The Path to Power
Chapter Thirty One
All Coming Together
Winning the lottery is turning me into a gypsy. It's my second move within a month. Penny looks out the window of the Cassadine hunting cabin that is set a distance from the main mansion. This one actually seems rustic in an almost overwrought way. The furnishings aren't just old; they are probably antiques. The kitchen isn't much-- just a place to heat soup or make coffee but still nicer than the kitchen in her apartment. Not like the Summerhouse, which had really been a house and well-- modern. Not until she'd started taking lessons from Stefan in wealth management and giving Tasha swimming lessons here at Wyndemere had she found out how unlikely the words modern and Cassadines are in the same sentence.
"What are you thinking?" Nikolas asks from the loft above. He'd been standing there for awhile studying Penny in her contemplations.
"In case of a freak summer snow storm, which of these..." Penny points around the room. "...do I break up for firewood and which would cost me half of my winnings?"
Nik starts and then laughs looking around. "I'll make sure that the woodpile is replenished immediately and the chimney inspected." Since Penny is wearing his dress shirt from the evening before he just pulls on his trousers and walks down to where Penny is standing. "But it's not something you have to worry about. Do you see that mirror?"
Penny glances at the full length mirror that is next to the hall closet. "Yeah?"
Nikolas walks over to it and presses a point along the edge making sure that he is standing out of the way so that Penny can see exactly where he is placing his fingers. With a click and then a silent swing the mirror swings in revealing a tunnel. "It goes to..." Nik has to think about it for a minute and makes a tracing movement with one finger. "...the solarium. So when the weather is inclement, travel is possible between here and the house without getting your feet wet. I'm sure Mrs. Lansbury has already checked all the lighting along the tunnel."
"Already? Nobody knew I was moving in. It was decided last night right?" Penny asks suspiciously.
"No nefarious plot." Nik holds up both hands in surrender. "Mrs. Lansbury takes care of everything where the house is concerned. I'm sure that would include lights in the tunnel and making sure..." He sniffs the air. "Oh yes. Mrs. Lansbury strikes again." He walks away from the open tunnel entrance and follows his nose across the cabin, taking Penny by the hand as he passes her.
"What?" Penny trails after Nikolas into the rustic kitchen.
Nikolas pulls the scones out of the oven where they'd been keeping warm and hits the switch on the coffee maker without even looking to see if there are water or grounds. "Scone?" He offers her the basket. Then he keeps looking around until he spies it. "Ah!" He hands the note over to Penny not bothering to read it and already suspecting what is within.
Penny takes another bite of scone and then sets it down brushing the crumbs from her fingers and then taking the note reads it aloud. "Welcome Ms. Cuivre, Master Stefan informed me that you'll be staying at the hunting cabin indefinitely. The launch pilot was dispatched this morning to retrieve your personal items from the Summer house but I will need the key to your storage facility. Miss Tasha did overhear of your moving to the island this morning so a visit from her is probably imminent although Master Stefan did catch her before she could enter the tunnels and reminded her that you would be up to the house for lessons at a more reasonable hour before going down to Albany with Master Nikolas this afternoon for business.... Is this lady a housekeeper or a personal secretary for everyone on the island?!"
"Yes." Nikolas grins. "Okay so it looks like you've been tasked: key to the storage unit, list of anything you need around here, lessons with Tasha and my uncle in the morning, flying to Albany with me this afternoon."
"It would be a three hour trip one way even in the jag." Nikolas reminds practically. "Little more than an hour by plane and most of that would be spent taxiing at the airports."
"I can't ask you to do that." Penny shakes her head. "This is just too much."
"You would think that but..." Nikolas sees the larger envelope that is also on the counter this one with his name on it. "Yes, just as I suspected." He unwinds the string holding the envelope closed. "My itinerary for today as well." He pulls Penny into the circle of his arm so that he can read over her shoulder. "You'll notice that it's been amended so that I am conducting Cassadine Industries business at the State Capitol today as well. In his own way, my uncle is very... frugal. And Mrs. Lansbury takes her cues from him."
"There is no way that you could have arranged..." Penny grabs the list from the counter and scans it. "...to see two state senators and director of economic development overnight!"
"I've known you were going to have to go over to Albany for how long?" Nikolas reminds. He shrugs. "They are mainly PR visits anyway. If they end up getting rescheduled it's no hardship for either party. The actual work has been done via phone, fax and modem. Coffee?" Nik turns around to where the pot has just finished dripping and reaches for two coffee mugs.
"Yeah. I guess."
"You missed some excitement last night." Capelli tells Taggart as he plants himself in the perp chair next to Taggart's desk.
Taggart keeps entering information into his computer. "Oh?"
"Pulled in Faith Roscoe. See if anything would shake loose about the Matthews disappearance."
"Has anyone reported her missing finally?" Taggart asks wryly.
"Well not her brother or his muscle. They're being tight lipped same old, same old." Capelli shrugs. "Her father, Mike Corbin, isn't quite up to The Code, I guess, where his little girl is concerned."
"And Faith Roscoe just strolled on in here easy as pie?" Taggart raises a brow at that.
"Yeah, didn't feel right to me either." His eyes narrow. "So why did she? She was making a big deal about how cooperative she was being all she wanted was her attorney-- Ric Lansing."
"Ric Lansing isn't her attorney. Dara Jensen has been handling her legal work since Justus Ward left town and went back to Philly." Taggart hits enter on the computer and leans back in his chair.
"Oh really. Doesn't that just make it a little more interesting. She was real clear that she wanted Ric Lansing. Had Spencer search the party for him, stopped by his place, called his girlfriend and woke her up. Roscoe wasn't saying a damn thing until he was there and left without saying anything when we couldn't find him. Slick. So why would Widow Roscoe want to make sure that Lansing didn't have an alibi? Guess that is the question along with where were you last night?"
"Night off-- left the pager at home." Taggart ducks the question.
Seeing that his buddy isn't going to be more forthcoming, Capelli changes the subject. "What are you working on?"
"The Cassadines are reporting a bunch of jewelry stolen. They don't know when it happened. It was discovered while doing a routine inventory for their insurance that somebody has sticky fingers."
Capelli whistles. "How much?"
"Insured value about $24 million. Figure there will be a hell of a finder's fee on that one." other than you have to go thru Helena Cassadine to get the jewelry back but this is a hell of a lot cleaner than putting a bounty on that crazy old woman's head. "I've entered it into the FBI data base as well as Interpol. The kind of gems we're talking about here is gonna light up the network like a Christmas tree. If they haven't been fenced already we'll be able to nab the perp. Cassadines aren't interested in the insurance they want the jewels back... evidently they're heirlooms."
Capelli's cell phone rings. "Yeah, it's Capelli. I'm on my way." He slams the phone shut.
"What is it?" Taggart asks.
"General Hospital. Courtney Matthews has been brought in. Looks like she is suffering from a concussion, exposure and a sprained wrist."
"Who brought her in?"
"Oh you'll love this. Jason Morgan." Capelli grimaces. "Bet he shuts her up tight."
"I'll meet you over there; I have to make some calls." Taggart waits until Capelli leaves before reaching for his phone. "Yeah, everything is set up for the FBI and Interpol to throw out their nets. If she's traveling on the gems this should give something a little more recent than a sighting two months ago in Monaco."
Tasha sighs again and gives Stefan a sidelong glance as he hangs up the phone.
Stefan ignores his sister refusing to give into her foray into martyrdom. Although she appears rather advanced for her mental age. It took Nikolas to his teenage years to develop the put upon sigh to such good advantage.
"I don't see why I can't go see Penny! Nikolas did! It's not fair!" Tasha can't hold it in any longer and bursts out with her complaint in machine gun fashion.
"Penny will be coming up to the house to do her lessons with you. Nikolas will not be." Stefan reaches for another section of the paper and works on ignoring the tantrum that is about to erupt.
"Fine! Then Nikolas can't go swimming with us! Or do lessons either!"
"Moderate your tone, Natasha. I will not be yelled at because you are displeased with my decision." Stefan says sternly. "You had Mr. Marcus over last night to keep you company while Nikolas and I attended to business over in Port Charles. If this is the way you are going to act the day after you have friends over I will reconsider allowing it in the future."
"You're MEAN and I HATE you!" Tasha runs out of the room pushing right by Nikolas who she gives a shove just for good measure.
"What was that about? Where is she going?"
"Probably to call her friend, Zander, to rescue her from our evil clutches." Stefan shakes his head. "I have discovered that my sister has a skill for drama. She must have inherited it from her mother."
"Or yours." Nikolas suggests wryly.
About an hour later after their normal morning lesson in the pool, Penny starts doing laps along the length and Tasha along the width of the shallow end using a kick board and practicing her flutter kick and breathing. The board soon gets in the way and Tasha starts just keeping her arms out straight in front of her flat on top of the water so she knows when she hits the wall. There had been a few times when she'd felt the whoosh of water underneath her and known that Penny had dove under her and continued on with her lap. Finally Penny comes to a halt. "How many did you do?" She pants.
"A lot. How many did you do?"
"Don't know." Penny smiles. "Just kept going until I was tired. I think you might have to pull me out of the pool."
Tasha takes her seriously and starts tugging Penny toward the ladder at the corner of the pool. Penny allows her feet to float out from underneath her and just drifts along floating on her back with her eyes closed. "Are you okay?" Tasha worries.
"Shh. I'm sleeping." Penny cracks a grin and opens her eyes. "We should have your Uncle do our classes down here."
"He won't let anyone bring books down by the pool." Tasha sighs. "And I have to be nice to him or he won't let Mr. Marcus come over anymore. And Zander is mad at me too. I called him and told him how mean Stefan is being. He doesn't like Mr. Marcus at all and thinks that Stefan should keep him away from the house."
"You are having a bad day." Penny agrees with a nod. She climbs out of the pool and wraps a towel around her waist. She runs her hands thru her short hair combing it into some semblance of order while squeezing out the pool water.
"The worst." Tasha agrees dramatically.
"I am expecting the two of you in my study in twenty minutes: changed and with your notebooks." Stefan calls down from one of the parapets that overlook the pool area.
"Busted." Penny looks at Tasha and then shrugs. "See you in twenty." She races across the back property toward the hunter's cabin. Tasha races off toward the house and up to her room.
Nikolas strides into the Port Charles Hotel and up to the front desk clerk. The desk clerk is on the phone and holds up one finger to Nikolas silently requesting his patience. "Yes, ma'am. I'll have that brought right up. Yes, ma'am I've made sure that all your messages are being held except for your family. Yes, ma'am. I've notified housekeeping that you want chocolates from the Hawaiian Chocolate Factory rather than mints on your pillows. Yes, yes I'll have them flown in directly." Finally the desk clerk hangs up with a sigh of relief.
"I'm sorry." Nikolas shakes his head.
"No, sir, I'm sorry. How may I help you?"
"No really. I'm sorry for inflicting Ms. Kerinan on you."
"Ms. Kerinan has been an ideal guest." The clerk indicates with honest bewilderment.
"Then who was that if it wasn't Lydia?" Nikolas indicates the phone with a wave of his hand.
The clerk bites his tongue and then can't resist. He hisses in a low voice leaning over the counter. "Ms. Tracy Quartermaine. She checked in last night. The night manager has already quit. The chef will be next I just know it. You used to work with Mr. Ashton. He has to help us."
"What do you think Ned can do?" Nikolas asks not without sympathy.
The clerk sighs and his shoulders slump. It's nothing but the truth. All they could hope for is that either Ms. Tracy wormed her way into her parents good graces and moved out to the mansion. Or that she is kicked out of town all together. "What may I help you with today, Mr. Cassadine?"
"Please bill all of Ms. Karenin's charges to the Cassadine Estate." There is now a running tab going between the Estate and The Port Charles Hotel because no face to face business can be conducted on Spoon Island with Tasha there.
"I'll make a note of it, Mr. Cassadine."
"Where is Ms. Karenin now?"
"I believe she is in The Grille, sir."
"Thank you." Nikolas taps the counter and then goes to The Grille that is set up with the daily Breakfast Buffet with it's made to order omelets. He spies Lydia having breakfast with... AJ Quartermaine.
Stefan had learned early on to keep Penny and Tasha on opposite sides of the study when lessons are in session. Both attended to their lessons with all due diligence but Natasha has an unsettling tendency to erupt into a fit of giggles at seemingly random times.
"It's too much!" Penny shoves her notebook away. "I can't go to Albany! I can't do this."
Stefan stands behind her, placing a hand on the back of her chair. "Break it down. The budget percentages are exactly the same." He says both soothingly and matter of factly.
"It's a million dollars." Penny protests. "I'm already breaking it down. It isn't even the whole thing."
"Break it down again." Stefan retorts. "Month by month, just fill in the dollar amounts to your percentages. This is not a process that requires thought-- merely skill with a calculator."
"I'm not exactly spending 35% of my income on housing now." Penny mutters. But she starts punching in numbers anyway 83,333 per month times 35% equals $29,166 and change. Penny enters the number in her budget.
"Then save it for a down payment when you find a place you prefer." Stefan replies. "Once you have your monthly numbers focus on your charitable contributions. You gave ten percent before winning the lottery."
"Hundred thousand dollars a year." Penny mutters. "I'm giving away more money than I've made before in my whole life." $8333 a month. "Well I know what to do with the first month, I owe Nikolas for taking me to the Ward House for that Fundraiser last night."
"You were at our table." Stefan disagrees. "If you hadn't attended the seat would have been empty."
"But it's still a good cause, and I don't have to think about it. It'll give me a little breathing room if I at least have this month picked out." Penny finishes entering her figures and opens the notebook to the section on charities. Stuffed into a folder, are all the potentials from her mail including the three that Natasha had found. Penny uses the laptop to investigate each of the charities using the list of questions that Stefan had given her to ask about each potential. The questions are so pointed: what percentage of donations go to overhead? what percentage of donations go to the top person's salary? And the questions got pickier from there. But the digging is interesting. There are a few charities that she'd always given to in the past that wouldn't pass muster with Stefan Cassadine.
Once he sees that Penny is back on task, Stefan moves over to check on Natasha who is working on her own math exercises. He taps an exercise over her shoulder. With a put upon sigh, Natasha starts erasing and doing it over again.
Nikolas sits down at Lydia's table after AJ excuses himself to go into the office. "Another potential marriage candidate?"
Lydia shrugs and then leans in to talk confidentially. "You might have told me that he was one of The Quartermaines and not just a government drone. For Goodness Sake! His place card at the fundraiser said Building Commission. What on earth is a Building Commission?"
"Perfect positioning for a grassroots political campaign." Nikolas sighs. "AJ has had political aspirations in the past. Did you happen to read the complimentary Port Charles Herald delivered to your room this morning?"
Lydia rolls her eyes.
"I thought not. If you had you would have seen that AJ ramroded the Ward House fundraiser and introduced the keynote speaker. I guess that will teach you to be nicer to the little people." Nik suggests wryly.
"Is that what you are doing with your little pet project?" Lydia asks snidely. The look that Nikolas gives her has her biting her tongue one quip too late.
"I feel some responsibility for your grandfather's sudden fatal decline in health, Lydia, and your current financial straits-- but not much." Nik states flatly. "And the only responsibility I feel is as the Head of the Cassadines. My personal life is not of your concern, whatever my grandmother's intentions. We are taking steps to insure that she is not a threat to you or anyone else. My responsibility to you ends on the day she is no longer a threat. I suggest you apply yourself to making the best use of that very limited time to better your situation."
"Ouch." Lydia winces dramatically. "Guess you told me." She shrugs. "I can count on you for... introductions."
Nikolas nods. "And I can count on you to notify me if my grandmother should have any contact with you-- any." Nik emphasizes.
"Oh yes." Lydia nods. "You'll be the first one I call."
"So... tell me about AJ Quartermaine. And didn't I see Jasper Jacks at that little fundraiser last night as well? Oh wait. Ned Ashton-- doesn't he live in this little berg?"
"Yes, you did. And Ned's off the market." Nikolas grins. "You don't want to tangle with his wife." He glances down at his watch. Enough time on this. He has to pick up Penny at the Elm Street pier; they have appointments in Albany.
Capelli and Taggart walk together back into the PCPD. Their shifts are about done for the day and as with any day spent cleaning up the messes left by anything concerning Sonny Corinthos it has been a frustrating waste of time.
"I called that one." Capelli runs a hand thru his hair and wonders if he still has that bottle of Excedrin in his locker. "Wish I would have been wrong. It would have been like winning the lottery to finally get something on that bunch."
"Yep, shut Courtney Matthews up tight." Taggart agrees. "No real surprises there. Even if we'd gotten to her first, I doubt that she would have said anything. Big Brother already has her indoctrinated. Concussion, exposure, sprained wrist-- yeah, she was out hiking and fell down an abandoned mine shaft."
"Hiking over thirty miles out of town with no car, or pick up point. She must have teleported out to those woods."
"Oh that's too logical. You can't ask that question." Taggart says sarcastically. Taggart gets comfortable in his chair. All he has to do is check his messages and he is done for the day.
Capelli pulls up the perp chair again. Even though they'd never get a conviction, hell they'd never get an arrest it felt better to at least mentally know what happened, to piece it together. "So Roscoe's widow puts a neon sign on Lansing. Matthews falls down a mine shaft in the area of some mines owned by..."
"Lansing." Taggart nods.
"Lawyer Lansing is nowhere to be found last night when his client is looking for him but we find him this afternoon at his apartment and he's looking in need of medical attention himself."
"I'm thinking stairs. Couple flights. Maybe repeatedly." Taggart says cheerfully.
"Oh no." Capelli disagrees sarcastically. "I'm sure he just slipped in the shower. It is the most dangerous room in the house."
"I thought that was the kitchen. Oh wait-- that would only have been if he ended up with some nice knife wounds in him." Taggart gets serious. "You on board with the idea that Lansing grabbed Matthews for some reason, Sonny beat the location out of him and Quarterbrain brought her into the hospital for a checkup."
"That plays. But it doesn't explain Widow Roscoe being so helpful." Capelli looks for the weak link and then it dawns on him. He starts shaking his head and makes eye contact with Taggart.
Together they come up with the answer at the same time. "Fowler."
Taggart continues with a nod. "Just need to figure out why Lansing has such a hard on for Sonny Corinthos that he would try to escalate the war between Sonny and the Widow by taking out her pitbull. And when that didn't work he snatched Sonny's sister and laid a trail back to Faith?! I'm feeling played. Are you feeling played?"
"I am really feeling played." Capelli agrees. "And I really hate that feeling. I think I'm going to be taking a closer look at Mr. Ric Lansing, he's not adding up to what he appears to be." Capelli hauls himself out of the chair. "But that's tomorrow. You out of here?"
"Yeah, not far behind." Taggart waits for Capelli to head toward the lockers before he picks up the phone. "Gia, I need a little research, keep it quiet but I need to know everything about Ric Lansing. I know I'm the cop. But you're the budding lawyer wannabe. I want this guy's resume. Look you do this for me and I'll tell Mom you're dating a doctor. That should be good for what... three, four weeks of peace and quiet?! Yeah, yeah-- I know Mom loves you best now that you are in law school. So how about this... you do it or I tell Mom you're dating a thug who has been on trial for murder and kidnapping? Yeah, I thought you'd see things my way."
"Tired?" Nik brushes the back of his hand against Penny's cheek.
"It's been a bizarre day. You know it's a bizarre day when the most normal thing about it was having lessons with your uncle in his study." Penny replies with a sigh. She angles herself on the seat of the launch so that she is looking at Nikolas. "I feel like I've signed my life away."
"I know that feeling." Nik agrees. He takes Penny's hand and threads his fingers in her hers. "That's the way I felt when my Uncle left the last time, to go to Europe after handing over the reins of The Estate to me. I always knew it was going to happen eventually but I thought it would be later. It won't be so bad." He says reassuringly.
"Oh that's right you were in the back room when the little impromptu press conference was held. Won't be so bad. HA!" Penny snorts. "I think I'm still half blind from the flashbulbs and I can't believe the questions they were asking!"
"You did fine. It's over with. Now it can process into being old news." Nik says soothingly. The launch pulls into the docks with barely a ripple. Nik gives Penny a hand up onto the dock. The conversation is put on hold until they reach the top of the stairs. "Did you want to be alone or?"
"Would you mind?" Penny inquires.
"It's not problem. I know you have to process things. I'll just walk you to the cottage." You're an idiot, Nikolas Cassadine. Why did you even ask the question?
"No, I mean would you mind staying. I know I probably won't be that great of company but if I'm by myself I'm just going to worry this to death."
"Oh. No, of course I don't mind." Yes! Nikolas releases a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. The quiet between the two of them is a little easier. Nik takes Penny's key from her and unlocks the door to the hunting cabin flipping on the light and standing aside handing her back the key.
"Thanks." Penny comes into the cabin and then comes to a sudden stop. "Oh my gawd." She looks around the room.
"I believe Mrs. Lansbury has delivered the contents of your storage unit and the rest of what was at the Summer house." Nikolas realizes.
"Wow." Penny looks throughout the rest of the small lodging. "I never knew my stuff could look so good!"
"I never knew that the Cassadine stuff could look so comfortable." Nik counters wryly. "It seems to be a good mesh."
"Who would have ever believed?"
Looking around the Summer house there is evidence that someone had been there recently, the house is spotless but has the smell of occupation rather than the musty smell of disuse. A disappointment-- although there is no one here now. Perhaps it can still be of use.
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