The man looked like he was going to cry.
Sonny smiled at the expression on his face as he tried to contain himself. Johnny, of course, was mortified at his inability to maintain decorum in the wake of his relief. The weight just lifted from their collective shoulders had been far greater for Sonny, yet Sonny had held himself like iron. Johnny had no idea what kind of vital force he’s been in keeping Sonny whole. His quiet, level strength had been a touchstone.
“I’ll go call Francis, have him come watch Zander. I’m going with you.” It was a statement, not a request.
“That goes without saying.”
“Thanks boss.” Johnny glanced quickly at Taggert, giving him a nod of unspoken gratitude for his part in this.
“Johnny – send Zander over for a minute. I need to tell him what’s going on.”
“You want Ashton too?”
Sonny thought a moment. “No. Not yet.”
“Okay.” Johnny was gone.
Sonny turned to see Taggert looking at him with a frown. “What?”
“You didn’t tell him that Sorel’s little package held the truth.” His voice had an admonishing tone.
“He didn’t ask.”
“Did he HAVE to?”
“He didn’t ask because he doesn’t want to know. Not yet. He’s happy, he’s relieved…maybe he just wants to bask in that for a while.” Sonny took a beat.
“Johnny’s a smart man.”
“Seems to be a fairly sensitive one too. No offense.”
“If he comes with us to get her, shouldn’t he be prepared for...however we might find her?”
Sonny didn’t respond. Taggert threw his hands up in the air, surrendering the ball.
“Just a thought. Take it or leave it.”
As Sonny checked his watch one more time, there was a knock at the door. It opened and Zander slipped in.
“Thank you SO MUCH for getting me out of there!”
Sonny frowned. “Is Ashton giving you a hard time?”
“No, not exactly.”
“Well what, exactly?”
Zander looked at Taggert, hesitant. Sonny’s voice reclaimed his attention.
“He’s - he’s just scared, you know? But he’s giving me the creeps. He doesn’t talk, he just…stares. He stares at her glasses that he found in the desk, he stares at the picture of the two of them on the mantle, I even found him staring at the microwave! And he won’t go near Alexis’s bedroom – he won’t even go up the stairs.”
Sonny hung his head. “He’s grieving.”
“And it’s my fault.” Zander sighed. “I know it’s awful of me, but I just can’t be in there with him anymore. Especially knowing what I know…and having to keep it a secret. This thing is making me crazy enough already.” He looked to Sonny for an answer.
“When is this going to be over? Why can’t you just take me to Sorel right now and make it over?”
Sonny referred to Taggert, then nodded to the couch. He made Zander nervous.
“Sit down Zander. There’s something that’s happened and you…”
“Oh God…he killed her! Oh God…” The blood drained from his face in an instant. He turned away from Sonny, digging the heels of his hands into his eye sockets.
“Zander, he didn’t…”
Zander hit the wall with his fist. “Son of a bitch!”
Sonny snapped. “ZANDER! He DIDN'T KILL her! Now sit down like I told you to, shut your damn mouth and LISTEN to me!”
The words slowly made their way through the harsh sound of his own breathing that filled Zander’s ears. He turned, leaning back against the door, his face red with rage.
“She’s okay?” He whispered in a ragged voice.
Sonny’s voice retuned to calm. “She’s okay.”
Zander looked to Taggert for confirmation.
“She’s okay Zander. Sorel had her on the phone not an hour ago. We both heard her.”
Sonny squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed at them. The sound of her desperate cries was threatening to resurge in his mind and he railed against it.
“Fine, don’t sit! Stand there like a barber’s pole if you want to, just keep your mouth shut for five minutes so we can tell you what you need to know.”
Zander saw that Sonny’s well of patience had run dry. “Sorry.”
He finally moved to the couch as he’d been told. Leaning forward on his elbow, he turned his face eagerly up to Sonny’s, waiting. Sonny looked down at him, a fleeting sense of something running through his. Sadness? Empathy? A paternal instinct twice killed inside of him before being given breath? He softened as he slowly sat down beside this boy who’d strangely grown to mean so much to Alexis.
“Sorel has a man working for him who knows where Alexis is, and he’s contacted us. Bottom line, he’s going to turn on Sorel.”
Zander’s eyes widened.
“Taggert and I are waiting for the call to tell us where to find her. If all goes as we hope is will – as we EXPECT it will, Alexis will be back home without you having to put yourself at risk.”
Zander’s mind raced. He was confused and his face clearly showed it. “But…how do you know it’s not a trick? That Sorel’s not trying to pull something?”
Taggert gave Sonny a “Told you so” look, which Sonny chose to ignore.
“It’s not a trick.”
“But how do you know?” Zander was off the couch, his gaze shifting in frustration, from Sonny to Taggert. “Sorel is crazy! And he’s a killer! What kind of idiot is going to put himself at the top of Sorel’s hit list in order to help YOU?”
He’s not helping me…Sonny kept the thought from reaching his tongue. Taggert regarded Sonny’s silent form before taking charge.
“You’re just going to have to trust us on this one Zander. We’ve found out a few things about this guy - enough to have reason to trust him.”
Zander sat back down and looked up at Sonny. “Is that true?”
Sonny stared at his hands that lay folded on top of his knees. He nodded.
Zander somehow wasn’t buying it. “Then why won’t you look me in the eye?”
Sonny suddenly looked, a large grin spread across his face. “How’s that?”
Zander’s expression held all seriousness. Sonny sighed and hung his head back down.
Taggert jumped in. “We’re all exhausted Zander. Cut some slack, okay?”
Zander relented. “Yeah. Sorry.”
He reached out, touching his knuckle to Sonny’s knee. Sonny raised his head.
“If everything DOESN’T go as you expect, I’m still ready to do what I need to do.”
Sonny rose, lightly touching his palm to the top of Zander’s head.
Again, a rap at the door. This one made Taggert jump. He was hitting the edge as well.
“Yeah.” Sonny turned.
Johnny’s head popped through this door, a dour look on his face. “Ashton.”
Johnny did not like the man at all. His ease in showing it tickled Sonny to pieces.
Zander started to rise. “In that case…” Sonny pushed him back down.
Ned’s anger entered the room before HE did, betrayal blazing in his wild-eyed face.
“Something going on with Alexis that everyone else gets to know about but me?”
Sonny sighed heavily. What the hell did Alexis see in this pushy, obnoxious…
Taggert moved toward him. “Look, Ashton…”
“You know, it’s my own fault, really. I should have known better than to trust Corinthos to make good on his promise of being straight with me, or about any kind of disclosure with regard to his sacred attorney/client relationship with MY…” Ned was at a loss for the right word to call her now.
“But what the hell is your excuse Taggert?”
Sonny looked down at Zander. “Didn’t you say something about him NOT talking?”
Ned glared at him. “Why isn’t Alexis home by now? What are you waiting for, why is this taking so long? You’ve already made the deal, right? Or was that just smoke you were blowing to keep me off your backs?”
Sonny glared right back. He just didn’t have the wherewithal to mollify this man any more. Ashton wasn’t the only one grieving. Taggert dealt the next card.
“The deal WAS made, but it’s fallen under the category of ‘plan B’ at this point.”
Ned’s body visibly sank with the fear that overtook his face. He swallowed hard. He was almost too scared to ask.
Taggert smiled. “Something good. There’s someone who knows where she is. We’re waiting for a phone call right now. When it comes in, we go get her.”
Ned opened his mouth. It seemed to take hours for a sound to come out.
“But what about Sorel? What about his flunkies? Even if you DO know where she is, you can’t risk getting her hurt of killed by just storming in there and…”
“Nobody’s ‘storming’ in anywhere! Damn, Ashton, you’ve got this really bad knee-jerk reaction thing going on and you need to get a handle on it! THIS is why you don’t get told things before they’re set in stone…which is why you feel kept out of the loop.”
Zander snickered lightly.
“Excuse me?” Taggert was suddenly hovering above him. “I could say the same damn thing about YOU, little buddy. So don’t you be showing Mr. Ashton, OR Sonny, OR myself any attitude. You understand me?”
Zander glanced at Ned with a hint of shame. He really hadn’t meant anything by it. His nerves had gotten the better of him.
“Sorry.” He whipered.
Ned shifted his weight. “So, what ARE you going to do?”
Sonny took over. “Wait for the information we need, then go get her safely out. We’re not taking any chances with her, Ashton. If anything feels the least bit wrong about this, we stick to the deal as planned. Plan B.”
“Plan ME.” Zander looked up, locking eyes with Ned.
“You’ll get her back. If it is, literally, the last thing I do.”
The room fell silent. But then, an intermittent choking sound was heard from somewhere in the room. Sonny glanced at Taggert, whose shoulders betrayed a slight shake.
Taggert shook his head, hoping to be ignored. It didn’t work. Sonny caught a glimpse of the small grin crossing his face, as Taggert did his best not to laugh out loud.
“What the hell is so funny Taggert?” Ned’s glare was back with a vengeance.
Taggert wiped at his eyes and took in a deep breath. He understood what was happening. The churning of all the heightened emotions among them had become oppressive, pushing his sensibilities toward the absurd. Raising his head, his eyes moved across all three faces before him.
“What a group!” He finally managed.
Sonny and Ned glanced at each other furtively, as Taggert’s will was finally overtaken.
He laughed, and laughed hard.
“Somebody…somebody should take a picture…because…because Alexis will NEVER believe it!”
The tension in the room began a slow and blessed dissolve as laughter joined laughter, one by one. All four thinking of her, all four smiling.
Nope. Alexis would never believe it.
Thomas went first.
He opened the door and glanced outside. Nothing but the black Lincoln parked six feet away. He turned to Sorel.
“It looks okay, but I’m going to go check all around. Make sure.”
He rubbed at his bruised, aching hand. He’d forgotten all about it while tending to her, but now his own pain demanded remembrance. Sorel’s eyes followed his movement.
“You don’t think Corinthos’s man got your message?”
“Oh he got it. But depending on the money roll being waved under his nose, he might be inclined to act as if he didn’t.”
Sorel nodded. Thomas was on the right track.
“I’d feel better if I check is all. As you said, Mr. Sorel, there’s some time still. And everything is going to go your way tonight.”
Sorel smiled. “Yes it is.” He nodded at the door. “Go on. Do your thing. I'll wait here.”
“By the way, sir, nice car.”
Thomas looked carefully out the door, then slipped outside. He was mindful of leaving the door open behind him, his expectation specific. He kept close against the wall as he rounded the corner. Once out of sight, he stopped, standing quiet and still. His nerves were kicking in as he checked his watch, counting down as three eternal minutes ticked by.
Sliding his hand along the wall, Thomas carefully peered around the corner. Just as he’d hoped: Sorel was too filled with cocky invincibility to stay hidden behind the door for long. Instead, he stood beside the Lincoln, using his thumb to meticulously smooth away an offending spot from the shiny dark hood.
The last thing Sorel heard was the sound of his own skull as it crashed...against the spotted, shiny dark hood.