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Page 71 of Alpha (Alpha 1)

“That’s what they said. The police. A mugging gone wrong. Things didn’t fit, though. It was a secured garage, but there wasn’t any evidence to the contrary, so they closed it after a while. No weapon, no witnesses, no motive anyone could find.” I looked at Roth. The image of him swam and blurred as tears welled up. “I don’t know what to think. What to believe. How to feel.”

“I don’t imagine you do.” Roth took a hesitant step toward me. “I’m so sorry, Kyrie. It was an accident. I never meant for it to happen. After that time we met, briefly, in your father’s office…I couldn’t stop thinking about you. You were so beautiful. You took my breath away, even then. I kept trying to figure out a way to meet you, but nothing ever came up. I couldn’t just approach you out of nowhere, not with the deal I had going with your father. And…when it came to women, you were far from what I was used to. I was used to taking women I wanted for the night and being done. Women were always plentiful in my life, and I never had to worry about impressing them or getting their numbers or any of the usual games a girl in your position was used to. I took what I wanted, and that was that. But I knew, I knew you weren’t that type of girl. I couldn’t just cart you off to my bed and discard you when I was done. And then the accident with your father happened. He only had a very small life insurance policy at the time of his death, not nearly enough to make a difference to you and your mother and brother. A few hundred thousand dollars payout, if that. I don’t remember exactly how much.”

I shook my head again. “No, see, he had a huge policy. Over a million dollars.”

Roth scrubbed at his cheek. “No, babe. I upped the policy after his death. From the inside. Made sure there was enough to help out, but not so much that it would raise eyebrows.”

I stumbled backward, tears shocked away. “You—you increased the payout? Why?”

“To see you were cared for. I took a little peek, after the funeral. Just checked on you. Your mother was…unwell. Your brother was just a kid. Bloody hell, Kyrie, you were just a kid, barely nineteen years old, but you were the only one capable of taking care of things. So I upped the payout amount. Paid down some of his debts. He hadn’t left you guys in a good place financially. Tens of thousands in credit card debt. A massive mortgage. Three car payments. The policy would’ve been mostly gone by the time all that was liquidated. So I smoothed things over.”

My memory of that time was hazy, but I tried to remember. I had been a sheltered kid. I’d grown up in a nice suburb, everything given to me. Not wealthy, but comfortable. I’d never paid a bill in my life. And after Dad was killed, Mom went cuckoo, so everything fell on my shoulders. I hadn’t even known where to start. Mom was no help, hiding in her room and drinking, smashing furniture, hurting herself. Losing her f**king mind. Bills kept coming, and I didn’t know what to do, how to pay them. So I took Mom’s cards and checkbook and started paying them. Forged her signature. Once, when she was in the throes of some paranoid delusion, I got her to tell me her PIN numbers for the cards and for the bank so I could see how much money we had. There was very little, I remember realizing. At first glance, a fifteen-thousand-dollar account balance seemed like a lot, but then I started adding up the car payments and the house payment and everything else, and I realized it wouldn’t go far. And then I remembered getting something in the mail about the insurance policy. I’d hunted through Dad’s office until I found the number for his lawyer, Albert Emerson. Albert was the one who helped me sort through things. He was a kindly old man, and he taught me a lot about taking care of myself financially. He advised me to put Mom in a home. He helped me sell the house and move into an apartment with Cal, helped me get legal guardianship of Cal so I could take care of him.

But now, thinking through what Roth was telling me, I realized things did add up. The house had sold in a matter of days, yet I remembered the house across the street, which was bigger and newer than ours, going unsold for months. Bills had suddenly stopped coming, and I never questioned it, too stressed to figure it out, just grateful. He’d “smoothed things out.” And I’d never realized it. The cars. Jesus. He’d paid off the cars, and I hadn’t put it together. I’d had car payments, three of them: Mom’s, Dad’s, and mine. I remembered the bills coming in and realizing how fast things added up. But then the funeral happened, and I’d had to put Mom in the home, had to get guardianship of Cal so I could sign him in and out of school, take him to the doctor—shit, I’d had to learn how to do everything. All the things that came with adulthood came crashing down on me at once. And then, once I’d gotten that stuff sort of figured out, I’d had to sell the house. And by the time that was done and Cal and I had moved into a two-bedroom apartment, the bills for the cars had just vanished. I’d gotten Albert’s help in selling all the cars except mine, a two-door Honda Civic, the same one I was still driving. I’d needed the money I’d gotten from Mom’s and Dad’s, a Lincoln MKZ and a Mercedes, respectively. I’d wanted to keep Dad’s, obviously, since it was a really nice car, but Albert had convinced me of the impracticality of that. So I’d sold the expensive cars and kept the practical one, and never questioned what had happened to the outstanding debts on them.

“Did you pay off Albert?” I asked.

Roth shook his head. “No. I never contacted Albert. He was on retainer for your father, just in case. Albert wasn’t involved in Nicholas’ day-to-day affairs. I know he helped you, though.”

I nodded. “He was invaluable in those early days after Dad’s death. I didn’t know what I was doing. He helped me figure out a whole bunch of things.” I let out a breath. “What about the house? Did you have a hand in getting it sold?”

Roth shrugged. “Yes, of course. The seller’s market was positively horrendous at that time. You would never have sold it. So I purchased it. Through a series of fronts, of course.”

I blinked at him in shock. “You bought it?” You wouldn’t have thought I could be any more surprised at that point, but the shocks just kept coming.

“Yes. And then resold it for a ridiculously low price to an employee of mine.” Roth slumped back into the chair. “Are those details really important right now, Kyrie?”

I shook my head and paced away, folding my arms over my stomach. I felt numb. Shocked. I wasn’t sure what to believe, what to think. Could I even believe him? My gut said he was telling the truth. But what did that mean for me?

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