Sadiya Dewan hastily shut the front door to her third-floor flat, carefully turned both locks, and slumped to the dark oak floor of her living room. Her back against the door, she hugged her knees and bowed her head. How could it even be possible? She pressed her garnet ring into the palm of her left hand, stopping only when a sharp stab of pain in the finger underneath brought her back to the present.
Pulling the ring gently off, she could see her finger was already swollen and discolored. She rolled the jewelry piece about in her hand, as if inspecting it for the first time, stopping to stare at its dark red stones. She lightly touched them, then rubbed her finger against her thumb.
Years ago, she’d had the ring custom-crafted at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, to herald difficult, life-changing moves she was about to make. They’d been harder than she’d imagined at the time. Only mere months ago, she’d thought she’d finally found footing on higher ground, the past seemingly loosening its grip.
Now, everything might be lost.
She once more gently rubbed the ring’s garnet stones, feeling the sticky, dry blood almost hidden in their deep red hue.
Westfield, New Jersey
Miles Meehan's cell phone went off, jolting him from somewhere between wakefulness and sleep, a zombie-like state where he spent most nights. The ringtone hit him with a Pavlovian gut punch, just as it had every time for the past six weeks.
He fumbled about and finally grabbed his cell, noticing it was close to 3 am. Swallowing hard, he saw the call was from Impetus in Utah, where they had placed Rebecca, his 17-yeard old daughter, against her will.
Kate stirred in bed next to him. Moments passed, the phone to his ear. "Ok." Wind blew the curtains momentarily open. "Anything else I should know?" The curtains closed again. "I understand." Miles pushed his fingers through his hair. "I'll call the facility in the morning. Thank you."
At least she was alive.
Kate slowly pulled herself up and propped her back against the headboard. "Did she threaten suicide again?" Despite more than twenty years of marriage, it still shocked him how flat her voice could be in the midst of a crisis.
He lay back in bed. The wind gently blew the curtain aside again, and he saw the full moon. A couple thousand miles away, Rebecca was in an ambulance on her way to Salt Lake Mental Health Center, under that same moon. It was exactly six weeks since she had last taken that trip.
“You know she doesn’t mean it.”
He was not at all sure of that. Bad things happen. They had happened to him when he was young, innocent, happy—and unsuspecting. Ever since, he’d been dogged by constant foreboding, as if a shadowy demon perpetually lay in wait around the next corner, anticipating the opportunity to drag him to an unknowable—but undoubtedly horrible— fate, pronouncing as he did, “I told you it would end badly.”
Even if Rebecca didn’t kill herself, a bet he did not want to take, in two months she would turn eighteen. She could leave Impetus and do whatever she wanted—and she would undoubtedly head to where danger lay in wait. Giving in to her, taking her home, was the best shot they had to make sure his daughter was safe.
But Kate would disagree. And her logic would be unassailable.
Sadiya’s day had begun in CognitionCubed’s office on Clerkenwell Close. With its rounded brick exterior, large iron-framed windows, polished concrete floors, and wooden rafters, the former furniture factory had been transformed into a light, airy, 21st century workspace.
Sadiya sat in her office, waiting for the company’s larger-than-life CEO, Bernard Moreaux, to arrive from New York. Her gaze alternated between her monitor and the bullpen seating outside her glass wall.
The digital media startup where she worked was a uniquely acquisitive corporate animal, constantly buying smaller, complimentary companies in exchange for its own shares. By their nature, the founders of the startups Moreaux wanted to buy desired control as they built their business, making the acquisition dance delicate. Those founders had walked away from larger corporates or investment banks, took small or no salaries, scrimped, saved, and sacrificed all for the ultimate goal—to create their own “unicorn,” a company worth over one billion dollars. Moreaux had to convince them they would retain sufficient control, gain more firepower, and achieve a higher valuation at the ultimate exit by throwing their lot in with him. Founders who quickly capitulated were generally hiding flaws in their plans. The true stars, the winners, needed to be courted by Moreaux. As the center of CognitionCubed’s universe, he would have it no other way.
It had been months since she’d seen him. Their previous interactions—when it had been her turn to merge her startup, Parameters, in exchange for stock—had been a roller coaster. He'd asked to meet her at a conference where she was speaking, saying Parameters “could be” an acquisition target for his digital media conglomerate. Through years of hard work and sacrifice, she had built an impressive data analytics platform. However, raising capital had proved elusive, and she had almost burnt through her nest egg. So, despite wanting to go it on her own, she had to listen to Moreaux. And, to her chagrin, he quickly sniffed out that Parameters was running on fumes. It didn’t matter; she was not going to fold easily. When he asked her what she thought Parameters was worth, she had started high. Bargaining hard felt a matter of survival.
His negotiating style threw her for a loop, however, sometimes talking as if they’d reached agreement and the deal was done, other times pulling back as if he wanted her to chase him. The talks went on for so long colleagues advised he was intentionally getting her to a point where she’d have no choice but to take whatever deal he offered, having run out of money.
Finally, there had been a crucial lunch meeting, just the two of them. Knowing full well her dire straits, he began by talking about everything but business, describing his favorite, lavishly expensive vacation spots, name dropping celebrities he knew, telling her about his new flat in town, and asking her about her personal life. She had wanted to scream. As coffees came, he finally got to the point—and it shocked her. He gave in, largely relenting on her terms, with a wide smile, eyes fixed on her for so long she’d had to look away. Not knowing how, she managed to hide her relief. She quickly merged her company into CognitionCubed, took a healthy allotment of stock back, and had not seen him in person since.
But she’d felt his frenetic energy all the way from his New York office. London staff spoke about him with both fear and excitement, his communications a series of staccato emails and video calls making it clear he perceived—and expected—things they did not.
He was a visionary, anyone could see. The company was being assembled like a proper puzzle, piece by piece, to reflect his view of what a modern-age digital media enterprise should be. And she had to admit he was charming, even if a bit full of himself.
The latter thought made her blush as she saw him make his way into the outer office. She had forgotten how athletically he carried himself, as he moved about the bullpen. Seeing her through her glass wall, he made a beeline to her office. Her smile was involuntary, big, awkward. It annoyed her to no end that she couldn’t pull it under control, driven, as it was, by unexpected, involuntary gratitude for him buying Parameters and granting her a senior position, Head of Data Analytics. She told herself that she should not be grateful—she had deserved it. But some instincts simply endure, no matter what.
"It's lovely to see you again,” Moreaux said, his tall, slender frame filling the doorway, a full head of gray, youthfully cut hair. He smelled faintly of cologne, subtle and fresh, as he walked over and leaned down to kiss both her cheeks.
"You, too," replied Sadiya. "How was your trip?"
"The wheels went up, they came down. Not too much happened in between, the way it should be." He grinned a boyish smile, clearly enjoying his own humor. Then he turned serious. "I’d like you to join the meetings with the M&A guys. I want to see what insights you have." His authoritarian tone set her back.
But she was going to a meeting with the M&A guys. They were a group of ex-mergers and acquisitions— “M&A” —investment bankers like Moreaux, brought in to help him pinpoint and make the right acquisitions. She couldn’t help but feel jealous of them, masters of the business universe. The job was a ticket to a future of endless possible careers. But life—and her own decisions—had conspired against her, and she’d had to give up that dream. Her father had never let her forget.
Now, however, she’d not only sold her company to CognitionCubed and negotiated a premium deal—she was being invited to sit in with the M&A guys, as if she belonged. It was too late to throw that in her father’s face. Yet the thought still motivated her, as silly as that seemed. He had died eight years ago.
Sadiya opened her mouth to speak, but, after an obligatory, “Of course,” everything that came to mind seemed obsequious. He waited, regarding her with a look that felt as if there were two versions of her and he couldn’t discern which one she was. He turned and left. All the light he had shone went dark.
As Sadiya sat down at her computer, she watched him move from spot to spot, making conversation, seemingly relishing his near celebrity status. He caught her staring, and she flushed, looking back at her monitor, embarrassed.
Westfield, New Jersey
Miles got up early without waking Kate. It would be a few hours until he could call Salt Lake Medical and check in on Rebecca, but he couldn’t bear staying at home, mired in dreadful anticipation. He got ready, drove to the station, trudged on to the Raritan Valley Line, and fell into a window seat.
As he watched the landscape quickly, meanly transform from posh suburban to post-industrial, gritty urban, he remembered simpler, happier times when, as a boy, he traveled with his father to New York. Those were the richest days of his life, where he got to spend time alone with his dad, an optimistic, jovial, friendly man, whose presence made his family—his dad, mom, and him—feel like a real family, not merely a threesome bound by obligation and norms. It didn't matter to him back then that that the rail cars were full of dull, gray men, hiding behind newspapers. Being with his dad had meant everything to him.
The riders had changed since—he sat among both men and women of all colors, races, and ages, with blue jeans and hoodies sprinkled amongst the suits, dresses, and business casual attire. However, the present-day commuters wore the same drab visage as the old, studiously avoiding eye contact with their fellow passengers. He was certain he was the only one to take in the people around him.
Miles exited post-apocalyptic Penn Station and walked through Chelsea toward his company's office in the Flatiron district. As he marched east on 23rd, golden rays from the rising sun confronted him directly, rebounding off glass buildings and cars. He shielded his eyes from the light, worrying about Rebecca.
At least she was alive.
His office was in a historic, Neo-Classical building overlooking Madison Square Park, with chamfered corners, and tall sides of rusticated limestone punctuated by intricate moldings and window bays. Its lobby trumpeted the building's provenance, with elaborate patterned marble floors and massive, ornate brass light fixtures. His company had hired a celebrity interior designer for their space. As Miles stepped out of the elevator, he was greeted by a large African warrior mask against a deliberately faded brick partition. He walked through open seating to his office, noting as usual the painting of a woman in a pretty summer dress, her head and shoulders out of view, holding an ax. He felt out of place.
Some four months' earlier, he'd left his tightly buttoned-up law firm to join the hot new digital media startup CognitionCubed, or CC as he called it. It had been a major leap, and he was still trying to find his footing in the rock n’ roll startup world.
Critical to CC's plans was to list the company’s shares on the public stock market in an initial public offering, or “IPO,” so much so they'd hired him to get Securities Exchange Commission approval to publicly market their stock. Despite his nervousness, he acknowledged this was the first time he'd found himself excited to go to work. He had toiled away for years as a securities lawyer, but now he could be part of something bigger, bolder. And then there was the money. Occasionally, he would imagine cashing his options in after they went public, penciling the numbers out but never quite believing they might come true.
Despite the official stance that going public would supercharge their “roll up” strategy of buying other startups, the rumor was that the driving force was actually to give the CEO, Bernard Moreaux, more autonomy, with no single shareholder owning enough stock to exert control over him. People quietly described him as a "force of nature." Moreaux and he had exchanged no more than pleasant greetings as they passed in the hallways, and Miles was always relieved when, as was the case that day, Moreaux was away traveling. So much confidence in one man unnerved him.
He grabbed a coffee and hung his suit jacket on the back of the door of his office, still mildly embarrassed—only a select few were given their own space. His office had a glass wall, so anyone who walked by could see his smart wooden desk sitting on a Himalayan tribal rug and his window looking over 26th Street. While he was also cautiously proud of his office, he couldn't shake the feeling that one day someone would walk in and tell him it was all a mistake, he had to leave.
Over a coffee, he dug into the draft prospectus to be used to market the public offering. For a brief, almost wondrous while, he confidently lost himself in the work, as he alternatively marked up changes and left questions and comments for the line and accounting people.
The alarm on his phone startled him when it went off at 11, the pit in his stomach reminding him to call Salt Lake Mental Health. Shame washed over him to have forgotten, even for the shortest of whiles, his daughter, all alone in a psych ward.
It took forever to get through to Rebecca's case worker. As he waited, he swiveled his chair to focus on a small park across the street. A young mom was comforting a little girl who had fallen; she wrapped her arms around her daughter, enveloping her. It made him both envious and sad.
His parental descent into hell had gone like this—two years ago Rebecca's behavioral issues had gone from troublesome to serious, eight months ago she’d almost overdosed, six months ago they sent her to a wilderness program in Utah, three months ago they forced her to go to Impetus, an institutional boarding school, and six weeks ago she'd first threatened suicide if they didn’t take her home. Miles’ longstanding sense of dark foreboding had taken on a new purpose and meaning as Rebecca spun out of control.
"Hi, this is Kristen. Is this Mr. Meehan?"
"Yes," replied Miles, alert. "Is Rebecca ok?"
"Yes. She's settled in, still sleeping. Impetus hasn't given us any more background since Rebecca's last visit. Is there anything new we should be aware of?"
Strangely, he wanted to tell her that, yes, there was—he'd begun therapy, and it was a tough slog. All he felt was challenged to do more, to be more, than he was capable of.
But he knew Kristen was asking about Rebecca. "Just more intransigence, I’m afraid. It's been like a hunger strike. She felt abandoned." Why was he trying to make excuses for Rebecca with this stranger? "Well, you don't want to hear about all of that."
Kristen didn't respond.
"I suppose I won't be able to talk to her, just like the last time."
"Sorry, yes, those are the rules."
"You'll let her know I called, though?"
He knew tomorrow and the next they would tell him nothing of any significance. If it went like last time, Rebecca would say she wasn't suicidal after all and, after the three-day minimum, they'd send her back to Impetus, legal obligations fulfilled. God only knew how Impetus would react. More importantly, the precariousness of Rebecca’s intentions would not be resolved, at least for him.
The threat of suicide—once you’ve put it out there, you can’t ever take it all the way back.