Chapter 29: New Territory, Part 1
Sookie squeezed Eric’s hand nervously as they got out of their cab at the southwest entrance of Carmichael Plaza. Near the Hudson River on the Upper West Side, Carmichael Plaza was huge, boasting homes with some of the most spacious floor plans in the city. Sookie looked up, scanning the tower of the plaza, which extended upward from the rest of the fuller-bodied building. She gasped; she certainly felt out of her element.
“So—uh—Amelia’s dad really owns all of this?” she asked.
“In a manner of speaking,” Eric responded. “Some of the residences in the main building have been set aside for rentals, but I believe most have been bought. Copley retains ownership of the land and building, but—for example—I own the square footage of my home. Carmichael Industries deals with any structural issues with the building—as well as any infrastructure that affects multiple residences, like plumbing and electricity and air flow. In turn, residents here pay into something like an HOA each month to help maintain the property and to pay for staffing. Of course, that fund is huge, and anything not used for the building goes into Copley’s pockets.”
Sookie nodded. “Oh.”
Eric pointed south—in the direction of a line of newer-looking high rises flanking the Hudson. “Carmichael Industries actually owns the next four high rises south of here too. It’s affectionately called Carmichael Row. A few decades ago, Copley got the idea to tear down the more modest buildings that were here and to replace them with residential high rises. At the time, I think it was a PR nightmare because of all the displaced people and businesses, and it took a huge initial investment. But—from what I understand—this is now one of the most profitable real estate ventures on record.”
“Wow!” Sookie said as she shook her head. She couldn’t imagine the kind of wealth it required to construct so many high rises, nor could she grasp the profits Mr. Carmichael must have made in selling most of the properties within those massive structures.
“Carmichael Plaza was the last of the Row to get finished,” Eric continued. “I think that Copley originally intended to live here—on the top floor of the tower—after he retired. There’s a park view to the north from this building and the river view to the west; I imagine he intended to take advantage of that, especially given his donations to Riverside Park during the last two decades. The tower here was also planned to be the tallest in the Row, but when Copley’s wife died, his plans changed,” Eric informed, his voice trailing off as he too looked upward at the lights of the tower.
“Amelia doesn’t talk much about her mom’s illness and death, but it’s clear that it changed her dad in a lot of ways.” Sookie sighed deeply. “She says that he won’t come into the city much anymore; it reminds him too much of his wife.”
Eric nodded. “I don’t know Copley well—though I’ve talked to his son Paul—Amelia’s brother—quite a bit at gatherings. I,” he paused, “like Paul; he and his wife talk a lot about their kids and always leave events early.”
“Yeah. Amelia says that her brother hates going to black tie stuff—that he and their father used to clash over Paul’s main priority not being the business. But Mr. Carmichael’s attitude about that has changed too,” Sookie reported.
Eric’s expression was wistful for a moment. “When I moved to Manhattan and started working at Northman Publishing, it was clear that Copley was a good friend of my father’s.” He paused. “Despite that, Copley was always cordial to me, though not as much as some of my father’s other contemporaries.”
“Amelia said that her father used to seem like Donald Trump to her,” Sookie laughed a little. “But now,” she paused. “Now she says that he seems like just a dad.”
“Just,” Eric whispered. He smiled sadly at the thought, wishing his own father could undergo such a transformation. “I haven’t seen Copley much since his wife died,” he said. “I don’t think Appius sees him much anymore either. However, Appius is still a huge investor in some of Carmichael Industries’ ventures. He’s even on the board of directors.”
“Did he help fund this building?” Sookie asked.
“No,” Eric responded. “Not directly—at least. I think Appius invested heavily in the other high rises in Carmichael Row. However, this building was Copley’s pet project, so he didn’t take outside investors for it. That was one of the reasons I agreed when Pam wanted me to move here too.”
“Because your father’s not directly involved in it?”
“Oh,” Sookie said, not knowing what else to say at that moment.
“I also liked this building because of its location and its unique architecture,” Eric said with a faint smile. “And—since the tower section was redesigned to be less—uh—impressive, I could afford to live here.”
Sookie looked at him with questions in her eyes, but didn’t ask any of them as he led her toward the entrance of the building—her left hand entwined in his right. They were greeted by two men in sharp suits.
“Good evening, Mr. Northman,” one of the men said through an intercom, even as he pushed a button which opened the glass doors of the building.
Given their attire, Sookie thought the two men looked more like secret servicemen than doormen. But, then again, during dinner, Eric had told her that security was tight at the building—especially in the tower section—because there were several high profile people, including a couple of actors, living there. According to Eric, the rest of the building’s occupants consisted mostly of younger people—professionals wealthy enough to afford their own one to three million dollar homes—but not “people with real money,” according to Sophie-Anne.
Eric had also told her that Appius had almost blocked Pam from living in the building—despite the fact that it bore the name of his erstwhile friend and business colleague. Because of its redesign, Appius deemed Carmichael Plaza to be “housing for the masses”—acceptable for Eric, but not for his daughter. Pam changed Appius’s mind by giving him a list of people who’d already purchased homes in the tower. They were, apparently, “more acceptable people” in Appius Northman’s eyes. Plus, Pam had wanted both a park and a river view. In the end, Appius had “indulged” her.
“Good evening,” Eric nodded toward both guards once he and Sookie were inside the lobby. “Trey, Rasul—this is Sookie Stackhouse.”
Sookie smiled somewhat nervously as the two men nodded in her direction. Rasul looked to be about 40 and had a dark olive complexion. He was a couple of inches shorter than Eric and wore an easy smile.
Sookie reached out her hand to shake his, causing the man to look a little surprised.
“Nice to meet you, Miss Stackhouse,” Rasul said with a slight accent as he took her hand.
“Sookie,” she said a little nervously. “You can call me Sookie if you want.”
Rasul nodded as Sookie turned to shake the other guard’s hand. She noticed that Eric’s palm was placed at the small of her back, not possessively as much as comfortingly. She was grateful for the touch; she was also proud of herself for not being as nervous as usual about meeting new people.
As she turned her attention to Trey, she noticed that he looked an inch or two shorter than Rasul, but he was just as solidly built. He smiled as he shook her hand.
“Hello, Sookie,” Trey said.
“Hello,” Sookie responded.
Trey’s smile was obviously not as natural of an expression as Rasul’s was for him, but Sookie could tell that it was just as sincere as the other guard’s.
“Sookie will need a cab tomorrow at around 11:00,” Eric said to Trey.
“No problem,” the guard responded as he turned to type a note at a computer station that was set up next to the entrance.
“You two have a nice evening,” Rasul said as Eric took Sookie’s hand again and led her toward a desk in the modern-looking lobby area of Carmichael Plaza Tower.
Sookie let her eyes sweep up from the highly polished marble floor to the man behind the desk. He was dressed more casually than the others—in jeans and a green T-shirt that made his red hair stand out.
“Hello, Henry,” Eric greeted.
“Hey, Eric,” the man returned with a smile that made his light blue-green eyes sparkle. Even though he was sitting down and dressed less formally than the others, Henry had an air of command about him. “Is this Sookie?” he asked.
Eric nodded. At the restaurant, Eric had told her that he and Henry, the building’s chief of security, had what Eric called a “friendship of sorts.”
Henry stood up and reached out a hand to shake Sookie’s. “Nice to meet you,” he said pleasantly. He looked at Eric. “Pam’s already come and gone. She said something about staying at your father’s place tonight.”
Eric nodded as Sookie visibly relaxed. Running into Pam had not been something she’d wanted to do.
With a manner that clearly indicated his excellence at his job, Henry spoke in a quieter tone as he continued, “I’ve informed the other guards of the relevant details of the phone conversation you and I had a little while ago.”
“Thanks,” Eric said.
Sookie bit her lip. Eric had called Henry before they went into the restaurant in order to let him know that she was going to be a frequent guest of his—a guest that he didn’t want others—not even Pam—to find out about for the time being.
Henry put a small electronic device up onto the counter; it looked almost like a keypad for a debit card at a grocery store; however, there were no numbers on it. “All I need is your left thumb and your right index finger,” Henry said, winking at Sookie.
When Sookie looked a little confused, Henry explained. “After I have your prints, I can put you into the system to operate the elevators. Each tower resident shares an elevator with only a few others; Eric will show you which elevator he uses. Your left thumb will call the elevator to you. Once you are on the elevator, your right index finger will give you access to Eric’s home, the garage, the pool level, or back here.”
Eric chuckled. “It’s all very high tech, but it’s nice not to have to worry about keys.”
Sookie giggled as Henry captured her prints.
“Have you disabled Pam’s access to my house for now?” Eric asked quietly.
Henry nodded. “Yep. Don’t worry.”
“Thanks,” Eric said.
“See you two later,” Henry said with another wink at Sookie.
Eric led Sookie around the corner from the desk to a bank of six elevators and stopped in front of the one at the far right.
“This one is ours,” he informed. “Pam also uses this elevator, which is actually quite convenient. We share it with one other floor—the level above mine—but it might as well be private. I’ve only had to wait for it a couple of times.”
Sookie nodded. “I figured it’d be a lot busier in your building. It’s got to be at least thirty stories high—right?” she asked in a hushed tone.
“Thirty three,” Eric said. “But the southwest entrance we just used is only for people in the tower homes, and there are only eighteen floors extending up from the rest of the structure. The other one hundred and thirty-two residences in the Carmichael Plaza are accessed through the north, west, and east entrances.” Eric gestured for Sookie to call the elevator. “Let’s see how fast Henry is.”
Sookie giggled and pushed the button with her left thumb.
“Give me two minutes!” came Henry’s raised voice. “Maybe three!”
Eric chuckled as he pushed the button with his own left thumb.
“So—uh—do you live really far up?” Sookie asked.
“Are you afraid of heights,” he asked playfully as he retook her hand.
“I’m fifth from the top.”
“Wow!” she exclaimed. “And Pam’s house is right below yours?”
“Yep,” Eric nodded as the elevator door opened.
“There are only four buttons,” Sookie observed with confusion as they stepped onto the elevator. The doors closed behind them, but Eric didn’t push any of the buttons.
He chuckled. “The top one will take us to my house, the next is back here, the next is to the private pool area, and the bottom one goes to the private garage for tower residents. It all runs by fingerprints. I have to use this finger to get to Pam’s place,” he said, wiggling his right ring finger near the top button.
“Oh,” Sookie said shaking her head.
“Are you overwhelmed yet?” he asked, a little concerned.
She nodded. “Yeah—a little. So—uh—Henry seems nice,” she added, changing the subject.
Eric nodded. In truth, Henry was someone that Eric liked quite a bit, despite their limited interactions. The redhead had done Eric a favor by giving up part of his night off to check Sookie into the building’s system. Generally, the desk was manned only during weekdays, though the guards at the door could be called upon if there was need, and Henry was on call 24/7 for the tower residents—not that Eric had ever taken advantage of that fact before. However, Eric had gotten the impression that some of the building’s more “entitled” residents tried to treat Henry and his team of highly trained guards as personal errand boys and girls at times.
“Yeah, he’s nice, but don’t let him fool you; he’s a badass too—an ex-Navy SEAL,” Eric reported.
“Really?” Sookie asked, obviously impressed.
“He was injured in Afghanistan,” Eric shared. “He probably would have stayed in the military for life if he’d not been discharged.”
“Was he discharged because of his injury?”
Eric shook his head. “No—not really. Don’t get me wrong—it was a serious injury, but that’s not why he was discharged. I’m not sure of all the details, but I’ve found out some of them.”
“Oh?” Sookie asked.
“As head of security, Henry lives on the grounds, and I’ve seen him at Riverside Park. I run there some times. He—uh—lost his right leg at the thigh in a land mine; he’s got a prosthesis.”
“Really!” Sookie exclaimed.
“Yep—I didn’t find out about it until six months or so after I moved in here.” He chuckled. “I couldn’t tell anything was wrong with him; we even ran together sometimes. It wasn’t until spring—when he passed me wearing shorts—that I realized he had a prosthesis,” Eric recounted. “He’s pretty badass—actually. Runs the marathon too and gets donations for disabled vets that way.” Eric paused. “And—given how well he does here—he could have stayed in the military as some kind of strategist or something, even if they didn’t let him back into combat situations. Unfortunately, he was discharged because of his personal life.”
“Huh?” Sookie asked.
“Henry’s partner—Blake—lives with him, as does Henry’s sister and her kids. From what I’ve been able to pick up, Blake was barred from seeing Henry when he was hurt—because ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was still in effect then. “Henry is estranged from his parents; I can only assume that they were the ones that made sure Blake couldn’t visit him.”
“Oh,” Sookie said with understanding. “That’s horrible!”
Eric nodded. “Yeah. Henry was a Lieutenant Commander when he accepted an honorable discharge; I know that much. After his injury—which left him unconscious for several days—he’d apparently had enough of the government’s laissez-faire attitude about gays in the military. I know that he and Blake worked to help get the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” policy repealed because Appius was displeased that the head of security here was on C-SPAN.” He sighed. “I bought them a case of champagne when it was repealed.”
Sookie nodded and then smiled up at him. “He winked at me—you know. I thought he might have been flirting.”
Eric chuckled and squeezed her left hand as he gestured that she should push the button for his home with her right index finger. When she did, the conveyance immediately came to life.
“Well—Henry does like blondes,” Eric waggled his eyebrows.
“And how would you know that?” Sookie asked coyly.
“He checks me out,” Eric said, thrusting out his chest in an exaggerated way.
Sookie giggled. “I can’t really blame him.”
“Actually,” Eric chuckled, “I’m glad that he doesn’t check me out; I’m a little scared of Blake.”
“Let me guess. Blake’s blonde—right?” Sookie asked with a giggle.
“Yep. And an NYPD detective, so even if I were interested in Henry,” Eric’s voice trailed off as he smirked.
“I guess it’s just not meant to be,” Sookie laughed.
“Oh well—I’m more than happy about who I’m with,” Eric smiled as he bent down to kiss Sookie’s forehead as the elevator doors opened to his luxurious home. Her breath was immediately stolen as she took in the foyer. Her eyes were drawn to a unique wooden light fixture hanging in the middle of the space. A large turquoise floor vase stood against the wall opposite the elevator, and two beautiful chairs were placed on either side of it. Sookie couldn’t help but to wonder if anyone ever sat in the pristine-looking furniture.
Following her eyes and seeming to read her thoughts, Eric spoke as he led them from the elevator. “The chairs really only get used when I have a party. Pam insists that someone be here to take coats. And Henry insists upon having an extra guard up here. I insist that they should be able to sit down.”
Sookie nodded, but her attention was quickly stolen by a painting to her right. “Oh my God!” she exclaimed. She walked over to the painting, he mouth agape. “Wow! This is by J. M. W. Turner!” she cried, as she looked at the distinctive signature.
“Yes,” Eric responded, his voice edged with emotion. “You’ve seen more of his work? At the MET?” he asked.
She nodded. “‘Whalers’ was my favorite piece in Gallery 808.”
“My great-grandmother Northman left it to me; she was my grandfather John’s mother. I don’t remember her, but there’s a picture of us in front of it. She was reading to me.” He sighed and smiled faintly. “She died on my fourth birthday. Much to my father’s chagrin, this piece and the picture of us were held in trust for me until I was 21, along with first editions of all of the Horatio Hornblower books.”
“This painting is—wow—priceless!” Sookie gasped.
“Yes,” he observed quietly. “But the insurance company appraised this piece at only $900,000.”
“You really are rich!” she gulped, still looking at the painting.
Eric chuckled a little. “Yeah—at least my family is. But this is the only piece of real monetary value that I own, and I’d never want to sell it.”
There was a break in their conversation as Sookie continued to look at the painting.
Finally, after about a minute, Eric spoke, “I’m not as rich as you may think, Sookie,” he said somewhat cautiously. “I know that doesn’t matter to you, but I want you to,” he paused, “know about me.”
She looked at him with confusion. “You’re right. I don’t care if you have money or not, but I—uh,” she paused, “thought you were one of the richest people in New York. That’s what everyone says,” she finished awkwardly.
Eric chuckled ruefully. “Well—everyone is wrong.” He took a breath. “The Northman name was enough to help me get into this building when Pam wanted to live here. But my father keeps me on a pretty short leash, truth be told. I mean—don’t get me wrong—I have plenty of money, more than any one person should have, but it’s nothing like my father’s wealth.”
“But you get a big salary from Northman Publishing—right?” Sookie asked, looking back at him.
“Yeah—pretty big. I get the industry standard for a deputy CEO,” he said somewhat stiffly. “It’s enough to cover the mortgage on this place and enough to live on as long as I don’t get carried away. I also get some quarterly stock dividends that I put into savings or reinvest. And when I own this place outright in about 16 years, I’ll have a lot more cash to work with—of course.”
“You have a mortgage?” she asked with surprise.
Eric chuckled. “Yeah—as I said, Appius doesn’t want me too independent. Both sets of my grandparents set up a trust fund for me when I was born, but my mother and father were given the power of attorney to decide when it would be given to me.”
“And since your mother’s gone,” Sookie said quietly, “Appius is the one who decides.”
Eric sighed and nodded. “In truth, I pretty much gave up on seeing a penny of the trust fund a long time ago. But, because of the contract I have with Appius now, I’ll get access to it when I’m 55—if I’ve met certain conditions, that is. If not, I’ll never get any of it.”
He exhaled deeply as if trying to push poison from his lungs. “Appius does like to dangle that trust fund over my head every once in a while though. Of course, Pam and Nora were both already given theirs once they graduated from college, and I certainly understand why Alexei hasn’t been given his yet—given his wild streak.” He shrugged. “I don’t really think about the trust fund anymore—not really. It’s better not to. My grandfather, John Northman, left me some additional money and stocks, but I try not to tap into that. I mean—I did use it to help me get through college and to buy a car,” he smiled a little. “And I had to use about half of it for the down payment for this house. But I’ve invested the rest, and I pretty much live on my salary from NP.” His tone turned a little bitter. “And I certainly will never see any of Appius’s money.”
“What do you mean?” Sookie asked, focusing on Eric rather than the opulent space around her.
“My father has made it perfectly clear to me that I am not in his Will. Nora will gain control of Appius’s NP shares until Appius, Jr.—I call him A.J., by the way—is old enough. I’ll stay on as CEO, but when I’m 55—about the time A.J. is ready to step in—I’m to retire quietly and without complaint.”
“What? Wait! You’re the eldest. I thought the oldest kid was supposed to be the . . . ,” her voice trailed off. “And everyone at the office and in the newspapers calls you the ‘heir apparent to the Northman throne.'”
“As I said, everyone is wrong.”
A/N #2: I want to thank everyone who wrote in with comments for the last chapter! They were all extremely kind and supportive. Have I mentioned that I have the best readers in the world? Well—I do!
As for Eric’s home—I have mixed feelings about my inspiration. When I was in NYC last time, it was to house-sit for a friend of mine. Her home?—At the Heritage at Trump Place, which is the building inspiration for Eric’s home. My friend does NOT live in the tower, and—as far as I know—there aren’t any full-floor homes (though there might be). I’ve taken liberties with the set-up of things. But I wanted to use the building because it truly is lovely. The first fifteen floors curve into a semicircle and the tower looms above, but only on one side. My mixed feelings come from using anything Trump-related as my inspiration. (LOL) But—despite all of his—ahem—eccentricities, I have to admit that he’s a good businessman. And—I don’t know him personally, so who am I to judge? Anyway, he’s one of the inspirations for my character, Copley Carmichael, and I have to say that I loved my stay at the Heritage. The view was amazing, and the house (mind you my friend is not wealthy enough to afford a higher floor or a huge floor plan) was nice. I have, of course, taken a lot of liberties with things, but I wanted to let any Manhattanites reading this know what (and where) I was thinking of as I wrote.
Note: It’s more proper not to capitalize “Will” (as in Last Will and Testament), but I did that in order to make things a little easier to follow with the eye so that you can distinguish “will” from “Will.” (It made things easier for me too.)
Anyway, thanks for continuing to follow this story. As you know, I love hearing your comments, so please let me know what you think if you have a spare minute.