Chapter 30: Restructuring, Part 1
“Whatever there be of progress in life comes not through adaptation but through daring.”—Henry Miller
“Are you happy?” Sookie asked, coming up behind Eric and wrapping her arms around him.
“Yeah,” he whispered. “Mostly,” he amended.
He could feel her head nodding into his back. He was standing over their son, watching him sleep in his portable crib, which had been set up in the kitchen so that Margaret could get her chance to enjoy him. She had agreed to watch over him while the family meeting occurred. Henry would stay in the kitchen with them—just in case. Henry, who had been dubbed “Uncle Henry” by Sookie, was Johan’s fourth favorite person, right behind Eric, Sookie, and Mormor. Niall was number five.
Bobby was number six.
“Uncle Bobby” was a little put off by Johan’s obvious preference for others—especially Henry; however, when he teased Pam that the baby cried and dirtied his diaper whenever she held him, he felt better about his station among Johan’s favorites.
In fact, during the month when Eric was in the hospital and either Henry or Bobby was always with Sookie, Eric, and Johan, the infant had come to love both of his “uncles”—who were soon to become his godfathers too.
Earlier that day, Johan had found three more people that he clearly loved. Appius Jr. had stared at Johan for about ten minutes before deciding that it was “okay” not to be the baby of the family anymore. And then he’d become very protective over Johan, making sure that—as the adults passed around the amiable and social baby—they were careful. Alexei and Johan had also taken to each other rather quickly.
Alexei had confided in Eric that he was planning to move to New York in the spring and to start auditioning for plays on Broadway. His work in the London theatre had been well-received, so Eric had no doubt he’d be successful in landing a role, though he’d counselled Alexei to consider trying to get into the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU if the auditions didn’t land him leading roles right away. Appius’s death had released Alexei’s trust fund to him; however, the once “wild” young man hadn’t yet touched the money—as far as Eric knew. And he’d certainly not gone on a party binge with the funds.
In fact, Alexei had asked his big brother to help him to invest the money. Eric was proud of him.
Gracie and Johan had also taken to each other quickly, though Gracie had already asked Sookie when she’d be getting a niece.
Eric sighed and rubbed Johan’s little back when he stirred in his sleep. Immediately, the quickly-growing child settled down.
It had been a good day—at least after Andre and Stan had been taken away and his grandmother Grace had left. Eric hadn’t been surprised that Appius’s mother had rejected him yet again, nor was he overly bothered by it.
“Are you doing okay—being here?” Sookie asked.
She—better than anyone—knew how much he’d disliked being in the Northman Mansion; however, without Appius there, the house felt different to him.
“Yes,” he answered honestly. “Now that he’s gone, this place isn’t,” he paused, “haunted anymore.”
He turned around and faced her. “Are you okay?”
She nodded. “Yeah. I like your family—or, at least, some of them.” She smirked. “With time, Sophie-Anne might even grow on me, and you know I love Pam, Gracie, and Tamara.”
Eric smiled. Gracie and her mother had come to visit them a few times since Eric had been released from the hospital. In fact, they’d recently been looking at real estate in Manhattan.
Sookie’s lips turned downward for a moment.
“What?” Eric asked.
“I could do without Nora,” she whispered.
Eric chuckled and bent down to kiss his wife. “Me too.” His expression darkened a little. “You know I don’t trust her, but I’m willing to give her a chance at NP.” He sighed. “In the end, Appius manipulated her as much as anything else. She’s spoiled, and she’d selfish—but she’s not evil.”
Sookie nodded. “I know. It’s just weird thinking about how you two were an item once.”
“Barely,” Eric said with a little cringe. “I never wanted her that way.”
Sookie nodded. “Yeah. I know that too. And that makes it easier for me. But she wanted you that way.”
“Hey you two. Thanks for waiting for me,” Margaret interrupted, as she came into the room. She walked over to the crib and looked down at the baby. “I’m looking forward to Olivia having one of these,” she said with a grin.
“I don’t blame you,” Eric said with an answering smile.
Henry walked into the room with his arms laden with bags.
Margaret giggled a little. “How much do you want for this one?” she asked, gesturing in Henry’s direction. “I could use a little help with the heavy lifting since Markus’s arthritis is flaring up.” She winked.
Eric chuckled. “Unfortunately, I can’t even get him to work for me,” he said.
“Wait,” Margaret said, “I thought he was you guard—like Milos and Miranda.”
Henry shook his head. “No Ma’am. I head the security at Carmichael Plaza. That’s how I got to be friends with these two.” He motioned toward Sookie and Eric.
“So you’re here today because you’re part of the family,” Margaret smiled.
“Yeah—and because my husband had to work,” Henry responded with a wink.
“Oh!” Margaret said. “Oh!” she repeated as understanding dawned upon her. “Oh well,” she shrugged. “I suppose you are a bit too young for me, and I do have my Markus, so it doesn’t matter that you prefer men to women—though it seems these days that more and more attractive men are announcing that they’re gay. Oh well! You can still be eye candy.” She winked back at him.
Henry chuckled at the obviously flirting woman. “Actually, I think you met my husband earlier—Blake?”
“The NYPD detective?” Margaret said, fanning herself a little. “My—you are lucky.”
Henry nodded. “So is he.”
All four adults chuckled a little, which caused Johan to stir again. Once more, Eric placed his large hand on his child’s back comfortingly.
“You have quite the touch,” Margaret said as she saw Johan immediately settle into his sleep again.
Sookie entwined her hand into Eric’s and leaned against him. “He does,” she said in a whisper.
The large formal dining table at the Northman Mansion could hold sixteen people. It had served as a dinner table just an hour before—for the Christmas dinner that Margaret had prepared.
The dinner had been awkward at times as the family tried to settle into a new kind of groove, given the fact that Appius and Grace were no longer there to “rule” over them. Eric had refused to sit at the head of the table when Sophie-Anne had offered it. Instead, he had sat in the middle, flanked by Sookie and Bobby.
Now that the dishes and the other adornments usually covering the table had been removed, the dining room had taken on the feeling of a conference room. A file folder sat in front of each space at the table, though no one was yet perusing the contents. They were all looking at Eric—looking to him.
All but two of the spots at the table were taken up. Sophie-Anne sat at one end. Sitting down one side of the table from her were Neave, Desmond, Amelia, Pam, Tamara, and Alexei. On the other side were Elsa, Niall, Sookie, Eric, Bobby, and Thalia. Nora was at the other end of the table. The two empty seats were on either side of her. The “geography” of the space did not go unnoticed, and Nora was shifting uncomfortably.
Eric took a deep breath even as Sookie took his hand. That action settled him, and he leaned over to her and kissed her forehead. The couple had talked a lot about what they wanted to do—now that they could do anything they wanted.
Sookie had asked Eric if he would like to go back to school—to get his degree in architecture. After all, if Eric simply waited until his thirty-fifth birthday to break the contract, he could be extremely wealthy.
Eric and Sookie had also thought about moving away from New York—moving to Sweden. But, in the end, they wanted to stay close to their growing network of family and friends.
And Eric had decided that he wanted to stay at NP. No matter what bad memories were there because of Appius, Eric felt certain that running the company was something he was born to do. And—more importantly—it was something that he wanted to do. However, he and Sookie were both determined that things would be different than before—very different—or he would walk away.
“When I was ten years old,” Eric started after another hand squeeze from Sookie, “Appius told me that I was to be made CEO of NP one day. He set forth a plan for my life, and I followed it.” He sighed. “Maybe I shouldn’t have. When I was 18, maybe I should have just run off and done my own thing, but I don’t think he would have let me.”
Sookie looked over at him, and everyone in the room heard her chair scooting closer to his. He put his arm around her once their chairs were flush, and she settled against his side.
“Every time I did something that went against him, Appius threatened to do something to someone I cared about.”
“Like what?” Sophie-Anne asked.
“They are not things I wish to think about or speak of anymore,” Eric said. He smiled when Sookie pinched him. “Except with my wife and my therapist,” he added.
Sookie gave him a little smirk.
Eric kissed his wife’s forehead quickly and then went back to the “speech” that he’d been preparing for days for his meeting with his family. “The point is this: I went along with everything that Appius asked of me, and—when I graduated with my business degree—I was hired by Appius as Deputy CEO.” He sighed and glanced down the table at his mormor. “As soon as I was hired, I was given control of the international division. Appius had only one thing in mind for me to do—something that only I could do.”
“What was that?” Sophie-Anne asked.
“He wanted me to officially merge Larsson Publishing, my grandfather Johan’s company, with NP. Oh—Appius gave me other ‘options’ for making that company more profitable, but a merge was the best one, so I instigated it. Appius allowed me to access my trust fund, but only for long enough so that I could complete that transaction,” Eric said, his voice catching.
“Appius told Eric that he would give him more independent reign of the international division, as well as full control of his trust fund once the merger was complete,” Sookie picked up for her husband. “However, after the merger, Appius ambushed Eric with a DNA test.”
“He thought I was the son of another man,” Eric explained. “And—it is true that my mother was having a liaison with that man.” Eric shook his head. “When my mother died, Appius discovered the affair. And he assumed I wasn’t his.”
Sookie squeezed Eric’s hand again and moved even closer to him. She continued the story. “Appius was proven to be Eric’s father; days later, Appius ambushed Eric again—this time blackmailing him into signing a contract.”
Eric sighed. “The first document in the file in front of you is that contract. With it, Appius ensured that I would become CEO as the codicil to John Northman’s Will required. It also placed certain conditions upon me.”
“The conditions related to Eric’s role as CEO skirt the lines of acceptability when the terms of the codicil are studied,” Desmond Cataliades said. “And the term whereby Eric gave up inheritance rights from Appius is clear fraud. Basically, Appius tricked Eric into signing away rights that he didn’t know he already had.”
“How did Appius expect to get away with that?” Sophie-Anne asked.
Desmond answered. “Time—mostly. First, he clearly hoped to be alive for a long time—long enough to influence Eric to step down as CEO of NP. If Eric voluntarily stepped down after serving an acceptable term, the conditions of John’s codicil would have been met. Of course, Eric and Appius’s contract was kept private.” The lawyer sighed, “Knowing Appius, he probably thought that Eric would die before him. However, since only Appius, Grace Northman, and I knew about the codicil, it is most likely that he hoped to outlive me.” The lawyer shook his head. “Of course, I would have passed on the knowledge of the codicil to those who took over my practice, but I think that Appius was hoping that my inheritors wouldn’t be as careful as I would be. “And,” Desmond sighed, “the language of Appius’s Will is very clever. Stan did a good job trying to swindle Eric out of everything. In fact, the Will might,” he said emphasizing the word, “hold up in court; however, extenuating circumstances—such as Appius’s attempted murders of Eric, Sookie, and Johan, as well as the provisions of John Northman’s codicil—will likely nullify Appius’s Will.”
Neave Faeman spoke up, sounding like someone was pulling out her teeth as she did. “Lochlan and I have tried to think of ways to challenge John Northman’s codicil over the years. Before us, Stan tried. And before him, my father, Dermot, tried.” She sighed. “We found nothing challengeable.”
“Good!” Sophie-Anne said, surprising the others at the table.
Neave looked at her cautiously. “I would have thought you’d have wanted for Appius Jr.’s legacy to remain fully intact.”
Sophie-Anne rolled her eyes. “Eric would never do anything to hurt A.J.,” she said, calling her son by the nickname that had been catching on more and more since Appius had died. “Anyone with eyes and half a brain would know that.” She sighed and looked at Eric. “I’m sorry about what Appius did to you—what he’s still trying to do even now that he’s dead.” She shook her head. “And I’m even sorrier about the role my brother played in it.”
Eric nodded at her, once again surprised by the support Sophie-Anne seemed to be giving him. It wasn’t that he didn’t expect it from her. Though she’d always been snooty and clearly believed in her own superiority even among members of her own social class, she’d been nice enough to him. It was clear that she’d known little of Appius’s malevolence toward him; just as clear was the fact that Appius’s actions had forced Sophie-Anne to come down a notch or two. And Andre’s actions had forced even more humility onto her.
Eric figured that Sophie-Anne would be the better for that humility. Plus, she was a practical woman. The winds of change had obviously swept through the Northman family, and Sophie-Anne was smart enough to follow them.
“So—what now?” Nora asked rather tentatively from the end of the table she’d been sequestered to.
Eric looked at his stepsister. “Believe it or not, Nora, I’m not your enemy. I know how much you,” he paused, “loved Appius. And I know that he loved you back. But I wasn’t his enemy either. It least I never tried to be.”
“I know,” Nora said sincerely. “It’s just difficult to imagine what Daddy did to you and what he tried to do,” she glanced at Sookie, “to your family. He wasn’t that man with me, and I . . . .” She stopped midsentence.
“You still love him,” Pam said, teary-eyed. “I know. Me too. I can’t help it—even though I fuckin’ hate him too.”
“Me too,” Alexei said, reaching out for Nora’s hand.
Nora smiled a little and nodded at Pam and Alexei before turning back to Eric. “What do you suggest?”
“It depends,” Eric said. “Have you changed your mind? Do you want to be CEO of NP, Nora?”
Nora sighed and shook her head. “No. Doing it now it driving me batty, though I’ve been trying for Daddy’s sake. Thank God for Pam.”
Eric gave Pam a sincere smile to convey his pride in her.
“Okay then,” he said. “As Appius’s agent, you can nullify my contract with him, and then we can all make another agreement—together.”
Nora took a deep breath. “What’s your plan, Eric?”
Eric nodded toward Mr. Cataliades.
“Please take a look at the second document in your file folder,” Desmond said, his tone conveying his years as a lawyer and his confidence in his work. “It is a draft of the contract Eric is proposing.”
Everyone looked to Eric instead of at the document.
“What does it say?” Amelia asked with curiosity.
Eric looked around at everyone gathered—until his eyes fell upon Sookie. He held her gaze for a moment. She gave him a nod and a reassuring smile, and he squeezed her hand in gratitude.
He took a calming breath. “It calls for changes at NP, but I think those changes will be what everyone wants. First, I propose that Pam and I function as Co-CEOs. On paper, it is better for the profile of the company if one of us is the official CEO and the other is the deputy CEO. However, I propose that Pam and I split the duties down the center, take the combination of the two salaries, and split that amount down the middle too.”
He smiled at Pam. “What do you say, Sis? You’ve certainly shown that you are ready. Hell—I’ll act as your Deputy CEO if you want.”
Pam shook her head and brushed away a tear. “Damned allergies,” she muttered, looking at her brother. She sat up a little straighter as she regained her composure. “Well—how do we decide who gets the CEO title?”
“You can have it if you want,” Eric said.
“What about Grandpa John’s Will?” Nora asked. “It explicitly states that you become CEO, Eric.”
“We might be able to contest the codicil—if I’m the one doing the contesting,” Eric said.
“No,” Pam said with a smirk. “You should be CEO, Eric.” Her expression turned into a more sincere smile. “Even I can admit that you are better at the job than I am—for now. I’ve been keeping NP afloat, Eric,” she added at a lower volume, looking directly at him from across the table, “but the company needs you to thrive.”
Eric smiled at his sister and mouthed a single word: “Thanks.”
“And what of me?” Nora asked tentatively.
“You will become CFO again,” Eric said. “But if you would allow it, I’d like for you to have a Deputy CFO to help you navigate the more difficult twists and turns of the job.”
Nora closed her eyes for a moment. Her expression conveyed both disappointment and relief. The relief won out. “Who?” she asked.
“Me,” Tamara said. “Gracie and I want to move back to New York. In fact, we’ve put in a bid for a home in Eric and Pam’s building.” She grinned as Pam, Eric, and Sookie looked at her with surprise. Tamara went on. “Now that my mother is ill, I want to be closer to her. She’ll need me even more now that Stan has been arrested. And Gracie misses being around her family,” she smiled in Eric’s direction.
“So you’d help me?” Nora asked.
Tamara smirked. “Well—not for free! You’ll see in the contract that I’d be making a nice chunk of change for my salary.”
Nora smiled at Tamara. “Still—thanks.”
Tamara nodded. “What’s family for?” she commented sincerely.
“What of the stock?” Sophie-Anne asked. “Appius always drummed into me that the CEO should have at least 30% of the stock. That is the maximum one person can have—right?”
Bobby nodded. “Yeah. Eric already has 14%.”
“Isn’t it 7?” Nora asked.
“I currently control 4.9%,” Bobby said, but as of tomorrow, Eric and Sookie will own that—at 1.5% above market value, I might add.” He winked at Sookie, and Eric rolled his eyes.
“And I currently own 2.1%,” Elsa said, “but tomorrow, that will be Eric’s too.”
“And the other 16%?” Nora asked.
“You are the steward of Appius’s stock,” Bobby said to Nora. “And I believe his Will allows you to distribute it among family members as you see fit.”
“To back up Eric’s official position as CEO,” Bobby said, “you should give him 16%.”
Nora furrowed her brows. “But Daddy . . . ,” she started.
“Or I can just wait it out,” Eric said quietly. “Then I would get all of Appius’s remaining stock, plus the value of the 37% of stock that Appius no longer had at his death. And—make no mistake, Nora,” Eric said with a hard edge to his voice, “I will wait it out if need be.” He took a deep breath. “If you don’t work with me, I will keep to the terms of the contract between Appius and myself until my thirty-fifth birthday. And then I will terminate it at 12:01 a.m. After that, I could just wait and take everything I can. And then I will restructure.” He paused. “But trust me when I say that you would not be a part of that particular restructuring, Nora. So you need to think long and hard about what you do next.”
A/N: Well—there you have it! Eric is done taking shit. Let the restructuring begin!
I’m gonna do a couple of chapters of Uncharted now. See you in a week w/ more of this one.