The Path to Power
Chapter Twenty Seven
Natasha looks at Penny sitting on the floor of one of the many rooms at Wyndemere. "What are you doing?"
"Reading my mail." Penny looks to the doorway where the other woman stands.
"You know a lot of people don't you?" Tasha looks at all the bags. "Do you have to read all of it before you can go swimming?" She comes into the room and looks into one of the three large canvas bags.
"I don't know them-- but they seem to know me. If I read all of it without a break I would not only go crazy but blind too." Penny says wryly. "It shouldn't be so bad now. I didn't pick up my mail for a while and it kinda grew."
"It won't be bad if you simply shred every letter there." Stefan declares as he comes into the room. Natasha has been avoiding him and her lessons this morning. As soon as Tasha hears her brother's voice, she ducks behind a piece of furniture but already knows it's too late and she's busted. "If you don't know the person then it is a person wanting something. It is entirely possible there might be a letter worthy of attention there. Greater odds than actually winning the lottery but barely." Stefan says with a raised brow.
Penny holds up her hands in surrender. "Hey I've learned my lesson. I'm not playing anymore, Mr. Cassadine."
"You should have your mail forwarded to your accountant, or if you haven't decided on one of those, to your lawyer."
"Do you want me to tell Ms. Jensen you said so? I mean she just took me on as a client and I really don't want her to drop me before I get to meet her a second time. Heck before I even go to collect the money."
Stefan actually smirks for a moment before going to back to his normally stern visage. "She was hired for precisely this reason." Stefan indicates the number of bags.
Nikolas comes in and brings the shredder with him. It's a Cassadine Industries sized shredder that has seen it's share of use over the years and definitely up to the task here. "I know, Uncle."
"And we have a staff that could have set up that." Stefan indicates the shredder.
"Yes." Nikolas finishes setting it up and plugs the shredder in. "Penny wants to learn how to manage her own windfall rather than being directed by others."
"And Nikolas did advise me to hand everything over to Dara Jensen, Mr. Cassadine. To let her sort thru everything, and just show me the worthy letters. I just need to prove to myself that it is mostly scam letters. Then I'll be able to let it go and let someone else do it."
Stefan nods. "Sound reasoning if tedious in the application." He pulls one of the letters out of the bag at random and holds it up to Penny in a questioning gesture. She shrugs and nods so he opens it and examines the letter. In less then three seconds he is done. He comes over to Penny and says, "Do you see this sentence?"
"Yes." Penny reads it. "For a small initial investment..."
"Tasha, Do you wish to assist Penny so you two may go swimming before lunch?" Stefan asks the room at large pretending he doesn't know where his sister is hiding from him.
Tasha comes out from behind the big chair where she'd been ducked down. "Do you mean it? I can help?!"
"You will probably be extremely bored. Your lessons would be more challenging."
"But I want to help!"
"Very well. Come here." Stefan sits down at the couch and pulls out a stack of letters. "Open each one of these. If you see these words..." Stefan shows Natasha the phrase For a small initial investment "...then it goes into a stack to be put thru the shredder. Set aside the others for Penny to look at personally."
"And once we get a big enough stack, I'll show you how to use the shredder." Nikolas offers. "Because if there is one thing every Cassadine should know how to do it's run a shredder."
Penny snorts at that and then refocuses on the paper in front of her. "I do appreciate all your help, all of you."
"It is a good lesson for Natasha to learn as well." Stefan dismisses Penny's thanks. "Thus we are agreed. Letters until an hour before lunch. Swimming for an hour, lunch-- then lessons, Tasha."
Natasha sighs. "Fine." But she secretly smiles as she opens her first letter. It has gotten her out of morning lessons and anything was better than the stupid Peloponnesian war between the Spartans and the Greeks even if Stefan had all the model boats and armies. There are no girls in the stories. And Stefan wouldn't let her play with the boats or the little armies. They are representational. What ever the heck that meant. Stefan, Nikolas and Penny are all scanning letters and starting their stacks. They move rapidly thru each letter basically do a first sort. It takes Tasha a bit longer until she stops trying to read the letters and just scans for the phrase. As everyone goes on autopilot, Tasha's speed picks up to match the others. This does not go unnoticed.
Zander gets to a good stopping point with all the contracts he is reviewing and decides to take a break for lunch. Hell to just get out of the building and have his eyeballs look at something further than a computer monitor or a desk top away from him. He rotates his head from side to side to break up the stress and stretch the tight muscles. He glances down at his watch and realizes that Gia is between classes, and calls her cell. "If you're up for lunch, I'm buying."
"It'll have to be something close to campus." Gia says distractedly.
Zander can tell she is juggling books, bags and her cell. "Kelly's good for you?"
"Sure, I can be there in... ten."
"See ya there." Zander stands up and does a quick straightening of the folders on the desk, putting them on the credenza behind Ned's desk. He doubted Ned will be back in the afternoon, not the way he tore out of the building after finding out about Fowler's funeral. Then he does a quick save before shutting down the computer. Making sure that the door is locked behind him, Zander checks out with Ned's secretary, letting her know where he'll be if there are any questions and letting her know that Ned had a funeral that morning so if anything could wait that it probably should. The secretary is very sympathetic for Mr. Ashton's loss. "If you only knew." Zander says wryly and gets in the elevator. He doesn't have any time to waste. If Gia said ten minutes she meant ten minutes.
"Hi, Bobbie." Gia drops onto one of the stools at the counter. Her books are set at her feet. She tries to not think about the last time that the floor had been cleaned at the counter, hopefully it had just been last night. "I'm supposed to be meeting Zander for lunch but I'm early."
"Do you know what you both want or did you want to wait until he gets here?" Bobbie asks as she puts a glass of ice water in front of Gia.
"I'll wait especially since he says he's buying." Gia shrugs. "Wait a sec... what are you going here?"
Bobbie points to the Help Wanted sign in the door and rolls her eyes. "Liz is only working part time because she is still taking classes and every spare minute she has she spends either in her art studio or with Ric Lansing. Courtney has dropped off the face of the planet. If Carly wasn't married to Sonny, I would fire her." Bobbie mutters the next. "No call, no shows."
"And you know Penny won the big lottery-- 57 million. Really nobody deserves it more." Bobbie half smiles. "Unless it's me."
"Or me." Gia grins right back. "But I can't complain. I'm doing what I want to do and using my modeling money to do it. And really I had enough of the idle rich when I was engaged to Nikolas. It is just not what it's cracked up to be."
"Specially if Helena is part of the package." Bobbie adds, the voice of experience speaking.
"Oh yeah." Gia agrees with a nod. "So what are you going to do?"
"Well Lucas, Maxie and Georgie are finally old enough to pick up a few hours. It's going to be a scheduling headache but they all want their own money. Lucas is saving for a car, Georgie wants to go to an Ivy league college and Maxie is seriously addicted to the latest fashions. So I have the afterschool and weekend shifts covered. I need to find a fulltime day person." Bobbie sighs. "I miss Penny although I did see her this morning. She and Nikolas stopped by to switch cars with me. They were going to pick up Penny's mail at the post office."
"She needs to get an agent." Gia shakes her head. "Just to sort thru the marriage proposals." She leans in resting her elbows on the counter. "Did you hear that Nikolas was approached by the television show The Bachelor? The Herald says that he's on the short list for the next season." Both Bobbie and Gia start laughing as they know Nikolas too well to believe that.
Bobbie is still laughing when she replies. "Where does the Herald get this stuff?!"
"What stuff?" Zander asks breathlessly as he slides into the seat next to Gia and reaches for the laminated menu that is propped between the napkin holder and the sugar shaker.
Bobbie and Gia's eyes meet and by mutual agreement they fudge the truth. Nikolas and Zander are not fans of each other and have gone a few rounds since everything had happened with Alexis. "We were just talking about how the Herald is handling the story about Penny winning the lottery." Gia tells him.
"Ah." Zander keeps reading the menu then glances up at the Specials board. "Hard to respect a paper that couldn't even figure out who I really was when I was standing trial for murder. But I guess it just goes to show that you can call yourself anything you like."
"As long as we don't call you late for lunch?" Bobbie offers."
"Exactly." Zander puts the menu down and looks over at Gia. "So do you know what you want?"
From a window high above the pool, Nikolas and Stefan watch Penny and Tasha. Penny is supporting Tasha's back as she floats in the shallow end of the heated pool. "She's good with Tasha." Nikolas tells Stefan.
"Yes." Stefan admits. Trust is a difficult proposition for him and has been for as long as he could remember. "In more ways than one."
"What do you mean?"
"This." Stefan goes back to the couch where Natasha had been sorting. Her piles had gotten a bit creative. There was the stack for shredding. There was a stack for Penny. There is a stack because they are pretty and then there is the final stack that only has three letters in it. "Read these."
Nikolas reads thru the first letter quickly and then rereads it more slowly. He frowns. He goes on to the second and third. "They are worth researching."
"Agreed. And that Natasha is able to pick them out is worth mentioning to Dr. Lewis, but only to Dr. Lewis." Stefan warns. "Find out what it means first. Does it mean that Alexis is coming back, does it mean that Alexis is... watching?"
"That's what I was thinking too. But who knows?! Maybe Tasha is some sort of legal savant. Perhaps it was Tasha who was watching over Alexis' shoulder all these years." Nikolas suggests, but he's mostly joking-- mostly.
"It would be in Penny's best interests to spend all of her mornings here at Wyndemere receiving lessons in managing her newfound wealth." Stefan declares. "I will be willing to... trade such lessons in exchange for continuing... swimming lessons with Natasha." Stefan tells his nephew. "As you said-- she has a good rapport with your Aunt."
Nikolas is no stranger to reading between the lines with his uncle. Stefan would give Penny the lessons, and sound advice-- but it isn't about Penny and never would be. It's all about Alexis. He has to make a similar decision. Whether to agree or disagree. Yes, agreeing would benefit Alexis but in the long run Penny is the one that will get hurt... everyone associated with the Cassadines eventually did. This bargain could potentially take on the same coloration as Alexis' once upon planned trip to Tahiti with Ned. The one Stefan had cancelled by taking over ELQ Jakarta. His uncle had a habit of getting his way, one way or another-- no matter how long it took.
He looks down to the pool below where Penny and Tasha are splashing in the shallow end and now practicing doing their bubbles. "Saying it's in Penny's best interests," Nikolas shakes his head. "It is in ours, in Tasha's, let us be... honest. Penny is a good, kind person-- like Bobbie, Lulu, Emily, Chloe-- Kristina. Penny is worthy of our concern as well. The Cassadine don't have a sound track record of protecting the innocent, using yes, but not protecting."
"Ah yes, but you are in charge now." Stefan reminds pointedly. "I am merely here in an advisory capacity and to help out with Natasha."
Down by the pool, Penny looks up and catches Nikolas and Stefan watching up above. "They look so serious."
Tasha sighs. "I know. They are no fun at all. It's all business and secrets that nobody will tell me. If that weren't the worst now Stefan wants me to read these boring books, and they smell old and nasty." Tasha makes a face. She rests on to the edge of the pool with her elbows up on the top so she is half hanging out. "And Stefan hates my horse and will never go riding with me. The only fun I have is when you come over to play in the pool, or when Zander comes over. But he leaves as soon as Dr. Cam shows up. Dr. Cam is his father but Zander doesn't like him. Which is weird."
"Very." Penny agrees.
"I love my Daddy. He's not like Stefan and Nikolas always talking about Business. Daddy always said money was for doing what you like. Daddy likes inventing things. He always fixes things for me. He made me a clock that instead of making a bunch of noise in the morning would open the curtains instead and sounded like birds singing. That way you're happy when you wake up, rather than thinking there's a fire."
"That is a great idea." Penny agrees. She pulls herself up so she is resting half in and out of the pool like Tasha.
"Can you keep a secret?"
"Sure." Penny shrugs.
"Daddy is working on a weather machine. He says it will make it so that there won't be any floods or any droughts. He says it will make so it only rains at night when I'm asleep so it will be sunshiney all day. I wish he would come get me so I could be with Mama and my little sister. Daddy would protect me from the mean lady."
Oh yeah, hell of a good job he did on that one. Got to change the subject fast. "You know I don't think that Stefan hates your horse. Nikolas says Stefan taught him how to ride so I don't think that's it. Maybe he doesn't like the horse's name-- Petunia. Probably thinks it should be named something like-- Olympus or Zeus. Something mean and powerful sounding."
"But Petunia isn't mean. She's nice. And I like Petunias. It's a good name." Tasha pouts.
"Yes, but I'm right. He doesn't hate your horse. He just doesn't like the name."
"Maybe." Tasha sighs. She changes the subject back to what they'd been doing all morning. "So do you have lots of money now?"
"That's not a polite question but since we're friends I'll answer it." Penny sighs. "I will be."
"More than a hundred dollars?"
"More than a hundred dollars for every single hour of every single day for as long as I live." It had been hard enough to wrap her mind around that one in the first 24 hours after winning the lottery.
"Wow. That's a lot." Tasha tries to picture it.
"Yeah. That's why all the letters from people who I've never heard of who want to be my friend now."
"You think Nikolas is your friend because you have money now?"
"I don't know." Penny says softly mostly to herself. The Cassadine Prince had never even really looked in her direction before she'd fainted right in front of him from the shock of reading her numbers. Hell it wasn't even looking, he hadn't really seen her. She shakes her head. "Nah, it couldn't be that." She lies reassuringly to Natasha. Besides it isn't like the people who are trying to scam her. Maybe her having money now made him feel safer. "Tasha, I didn't get my laps in this morning. Will you stay here on the shallow end while I get them done?"
"How many are you going to do?"
"Until I'm tired." Penny shrugs. "You can tell me how many I did when I get done that way I'll know."
"But we're going to have lunch soon."
"Then I'll swim fast we'll see how many I can do, how fast I can do them."
Dara shuts the door after her last client and entourage and realizes what she is missing from her office is a decontamination chamber. Sure, she'd dealt with her share of scum while working on the other side of the fence in the DA's office-- seen more than any human being should have to, the stuff that nightmares were made of. Even worried about becoming jaded by the constant exposure to other people's suffering. The definition of crime is doing harm to another whether monetarily, or physically. The system was supposed to look out for the victims but when it stopped being that way in Port Charles she had to get out-- before she disappeared all together.
Leaving the DA's office and going on her own had been a big risk but she'd needed it. Mostly this is better. She has more control over her clientele and, sorry to say with Alexis out of the picture as the premiere attorney in Northern New York, business is booming. But there is a downside. Everyone deserves protection, everyone deserves competent representation. But sometimes Everyone gave a girl a serious case of the creeps. How had Alexis ever done it?
Gia breezes into the office. "Good Afternoon, Dara."
"Someone had a good day."
"One of the other students went...." Gia makes a circling motion with one finger at the side of her head. "... and has to take at least the next semester off which frees up a spot in an entertainment law seminar I normally would not be eligible for but because I was the Face of Deception and now there is an opening..."
"You do know that makes you the case study for the seminar."
Gia shrugs. "It'll still look good at the end of the day. Before that I had lunch at Kelly's. Study schedule is looking manageable for now." She pauses to consider. "Yep, I'd say a very good day so far. How about you?"
"Here's a hypothetical for you... elderly woman writes a will leaving everything to charity just before she dies. The previous will leaves everything to a granddaughter, her only living relative."
"Sucks to be the granddaughter." Gia retorts but then her eyes narrow. "Did the new will mention the granddaughter by name or give any reason for cutting the granddaughter cold? Leave her anything... even a dollar?"
Dara crosses her arms and smiles shaking her head. "Nope."
"Then it sucks to be the charity, you could probably make a case for undue influence or something. The granddaughter have the money to fight it? Lots of charities have deep pockets... how much money are we talking?"
"Millions. Yes, the charity has deep pockets and yes, the granddaughter has... access to the money to fight it. I would have loved to have turned it down."
"Are you representing the charity or the granddaughter?"
"My first instinct was to turn the whole thing down. But then I read the will. Damn it, Gia! You could have written a better will as a first year. What the hell was the Grandmother thinking?! Let alone her attorney?! It's just... offensive and... sloppy."
"Okay so you're representing the granddaughter. You going for overturn or for a settlement to make it go away?"
"The Granddaughter is out for blood." literally
"Well since I'll probably be out of law school before this one is settled should I put my request in now for how I want my office decorated?" Gia grins at Dara. "Just kidding. Although if this drags out the way it could-- if the charity doesn't roll over, you'll probably be able to buy this building with the billable hours off of this one case."
"Get me the cites." Dara orders. "I have to make an appointment with the opposing side. And AJ Quartermaine is supposed to be coming in later for an update on his case against The Justice Department. They've been a lot slower giving back his money than they were in taking it. They took it in one chunk, AJ believes they should give it all back the same way rather than in installments."
"You going to talk to him about Zander?" Gia pulls out her legal pad and makes a note.
"No, you know better than that. It's up to Zander. Besides Zander told both of us that AJ already knows. But it wouldn't surprise me if we end up doing a little research on that one as well. You might as well get a head start on that." Dara points to the legal pad. "I'm sure we'll use it eventually."
"So... is Stefan Cassadine going to be your last appointment of the day again?"
"Alexis did a lot of work for the estate." Dara says defensively hoping that her face isn't looking flushed.
"Yes, she did. But Stefan didn't take her out to dinner three times a week either."
"Get to work." Dara goes into her office and closes the door.
"You're very quiet." Nikolas glances at the corner of his eye at Penny sitting next to him in the Jag. They'd just finished switching cars back with Bobbie and he's driving her back to the Cassadine Summer House outside of town but needs to make a stop on the way.
"A pen... um... anything you'd care to share?" Nikolas offers.
Penny looks over at Nikolas half turning in the seat so she can watch him directly. "I think I get it now."
That has Nik's hands tightening around the steering wheel. "Oh?"
"It was going thru all those letters, all those people wanting something either to get over on me, or really legitimately needing money-- but all of them wanting something. That's what it's been like for you all along right from the day you were born? Nobody just liking you or getting to know you-- just wanting something."
"There have been a few." very few "And even if it starts as someone wanting something..." bone marrow, blackmail payments "...it can still turn into friendship."
"I've only been dealing with it for a little while and it's already...." Penny shakes her head and sighs. She tilts her head so that it's resting on the padded leather headrest. "It's... unnatural, to be so... guarded and untrusting."
"For you. We've had generations of practice." Nik admits wryly.
"I think that's what makes Tasha so sweet. She looks at things at face value. A hundred dollars is a lot of money and her brother hates her horse."
"Stefan doesn't hate her horse."
"That's what she thinks since he never goes riding with her."
Nikolas sighs. "I'll speak to him. Thanks for letting me know, Penny."
Penny shrugs. "No problem, I told her that he doesn't hate her horse-- just the horse's name."
"I want you to know something, Nikolas."
"Just because you really didn't see me until I made an idiot of myself and fainted right in front of you doesn't mean that I didn't know about you. I worked for Bobbie for a long time at Kelly's. I know that Bobbie already has a car picked out for Lucas and is just waiting for him to save up enough money to pay for the insurance. Lucas thinks he's working to buy a car. Just because your uncle and Bobbie got a divorce doesn't mean that she quit worrying about you: hoping you were happy with Gia, wondering what the hell you were thinking when it looked like you were teaming up with your Grandmother. And it's not like she could talk to her brother about it. I must just have one of those faces-- people tell me things. "Penny shrugs. "But anyway, thanks to Bobbie, heck Emily and Elizabeth too-- you aren't just The Cassadine Prince to me, and haven't been for a long, long time-- if ever. You're just a really hot guy with a lot of things on his plate."
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