The Path to Power
Chapter Twenty Two
An Integrated Chapter
Stefan and Nikolas go over estate business during a working breakfast. Stefan had already suggested to Mrs. Lansbury that Natasha have something in her room when she woke since it was impossible to conduct any kind of business with her in the room. With that in mind, Mrs. Lansbury decided to let Tasha sleep as late as she wanted.
"Faith Ashton said something interesting when I was over visiting the baby." Nikolas says half out of the blue. It had been something that he'd been stewing on and was ready to drop in his uncle's lap.
"Something about Kristina?" Stefan looks up from one of the many files.
"Grandmother actually. Since she was closed out of the estate accounts, the jewelry she has to be what she is using to fund her latest... schemes. That jewelry doesn't actually belong to her but to the estate."
"Why on earth were you discussing Helena with Faith Ashton?" Stefan inquires while processing the suggestion that Nikolas just made with narrowed eyes.
"So that she will be on guard if Grandmother should try to leverage us using the baby."
"She does appear to be more security conscious than the Quartermaines." Stefan admits grudgingly. He would prefer to find nothing of favor with Faith because there's something too familiar about Ned Ashton's bride. And it isn't just her taste in rings. Stefan glances down at his watch. "I think I will go to the park today if you are going to stay close to the island..." Stefan winces. "Nevermind. I need to find a swimming instructor for Tasha. Dr. Lewis continues to bring it up after every session with her."
"Penny." Nikolas blurts.
"Excuse me? The girl who won the lottery?"
Nikolas nods. "It'll take four to six weeks for her to actually get the money from the state and the press are already on to her so she can't work at Kelly's. She said she used to lifeguard back in school and taught swimming as well."
"You seem to have... taken an interest in this girl." Stefan says carefully.
Nikolas shrugs. "At first... it was just a means to an end. Although Penny is nice enough."
"And what end would that be?"
"Getting the tabloids off of me and on to someone else." Nikolas says wryly.
"And I have no desire to have Natasha be the way this woman gets the tabloids off her back." Stefan says coldly.
"She's not like that, Uncle. I'm sure Bobbie would give her an excellent reference. Besides she is still staying in the summer house and I've been her trusted advisor in this... unsettling time for her."
Barbara's taste with everything but men is normally sound. "The lessons would have to happen here."
"Because of the monitoring. I understand. Let me ask Penny."
"If she is agreeable have a car sent for her."
"What do you think about the jewelry?" Nik asks.
"I think that it should be brought up casually the next time Lt. Taggart is visiting your aunt."
"Where are we going now?" Dillon asks curiously.
"Here." Faith points out the driveway to a parking lot. "Get a spot over there."
"A florist shop? They aren't open yet."
"Yeah, like the gun range wasn't open." Faith agrees. Following the same process as at the gun range she goes to the back door and knocks.
Since Faith is expected the manager of the shop is quick to answer the door. "Hi. I've got everything set up in the cooler for you. Who is this?"
"This is my brother-in-law, Dillon."
The Florist is more up on the local gossip than the gun shop owner. "oh." He looks the young man up and down. "Really. Dillon Ashton."
"I go by Quartermaine actually. Dillon Quartermaine." The look he is getting from the florist puts the hair up on the back of his neck.
Faith interjects wryly. "Down boy. He's jailbait."
The florist strings his arm thru Faith's. "Is that a reminder for you or for me, honey?"
"I'm a married woman." Faith's tone is fake affronted.
"Oh right. I forgot." At the large walk-in cooler Faith and the manager part company. Faith goes in the cooler and the manager goes back into the front. With those choices Dillon follows Faith into the cooler and makes sure that the door is shut behind them.
"Not used to getting hit on?"
"Not by guys." Dillon says wryly.
"Now you know what girls go thru from the time we hit puberty." if not before
"What are we doing here? And okay I know I tried that target practice but don't think you're going to get me to arrange flowers."
Faith points to a stool that is off in one
corner of the big walk in. There is a table in the middle and
shelves on both sides are filled with flowers. The side facing
the shop is glass so that customers can reach in and get bouquets
or cut blooms for themselves. "Such a stereotype. Certain
jobs seem to be magnets for the... creative set: dancers,
actors, florists, designers. If they are guys they must be gay.
So if you're a gay guy then you should go into those occupations.
Kinda one of those self fulfilling loops."
While Faith is talking she is pulling out the supplies she needs to make an arrangement. This one was going to be big and almost gaudy. Not subtle. Cause this was going to be for Fowler. And Fowler's idea of flowers had always been tilted toward parade floats or the blanket of flowers thrown over the necks of thoroughbreds in the winning circle at the track.
"But it wasn't always like that. A flower shop is an easy business to break into, or it used to be kinda like the fake nail shops that are all over the place now. You know the ones that have Orientals who barely speak english working in them? Perfect for the new immigrant. So back in the twenties when the Irish, Italians and Jews were coming over from the old country they'd set themselves up with carts selling flowers or fruit. And they'd get into the best neighborhoods. Nobody would think anything of a guy pushing a cart. They'd come in thru New York-- move out to the other big cities... Philly, Chicago."
Dillon looks up at the emphasis on the word Chicago. "What happened in Chicago?"
"Not so much Chicago as Prohibition. It was going on all over. Any time you make something illegal you make it tempting. Kinda like you, jailbait." Faith watches the blush ease up Dillon's collar with a small grin but then goes back to her arrangement. "Anyone who is on the bottom wants to be on top. But it's tough when you're the new kid on the block. Nobody's rolling out the welcome mat. So you got to take what you can get, maybe cut a few corners. Just cause nobody is opening doors doesn't mean that they don't have windows. You see what they have, what you want and you figure out a way. Kennedy made his money running booze and guns. You look back far enough on any of the fat cats who have their names on libraries and the like and you'll find that they made their money off someone else. Old Eddie for example..."
"Union busting. Bet you any amount of money. He still can't stand the unions." Faith steps back from the arrangement and looks at it with narrowed eyes and then turns it on the dais in the middle of the table to see all of the angles. Then she puts on the finishing touches. "Anyway... Chicago. Turned out there was way more profit margin in beer once prohibition rolled around than in flowers. But you couldn't sell beer... you could sell flowers."
"Or you could sell both and just have the flowers be advertised and that way you can deliver in all the best neighborhoods."
"So is this place... you know... connected." Dillon asks curiously.
"Of course not." Faith lies with a smile. "I was talking about Chicago."
"Mother, it's Ned. If you're there-- pick up." Ned sighs when there is just silence on the other end of the answering machine. "Dillon arrived. I need to know how long he is staying. If I should be enrolling him in school... A little warning would be nice. You've probably already seen the papers and know I got married. Is this is about that? Or was it me making you a grandmother again?" Ned asks wryly. Tracy had been less than pleased when Brooke had been born. "Look Mother, you can reach me on my cell phone... that hasn't changed but the gatehouse burned down so I'm living at..." Ned reads off the address of the cottage. "Oh and Mother when you come to pick up Dillon make sure you call first." Ned hangs up the phone and then shakes his head.
"What's the lovely Tracy done now?" Jax asks from the doorway. He is dressed in running gear.
Ned sighs and leans back in the big chair. "How long have you got?"
Jax gets comfortable in the chair across from Ned's desk. "You're expecting her to drop in?"
"Maybe you should change your locks over at the Port Charles Hotel. You'll probably see her before I do." Ned suggests. "I'm sure Bruno can give you the name of a good locksmith. Tracy is Tracy." Ned shakes off the disappointment that all contact real and attempted instilled in him. "That isn't why you stopped by."
"Actually I'm concerned about Skye."
Ned looks at Jax blankly. "Why?"
"The choices she's been making lately are rather... suspect."
"I thought her choices were suspect when she married you!" Ned gets half serious. "You think she's finally pickled her brain?" Ned jokes and then nods. "Yeah, I can go along with that. She and AJ are likethis. She's got to be crazy." Ned holds two fingers together. "Faith would have more of an idea you should probably talk to her. I've been so busy trying to keep Grandfather's greedy little paws out of my life that most of the family gatekeeping has fallen on to her shoulders."
"I don't think that the Quartermaines are The Family that Faith Roscoe ever imagined herself gatekeeping."
"Unfortunately, The Family is probably the best training for dealing with the Q's."
"Or vice versa." Jax suggests before getting back on his point. "Skye is practically living with a man named Coleman Radcliffe."
"She brought him to the holidays. He was doing a Rip Van Winkle stuck in the seventies thing."
Jax winces. "He's bad news. He's isolated her away from everyone out at that lakehouse. I know he was the one that was keeping Skye in liquor when Brenda and Jason were on trial. Wherever Skye was... he was near by. He's a user. He used to own a stripclub and now he owns a bar."
"Okay.. well... she got the lakehouse from you so it was isolated long before this Coleman guy came on the stage. As well as the cottage where I'm living. Thanks for that by the way. Your generous settlement to Skye kept Faith from killing Grandfather. And Skye has probably never needed help finding liquor. I know that AJ could always find it even without knowing bar owners. She's a ways over twenty one, Jax, and I've never had any influence with her. You'd be better off sharing your concerns with Alan. He dotes on her." There is a long silence as Ned examines his friend and business rival. "My Gawd. You already have."
Jax tries to shift the focus. "I was just thinking if you gave Skye a job here at ELQ..."
"You just said she was drinking!" Ned interrupts shaking his head. "I'll check into it. But frankly there is nothing I can do. If Alan can't talk any sense into her then I don't have a chance in hell."
"A store that is open." Dillon says wryly. "That's a first."
"It took longer to do the arrangement than I thought it would." Faith comments.
"What are we doing here?"
"I'm getting sick of looking at Ned wearing my dead first husband's clothes."
"So you guys were living in that gatehouse that burned down."
"Was burnt down. On purpose."
"No, and I really should be offended that you even asked-- if I had done it then Ned would have had his clothes, his pictures of his daughter and you, his music... that Old Man is just damn lucky that I didn't have any ammo in the cottage. Or he could have taken out a few firemen with that stunt."
"Grandfather burnt it down." Dillon looks over at Faith after putting the car in park. Faith doesn't say a word just looks at him. "You can tell me. My Mom she talks about her parents some but she doesn't have anything nice to say really about her father. You wouldn't surprise me or anything."
"Well you see now that I've met you it doesn't make much sense. Old Eddie knows he has one foot in the grave and is all about his dynasty. First it was Ned and AJ..."
"Actually first it was Uncle Alan and my Mother." Dillon corrects his sister-in-law.
"Yeah," Faith nods consideringly. "That plays. Then he was all about Michael, AJ's kid. Since he can't get his sticky paws on Michael he's coming after Ned's kid, Kristina."
"It's a really big house." Dillon unfastens his seatbelt and turns so he is facing Faith. "I bet my Mother knew the gatehouse burned down. Maybe she thought I couldn't stay with Ned."
Faith reaches out and runs the back of her hand along the edge of Dillon's chin. I like the way this kid thinks. "She wants the dynasty too? She probably figures you've been getting screwed all these years while Alan's kids have been lapping up the cream."
Dillon shrugs. "Maybe." There is no maybe about it. He'd heard enough of his mother's rants over the years.
"You could you know. You could go stay with your grandparents. I don't think Ned would stop you. It would probably be a big score. But I'll tell you right now. I won't step foot in that house. And the baby will go in that house over your brother's dead body." Faith winces. "Another thing to consider, Ned and I have ticked off a few players in this town."
"That's why all the guards."
"That's why all the guards." Faith agrees. "Hell I just got finished making a funeral wreath. And if that wasn't bad enough baby K's mama is lethally wacked from a long line of lethally wacked. She killed a guy. And from what her nephew has to say-- the baby's step-gramma has killed lots of guys and would kill to get her hands on the baby. So we're getting squeezed on that end too." Faith grins. "Sounds like I'm trying to talk you out of staying with your brother, doesn't it?"
"Then why do I feel like I'm just getting settled in?" Dillon grins back at Faith.
"Come on then. Lets get Ned something to wear to work. And if you find something to make your place a little more homey let me know." Dillon races out of the car and around to hold the door for Faith even assisting her out. "Whatever anyone says about your Mother... she gave you damn fine manners." Faith strings her arm thru Dillon's and they walk together into Wyndams.
Nikolas picks Penny up from the summerhouse. He uses the time while he can just keep his eyes on the road to tell her what he thinks she needs to know. "Alexis used to come into Kelly's all the time."
"She can't cook." Penny agrees. "She and Zander used to come in every morning for breakfast, sometimes lunch and dinner too."
"I didn't realize how close they were." Nikolas frowns.
"Very." Penny verifies. "But the papers say that Alexis was found not competent to stand trial?"
Nikolas nods. "My aunt has had a very... difficult life. Long before she came to Port Charles, and those difficulties have manifested themselves now."
"Manifested themselves how?" Penny asks cautiously.
"Her mind has gone back to the time before the difficulties began."
"Okay." Penny is just agreeing not knowing what the hell Nik is getting at.
"She has the mind of a seven year old." Nikolas says flatly. "She doesn't remember anyone. She won't remember you. I had to be introduced to her, as was my uncle. Zander has managed to insinuate himself in her life again. But now instead of being like a son to her, he is like a big brother."
"Alexis Davis, Harvard Law school graduate, scourge of the courts, mother of Kristina, was an excellent swimmer. She lived on a Greek island from the time she was seven until she went off to boarding school! Natasha Cassadine, that's her name now, Tasha-- I don't know. She says she doesn't know how."
"She doesn't remember being pregnant or having the baby..." Penny can't believe it.
"No. I know it's a lot to take both in and on-- but Penny, you have to really just forget you ever knew Alexis, anything you know about her and just treat her like Tasha Cassadine, pain in the ass."
Penny starts laughing at that. "I take it she is a rambunctious seven year old."
"My uncle used to blame me for the traces of grey he'd find on occasion in his hair or his beard. It is no longer true." Penny reaches out and runs a hand thru Nikolas' hair. "What are you doing?" Nikolas flinches away from her hand before relaxing.
"Looking for the grey. Cause I think your uncle isn't the only one getting them."
Dillon is kicking in a chair people watching when Faith comes to stand in front of him. "Here." Dillon stands up and takes the suits figuring that Faith just ran out of hands. Faith finally gets disgusted and points toward the dressing room. "Go. Try them on."
"Doesn't Ned need to try them on?"
"They aren't for Ned. They are for you."
"I'm doing okay. I don't need anything."
"I don't know where the rest of your clothes are but you need at least two suits. One summer weight and one for funerals."
"Faith, no offense but I didn't know Fowler and I don't think it would be right..."
"No. Your funeral if you don't try on those clothes. Now. Go." Dillon thinks she is kidding but knows she has a loaded pistol in her purse and shaking his head goes back to the dressing rooms. "And I want to see each one of them once you have them on." Faith calls after him. Faith turns to the clerk. "Next... Ned Ashton. Do you have him in your system somewhere?"
"Of course." The clerk nods and going over to a book pulls it out and looks up the information on Ned with all of his sizes and what he has purchased in the past.
"Everything he has purchased in the last six months I want duplicated." Faith orders. The clerk's jaw drops. Faith continues. "If you work on commission it's your lucky day. House fire. He needs everything from the skin out."
"I'll get right on that." The clerk goes from dazed to rushed as he starts pulling items off of the racks.
Dillon comes out of the back wearing a summer weight navy Brooks Brothers suit. He tugs at the sleeve. Faith walks over to the triple mirror. She makes a motion for Dillon to turn around and then frowning comes up behind him. She runs her hands over his shoulders and then down his back, looking in the mirror over Dillon's shoulder making eye contact with his reflection. "It fits but...."
"It would look better on Ned." Dillon comments.
"Try on the Perry Ellis. We'll come back to the Brooks Brothers in about a decade." While she is waiting Faith starts pulling out ties and examining them at arms length considering this one and that and then checking the tensile strength of each. Maybe if Ned was still being a bad boy she could tie him up with his new ties.
"Faith?" Dillon gets her attention.
Faith straightens when she sees him and her eyes narrow. She crosses the men's department like a cat on the stalk. When she gets close she makes a slow twirling motion with one finger. Dillon holds his hands out from his body and turns around. Faith comes up behind him so that they are both facing the triple mirror. Like the suit before she runs her hands over his shoulders and then down his back smoothing the jacket. "The next few years of your life are going to be absolutely miserable." Faith says softly still talking to Dillon's reflection but her mouth is right next to his ear.
"Why do you say that?"
"Because girls your age are stupid and women old enough to really appreciate you-- know better than to get their hands caught in the cookie jar." Faith looks back over her shoulder. "We'll take this one. The pants need to be hemmed."
"Of course, Mrs. Ashton." The clerk reaches for the phone to call the tailor down to the floor. Faith looks down at her watch.
Dillon catches her at it. "Are we late? For the park I mean."
"Well we aren't going to stick around after they get the pins in that's for sure. They can deliver everything when they deliver Ned's wardrobe."
Stefan walks thru the park finding the most likely spot. He glances down at his watch and then starts looking around. The line between the child having a schedule and being predictable is a thin one. A schedule is good being predictable is not. Stefan straightens when he sees Kristina's nanny approaching pushing a carriage. They are accompanied by the same thug as before. He rises to his feet and walks over. "Is there a problem?"
"Who says?" Bruno demands.
"Where is Mrs. Ashton?"
"Mrs. A's got things to do. She'll be here when she can." Alice informs Stefan.
"Not his business, Alice." Bruno tells the nanny.
Alice gives Bruno a look that has the big bodyguard taking a step back. "Why don't you have a seat right here, Mr. Cassadine. Little Missy will be waking up from her snooze soon and will want to see the ducks." Alice pats a spot on the park bench next to where she'd planted herself. "Mrs. A said there'd be no problem with you visiting with Kristina, as long as I was with you." Alice scoots a little closer to Stefan.
Bruno keeps an eye on the situation wincing as he does so. Sure Faith had said it was okay for Cassadine to see the kid. But this wasn't what Faith had in mind he was sure. Taking a step back from the bench he reaches into his pocket for his cell phone and hits the preset. "Ummm Faith. Umm just thought you should know that that Cassadine guy showed up. He's here at the park. But don't worry. I'm on it. He ain't gonna go anywhere with the kid." Bruno hangs up the phone and then stuffs it back in his pocket and then crosses his arms and looks grim.
Penny jumps into the shallow end of the pool and then goes over to the edge where Tasha is standing. "It's nice and warm and don't worry-- it isn't deep. See it only comes up to here on me." Penny indicates a point on her midline.
"I don't think this is a good idea. Where is my brother?" Tasha asks suspiciously. "Where is Stefan?"
Nikolas sees the way that Tasha is hanging back and can already see this is not going to be a fun one. He comes at the pool at a run and cannonballs into the shallow end soaking Penny and splashing Tasha too along the edge of the pool. When Nik comes up and stands next to Penny who is sputtering. "Stefan had to go into town. I thought it might be a nice surprise if you could show him you were learning to swim. But if you're scared we can always go back in and I can teach you how to play chess instead. That would make Stefan happy."
"I'm not scared!" Tasha denies.
Nikolas starts making chicken noises.
Tasha takes two steps back and then practically throws herself into the water. Because it's the shallow end her hair doesn't even get wet. She pops back up like a cork. "It's cold! You lied."
"Nah, this isn't cold. Cold is the river." Penny counters. "But I'm glad you jumped in."
"So you can help me do this!" Penny starts splashing water in Nikolas' direction. "Payback!"
"Payback!" Tasha yells and starts splashing in Nikolas' direction turning her head away so she doesn't get hit by the water.
"Hey two against one! That's not fair!" Nikolas starts backing up.
"Who is chicken now?" Penny starts making chicken noises all the while splashing in Nikolas' direction.
Laughter from the side of the pool distracts Tasha and she opens her eyes to see who is there. "Zander!" She wades to the side. "This is Nikolas' friend, Penny. She's going to teach me how to swim!"
"That's great, Tasha." Zander comes over to the edge of the pool and squats down. "Although you know you're going to have to get your hair wet right?" He sees Tasha's secretive movement. "Don't even think it." He warns.
"I wasn't going to do anything." Tasha pouts.
"Sure." Zander winks at her but takes a step back from the pool.
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