“There are very few people who are going to look into the mirror and say, ‘That person I see is a savage monster;’ instead, they make up some construction that justifies what they do.”—Noam Chomsky
“Appius?” Sookie squeaked out, though she didn’t turn around.
“Yes,” came her father-in-law’s cold voice even as she also heard the sound of the door closing behind him.
After looking at her sleeping child again, Sookie forced herself to turn around, making sure her body blocked Johan from his grandfather’s sight.
The man in front of her looked very different from the Appius she’d seen before. Instead of a business suit, he wore hospital scrubs, his longish gray hair hidden under a scrub cap. Instead of his dark eyes sparkling as he tried to manipulate and charm her, his now almost-black orbs seemed dead—like the eyes of a shark, staring and unfeeling. Instead of offering her a fake, welcoming smile, his lips were curled into a predatory grin.
“What are you doing here, Appius?” Sookie asked cautiously. “How did you get in here?”
He chose to answer only her first question. “I came to see my grandson—of course,” he said, his expression becoming even more sinister-looking.
“He’s asleep,” Sookie responded quickly, her voice shaking. “Maybe you could come back later.”
Appius shook his head. “No—I will not be coming back later, Sookie.”
Her eyes darted to the door behind him.
“Your guard won’t be bothering us either. Mr. Mott injected him with enough tranquilizers to put a horse to sleep.” He chuckled maliciously. “You know—it really is amazing what that man can accomplish in such a short amount of time. Just look at me! He was able to make me a doctor in less than 90 minutes.” He showed her a security credential with Appius’s picture on it.
“What do you want?” Sookie asked, trembling even more than before.
“So many things,” Appius said enigmatically, “but let’s start with you sitting in the rocking chair.” He motioned to where he wanted her using his right hand to do it. Up until that moment, he’d kept that hand in the pocket of his doctor’s coat. She wished that he’d left it there, especially when she saw what it was holding: a gun.
“I know that you have already pushed the call button for the nurse,” Appius said with a sick grin.
Sookie gasped with fear.
“But do not worry. I assure you it was unnecessary, and no one will disturb us, my dear—at least, not until I’m ready. The second I closed the door, Mr. Mott placed a call to the nurse’s station. They have already been alerted to my presence, and they also know that I have this,” he said leveling the gun at her. “Now. Sit. Down.”
Shuddering with fear, Sookie glanced back at Johan before moving to the chair. Her tiny baby seemed more vulnerable than ever—wrapped up tight in his little blanket as his own grandfather held a gun that could take his life in a millisecond.
“Please. Don’t hurt him,” Sookie pled as Appius walked toward the crib and peered inside.
Just then, Sookie’s phone rang.
Appius looked at her. “You’d better answer that,” he said in a low voice.
Sookie knew who it was—knew it in her bones. “Eric,” she said as she answered.
Appius put his index finger to his lips in order to signal for her to be quiet, and then he tilted the gun in Johan’s direction.
A tear slipped down her face as she and Appius stared at each other.
“Sookie?” came Eric’s voice, loud enough for Appius to hear it too. Eric’s panic was evident.
Appius smiled and held out his hand, gesturing for Sookie to give him the device.
“I love you,” she whispered into the receiver before handing the phone to Appius.
“Sookie!” came Eric’s desperate voice again.
“No, not Sookie” Appius said. “Your wife, your son, and I will be waiting for you. When you get to the hospital, come into this room alone. And don’t even think about sending in the cavalry,” he added.
“Sookie, tell him what I have in my hand,” Appius said coldly, holding the phone out so that Sookie could speak into it.
“A gun,” Sookie said as more tears fell from her eyes.
“And tell him who I’m pointing it at,” Appius said shifting the aim of the weapon.
“And now who?” Appius asked with derision.
“At Johan,” Sookie sobbed.
“Do you understand?” Appius asked lifting the phone to his ear so that he could hear Eric’s response.
“I understand,” Eric responded.
Appius smiled. “Good.” He hung up the phone and then threw it across the room.
Sookie’s cries came a little louder as Appius reached into the crib and touched Johan’s tiny head.
“Shhh,” Appius sounded. “We wouldn’t want to wake the baby. Not yet.”
“Please—don’t hurt him,” Sookie whimpered. “I’ll do anything. Please.”
“Shhh. I don’t intend to kill your child today, but I will if I’m pushed,” Appius said. “I intend to kill you, Sookie. I’ll take you from Eric—just as Stella was taken from me. And do you know the best part?” he asked with a crazed look in his eyes.
Sookie’s body shook as she shook her head. “No.”
“Eric is going to feel responsible when I kill you—like it’s his fault. You see—I’m going to make him choose between you and his son. And I know him; he will pick the boy to live. And then I will kill you. And then every day he lives from now on, he’ll remember that choice when he looks at Johan. He will grow bitter. Perhaps, he will even grow to hate the boy in time.”
“Eric’s not like that. He’s not like you,” Sookie whimpered.
“I suppose Johan will be the one to find that out,” Appius grinned.
Sookie shook her head again. “Why do you hate Eric so much? All he has ever wanted was your love.”
“If that were true, he wouldn’t be trying to take away my company,” Appius growled.
“He’s not trying to do that,” Sookie said quietly.
“You know nothing,” Appius returned icily.
Sookie tried another tactic. “You’ll go to prison if you go through with this. It’s not too late to stop this.”
“No—it is Eric’s actions that would put me into a prison—a prison of his making. And I don’t intend to let him.”
“If you hurt us, you’ll be caught. You won’t be able to get away.”
“Oh—I know that,” Appius sneered. “And getting away is the least of my concerns. After I kill you—after I kill Eric’s star—I’m going to reunite with my own. With my Stella. It’s the only way,” he said rabidly.
And—in that moment—Sookie knew that Appius was a psychopath. And—she knew that she would likely be dead before the day was over.
So she did all that she could do; she prayed for her son—for Johan’s life.
Eric kept the phone against his ear well after Appius had hung up.
“I never should have left them,” he whispered. “I never should have approached Sookie in the first place.” He closed his eyes. “I bring death to everyone I love.”
“No!” Bobby yelled out, taking Eric’s free hand with his. “You don’t! Now—snap the fuck out of your self-hatred mode! Sookie and Johan need you! Right. Now!”
Eric realized that he was breathing erratically, panicking. He took in Bobby’s words. His friend was right. Sookie needed him to be calm. Johan needed him to be calm. They needed him to get them out of this, not to make it worse.
“Breathe, Eric,” Niall said gently. “Just breathe, son.”
Eric took several long steadying breaths before opening his eyes. “Okay,” he said. “I’m ready.”
And he was ready—to do whatever it took to save his family.
“What did Appius say?” Bobby asked.
“He wants me to come in—alone,” Eric reported. “He has a gun pointed at Sookie and Johan,” his voice broke a little. “If anyone else goes in there, he’ll,” his voice cracked, “hurt them.”
“Dear God,” Niall gasped.
Bobby immediately lifted the phone in his hand to speak. He was on the phone with the hospital’s chief of security, Maxwell Lee, who had been the one to call Eric about the threatening phone call that had been received at the nurses’ station minutes before. Bobby had stayed on the line with Maxwell as Eric had used Bobby’s phone to call Sookie.
“I can confirm that Appius Northman is in the room with Sookie and the baby,” Bobby said quickly. “He does have a gun, and he’s asked for Eric to go in there—alone. He’s threatened to hurt Sookie and the baby if anyone else goes in there.”
There was a pause.
Bobby looked at Eric almost reluctantly. “Yes. I believe Appius is capable of hurting them.”
There was another pause.
“Okay,” Bobby said. “We are forty minutes out.”
“Thirty-five,” came Mikey’s voice from the driver’s seat.
Eric closed his eyes. “Thirty-five minutes,” he whispered, praying that he would be in time to protect his child and wife. “Please, keep them safe,” he said, still praying. The others in the car did nothing to interrupt him; in fact, they were saying prayers of their own.
“I don’t give a rat’s ass what you say!” Dr. Amy Ludwig said to the head of security. Maxwell Lee was a tall man—a big one too. Even though he was 59 years old, he kept himself in great shape and looked ready, willing, and able to kick anyone’s ass. That was one of the reasons why he was so good at his job.
However, there was one person on the hospital’s staff that intimidated even him: Dr. Amy Ludwig. Though she was well shy of 5 feet tall, Ludwig was the sharpest individual Maxwell had ever known, both in intellect and in biting wit. He had no doubt that she could give someone a coronary with a mere look—just so that she could revive them and do it again.
He liked her a lot, but he was scared of her all the same.
“Ludwig, you and Indira both need to evacuate with the others,” Maxwell pleaded.
“Do you really think I’m going to do that when a maniac has one of my babies in his clutches?” the doctor asked.
“I’m not leaving them either,” Indira said stubbornly, nursing a cut on the back of Milos’s head. She’d found him unconscious in the supply room near Sookie’s room. Her own cheek was swollen from where Franklin had hit her to keep her from running into Johan’s hospital room after she’d received the call at the nurses’ station.
Maxwell cursed under his breath. “Fine! But stay here; don’t go any closer to the Northman room—got it?”
Dr. Ludwig nodded in agreement. “I’m not an idiot,” she muttered.
Maxwell took a deep breath as three people got off of the elevator and came toward him. He recognized one as Dan Mason, the police chief of East Hampton. The other two looked like FEDs if he’d ever seen one. Moments later, several other agents also entered via the stairwell, joining members of Maxwell’s own security force, which he’d stationed in the hall—after they’d helped to complete the evacuation of the area.
“Hey Max,” Dan said, extending his hand. “This is Special Agent in Charge Kate Batanya. And this is Agent William Compton,” he introduced.
“What do we have?” Agent Batanya asked.
Clearly she was all about getting to the point. Maxwell liked her immediately.
“About twenty minutes ago, first the nurses’ station here and then I received a phone call from a man who didn’t identify himself. All that he told me was that Appius Northman had entered into Sookie and Johan Northman’s hospital room and that he had a gun. I was warned by the caller to keep everyone out—except for Eric Northman, the child’s father. The man indicated that Appius Northman was ready to kill the mother and child and himself if we tried anything.”
“You have evacuated the neighboring rooms?” Agent Batanya asked as she looked around.
“Yes—first thing. Luckily, this wing of the neonatal ward contains only larger private rooms, and everyone was quickly moved to the other side of the floor.” Maxwell motioned toward a set of glass double doors. “Those are bullet proof.”
“The rooms above and below the Northman room?” Agent Batanya asked.
“I’ve evacuated those, as well as all adjacent rooms on the floors above and below as a precaution,” Maxwell informed.
“Good,” Agent Batanya stated, obviously impressed by the speed and efficiency of the man’s work.
“The one who made the phone call was probably Franklin Mott,” Milos said somewhat groggily. Indira had given him smelling salts, and Dr. Ludwig had given him a drug to help to counteract the tranquilizer he’d been given, but he was still a little out of it. “I saw Appius and tried to apprehend him, but I was injected with something from behind. Before I passed out, I saw who did it: Mott.”
“Who are you?” Agent Batanya asked.
“Milos Greer. I work as a guard for Eric Northman and his family,” Milos responded.
“You’re doing a shitty job,” Bill growled.
“Compton!” Agent Batanya said with authority. “I told you that if I heard one counterproductive thing from you, you’d be out of here. I understand that you have a personal connection to this family, and I’m letting you observe out of courtesy, but don’t test my fucking patience!”
“Why are you in Eric Northman’s employ?” Agent Batanya asked Milos.
“Because of Eric’s father—mostly,” Milos answered.
“Have there been previous threats?” Agent Batanya asked.
“Not specific ones, but Appius has tried to hurt Eric in a variety of nonviolent ways, including breaking into his home more than once, installing surveillance equipment to monitor that home, stationing people to follow him or spy on him, and blackmailing him.”
“True?” Agent Batanya asked in Bill’s direction.
“Yes,” Bill said stiffly.
“And that is why you were helping the Northmans?” she asked Bill.
“Where the fuck were you?” Milos asked Bill, a little more alertly. “You were supposed to be following Appius from the club today.”
Bill glared at Milos. “I got a lead on Mott and trailed him here. I had no idea what Appius was planning.”
Having taxed himself by speaking, Milos shook his head wearily and looked about ready to faint, though Indira steadied him in the chair he was sitting in.
“I don’t have time for drama,” Agent Batanya muttered. “You,” she said looking at Bill, “stay out of my way! Got it? You observe only.”
Agent Batanya quickly spoke into her earpiece and deployed the agents on her team to various places on the floor. Then she looked at Mr. Lee. “The room has a phone?”
Maxwell nodded. “Yes.”
Agent Batanya lifted the phone at the nurses’ station.
“Dial 9-7-3-8,” Indira instructed.
The agent nodded and did just that, keeping her eyes trained on the door of room 738, which was about forty feet from the nurses’ station. Four of her agents were moving into place in various places along the hallway.
“Hello,” came a shaky female voice.
“Sookie Northman?” Agent Batanya asked.
“Can you ask Appius Northman if he will speak with me?”
“He says he won’t,” Sookie said.
“That’s okay,” Agent Batanya said comfortingly.
“He says that he will shoot Johan if Eric doesn’t come in here within twenty minutes,” Sookie said. “He’s making me hang up now,” she added before the line went dead.
Agent Batanya dialed the Manhattan field office in order to update them on the situation. Quickly, she explained that she didn’t think traditional negotiation tactics would work—since Appius Northman had indicated his willingness to kill himself along with his hostages, which was always a deadly sign in Kate’s experience. And any plans to storm the room were fraught with danger for the hostages, one of whom was an infant, which changed the stakes considerably in Kate’s mind.
Just then, the elevator opened, and out stepped Eric, flanked by Niall, Bobby, Henry, and Blake. The latter two had left the club while Eric and the others were making further plans and meeting with de Castro to inform him of the true paternity of Freyda’s child. Henry and Blake had been planning to go to Niall’s estate to pick up Eric and Sookie’s belongings and little Ned so that the new parents wouldn’t have to worry about it the next day. However, they’d decided to pay Sookie and Johan a short visit before going to Niall’s; they’d just arrived at the hospital when Bobby had called them to let them know what was happening.
“You are Eric Northman?” Agent Batanya asked, immediately recognizing the man who strode directly toward the hallway where his son and wife’s hospital room was located. Two of her agents stopped him.
“Yes—let me through,” Eric said. “I have to get in there.”
“Not yet,” Agent Batanya said in the kind of tone that brooked no argument.
“He’ll hurt them,” Eric said with desperation in his voice.
“Mr. Northman,” Agent Batanya said more softly, though firmly, “it is my opinion that your father intends to hurt someone no matter what you do.”
Eric looked at her with fear in his eyes. “Who are you?”
“I’m Kate,” she answered. “Special Agent Kate Batanya, and I’ve been an FBI agent for almost fifteen years. From what Agent Compton and your guard have told me, there is a history of animosity between you and your father?”
“Has it ever been violent?” she asked.
“Define violent,” Eric said in a whisper.
“Physical,” Agent Batanya clarified.
“Once—he nearly choked me. In January,” Eric answered.
“You didn’t press charges?”
“What precipitated today’s events?” Agent Batanya asked.
“I confronted my father about threats he’s made to me,” Eric responded. “He thinks I’m out to take his business. He blames me for everything wrong in his life.” He sighed. “And I told him I was married and had a son.”
“And his first instinct was to come here and hurt them?” Agent Batanya asked, taking in the tortured-looking man in front of her.
“Yes,” Eric said simply. “He thinks I’m trying to destroy him, even though I’m not. So he wants to hurt the people I love most. That’s what,” he paused, “he’s always tried to do.”
Agent Batanya looked at Eric through narrowed eyes. She was not one to ask a lot of questions. She’d already figured out what she needed to know based on Compton’s brief report and the information she’d discerned from those she’d talked to at the hospital.
And what she needed to know was simple: Appius Northman was homicidal and suicidal.
The only question was how to shift the situation so that there were the least possible casualties. Her almost-infallible instincts had already told her that the day would end with at least one body bag. She hoped it was only Appius Northman in a bag.
“Who are these men?” she asked looking at the people who had come in with Eric Northman.
“I’m Niall Brigant. Sookie is a relative of mine,” Niall spoke up. “What are you doing to get to her and Johan out of there?”
Agent Batanya sighed. “I have sharpshooters in the building across from the hospital, but the curtains in the room are closed and my people cannot see inside. We know where the two adults are from their heat signatures, but—again—we don’t have a shot. I have ten agents and Swat team support stationed in the stairwell and ready to breach the Northman room, but doing so right now would jeopardize the hostages.”
She sighed. “I won’t lie to you. The situation is grave. I have one man with a gun inside a hospital room with an infant and his mother, and that gunman wants an additional hostage. I have no doubt that Appius Northman is prepared to kill himself based upon the information I have gotten on him. A man like him wouldn’t do a thing like this if he wasn’t,” she added evenly.
Eric took a sharp breath.
“Now—who are the rest of you?” Agent Batanya asked. “I need to clear out anyone that shouldn’t be here.”
“I’m Blake Walsh, NYPD,” Blake said, flashing his badge.
“I’m Bobby Burnham,” Bobby said. “I’m Eric’s attorney, and I’m not going anywhere.”
“I’m Henry Jiles.”
Agent Batanya smiled at him. “You are the reason we now have Franklin Mott in custody?”
Henry nodded. “Yes ma’am. I’m ex-Navy SEAL. I saw Mott trying to exit the building after the alarm went off. I’m afraid I couldn’t get out of the way in time when he tried to go past me.” He patted his leg. “It’s prosthetic, and sometimes my reflexes aren’t that fast.”
“That would account for the injuries to his face then,” Agent Batanya smirked. “He must have tripped over your leg? And—what? Your nerve damage caused your prosthetic to,” she paused, “twitch uncontrollably?”
“Yes. I few times,” Henry responded with a tiny smirk, though his face held mostly worry for Sookie and Johan.
“I need to get in there,” Eric said. “Appius is expecting me.”
Just as Eric said those words, his phone rang. Agent Batanya nodded and Eric answered it.
“Yes?” Eric said.
There was a pause.
“I am here, but the FBI agent in charge won’t let me pass.”
There was another pause.
“I’ll tell her.”
Eric hung up.
“Appius says that if I’m not in there in five minutes, he’s going to shoot Sookie in the leg.”
Agent Batanya nodded and then signaled to a man in a suit on the other side of the nurses’ station.
“He’s going to put a wire on you, Mr. Northman,” she said. “I want to hear what is being said in there.”
“What if Appius finds out it’s there . . . ,” Eric started, his concern evident.
“He won’t. It’s tiny,” Agent Batanya assured. “Your father may check you for weapons, but he won’t find this device.”
Eric nodded and let the agent start his work, putting in a button-sized transmitter behind Eric’s belt buckle.
“You know your father well?” Agent Batanya asked. “You know what drives him? What drives his hatred of you?”
“Yes,” Eric said softly.
“Good. Then you will know when he reaches his breaking point. If I’m right, there will come a moment when your father is going to try to take a life, probably your wife’s—if I’m guessing right. When that time comes, I intend to storm in there and take him down,” Agent Batanya said.
“Why not before?” Eric asked shakily.
“Because,” the agent explained, “a man like Appius will—if he thinks his plan isn’t working—lose control. And then I will lose your entire family, Mr. Northman. My hope is that I lose none of you, but one is better than three.”
Eric closed his eyes and trembled a little, before nodding.
“I want you to say, ‘no, Father, no,’ when you believe Appius is about to act. Do you understand?” Agent Batanya asked.
“Your best chance at saving your whole family is to talk him out of there,” Agent Batanya said.
“I know,” Eric responded.
“I shouldn’t even let you go in there,” Agent Batanya said.
“But you’re going to.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Because losing one life is better than losing two,” Eric said.
“Yes,” the agent responded, “especially when one of them is an infant.”
Eric nodded and then looked at Bill Compton. “If it comes down to choices, make sure the right ones are made.”
Bill narrowed his eyes and nodded, understanding that Eric was offering up his life for his family. It was something Bill was coming to expect from the man. And for a moment—just a moment—he thought about how he could, perhaps, help Eric Northman. But then he thought better of it. His best move would be to somehow “help” Appius to achieve Eric’s death.
After all, that would leave Sookie free, and if the child died too, then she would be completely unshackled from Eric—and an heiress to boot, infinitely more attractive than she’d ever been to him in the past.
And she’d been damned attractive before.
Bill looked at the hospital room door as Eric approached it, knocked, and then went inside before closing the door behind him. Who knew? If Bill was lucky—very lucky—he might still get what he wanted from Sookie, and none of it would be his fault! It would all be blamed on Eric’s own father!
There was—after all—such a thing as friendly fire.
And—if Bill could somehow be the hero of the day—it would be natural for Sookie to turn to him.
Bill looked at the others in the nurses’ station area. He resolved not to push his luck too much, but if an opportunity presented itself to remove his competition, he wasn’t going to pass it up either.
Maybe fate would smile upon him for a while—instead of giving everything to Eric Northman.
A/N: Lemmie guess—you are greedy for more and I didn’t leave you on less of a cliff, so pitchforks are being sharpened. Sorry (though not really).
So many of you thought it would be Michelle at Sookie’s door, but nope. That would have been good, but I have other things in store for her.
Now I really do have to grade papers. I’ll try to get you one more chapter of this before I switch back to Uncharted—hopefully by Wednesday.
I’d give you a preview of what’s happening next, but I’m in a cruel mood.
Meanwhile, don’t forget to read and vote in Seph’s contest if you haven’t already. There are great stories in it!
Until next time,