Chapter 29: Family Law
“What’s all this about?” Stan demanded gruffly. “I’m a United States Senator!”
“For the moment,” Blake said under his breath.
“In your case, Senator,” Batanya said somewhat sarcastically, “it’s about quite a few things. It’s about your using your position as a member of the United States Congress to blackmail Felipe de Castro by threatening to pull your support of his government contracts if he didn’t sell his legally obtained Northman Publishing stock to Andre Leclerq. It is also about your helping Appius Northman to obtain surveillance equipment that is illegal in the private sector. And it is also about your complicity in creating a contract between Eric and Appius Northman that fraudulently negated the conditions of the codicil to John Northman’s Will. And, finally, it is about the illegal campaign funds you took from Appius Northman.” She smirked. “Yep—I think that’s about it. For you.”
“Ridiculous!” Stan said, puffing out his chest a little. “You have no proof of any of those allegations!”
Blake smiled, “We have the testimony of Felipe de Castro confirming that you blackmailed him.”
Stan shook his head. “Who do you think a judge and jury will believe? A businessman with ties to the mob or a Senator?”
“Neither,” Blake deadpanned. “But I do think that they will believe the digital recording de Castro made of your conversations with him.
“Felipe would never give you anything like that. If he did, he would . . . . ” Andre stopped midsentence.
“Implicate himself?” Blake smirked.
“Mr. de Castro did implicate himself—as it turns out,” Agent Batanya said with a smirk matching Blake’s. “He admitted to placing two corporate spies into Northman Publishing, which was—of course—the catalyst for your blackmailing him.” She paused, obviously enjoying herself. “You might be interested to know that the government has offered de Castro a generous deal for his testimony in your case.”
As a matter of fact, Agent Batanya had good reason to smile. In addition to throwing Stan Davis under the bus, De Castro had provided some useful intelligence regarding several crime syndicates in both New York and Las Vegas in order to save his own ass.
Stan’s expression exhibited both his fear and his shock. It was only then that he noticed Tamara had come into the room.
“Tammy,” he said, looking at his sister like she was his lifeline. He stood up a little straighter. Tamara was the craftiest lawyer Stan had ever met, and even though she focused on corporate law, he knew that she could help him. He looked back at Agent Batanya with a little sneer on his face. “Agent, this is my sister Tamara Davis-Northman. She will be acting as my attorney. Any questions you have of me can go through her. And I’m sure that she’ll want to study that warrant you have.”
When Tamara didn’t move immediately to take the warrant, Stan looked back at her, his eyes begging.
Tamara shook her head. “I didn’t come here today for you, Stan. I am here to support my family. I am here to support Eric and Sookie.”
“What?” Stan asked indignantly.
Tamara scoffed, obviously upset. “Daddy was in the Senate for forty years, and he trusted you to work for the people just as honorably as he did. He trusted you to make life better for the citizens of this state.” She shook her head again, “I’m just glad he didn’t live to see what you’ve done.”
“Tammy, please help me!” Stan begged. “I can explain everything. Nothing is as it seems, Tammy! I swear!”
“No!” she answered firmly. “Who do you think helped Eric to find the evidence of your wrongdoing?” She sighed deeply as a tear dropped down her cheek. She quickly brushed it away. “I didn’t want to believe any such evidence existed, but I helped him anyway because of what he’d been through and because he’s Gracie’s brother. I was hoping I wouldn’t find anything, Stan. But I did. I found a lot.”
“What did you do?” Stan asked, a look of angry accusation now on his face.
“You’re not the only one who has the combination to Daddy’s old safe in the house,” she said quietly.
Stan gasped, knowing there were things in his safe that would prove him guilty of all of the charges against him—and more. Never trusting Appius fully, Stan had kept information that could be used to blackmail his “friend.” Sadly, that information could now be used against him too.
“How could you?” he asked his sister in disbelief. “How could you betray me?”
Tamara sighed. “I’m sorry, Stan, but you made your bed when you let Appius buy you and when you helped him to hurt Eric. And now look what has happened!” She shook her head. “Eric was almost killed!” Her volume rose. “His wife and tiny baby were almost killed!”
“I had nothing to do with that!” Stan said insistently.
“Didn’t you?” Tamara asked. “You were Appius’s friend, Stan—maybe his closest friend in the end. And I know that you were there when Appius ambushed Eric with the DNA testing. You knew how much he hated Eric. Yet—did you try to counsel him to accept Eric after he got the results of the test? No. Did you try to talk him out of spying on his own son?” She shook her head. “No! In fact, you helped him to acquire illegal equipment!”
“I had no idea how far Appius would go,” Stan said, a little defeat in his voice.
“I think you did,” Tamara said sadly. “You should have tried to help him—before his insane notions about Eric boiled over.” She paused and took a shaky breath. “And now my little girl no longer has a father—or an uncle.”
“Tammy,” Stan said, “please just help me, and we can work everything else out later.”
She shook her head and stood up a little straighter. “Like I said, I am here today on behalf of Eric, Sookie, and Northman Publishing,” she informed in a professional tone. “As far as I’m concerned, you are not my brother any longer.”
The family drama in the room was interrupted by Andre’s slick voice. “I am guilty of none of the things Stan has been accused of.”
“No,” Bobby said from next to Eric, “but we have evidence of your involvement in trying to frame Guo Li and Eric of corporate theft.”
“I did no such thing,” Andre insisted, his tone becoming even more reptilian—if possible.
“We have Franklin Mott in custody,” Agent Batanya stated flatly. “And let’s just say that—after he was charged with child endangerment and accessory to attempted murder—he’s been extremely cooperative.”
“Andre,” Sophie-Anne said, clearly upset, “what have you done?”
Andre’s demeanor turned on a dime. “I only ever did what Appius asked of me,” he said bitterly. “And I only did it so that he would love me!”
Looking afraid, Sophie-Anne scooted away from her normally controlled brother.
“I loved him so much,” Andre said in an eerily even tone. “While you got to play his wife, I was his true partner. But he never told me why he hated you so much,” he said turning his gaze to Eric. “He never trusted me enough. He didn’t love me,” he finished bitterly.
Eric spoke compassionately. “He didn’t love anyone.”
Andre shook his head. “That’s not true. He loved her.”
“My mother,” Eric sighed.
Andre nodded. “I found a picture in his desk—after he died.”
“A picture?” Eric asked.
“Of your mother with you,” Andre said. “He had no picture of me.”
Eric’s brow furrowed. “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t want your pity!” Andre said with sudden maliciousness. “If he would have asked me to, I would have killed you for him. I would have gone to that hospital and killed you both and your child. I would have done anything to make him love me.” He glared at Eric and Sookie.
Eric growled and stepped in front of Sookie a little.
“Andre!” Sophie-Anne cried out, horrified.
“I could hurt Northman Publishing—you know?” Andre said, his tone eerie again. “Appius didn’t exactly conduct business legally all the time.”
“I doubt if he left proof of his business wrongdoings behind,” Eric said cautiously to the man who had just admitted that he would have killed his family for Appius.
“No,” Andre admitted, “but I could make things difficult.” He closed his eyes. “But I won’t.” He turned back to Sophie-Anne, his eyes softening. “I am sorry, Sister. I do not mean to be bitter toward you—or to make you upset. Trying to love Appius, I changed. But—do not doubt it; I love you.”
A tear slipped down Sophie-Anne’s face. “I love you too, Andre. And I know you loved Appius.”
“Not enough to make him love me,” Andre said, his voice sad again. He looked back at Eric. “I still love him—too much to hurt his reputation, so I won’t talk about what I know.”
Eric nodded and spoke firmly. “I’ve been told that the charges against you will likely put you in prison for less than a year. After that, you will not come near my family. If you do . . . ,” he started.
“Mr. Northman,” Agent Batanya interrupted. “I’d advise you against making any kind of threat in the presence of so many police officers and FBI agents,” she said with a smirk.
Eric caught on quickly. “I was just going to remind Andre that I could call the police, and he would go back to prison if he threatened my family.”
Agent Batanya’ smirk grew. “That is what I thought you were going to say. Well—as much as I love drama—it is Christmas, and I have a nice dinner waiting for me after a pile of paperwork.” She motioned toward Blake who pulled a pair of cuffs out of his pocket. Another policeman also took out a pair of cuffs.
“Are those needed?” Stan asked.
“Yes,” Blake said with a smirk as he cuffed Stan, making sure the metal was tight.
Andre accepted his cuffs in silence.
“We’re sorry to interrupt your Christmas,” Agent Batanya said with a little nod and a not-so-little smirk in Grace Northman’s direction.
Blake gave Sookie a little wink before leading his own charge out of the door of the room. The other officers and agents quickly left as well.
“Go with him,” Sophie-Anne said desperately, looking at Neave and Lochlan. “Please, one of you go with him.”
Neave and Lochlan had a brief conversation before Lochlan rose to follow Andre.
Those remaining in the room were quiet for a moment as they each processed what had happened.
Grace was, not surprisingly, the first to speak up. “What have you done?” she asked Eric accusingly. “What you just did will tarnish this family even more than you have already done!”
Sookie stepped in front of Eric this time; she’d had enough of Grace Northman. “It’s not Eric who’s tarnished the Northman name; it was your son!”
“Shut up! You have no say here!” Grace said.
“No, Grandmother,” Eric said sharply, “it’s time for you to shut up. For years, you stood back and watched as Appius abused and neglected me.” He shook his head incredulously. “What kind of woman does that?”
“The kind who is trying to protect her son,” Grace said. “It was your mother who caused all of the problems for my child. She was never good enough for him. And—even though you turned out to have Appius’s blood—you are not worthy to have the Northman name either!”
“Grace!” Sophie-Anne cried out, with unexpected force in her voice. The young woman sat up a little straighter and looked at her mother-in-law with defiance.
“What?” the elder woman asked irritably.
Sophie-Anne took a deep breath, “I know all this is difficult for you, Grace. It is difficult for us all. But please don’t make things worse.”
Grace looked affronted. “He is the one who just made things worse,” she accused glaring at Eric. “Stan and Andre were needed—to keep Northman Publishing strong. To keep him from ruining Appius’s legacy to his true children!”
Sophie-Anne sighed deeply. “Grace, I think you’d better leave.”
“What?!” the elder woman said in shock.
In fact, most of the people still in the room seemed to be in shock because of Sophie-Anne’s words.
Sophie-Anne patted Grace’s hand. “You have always been kind to me, even though you knew that Appius and my arrangement had nothing to do with love. And you have been a wonderful grandmother to Appius Jr. But,” she sighed, “Appius’s actions have led to changes that we cannot stop. And—to my shame—I have willingly buried my head in the sand, so I am only just beginning to understand the damage Appius caused. It is costing me a brother.”
“He is costing you a brother!” Grace insisted, gesturing toward Eric. “Things were under control, and they would have stayed that way if Eric had just shut up and gone along with what the family wanted.”
“How much was I supposed to go along with?” Eric asked in a haunted tone. “Was I supposed to shrink up and die when I was a kid? Was I supposed to let Appius mentally torture me all throughout my adulthood? Was I supposed to let him take away everything I ever loved?” His voice caught. “Was I supposed to let him kill my wife—my son?” He shook his head and a tear streaked down his cheek. “Appius was insane at the hospital. You didn’t see him.”
“If he was insane, it was only because you and your mother made him that way,” Grace said indignantly.
“No,” Eric sighed. “And the sooner you recognize that and the sooner you adapt to the changes that will be happening, the better.”
“Nora still runs NP,” Grace said coldly, “and I still run this family. You would do well to remember your place, boy.”
“You are aware of the codicil to my grandfather’s Will?” Eric asked.
“How do you know about that?” Grace asked. She looked at Desmond accusingly. “You told him!”
“Appius spoke to me about it the day he died,” Eric misled his grandmother smoothly. The last thing he wanted was for unnecessary trouble to come to Desmond, and now that Appius was dead, no one need know how he’d learned of John Northman’s codicil.
“Why would he say anything to you about it?” Grace asked insistently.
“I suppose he thought I wouldn’t survive the day,” Eric said softly, even as he felt Sookie’s hand squeeze his. “I almost didn’t.”
“John had lost his mental faculties when he wrote that codicil,” Grace said, looking around nervously.
“No,” Desmond Cataliades spoke up for the first time, “he had not.”
“What codicil?” Sophie-Anne asked.
“The one that requires for all of Appius’s inheritance from Grandpa John to be given to Eric if he’s not made CEO of NP,” Nora said quietly, looking straight at Eric.
“You knew,” Eric whispered, disappointment thick in his tone. “I wasn’t sure.”
“Father told me last year,” Nora confirmed. “He was afraid that you would find out and use the information to take away everything he’d built.”
“Is that why you planted the listening device for him?” Eric asked.
Sophie-Anne gasped. Clearly, she’d not known about the codicil, let alone about the fact that Appius had been spying on Eric. Indeed, she’d known that Eric had chosen a “common” girl to be with—one who had a very interesting ability. And she’d been anxious to take advantage of that, but it seemed her husband’s cruelty had run much deeper than she’d thought.
“So you are saying that Appius tried to kill you because he was worried that you would take NP?” Sophie-Anne asked. “But you were always supposed to take over when you were 35. Appius told me that before we got married.”
“That was a stipulation of a contract between him and me—one agreed upon when I didn’t know about the codicil.” Eric laughed bitterly. “Everything he ever did to me as a child was because he thought I was another man’s son. And—ironically—everything that he did after he learned that I was his child happened because he figured that I would be just as cruel and as spiteful as he was if I learned about the codicil.” Eric shook his head and looked right at Sophie-Anne. “But I am not him. I’m not anything like him. And if you,” he turned to look at Nora, “will deal with me, I think that we could come to an arrangement that would benefit us all.”
Grace scoffed. “The codicil is no longer in effect. Appius died before he reached his sixtieth birthday. That means that Eric doesn’t have to be made CEO at all.”
Desmond shook his head. “The language of the codicil is clear. Appius doesn’t have to be alive to make Eric CEO. And on the day that Appius was to turn 60, his agent, which is you,” he said, looking at Nora, “must either give Eric the job or give him the value of 67% of the company, whether that’s in stock or cash.”
“Of course,” Bobby said with a smirk, “if Eric refuses to take the job, he’ll get everything anyway.”
Sophie-Anne took a deep breath and looked at Nora. “I think that we need to hear Eric out and work with him.”
Looking contrite, Nora nodded in agreement.
“You can’t!” Grace cried out petulantly. “If you do, Eric will have won. And Appius will have built his company for nothing!”
“He will have built it for his son!” Sookie said. “Whether he ever wanted to acknowledge Eric as that or not.”
Eric smiled at his wife—so fierce in her defense of him—and then he looked at his grandmother. “Appius has not been the only builder of Northman Publishing,” he said quietly. “My grandfathers’ companies are brought together in it. Pam has added to it, as has Nora. And so have I.”
“Not like Appius did,” Grace said, still fuming.
“Not yet,” Eric admitted sincerely, “but one day, I will add even more. Don’t stand in my way, Grandmother.”
Grace narrowed her eyes.
“We don’t have a choice, Grandmother,” Nora said softly. “Please. Eric is right. We have to adapt now that Daddy’s gone.” A tear slipped from her eye. “I just wish I would have known that he was that close to snapping.” She looked at Eric with pleading in her eyes. “I didn’t know he’d try to kill you and your family. Please—if you believe nothing else good of me—believe that.”
“I didn’t know either,” Sophie-Anne said quietly. “But—then again—Appius and I had little contact with each other.”
Eric looked at his stepmother and his stepsister and gave them little nods. He sighed. “He had thought that he’d beaten me—that he’d found a way to keep me tethered and miserable forever.”
“To Freyda,” Sophie-Anne sighed. She too was dealing with the after-effects of the fact that Appius had not only tried to commit murder but had also gotten another woman pregnant in order to try to manipulate Eric into marrying her. Those facts were still rolling through the gossip rags, fueled by a report that Freyda had tried to commit suicide earlier that week. She was now in a mental institution so that she could bring no harm to herself or to the child she was carrying.
“When he found out that he couldn’t keep Eric miserable,” Sookie said softly, “he snapped.”
Eric squeezed Sookie’s hand. “I would like to bring my son into this house—as was planned. I would like to spend Christmas with my family. And I would like to come up with an arrangement whereby all of my siblings and I are taken care of well into the future.” He took a deep breath. “And when that is done, I want to be a real part of this family. I want to know my brothers and sisters better. I want them to know my wife and my child.”
“Here, here!” Tamara said, speaking up for the first time in a while.
Eric smiled at her. “I won’t, however, be bringing my son into this house for him to face derision—any derision,” he added, looking at his grandmother pointedly.
“Eric,” Sophie-Anne said decisively, “you, your wife, and your child are welcome into this home.” She looked at Grace. “And if anyone makes you feel like you aren’t, it is he or she who will leave.”
Grace snorted, but said nothing.
Sookie stepped forward a little and held out the hand that she’d withheld from Sophie-Anne earlier. “Sophie-Anne, I’m Sookie,” she said. “Thank you for having us over today.”
Sophie-Anne gave her a little smile and stood up. She walked to the other side of the room and took Sookie’s hand. “Sookie, it’s nice to meet you.”
Nora also stood up and walked over to Sookie. “I’m Nora,” she said quietly. “And I’m sorry for helping Appius; truly I am.” She looked at Eric. “I really didn’t know everything.”
Eric sighed and nodded, willing to work with his stepsister for the time being, but not willing to trust her yet.
Though it was tepid, Sookie shook Nora’s hand when it was offered.
Sophie-Anne looked at Grace. “It is up to you,” she said.
Grace Northman rose to her feet, smoothing out her elegant dress.
“Please, Grandmother,” Nora implored.
Grace shook her head and looked at Sophie-Anne. “I will come tomorrow to see Appius Jr. and to give him his Christmas gift.”
Sophie-Anne sighed. “I am sorry to hear you won’t stay, Grace. But know this: any hatred left from Appius against Eric ends now—at least in this home. I won’t have you trying to make my child hate his brother.”
Grace gasped. “You are betraying him.”
Sophie-Anne shook her head. “I have learned today that Appius had Andre try to frame Eric for a crime he didn’t commit. I have learned that he had Stan get him bugs so that he could spy on Eric. And,” her voice broke, “I have heard—from my own brother’s lips—that he would have killed Eric, Sookie, and their child if Appius would have asked him to.” A tear streamed down her face, though her expression remained steady. “And I have learned that a lot of this was because Appius wanted to keep his eldest son from receiving a position in the family company! I’m not the betrayer here,” she finished. “That role was Appius’s. And he is gone.”
Humph,” Grace sounded inelegantly before turning on her heel and walking out of the room.
“I’m sorry about that,” Sophie-Anne said, brushing away her tear and fighting to keep the composed countenance of hostess.
“Thank you, Sophie-Anne,” Eric said.
Sophie-Anne nodded. “I have not been the best stepmother to you,” she said.
Eric raised an eyebrow, probably because he was older than she was.
She sighed. “I suppose I am spoiled and mean at times too,” she said looking at Sookie. “But I would like for us all to be civil.” She shrugged. “I suppose that would make us better off than a lot of families.”
Eric smiled and nodded. “Yes—I suppose it would.”
A/N: I hope you liked it! Thanks to everyone who continues to comment on this story! I’ll be giving you one more chapter before switching to Uncharted.
I hope that—if you haven’t already—you will check out my new story Who’s Your Daddy?.
Until next time,