“You can stand there, look me in the eye, and tell me you’ve got squat?”
Taggert narrowed his eyes as he stood, arms crossed, refusing to be shut out.
“Don’t insult me.”
Sonny stared Taggert down, his fingers flexing away from the dark green mug held cradled in his hands. It was his fourth shot of coffee since dawn.
“Like I said, I got a lot, but nothing that can be moved on...yet. Nothing one hundred percent concrete.”
His hands wrapped themselves back around the warmth, seeking to stave off the ill effects of all the blessed caffeine running through his veins. He was awake, he was functioning…he just had to keep clear and focused to last this final stretch.
“Hmm. Nothing concrete.” Taggert repeated, his tone tinged with sarcasm. He moved past Sonny to the bar, where he poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot that Johnny made sure to keep full. Sonny watched, his mistrust of this man unyielding like an invisible stone in his shoe. He just couldn’t shake it out.
“So, you’re telling me that with the 48 hours of time you’ve had, with the endless supply of money you’ve offered up, the bottom line is…all Sonny’s horses and all Sonny’s men couldn’t bring Alexis back home again?”
Taggert turned to Sonny with a hardened face, only to see Sonny staring blankly into the reflective circles dancing in his cup. He was as Taggert had never seen him before. He didn’t understand that the hell Sonny’s problem was, but he wasn’t about to let Alexis twist on account of it. He raised his own cup.
“Congratulations, well done, and on behalf of she who is about to die, I SALUTE you!”
Sonny rose in a flash, hurling his mug at the door. The shards of clay ricocheted off the wood like a mossy sunburst, coming to rest against the wet stream that quickly spread across the floor. Taggert glanced back at the mess, quite pleased at his success. Provoked with deliberate malice, Corinthos had finally sprung back to life. Taggert turned back to find Sonny standing in front of him, face still expressionless, voice still silent.
"I’ll tell you what,” Taggert began, “Why don’t we start with something simple, like what Sorel said last time you talked. When he rejected your ‘Zander does Switzerland’ idea. I’d consider that ‘concrete’ enough…for now.”
“Don’t push your luck Taggert. Besides the fact that you’re really pissing me off, I’m under no obligation to you.”
“No, not to me you’re not. But what about Alexis? Why can’t you just pull your head out from up your hind quarters, put your grossly inflated self-importance on the shelf and concentrate on your obligation to HER!”
Taggert’s voice grew soft, in spite of himself, at the brief look that crossed Sonny’s face from the mention of her name. “This is about her, not you and me. We both know Alexis doesn’t have the time to waste, so let’s not waste it.”
There was a long silence. Taggert took it as Sonny’s form of a reluctant agreement.
“What, exactly, did Sorel say?”
Sonny gazed at the floor, at the glistening coffee web that had formed at Taggert’s feet.
“He told me what I could do with my offer. He’d told me what he wanted and it still stood. Zander for Alexis, no exceptions, no deviations…he wants what he wants.”
“Did you talk to her?”
“He said that she was asleep. I pushed it. I heard rustling, heard him telling her to wake up and that she needed to talk to me. She said my name – she sounded groggy – then she asked me where I was.”
Sonny’s brow creased in a slight grimace. He pushed two fingers against the space between his brows, where his pulse began to throb.
“Sorel took the phone away from her, then said my time was running out. That the clock was ticking in more ways than one.”
Sonny abruptly turned and headed toward the kitchen. Taggert’s eyes followed him.
“That was it?” He waited in silence. Sonny returned, several towels in hand.
“That was it.” He kneeled to the ground and began to clean the sticky floor, carefully sifting out the sharp bits of green. As he reached for the broken handle, something halted him.
“And nobody laid claim to the next communication?”
Taggert’s words sailed over Sonny’s head unheard, drowned out by the memory of Alexis’s voice telling him to be careful not to cut himself. When did she say that? He remembered: he'd shattered a glass when she told him of Sorel’s making bail. Sonny smiled, a strange sense of surety surging through him. Was this some kind of divine pattern? His fury...a smash, and she was gone. His fury...a smash, and she’d be home. Full circle…
“HEY! Corinthos, what the hell is wrong with you?”
Sonny heard him. “What”
“I asked if anyone laid claim to the next move?”
“No need. It’s clearly mine.”
“And your plan is…what?”
Sonny rose and dropped the wet towels and broken pieces into the wastebasket under the desk. Wiping his hands on the last clean cloth, he eyed Taggert with suspicion.
”My plan IS…to NOT allow you to take what I have and give it to your bungling colleagues so you can all make a big, noisy, promotion-grabbing show of trying to nail Sorel, and get Alexis killed in the process.”
Sonny dropped the towel to the floor, moving it over the last traces of the dampness with his foot.
“Don’t be an ass Corinthos! I haven’t told anyone else about this because you’re right, I DON’T know who’s really clean. And like I said last night, we ARE on the same side this time, whether you believe me or not! Would you leave the damned floor alone? What the hell is wrong with you?” Taggert snapped.
Sonny stopped, picked up the dirty cloth and dropped it into the full wastebasket. He slowly raised his eyes to Taggert.
“I suggest you watch your mouth Taggert. See, right now I’m about a hair away from snapping the neck of pretty much anyone in my line of vision. This is NOT a time to mess with me, trust that. So any mindless distraction that keeps my hands to myself is something for which you, in particular, should be grateful.”
He took a step back, needing to put some distance between them. “Now why don’t you tell me what YOU'VE come up with, if anything. You show me yours, then MAYBE I’ll show you mine.”
Taggert’s jaw tensed. He did his damnedest to push his contempt for this man aside, knowing full well that Corinthos wasn’t going to give anything up on faith – not before Taggert gave it up first. He nodded, working his jaw back and forth to loosen it.
“I have a source, one who’s been extremely reliable. He says there’s been some heavy foot traffic, both day and night, in a small section of the industrial area downtown. We think that’s where she’s likely being held.”
Sonny laughed. “And you think I haven’t found this much out already?”
Taggert sighed heavily, then continued. “There’s one guy in particular, a big, hulking hard-to-miss kind of guy. Word is he’s Sorel’s latest rookie. His name’s Thomas something or other. I’m expecting a call with a last name any time now. From there, I can get an address, trail his movements, let him lead me to Sorel and/or Alexis.”
Taggert looked up at Sonny. “Check. You got a ‘checkmate’?”
“Are you likening this to a game Taggert? Games are how Sorel operates! Don’t you DARE reduce Alexis to that kind of insignificance! She’s worth ten of you! She’s worth…she’s…”
A steady, stabbing pain had grown in Sonny’s head, right between the eyes. He squeezed them shut, his hand springing up to shield them from any intrusion of light.
He fumbled for the desk, jerking the drawer open. Taggert took a step forward.
“What do you think?” Sonny snapped. His hand found the bottle of aspirin, now nearly empty. He tossed the opened bottle back, washing the pills down with water. Taggert waited for Sonny to complete what had become at least a thrice daily ritual.
Taggert’s voice was calm, gentle. He no longer sought to incite, but to move ahead.
“You are in one serious state of overload, and I’m afraid you misunderstand me. I KNOW what she’s worth, Sonny. Do you think I wouldn't do anything in my power to see Alexis home, safe? I meant no disrespect. I simply meant to toss you the ball. I showed you mine – your turn.”
Sonny slowly opened his eyes, avoiding Taggert’s view. He nodded his head, trusting now that Taggert was telling the truth. They were on the same side.
“I’ve got one of Sorel’s men targeted as well, but not the one you described. This one’s thin, dark, early twenties, wearing a two-day beard. I have him on tape from the lobby of downstairs. I think he’s likely a runner, and it’s a fact that he’s been with Sorel since Alexis was taken. Sorel’s going to need to try to make…other arrangements to keep Zander from testifying if I refuse the deal. It’s probable that this guy will be going between Sorel and wherever time and again. And I’ve got a man on each block, nobody Sorel knows. They appear homeless, and they’re crawling in and out of every building as we speak. Nobody’ll think twice about them trespassing, looking for a warm, dry place to sleep. Not even Sorel. Someone will see something soon and I will be there, ready, when they do.”
“WE will be there.”
Sonny shrugged. “Whatever.”
A knock on the door drew both men’s full focus.
Johnny opened the door, a small padded envelope in his hands. He hesitated before approaching Sonny, giving Taggert a wary look.
“What have you got Johnny?”
Johnny handed Sonny the envelope. Sonny’s full name was scrawled across it in large, black letters.
“Where was it?”
“Same as the other.”
“Did you check the tape?”
“It’s being pulled right now. I called Francis right away. He and a few others are out there right now, combing the immediate vicinity of the building, but I said I’d call him if the tape shows someone different. Until then they’re looking for the same guy as before.”
“Good. Good work Johnny.”
Johnny nodded. He glanced at Taggert with a look that clearly mirrored Sonny’s mistrust. Taggert smiled broadly, which made Johnny’s eyes turn to slits. Taggert returned his attention to the package in Sonny’s hands.
“He’s sent you something before, I take it.”
“He sent Alexis’s scarf, stained with blood.” Sonny’s hands fought to keep from shaking as he held Sorel’s latest souvenir.
“You gonna open it, or just try to guess?”
Johnny shot Taggert another look to kill, the reached out to touch the edge of the envelope with his finger. “Boss, you want me to…”
Before he could finish, Sonny had ripped the tab from end to end. He locked eyes with Johnny as he slid his hand inside, then pulled a small folded piece of paper into the open. He unfolded the note with one hand, studying the two words that marked it.
“The clock is ticking in more ways than one.” Taggert repeated. “Isn't that what he said?”
“Sonny?” Johnny shifted his weight, the anxiety building in him. He needed to know.
Sonny handed the note to Taggert, then slipped his hand back between the taunting folds of brown paper. As his fingertips made contact, he registered a vague recognition…or maybe denial. Johnny watched Sonny’s face turn ashen as the envelope fell to the floor, a plastic syringe left held in Sonny’s trembling hand.
Taggert released a long-held breath while Johnny simply stared. Before anyone had mind enough to speak, Sonny pulled the plunger free and touched the end of it to his fingertip. The small golden brown spot it made was brought up to his mouth. As his tongue gingerly touched it, Sonny’s other hand closed tight around the syringe, his face contorting in the hottest of rages he’d ever known.
Taggert’s blood ran cold. He knew, but he still asked.
“Heroin?” His voice caught in his throat.
The room spun as Sonny slowly turned his back to them, afraid of losing all control. Or was he afraid that he wouldn’t?
“WHAT?” Zander stood, unnoticed in the open doorway.
Sonny swung around, shocked at Zander’s sudden intrusion. “Get back inside!” He yelled.
“Are you saying he’s shooting her up with heroin?” Zander charged up to Sonny.
“I SAID, get back inside, NOW! This is NOT your concern!”
“The HELL it’s not!” Zander yelled. “Forget it Sonny! It’s OVER!”
Zander stormed out to the elevator, smacking the button with his fist.
“Damnit Zander!” Sonny charged after him, grabbing him by the collar. Zander jerked away and shoved Sonny back, hard.
“NO! It’s over! Sorel WANTS me, he’s GOT me!”
The elevator door opened and a four-way struggle ensued. Zander was dragged kicking and screaming into Sonny’s apartment.
“Are you people crazy! How can you let him do this to her? Just let me go! I’m not worth it!”
“Zander, shut the hell UP! LISTEN to me!” Sonny was inches from Zander’s face as Taggert held the kid back.
Zander was panting, tiring in his struggle. His eyes blazed with fury, but he looked from one man to the other and knew there was no way to win. He relented, allowing Sonny to speak.
Sonny looked to Taggert, trying to convey a silent message, then locked his eyes with Zander’s. He placed his hands firmly on Zander’s shoulder and swallowed hard before speaking.
“You’re right, Zander. The rules have changed. We can’t wait any longer. We have to get Alexis now. And we have to use you to do it.”
“Good. Then let me go.” Zander’s face was resolute.
Sonny stepped back, looking the kid up and down. He smiled slowly, his eyes shifting to Taggert's. They were clearly on the same page.