Chapter 22: The Face of Hate, Part 2
Last Time: Finally, Appius spoke. When he did his tone was even and emotionless—eerie. “In three years’ time, you will not break the contract; you will see it through. And you will marry according to the stipulations in the contract, and—just to be clear—your choices will not include Miss Stackhouse.”
Eric was already shaking his head. “No.”
Appius gave Eric an icy look that shut him up. “You will listen to me now—boy!” Appius’s voice boomed. “And then you can decide if you will be obedient. Then—you can decide if your Pandora is worth the price I will make you pay for her.”
Eric’s instinct was to run from the room, but his feet felt stuck to the floor, and his life—once more—seemed out of his hands.
“The property upon which Elsa Larsson—your mormor,” Appius sneered, “lives was part of the estate that your morfar included in the trust fund.” He grinned. “You didn’t know that—did you?”
Eric felt himself go pale.
“It’s amazing what is actually in that trust fund for you, Eric. Of course, I couldn’t sale off anything since I don’t officially own it yet, but I want you to be aware that the first thing I will do if the content of that trust fund really does become mine is to evict your dear mormor from her beloved home. Oh—I’m sure that she will accept it—giving up the place where her husband spent his final days—because of you.”
Appius grinned evilly, “I believe that I shall enjoyed razing that little lake house to the ground as well. Pamela once told me that your morfar built it,” he laughed, “with your help—correct?” He paused dramatically. “Yes—I seem to remember you coming to me once while you were in college and asking to get a useless minor in architecture.”
Appius shrugged. “I’m sure that it will hurt you and your mormor very badly when I level the culmination of your morfar’s pipedreams.”
“No,” Eric whispered. “Please. Don’t.”
“But the trust fund would give me that land,” Appius continued with a cruel laugh, “and I have no need for a lake house. And—trust me—that is merely the tip of the iceberg of what I could do, Son,” he sneered, his last word laced with sarcasm. “How will dear Mormor react when she learns that her husband was guilty of stealing from his employees to line his own pockets?”
“He didn’t,” Eric managed to say even as he started to shake.
“His signature appears on several incriminating documents that indicate that he did just that.” Appius smirked. “Am I to blame that Johan didn’t read the fine print when he gave me stewardship over his company? Am I to blame that Johan’s last act at Larsson Publishing was to take care of himself and add to your trust fund at the expense of his employees?”
There was a pause as Eric tried to figure out what to say.
“And—of course—there is the Pamela situation,” he said. “In helping you, she has betrayed me. I would have no compunction in firing her tonight, and she doesn’t have anywhere near your talent.” He glared at Eric. “And, once I blackball her from the industry, no one will give her a job—unless he or she is prepared to make me an enemy.”
“You’d hurt Pam like that?” Eric asked, his throat cracking and dry.
Appius shrugged. “Don’t get me wrong. It would pain me to do anything that hurt Pamela. I decided long ago to love her, despite who her mother was. But—now there is the question of her loyalty. And—when it all comes down to brass tax—I hate you a lot more than I love her.”
“You’re a monster,” Eric managed.
“And can you imagine my horror when I discovered that Pamela has been stealing from the coffers of her own family’s company?” Appius shook his head in false sorrow. “She will not—I think—enjoy a prison jumpsuit as much as her designer clothing, but I’m sure she’ll learn an important lesson regarding where her loyalty should lie.”
“Bastard,” Eric whispered. “Pam would never steal from NP.”
“But I have proof,” Appius said with false horror. “I had, of course, planned to take care of the matter internally—to protect my daughter from herself—but now I feel that I should do my civic duty and turn her in.” He sighed. “Even if she manages to avoid prison time, I doubt if anyone would be willing to hire her for any employment beyond a grocery bagger once the scandal hits the news.”
Appius laughed. “Of course, you won’t fare any better when you try to get employment after leaving NP. No one will take you on after I prove that you’ve extorted money from your own family’s company as well.”
Eric took a step back, but found he could move no further. “What? But I didn’t!”
Appius smiled. “Proof of such things was not that difficult to find. Of course, your friends from China will be implicated too; I imagine that shame and scandal is much more difficult to overcome there than it is in the U.S.”
“But there isn’t a goddamned thing wrong with the China deal,” Eric said, now shaking with anger as well as despair.
Appius smiled a little wider. “Your problem has always been a lack of vision, Eric. Guo Li answers to someone, and that was the someone whom I contacted—on your behalf, of course. Mr. Li, I’m afraid, will feel a bit betrayed that you went around him to add certain elements to the contract, but that will be nothing compared to the shame he will feel when he’s accused of fraud.”
Eric shook his head in denial.
“You amuse me, Eric,” Appius said cruelly. “You had truly thought that I had exhausted the ways I could hurt you—but I have so many things that I could do to you. I’ve hardly gotten started.”
Appius grinned. “The reputations of your colleagues. Your mormor’s home. Your morfar’s reputation. Your treasured lake house. Your sister’s job—and freedom. Your job and freedom. AndI just can’t have you seeing Gracie and Appius, Jr. anymore. You would—I think—be a horrible influence to them.”
He shook his head and continued, “And your little friendship with Alexei will be over too once certain critics I know ruin his shot in the London theatre scene. It’s a crying shame that he didn’t come to me for guidance. Perhaps I could have helped him to get on the good side of the London Press.” He sighed loudly—exaggeratedly. “I don’t see a fledgling acting career surviving the London Press if it’s hell-bent on destroying it—do you? So—you see—your actions will harm two of your siblings.”
Appius laughed spitefully. “Of course, all of this would be easy to accomplish with you in prison,” he continued with a self-satisfied smirk on his face. He shrugged. “And without you around and with the scandal of your nefarious deeds all over the news, I would simply have to unload the international division of the company. It would lose NP some money in the short-term, and, of course, it would put your whole team out of work.” He sighed. “I just hope your people will be able to find new jobs—given the fact that they are tied to such an unpleasant scandal,” he said with mock sincerity. “But—of course—your recommendation wouldn’t help them, and I could not—in good conscience—recommend anyone on your team. After all, I have no idea how far your treachery has gone!”
He winked at Eric. “Luckily, I won’t be personally damaged, so NP will survive this scandal. Everyone will believe that you are the ultimate villain in the story.” His smile showed all his teeth. “You know—I generally hate scandal, but I’m willing to ride this one out. And all just for you.”
“Why not just kill me?” Eric asked, his shoulders slumping. “Why must you take everything and leave me alive?”
“All business is give and take, Eric. You just have to learn that you are mine to take from when and as I please.”
Appius looked at the painting of Pandora again. “And the best part is that it would all be your doing—your choice. So much evil unleashed upon the world because of your supposed love. And—make no mistake—Susanna Stackhouse, your Sookie, will be the one to suffer most for it, Eric.”
“What do you mean?” Eric asked, newfound fear replacing the defeat in his eyes.
“The enchanting Mrs. Michelle Stackhouse is currently working with a very talented ghost-writer. Tell me—have you heard of Jade Flower?”
Eric cringed as he recalled the reputation of the unscrupulous ghostwriter.
“Do you know whom her next book will be about?” Appius continued relentlessly. “I’m sure you can guess that the work will find an eager publisher.”
Eric took another step back.
“Michelle Stackhouse has such a tragic story—really. I’m sure it will be riveting to read about all she did for her daughter—only to be rejected by her. I believe the working title is A Mother’s Pain.” He shook his head. “And it really is too bad that Adele Stackhouse was suffering from dementia when she wrote her Will, wasn’t it? And, even if that can’t be proven to help out poor Michelle, I’m sure that Neave and Lochlan could entangle Adele’s estate for many years to come. Of course, I’ll do all I can to help Michelle get what is owed to her. It’s tragic really. And that’s not even the worst of the family saga,” Appius said, shaking his head again. “An infant whose mother is dying. And a father newly out of work. What is the cousin’s name again? Hadley? And poor little Hunter.”
“It’s too bad that things may soon become difficult for Mr. Savoy. After all, he’s hidden his police record and past drug usage from his current employer. He’s also hidden his HIV status. Of course, it could all stay hidden. It really is your choice.”
Eric shook his head in horror.
“And, unfortunately, I may have to fire Miss Stackhouse from NP,” Appius continued with mock regret. “There are certainly enough complaints about her. How was it that Ms. Fowler put it? Oh yes—’Susanna’s peculiar behavior makes working with her uncomfortable for the rest of the editing department.’ But that’s your Sookie—right? Peculiar. And—you know—when I read the multiple complaints about Susanna, I just had to investigate the matter more thoroughly.”
Appius sighed heavily, though his eyes twinkled in merriment. “Care to guess what I found?”
Eric could merely shake his head.
“Sadly, it turns out that Miss Stackhouse is as corrupt as you and Pamela. You can’t imagine my heartache when I discovered that she’s been selling information about NP to de Castro since she’s been with us,” he said dramatically.
“That’s not true,” Eric managed.
“The truth is in the evidence,” Appius shrugged. “And the evidence will show that Miss Stackhouse was the one responsible for all the nefarious deeds that we once thought Quinn and Sandy Seacrest were guilty of,” he sneered. “Imagine how disappointed I was to learn that my own son has been seeing this spy behind my back for months!” He sighed dramatically. “I’m sure that Felipe will corroborate the evidence, given the fact that Miss Stackhouse was the reason why you broke his daughter Freyda’s heart,” he added theatrically.
“No,” Eric said, his voice barely audible and his body shaking even more now.
“After speaking with the enchanting Michelle Stackhouse, I would have to deduce that your Sookie wouldn’t much care for confined spaces—like jail cells, for instance. It’s a pity that you will also be in one of your own so you will be unable to offer her comfort.”
“No,” Eric repeated.
“Even if you are eventually exonerated and help your own little Pandora avoid prison, all your money will be tied up in your legal battles, so I don’t expect you could support Elsa and Pamela and Miss Stackhouse and her dying cousin and her cousin’s child for long. And—of course—your Sookie might truly become insane after being locked up—thus, there would be extensive doctor’s bills too.” He frowned, though it was obviously feigned. “Jail can be so dangerous—you know. I’ve even heard of inmates being sexually abused by their own guards!”
Eric looked at his father in horror. “No!”
“Not that I’d want that to happen to your Sookie,” Appius said, unblinkingly.
The two Northman men looked intently at each other for a moment. From Appius’s piercing, evil eyes, Eric had no doubt that his father wouldn’t think twice about bribing guards to abuse Sookie. Meanwhile, Appius could see the exact moment of Eric’s defeat—the moment when he’d broken his son into complete submission.
Eric looked away.
“It’s such a waste really,” Appius said. “All those lives fucked up—just so that you can be with your true love,” he added sarcastically. “I imagine that someone of Miss Stackhouse’s ilk is the only kind of woman you could find to accept you,” he chuckled, “just the way you are.” His chuckle turned to derisive laughter.
Eric backed up a step.
“You are damaged goods, Eric—tainted by the evil of my own Pandora, your mother. And you have already failed everyone you care for—especially the person you care for most. That is your mother’s legacy to you; you see—that was her special talent too. To fail the one she supposedly loved the most.”
Eric closed his eyes as his world collapsed in on him. Twenty minutes before, he’d been sure of himself—hopeful that he could disentangle himself from Appius. Thirty minutes before, his head had been resting against Sookie’s shoulder.
“What do you want from me?” Eric asked, his voice now emotionless—his shoulders slumped.
“I want everything your bitch of a mother stole from me,” Appius said bitingly. “But that Pandora’s Box will not close. So I must settle for your obedience and for your suffering.”
“What do you want?” Eric asked again.
“As I said—I want your obedience and your suffering. You will keep to the terms of the contract we agreed upon, or I will bring a plague upon everything you hold dear.” He chuckled. “As a sign of my benevolence, I will even allow you to keep your Miss Stackhouse. In fact,” Appius paused, “I insist upon it. We will use her to get the secrets that our competitors want to hide from us. She will come in quite handy—I think.” He waved his hand dismissively. “Give her a place as your mistress. She is not fit to be of more consequence in our world. Her family is a bunch of hicks, and she is the worst of the lot.” He sneered. “Set her up in a nice little apartment if you must. Hell—even have little defective, freakish bastards with her if that keeps her compliant.” Appius smiled. “She can be your mistress, and you will be miserable because you will never be able to give her anything but second best.”
Appius sneered. “And do not come to me with your delusions of grandeur again, boy. You will always be second best too—second best to me. You will marry the Edgington girl or even the Carmichael girl before you turn 35, or you will marry Freyda de Castro on the day of your birthday. You will oversee my empire until my rightful heir is of age, and you will do it well, or I will take everything from you and hurt your little Pandora in every way that I can.” He chuckled. “If your little freak proves her worth, she will make NP even more valuable for Appius Jr.”
“I won’t use her like that,” Eric said timidly even as a thick tear fell down his cheek. “I’ll give you all that I have—all my stock in the company. I’ll sign the trust fund over to you right now. Just leave Sookie out of it.”
Appius smiled and shook his head. “No.”
“Why not?” Eric asked in a strangled voice.
“Because of her,” Appius said, pointing to Pandora in the painting. “Pandora was so beautiful and so seductive that she couldn’t help but to be the world’s downfall. And—now—Sookie will be yours. You will hate yourself for using her. You will suffer because you’ve been forced to make her your whore. She will be out of your reach—even when she is in your arms.” He laughed maliciously. “Once our contract is fulfilled, perhaps you can marry the defect. Of course, in having to wait more than twenty years to be your wife, she will very likely come to resent you—to hate you.” He laughed. “And I will make myself stay alive to see it all.” He sighed as he looked at the painting. “Beautiful—beautiful agony.”
“I hate you,” Eric whimpered.
Appius laughed. “The true joy of my life is that I know that you don’t really hate me.” He looked at Eric—looking right into his heart. “You never have hated me,” he said in almost awe. He shook his head as if in disbelief. “Your eyes have always held something other than hate for me. Even now, it’s the same. They hold desperation—desperation for my love.”
Another tear fell from Eric’s eye.
“And now I have earned your tears again,” Appius said with a self-satisfied smirk. He turned to go, but then turned back. “I want it done tonight—where I can see it. Explain to your Miss Stackhouse the way of the world. I know that she has been living with you, and I also know that she used to maintain a residence with Miss Broadway.”
Eric looked at Appius in surprise.
“Mr. Mott truly is one of the most resourceful men I have ever met.” Appius smiled. “It was your precious mormor who gave it away—you know. An unexpected trip to Louisiana of all places. And then the tale fell into Mott’s lap like a house of cards, thanks to Sookie’s very forthcoming mother. And I believe that Sookie should tell her friend, Miss Thornton, to keep quiet about her personal life as well. Miss Thornton was quite talkative, though she had no idea why Mr. Mott was so interested in hearing about all her problems.”
Appius glanced one last time at Pandora. “You have a job to do, Eric. It wouldn’t do if the press learned that you were shacking up with some commoner. So you will have her out of your home and into a little love nest by the end of this month. And make sure that you secure her as an asset, or I will. And—trust me—you will not like my methods.” Appius grinned again. “And—you will not tell her about this conversation. I want Miss Stackhouse to like me—to trust me. Understood?” his voice boomed.
Eric cringed and nodded. “What if she doesn’t agree to be my mistress—to use her ability how you want her to?”
“You just have to be convincing,” Appius sneered. “If you aren’t, she will find herself in a prison jumpsuit and inside four barren walls, and who knows what might happen to her there?” He looked at Eric. “I want our Sookie out of your home and ready for her new role in the company by your birthday.” He smiled. “And—remember—you are not to tell her that you are doing all this because you are being forced to.” He smirked. “I want her to believe that you are choosing to make her move out—that you want her to use her little skill for us.” His voice turned harsh. “If I get even a hint that she knows that it wasn’t your idea or that I could put her into prison with one phone call, I will make that call! Understand?” he yelled again.
“You could go to jail—for blackmailing me,” Eric said, making one last-ditch effort to maintain a little control.
“But I’m not blackmailing you,” Appius said with false innocence. “Everything I’ve accused can be backed up with evidence—irrefutable evidence. Bringing it all to light would simply be my duty. However, as CEO of NP, I’m giving you the opportunity to set things to rights.” He glared at Eric. “You won’t tell your Sookie about this conversation!” he boomed.
“No. I won’t tell her,” Eric whispered, closing his eyes.
Appius sneered. “Remember to have her out by February 1. Consider these next two weeks to get your shit together to be my birthday gift to you.”
With those words, Appius left the gallery, and Eric sank to his knees. His eyes traveled to the camera that he knew was trailing him, and he uttered words that he knew Sookie would read from his lips: “I’m sorry.”
The “child” he had been—so beaten by his circumstances but still hanging on by a thread of hope—was finally grown up and was now completely gone. And all the dreams and hopes that Eric had recently allowed himself to imagine were gone along with that “child.”
All that remained was a simple truth. His father was right; he had now failed every single person that he had ever dared to love, especially the one he loved the most.
A/N: Hello! Sorry for the posting delay, but—again—I got lost in a new story, one I wrote as a Promo for Seph’s Writing Challenge.
By the way, the promo piece is called “This Feels Better.”
And my other new one is “The Sleeper Must Awaken.”
I hope you will check them out if you haven’t already.
I hope you enjoyed this chapter—as much as a chapter like this can be “enjoyed.” A reviewer critiqued (perhaps rightfully) that the contract between Eric and Appius was unrealistic and illegal. I’m afraid that I don’t know everything about the legalities of contracts, so I could be making mistakes left and right about that. But let me say this: it was always the blackmail used by Appius that kept Eric in line most of all. I hope that helps if you see additional issues with the contract. As I’ve said before, I’m trying for realism, but sometimes I’m limited by my own lack of knowledge about some things. If I could just write fanfiction for a living, I would spend weeks researching contracts, but I don’t get to.
For all of you who continue to support this story-thank you so much! I hope you’ll leave me feedback to let me know what you think about Appius’s evil plans for Sookie and Eric. Remember—this is my “human” version of Appius from the books, and I found that character to be a monster, so that is what is feeding this version.
Next up: Eric comes to terms with what he must give up in order to best serve the ones he loves, even as Sookie realizes what she must do too.