The McIver Group Home Office
McIver, Iowa

THE YOUNG LAWYER RUBBED the back of his head and stared at the open Outlook calendar in front of him. Nothing big was on the horizon except some contract negotiations.

Five years. That’s all that was left. Five years.

In five years, he could get the fuck out of this bullshit Midwestern American suburb. Granted, 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 he’d be back in New York.

He could cope because he had a plan. The key to coping was planning.

Besides, boring AF though it may be, there was a lot of good here, too. Being here, being trained in the law by men who knew criminal law and procedure better than any other lawyer in the country, well, that itself was worth the cost. Add onto it the necessary soft skills crash course in manners and elocution, well, by the time he would go back to New York, he would have lost all his Long Island manners. He’d be indistinguishable from those white bread assholes from law school.

Wasn’t right, but what are you going to do?

The Midwestern gig was his father’s idea, of course. “It’ll get the smell of the city off you,” Salvatore Cosetino said while puffing a Cohiba. “Everybody likes Midwesterners. Salt of the earth people, I tell you. Salt of the earth.”

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.

The Lawyer used to think his father had come up with that on his own. Working here, however, he realized that was something else his dad had stolen. Blend in and work in the dark was a Firm motto.

The McIver Group. Formerly McIver & McIver, but now too many McIvers were in the Firm to add to their names to the sign. Ten years ago, the name was changed to the McIver Group. Their methods, however, remained.

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. He X-ed out his Outlook and shut the laptop. “Enter.”

Sean McIver stuck his head inside and grinned. “Alex, my man. 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 hadn’t been what she was, but that woman knew her place.

Did everything his father told her to do. The Lawyer told himself he didn’t want that kind of submissiveness in his woman, but maybe down deep inside, he kind of did. Not that he would admit.

“Sure, why not?” He stood up and turned off his computer. “What’s the occasion?”

Sean rolled his eyes. “Pat… again. Dad’s losing it. He’s flying him in tonight, and there will be words.” He shrugged. “It’ll get loud. I hate loud.”

There was a time when Cosetino considered Patrick McIver a friend. Then he got to know him. Cosetino slammed his office door harder than necessary. “What happened?” he asked, then added, “No, wait. Do I want to know?”

Sean smiled thinly. “Having a little too much fun in Miami, I suspect. Something about a totaled Maserati and a homeless man.” He sighed. “How the man gets away with it, I know not.”

He gets away with it because he’s rich. Cosetino bit his tongue. No need to point out the obvious.

Sean headed to the right, but Cosetino turned left, toward the stairs. “Hey, bud,” Sean said, “this way.”

“I’m stopping downstairs. Check on Siobhan.”

“Really?” Sean raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

“Somebody has to.” He paused, then added, “Pat doesn’t.”

“Well, Dad does… ” Sean sighed loudly. “You know, it’s weird how much you put into that kid. She’s not yours, you know.”

Cosetino took a calming breath. 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.

“I know,” Cosetino replied and pushed open the fire door. “I’ll see you there. Save some tapas for me.”

Ned McIver may have adopted her, but Cosetino appointed himself Siobhan’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.

When she was of age, of course. He wasn’t a pervert. Anyway, that was years from now. His only immediate concern was for her to be a happy and healthy little girl.

Cosetino trotted down the stairs to the ground floor then turned to the employee nursery. Just outside the door, he stopped to watch the little girl as she played tea party with a group of her stuffed animals. Truthfully, she was a striking child. All that red hair from her McIver ancestry, and fair skin with nary a freckle, blue eyes that turned green when she was angry.

She looks like her mother, he thought and smiled as she carefully poured each of her stuffed animals a cup of imaginary tea. She then turned to the empty chair next to her and started having a demonstrative conversation.

Cosetino blinked. For a moment, it looked like someone pushed the child’s hair off her face. Must be the lights. He pushed open the door and cried, “Buon giorno, principessa.”

“Uncle Alex!” The girl jumped up from her chair and bounced over to him. She pushed his hand out and pirouetted underneath it, like a little ballerina. “Did you have a good day at work?”

He bent down and shook his head. “It was a terrible day, mia principessa.” He added a frown. “Just terrible.”

She cocked her head. “Why?”

“I couldn’t spend it with you.”

The girl stared up at him a moment, as if gauging the sincerity of his answer, then pulled her hand free. She threw her arms around him and squeezed. “I love you, Uncle Alex.”

Cosetino 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. “Aw, kitten, I love you, too.”

“Have tea with me!” She pulled him by his tie over to the table. Cosetino crawled toward the empty seat, but the girl stopped him, a serious look on her face. “No, not there. That’s Estella’s seat.” She dumped a stuffed giraffe off a chair and pointed. “You can sit there.”

Estella? Who told her that name? Cosetino schooled his expression to remain neutral and took the seat the giraffe had formerly occupied. “Estella, huh? That’s a pretty name. Where did you hear it?”

The girl’s expression was blank as she passed him a tea cup and saucer. “I don’t know. 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 says you’re a coullion.” She giggled harder. “She’s calling you a gran coullion.” She leaned her head to the side as if someone was whispering in her ear. “It means you’re a big goof.”

Cosetino put the cup down, lest his shaking hands cause it to shatter. A memory passed through him. Estella smiling at him over her shoulder. “Tu es mon gran coullion.”

Impossible. That Estella, the one 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.

He swallowed. Get control of yourself. Someone must have told her. “Siobhan, where did you hear the name Estella?”

She poured the empty chair more imaginary tea. “I told you.”

Cosetino could feel himself growing angry. Keep it cool, he told himself and took a deep breath. One more time. “Where did you learn the word coullion? Who taught you that?”

“I told you. Estella.” She blinked, surprised. “It’s just teasing, Uncle Alex. Are you mad?”

“No, I’m not made, but it’s important you tell me.” He gave her a hard look. “I promise. You aren’t in trouble. I need to know who told you these words.”

The girl pointed at the empty chair. “Estella! She says you’re freaking out.” The girl’s expression changed. She cocked her head and smiled thinly up at him. “Mais, cher, you got the frissons bad, no?”

Cosetino’s mouth dropped open. 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, you miss me, cher?” The girl threw back her hair and batted her eyes. “Dit mon la verite.”

Cosetino shot to his feet, knocking over the table and the tea pot along with it. A dark red liquid spilled out of the pot, staining the table cloth blood red.

The girl looked at the stain, then up at him. “Alex. You spilled the tea.”