Chapter 02: Caught
“Set the table?” Sookie asked as she leaned back into Eric’s body even as she flipped the pancakes.
“For five?” Eric asked.
“Six. Just in case Amelia gets up.”
“I’m up,” Amelia said as she groggily dragged into the room. “But I don’t have to stay if you guys need privacy once Bobby, Henry, and Blake get here.”
Sookie looked at Eric.
“No—stay. It’s okay. Maybe you’ll have some ideas.” He looked over at Sookie. “And there’s some good news too—so stay for that.”
“Sure,” Amelia said, quickly grabbing a huge coffee cup and filling it. She took a long drink. “Oh, God. That’s good.” Immediately, she looked a little more awake. “And I’m always happy to hear good news.” Suddenly excited, she looked at Sookie. “You’re not pregnant—are you?”
Sookie almost spit out the drink of coffee she’d just taken.
“No,” she blushed and then looked at Eric.
“Then what is it?” Amelia asked.
“We’ll tell you when the others get here,” Eric and Sookie both answered at the same time before grinning widely at each other.
“Geez,” Amelia said with mock disgust. “You two are so damned cute sometimes that it turns my stomach.”
“That’s the coffee hitting the tequila,” Sookie said cheekily, even as she continued smiling at Eric.
“Can you give me a hint?” Amelia pouted before taking another long drink of coffee.
Amelia’s question reminded both Eric and Sookie of the conversation they’d had right before they finally fell asleep for what turned out to be a two-hour nap since Sookie had set the alarm for 7:00 a.m. After they’d decided that they were “it” for each other and that Eric was going to break his contract with Appius on his thirty-fifth birthday, they’d talked about having children and the insecurities each of them had because they didn’t have good examples to follow. But they agreed that they both wanted to be parents anyway; actually, they agreed that they wanted to become parents together.
However, they’d decided to wait until Eric was truly free from Appius’s influence, which would be several years from then, but they were not in a hurry anyway. Still, they’d both gone to sleep with smiles on their faces as they’d thought about having a family together.
During his two hours of sleep, Eric had dreamed of being on Lake Vänern with that family—his family. He and Sookie were on a boat and watching over a small blond child, who was splashing merrily in the water. It had been the most vivid “happy” dream he’d ever experienced. He’d had recurring nightmares when he was a kid, and those had also been intense. But the vibrant dream he’d had that morning was also the dream that he’d decided to pursue for his real life too, and because of that, he felt like a weight had been taken from him.
Sookie’s phone rang, and she reached for it on the counter.
“Bobby,” she said, handing it to Eric. “Talk to him while I make more pancakes.”
Eric nodded and answered the phone.
“Hey, you on your way?” he asked lightheartedly.
As he listened to what Bobby had to say, Eric’s carefree expression burned from his face.
“Eric?” Sookie asked, immediately sensing and seeing his mood change.
After listening for a few more moments, Eric hung up.
His expression was now a mixture of anger and fear as he looked at Sookie.
“Eric?” she asked again.
“They’re here,” he said stiffly. He looked at Amelia. “Would you mind unlocking your back door? They’ll be coming in that way in about one minute.”
Amelia looked a little confused, but went through the kitchen to the utility room. The back door was located there and led out to a large courtyard shared by the residents of the buildings on that block. Since she was on the first floor, Amelia had a small patio right outside of her home too.
Sookie immediately turned off the gas burners and went to Eric’s side, but before she could ask him what had happened, he took her into his arms and buried his face into her hair.
“One day, you’ll realize that being with me is more trouble than it’s worth,” he whispered.
“You’re worth any trouble, Eric,” Sookie assured, even as she wrapped her arms around him more tightly.
A few seconds later, Amelia came into the kitchen with Bobby, Blake, and Henry. All three men looked grim.
“Good morning,” Henry said with the air of formality Sookie associated with his being an ex-Marine.
“Sookie. Eric,” Blake greeted with a little nod. He took a deep breath and spoke to them like the detective he was. “I need to know a couple of things before we talk this all through.”
“What things?” Sookie asked, even as Eric nodded next to her.
“Have any of you been outside today?” Blake asked, including Amelia in the question too.
“I brought in the paper an hour ago,” Eric said.
“From the front stoop?”
“Was Sookie with you when you did?” Blake questioned.
“No,” Eric answered. “Sookie was in the bathroom then.”
“And you? Have you been out of the house at all?” Blake asked Amelia.
“I just got up, so no,” she answered, clearly mystified by the questioning.
“Bobby?” Sookie asked, looking for answers.
“We’ll explain in a minute,” Bobby soothed. “Right now, just answer Blake’s questions.”
Sookie bit her lip nervously, but nodded.
“Have any of you spent time in the front living room this morning?” Blake asked. “The drapes are open in there.”
“Well,” Sookie responded, “you have to walk through there from my room to get to the kitchen, so yeah. I’ve walked through there a couple of times now.”
“With Eric?” Blake asked.
“No,” she answered. “He was already in the kitchen making coffee when I came in here, and he’s been reading the paper.”
“And you?” Blake asked Amelia.
“My room is down that hall.” Amelia pointed away from the front room. “And I came straight to the kitchen.”
“You?” he asked Eric.
“I went from the hall leading to Sookie’s bedroom into the living room this morning, and then I went to the front door, and then I came in here. Sookie’s right. I haven’t left this room since then.”
Henry and Bobby looked at Blake.
“That should be okay,” Blake said.
“What should be okay?” Sookie asked, her frustration level obviously rising.
“Just give Blake one more minute, Sookie,” Henry requested, speaking in a brotherly tone that was obviously meant to comfort her.
“What about last night?” Blake asked, looking from Eric to Sookie. “Did you two talk in the living room or—uh—do anything else there?”
“No,” Eric answered. “We went straight back to Sookie’s room when I got here.”
“Your room is in the back? Facing the courtyard?” Blake asked.
“And the curtains are closed in your room?” he followed up.
“Yes,” she answered. “And there are mini-blinds too.”
“Good,” Blake said. “And you Amelia? Were you in the living room at all after Eric and Sookie went to her bedroom?”
Amelia shook her head. “No. I mean yes. I went to my bedroom when we heard Eric’s taxi pull up. But I came out about an hour later to grab a glass of water. I went to the front door to double check that all the locks were set, and then I turned on the alarm. I stepped into the living room to shut off the light Sookie and I’d had on.”
“And your bedroom faces the front of the house—correct?”
“And your curtains are closed? Have they been closed all night and this morning?”
Amelia nodded again. “Yeah, and there’s a shade in there too.”
Blake nodded. “Could you go close the drapes in the living room?”
Though still obviously confused, Amelia moved to do as directed.
“Wait,” Blake said halting her with his tone. “The only street-facing windows are in your bedroom, the living room, and the dining room—correct?” he asked pointing to the dining room, which they could see from where they were all standing in the kitchen?” The heavy drapes in that rarely-used room were already pulled tightly shut.
“There’s an office on the other side of the living room, but I always keep those blinds closed when I’m not in there,” Amelia responded.
Blake looked back at Sookie, who seemed to be bursting at the seams with tension. “Just one more thing, Sookie,” Blake promised. “Who answered the door for Eric last night?”
“I did,” she said, her voice quivering a little.
“And did you walk outside at all when you did that?” he asked.
“Yes,” she responded.
“Did you kiss him in the doorway—or even hug him?”
Sookie closed her eyes to remember. “Yes. We held each other for a little while—maybe twenty seconds or so? Then, I remember taking his hand and pulling him inside. We went straight to the bedroom.”
“You were holding hands as you went?” Blake asked.
“Yeah,” Eric answered.
Blake nodded and moved toward the front of the house as Amelia came back to the kitchen. About thirty seconds later, he walked back in.
“I think it’s okay,” Blake said.
Bobby nodded and looked at Amelia. “Is there a room in the back of the house that can fit us all so that we can sit down and talk?”
“Yeah—a sitting room. I’ll go close the drapes,” she said, catching on—at least a little bit—to what was happening.
Blake nodded at Amelia. “Thanks. He’s watching from the front and will probably stay there, but it’s good to be cautious.”
Forgetting completely about breakfast, Sookie grasped Eric’s hand tightly. “Who’s the he?”
“Let’s go sit,” Eric said, suddenly feeling very tired and heavy with worries again.
Sookie nodded and led the group to the sitting room where Amelia had already closed the vertical blinds and was now pulling the drapes. She flipped on the light in the corner of the room before taking a seat on the large couch. Henry and Blake also took places on the couch as Sookie and Eric sat on the loveseat. Bobby stayed standing, even though there was a chair left over.
It was actually Henry who started speaking. “Eric, after I put you in the taxi last night, I went right back up to your house since Blake had gotten back with the screening equipment. It wasn’t until Blake and I came back down about an hour later that I talked to Rasul.” Henry looked at Eric. “He told us that he’d seen a big guy hanging around out front around the time you and I came down. Rasul said that he didn’t see the guy’s face clearly, but something had stood out about him, and it’d been bugging him while I was up at your house. So Rasul did a patrol around the building, but there was nothing suspicious. Then, he did a runback of the video footage near the front entrance and got a shot of the guy, but it wasn’t clear. When he showed me the image after I returned downstairs, I recognized the guy’s tattoo.”
“Sigebert,” Eric sighed. “Or Wybert.”
Blake held out his cell phone for Eric and Sookie to see. On it was the image of a large man. His face was turned, but a tattoo of a dragon could be seen clearly on his arm.
“But that’s not at Eric’s. That’s from right outside of this building!” Sookie exclaimed nervously.
“Yeah,” Blake confirmed. “I took it about five minutes before Bobby and Henry got here this morning.” He sighed. “Once Henry recognized the man who’d been in front of Eric’s building as one of the men whom Eric’s father had sent to snoop around in the past, I decided to come here to make sure he’d not followed you. After finding the listening device, we thought that it would be better to be safe than sorry.”
“We should have called you,” Henry said contritely, “but we knew that Eric would have already arrived by then, so any potential damage would have already been done. And we honestly didn’t think that ‘the Bert’ could have made it to a vehicle in time to tail you last night.”
Eric sighed. “This is all my fault. I should have seen him. I always see them when they’re following!” He raked the hand that wasn’t holding Sookie’s through his hair. “I’ve always been careful, but last night, I was,” he paused, “upset.”
Henry nodded. “There is no reason to suspect that he had been following you before last night. After Blake left, Tray and I went back over the surveillance footage around the building. We used the Berts’ drivers’ license photos—which Blake got for us—to run the facial recognition program that Thalia installed last year. Hell! We even ran the tattoo through the system. We can safely say that neither Sigebert nor Wybert has been picked up on any of our cameras during the last month.”
“But he followed me here last night,” Eric sighed.
“I didn’t think so at first,” Blake admitted. “Given the fact that we saw the man on the security footage right around the time you were put into the cab, it would have been very difficult for him to get to a vehicle and follow you. We’d figured that you’d gotten away clear. But, as I said, I came out here to sniff around anyway—just to be absolutely sure. After I got here, I maneuvered around outside for a while, but I didn’t see anyone suspicious. Just to be safe, though, I took up a position in the brownstone across the street. I figured that if I didn’t see ‘the Bert’ by this morning, he’d not managed to track Eric here.”
“But he was there,” Sookie whimpered.
Blake nodded. “This morning—right before I left my position to come over here—he parked a vehicle across the street—in the perfect location to monitor the front entrance of this building. He got out of his car and approached the house—probably trying to see if he could see in through the front windows, but from my own observations, I already knew that only the living room curtains were open. And those weren’t even opened fully. I don’t know if ‘the Bert’ has been here all night, but we have to assume that he has been here for at least part of it. He moved his car to its current position right after the street-sweepers went through.”
Bobby sighed. “He may not even have followed you at all, Eric. He could have gotten the information about your destination from the cabby that drove you here, but we can’t be sure.”
Sookie sniffled a little as Eric pulled her closer to him.
“As soon as I spotted ‘the Bert,'” Blake continued, “I called Henry and told him and Bobby to approach from where he couldn’t see them. He’d gone back to his car by then.”
Eric sighed. “So—best case scenario—he got here just a little while ago and has seen nothing.”
Blake nodded. “Yes. And—worst case scenario—he managed to follow the cab you were in last night.” He took a breath. “He would have needed to keep at a fair distance, especially when you entered this neighborhood,” he added. “It’s quiet, and you would have likely spotted him otherwise.” He exchanged a look with Henry.
“Unless you were distracted,” Henry said somberly.
“I was,” Eric admitted in a low tone.
Blake picked up, “Well, even if he was close, he would have been unable to see much of Sookie—if he saw her at all—given the ivy around the front entrance and the fact that the light isn’t especially bright.”
Bobby ran his hand through his hair. “But we are going to be cautious and work off of the assumption that he did catch a glimpse of her.”
“Shit,” Sookie said, pretty much summing up what they all felt.
“Listen, Sook, from what you’ve said, even if he drove by last night at the exact moment when he could have seen you hugging and then taking Eric’s hand, those are innocent enough gestures,” Bobby comforted.
“But they’ll know who lives here,” Sookie said.
“No,” Amelia chimed in, “they won’t know who you are. Your name isn’t on the lease, and I didn’t exactly file the proper paperwork when you moved in here.” She looked at Blake a little guiltily. “So—uh—they’ll think Eric was here spending the night with me, and that’s what you want them to think—right?” she finished, looking at Bobby.
“Yes,” Bobby answered. “A liaison with you is something that Appius wouldn’t mind.”
“Because of who my family is!” Amelia said with realization. She looked at Sookie. “This is really good! I mean—it sucks, but it’s good. The worst that could happen is that they think you’re my friend—someone who happened to be over when Eric was here. Hell! They might even figure that we had a threesome, but they won’t know who you are, and even if this ‘Bert’ asshole had been standing right at the window of the living room, the sheer curtains were drawn the whole time, and his view would have been obstructed.”
“Yes,” Blake said. “I agree. As I said, I was watching from the Brownstone across the street for much of the night, and the first time I saw ‘the Bert’ get close to the building was this morning. Maybe he peered in last night before I arrived, but—from what you’ve said—he wouldn’t have seen much.”
“So Appius will think Eric’s having an affair with Amelia?” Sookie asked.
“If we are lucky—yes,” Bobby said.
“But what if he saw Sookie greeting me?” Eric asked with concern. “Though they are of similar heights and builds, Sookie is blonde, while Amelia is brunette.”
“You just hugged right?” Bobby asked to clarify.
Eric ran his hand through his hair. “Yes—but I don’t want him asking questions.”
“Hopefully, ‘the Bert’ didn’t see that there was a blonde here at all,” Bobby said.
“But what if he did?” Eric pushed, his voice laced with anxiety.
“No problem!” Amelia said excitedly. “I’ve been thinking about going blonde for a while; in fact, I bought one of those temporary color kits to see what it would look like before I did it for real. And I don’t mind pretending Eric and I have a thing—not as long as we can tell Pam the truth.”
“Thanks, Amelia,” Eric said sincerely, “but I can’t ask you to get involved in my troubles.”
“You didn’t ask,” she said simply. “And it’s really not that big of a deal.” She giggled. “It’s not like Sookie’s going to kick my ass when she finds out about our ‘clandestine affair,'” she said dramatically.
Sookie got up and went over to hug Amelia. “I’ve never had a friend like you,” she whispered.
Amelia looked at her and smiled. “Look around the room,” she said in a low voice. “I think you have at least three others, and then there’s Pam and Thalia too. Any one of us would walk through fire for you, Sookie. And we’d walk through fire for you too,” she added, looking at Eric.
“She’s right,” Bobby said. “And it’s high time you started believing that,” he said, looking right at Eric.
Eric closed his eyes tightly, taking in Bobby’s words but not knowing exactly how to process them yet. “What about the listening device in our home?” Eric asked as Sookie returned to his side. “Or is it devices?”
“There’s just the one in the office,” Blake confirmed. “I swept the whole house for other signals—the terrace, too.”
“And then Thalia did it a second time early this morning,” Henry said, “after our military contact came through with the more sophisticated equipment Bobby told you about. Thalia has also swept the elevator, lobby, and parking lot—for both passive and active surveillance devices.”
“Did you take the bug out?” Eric asked.
“No,” Bobby said cautiously. “We needed to talk to you first.”
“Why the fuck not? What’s there to talk about?” Eric asked angrily.
“The second it’s taken out, Appius will know you found it, and then he’ll redouble his efforts to know what you’re doing.”
Eric closed his eyes again and retook Sookie’s hand. “But I won’t live there without Sookie. And what if the bug picks up our talking—even from another room?”
“That won’t happen,” Henry said. “One of Thalia’s jobs in the Navy was to plant or block listening devices a whole hell of a lot more sophisticated than the one Appius is using. And when I set up the system at Carmichael Plaza, I used Thalia—as well as some of my contacts in Naval Intelligence—to make sure that it was state-of-the-art. Thalia’s already been able to find the signal of Appius’s device, and she’s already hacked into it.”
“Thalia is a computer hacker?” Sookie asked with surprise.
Henry chuckled. “My little sis was one of the best computer hackers in the Navy,” he offered proudly. “Right now, Appius is listening to the sounds coming from one of the bedrooms on the fourth floor of the tower.”
“The fourth floor?” Sookie asked.
“Yeah,” Henry smiled. “It’s the one empty unit in the tower. We surveil all empty units so that if a realtor comes in with a client, we can make sure everything stays on the up-and-up. Thalia has basically replaced the audio feed from your place with the audio feed from the fourth floor—so that Appius will still hear the sounds of the building, like the air conditioning unit.”
“What if someone comes to look at the unit?” Sookie asked.
“Don’t worry,” Henry responded. “The owners put such a high price on it that no one has looked in months, and—even if they did—an appointment must be made, so Thalia can easily move the signal back to Eric’s office during those times.”
“So Appius will only hear when and what we want him to hear?” Eric asked for clarification.
“Yep,” Bobby said.
“That’ll be handy,” Sookie said, trying to sound as positive as she could in light of the fact that Appius was trying to spy on Eric.
“And there’s no way that a mistake could happen with what Thalia’s got set up?” Eric asked.
“No way,” Henry said. “But Thalia says she wants a bonus,” he added with a smirk.
Eric chuckled. “She’ll get one.”
“I’ll tell her.”
“So,” Eric sighed. “How do we get out of here? And how do we get Sigebert off of my ass? Sookie and I have a date at the MET.”
Bobby chuckled. “Well—if Amelia really is willing to dye her hair, I say that needs to happen first. How long does that take to do?”
“I could have it done in an hour,” she said, “even less if wet hair is okay for what you have in mind.”
“Perfect,” Bobby responded, understanding even better now why Pam would be attracted to Amelia.
“I’ll get started,” the soon-to-be-blonde said, standing up. “Why don’t you all go have breakfast and then bring me up to speed on the plan once I have the dye on?”
Sookie stood up and gave Amelia another hug before turning to the others. “You guys want coffee?”
“Love some,” Henry, Blake, and Bobby answered in concert as Sookie began to lead them to the kitchen.
“Bobby?” Eric said, signaling for his friend to stay behind for a minute. “What do you really think?” he asked when the others were out of earshot.
“I think we got lucky. We’ll be able to contain this and to use it to our benefit. If I’m guessing right, then Appius probably had you followed because he was suspicious when Isabel left early last night. And by coming here, you inadvertently gave him a reason why you’d want to get rid of Isabel so quickly. Appius will think that you are having an affair with Amelia on the side, and we can use the listening device to solidify that notion. And we’ll ‘show’ him Amelia today and have you two kiss or something to give him a nice show when you say goodbye to her.”
Eric immediately tensed. “I won’t do anything that could be considered cheating on Sookie.” He closed his eyes for a moment. “I’m going to marry her, Bobby. I’m going to break the contract on my thirty-fifth birthday and marry her.”
Bobby’s mouth turned upward into a grin. “Good! That contract is idiotic anyway!”
“Idiotic?” Eric asked with surprise. “You helped me draw it up.”
“Yeah—well—I always hated the idea of you still under your father’s thumb in any way, but being CEO of Northman Publishing was what you wanted at the time.” He sighed. “I won’t deny the fact that I had been hoping that you would find something you wanted more—before you got married to someone you didn’t really love. But—you have to be sure. Between the CEO, the NP stock, and the trust fund, you are giving up a lot.”
“Sookie’s worth everything I’m giving up—and more,” Eric said passionately. “But that’s not what I’m worried about. I’m worried about the others that this will affect.”
“I know. But you can’t take the world onto your shoulders, Eric.” Bobby sighed.
Eric sighed as well. “I used to think that I deserved the whole world on my shoulders.”
The two men were silent for a moment.
“I’m glad you’ve found her,” Bobby finally said.
“Me too, Bobby, but Sookie and I need to bide our time. The sooner Appius finds out about her, the worse it will be for us and for my team at NP. I want to give them time to build safety nets for themselves. And—as you know—it’s just not feasible for me to break the contract before my thirty-fifth birthday.”
Bobby nodded. “Okay. And to that end, by the end of the day—if we play our cards right—we’ll have let Appius hear all he needs to in order to leave you alone for a long time.”
Eric nodded. “I figure I’ll be at Northman Publishing for three and a half more years. And then I want to sell the NP stock that I put in Mormor’s name and set up a trust for her. Initially, I thought that I’d be able to eventually buy your NP stock, but that won’t be possible now. Maybe we could get Appius to buy yours at the same time he seizes mine?”
“How will he be able to have more stock and still keep the company public?” Bobby asked.
“A loophole. He would likely put the stock in Appius’s Jr.’s name and then put it into a trust he’d control. I don’t really care how he does it though. I want no remaining ties to him once I leave the company.”
Bobby shrugged. “I wouldn’t sell my stock to Appius—only you. I’ll hold onto mine. You might change your mind and want it someday. And Appius has no idea I have the stock anyway.”
Eric nodded. “I just wanted to give you the heads up and tell you that I won’t be needing it now, so you can sell it.”
“Okay,” Bobby responded. “But what if Appius has something up his sleeve? Something more that he will do to you when you break the contract?”
“That’s where I need your help,” Eric said at a low volume. “The contract is clear about what I will lose if I break it—and I’m prepared for that—but I’m afraid he’ll try to hurt Sookie. So I need information on him which will prevent that from happening.”
“You’re willing to blackmail him?” Bobby asked with a smile.
“Now I am. For Sookie. And,” he paused, “for me too—finally.”
Bobby smiled wider—almost wickedly. “I have some things already, some proof of his homosexuality. The scare of the scandal might be enough to force him to back off of you and Sookie once you breach the contract, but I’ll try to find more.”
“Bobby, I want to keep all this as far away from Sookie as possible.”
“She’d want to stand with you,” Bobby said cautiously.
“I know, and everything I tell her will be the truth, but I don’t want to have to tell her anything that might make her feel guilt. And I certainly don’t want her incriminated in any blackmail that I must do later! And,” he paused, “I also don’t want her to know how far I’ll go to hurt Appius if he tries to hurt us.”
Bobby nodded. “I understand.”
A/N: Okay—so here’s the second chapter. Many thanks to those of you who have already “favorited” and “alerted” this story! I know that “all human” stuff isn’t as popular, so—in a lot of ways—I appreciate it even more that you have followed me to this tale! Thanks also for the comments about the last chapter! They are greatly appreciated and treasured.
I am due to turn back to Uninvited on Wednesday, so I’m not sure I’ll have another chapter of this ready this week, but we’ll see. The next section is a bit rough though—so it might need a bit more tweaking than I can do in a couple of days, but, again, we’ll see. Regardless, the following Wednesday, I’ll be back to this story.