The door opened smoothly, breaking the silence within the tastefully equipped automobile. Inside sat the patriarch of the Cassadine family. Formally dressed and elegant, he quietly awaited his guest.
"Justus," Stefan began, as soon the young attorney settled into the limousine, "I must prevail upon you to assist me. Miss Jennings and I seem unable to communicate."
"The letter you gave me was missing a page. I thought Miss Jennings might be able to direct me to its whereabouts."
"Uh-huh," Justus said slowly. "Let me guess. You very diplomatically accused Diane of withholding your missing page and she got upset. Right?"
"I am neither so crass nor so obvious, I assure you. My inquiries of Miss Jennings contained no hint of accusation or censure." Stefan paused to stare at Justus. "Did I say something humorous?"
The lawyer's even white teeth flashed briefly. "Stefan, I genuinely admire the way you manipulate words!" He shook his head. "Sometimes you remind me of Edward. You are both so accustomed to dealing with people's agendas that you automatically assume that everyone has one."
"Individuals without agendas do not take offense where none is offered."
"Sometimes, Stefan, they do. But that's beside the point right now . . . This page you're missing is important?" Justus asked carefully.
"It is vital. Will you meet with Miss Jennings on my behalf?"
Justus considered the scenery rushing past the tinted windows. "I've taken the ride so far," he remarked pointedly on the fact that the limousine was already headed back toward the Port Charles Hotel. "I'll continue to do so until you give me reason not to."
Every two weeks a plain white envelope arrived at Ward House. Devoid of any markings save the Ward House address, its contents never varied - one crisp, new twenty-dollar bill.
For the people in charge of Ward House's finances, the small anonymous donation had begun about three years earlier. At first there was some curiosity about the identity of the donor and the motives behind the money. After a long discussion, however, everyone involved thought it best to just accept it gratefully. Maybe some day the donor would come forward.
The ballroom was rapidly filling with guests in their evening finery. Various native tongues could be heard throughout the room as old friends and associates reacquainted themselves. Waiters circulated with trays of hors d'oeuvres designed to suit every palate. And expensive champagne flowed as continually as the waters surrounding Wyndemere.
Alexis scanned the crowd and located Nikolas deep in conversation with Elizabeth Webber and Emily Bowen-Quartermaine. Making her way through the crowd of friends and associates, she refrained from eye contact, thereby stalling any attempt to engage her in conversation. "Emily, Elizabeth, you both look lovely tonight," Alexis complimented. "I am glad you could attend."
"I told them a Cassadine bacchanalia was not something they should miss," Nikolas joked. "They might never see such a level of indulgence again."
"This is true. And we should get things started soon." Alexis turned to the two young ladies. "I am sorry, but I need to borrow Nikolas for a few moments."
"That's okay," Emily said, already moving toward the front of the ballroom. "We'll go say ‘hello' to Andresj'."
"Can we go home now, Mac?" Detective Marcus Taggert sighed. "Absolutely nothing has happened since we got here."
The police commissioner lowered the binoculars he'd been using for surveillance and turned to his detective in slight annoyance. "Taggert, you've done nothing but complain. You offered your assistance, remember? What happened to all that dedication to detail you were bragging about?"
"It helps if there are some details worth paying attention to! All we've seen so far is a steady stream of limousines dropping off the rich and famous." He added, sarcastically, "The first few million dollars kinda caught my attention, but-"
"Those aren't just dollars, Marcus," Mac corrected. "They're people. People who deserve our protection no matter what Stefan Cassadine already has in place."
Taggert was properly chastened. "You're right, sir," he began apologetically. "Sometimes I just- Wait a minute, here comes another one." He gestured toward the launch where the latest in a line of limousines was slowly rolling to a stop. Mac looked through the binoculars a moment, then handed them to a curious Taggert. Upon recognizing the limousine's passenger, the detective became animated. "Things are definitely looking up!"
"Do you recognize that guy?"
"Not personally," Marcus replied. "That's Adrian Paul - the Highlander."
"The guy with the sword?"
"Yes, sir. He's one of the people I always wanted to try my skills against. Man, I can almost picture it." Taggert closed his eyes. "Me against MacLeod in an open field overlooking the ocean. Swords flashing-" His eyes flew open with the realization that he had revealed more of himself than he had intended.
Mac considered his detective closely. "You aren't telling me that you know how to handle a sword, Marcus?"
"I took some lessons. A lifetime ago," Taggert shrugged. "I haven't kept it up, though." He handed the binoculars back to the commissioner as a signal that the subject was closed.
Green eyes assessed the reflection in the mirror. Every day it became a little easier to look at the person there. He no longer hated the bits and pieces of his father that he could see in himself. A lot of the resentment he felt toward his wayward father was easing as well. Little-by-little he was erasing his father from his life. He had the counseling sessions to thank for that.
Despite his objections, his mother had left him no choice but to see a therapist. Since he couldn't, or wouldn't, talk to her about what was troubling him, sessions with a psychiatrist were a must. It wasn't so bad, though. From the very first moment he had met Dr. Locke, he knew things would be okay. Contrary to everything he had expected from her, she'd told him that it was okay to hate his father if he'd done something to deserve it. The trick was in making sure the hate didn't stop him from living his life.
At first he'd thought it was reverse psychology, a trick to gain his trust. But it had not taken long to see that Dr. Rachel Locke meant every word she said. And he felt better for accepting the hate he had inside.
The guilt - now that was another situation. Sometimes he felt like it was smothering him. So many times he'd just wanted to cry out, confess that he was the one who had . . . Liar. If he'd really wanted to take responsibility for what he'd done, he could have. Any number of times.
Doctor Locke said that he never had to confess to anyone else what he had done. All that mattered was that he learn to live with his actions and move on. But he couldn't. For every moment he was able to forget, there were ten more to remind him. So he put his guilt to use.
Diane jumped, even though she was expecting the knock that sounded upon her hotel door. She'd called downstairs for hotel management to come and remove the strange man stationed outside her door.
Stefan Cassadine was responsible for his being there. Of that Diane had no doubt. It was the kind of arrogant, high-handed move she had come to expect from him in the short time she'd known him.
"It's about time!" she yelled, throwing open the door.
Justus cocked his head to one side. "You were expecting me?"
"I thought you were hotel management. But I am glad you're here." Diane stepped back to allow him entrance. "Stefan Cassadine has gone too far! Did you see the man standing-" Her voice trailed off. "What is he doing here?" she asked as Stefan entered the room and closed the door behind him.
"Stefan asked for my help, Diane. Can we all sit down and figure out what's going on?"
"What's going on," Diane explained angrily, "is a lack of common courtesy! I have turned my life upside down to come here so that Andresj' would have his mother's letter as a birthday gift. All I have been subjected to since I arrived in Port Charles is suspicion and veiled accusations."
"And I am sorry for that," Justus stated.
"Why should you apologize? You've done nothing but help me since I met you."
Stefan spoke. "Miss Jennings is correct, Justus. I am the one who should apologize. I have not handled this situation with much grace." He could see that Diane had doubts about his abrupt change of attitude. "Miss Jennings, my family is all-important to me. And the safety of my sons is a thing I attend to with utmost diligence. If I have offended you as a result of protecting Andresj', then I would ask that you understand the cause of my behavior." Stefan walked to the table and placed his ever-present leather briefcase atop the clear glass surface. Opening the lid, he withdrew the letter Diane had entrusted to Justus earlier.
"This letter," Stefan said, turning to her, "contradicts everything I have believed to be true where my son is concerned. Indeed, his very paternity is at issue because of its contents. You will understand then why a missing page might be of such concern to me."
"What possible question could there be about Andresj's paternity? You're his father!"
"And that, I think, is the issue," Justus interjected. He had been following closely Diane and Stefan's conversation. Everything had clicked for him the moment Diane stated that Stefan was Andresj's father. "Stefan - and Andresj' for that matter - have believed they were father and son by choice."
Diane looked to Stefan for clarification.
"Andresj' became a member of my household at age three," he explained. "The two people I thought to be his parents had just been the victims of unspeakable violence. As Piotr had long been a faithful employee of mine, it was only right that I provide for his young son."
"But Andresj' has your name!"
"I formally adopted him at age five. He has been my son in every way since."
"So all this time you have had no idea that Andresj' is your biological son?" At Stefan's negative gesture, Diane sat abruptly. "No wonder you thought I was running some sort of scam."
"And now, in light of that missing page, Alyse's letter has presented me with far more questions than answers."
"Mr. Cassadine, I wish I could help you. But the way you got the letter is the way it must have come to me. I did not open it, or the letter Alyse left for Andresj'. Only my own."
"May I see your letters?"
"I only brought one. But if it will help you find some answers, you may read it. I'll get it."
After Diane disappeared into the bedroom, Justus asked, "Would you like me to leave now, Stefan?"
"No," he replied quietly. "I would appreciate your counsel. Stay."
Justus was struck by a sense of deja' vu. Once again he had forged a relationship with someone others thought unapproachable. First Jason Morgan, now Stefan Cassadine. Justus crossed his fingers and prayed that this time his trust would not be misplaced.
*General Hospital and its characters are not mine. I make no profit from this. The characters Andresj' Cassadine, and Diane Jennings are my creation.*