One hand tucked in my trouser pocket, I jangled loose change, listening intently. "You went inside the house and found your mother on the kitchen floor, dead and covered in blood. You didn't see anyone hurt Adaline. Back then, from a child's perspective, your intellect only stretched so far. You recall vibrant colours and certain emotions. You saw red and felt sad. You heard an unfamiliar voice and found an unidentifiable man inside your house."
Positioning onto one knee, I gripped her jaw, kissed her lips and abated the sadness in her absent eyes. "Why did your father return to the house, Alexa?"
"He didn't come inside," she said, unsure of the words she speaks. "Patrick seemed conflicted, Liam. Perhaps he felt guilty for his behaviour that night and considered apologising before leaving. I mean, I wish he'd of entered. He didn't care much..."
"Alexa," I whispered, hand massaging the back of her neck. "Why did he switch T-shirts."
She wore an expression of implacable vexation. "I don't know, Liam. How can I answer those questions? I told you. The man barely acknowledged me. He didn't even wish me farewell before driving off."
"How conceivable is it that he murdered your mother?" I hinted, and her face set in a permanent scowl. "You said it yourself. He resented his life—hated his wife and children." Her gut cut into me. "Is it possible he entered the property amongst Bajramovic and his men?"
Aghast by my evocation, she stood in an abrupt temper. "What are you implying?"
"Let's not pretend Paddy Haines was an honourable man, Alexa." Enough of the mollifying. It's time to get down to business. "He abused your mother throughout their entire marriage. He beat and molested your sister. That night, if it weren't for Kathy's threat, he'd have touched you." I mirrored her stance, albeit subdued compared to her mounting abhorrence. "Will you consider conceptualisation for my benefit?"
Beyond the rusted, metal walls, Fagan, undergoing brutal torture, extended a wounded scream of tribulation. Ashen-faced but impassive, Alexa paid heed to the shrilling sounds of power tools, lost in her thoughts.
The loathing in her soft, hazel coloured stare reduced when our eyes fixed. Enamoured by me, she returned to my side, bare feet, filthy and sore.
I clicked my earpiece and ordered one of my men to bring in spare clothes from the Bentley, assured that someone had gym and training gear hanging around.
Only a minute transpired before a suited male opened the metal door. Without speaking a word, he gave me a black hooded tracksuit and clean socks, resuming to his post outside.
"Take off the dress," I said firmly. Alexa faffed, grousing with a slight note of chastisement. Disregarding her confused mithering, I watched the torn layers puff around her feet, tugged the hoodie over her head and drew the bottoms up. "Sit." When she complies, I lean forward, dust off her feet and roll up socks. "Where are your shoes?"
"I left them at City Hall." Fagan's roared beseeching sent a sympathetic flush to her face and neck. "Liam, why did you kidnap The Mayor of London? What does all this have to do with me?"
Why doesn't she see it? "Alexa," I sighed, rubbing a hand over my tired face. "You escaped Hell. The Missing Haines Sisters' case broke headlines, right? You had no other siblings or family members to welcome you home. You and Kathy left that police station, together, hand-in-hand to start a new life. Don't you think it's odd that your father didn't crawl out of the woodwork? Despite the fact he regretted his marriage to Adaline, surely, after years of not knowing what happened to his little girls, the man felt some element of regret, grief and remorse? Why didn't he find you?"
"Patrick never wanted us, Liam." Acceptance hardened her features. "And that's okay. I can't miss something I never had."
"Your father helped Bajramovic kill your mother." My arms crossed. "He—"
"Stop it, Liam." Succumbing to denial, she busied herself, gathering the discarded dress, searching for a place to dump it. "I want to go home."
"And where might that be, Alexa?"
Stopping short with her back to me, she pondered my question. "Home is where the heart is, right?"
Home is with me, I thought, whispering a kiss to the back of her neck. "Patrick Haines had a predilection for busty blonde women. Throughout his marriage, he had multiple affairs, meeting women in bars to fuck inside his truck. One woman, in particular, caught his attention. He liked the widow. She ticked all the right boxes—born into old money, wealthy and set for life. It started innocently, them sharing hotel rooms and screwing behind your mother's back. He wanted that life, Alexa. He imagined himself driving those fancy cars and wearing designer suits. It pained him to go home to his nagging wife and demanding children."
Furious, she faced me. "Stop it."
"He had a vision. He concluded this idea for months, figuring out ways to start over; however, many concerns rattled that man. What if Adaline fought back? Imagine the catastrophic effect her wife-beater claims might encourage? What if his daughter, Kathy, grew up and wanted justice? Did he have a leg to stand on? Could he evade charges for historical abuse? Think, Alexa," I barked, and her nostrils flared. "What if the quiet daughter who silently watched in the background rose like a phoenix from the ashes of despair to rain hellfire on his new beginning."
Alexa, pallid and speechless, shook her head. "No."
"Do the goddamn maths. To get rid of a problem? You must eliminate it. And that means doing whatever it takes to ensure it stays that way. Adaline, Kathy," I point at her, "and you were a big fucking problem. That son of a bitch found love and moved on—"
"So, he killed my mother," she spat, clinging to a fistful of hair. "Well, then, why didn't he finish the job? What stopped him from killing us, too? Death at his hands beats years of sexual slavery."
I jerked my chin to the closed-door concealing Larry Fagan. "Why don't you go and ask him?"
Alexa shot me a double-take. "What?"
"Go head, Alexa. Open the door, face the man who sold his soul to the devil and ask your questions."
Fagan screamed, but Alexa hadn't flinched this time. "That's not my father, Liam."
"What makes you so sure?"
"It doesn't look like him for one."
"Really?" Arching an eyebrow, I dipped my head, putting us eye-level. "And what does Alexa's father look like?"
She blinked, sucking in a deep breath. "Patrick's a tall, lean man with blond hair and..." Overwhelmed, she flatted her quivering lips, dropping her head despondently. "He..."
Taking her jaw in my hand, I angled her head, forcing her to look at me. "It's okay, Alexa." Swiping a fallen tear from her cheek, I lingered a kiss to her lips. "Your father amalgamated with Flamur Bajramovic to murder his wife and children. Killing Adaline felt like a weight lifted off his shoulders, but when it came to ending the lives of his daughter's, his moral compass ticked and like a pathetic coward, he ran for the hills, leaving accomplices to finish the job. I don't know if he regretted the bounty he put on your heads. Either way, it didn't stop him from driving five hours to his mistress house with only the clothes on his back."
Alexa evaded my penetrating stare. "To raise another man's daughter."
"To use Mrs Bennett's wealth and high status," I corrected, but that knowledge didn't pacify her. "New identity. New lifestyle—a guaranteed office."
Slipping out of my suit jacket, I laid it on a crane, rolled up my shirt sleeves and headed for the door. I thought she'd follow or call, but instead, she put her back to a concrete beam, slid down and sat on the floor.
Clearing my throat and switching gears, I entered the room, once utilised as storage for shipment packages, closing the door behind me.
Hand in his pockets, foot propped against the monochromatic bricked wall, Josh pushed himself towards me, tossing an unopened cigarette packet. "You good, Boss?"
I popped one in my mouth, lit a match and inhaled smoke. "Is he ready to repent?"
"No." Josh scratched an itch above his brow. "He denies everything—said we got the wrong guy."
Bullshit. When I asked Nate to look deeper into Alexa's background, he found "father unknown" on her birth certificate. The black print intrigued him. It wasn't challenging to locate the man, though. Adaline married the twisted bastard. What Nate found odd, however, is the lack of police statements from Patrick. Nate concluded it strange that Patrick hadn't come forward after his wife's murder. Why hadn't he joined Newquay search parties to find his daughters? Why had he disappeared off the face of the earth? Perhaps, Nate thought, Patrick also died, but the police never uncovered a body, or maybe, the man was a leading suspect.
Convinced Patrick played a part in Adaline's demise, Nate studiously combed for missing pieces. Reopened case files, examined police reports, revised notes, dates, time frames, the imagery of gathered evidence, spent hours browsing through security tapes of Newquay's busiest establishments.
He found one blurred shot of Flamur Bajramovic, enjoying an evening meal inside a cliffside restaurant, overlooking the coastal views. His acquaintance, another male, eating and drinking beers.
It's not a coincidence. Patrick Haines didn't select a booth at random or share alcohol with an unknown person. They knew each other. Body language suggested as much.
For Nate, the image substantiated the father's deplorable involvement. It hadn't validated his recent location, though.
I stood over Larry's battered form on the floor. Suit dishevelled, piss soaked and doused in blood, he pleads through swollen, inflamed eyes, praying under his breath.
Brad extracts a knife from Fagan's thigh, ripped a throaty howl from the man's throat. "He won't budge," said Brad, dabbing sweat dews from his forehead. "Do you want Nate to give him a bash?"
"No." Crouching beside the dying man, I threaded my fingers together. "Having fun?"
Wheezing a strained cough, Fagan moved onto his side. His struggle, entertaining my men. "Warren, I beg you. I haven't done anything wrong. I do not know the names of the women that man speaks."
Brad rolled his eyes theatrically. "What a fucking dimebar." He slapped a gun on my awaiting hand. "Nobody believes your sob story."
"The syndicate's feeling philanthropic," I said, welding the weapon in Larry's face. "Tell me what I wish to hear, and I'll permit suicide rather than maltreatment—" He snatched the gun from my hand, shoving the barrel under his chin. "Careful, Mayor. We can rationally assess the cause for tonight's hostile purposes without time-consuming melodramatics."
Squeezing his eyes shut, he murmured obtuse words, finger twitching on the trigger. In anticipating amusement, I heard a soft exhale blow from his busted lips before he clamped the trigger—click, click, click—but it ran empty.
"You clearly don't know me to the extent your presumptuous self conceitedly claimed." I gave him a soft, taunting smirk. "I like to play with food before I eat it." Peeling his fingers from the gun, I tossed it aside, the scrape resounding across the floor. "Now that we concluded early death is far too easy of punishment, perhaps you'd like to start talking."
Fagan regarded every man in the room.
"With the help of influential people, Mrs Bennett offered you a lifeline. Desperate for your devotion, she pulled enough strings to get you away from the wife—a hindrance to her romance as the docile mare wanted you all for herself—which is quite astonishing considering Adaline Haines loathed you," I said smugly, and fury flared in his eyes. "She detested the man she married and conspired to leave you. Were you aware that she was having an affair with a local?" I pushed his forbearance buttons. "How inadequate did you feel, Paddy? You had to force your wife to fuck you, yet she rode that man willingly."
"What an ego kill." Mind-fucking him, Brad slipped a toothpick in his mouth. "Then again, I don't blame any woman for wanting to fuck elsewhere. What, with that overhanging gut and all—"
"Shut up," Fagan spat, dribble clinging to his chin. "I don't know what lies you speak, but I am not that man."
"You murdered your wife," I snapped, impatience vibrating my bones. "Leaving your family behind was too risky, Paddy. You had to tie up loose ends, be sure the rebellious daughter didn't file molestation charges."
He's sickly pale and wordless.
"Pluck them off, you said, am I right? Relieve yourself of those burdens and head to the big city: the nice big house, doting woman on your arm, money in abundance, step-daughter who spends more time at boarding school and summer camps than at home." Seizing his throat, I curled my fingers, adding painful pressure to his windpipe. "What went through your mind on the long drive? With each passing road camera, capturing your locations, did you feel even an ounce of remorse for your little girls?"
An image of a young Alexa entered my mind. Her melodic giggle and wide, innocent eyes. Her happy, content smile as she ran with her sister.
Gasping for oxygen to inflate his lungs, he snatched my wrist, using brute vigour to dislodge my unmoving hand. "I don't know who—"
I smacked him in the face, hard, fisted his shirt collar and yanked him upright. We stood toe-to-toe, his stale breath wafting across my nose. "Didn't it bother you when their faces hit breaking news? Wasn't you concerned for them, Paddy? No uncovered bodies. No evidence implies their death. Now you have bigger problems. The man you so foolishly brushed palms with had a better idea, right? Once you left, you sick fucking coward, he snatched those two girls and confined them for his inappropriate velleities. You're an intelligent man, Mayor. What do you think a paedophile does to his victims?" I search his eyes. "Even if you weren't a father, doesn't your heart bleed for the lives he ruined? For the girls and their lost childhoods, stolen innocence and never-ending suffering?"
Nate came forward, anticipating the man's reasoning. He, much like the rest of us, abominates sexual predators.
A trickling sound filled my ears. I lowered my bored gaze, seeing foul-smelling urine pooling from his trouser leg.
"I don't know what you..." His eyes, saturated with despondent acceptance, drifted over my shoulder.
Arms crossed in a shielded manner, Alexa joined my side, cheeks blotchy from silent tears.
Hearing Patrick's admittance sharply became meaningless. Eyes tell many stories, and his round orbs so happened to confirm any seeds of doubts I had.
I released the tight grip on his shirt, casting him off with necessary force. "You will not regard her with imprudent arrogance, old man," I barked, blood simmering hot. "Get on your fucking knees." He hesitated. "Now!"
Falling to his knees, The Mayor, although aquiver with fear, never steered his gaze from Alexa. "Alexa." He saw the little girl he spent years refusing to acknowledge. "It's not possible," he whimpered, and she drew in a sharp breath. "You're dead."
I gave the men a curt nod, commanding them to leave the room, providing us with a moment.
"I don't know this man," Alexa whispered, face constricted as she stared him down. "I don't know him at all." When she turned to walk away, I gripped her arm. "Liam, I don't want to be anywhere near him." Her weak voice tugged on my heartstrings. "Liam..."
"Kill me," Paddy said, breaking into the tension. "I knew judgment day would come eventually. All I ask is you spare my girls."
My anger reached new levels. I am going to—
"What did you say?" Alexa asked, disbelief in her sliced eyes. He ignored her, panting heavily. "I asked you a question."
Not sparing her a glance, he eyed me, licking blood from his lips. "It's not their fault, Warren. Don't hold them accountable for my wrongdoing."
Alexa made a strangled noise, fingers touching her parted lips. "You vile, inconsiderate monster. I thought..." She looked heavenward, inhaling calming breaths, blinking back unwanted tears. "Did you not love us at all?"
I wasn't privy to her thoughts, but her sad eyes suggested ambivalence.
He offered silence.
"Why didn't you leave? You didn't need to kill her. My mother was a good person." Putting her back to us, she rubbed tears away. "My mother didn't deserve to die, Liam. Why didn't he let her go? If whores and money meant more to him than marriage, then good riddance. We didn't need him—we never needed him."
Paddy neglected his daughter's upset. Cold stare cast to the floor, he groaned, the pain in his lacerated thigh intolerable.
"We were close," she cried, anguish hitching her voice. "My Mum loved us so much, Liam." Nodding to herself, she thinned her wobbling lips. "We didn't need a father. She played all the important roles in our lives, and those are memories I'll cherish forever." When she glanced up, I wondered if she sought Adaline's comfort. "You beat her beautiful face blue."
"I did nothing of the sort." Paddy coughed, hacking phlegm in his throat. "I loved Adaline—"
"You lashed her with a belt," Alexa said with more conviction. I curbed a pleased smirk, glad she's summoning her inner aggression and indignation. "You were a drunken bully who preyed on a vulnerable woman." She pinned him head-on, enraged resentment overpowering moroseness. "As if breaking my mother's soul wasn't fulfilling enough, you visited my sister's bed to implement nightmares."
His nostrils flare. He stood, and I allowed it. Alexa needs to be the one to deliver a tribunal of penance. When she squared her stance, I almost took her hand, immobilised myself, gave her room to challenge those capabilities.
Limping to his dominating height, he stared directly at her, unsympathetic and distant.
"Captivity became everyday life. Cruel, merciless, violent beatings—the ones that fractured and broke my bones—became a favourable act as it kept filth from my mouth," she spat, the vein in her neck pulsing as she swallowed. "I learnt to switch off when he raped me. It was losing my sister that broke me. Kathy was all I had left," she said woefully, lifting her shoulders. "And I lost her. I lost her to Him."
He limped backwards, striving for space, but she followed until his back struck the wall. "Bitch," he hissed, hand unexpectedly snatched her throat.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you." I was on him in a heartbeat. Desert Eagle clicked to his temple. "You mightn't have cared for this girl, but I worship the ground she walks on. Anyone who harms one fucking hair on her head deals with me."
She was dejected, a tear cascading down her cheek. He released her, and she snatched a breath, kneading her sore flesh. "For what's it worth—"
"I don't care!" Ripping the Eagle from my hand, she cocked and aimed at his head, fierce determination in her eyes. "I just don't care, Dad." Pointing to his right leg, she blew his kneecap, and he roared, backside crashing to the floor. "Two." Diverting to his chest, she blew a second bullet, her body flinching as a powerful force struck back.
Paddy tilted his head back, hand clutching his chest, he begged her forgiveness, blood pooling, gargling at the back of his throat.
Wearing a brave expression, she set the gun to his forehead, closed her eyelids, mouthed something I hadn't caught, and then released the third bullet from the chamber, penetrating his skull with a reverberating bang—over. In ten seconds, months and months of assiduous investigating and feigned alliances, finalised.
Blood and splatters of Paddy's exploded nervous system painted the wall crimson. Alexa saw his blown head sag, and a childlike whimper fell from her rounded mouth. She shook the Eagle from her fingers, doubled over at the waist and vomited.
I curled my arms around her body, holding her upright. "Get it up," I coaxed, brushing hair back from her face, feeling her stomach muscles clenched through vicious cycles. "Good girl."
"Liam." Head buried in her hands, she broke into hysteria, trembling in my arms. "I killed my father."
That makes two of us. Leaning down and capturing Alexa's legs, I lifted her into my arms and carried her bridal style through the back door, wanting to dodge the amassed men hauled out front.
Beneath dark skies, I conveyed her into the cold night, listening to her muffled sobbing coalescing with thunderous waves crashing against the cliffside.
Scattered pebbles scraped under my shoes, each determined stride, the beginning of a new era. We reached the highest point, and lowered her from my arms, setting her feet to the ground.
Our tranquilising, picturesque views had nothing on her beauty. Heartbroken but breathing with a sense of closure, she stared at the unsettled ocean, losing herself to the turbulent waves and sea air.
"It never ended with you and Kathy," I tell her, and her eyes drifted to the floor. "Although heinous, Larry Fagan profited immensely from Bajramovic's human trafficking trade." Taking the USB stick out of my pocket, I held it between us. "More than five million for his protection. It's yours. If you want it."
Alexa studied the USB stick with an inscrutable expression. She took it from my hand, tapping it with her fingers. "Money makes the world go around, Liam." Bringing her arm back, she hurled the data into the water, a satisfied smile on her beautiful face. "But I don't want no part of their tainted wealth."
I brushed my knuckles along her jawline. "I love you, Alexa." Wrapping her in my embrace, I held her in my protective arms, detecting her relieved exhale. "Always."