time here. He was getting trained up in the law by men who knew criminal law and procedure better than any other lawyer in the country. You can’t beat that kind of training. Add onto it the crash course in manners and elocution, well, after his time here, he’d come back to New York without a trace of his Long Island background. He’d be indistinguishable from those white bread assholes from law school.
He tried not to think about how his older brother Cesare was in Stockholm transitioning the illegal Cosetino mob outfit into the legal and NASDAQ approved Cosetino Industries, or of his younger brother Julian out at Stanford, getting a tan and losing his accent. Alex knew why he was here. The Midwestern gig was his father’s idea. “It’ll get the smell of the city off you,” he had said while puffing a Cohiba. “Everybody likes Midwesterners.”
His father taught many life lessons, but the one he swore by the most was conduct. Look like a citizen, speak like a citizen, act like a citizen, then rob them blind. Alex used to think his father had come up with that on his own. Now he was here at the McIver Group he realized that was something else his dad had stolen. Blend in and work in the dark was a McIver motto. The McIvers looked good on the outside with their quality clothing, Midwestern courtesy, and expensive education, but he was hard pressed to find a sicker and more twisted group of degenerates. And he was generational Mafia, a scion of one of the seven families. That was saying something.
A knock pulled him out of his funk. He glanced at the clock. Quitting time. Thank God. “Enter.”
Sean McIver stuck his head inside and grinned. “You up for some tapas tonight?”
By tapas, Sean meant a strip club down in Kansas City. It was an hour drive, but the girls were fine, very fine, so it was worth it. Eastern Block, gorgeous, slutty, stupid, and didn’t speak a word of English. His father even married one of them. He had to polish her up a bit, and even went so far to get her a modeling portfolio to make it look like she wasn’t a stripper/prostitute, but you do what you got to do. That woman knew her place. Did everything his father told her to do. Alex wanted something like that for himself.
“Sure, why not?” Alex stood up and turned off his computer. “What’s the occasion?”
“Siobhan. Dad’s losing it. He’s flying Pat in tonight, and there will be words.” He shrugged. “It’ll get loud. I hate loud.”
Alex shrugged on his suit jacket and slammed the door. “What’s the problem now? No, wait. Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.”
Sean flinched. Patrick’s sins were many, but it was his eye for the under age that got him exiled from the Home Office. “It’s nothing he’s done this time. It’s Siobhan. She had another round of tests. Patrick’s little girl is a psycho.” Sean made the ‘eek eek’ sound from Psycho the movie complete with stabbing motions.
Alex cut him a look. “What’s Pat got to do with it?”
“Dad’s convinced that Pat did something to her to cause her to be this way.”
Alex frowned. “Did he?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Pat was around for her first couple of years, and we all know how he feels about her.”
Alex clenched his fists but remained silent. Six-year-old Siobhan McIver was the product of a one night stand between Alex’s former fiancé Estella Deschatres and Patrick McIver. Patrick had wanted the child aborted, but the McIvers were Catholic – as was Estella – so that was off the books. When Siobhan was born a pale, blue eyed redhead, Ned McIver – Patrick’s father – adopted her and was raising her as his own. Much to Patrick’s chagrin. Patrick hated the girl.
Not as much as the girl hated Patrick. It was like she knew. Not that she did. The McIvers were excellent at keeping secrets.
Now that Estella was dead and gone Alex appointed himself as her daughter’s personal guardian and protector. His duty was to give her the best childhood he possibly could. The way he saw it, Estella’s victimization at a young age, her poverty, the abuse she endured because of it, and her lack of proper education had irreparably warped her. It made her foolish. It made her unreasonable. It made her unable to make sound decisions. Ultimately, it was the reason she was dead.
In Siobhan, Alex would right the wrongs of the past. He would make sure that she never suffered poverty or abuse. He’d ensure her education would be the best and wisest choices for her adult life. As a result, she would be reasonable. She would make sound choices. She would make him an appropriate wife and mother.
Patience. That was years from now. His only concern was for her to be a happy and healthy little girl. If Patrick fucked her up, he’d kill him. Slowly. Painfully. Memorably.
“I can’t help but get a kick out of the whole thing.” Sean stopped at the employee nursery and pointed. “Look at her. That’s a psychopath.” He laughed and slapped Alex’s back. “Better lock up the pets!”
Alex grimaced as he focused on Siobhan as she played tea party with a group of her stuffed animals. God knows he didn’t think much of Sean McIver, but on this he had to agree. She didn’t look like a psychopath. She looked like any other six-year-old. She was more beautiful than most. Red hair, fair skin with the propensity to tan, bluish eyes with just a touch of green when she was angry. Psychotic? No. Precocious, spoiled, and a smart ass, sure, but not psychotic.
She looks like her mother, he thought and smiled as she carefully poured each of her stuffed animals a cup of imaginary tea. “Are they sure? I didn’t think they could diagnose children as psychotic.”
“Yep. The tests were conclusive.” Sean stopped laughing when he saw that Alex wasn’t. Like Alex, Sean was a middle son; unlike Alex, he ran on the insecure side. “It’s called callous and unemotional tendencies. There are treatments for it, but Dad’s still looking for someone to give her an Aspie diagnosis.” He snorted. “Not that it will make life easier for her, but I guess it’s better to be an Aspie than a psycho.”
“I suppose,” Alex muttered. The girl had turned to the empty chair next to her and was having a demonstrative conversation. “What’s the deal with the chair?”
“How the hell should I know?” Sean shrugged and stuck his hands in his pockets. “Come on, buddy. You wanna drive together or separately?”
“Separately. I’ll meet you down there.” Alex pushed open the door. “I’m going to go and say hi.” He shut the door in McIver’s face and grinned at the little girl. “Buon giorno, principessa.”
“Alex!” the girl cried and bounced over to him. “I saw you talking to Sean.” She pushed his hand out and pirouetted underneath it, like a little ballerina. “What were you talking about?”
“Nothing interesting, mia principessa.”
She continued her pirouette. “Was it about a case?”
Alex smiled. “Nope.”
“Was it about me?”
“Pfftt… why would it be about you? That’s crazy talk.”
The girl giggled and suddenly stopped spinning. “Alex, am I a psycho?”
Alex frowned. The door was closed; there was no way she could have heard their conversation. “Who called you that?”
“Nobody. I heard Daddy yelling at Patrick about it.” She led him to the table. “I looked it up on Google. It means antisocial and incapable of empathy.” She gazed up at him. “Do you think I’m a psycho?”
Alex fought a smile. Of course, she had Googled. “No, principessa. I don’t think you’re psycho.”
She sighed. “It’s because of Patrick. Just because I hate Patrick doesn’t mean I hate anybody else.”
Alex hated Patrick, but it was disconcerting to hear it come from a six-year-old. “You don’t hate Patrick. He’s your brother. He’s family.”
“He’s not my brother.” Her eyes flashed indignantly as she folded her arms and pouted. “Everyone says he is, but he isn’t.”
“He is, too.” He knelt down, so he could look her in the eye. “He’s your brother, and it’s always family first.”
She stared at the carpet. “I set his car on fire, you know. It was easy. I pressed in the lighter thingie and when it popped out, I shoved it between some newspapers and jumped out.” A disturbing smile played on her lips. “I made sure to lock the key fob inside. Patrick was so mad. It was funny.”
Jesus. Maybe she was psychotic. “Siobhan, don’t set Pat’s car on fire.”
“Why?” She batted her eyes at him. She got that from Estella. “It was funny. When he gets mad, he turns all red and he stutters.”
Alex frowned at her. Patrick was as vindictive as fuck. If Siobhan kept it up, Patrick would figure out a way to hurt her. That would fuck up his plans for her. “Siobhan, if I ask you to not set your brother’s car on fire, will you do it for me?”
She looked up. “Why do you care?”
“Because you shouldn’t want to make your brother mad.” He paused and straightened her jumper. “You should want to be supportive and friendly.”
She stamped a foot. “But I hate him.”
“Try?” he asked. “For me?”
The girl sighed. “All right. I’ll do it for you, Alex.” She stuck her hand out. “Deal?”
“Deal.” He shook her hand. She had learned the deal handshake from his dad.
The girl pulled her hand free and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. “I love you, Alex. I wish you were my brother.”
Alex was from a hard and violent family; he could count on one hand how many times he’d been told that he was loved. Every time this child said it to him, he had to fight back tears. “I love you, too, Siobhan.”
“Have tea with me.” She pulled him over to the table.
Alex moved to take the empty seat, but the girl stopped him. “No, not there.” She dumped the stuffed zebra onto the floor and pointed. “There. That’s Estella’s seat.”
Alex’s skin goose bumped. “What did you say?”
“That’s Estella’s seat.” She emphatically pointed at another seat. “You sit there.”
“Yes, my lady.” Alex carefully sat in his assigned seat. “Estella’s a pretty name. Where did you hear it?”
The girl’s face went blank. “I don’t know.” She passed him a tea cup and saucer. “It’s her name. Tea?”
The girl carefully poured imaginary tea in his glass. “Milk? Sugar?”
“No, thank you. Num num num… this is delicious tea. Just delicious.” He held out the cup. “More please.”
The girl giggle and poured more. “Estella calls you a coullion. She calls you a gran coullion.” She leaned her head to the side as if someone was whispering in her ear. “Estella says it means you’re a big goof.”
Alex put the cup down, lest his shaking hands cause it to shatter. Estella smiling at him over her shoulder. “Tu es mon gran coullion.”
The Estella who called him a gran coullion was dead. She was dead, and that punk rapper she’d been fucking was dead, and the only good thing that she’d ever done in her life was sitting next to him and pouring imaginary tea.
Get control of yourself. Someone had been talking to her. “Siobhan, who told you that?”
She poured the empty chair more imaginary tea. “Who told me what?”
“Coullion. That word.” Alex stared at her. “Where did you learn that word?”
“Estella,” she answered, her face pinching up. “It’s just teasing, Alex…”
“I know… I know… I want to know who told it to you.”
“Estella.” Siobhan pointed at the empty chair. “She’s right here! She says you’re freaking out.” The girl cocked her head. “Mais, cher, you got the frissons bad, no?”
What the fuck? The words, the intonation, she sounded like Estella, which was impossible because Estella was French Creole straight out of the bayou. Alex gaped at the child.
“Alex, you miss me, cher?” The girl threw back her hair and batted her eyes. “Dit mon la verite.”
Alex jumped up, his knees rattling the table and causing the tea pot to fall over. A dark red liquid poured out and stained the table cloth blood red.
The girl looked up at him. “Alex. You spilled the tea.”