I stood up, walked away, anger boiling inside me, confusion blasting me, uncertainty rocking me. “He just ran them, though, right? I mean….he loved us. Mom and Cal and I. He was…faithful, right?” Why was that even important? He was dead. Because of Roth. Because of my Valentine Roth.
Roth was silent for a moment. “I’m so sorry. I wish I could tell you what you want to hear. But it’s just not true. Like I said, he was a good father. He took care of you. I saw that. His biggest concern when I approached him about the merger was that you were taken care of, that none of it affected you. But was he maritally faithful? No. He—well, that’s not material. There were other ties to the underground. Whispers of drug running, connections to South American cartels.
“Nothing was ever verified, but it was enough to give me leverage over him. Some photos of him with his escorts, some ledgers I’d gotten hold of, people willing to rat him out for money. He got desperate. Did some of his own digging. Discovered some things about me, my old arms-dealing connections. Nothing substantial enough to really harm me, but enough to make the point that he was willing to play hardball. So I leaked some of the information regarding his prostitution ring to the right sources…the ring got busted, and he just barely avoided direct incrimination. It was enough, though. Authorities were nosing around him, making him nervous. The thing was, he knew I had the wherewithal to make it go away. It was a small ring, lucrative for him, but small on the national scale. A few well-placed bribes, and the pressure would go away. Just sell, I told him. Sign the merger.”
I faced away from him, arms crossed over my chest, tears pricking my eyes. I pushed them down, held them back, but just barely. “You’re lying! You’re making this up. It…it sounds like some stupid thriller novel. My father sold auto parts.”
Roth moved up behind me. “Why would I make this up, Kyrie? Why would I tell you this if it wasn’t true?”
I shook my head, hair swinging across my back. “I don’t— I don’t know. You’re crazy. This is all some game.”
His hands rested on my shoulders, and, for the first time since we’d met, I tensed, flinched, and pulled away from him. He sighed, but allowed me my space. “It’s all true, Kyrie. I’m sorry. I wouldn’t make up something like this. I couldn’t.”
I spun around, full-on angry now. “So you killed him? Because he wouldn’t sell?”
Roth shook his head. “No. It wasn’t like that. It wasn’t. That wouldn’t have helped me, for one thing. I needed him to run things in Detroit. Killing him wouldn’t have served a purpose. And, more importantly, I’m not like that.”
“You were an arms dealer!” I said. “A criminal. Why the f**k should I believe anything you say? How do I know you’re not a killer? How do I know you haven’t killed dozens of people?”
Roth groaned. “No, Kyrie. That was just business. It was a business. I sold crates of guns to men who wanted them. That’s all. It was boring, most of the time. Show up, exchange a truck full of crates for a suitcase full of cash. Go home and get drunk. Simple. I wasn’t…some sort of dangerous criminal, Kyrie. I wasn’t then, and I’m not now. It was a stupid business to get into, I realize that now, but I was alone in the world then, just trying to get by, and…one lucrative opportunity led to another, and then I was in it and making money hand over fist. I didn’t go around shooting people like some sort of James Bond villain.”
“Then what happened with my father?” I had to know. I didn’t want to, but I had to.
He turned away. “Like I said, he was getting desperate. The pressure was mounting. I’d put him there on purpose, just to get him to sell, and then I’d make sure it all went away. For another man, it would have been threats of pictures of him with a mistress sent to his wife and the board, or whatever it took to motivate the sale. I had no interest in ruining lives, I was just…singularly focused. But your father took it personally. Instead of selling, he cornered me in a parking garage. He was drunk, or on drugs or something. He wasn’t himself. He had a gun, and he was ranting. Shouting at me, threatening me. I tried to calm him down. I told him we’d work something out. I promised him I’d make the suspicion go away. But…he wasn’t listening.” His voice lowered to a whisper. I had to strain to hear him. “He put the gun to my head. Said he was going to kill me. I watched…his finger, on the trigger. He was shaking. He really was going to kill me. I remember realizing that. I tried to keep him talking. He lowered the gun a bit, just enough for me to jump him. We struggled. I was just trying to get the gun out of his hand. I wasn’t going to shoot him, just…disarm him. I’d been shot once, and I didn’t want to repeat the experience. But he was…crazed. Then the gun went off. I thought he was just shocked at first, like, ‘shit, the gun went off.’ But then he went still, and I felt…something wet. On my chest.”
He clenched his fists, leaned over, and rested his forehead on the railing. Finally, he straightened, sucking in a steadying breath. “Fuck. I’ve never spoken of this to anyone.” His eyes met mine. Blue as a winter sky, earnest, a little fearful, even. Yet his voice emerged as strong and controlled as ever.
“I pushed him off me, and he was bleeding. God. There was blood f**king everywhere. I don’t even know how it happened. We were fighting for the gun, and then it just went off. The bullet, by some freak accident, hit him right in the heart. He was dead within seconds.” Roth dragged in a breath and let it out, pacing away from me, hands fisting in his hair. “I should’ve said something to someone. I mean, it was an accident. But then there would’ve been an investigation, and while my business was totally legal and legitimate, I did have things in my past I didn’t want getting out. The nature of my coercion of your father wouldn’t have looked good, either. So…I suppose I panicked a bit. I left him there, went back upstairs. The garage was in the basement of a building in which I was renting a penthouse. So I just went upstairs, changed, and then got rid of the clothes. There was no record of my stay in that penthouse, as I knew the owner and was merely subletting it for cash. No cameras, no records, and my friend wouldn’t talk. So I packed up and vanished. I made sure the suspicion surrounding your father went away, and by the time his body was found, it looked like a mugging gone wrong.”