Chapter 53: Legacy, Part 1
“I don’t know why you have to be so unpleasant to Eric,” Nora chided with a little pout on her face. “He’s not really that bad—you know. Just a little too serious and a little too stiff—except when you want him to be.” She laughed at her own crude joke.
Appius cringed a little as he glanced up from his appetizer. He chose to ignore his stepdaughter’s innuendo. “I do not want to have this conversation with you again, Nora,” he said a little sternly. “You know that I value you and your opinion more than anything else, but there are things between Eric and myself that I don’t care to discuss.”
Nora sighed. “Then why do you even invite him over for family functions? It’s becoming more and more apparent that being around him is disagreeable to you, Daddy.”
Appius smiled a little. “Yes—but it is much more unpleasant for him, and Sophie-Anne insists. Plus, I need to keep an eye on him.”
“You do that at the office,” Nora said, playing with her food as she waited for a waiter to come over and pour her another glass of wine from the decanter that was only six inches away from her plate.
Figuring out what his daughter needed, Appius motioned for their waiter, who rushed over to pour more wine for both Nora and Appius.
Appius looked up at the man with disapproval in his eyes. “I do not want to see my daughter’s glass empty again,” he said in a low tone.
The waiter nodded. “Of course, sir. My apologies. May I get anything else for you at this time?”
Appius looked at his daughter. “Shall we try a bottle of the Bordeaux you were eyeing earlier after we finish this one?” he asked, gesturing toward the decanter.
“Yes—please,” Nora smiled.
Appius nodded. “Go ahead and open a bottle of the 2005 Lafite-Rothschild for us.”
“Of course, sir,” the waiter nodded. “Excellent choice. I will have it decanted and ready for you.”
Appius dismissed the man with a wave of his hand.
Nora took a sip of her wine. “What were we talking about? Oh yes—Eric. Like I was saying, you already keep an eye on him at the office, Daddy. Why subject yourself to socializing with him when it obviously upsets you.”
“I must subject myself—at least to keep up appearances. He is my son,” Appius continued, almost choking on the last word. “And as my son, Eric must seem to be part of the family.” He sighed. “And, like I said, Sophie-Anne always insists that he come to the Father’s Day brunch, and it is sometimes better to just go along with her rather than to listen to her complaints.”
Nora sighed. “I will never understand why you seem to hate Eric so much, Daddy—even from the time when he, Pam, and I were children.”
Appius shrugged. “Eric is like his mother. She too came in a pretty package and seemed charming on the surface. She too was intelligent, but she used that cleverness to deceive, and she tried to take away everything that mattered to me,” he said enigmatically. “I am determined to make sure Eric does not get that chance with me or with NP.”
In her confusion, Nora’s eyebrows scrunched together. “Daddy, you and I both know that Eric would cut off his arm if it would benefit the company. Hell—I’m sometimes jealous of how good he is at what he does, and pretty much everyone at the company thinks he hung the moon,” she added without malice in her voice. “I get that you want to push him to make sure that he’s ready to take over the company in a few years, but I don’t see why you have to be so hostile about the whole thing.”
Appius exhaled and laid down his fork. “He is the hostile one.” He sighed. “And, if I had my way, you would be the one taking over the company.”
“Daddy,” Nora said, reaching across the table to take his hand, “you know that’s not what I want. And even you have to admit that Eric is a better choice than I am to run the company.”
“Don’t sell yourself short, Nora.”
“I’m not,” she answered sincerely. “I’m happy with the position I have, and honestly, I wouldn’t want all the pressure that overseeing everything would put onto my shoulders.”
“I would make sure you had all the help you needed,” he offered, as he’d done many times before when they’d talked about this matter.
She sighed. “You know I like having time to have a personal life, Daddy. “And even if I had help, I’d still have all the pressure of making final decisions. I’d never get to have any fun,” she pouted.
“You should settle down then—and have a family,” Appius cajoled.
Nora patted her father’s hand. “I will one day. I’ve just not found someone that I could stand to live with yet.” She laughed a little. “Ironically, Eric is the only man I’ve ever dated that could carry on a decent conversation. But it became clear that he couldn’t get over the stepsiblings thing.” She frowned a little. “Pity—really.”
“I never saw your fascination with him,” Appius huffed a little.
“Everybody else wanted him,” Nora said by way of explanation, “so I did too. But now I think it’s good that things between him and me didn’t work out. After all, I don’t want to be with someone you dislike, Daddy. And—when I started dating him—he’d not been living in Manhattan long enough for me to realize just how uncomfortable he made you.”
Appius smiled at her and squeezed her hand. “I just want you to be happy, sweetheart. And Eric is a Northman, so if you had married him, then you would have been one too, and that certainly would have been a benefit of the relationship.”
Nora smiled back at her father. “I know, Daddy. I thought about that too.”
“You know that I would have adopted you officially if it wouldn’t have caused problems with the Gainsborough family,” Appius assured her. “From the first day your mother introduced me to you, you’ve felt like my child. I just hope that you’ve never felt slighted because I didn’t give you my name.”
“Of course not, Daddy.” Nora sniffled a little and squeezed his hand again before withdrawing her hand to take a drink. “We both know why it was impolitic for you to adopt me, but you’re still my father in every way that matters. Marrying Eric and getting the Northman name would have been nice, but it wouldn’t have changed anything between you and me. And, to tell you the truth, spending time with him socially got a little boring for me.” She sighed. “Plus, marrying him could have caused a scandal; we are stepsiblings, after all.” She paused. “Even though Eric chose not to come around much when we were growing up, he’s still sort of my brother.”
“You are more my child than he will ever be,” Appius averred forcefully.
“And that’s another reason why I decided that I didn’t want to marry him,” Nora said. “I’d have to constantly live with the strain between you two. No—if I marry, I will choose someone more palatable to you, Daddy. After all, I couldn’t have kept living at home if I married Eric. You wouldn’t have been happy with him there, and I don’t wish to move away from you.”
“That is nice to hear, sweetheart,” Appius smiled. “I just want the best for you.”
The maître d’ chose that moment to visit their table. “Mr. Northman, Miss Gainsborough, it is lovely to see you both again.”
Appius acknowledged the man. “Rudolfo.” He looked around. “It seems that business is steady.”
“Indeed, sir,” the man replied. “And may I wish you a happy Father’s Day. Miss Gainsborough said that this dinner was in honor of the holiday when she made the reservation with us.”
“Thank you,” Appius said, smiling at his daughter.
Rudolfo bowed a little. “I have been told that your entrees will be out in ten to fifteen minutes; meanwhile, we have gotten in a very nice Beluga caviar that I would very much like your opinion about.”
“Fine,” Appius nodded when he saw Nora’s eyes light up at the mention of caviar.
Rudolfo gestured toward the kitchen, and as he made sure Nora and Appius’s wine glasses were full, the caviar was brought out, along with two glasses of sparkling wine.
“My sommelier informs me that this Bollinger Blanc de Noir is an excellent pairing,” he said with a bow of the head.
Appius nodded at the man as he left the table. Nora was already digging in to the treat.
“Mmmmm,” she sounded, “this is yummy.”
Appius looked fondly at his daughter and took his own bite of the delicacy. “Indeed,” he said, savoring the taste of the Beluga. He nodded toward Rudolfo and lifted his glass, signaling to the maître d’ that the caviar was excellent.
As they enjoyed the rest of the caviar, their entrees, and then their desserts, Nora entertained Appius with some gossip involving members of their circle. As always, Appius catalogued the various scandals in his supple mind, noting which pieces of new information might be beneficial to him. One tidbit in particular—a rumor about Freyda de Castro returning from Barcelona, where she’d been since January—was of particular interest to him.
“Shall we have an after-dinner brandy?” Appius asked his daughter as their waiter removed their dessert plates.
“Yes,” Nora smiled. “And more coffee too, please.”
Appius spoke to the waiter. “Two glasses of the brandy I had last time I was here. And more coffee.”
The man nodded and quickly set about the tasks given to him. After he’d returned, Appius took a long sip of the strong cognac.
As soon as the waiter was out of earshot, he returned to the topic he’d been discussing with Nora before. “Promise me—if you ever change your mind about the CEO position, you will tell me.”
She nodded. “I will, Daddy. I promise.”
Appius looked relieved. “Until Eric officially takes over, I could still try to stop what has been set into motion,” he said, his tone becoming a little bitter.
Nora sighed and sipped her brandy. “I just don’t get it, Daddy. You clearly have no love for Eric. Why let him be CEO at all? Why not just hire someone else to do the job?”
Appius sighed. “Northman Publishing is a family company, and despite my personal distaste for Eric, he is a Northman, and—other than you—he is the best choice I have if a family member is to remain CEO.” He continued sourly, “Even I have to admit that he is efficient in his work, though he tends to become too appeasing to those with whom he works closely.”
“Well he has brought in a lot of revenue,” Nora said, obviously trying to soften her father’s opinion of her stepbrother.
“Yes—but had he been stronger, he would have brought in more.”
Nora sighed. “I suppose. But I think that Eric truly will make a good CEO. You ought not to worry so much, Daddy.”
Appius looked weary. “I do worry. I don’t trust him. But I must make him CEO, not only because he’s my eldest son and it’s expected, but because of other factors too,” he said inscrutably. “Factors which are beyond my control.”
“Other factors?” Nora asked with concern. She’d never seen her father look so tired or distressed before. Immediately she reached out to take his hand again. “Daddy, what’s all this really about?”
Appius exhaled heavily. “Maybe it is time that you know. Maybe it is time for me to share with you why we must all be wary of Eric. But I need for you to swear not to repeat anything I tell you—not even to Pamela. No one knows the whole story—no one but me.”
Nora nodded solemnly. “I swear, Daddy. Of course—I swear.”
Appius took another sip of his brandy to steady his nerves and then squeezed his stepdaughter’s hand before releasing it.
“When my father passed away, he left me the majority of his NP stock, as well as most of the rest of his estate, which included a variety of other interests. However, it was the NP stock that meant the most to me.”
Appius paused and Nora nodded for him to go on.
“You see, before my father’s death,” he continued, “I owned only ten percent of NP outright. That fact had never bothered me, however, since I always assumed my father would pass along his stock to me. And—truth be told—I had plenty of money already because of a trust fund that I received when I was twenty-one, as well as the other income I’d built up over the years. And, of course, I received a salary for being CEO as well.”
He took a breath and a sip of his drink. “In fact, my father and I discussed his estate in depth as soon as he learned of his cancer. You see—he did not want your grandmother to have to worry about her finances at all after he was gone. Thus, he set things up so that she would have a large monthly income—throughout her lifetime—for her personal use. And he asked me if I would administer an account set up to maintain her household. Of course, I agreed. The bulk of his estate, he said, would come to me—except for a minority of the NP stock, which he wanted to pass to his grandchildren directly.
“You see—I had been given my first 10% of the stock from my own grandfather. And my father had been given his first stock in the company by his grandfather. Thus, he wanted to do the same for his grandchildren.”
Nora smiled a little. “A family tradition.”
Appius nodded. “Yes. My father had decided to split 12% of his stock among the four children I had at the time: you, Pamela, Alexei, and Eric.”
His jaw tightened as he went on, “My father did what we had discussed, but only up to a certain extent,” he added bitterly. “Upon his death, he still held 90% of the NP stock. However, he left me only 67%, and he ended up giving 23% to my children.”
“Yes,” Nora said. “I remember. Pam, Alexei, and I each got 3%. And Eric got—what was it?—14%?”
“And, then, when I started at NP, Eric signed over half of his stock to me.” Nora frowned. “I never knew why. He only told me that it was because he thought I should have 10% since I was CFO. He said that it would seem more substantial to the shareholders if the company went public, which seemed to be an inevitability at the time.” She shrugged. “I just took it as another one of Eric’s peculiarities.”
“Peculiarities,” Appius repeated. “Yes—Eric always was peculiar, just like his mother.” He scowled. “What you don’t know is that I entreated my father not to leave Eric any stock at all.”
“What?” Nora asked. “Why ever not?”
“I had a good reason,” Appius said in a low tone. “A very good reason. You must believe me in that.”
Nora’s eyes widened a little at the fervor in her father’s voice. “Of course I do, Daddy. I know you wouldn’t have asked Grandfather John for something like that if you didn’t,” she said with certainty.
Appius gave his favorite child a smile before his face fell into a frown again. “Obviously, my father did not abide by my wishes. But I didn’t think it would be too bad—with Eric receiving only 3% like the rest of my children. However, after I asked my father to cut Eric out of his Will, he altered it, leaving him both more stock and a substantial percentage of his liquid capital—capital which had been promised to me.”
Nora frowned. “He did that after you told him your reasons for wanting Eric left out?”
Appius nodded. “Yes—and it gets worse.”
“Worse?” Nora asked with concern. “How?”
Appius took a bracing drink. “There was a codicil in Father’s Will,” he said with a growl. “And—if I don’t obey it—everything my father did leave to me will be forfeit.”
“Yes,” Appius said, running his freehand through his hair. “And with that single document, my father stole the control of Northman Publishing from me.”
“How?” Nora asked.
“The codicil states that if I do not make Eric the CEO of Northman Publishing before I turn 60 years old, then everything that came to me in my father’s Will must be given to Eric—with the value adjusted for inflation, of course,” he added, the resentment thick in his tone.
Nora looked at him in shock. “Really? Why would Grandfather John do that?”
Appius snarled a little. “He decided that he didn’t like the way I treated Eric,” he paused, “even after I told him what I’d learned about Eric’s mother.”
“What did you learn?” Nora asked, making sure to keep her voice low so that they would not be overheard. She was glad, now, that they’d been placed in a corner in the exclusive restaurant.
“My first wife, Stella, had a secret affair.” He paused for a moment to take another drink. “To make matters worse, she chose to have that affair with the first man that I ever,” he paused again, “loved.” He shook his head. “She knew how much it would hurt me, but she did it anyway, carrying on the affair for almost a decade. I found out about it right after she died, and—up until five years ago—I had good reason to believe that Eric was another man’s son.”
“What?” Nora asked in a whisper. “But—why did you hire him to work at NP at all then?” Her eyebrows scrunched together in question. “You hired him six years ago—almost exactly a year before me,” she remembered. She shook her head. “Why treat Eric like your son all those years? Why send him to all the best schools and pay for his extended vacations to Sweden—if he wasn’t yours?”
Appius sighed, his face taking on the aspect of a martyr. “Stella Larsson and her parents conspired to hide the truth of her affair from me, so I hid the truth about what I knew. But you’re right. I did raise Eric as a Northman and even gave him a position in the company—all while I thought he was someone else’s son.”
“That must have been so difficult for you,” Nora said compassionately.
“It was,” he agreed. “However, as soon as Eric started at Northman Publishing, I set into motion a plan I’d had for years. You see—as part of his trust fund, Eric had been left Johan Larsson’s publishing company. However, I had been its caretaker from the time that Johan retired, which was when Eric was only eight years old.”
He went on. “I decided that it wasn’t fair that the company had not been left to Eric and Pamela equally, so my plan was to get Eric to officially merge Larsson Publishing with NP so that Pamela wouldn’t be cut out. I wanted to protect her interests.” He paused. “And my plan worked perfectly. When Eric started, I gave him control of the international division. After he recognized that Larsson Publishing wasn’t turning the kinds of profits that it used to, he was the one who came to me with a merger plan.”
Appius chuckled a little at the memory. “I had thought that I’d have to plant that idea into his mind, but he actually did all the work. It took a while to get the merger finalized, but when it was, I knew that I had secured Pamela’s legacy by absorbing Larsson Publishing into NP. It was then that I arranged for a paternity test. The wording in my father’s Will made it clear that I had to make ‘my eldest son, Eric Northman,’ the CEO of NP.” Again, Appius ran his fingers through his longish gray hair. “Thus, I just needed to prove that Eric was not my son in order to avoid the terms of the codicil. And—as I have indicated—I was certain that the paternity test would indicate that he was not mine.”
“Then what would you have done—where Eric was concerned?” Nora asked.
“I would have paid him half of the amount that Larsson Publishing was worth before the merger,” Appius lied. “And I would have offered to buy his NP stock from him.” He paused and took another drink. “Given the pain I’d had to endure, I couldn’t have borne for him to stay on at NP. However, I’d already talked to several colleagues in the publishing business who would have been willing to give Eric an equivalent position to the one he held at NP. Your stepbrother would have had his choice of positions.”
Nora sniffled a little. “You would have done all that for him—even if he hadn’t been your child?”
Appius nodded. “Yes. He would have remained Pamela’s brother, after all,” he said with false sincerity. “However, to my great surprise, the paternity test proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Eric is my son.”
“That’s why you always disliked him before,” Nora said with recognition. “You thought that Stella had deceived you about Eric’s paternity.”
“Yes,” Appius admitted sadly. “I loved her,” his voice broke a little. “And I also loved Peder Lang, the man she made her lover. And Eric became a constant reminder to me of their deception.” He paused. “He remains that reminder—still. However, because he is my blood, the codicil to my father’s Will applies. I had thought that I would be rid of the symbol of Stella’s deceit and the specter of that goddamned codicil in one afternoon, but that didn’t happen because Eric is my son.”
“But surely you two could reconcile now,” Nora beseeched. “Now that you know he’s not the product of an affair, you might build a relationship with him.”
Appius looked crestfallen. “At first, I tried very hard to do that,” he said, continuing to lie to his stepdaughter. “I explained to Eric just how hurt I’d been by Stella and Peder’s affair.” He shook his head. “But Eric has always been vindictive toward me, despite the interest I took in his education. Hell—I always indulged his desire to spend summers with his grandparents, though I despised them for playing along with Stella’s treachery.” He paused, “You see—Stella would say that she was visiting her parents in Sweden. But that was just a pretext! She would actually go to her lover, who lived in Norway. And her mother would lie to me when I called to speak with Stella.” He scoffed. “Stella would always call back a little while later with an excuse that she had been having lunch with a friend or out shopping. I’m sure that her mother had let her know that I’d called so that she could contact me—probably from her lover’s bed!”
“Daddy,” Nora said sympathetically, reaching for his hand again, “I’m so sorry you had to go through all that.”
He patted her hand. “I used to be too. But Stella’s death led to my discovering her secret. And if those things had not happened, I would not have been free to marry your dear mother, who gave me you.” He smiled softly. “And I cannot regret that. No—all the pain in the world would be worth having you as my daughter.”
“Oh, Daddy,” Nora said as she brushed away a tear.
Appius’s smile fell. “As I said, after the paternity test proved that Eric was mine, I tried to make the best of things. I even increased Eric’s responsibilities at NP, though he has demonstrated his ingratitude for this almost every day by refusing to take into account advice that I have tried to give him.” Appius let out a long exhalation, as if he’d been the longsuffering victim in the situation. “I have learned to endure his disdain for me—though it pains me that my own flesh and blood offers me no respect. And,” he paused, “I admit that I am partly to blame. I could not treat Eric warmly when I thought he belonged to another man, even though I did always see to his care. And—now—it is difficult to be around him, given the fact that he has refused all of the efforts I have made to forge a true father-son relationship with him,” he said with false genuineness.
Nora wiped away another tear. “Of course that would hurt you.” She shook her head as realization set in. “It all makes so much more sense now.” She huffed. “And I cannot believe that Eric wouldn’t be understanding after what his mother did to you!”
Appius sighed. “Yes. But, all in all, it is best that I am aware of his grudge against me. Otherwise, I would not know to be prepared when he inevitably tries to betray me and the rest of the family.”
Nora gasped in understanding. “That’s why Grandfather John’s will upsets you so much! It requires that you turn over the reins of NP to Eric!” She frowned as she tried to reconcile what she had thought she knew of Eric with what she was now learning. “But I’m sure Eric cares about the company, Daddy. I know he wouldn’t do anything to harm it.”
“I believe that is true also,” Appius said. “But I worry for you, Pamela, Alexei, Gracie, and Appius, Jr. I believe that once Eric is CEO, he will undermine all of your positions. I believe he wants NP for himself and his own children. I fear that he will try to cut the rest of you out in order to get back at me.”
“You think he’d do that?” Nora asked, both her skepticism and her shock clear. “But Eric,” she paused, “seems to care for us all—genuinely care for us.”
“Just as his mother always seemed to care for me,” Appius said forebodingly.
A/N: Hello! Thanks for all the comments about the last chapter! I know that you were all expecting to see Pam’s “come to Jesus moment,” and I promise that’s coming. However, it was time to put you into Appius’s head. Surprise! It’s a twisted snake den of lies in there! I hope that you “enjoyed” the insight.
I’ll try to have the continuation of Appius and Nora’s discussion for you in the next couple of days.