The Waterford crystal bourbon decanter is empty — a sure sign that things were not right in the last weeks of her father’s life. Just a neat swig of the dark-maple liquid lingers in the bottom — an oversight he would have deemed unacceptable had he been alive.
The entire room is a vacuum of his absence. Even with a fire crackling in the hearth, the dark wood paneling of the living room holds none of his warmth. The lack of fresh cigar smoke — that gives it away, too. The dark-green couch upholstery always smelled like cigars.
According to the help, her father had not been downstairs in more than a week. His bedroom was his hospital, and Ziva had not yet had the strength to venture up there. She couldn’t stand to imagine him like that — trapped in his sickbay with an IV and a morphine drip, the shades drawn closed to keep out the light.
She could picture the rumpled tissues and pill bottles and plastic kidney dishes. The room would have the sickly smell of a nursing home — urine and feces and death. It’s the same smell Ziva’s old dog had had before her father put him to sleep — the smell that said he wasn’t long for this world.
There was a reason her father hadn’t brought that down here. Every detail of his house reflected how far he had come, from the regal arched entryway to the manicured courtyard with its wrought-iron gate and marble fountain. Ziva’s father was a man who dressed simply and still drove himself to work, but with his home he had ensconced himself in luxury. This house was his domain — his seat of power where he retreated from the world.
“Ziva, can I get you something?” It’s Flynn McGregor, her father’s house counsel.
“Uh . . . gin.” Gin was always what she drank here, though she never drank it at home.
Cyril is standing in front of the fire, his wrinkled hand resting on the mantel.
“Will Mordecai be joining us?” asks McGregor, pouring gin at her father’s cart.
“No,” says Ziva, her throat too tight to swallow.
McGregor’s jaw twitches. He looks concerned. “I really would prefer to speak with you both together. These things can be delicate . . . hurt feelings and whatnot.”
“It’s family business,” says Ziva sharply. “We’ll handle it.”
“I’m afraid it can’t wait, Flynn,” says Cyril, stepping away from the mantel. “The company cannot move forward until the estate is settled.”
Ziva lets out a huff of air through her nose. The whole charade is disgusting. These people didn’t care about her father. They cared about the money he brought in. Cyril is the company CFO, but she always thought of him as BlumBot’s very own Rasputin.
“The villa is, of course, willed to you both,” says McGregor, handing Ziva a drink. “Your father stipulated that it could not be sold. He established a generous trust for its upkeep, and it is his wish that it remain in the family.”
Ziva nods. After being forced from his father’s land in Israel, it’s unsurprising that he would want a permanent place for his family to stay.
McGregor settles himself into a chair beside her, unfolding his leather portfolio and scanning over the will.
“You or Mordecai may choose to live here, but you can work that out amongst yourselves.”
Ziva shakes her head. “I’m staying in Mountain View. Mordecai has his own life. He was rarely here when Father was alive.”
There’s a brief uncomfortable pause, but then McGregor nods and makes a note in his file. “So be it.”
“Your father’s portfolio has realized considerable earnings over the past five years. It is maintained by his wealth manager . . . a Mr. Roger Thacker.” McGregor hands her a business card on heavy stock with fancy embossed type. “That money will go into a trust, which will pass to you and Mordecai — fifty-fifty.”
Ziva swallows. It’s a bizarre thing, the death of a parent — to learn she’s about to inherit a small fortune just when she feels as though she’s lost everything.
“He bequeathed two houses to his sisters in Israel. The rest of his physical assets shall be split between the two of you. It’s really just the two cars and your father’s boat.”
Ah, the boat. She’d almost forgotten about the boat. Ziva had never learned to sail, but it pained her to imagine selling it.
“What about the company?” she asks.
“That is where it gets a little sticky.” McGregor glances back down at his notes. Ziva knows he doesn’t need a refresher; he’s bracing himself to deliver the news. “Your father stipulated that the company should pass directly to you. Mordecai is not mentioned at all.”
Ziva just stares. Her father didn’t bequeath the company to both of them?
“Is that . . . unusual?” asks Cyril.
“No, not at all,” says McGregor. “Though it is generally preferable that the deceased discuss these things with his children before his demise. I suppose Benjamin did not expect that he would die so soon.”
Ziva doesn’t say it, but she knows her father never had any plans to discuss it with Mordecai. Their relationship had always been difficult.
“Mordecai never was very interested in the family business,” says Cyril in a voice that suggests it’s all for the best.
“No,” says Ziva.
“I shall have Amanda draft a statement,” says Cyril, as if the matter is settled. “Let our clients know that the board will be appointing a new CEO posthaste.”
“Is that all you think about?” Ziva asks. She’s staring out the window across the courtyard at a chickadee drinking from the fountain.
“It’s important that we communicate that there won’t be any interruption in service,” says Cyril. “These are billion-dollar contracts we’re talking about. Thousands of bots —”
“My father is dead,” says Ziva. “I can’t just pretend that it’s business as usual.”
Cyril and McGregor exchange a look that irritates her instantly. It’s as though they’re parents deciding how to handle an upset child.
“You don’t have to worry about this,” says Cyril slowly. “I will take care of everything . . . I’ll let you know when the board has reached a decision.”
This statement calls Ziva back from her deep pit of anguish. Reached a decision?
“And what decision would that be?” Ziva asks in a cold voice.
“Our appointment of the new CEO.”
Ziva’s eyes narrow. “You can’t be serious.”
Cyril looks uneasy. “This is how things work, Ziva. It isn’t personal.”
“Don’t try to tell me how things work,” Ziva hisses. “This is my father’s company. I helped him build it! My design is what put BlumBot on the map!”
“I understand that,” says Cyril, still speaking in that slow patronizing voice. “But we have to do what’s best for BlumBot. Don’t get me wrong. You’re brilliant, Ziva, but you have never run a company.”
“Neither had my father when he built BlumBot from nothing,” Ziva growls.
A hard silence falls over the room, and Cyril looks as though he’s afraid to say any more.
“Let me be frank . . .” He takes a deep breath and looks as though he’s about to say something he’d rather not. “Your father always had so much confidence in you. But I believe it would be a disservice to you and a disservice to the company for you to take control before you are ready. You said yourself that you can’t act as though it’s business as usual. Perhaps we could appoint an interim CEO . . . just until you feel ready.”
“I’m ready now,” Ziva snaps. “I appreciate your candor, Cyril, but BlumBot is my company now.”
Cyril looks stricken. She can tell he’s never been spoken to like this in his life, and it fills her with a sense of grim satisfaction.
Ziva turns back to the window. “You may go.”
* * *
Four days later
Ziva takes a deep breath and examines herself in the mirror. Black jacket, black pencil skirt, and plain white blouse. Her legs make enough of a statement. She doesn’t need to overdo it.
The sunlight shining through her condo window is weak and anemic. It’s still early, and it’s drizzling unenthusiastically. The steely clouds on the horizon are thick and imposing, but the real storm hasn’t reached them yet.
Through the gloom of raindrops sliding down her window, she can see the bleary red glow from the sign over the Italian restaurant across the street. The proprietor — a skinny old man with leathery skin — is standing in the doorway looking out at the rain.
Ziva’s apartment is cold and silent. Her right stump is bothering her where it rests in the prosthetic, but she can’t think about that — not today.
She downs the rest of her coffee and leaves the cup in the sink. She brushes her teeth and applies her lipstick, double-checking her bag to make sure she has everything. Her lipstick is hot pink today. It makes her look a little less queasy.
Yesterday was the funeral. Today is the induction. It feels appropriate, somehow — like continuity.
Still, walking into her father’s office and claiming it as her own makes her feel like a child playing make-believe. It’s surreal.
Ziva takes the elevator down to the first floor and smiles at the doorman. It never feels natural, smiling so early, but she does it anyway.
Driving herself to BlumBot felt wrong on a day like today, so she hired a black-car service to take her to the office. The doorman holds an umbrella for her as she dashes to the car. Once the door slams shut on the cold drizzle, what she’s about to do begins to sink in.
The driver pulls up at BlumBot before she’s had a chance to collect herself. Ziva retouches her lipstick one more time and waits for the driver to open the door.
Another umbrella gets her inside, and she notices a pronounced change in the way the receptionist greets her.
She straightens up. This is her company. Time to act the part.
It feels strange to go to her father’s office, so she heads for the boardroom instead. There’s a tingling feeling inside her chest — a wave of energy dying to escape.
Ziva draws herself up, rounds the corner, and nearly smacks headfirst into someone. She bounds back, thrown for a loop, and comes face to face with her brother.
Mordecai looks much worse than the last time she saw him. His skin is sallow and his face is gaunt. His eyes are like two sunken pits. He looks as though he slept in his clothes, which hang loose and wrinkled about his body.
“Mordecai?” says Ziva, unprepared to face him.
She spoke to Mordecai on the phone, but he didn’t return for the funeral. She hadn’t expected to see him so soon, but here he is in front of her.
“What are you doing here?” she asks. It’s not like him to show up unannounced.
“I wanted to see you,” he says. He moves his chin to the side in a familiar gesture — a look that says he doesn’t like to explain himself.
Ziva breaks into the first real smile since her father’s diagnosis. She takes a step forward to embrace her brother, and his arms wind around her. His embrace is limp and fishlike — typical Mordecai.
Ziva pulls back to look at him. “When did you get in?”
“Last night,” he says. “I came by the house, but you weren’t there.”
He means their father’s house. “I was at home,” says Ziva.
There’s a long awkward pause, and Ziva glances at her watch. She’s not due in the meeting for another ten minutes, but she wished to be the first who arrived.
“I need to get in there,” says Ziva. “I’m being inducted today.”
“As CEO?” He sounds mildly surprised. “I didn’t think that had been decided yet.”
Ziva swallows but holds his gaze. Mordecai always makes her feel like a child — like the kid sister trying heels on for size.
Mordecai blinks irritably. “I wasn’t consulted.”
“Maybe you should talk to McGregor.”
“McGregor?” Mordecai is instantly angry. “Why should I talk to McGregor?”
“You weren’t here for the reading of the will,” says Ziva calmly. “Father left the company to me . . . all of it.”
Mordecai stares. Something isn’t quite sinking in. “What?”
“Everything else he left to both of us,” Ziva adds quickly. “You can even have the house, if you want.”
Mordecai is trembling with rage. It was a mistake to tell him this way. She shouldn’t have let McGregor read the will without him present.
“I have to go,” she says. “I’ll see you later.”
“So that’s it?” Mordecai snaps. “Father just cuts me out, and my baby sister gets to be CEO?”
“I’m not your baby sister,” Ziva growls. “Father left this company to me because it was my life.”
“Of course,” says Mordecai, his face still a mask of rage. “You and father always had that.”
The silence that falls between them is painful, and Ziva waits for him to go. One of the board members passes them in the hallway, mumbling a greeting to the both of them.
Mordecai just stands there looking lost and humiliated. Ziva feels a tug of that old fondness for Mordecai — that desire to protect him from the world, to make him understand.
They’ve had fights before, she and Mordecai, and they’ve always gotten past them. This will be no different.
Mordecai turns to go, and Ziva watches him slouch down the hallway. It isn’t the day, she tells herself. She’ll talk to him tomorrow.