In the early morning quiet, Nikolas Cassadine and his father Stefan sat at the large oaken table finalizing the details of that evening's celebration. There had been no customary horseback ride across the island for either man. Each had been determined to handle any last minute decisions personally.
"How have you managed to coordinate these events so many years, Father? I am certain that there are governments who have not had to make the amount of decisions that we have made thus far today."
"It has been a labor of love, my son," Stefan replied.
"Good morning, my loyal subjects!" Andresj' strode into the room, pausing to bow to the sound of imaginary applause.
"You are certainly in a fine mood this morning," Stefan observed.
"Why shouldn't I be? I am young, rich, incredibly handsome, and for the rest of the day the most important Cassadine on the face of the planet."
Nikolas shook his head in mock dismay. "He will be insufferable today, Father."
"We are not amused," Andresj' quoted in his most regal voice. Turning to Stefan, he raised an eyebrow and commanded, "Serve me. I grow hungry."
At Stefan's blank stare and lack of response, Andresj' shrugged and remarked, "You can't blame a guy for trying . . . So, what's on the schedule for today?"
Justus Ward stood on the balcony of his penthouse apartment and watched the city come alive. The morning air brushed across his bare chest, causing him to stretch out his arms in wordless tribute to the scene before him.
"You don't do that often enough," came the comment from behind him. Keesha Ward smiled at the sheepish expression on her cousin's face as he whirled around. "You never just let yourself go anymore, Justus. I miss that."
"I grew up, Little Bit," he said, as he grabbed a t-shirt from a nearby chair and pulled it over his head. "It happens."
Narrowing her eyes, Keesha corrected him. "No, you became a Quartermaine. That is what happened."
Justus extended his hand toward her. After a moment's hesitation, she placed her hand within his. "Let's not argue about the choices I made," he pleaded. "I don't want to spend another two years alienated from you. Can we start this conversation over?"
Keesha squeezed his hand. "Of course. I didn't come here to talk about the Quartermaines anyway." She took a seat at the table and poured herself a glass of juice. "I'm here to make sure you haven't forgotten about tonight."
"I haven't forgotten. Tell me again why I am attending?"
"You're going because Alexis invited you, and because you know that Andresj' has donated a lot of his time helping out at Ward House," Keesha explained. "So pick me up at six."
"Lex! Glad to see ya, babe!" Luke greeted Alexis Davis as she came through his club's front door. He stood behind the bar polishing shot glasses. "I knew my invitation to tonight's little get-together must have gotten lost in the mail."
"I'm only here to deliver the last of the papers Jason had me draw up."
"Now, see, I'm hurt. I thought you and I had something special happening."
"Normally, Luke," Alexis explained patiently, "I look forward to your sexy innuendo and witty repartee'. But not today. So if you will just sign these papers, I'll be on my way."
Luke scanned the documents. "What's the big hurry? Count Dracula can't come out until sundown. I'm sure that will leave you Cassadines plenty of time to sacrifice a few virgins. Though where you would find any in Port Chuck . . . "
"It's been fun, Luke. As always."
"Anytime, babe. See you tonight."
Stefan sat before the computer's screen, but his thoughts were occupied by details of the upcoming fete. He had been contacted by several European associates who were in the States and wished to attend Andresj's celebration. The men in question were longtime members of his mother's inner circle.
He had left Nikolas and Andresj' on Spoon Island and traveled to General Hospital under the guise of an administrative crisis. He had, in actuality, spent the time listening to reports from several detectives and operatives in his employ.
What was Helena planning?
Stefan was forced to admit that he was unsure of her motives when it came to his younger son. With Nikolas, Helena's agenda had been obvious. Her quest for ultimate power within the family began with the acquisition of the Cassadine Prince - Nikolas. Or so she believed at the time.
Andresj' carried no such reward. Though easily one of the two most precious things in Stefan's life, Helena stood to reap no benefit from embracing him.
Grudgingly, Stefan admitted that Helena's public support of Nikolas had given pause to some enemies who would otherwise have tested Stefan's resolve to protect his firstborn at any cost. If Helena wished to do the same for Andresj', was he wise to prevent it? It would be preferable to deal only with Helena's hidden agendas as opposed to having to watch others from every side. Better the enemy that you know ...
Could Stefan deny him the security that Helena's endorsement guaranteed? Would he allow his distrust of his mother's intentions to put Andresj' at risk from others who might seek to manipulate Stefan? It was a matter he had hoped not to encounter on this day, Andresj's birthday.
Rising from his place at the desk, Stefan walked over to the window. It was time to return to Wyndemere and prepare for the celebration. Security would be extreme, and no one would be allowed on the island without an invitation. Nothing short of nuclear holocaust would alter the security measures Stefan had put into place. He had not only his family to think about, but his guests as well.
The drive from her hotel to Port Charles had taken far longer than Diane had planned. It hadn't helped that the road map she'd used to chart her route was two years out-of-date; a fact she'd realized three turns and forty miles too late. As a result she had been forced to double back to the point where she'd erred.
It was nearly three in the afternoon when Diane finally reached General Hospital. Though she did not immediately spot any available parking spaces, her attention was caught by a shiny black limousine idling across several reserved parking spots. As Diane rolled past the car's tinted windows, she briefly wondered at the impracticality of using such an extravagant vehicle for daily travel. The thought was quickly dismissed as her opportunity to park appeared.
She exited and locked the small rental car, then moved quickly across the parking lot toward the hospital's entrance. Only quick reflexes prevented a collision with a young blond woman exiting the door clearly marked 'Entrance Only'.
"I'm sorry!" she exclaimed. "I know I shouldn't go out this door, but you see my shift ended over an hour ago, and I started talking to my friend -her boyfriend wants to see other people- and I told her that she would be crazy if she agreed to that, and well, I looked at my watch, and a whole hour had passed-"
The young woman inhaled deeply, preparing to continue her tale. Diane took advantage of the pause in conversation to make her escape while she could. "Oh, that is quite alright. Accidents happen," she told the young woman, easing by her into the corridor.
"Then you've come to the right place."
"I beg your pardon?" Diane inquired, stopping to stare at the young woman.
"If accidents happen," the young woman repeated slowly, "then you've come to the right place. You won't find better care than here at GH . . . Did you? Have an accident, that is?"
"No, I was trying to locate someone. Do you work here? Maybe you can help me."
"I can try. Nurse Amy Vining at your service."
"Diane Jennings. And I am looking for Stefan Cassadine. He works here, I believe?"
Amy broke into raucous laughter. "I am sorry. It's just that Stefan Cassadine doesn't work for anyone. The Cassadines are richer than, well, everyone. None of them have to work."
"So you know Mr. Cassadine." Diane breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps her luck was beginning to change. "Would you direct me to his office, please?"
"If you hurry, you might catch him. That's his limousine." Amy pointed toward the idling car that had originally caught Diane's attention. "Maybe if you told me what it was you wanted with him," Amy hedged, openly curious, "I could help you."
"I appreciate the offer," Diane replied. "But this is a personal matter that I would prefer discussing with Mr. Cassadine alone. Now, if you will excuse me . . . "
"Stefan Cassadine?" Diane asked somewhat hesitantly. At the gentleman's impatient nod, she continued. "I am Diane Jennings. I apologize for approaching you in this way, but I really had no choice."
"I am sorry, Miss . . . Jennings, is it? I am rather short on time, and-"
"I know. You probably have plans for your son's birthday tonight. That is why I am here." She paused. "I was his mother's best friend. I guess you could say she sent me."
The statement elicited none of the reactions Diane had anticipated. Stefan showed no reaction at all to her declaration. He stood waiting, head tilted slightly as if in curiosity.
"How, then, may I assist you, Miss Jennings?"
Diane was disconcerted by Stefan's behavior. She'd made the comment about being sent half-jokingly, to break the ice. By there had been no relaxing on his part. Not as far as she could tell, anyway. A handsome man, he stood silently watching her and stroking his goatee. "I'm sorry, Mr. Cassadine," she said. "I have done this all wrong. Would you mind answering a few questions about your son so that I can be sure I have the right person?"
"No, Miss Jennings," Stefan replied. "I do not discuss my family with strangers - no matter what their claim. Good day." Without a backward glance he stepped into the limousine. The driver closed the door firmly behind him, effectively ending any conversation.
" . . . license number 34A345. I want her every movement watched. You have one hour to deliver a full report. No more."
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*General Hospital and its characters are not mine. I make no profit from this. The characters Andresj' Cassadine, and Diane Jennings are my creation.*