Chapter 30: New Territory, Part 2
“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.”
Eric let Sookie have a moment to digest what he’d said; the information always left him with a stomachache too—not because he felt he should be the “heir apparent” to anything and not because he wanted Appius’s fortune. On the contrary. He’d only ever wanted one thing from his father.
Sookie started and stopped speaking several times, but Eric was the one to break the silence.
“Do you want a drink?” he asked. “I’ll tell you more about all of this—if you want—but suddenly I’m feeling the need for a beer. And maybe we could go out onto the balcony—and not just stand in the foyer all night.” He chuckled a little—nervously. “It’s really beautiful out there. And we still need to go over Claudine’s topics too. Then I’ll give you the grand tour.”
Sookie nodded and took her notebook out of her purse. “Can I leave my purse here?” she asked, as she gestured to one of the chairs.
“Sure,” Eric responded, before leading her through what seemed to be a maze of gray, and—though she could tell she was walking through an expensively decorated space—she purposefully didn’t study it. She would wait for Eric’s tour.
“Is a Newcastle okay?” he asked, as he walked to the end of the long gray room and went to his right. He leaned back out from where he’d gone. “Or a Sam Adams if you want something lighter? Or I have wine—if you prefer. Or just water? Or a Coke?”
“I’ll have what you’re having,” Sookie said with a giggle.
He tilted his head a little in question.
“I’ve always wanted to say that,” she said. “I know you’re having a beer, and I’d like one too, and since I haven’t tried either of those beers, I don’t have a preference. So—I’ll have what you’re having,” she spoke a little triumphantly.
He chuckled and disappeared again, returning quickly with two opened Newcastles. “This is my favorite beer,” he said as he handed her one of the bottles and then led her out onto the balcony.
She took a sip and smiled. “I like it.”
“I’m glad,” he smiled back and then gestured around the good-sized balcony space. “I love coming out here. Because of this building’s design, not many of the homes have a balcony. In fact, I’m lucky I got one.” He laughed a little—as if at a private joke.
“What?” Sookie asked as she took in the lovely view of the Hudson River before joining him to sit down.
“Pam,” Eric chuckled. “When we decided on this building—actually, when she decided on it—there were only two homes available in the tower: this one and the floor right below us. The one below is bigger, but it took her a while to decide whether she wanted to have the balcony or more closet space. She picked the closet space, but she’s still a little bitter she couldn’t have both.”
“In fact,” Eric continued, “she won’t even come out here. She helped to decorate most of the rest of the house, but she wouldn’t touch this. Isabel is actually the one who chose these things,” he said, gesturing to the patio furniture. “Before that, there was nothing on this side of the balcony, though I did decorate the other side.”
“Oh,” Sookie said, as insecurity flashed across her face.
“Um—it’s just that I hadn’t thought about you being here with other women.” She tried to play off her reaction. “It’s nothing. Of course, you would have brought dates here.”
“Sookie,” Eric said sincerely as he set down his beer and took her free hand, “Isabel and I were never together like that here. I don’t bring dates here. I didn’t even invite Isabel to my home until after we had decided to be just friends and not lovers—and, even then, she just came as a favor to me.”
“A favor?” Sookie asked.
Eric nodded. “Occasionally, my father has me followed.”
“Followed?” Sookie asked nervously.
“Don’t worry,” Eric reassured. “The people he sends are easy to spot, and Henry helps me to keep a lookout for them here. And I’m not followed often.”
“Why would Appius have you followed at all then?” she asked.
Eric shrugged. “I’ve given up trying to understand all of my father’s thought processes. I think,” he stopped for a moment. “I think that—where I’m concerned—my father is paranoid.” He sighed. “He has me followed for a week’s time every three months—like he needs a quarterly report or something; maybe it’s just to assure himself that I don’t have some kind of secret agenda.”
“Eric, his actions sound a little crazy,” Sookie said carefully. “Do you think he’d hurt you?”
“Not physically,” Eric responded, although there was a hint of doubt in his eyes. “God knows that he could have easily done something to me over the years, but he’s never raised a hand to me. The spying started when I was in college.” He paused. “I think he just wants to know that he can keep tabs on me. But I’m good at avoiding his spies when I want to, and—as I said—Henry helps. Bobby too.”
Sookie sighed and took a long drink of her beer.
“You okay?” he asked. “I know the thought of someone watching you bothers you.”
“I’m okay,” she answered. “You said that you can anticipate when it’s going to happen?”
He chuckled a little. “Yeah; it’s like clockwork actually—like I’m a part of the business my father wants to keep an eye on. The surveillance even corresponds with when I have to prepare the quarterlies for him for my division: the first full weeks of May, August, November, and February. The spying always starts after I leave work on Monday and ends when I get to work the next Monday. And it’s always the same two people that rotate shifts: Sigebert and Wybert. They’ve worked for my father for decades.” Eric smiled wickedly. “Last time, I even set up a few things for them.”
“Did you get followed to the MET?” Sookie asked, her eyes suddenly filling with fear.
“No,” Eric quickly assured. “On those Sundays, Henry snuck me out and drove me to the museum—and then picked me up later. Meanwhile, Bobby monitored Sigebert and Wybert. Don’t worry,” he said, stroking her cheek. “When they follow me, they always stick to the same routine when I’m here in the building, and they had no idea I’d left home on those Sundays.”
“What’s the routine?”
“Sigebert and Wybert have a van that looks like it belongs to the electric company that services this building, though Blake has run the plates and has discovered that they’re bogus.” Eric chuckled. “A couple of times, they’ve tried to come into the building to do ‘system maintenance,’ but—like I said—Henry keeps a tight ship, and they’ve never been able to get anywhere near my house. In fact, Henry told them that it was policy for the owners to be home and to meet with the technicians when any work was to be done, and they backed off real fast after that. Now, they mostly just stay in the van while I’m inside the house. Their city tags allow them to park in a place where they can monitor both the entrance we used tonight and the exit to the parking garage I use, so they seem pretty content to stay put when they’re here.”
Sookie took another drink, clearly trying to steady herself. “Why don’t you have Blake arrest them?”
“To be honest, I’m used to being followed like that. Like I said, it’s been going on for more than a decade. Plus, it’s better that it’s the Berts,” Eric said. “I can tell when they’re there, and it’s,” he paused, “probably smarter to let Appius think he’s in control.”
She sighed but then nodded. “So—uh—what did you set up for them—the Berts—the last time they followed you?”
“Lots of jogging in the park,” Eric responded with a mischievous look in his eyes. “Sigebert and Wybert are both big guys—not out of shape per se, but big—so watching them try to keep up is funny. Bobby follows them when they follow me—actually. And he’s gotten some great footage of them gasping for air when I reach about the mile mark.”
“So I take it they’re not the jogging type?” Sookie observed with a smirk.
“Definitely not,” Eric smirked back.
“What else did you set up for them to see?”
“It’s been convenient for me to let my father believe that I’m still with Isabel and that we are planning to get engaged at some point. If Appius thinks I’m with her, then he won’t try to push others onto me.”
“Others like Freyda de Castro?”
Eric nodded. “Exactly. The ruse of our relationship is useful to Isabel too. So she agreed to come over and spend a couple of nights in my guestroom the last time my father had me followed.”
“Eric, what if they try to follow you when you’re not expecting it? What if your father finds out about me?”
He contemplated for a moment. “So far, Appius has been really predictable in how he observes me, but it would probably be best if we don’t come and go together when we’re here.” He sighed. “The good news is that Sigebert and Wybert aren’t exactly subtle. And—even the one time my father sent someone else—I perceived him almost immediately. I am pretty sure I will notice if I’m being tailed, but we’ll be careful.”
“And you’re good at noticing things,” Sookie said as she remembered how he took in everything at the MET parties.
“Sookie, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure you never appear on my father’s radar.”
She relaxed a little. “I know.” They were silent for a moment. “So—um—I’m really the only—uh—date you’ve ever brought up here?”
“Yes,” Eric said, touching her cheek. “You’re the only one.”
“But—uh—where did you—uh—never mind,” she said as she blushed bright red.
Eric took a deep breath and answered her unspoken question. “As you may know, Northman Tower has several apartments on the top floors. One is available for my—uh—use. One of my father’s ‘rules’ for his children is that they take their,” he paused, “casual or clandestine companions there.”
“Your father’s rules?”
“We are to be discreet.” He sighed. “We are to avoid scandal. And Appius is the master of that. As you know already, my father prefers men, but that fact has never made a single tabloid, though many members of the upper crust of society have their suspicions about his proclivities.”
“So he—uh—wants you and Pam and Nora to be discreet too?”
Eric nodded. “And Alexei got shipped overseas when he couldn’t. Appius was always one to spend quality time with certain ‘business associates.’ But now, I think he’s pretty committed to Andre. Either way—he has always maintained discretion with his affairs.”
“Andre is his wife’s brother—right,” Sookie commented, rather than questioned.
“Does she know they’re together?”
“Sophie-Anne endorses the match,” Eric responded. “Theirs is a marriage of convenience only.”
“And Pam and Sophie-Anne are—uh—lovers? I mean—I saw Pam talking to her on the phone once, and I picked up what it was about,” Sookie said with a blush.
“Yes,” Eric answered. “They are on and off again lovers, but they, too, are discreet. One must not allow the press to know of one’s affairs,” he added, taking on a gruffer tone, obviously in imitation of his father.
“Is that part of your father’s rule?”
“Yeah. But, to be honest, this place,” he said gesturing toward the building, “is my sanctuary from everything—so that is a rule I would have followed anyway. The apartment at Northman Tower was, therefore, convenient to me.”
“But I’m here,” Sookie said with a little smile, “not there.”
“We’ve already established that you are different—very much so,” Eric said as he brought her hand up to his lips and gave her palm a gentle kiss.
“And you’re different with me,” she whispered.
“Very much so,” he smiled as she flushed pink again. Even in the dim light that the edge of the city afforded, she was more glorious than the sun to him. “You are the most amazing woman—person—I have ever known,” he whispered, his voice indicating something akin to awe.
Unused to receiving compliments, Sookie’s blush deepened, and she quickly changed the subject.
“So—uh—you were saying before that Appius left you out of his Will? But you are going to be taking over Northman Publishing soon—at least that’s the rumor. Why would he cut you out of his Will? You’re his oldest child.”
“As I said before, understanding my father is not something I try to do anymore. Suffice it to say that my father wishes I’d never been born.” Eric sighed. “My mormor insists that he was very much in love with my mother when they married and that he distanced himself from me because of grief after she died. The story that I heard from my mormor and morfar for most of my life was that Appius couldn’t stand to spend much time with me because I reminded him so much of Stella—my mom.”
“But that’s not what you think?”
“No,” Eric said as if the world had just landed on his shoulders. “I used to hope that was the case, but I know better now,” he added enigmatically.
They were silent for a few moments before Eric spoke again. “However, I do believe that Appius loved my mother once—at least her ability to help him climb to the highest ranks of the New York social scene. From what I’ve heard, my mother was,” he paused, “a singularity.”
Eric nodded. “Even now—even though she’s been dead for more than twenty-five years—people who knew her still come up to me at parties or events just to talk about her. They tell me how much I look like her, or they tell me about something nice she did for them. I don’t really remember her, so it’s good to hear little snippets about her life. Russell Edgington called her a ‘force or nature’ once—and said she was both the loveliest and the strongest human being he’d ever met. She’s remembered both for her kind-heartedness and for her ability to set trends in society.” He sighed. “Other than from my father and his mother, I’ve never heard anything negative about her, which is an oddity in and of itself—especially given the often back-stabbing nature of New York high society.” He scoffed a little. “Generally people not from New York are never truly accepted by the establishment; however, my father’s been lucky in that regard—first with my mother and now with Sophie-Anne. His other two wives both had New York pedigrees.” He paused. “Of course, growing up as she did, my mother had already learned how to fit in with the elite of Europe.”
“Was her family rich too?” Sookie asked.
“Yes. My mother’s father, Johan Larsson, was quite wealthy, and he and mormor had only one child, my mother. He also ran a large publishing firm in Sweden—with a lot of European clientele. My morfar decided to retire a few years after my mother and father married, and Appius absorbed most of the clientele, keeping the offices in Sweden open—according to my morfar’s wishes.”
“Are they still open?”
Eric shook his head. “No,” he said quietly. “Larsson Publishing is gone now. After I graduated from business school, my father let me take over the international arm of Northman Publishing—which still included Larsson Publishing at the time. Appius called it a test.”
“Yeah—Larsson still made decent money, but it wasn’t growing; I was supposed to make sure it did. Appius said that if profits weren’t up significantly in two quarters, I would need to find a solution, or Larsson Publishing would be closed,” Eric added bitterly.
“So he gave you a test that he didn’t think you’d pass,” Sookie guessed.
“Yeah, but it was more than that,” Eric said ambiguously, picking up his beer with his free hand and taking a big gulp of it. “Unbeknownst to me, he didn’t have the power to liquidate Larsson Publishing. Of course—at the time—I didn’t want to believe that my own father was setting me up to fail. I did my best with Larsson, but,” his voice trailed off, “the economy was so bad then.”
Sookie lightly squeezing his hand. “What happened?”
“I quickly realized that it would be impossible for me to keep Larsson Publishing open in Sweden—if Appius’s profit requirements were to be met. I tried to find a way, but,” he paused, “I failed.” He sighed heavily. “The operating costs were simply too high. Out of other options and almost out of time, I submitted a plan for Larsson to be dissolved and officially merged with Northman Publishing. I was even able to entice some of the best employees at Larsson to move here. I projected that my plan would increase the profits of the international division by over twenty percent—which was more than enough to meet my father’s requirements.”
“Did your father go for your plan?”
“Yeah,” Eric said. “He seemed enthusiastic about my projections—proud of me even. At the time, I thought he was happy because the merger would increase profits and make the international division of NP more efficient.” He sighed. “It turned out that Appius was happy because he’d manipulated me to get exactly what he’d been wanting all along—a merger. And he got to hurt me too in the process—so that was his real bonus.”
“It’s a long story,” Eric sighed, “but initially the hurt came because of the name of my morfar’s company.”
“Yeah. As part of my proposal, I asked that the name Larsson be retained for the European division of Northman Publishing once the official merger happened. My grandfather’s name is still well-respected, especially in Northern Europe, which was why so many clients had stuck with us there. I hoped that Appius would agree out of respect to the man who had entrusted him with stewardship of his company for so many years.”
“But Appius didn’t agree to that?” Sookie half-asked and half-stated.
“No, he did not,” Eric said in a somewhat detached tone. “My mormor was crushed, but she took the disappointment as she takes everything—with grace. She was just thankful that many of the employees who had been with morfar’s company for so long would be able to keep their jobs—even if they had to relocate to do it.”
Sookie sighed. “So Appius intentionally put you into a situation where you’d be hurt. I would ask why, but after having a mother like mine, I’ve learned that there is no satisfying answer to that question.”
“Amen to that,” Eric said with a slight smile as he tapped his bottle with Sookie’s in a toast.
The pair was silent as the sound of a boat’s loud horn drifted up from the Hudson.
“So—uh—who gets all of Appius’s money then?” Sookie asked after a few minutes. “I mean—I know that your father is supposedly the richest man in New York. Is that right?”
“That’s a slight exaggeration,” Eric responded as he finished his beer. “David Koch has more—Bloomberg too. But Appius is the eighteenth richest man in the United States according to last year’s data. In addition to the publishing company, he has tons of high-yield real estate investments. He also owns several oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and about ten percent of Exxon. And let’s just say that, during the past twenty years or so, he’s taken a special interest in hedge funds.”
Sookie let out a long exhalation that sounded almost like a whistle.
“Appius has multiple children, but all my forebears in this country had only one child—always a son. And those sons always added to the wealth accumulated by my great-great grandfather. That wealth was never split as it was passed down.”
Eric took a deep breath. “And—then add to that the money and property left to Appius after my grandmother Grace’s parents died. And then there’s the fact that Beth, Nora’s mother, was a distant cousin of Warren Buffett, whom Appius now has on speed dial for advice. Appius has rocketed up the list of the world’s richest people in the last two decades. In fact, he could lose ten billion dollars and still have more than ten to fall back on.” Eric put down his empty bottle and raked his hand through his hair. “I’ll give Appius credit where it’s due though. He’s filthy rich, but he still works really hard at NP. Most of the investments he has are overseen by his lawyers, and—even though NP isn’t his most profitable venture anymore—it’s clear that he loves it most.”
“His flagship,” Sookie observed.
“Precisely. And—though Appius lives large—his modus operandi is to reinvest most of what he makes so that he can keep building up his empire.”
“The rich keep getting richer,” Sookie sighed.
Eric nodded in agreement. “And—as for who will inherit it all? I’m not a hundred percent sure. My guess is that Nora and Appius, Jr. will get the lion’s share of the estate. Alexei will be taken care of—of course. Pam and Gracie too—at least I hope. And Sophie-Anne will receive a substantial amount, especially now that she’s provided Appius with a son worthy enough for his flagship as well as a live-in lover who doesn’t draw suspicion from the press.”
“But not his eldest son?” Sookie half-asked and half-stated.
“No,” Eric responded.
He chuckled. “Actually—I don’t give a fuck about Appius’s money. My salary at NP is more than enough for me. I get to live in this beautiful home in a city that I enjoy. And—when Appius leaves me alone—I really do like my job.” He shrugged. “Appius exchanged my silver spoon with a tin one so long ago that having silver again would just,” he paused, “taste strange at this point.”
They were silent for a moment as Eric’s thumb stroked Sookie’s palm.
“Do you think your father would ever fire you?” she asked after swallowing a sip of her drink.
“Because of our contract, he can’t.” Eric sighed. “But I can’t quit either.”
“But you would,” Sookie said, her tone conveying a little surprise.
“I have come to love NP, but I would leave in a second if I could. Starting over—even if I could no longer work in the publishing field—would be better than living under Appius’s yoke,” Eric said in almost a whisper.
“He’s using the contract to control you.”
Eric nodded. “When I turn 55, however, I will have fulfilled my part of the deal, and—after that—I’ll be free of him.”
“And before then?” she asked. “I mean—can’t you get out of the contract?”
“You don’t want to know what he could do to me if I did,” he said ominously—dismally.
As always, thanks so much for your continued support of me and this story. Your comments/reviews have been incredibly heartening during these difficult weeks for me. I know that a lot of you want Eric to just leave NP (to make a break for Appius). In the next chapter we’ll find out a little more about why Eric can’t, though it’ll be a bit longer before the whole mystery gets solved, Scooby. I will say that Appius has a reason for how he treats Eric (though nothing would justify his actions).
Continued thanks for your reading!