The news was clearly devastating.
As Sonny absorbed it, his reaction made it impossible to judge which way the pendulum had swung. Taggert held his breath as Sonny’s response unfolded, his weight falling back against the door in an involuntary release. His legs still held him upright, though the drop in his head and shoulders threatened to take him to the floor. Taggert’s heart was like a jackhammer in his chest. As unnerved as he was about Sorel having Alexis, there was room for Sonny’s emotional state to give a surprisingly strong tug at his focus.
Corinthos was a man purely steeped in surety and stoic strength, one who prided himself on emotions of steel. To watch him crumble beneath the carefully crafter veneer was disturbing, to say the least. That he would allow his sworn and steadfast enemy to not only see it, but see him THROUGH it…Taggert had no frame of reference for this. He was looking someone too damaged to care that they were standing naked. Taggert knew it was insane, but he believed there was, in a way, more reason to fear for Sonny than for her.
Sonny’s head suddenly spring up from its downward hang, sounding a loud ‘crack’ as he threw it back against the door. His eyes were closed, a dimpled smile overtaking his face. His trembling hand clamped against his forehead as he released a sigh of relief. Taggert’s long-held breath finally burst forth from his own lungs. His instincts moved him to turn away from Sonny, giving him room for an unbridled display, to leave him something private. But the next sound of Sonny’s voice swung Taggert around again, eager for inclusion.
“And he’d absolutely certain it was Malloy?” Sonny sighed again, opening his eyes. “Yeah, I’ll bet he stands out. Okay Bennie, you tell Jake to get himself back to that garage and to do exactly as he was told – wait. No, he did right by telling me. Malloy’s most likely afraid of my jumping on him & that’s not going to happen. He doesn’t have to know that I was told. But I want Jake to call me, directly, the MINUTE he’s met with him again. And I want every word of Malloy’s repeated back to be, verbatim. And Bennie – I want everyone else pulled off the streets. If this guy’s really going to double-cross Sorel, I don’t want him spooked. He can’t afford it & neither can we. Yeah, this is good. I’ll talk to you soon.”
Sonny clicked off the phone with his thumb, yet kept it still pressed to his ear as he closed his eyes yet again. Taggert couldn’t stand it anymore.
Sonny smiled and rolled his head against the door in the direction of Taggert’s voice.
“Please tell me someone’s found her.”
Sonny opened his eyes to Taggert’s anxious face. “Thomas Malloy is giving her up.”
Taggert squinted at him. “Malloy’s giving Alexis up?”
“He’s turned on Sorel.”
“Oh man…” Taggert’s eyes rolled back in his head as he turned away from Sonny, rubbing hard at his face with both hands.
Sonny moved to the couch, his mind and body needing to absorb the impact of this rising surge of hope.
“This Malloy, he’s very good. He tracked Jake, who’d been tracking HIM, cornered him in some abandoned garage and said he knew what Jake was looking for…and that he would give it to him.”
Taggert lowered his eyes to the floor. “Sonny…”
“He said that he’d meet him right back there later today, in an hour or two, and told him to keep his mouth shut for now, or she could get hurt.”
“Sonny, are you listening to yourself?” Taggert lifted his eyes, attempting to engage Sonny’s, but Sonny just kept talking.
“He said he wasn’t going to get himself killed…or her.”
“Well doesn’t he just know ALL the right things to say?”
Sonny looked at him, confusion turning to anger. “What is your problem Taggert? Are you ticked off that it wasn’t YOUR guy, YOUR efforts that got us something here?”
Sonny was up off the couch and moving toward Taggert with a glaring face.
"What do you say you take YOUR ‘grossly inflated self-importance’ and put it somewhere – ANYWHERE but here?”
Taggert stared Sonny down, all sensitivity aside. “It’s a SET-UP!”
Sonny’s eyes stared back, a flicker of doubt slowly creeping across his face in the wake of the words that slapped him coldly. Taggert’s voice mellowed, as he carefully stepped through this minefield.
“You’re allowing your…feelings about Alexis to cloud your judgment. THINK, Sonny. Don’t feel, THINK! If this were some stranger that you were trying to save, instead of her, how would you interpret one of Sorel’s men coming to you with the sudden urge to put himself on the bad side of a murderous psychopath who’s got him on the payroll?”
Sonny’s face was unflinching as he took it all in. Finally, without a word, he took a step back from Taggert.
“It is possible. Maybe it’s not likely, but it IS possible. You believe what you want. But I’ve got nothing else, Taggert. I’m holding onto it until I have good reason not too.” Sonny’s hands clenched into fists at his sides.
“Listen to me Sonny. Has Sorel ever done this good a job at keeping you at bay? Has he ever done this good a job at keeping himself and his men under wraps? This is do-or-die time for him, and he’s as serious as a heart attack. He means to win at ANY cost.”
“I’ve already agreed to give him what he wants. He HAS won. Why mess around with trying to set me up? For what?”
Taggert leaned against the back of the couch. “I don’t have to tell you that ambush is Sorel’s favorite mode of attack. And from the look of his recent moves, I believe he’s leading in that direction. That’s all I’m saying.”
“What moves? This Malloy thing - it could be a set-up, I’ll give you that. But what other ‘moves’ are you talking about?”
Taggert shifted uneasily against the couch, reluctant to burden Sonny’s already muddied mind. He loathed having to give breath to what should be crystal clear, had Sonny SLEPT. He finally spoke the one dreaded word.
Sonny just looked at him. Them he turned away. What? What about it?”
“There are all kinds of drugs out there. Why heroin? If all he wanted to do was keep Alexis incapacitated or under control, he could have chosen any number of things.”
Sonny turned back, stammering. “What’s…I…where are you going, Taggert, what’s your point?” The dulling of his own sensibilities was an ongoing battle.
“Heroin is extreme, Sonny. And its intent is specific. If he IS shooting her up, his intent is specific. And even if he’s not, if it IS just a bluff, he knows that the threat of it alone will push you to act.”
The room fell silent. Taggert’s words made sense. That taste of heroin on his tongue, the very IDEA that it was being used to hurt her sent him reeling - reeling toward Sorel with both hands in the air. Sorel had known that it would. Somehow, he knew. Sonny slowly turned, moving to the bar for water to sooth the desert that had become of his mouth.
“It could still be for real, Taggert. What do we know about this Malloy? Anything?”
Taggert shrugged. “Not much. No priors, so there’s not much TO know. I suppose that his having no criminal record is about a hopeful a thing as we’ve got at this point.”
Sonny suddenly turned, his eyes sparkling with something new. “He hit him!”
“What? Who hit who?”
“Malloy. He told Jake that he couldn’t risk being followed from the garage. Then he apologized and cold-cocked him.”
Taggert frowned. “And you think maybe his apologizing means he’s sincere?”
“I think maybe his not wanting to be followed means he’s sincere. If Sorel’s planning to ambush me, wouldn’t he WANT Malloy to be followed? Wouldn’t that be the point?”
Taggert cocked his head thoughtfully. “Well, that’s one way to look at it. Or he could just be testing the waters, seeing if you’ll take the bait. What better way to side-swipe someone than by lulling them into a false sense of security?”
Sonny smiled. “I think you’re giving Sorel too much credit for brains he shows no sign of owning.”
“He owns plenty of ego, and most of it’s been plenty damaged - by YOU. Sorel’s immediate concern may be Zander, but he could have his eye on throwing in a little revenge-slash-ego boosting on the side. If he could take you, your attorney AND Zander all down in a single blaze of glory, his ego would feed off it for a lifetime.”
“Sorel isn’t going to HAVE a lifetime. I thought I made myself clear about that already.”
Sonny picked up the phone, double-checking that it was turned on, then replaced in carefully in the center of the desk. Staring at it, he gave the final word.
“I have a feeling about this one Taggert. We wait for Malloy. Then we go from there”
Thomas felt the eyes over his shoulder as Sorel stood quietly at the foot of the cot, watching Thomas working the thin cotton strips around Alexis’s arm. It hadn’t been easy, and Thomas was leery of Sorel’s marked patience. Alexis was at her weakest point, yet she somehow found a well of energy within her fevered delirium. She’d pushed him away, her voice small and filled with panic as she mumbled and whispered, the only clearly repeated word was “No”.
His own words, whispered to sooth her fell on deaf ears, his gentle touches of the same intent brought anxiety and fear. Getting the aspirin down her throat had been relatively simple, compared to maintaining his hold on her delicate wrist. She was so afraid of touch, even his. He hated to think what demons were suddenly surfacing from deep within her head.
Still, he kept his focus, struggling to keep the gauze in place against her angry skin, firming his hold on her as the long red scrapes etched deep into her arm disappeared beneath the white strips. Sorel observed, unmoving, as if he had no thought of time - as if it was his turn to watch and learn from Thomas.
“I’m sorry for the difficulty, Mr. Sorel. It’s just the fever’s got a hold of her pretty bad.”
Thomas glanced over his shoulder. As he finally released her, his job finished, Alexis turned away from him to curl back up on her side. She crossed her arms tightly into her chest, fingers locking together under her chin as another round of shivers ran through her body. Thomas carefully pulled the blanked back up over her, mindful to keeping off the chill of the room.
“Not to worry.” Sorel's tone was hushed, as his eyes intently drank in the vision of helplessness before them.
Thomas rose from the cot and turned to Sorel, waiting. His eyes wandered down to Sorel’s wrist, to the glint of metal reflecting the naked light above them. He was sure that at least an hour had passed, maybe more. The urgency rose up in him. Sorel was lingering, savoring these last few hours of having this broken woman in the palm of his hands. The distraction on Sorel’s face as he stared down on her made Thomas want to somehow break the harsh silence in the room. He couldn’t read what Sorel was going to do now, and he couldn’t help but wonder if the man in the garage would wait.
“This turn in Miss Davis’s condition presents me with an unexpected opportunity.” Sorel finally broke his silence. “And it couldn’t have been timed more perfectly.”
He smiled broadly, teeth flashing. “Salt in the open wound: it brings some people to their knees.”
Thomas flexed his sore, swollen fingers before curling them back into a hard fist. Sorel’s cryptic words forced his own words from his mouth before his head had time to stop them.
“She’s been brought there already.”
It took a few seconds for Thomas’s remark to register. When it did, Sorel looked up at the clear blue eyes and hard face, then chuckled with a small shake of his head.
“I don’t mean her.”
He pulled the syringe out of his pocket and moved to the table, setting it down. A small sound from Alexis commanded his attention.
“Ow…” Alexis groaned, her body jerking.
Thomas gazed down at the plastic cylinder of amber liquid, the small, innocuous looking vial with such intense repercussions. He took advantage of Sorel’s distraction, opening his brazen mouth yet again.
Sorel turned back to him.
“Are you sure it’s okay to give her another hit right now? I mean, with the fever and all, couldn’t it throw her under the train?”
Sorel narrowed his eyes at Thomas, gleaning the hint of fear now set free. Thomas had looked Sorel boldly in the face, but quickly lowered his eyes down to the floor. He shifted, stammered, making a show of contrition. Sorel clearly enjoyed playing mentor: Thomas would play naive.
“Please forgive me if I’m crossing the line Mr. Sorel, but truthfully, I don’t know much about substances, and…and she’s in a bad way from this infection and all…”
He slowly brought his eyes back up to the silent Sorel. His next tact: the truth.
“You were right before, sir. I’m embarrassing myself by saying this, but…she is, Miss Davis, I mean…well, that thing you said before about beautiful woman and such? I think it does get to me, somewhat, like you said. I’m green, I know. I’ll learn.”
Thomas waited once again. Finally…
“You WILL learn, Thomas. And I do understand these things. But as for that…” he looked down at the syringe lying on the table, “She’s in need right now. If it goes bad, it goes bad. But I’ve honestly never heard of an adverse reaction from someone taking aspirin while on smack.”
Sorel smiled and slapped his hand against Thomas’s arm – again. Thomas wanted to break his hand.
“You need to get yourself a girlfriend is what I think.” Sorel nodded toward Alexis. “One who’s not so skinny. Or taken.”
Sorel pulled out his phone. “Which brings me to the matter of Corinthos, who’s wanting to speak with his attorney one more time before tonight. What Corinthos wants, Corinthos gets.”
A triumphant smile crossed Sorel’s face as he waited for a voice on he other end of the line. Thomas was once again uneasy at the damned looks Sorel assumed, always threatening some new form of deviance.
“Mr. Corinthos! I believe there’s someone here you’d like to speak to. My pleasure. Hold on a moment.”
He pushed a button on the phone and set it on the table, next to the syringe.
“I’ve put us on speaker-phone so I can have my hands free. It’ll be easier for Miss Davis as well. I hope that’s acceptable to you?”
Sonnys voice rang clearly through the phone. It bore no patience.
“Just put her on, Sorel! I want to hear her voice.”
“Whatever you say.”
Sorel leaned down over Alexis, one hand pushing into the mattress on either side of her body. “Miss Davis? Your client would like to hear your voice.”
Alexis showed no response. She simply trembled as her breathing came in a series of sharp intakes.
“Sorry Corinthos. The lady doesn’t seem to want to talk to you.” Sorel smiled in delight at this new way to play with Corinthos’s head.
“I won’t be jerked around Sorel. If you want the kid, I talk to Miss Davis!”
Sorel bristled at Sonny's tone. He suddenly grabbed Alexis by the shoulders and yanked her upright. Thomas felt a jolt go through him as Alexis cried out.
“NO! NO! S-s-stop…don’t…” Her pleas were halting, her voice dry. Her eyes were squeezed shut as she tried in vain to pull out of Sorel’s grasp.
“Alexis! ALEXIS…” The sound of Sonny’s voice shouting her name shut Alexis down. She froze, still and silent but for her shallow panting. She looked like she’d been hit.
Thomas took a step forward, needing to be a close presence for her.
“Alexis?” One more time, Sonny’s voice. Alexis moved her hands up to cover her face, muffling a small cry.
“He’s so angry. I can’t…I’m not…not grown up…” Her body began to rock just slightly, back and forth within Sorel’s hold.
“Alexis? Sorel? What the hell’s going on, what are you doing to her?” Sonny’s voice was decidedly measured, desperate to maintain control of his fury and fear.
Sorel was in his glory. He laid Alexis back down on the cot, wiping the damp tears from her warm cheeks with the back of his hand.
“Miss Davis isn’t feeling very well. And since the sound of your voice only seems to agitate her, I’m going to mute it out. That way, she won’t have to hear you, but you can hear her. And it’s important that you do hear her. You wanted proof that I don’t bluff? Listen up!”
Sorel pushed another button on the phone, cutting off the sound of Sonny’s protestations. Alexis grimaced against another pain in her leg, her hand moving back to the bandaged arm. Sorel picked up the syringe and took hold of her undamaged wrist, pulling her arm back down. She immediately fought against him.
“No…I don’t want to…”
“Shh, it’s okay. This is going to help the hurt, remember? I just want to make you feel good.” He whispered close, tightening his fingers around her arm.
His words flipped a switch in her fevered mind, flooding it with memories buried in a too shallow grave.
“NO…I’m not! I’m not a grown up…I’m not a butterfly…Stavros please…don’t…”
She struggled against Sorel’s hands, against all the hands that had hurt her. Her will was surprisingly strong and it flared Sorel’s anger to be so defied again. He looked to Thomas for help, finding him pale and staring.
Thomas snapped to attention. He pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and dipped it into the glass of water. He laid it across her forehead and tried to weaken her fight.
“It’s okay, Stavros isn’t here. He’s not gonna hurt you. Shhh, don’t be afraid.”
Alexis’s eyes fluttered open, finding his looking down on her. Her breathing grew rapid all over again.
“He will, he always does. I’m going to fall…I just want to fall.”
Sorel took her face in his one hand.
“You won’t fall with me, angel. You'll fly – remember?” Her eyes wandered to his without comprehension. As she stared at him, lost in her own mind, he firmed his fingers around her arm and quickly pushed the needle into her before she could resume her fight. She whimpered again, trying to wriggle away. His hold was strong – the molten flow began its journey within her. She arched her back with the rolling of the tide, the sparks of light dancing behind closed lids.
“It’s hot…too hot.” Her heavy breathing made her voice ragged, low. The flush already borne on her face turned a deeper shade. Her arm slowly dropped out of Sorel’s hands, as leaden as the rest of her limbs.
Thomas pressed a finger to the pulse in her neck, terrified that this time Sorel had pushed her too hard, too far. That he himself had just allowed her to be driven over the edge.
“Mr. Sorel?” There was no answer. Her pulse was strong, but so was his lingering trepidation. He looked to Sorel, who sat blankly staring at Alexis’s exhausted body. He looked almost as spent as she did, though now she’d found some escape. Thomas brushed Alexis’s face gently with his fingertips, then renewed the cool water on the cloth against her head.
“Hey, come on. Open your eyes for me, for just a second, okay?”
Slowly she did, but closed them again in a heartbeat. She smiled and turned her head toward him.
“Atta girl. You rest now.”
“I’m glad it’s you.” She whispered before succumbing to her drowsiness and falling into sleep.
Sorel abruptly rose from the cot without a word. He picked up the phone, pushed a few buttons and put it to his ear.
“I’ll call back later with details. And Corinthos - you wanted to hear her. I suggest you be more careful about what you wish for in the future, because you just might get that too.”