Chapter 54: Legacy, Part 2
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.
Nora gasped. “Surely you don’t think Eric has been fooling us?” She considered for a moment. “No. I don’t think he’d harm the company, Daddy. And I really don’t think he’d do anything to hurt me, Pam, Gracie, Alexei, or Appius, Jr.”
Appius sighed. “I just hope that, for everyone’s sake, you’re right about your stepbrother. Perhaps, Eric’s bitterness is for me only, and if that’s true, then all will be well, but I worry nonetheless.”
Nora nodded in understanding and took a sip of her drink, needing it all the more than she had twenty minutes earlier.
“I built Northman Publishing from a relatively modest publishing house to the giant it is today, but because of my father,” Appius said dejectedly, “I must leave it in the hands of a son who hates me—for no fewer than twenty years.”
“Twenty years?” Nora asked.
“Yes. That is what the codicil demands.” He finished off his brandy and gestured toward the waiter to bring him another. After it was poured and the waiter left, Appius spoke again. “Luckily, another term of the codicil is that it be kept private. So only my father’s attorney, my mother, and I know of its existence. And now you know.”
Appius frowned, his face fraught with worry. “If Eric knew of the codicil’s existence, he’d simply quit NP and bide his time, waiting for me to turn sixty or to die so that he could take what my father left to me.” He laughed bitterly. “Or—more accurately—take what my father seemed to leave to me.” He shook his head. “Eric could then take control of the company and make himself CEO,” he said in a frustrated tone.
“Oh, Daddy,” Nora said, her voice conveying her horror at her father’s pain.
Appius sighed deeply. “In truth, this mess left behind by my father is the only reason why I agreed to take the company public. Neave and Lochlan hypothesized that if the entire structure of the company were altered, then the requirements of my father’s Will would no longer apply. However, after the change was completed, Desmond Cataliades, your grandfather’s personal attorney, called me into his office and showed me some fine print in my father’s codicil that was not to be read to me unless I,” Appius paused, “tried something to undermine the Will.” He sighed, “It seems that my father anticipated that I would resist the conditions of the codicil.”
“And why wouldn’t you?” Nora stated indignantly. “After you built NP up to be so much more than he left it, Grandfather John took the control of the company out of your hands!” She shook her head. “And that’s just not fair!” She looked at her father sympathetically. “Why would Grandfather John do that to you?”
Appius’s hurt showed clearly on his face. “I cannot know for certain. My father never approved of the fact that I had relationships with men, though I tried to keep them separate from my family—especially while he was alive.” He looked forlorn. “Around my father, I hid that part of myself. Don’t get me wrong. I loved Stella and especially your mother—very deeply. Your mother was a true partner to me, and—though she cannot compare—Sophie-Anne is trying to be the same. But,” he sighed, “I have always put my personal desires to the side—for the sake of my family.”
“That’s why I’m so glad that you have your arrangement with Sophie-Anne,” Nora said. “You deserve to be happy with Andre.”
“Yes. Sophie-Anne is good to me in that way,” Appius agreed.
Nora reached out and squeezed his hand again.
Appius continued grimly, “As I said, my father had foreseen that I might try to sell my stock in order to get out of the Will’s terms.” He shook his head. “If I don’t make Eric CEO by the time I reach 60, I will be forced to give him every bit of stock I do have left; plus, I will have to pay him the market value of whatever percentage I no longer hold of the original 67% my father left me. As I now possess only 30% of the stock, which is the maximum any one person can hold now that the company has gone public, I would owe him the value of another 37%. Plus, I would have to personally give him the value of everything else that my father left to me in his Will—adjusted for inflation.”
“Oh my God!” Nora exclaimed. “That would be a fortune.”
“Yes. As it stands, in addition to forfeiting all my remaining NP stock to him, I would have to pay him the sum of 12.3 billion dollars.”
“Dear Lord!” Nora cried.
Appius closed his eyes. “It’s not even the money that I would hate to lose. It’s the company. I have worked so long and so hard in order to leave a strong legacy for you and Alexei and Gracie and little Appius, Jr. And even Pamela, despite her mother.”
“Oh Daddy,” Nora said, obviously making a Herculean effort to keep her tears at bay.
Appius went on desperately. “I have endeavored to find ways around the codicil. I have looked into changing the name of the company, but that won’t work. I have looked into selling it to you, but that won’t work. I have also thought about driving NP into the fucking ground so that the stock is fucking worthless!” he fumed hostilely.
“But you can’t do that to NP,” Nora said.
“No.” He looked up at her with a little shame in his eyes. “I have also considered having him killed.”
“Daddy! No!” Nora said loudly, drawing a look from their waiter.
Appius quickly gestured for the man to refill his daughter’s glass.
Once he was gone, Nora spoke again, this time much more quietly. “Daddy, you cannot do that.”
Appius sighed. “No—I cannot. As much as it would make my life easier in some ways, I will not.”
Nora breathed out a sigh of relief.
Appius patted her hand. “In truth, it was a fleeting thought—born only out of the pain Eric has caused me.”
Nora sighed. “I realize—now—what you have gone through, but you mustn’t think such things.”
“You are right,” he said softly. “And, in truth, I couldn’t do such a thing. I want—too much—to try to earn Eric’s love.”
“I know,” she said taking his hand again. “I’ll do everything I can to help you do that—and to protect NP.”
There were a few minutes of silence between them as they sipped their drinks.
When Appius did speak again, it was morosely, “Now you see why I have to make Eric CEO. It is the only way that I can keep my legacy intact. However, I must allow that same legacy to be shepherded for twenty years by a person who despises me!” He sighed. “The thought of that is why—to my shame—I didn’t discourage you from pursuing him romantically.”
Nora looked at him with confusion. “I’m not sure I understand,” she admitted.
“Your marrying Eric, though problematic in some ways, would have offered something of a solution to my father’s Will.”
“What do you mean?”
Appius sighed. “You know that I would have allowed the marriage to occur only if it was what you truly wanted—right?”
She nodded. “Yes. Of course.”
He looked relieved. “Well—after you came to me asking for my help in convincing Eric to pursue a relationship with you—I realized that your marrying Eric would have given me another way to protect our family’s legacy from him.”
“If you and he had married, there could have been a prenuptial agreement. Generally, those are crafted so that any equity earned or inherited for the duration of the marriage is split 50/50 if the marriage is dissolved. Such a document could have mitigated the damage of my father’s Will.”
Nora looked at Appius with questions in her eyes.
“First, it was possible—probable even—that being married to you would have altered Eric’s feelings about me,” he explained. “In fact, I had hoped that—with your influence—his bitterness toward me would dissipate and that we could put the past behind us. Also—if you were his wife—I would have been better able to gauge his intentions.”
“Oh, Daddy,” Nora said sadly. “You thought that, if we married, Eric might begin to show you the love you deserve.”
Appius sighed. “Yes. I admit that was my greatest hope. And if that had happened, I could have made him CEO without fear or hesitation, knowing that you would both have stewardship over it. And—of course—I wouldn’t begrudge any children you might adopt from sharing in the Northman legacy.”
He continued in a more forlorn tone. “However, I’m afraid that I didn’t have much confidence in Eric’s benevolence. In truth, I thought it more likely that your marriage to him would eventually make you unhappy. However, I knew that if you decided to divorce him, we would have been able to make certain moves in order to limit the damage of the codicil.”
Nora’s mouth opened as if she were beginning to understand her father’s reasoning.
“Timing, of course, would have meant everything,” Appius continued. “I posited that if your heart ever did harden against Eric, then you would agree to divorce him after I turned sixty and my father’s codicil went into effect.”
“Then I would have been awarded half of everything you had to give up to him,” Nora said with realization.
“Yes. In that scenario, I could have made you or anyone else CEO at any point after I turned 60. Or—I could have stayed in the position until I decided to leave. Granted, Eric would have gotten the 30% of NP that I currently hold, and I would have had to liquidate many of my holdings to make up the difference for the rest of my inheritance from my father, but half of that would have gone to you as soon as your divorce was filed. And we could have structured the prenuptial agreement so that he’d have to give you half the stock and half the equity—instead of just the value of the stock.”
“And if I was awarded 15% of the company, then I would have had 25%, compared to his 22%.”
“Yes,” Appius said. “Plus, after we found out about Felipe de Castro’s little play earlier this year, I have been buying more stock—in Andre’s name—as it becomes available. All told, I’ve secured just over 4% of the company. Stan Davis is also buying stock as it becomes available. As you’d imagine, since the stock is so lucrative and much of it is still with the family, there’s not a lot of movement in the stock; however, he’s managed to obtain just over 2%.”
“And Eric won’t find out about that since neither of them has over 5%,” Nora observed.
“No—he won’t,” Appius confirmed.
Nora bit her lip. “But all of that is for naught since Eric and I are no longer a couple.”
Appius sighed, his eyes looking weary. “Regardless of that, it is good that the family controls more of the stock. I regret—now—that I allowed my fear of the codicil to sway me into taking NP public.”
Nora frowned as she took another sip of her drink.
“Hey—do not worry,” Appius said, trying to reassure her. “Now that a wedding between you and Eric seems highly unlikely, I have taken other steps.”
“What other steps?”
“To protect the family, I initiated a contract between Eric and myself after the paternity test proved that he was mine. Eric believes that the contract protects his own interests and that I did it as a way of ingratiating myself to him,” Appius relayed sadly. “But, in truth, the contract ensures that—at the end of his twenty-year term—he will not get a say in who becomes the next CEO. Thus, he will not be able to prevent Appius, Jr. or someone else of my choosing from becoming CEO.” He sighed. “I just hope that I live long enough to see my company back in the hands of someone I trust.”
“What if Eric refused to become CEO?” Nora asked after a few moments of silence, during which she processed the new information she’d been given. “What if you offered, but he refused? Surely—then—the codicil wouldn’t be binding.”
Appius sighed. “I’m afraid that the codicil would go into effect even if Eric declined the CEO position.” He shook his head. “That is why I am so angry over what my father did! What if Eric was unqualified or disinterested?” he asked bitterly.
He took a quick sip of his brandy. “If Eric refused to become CEO for any reason—any reason at all—everything my father left me would become his!” He paused, “At least, with the contract in place, Eric must become CEO before I turn sixty, and he’s locked into staying CEO for twenty years. He will, hopefully, never learn about the codicil. And there are penalties in the contract that would go into effect if it were broken by him—penalties that would help me to recover some of what the codicil would force me to give him.” He continued sadly, “But I would still lose NP.”
Nora shook her head. “I just can’t believe Grandfather John did this to you—especially after all you’ve done for NP!”
“I know,” Appius said with a tortured look. “And that is what has hurt me the most. My own father . . . .” His voice trailed off.
“Oh, Daddy,” Nora said sympathetically.
Appius smiled at her sadly. “It could be worse. I put a few additional safeguards into the contract.”
“Well—if Eric proves to be ineffective as CEO, I can appoint someone else to take over for a year,” Appius explained. “He would still hold the title,” he quickly added, “but the damage he could do would be mitigated.”
Nora took a deep breath. “Do you want me to try to marry Eric to secure the company?” she asked.
Appius sighed and patted her hand. “If Eric was a better match for you, I may have asked that of you. I admit that a marriage between you and him would help in some ways.” He sighed. “But—honestly—I don’t want you to sacrifice yourself in that way. Right now, Eric is tethered. Per our contract, he will become CEO on his thirty-fifth birthday. And he will have to keep the profits above a certain percentage in order to stay more than just CEO in name.” Appius smiled reassuringly. “Eric will be a placeholder, but neither he nor any line he bears will keep Northman Publishing. And—most importantly—I wouldn’t want for you to be trapped in a marriage that doesn’t make you happy.”
Nora sighed deeply. “Oh God, Daddy. I just can’t believe you’ve had all this hanging over your head for so many years, and I still can’t believe Grandfather John put you into this position,” she said angrily.
Appius sighed, looking inconsolable. “I know. I feel so betrayed from both sides. My own father betrayed my trust and made it impossible for me to pass down my company as I want. And my own son yearns to hurt me by rejecting all of my attempts to become close to him. And, I fear, that that is only the beginning of the hurt he will cause me.”
“It’s okay, Daddy,” Nora comforted. “I think that the contract you’ve made with Eric has protected the company for Appius, Jr. And I still think that Eric will run NP well. The profits will continue to come in, so you needn’t worry. As long as Eric doesn’t find out about the codicil to Grandfather John’s Will, nothing will change.”
Appius sighed. “Yes. I know. That is my only consolation—that the company will be salient when Appius Jr. is ready. But I hate that Eric will always be around to remind me of her,” he said somewhat harshly. “He is my bane in so many ways.”
“You don’t have to make him CEO,” Nora said quietly. “We can continue to buy up stock until Andre, Stan, and I have 30% or more. We already have 16%. Alexei’s 3% would bring us up to 19%, and I’m sure that I could convince him to sell that to me. We could quietly continue to buy more. Then—even if Eric took what you have—he still wouldn’t be able to seize control of the company since he’d have to sell 7% immediately in order to adhere to the stock rules that went into effect when NP went public. And we could be ready to buy that too, which would likely take us well over 30% altogether!” Nora’s excitement grew. “Eric couldn’t retain more than 30%. And—after the codicil’s provisions were met—Andre, Stan, and I could give you 30% of our stock!”
Appius smiled at his stepdaughter proudly, though his face fell a little after a few moments. “I have thought about that, but it’s the individual who owns the most stock who determines the CEO, and since no one can own over 30%, there would be a power struggle between Eric and myself. And—if the courts became involved—my father’s Will would likely be the deciding vote.”
“I’ll marry him,” Nora said quietly. “If it comes down to it, I’ll marry him for you. I think I could convince him to make an arrangement with me.”
Appius squeezed her hand. “You are the best child I could ever imagine for myself, Nora, and if matters become desperate, I might ask you to marry Eric, but for now, I think we should go on as we have been. You should be happy, and I don’t want you to be stuck with him even for a short time. No—unless you change your mind about wanting to be CEO, things are best as they are. Eric will take over the company in a few years, and, as long as it is growing for Appius, Jr., he can hold onto the reigns until my youngest son is ready. You are right about the fact that Eric will likely run the company competently. I hate to admit it, but he has some talent in business. The deal he just made with Guangzhou Press proves that. And, if he fails, the contract gives me options. Perhaps,” he added, his voice forlorn again, “when I am no longer in his line of sight, he will even stop going out of his way to hurt me.”
Nora was contemplative for a moment. “Can this lawyer—this Mr. Cataliades—be convinced to lose Grandfather John’s will?” she asked.
Appius smiled. “See—you are my daughter in spirit even if not by blood. However, I’m afraid that Desmond Cataliades is that rare kind of lawyer who is un-buyable.”
“Have you tried?” she asked.
“Your grandmother did, but Cataliades could not be convinced.”
There were a few moments of silence between them as they finished their drinks.
“I would do anything for you, Daddy. You know that—right?”
“I know, sweetheart, and I love you all the more because of it.”
“Happy Father’s Day, Daddy,” Nora said, getting up to hug the man who had raised her as his own.
Rudolfo approached the table again. “Can we get you anything else this evening?” he asked.
Appius shook his head. “No. I believe we are quite sated. Just use the card on file,” he instructed.
“Very good, Mr. Northman,” Rudolfo said. “We hope that you and Miss Gainsborough join us again soon.” He bowed his head respectfully before walking away.
“But, Daddy,” Nora protested, “this dinner was to be my treat.”
“Your company is my treat,” Appius said sincerely as he got up and poked out his elbow for her to take.
She smiled up at him and gave him a quick peck on the cheek before locking her arm into his.
In the limo on the way home, the two were quiet. Appius used the time to study the emotions fluttering across Nora’s face. Appius smiled, knowing that he now had secured an important ally against his eldest son. He knew that Nora liked Eric—even beyond her past infatuation with him. And Appius was not blind. He was aware that she asked for Eric’s help from time to time; however, to him, that proved only that Nora was self-aware, realistic, discreet, and wise.
But, if push came to shove, Appius also knew where Nora’s true loyalties lay. They were with him, and that fact warmed his heart. He couldn’t help but to feel a little guilty that he’d needed to deceive her about some of the details concerning his and Eric’s relationship—but he knew it was for the best. Nora was his favorite child—his chosen child—and he’d be damned if Eric did anything to get in the way of that!
Appius sighed. He wished that the information he’d told Nora about the codicil had been part of his deception. Unfortunately, however, the codicil was very real—and a very real threat. He seethed inside as he once again thought about the way his own father had fucked him over! Appius had beseeched John Northman not to leave Eric anything, yet his father had done the opposite, and—in so doing—Eric could get his hands on everything! Appius was determined not to let that happen.
His real consolation, ironically, was Eric’s true nature. Despite what he’d said to Nora, Appius knew that—unlike Stella—when Eric gave his loyalty, it was given to the core. Eric was unbendingly loyal to the company and to his siblings. And he was intelligent and naturally astute in business matters—not that Appius liked to admit that. Indeed, Eric was worthy of being CEO, and he’d be a good steward of that position, but that didn’t stop Appius from wanting to rip the position away from his eldest child anyway—just to hurt him.
Appius thought of Eric’s eyes. They were copies of his mother’s—of Stella’s. Her eyes had been so open to him—so loving. But he’d missed the deceit in them.
He swallowed, trying to combat the lump in his throat that always arose when he thought of Stella—his star. He’d had to watch her eyes lose their luster little by little as her cancer ate away at her body. It had almost killed him along with her.
However, a part of him longed to see the light disappear fully from Eric’s eyes. For the thousandth time, he considered having his eldest killed—or even doing it himself so that he could watch that light fade into nothingness.
He swallowed again. As always—it was the fact that he had her eyes that prevented him from removing Eric from the world. However, that fact would not have stopped him had Nora wanted to be CEO. Appius had been prepared to eliminate Eric and the threat of the codicil—if his beloved Nora had wanted to be CEO. And he was still prepared to take that step if Nora changed her mind.
Otherwise, he had already accepted the fact that Eric becoming CEO would be best for NP. And the contract would allow for him to continue hurting Eric—little by little—until he was finally out of their lives forever. Appius couldn’t help but to hope that Eric proved inept at finding a spouse on his own; that way he could saddle him with someone that he could control—someone like Freyda de Castro or even Nora. Then Appius could go to work on any children that Eric had. He smiled sinisterly. If all went as he desired, Appius would ingratiate himself to those children. He would be the model grandparent, and Eric’s innate goodness would prevent him from telling his children anything negative about their “beloved” grandfather. Indeed, when Eric’s children came of age, Appius planned to dangle NP over their heads and use all of his manipulative skills to turn them against their father.
Then Eric would truly understand what it was like to have the things he loved most ripped away from him. Yes—Appius would not rest until Eric understood fully what it was like to lose his whole world.
Then—perhaps—once and for all, the memory of Stella’s eyes would finally stop haunting him.
A/N: Well—now you know more about Appius’s motivation for the contract and for hurting Eric. Anyone feel sorry for him? Anyone at all? [Crickets.]
Thanks for all that wrote in about the last chapter. I appreciate all the comments I got on it! Comments are like little presents to me, so keep them coming.
I’ll try to post the next chapter soon, but it might take a couple of days to clean it up. I haven’t looked at it in a while, and handling the “come to Jesus moment” with Pam needs to be handled carefully.