Epilogue: A Walking Shadow
This life, which had been the tomb of his virtue and of his honour, is but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.—William Shakespeare
Appius Northman had asked his driver to take him home immediately and then return to collect Sophie-Anne, Andre, and Nora from the charity brunch later. His interaction with Eric had shaken him, and now he wanted only to sit in his office and get shit-faced until he felt nothing—until he was numb.
He was already well on his way.
He’d lost control that day, first while he was listening to Sookie Stackhouse’s message and then while he was speaking to Eric.
But now he felt better—back in control of the situation and himself.
In contrast to what he’d told Eric, Sookie had not left because her greed had been thwarted.
Far from it.
She’d left so that she couldn’t be used to hurt Eric.
Appius sighed heavily and took a gulp of his scotch. With no compunction, he would have used Sookie to hurt his eldest son. And he would have enjoyed it too, but Sookie had proven her love to a degree that Stella never had. She’d sacrificed everything—her own happiness—for Eric.
And that action had gutted Appius, for it was the one thing that Stella had been incapable of doing for him.
His only consolation had been the fact that Eric was destroyed anyway—despite Sookie’s sacrifice. His son’s eyes had told him the tale. Appius still saw similar eyes in his own mirror when he let himself truly think of Stella, which he refrained from doing as much as he was able. Still—he’d never been able to stop thinking about her completely.
Just as he’d never been able to stop himself from loving her—completely.
Appius poured himself another drink. It took a lot of alcohol to take him to oblivion these days, but—thankfully—between what he’d had in the limo and what he’d had since he’d gotten home, the warmth of the liquor was beginning to travel through his body.
He sat back into his chair and tried to focus on his victory. He had finally found and taken away the one thing his son treasured most. And he’d seen Eric’s eyes—the exact replica of Stella’s eyes—lose their gleam completely.
As soon as Eric had left the limo, Appius had called Franklin Mott and had been assured that Bobby Burnham had been in his home all day and was now, it seemed, “entertaining” a woman. Appius had ordered Mott, who had turned out to be much craftier than Wybert or Sigebert, to transfer his surveillance to Eric for the time being in order to make sure that Sookie was indeed gone and that his son had no contact with her. After seeing Eric’s reaction to the news that Sookie had left, Appius didn’t think it was probable, but he had to grant the possibility that Sookie and Eric were pulling the wool over his eyes. However, he knew that Mott would find out if there was any contact between them.
Appius lamented the fact that the listening device was no longer in Eric’s home and couldn’t help but to wonder how long his son had known about it, but Appius was not one to cry over spilled milk, and he was—even then—arranging to get some next-generation surveillance equipment that would help them to tap into Eric’s cell phone. Moreover, Appius had already set the groundwork for getting someone on his payroll onto the security crew at Eric’s building. So he would soon have both eyes and ears on Eric.
With that in mind, he called his newest employee.
“Miss Pelt,” he said as she answered her phone.
“Mr. Northman,” the female voice responded.
“How is our project going?” he asked.
“I have an interview on Tuesday,” she shared. “And I don’t foresee any difficulties getting employment since my ‘boyfriend’ will no longer be working in the building, and Jiles will need a replacement for him.”
“Don’t get cocky,” Appius warned. “Henry Jiles is an ex-SEAL, and according to my people, he’s very good at his job as head of security at Carmichael Tower.”
“SEALs are pussies,” the woman said with derision.
Even Appius was patriotic enough to want to correct her, but Debbie Pelt had been in Black Ops for the last five years. And as a woman functioning in that capacity in the Middle East, she was obviously one tough bitch. He felt it best to keep her placated.
“Just don’t say that during your interview,” Appius finally said.
Debbie chuckled. “Don’t worry. By the end of next week, I’ll be where you need me to be.”
Appius hung up the phone and took another drink. He closed his eyes. It had been Mott who had researched the guards of Carmichael Tower and then suggested that they employ Debbie Pelt. She had an “in” to Henry Jiles’s crew—after all—since she’d been engaged to one of his employees, Alcide Herveaux, a decade before. It had been easy to convince Pelt to seduce her former fiancé and to influence him to pursue more private security jobs. From there, Herveaux had put in a good word for her with Jiles.
Appius sighed. He hoped that Eric would follow his directives regarding Isabel Edgington, for he was truly tired of interacting with his son in any way. But that didn’t mean that he wasn’t going to be monitoring his every move—even more closely than before.
Debbie Pelt would make sure of that.
And it certainly didn’t mean that he was done constructing scenarios that would hurt Eric. In fact, now that he thought about it, a future with Isabel Edgington seemed too good for Stella’s son—much too good. With that thought in mind, he scrolled through his phone again until he came to the name he was looking for.
“Appius!” the woman who answered said excitedly. “Are you calling about Eric? Have you finally gotten him to come to his senses?”
“Not yet, my dear. But I have a plan of how you two can be together.”
“You do?” she asked with hope.
“Indeed,” Appius said. “But I will need your help.”
The woman’s voice grew pouty. “But I can’t leave here right now. Daddy says I need to stay until the doctors feel I’m well.” She scoffed. “They just don’t understand that Eric and I are meant to be. They don’t realize that that’s why I was following him like I was. I never intended to use the gun I had,” she added with a flippant, though slightly nervous laugh.
“Of course not, dear,” Appius said soothingly. “But now you must pretend that you are over Eric.”
“I won’t lie about our love!” she said fervently.
Appius sat forward in his chair a little. “You will only have to lie to your doctors and your father. You and I will still know the truth about your feelings. And—soon—Eric will recognize that truth, too, and all will be well,” he coaxed.
“Do you promise?” Freyda de Castro asked hopefully.
“Yes. Just do everything that I ask, and Eric will be yours before you know it. You simply must be patient.”
Freyda sighed. “Do you really think Eric will accept me? He was so cruel before.”
“He has been misguided, dear,” Appius soothed.
There was a pause.
“If you will help me to get Eric, I will do whatever you say,” she relented.
“Good. It must be nighttime in Switzerland, my dear,” Appius said paternally. “Get your rest, and—in the morning—you can begin working to convince the others that you are over Eric. It might take a little time, but I know you can do it.”
“I will! And,” Freyda paused, “thank you, Appius.”
“You and my son belong together,” Appius said, placating the woman. “I will call again soon.”
“Good bye,” Freyda said.
“Good night, dear,” Appius responded before hanging up.
He smiled with satisfaction and filled his glass again. Eric might get his shit together and marry Isabel. But Freyda—in all of her obsession—would be an amusing wild card to add into the mix. The fact that she’d been found with a gun when she’d been caught stalking Eric had been kept quiet by the authorities—due in part to a large bribe by Felipe de Castro and a favor called in to the chief of police by Appius.
The elder Northman smiled, thinking about how de Castro now owed him. Sadly, Felipe hadn’t been able to convince the Chinese to deal with Vegas Publishing even after Appius had given Felipe information so that he could offer Guangzhou Press a better deal than Eric. But Appius was certain that he could still find a way to use Felipe and his daughter.
Part of Appius hoped that Freyda might just kill Eric if she got another chance. Or she might kill Isabel. Either way, her presence would certainly be amusing—for Appius.
And hurtful for Eric.
Or—perhaps—Appius could still manufacture the situation so that Eric would marry the delusional Freyda de Castro. As the night went on, Appius’s alcohol-addled mind zipped through any number of outcomes—each one potentially more harmful for his eldest son.
Long after the others in the household were asleep, Appius finally passed out on the sofa in his office. He dreamed of Stella, her beautiful blue eyes dripping with tears. He reached out to her, knowing that if he could just touch her, all of her pain—and his pain—would be burned away.
But he could not reach her.
The End of Touch the Flame, Part II of The Comfortably Numb Trilogy. Burn out the Pain, Part III of the trilogy to follow.
A/N: Hello all! Well—I’ve been a busy bee today and was able to finish this story off. I think I’ll be posting chapter one of Burn out the Pain before I move back to the UN-iverse—just to get us started. So you might expect that in the next couple of days.
Many, many thanks for all who have been on this difficult journey with me. Without your support, my “writing life” would be a lot less satisfying. So thank you!
There’s a lot to come, and things will be changing a lot for Sookie and Eric as they continue their journey. I hope that you will join them—and me—in Burn out the Pain.
P.S. A few of you have PM’ed me on fanfiction.net, asking when Eric and Sookie will be back together in this series. Remember that I am happy to offer spoilers via PM, so if you need them, just let me know.
P.S.S. If you wanna read the summary for Burn out the Pain and see the amazing banner Seph has made for it, click here!