Hey we’re just bleeding for nothing
It’s hard to breathe when you’re standing on your own
We’ll kill ourselves to find freedom
You’ll kill yourself to find anything at all
– Hey Now, Augustana
Sunday, August 21, 2005
Less than a week ago, Johnny Zacchara had left his girlfriend’s apartment intending to grab a quick lunch at a cafe on the waterfront and then hole up in the apartment he rented nearby and play some music, though he rarely stayed there overnight anymore.
He had pulled into his parking garage, stepped out of his Porsche, and then…
That was it. That was all he remembered.
He’d woken in a small dark room, tied to a chair, duct tape stretched across his mouth.
He hadn’t really given much thought to the fact Nadine lived in Corinthos-controlled Port Charles. Johnny had removed himself from his father’s world, living in England for a handful of years and attending Oxford University before moving to New York City. He spent most of his time in music clubs and art galleries.
Until, on a whim, he’d traveled to a blues club here—Luke’s had a great reputation. He’d seen a pretty blonde dancing on the floor with some of her friends, and that had been it.
But he’d barely thought about Sonny Corinthos. They hardly run in the same circles, and Johnny thought he had defused any issues by approaching Jason Morgan and his girlfriend at the art showing last February.
Apparently not. Sonny Corinthos had had him knocked out and tied up in this warehouse for…he thought it must be nearly a week but Johnny tended to black out between beatings. The mobster would show up to enjoy one of his men pounding on him, demand to know why Johnny was coming after him, and then leave, disgusted by Johnny’s claims of innocence. They’d moved him a few days ago, and now the voices were new with a Hispanic accent, but they still beat the shit out of him when Sonny ordered it.
He didn’t know why he wasn’t dead yet. Maybe Sonny wanted to hear him admit whatever crime he thought Johnny had committed.
That would be his death warrant, so there was no hope of admitting guilt in order to escape.
He had to hold out hope that Nadine, worried by his absence, would do something. Would call the police, maybe. And after the third beating, maybe he wouldn’t mind if Anthony Zacchara came to rescue him. He didn’t care for his father, but he also didn’t care for dying for no good fucking reason.
He had never introduced Nadine and his father, though both were aware of the other. He could see her now, pacing her apartment. Waiting for him to call. Worrying.
The door swung open and footsteps came closer though Johnny couldn’t really hear them.
“You ready to admit it, you fucker?”
Fan-fucking-tastic. Another beating. Maybe they’d kill him this time and put him out of his misery.
Hardy Home: Living Room
Elizabeth loved her brother, she really did. But there moments when she wanted to set him on fire. And today…today was one of those moments.
“Steven,” she said again, watching him fold a blanket and set it on the back of the sofa. “I don’t know why you won’t help me convince Gram to have this surgery—”
Steven turned to face her, his eyes exhausted from spending all day working and then nights taking care of Audrey. Elizabeth did her best to be here as often as she could, but she had set things in motion with her agent for a show in October, Diane Miller was nailing down the final contract to open her own gallery in the spring, Nora was taking a summer class which necessitated Elizabeth having the kids two more days a week than normal—
And it went without saying that the situation at home had not been better. Jason was no longer meeting with men at the penthouse as often, but they were still there. Sonny had done a disappearing act—she hadn’t seen him since the engagement party.
And Johnny Zacchara remained missing.
But she had to focus on the things she could control, and damn it, she could find a way to control this. “Steven—”
“Bits, what do you want me to say?” he demanded. “Gram’s a nurse. I can’t lie to her and tell her a woman in her eighties will be perfectly fine having major open-heart surgery. She’s not an idiot—”
“She’s throwing away a chance to have another decade,” Elizabeth shot back.
“Damn it, Elizabeth—” Steven bit off his next words. “This is only the third time you’ve been here. You don’t see the way Gram—” He looked away. “I’m not sure surgery is going to be an option.”
Stung, she recoiled. “What does that mean? Of course it is—”
“It’s the middle of the day, and Gram is upstairs taking a nap.” Steven scowled. “When was the last time our indomitable grandmother took a nap in the middle of the damn day? She’s weaker than she was a week ago. This new medication isn’t working either.”
“No.” Elizabeth folded her arms and shook her head. “We’ll just—we’ll talk to Monica. We’ll find another medication. Don’t you shake your head at me, Steven Lars Webber! Maybe there’s another doctor—”
“You going to throw money at the problem, then?” Steven demanded. “That’s your way of dealing with it? She’s at home all day while I’m work, Elizabeth. Where the hell are you?”
“I—” Her throat closed. “I’m trying the best I can,” she choked out. “I have Cam and Evie—”
“And a goddamn nanny. You have money, remember?” he returned with a glare. “But you can’t be bothered—you judge Uncle Tommy and Sarah for not being here—at least they’re doing something useful. What the hell is your excuse? You live in town. You don’t work—”
“You have no right to accuse me of not being here!” she shot back. “I’m the one that never left. You’ve been here five minutes, Steven. I’ve been here eight years. And I work—”
“Or maybe you’re too wrapped up in your new fiancé,” Steven cut in, his tone so scathing she had to blink. “Taking care of his kid—”
“I don’t have to listen to this!” Elizabeth snapped, not really sure how this had become a conversation about her shortcomings. She thought she and Steven had turned a corner. They had never been close growing up—he had always been like her parents, like Sarah, trying to figure out what they would do with Lizzie.
And maybe that’s all she’d ever been to him. His little sister who was okay unless she was given responsibility. Can’t trust Lizzie. She’ll break it. She’ll forget it.
She won’t take care of it.
She’s not good enough.
She’s not like us.
She took a deep breath. Fighting wasn’t going to get them anywhere. Wasn’t going to make her grandmother change her mind. “I love her, Steven. I just want to do right by her. I don’t know why you have make it personal. I’m sorry if I don’t live up to your standards—”
“Bits, I’m sorry—” Steven rubbed a hand over his face. “I know you’ve got your own life. And Gram would hate if you let something go in order to look after her. She hates that I’m here. I’m just…I’m just—I’m at a loss. She won’t have the surgery, but the new meds—” He dipped his head. “I’m watching her fade away, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Elizabeth sighed, stepped forward, and embraced her brother. “I’m sorry, Steven. I know you hate this as much as I do. I’ll do better. I’ll stop by more—”
“No, I know things are insane for you.” Steven put his hands on her forearms. “And of course you work, I just—I meant you didn’t have a schedule. You know how proud I am of you, how much I love you. I’m just—I’m sorry.”
“I know,” Elizabeth murmured, swallowing her cutting remark. It was easy to dump on her, it always had been. But Steven looked exhausted and he had been bearing the brunt of Audrey’s care for the last week.
And if she were fading as fast as Steven suggested…the nights would not be particularly restful. “We’ll be okay, Steven. You and me. We just have stick together, okay?”
He kissed her forehead. “We will, Bits. And maybe you’re right. We’ll talk to Monica. Maybe there’s another option.”
But they both knew they were likely clinging to hope at this point.
Morgan Penthouse: Jason’s Office
Jason scrawled his name at the bottom of the paperwork Bernie handed him and checked to make sure all the necessary pages were initialed. “How fast can we push the sale through?” he asked, handing the contract back.
“I can have it finalized by the end of the week,” Bernie promised. “And Johnny can start security the very next day. We’ll make sure the place is secure.” He glanced around the small room. “You’re making the right decision, Jason.”
He hoped so. The penthouse was no longer a tenable solution. Sonny was ducking his calls, and by the look on Max’s face, the report on his comings and goings was likely to be a disappointing one.
Johnny Zacchara was missing. Sonny was behind it, even if he would never admit it, and Jason had taken over the day to day operations. They were no longer even pretending to run things by Sonny.
Jason, even if they hadn’t said anything out loud, had taken control. And continuing to stay across the hall from his former business partner would be suicide.
So he bought a house on the outskirts of Port Charles with enough land to put up an electric fence and a gatehouse to control comings and goings—the best money security could buy—he hated the thought of it, but he wanted it in his back pocket in case it was necessary. The deed had been bought in Cam’s name, in order to keep it off Sonny’s radar, and Jason hated that as well.
There was nothing about this situation that was going well for him.
“Get it done,” Jason said finally. He looked to Max. “What’s the bad news?”
“It’s worse than you thought.” Max sighed, and nodded to Tommy, who tended to handle the gambling rings and the bookies who kept them in the green. “Not only can I still not keep my eyes on Sonny without losing him, but Tommy thinks he knows what’s been going on.”
Jason directed his eyes to the swarthy Italian transplant. “Tommy?”
“Sonny came into one of the casinos on Van Ness last Monday,” Tommy said. “And he pulled some of my guys to work on a project. I didn’t know because I’ve been out on the streets with Francis and Johnny, trying to find Junior, and we didn’t exactly broadcast our concern.”
Which solved the mystery as to how Sonny would have gotten the jump on a younger, stronger man. “And?” Jason pressed.
“And Sonny relieved them of their duties two days ago. When they popped back up, they were bragging about doing some work for him personally—not something that usually happens to the guys down there.” Tommy scowled. “And it got back to me. I called them in. They’re low on the food chain, Jase. They don’t know the score the way we do up here.”
Jason leaned back. “I’m not going to knock out a couple of schmucks who thought they were doing their job. What’d they say, Tommy?”
“They grabbed Junior out of his parking garage last Monday,” Tommy confirmed. “They took him to a warehouse near Courtland Street, where they kept him tied up. Sonny would stop by once a day, ask Junior about the fire, he’d deny it. And then the guys would beat him. “
Jason got to his feet. “They know where this place is?” he demanded. God, this could be over now. If he could get the little bastard to safety, he could concentrate on Sonny—
“I already went there,” Tommy said, his tone apologetic now. “It’s empty. He’s been moved. But my guys didn’t do it. And I did a quick round up of my crew before I came here. No one will admit to taking their place. Francis is checking with his guys, but—”
Max took over. “Johnny and I cleared our guys. Whoever Sonny’s working with now, they’re not on our grid. Francis’s people know better.”
Jason sank back into his seat. The implications of this story were…they were devastating.
Johnny Zacchara was being beaten somewhere at regular intervals, and if he admitted guilt to make it stop, Sonny would likely kill him. Either way, his life was in danger. And since he hadn’t split, it was likely his girlfriend was freaking out. If she hadn’t called Anthony Zacchara yet, it was only a matter of time.
And that wasn’t the worst of it. If Sonny had stopped using their own guys, he had gone outside the organization. Either he’d picked up guys from off the street, or he’d gone to another family.
And if he’d done that…
“Jason,” Max said, “We know now that Sonny’s done something to Junior. It’s time we stop pretending to tail him. You need to confront him, you need to get him to hand the kid over.”
“Yeah.” Jason cleared his throat. “Ah. We—” He couldn’t do that, though. He couldn’t make a move on Sonny. Sonny might not have gone over the edge into the psychotic break his sister had warned them about, but he wasn’t too far off.
And his family lived across the hall from him.
He had to get them to safety first. He took a deep breath and looked to Max. “Can you get me Cody?” he asked, referring to the guard who was on the door to the penthouse and was generally in charge of the security of Jason’s family.
Max nodded, and a few moments later, had brought the man in question to him. “Cody, ah, do you know where Nora and Elizabeth are?” Jason asked. He hadn’t had a chance to talk to either of them that morning.
“Milo took Miss Webber to see her grandmother and then she had appointment with Diane Miller downtown. Nora is with Denny and Lyle at the park with the kids.” Cody hesitated. “Did you want me to call them? Bring them back?”
“No, no…” Jason rose. “I just want to make—” He wanted to make sure the people he loved most in the world were okay. That someone was with them, protecting them. “Thanks, Cody.” He hesitated. He felt their eyes on them, these men who could be ruthless and even violent, and they knew they were pitying him.
He swallowed hard. “You can go back to the door.”
“Jason,” Johnny said. “Maybe some of Tommy’s guys don’t know the score, but that’s because they’re usually pretty far removed from this stuff. They’re too busy making money—”
“But they know it now,” Tommy interrupted, annoyed. “None of the guys are taking assignments from anyone who isn’t me. If they get another offer from Sonny, they know to agree and then call me so we can figure out what’s going on. They know who’s in charge, Jase.”
“Right,” Johnny said, rolling his eyes at his prickly colleague. “Anyway, what I’m saying is we’ve got the best people on Elizabeth and the kids. Sonny’s not going after them.”
Maybe, maybe not.
“Just get the house settled,” Jason told Bernie and Johnny. To Max and Tommy, he said, “Max, I want your energy and any man you can spare looking for Junior. But let’s continue to keep it quiet. I don’t want it filtering back to Anthony. It hasn’t yet, but I don’t know how often the kid is supposed to check in with his father. Get some eyes on the girlfriend. Don’t—don’t go near her, but I want to know if she reaches out to Anthony. I want warning. Tommy, I need you to keep things running smoothly in your area. I don’t want the cops raiding any of the casinos or grabbing any of the bookies. We need to look like we got our shit together.”
“Ah, Jase?” Cody knocked on the open door. “Courtney Matthews is at the front desk.”
Jason exhaled slowly. The last thing he wanted was a run-in with his ex-wife, but she was probably concerned about Sonny. And maybe she’d been in contact with him. “You can bring her up. We’re done in here.”
Morgan Penthouse: Living Room
Courtney still wasn’t sure she was doing the right thing, but she couldn’t stand it anymore.
A guard let her inside the penthouse, and Courtney stepped over the threshold into her former home, blinking at the changes. The pool table remained, but a playpen, a changing table, and a scattering of toys sat in the front of the room where Jason’s desk had once set.
And Jason was standing by the sofa, an air of impatience emanating from him. “I’m sorry for just showing up like this,” she said, “but I can’t—I can’t pretend I’m not worried anymore. And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”
Jason slid his hands into his jeans. “What’s going on, Courtney?” he asked. “Is this about Sonny or Carly?”
“It’s about them both,” Courtney answered. She set her bag on the back of the armchair. “Sonny came to stay with me last month, and I know he was going to see a doctor. He was doing a bit better the last few times I talked to him, but I called him last week, and—” She closed her eyes. “He was worse than I’ve seen him. He accused me of sniffing around him for money, of using him, of going behind his back to talk to you—which I hadn’t done. And I talked to Carly, who told me I should tell you and Elizabeth to give them custody of Evie if I wanted to help so much.”
Jason exhaled slowly. “Hell.” He pressed the heel of his hand to his eye and was quiet for a moment. “He’s sick, Courtney—”
“I know that,” she interrupted. “And I’m not worried about me. I’m worried about—” She bit off the words, swallowing the fear. “Jason, I’m scared for Michael and Morgan. And even for you, for Elizabeth. You didn’t hear the way Sonny talked about you. He thinks you’re out to get him. He thinks I’m helping you. I don’t know what I’d be helping you do, but he’s remembering the way we lied to him, and thinks I’ve been disloyal to him.”
“I didn’t—” He looked away. “I’m sorry, Courtney. Things—things have been difficult—and not just because of the last year or because of Evie.” Jason paused. “And I guess you know she’s Sonny’s daughter.”
“I always knew that.” Courtney dismissed that, because it wasn’t important now. The situation was so much worse than she’d ever thought it could be. She’d believed Carly was the person to worry about, but her brother’s searing anger on their phone call had terrified her. He’d never spoken to her like that, and even at the height of his anger with Jason… “That’s not important. No, it’s not about Evie anymore. I’m not sure it ever really was. Jason, we need to get the boys away from him. And from Carly, if she won’t leave him. I talked to a lawyer, but he doesn’t think there’s anything I can do since there’s nothing on record and he doesn’t appear to be a danger to them.”
“I know about the fire last week, but Jason—” She hesitated. “He told me things last month—he said he was so angry with you sometimes he fantasized about—” She closed her eyes. “He talked about hurting you. Wrapping his hands around neck—and he’s so angry at you, Jason—”
Jason swallowed, but it was the only outward reaction he showed. “Okay. That—that doesn’t surprise me—”
“He thinks you’re taking control of his life, that you’re stripping him of the things he considers his. First you took Sam, then you took Evie. And we all know the men have always trusted you more.” Courtney stepped towards him. “Jason, he sounded—he sounded like he’s gone over that proverbial edge we’ve all worried about—”
“He’s close to it,” Jason said after a moment. “But he hasn’t gone over yet.” He didn’t elaborate on how he could come to that conclusion.
The door opened behind them, and Elizabeth stepped in, blinking at Courtney in the room. “Courtney.”
They hadn’t been face to face in nearly two years. “I just came—I wanted to talk to Jason about the boys.” She looked to Jason. “Just be on your guard okay? I’m going to talk to Bobbie about trying to convince Carly to do something.”
She pushed past Elizabeth and left. She’d done what she could to warn Jason, but her attention had to be on the things she could do to help Michael and Morgan.
They deserved so much better.
Back inside, Elizabeth bit her lip and faced Jason. “Jason, is she okay? She looked so upset.”
And because the look in Elizabeth’s eyes wasn’t annoyance or suspicion at finding him alone with his ex-wife, Jason sighed and sat on the sofa, exhausted.
Sonny had kidnapped Johnny Zacchara, had probably gone to another organization for help. Courtney thought Sonny was going to come after Jason. Elizabeth’s grandmother was probably dying.
Everything was changing, and it was happening so fast, he couldn’t get a grip on it.
“Jason.” Elizabeth set her bag on the chair and perched on the coffee table in front of him. “They’re all looking to you to make it right. To fix it. To make everyone safe, aren’t they?”
He said nothing, but looked up. “I can’t,” he admitted. “I can’t make it stop.”
Elizabeth just nodded, reaching out to rub his knee. “No, I guess you can’t,” she said finally. “So let’s concentrate on what we can do. What happened while I was gone? Can you tell me?”
And he told her, because she deserved to know. He told her that Sonny had done exactly what they all feared, but maybe it was even worse than they thought, because if another family was involved, they’d see the inherent weakness in the organization. They’d smell blood in the water.
And if they couldn’t return Johnny Zacchara to his father in relatively good shape, he’d have a war on two fronts.
And in the middle of everything—there were four children who had never asked for any of this.
He told her everything because what was the point of pretending there were things she couldn’t know, as if she were safer kept in the dark?
Her face was pale when he finally stopped talking, but she nodded. “Okay. Okay. Well, that’s—” Her laugh was thin, shaky. “Well, that’s more than I—Okay.”
Elizabeth stood and walked towards the large bay windows overlooking the bay, then turned back. “I know something that might help.”
Jason frowned at her, skeptical. “What?”
“Steven is looking after Gram at night, but she’s alone during the day. I was trying to see how I could spend more time there, and make sure someone is always there. So that’s what we’ll do. We can’t stay across the hall from Sonny. Not if he’s talking about you the way Courtney said.” She nodded, her voice stronger. “So we’ll move to my grandmother’s house temporarily. That works, doesn’t it?”
He stood. “Elizabeth—”
“You can still come here for meetings, if you need to. But I know the fact that the kids and I are here, so close to it all—it drives you insane. It can be one less thing for you to worry about, and I’ll feel better being closer to my grandmother. It might be a tight fit, but it’ll be temporary.”
He hesitated. But it just might work. At least for a bit. He could put more security at the Hardy house, had already had some upgrades put in just for Audrey’s sake. “We can do that.”
“I don’t know what I can do about the rest of it,” Elizabeth said. “It’s not my area.” She stood in front of him, and put her hands on his chest. “It seems to me you need to get Johnny Zacchara back, right? You need to find him and get him home. Worrying about Sonny and another organization isn’t going—it can’t be your priority.”
And some of the tension slid from Jason’s chest. Because she was right. He couldn’t fight a war on two fronts, so he had to make sure he didn’t have to.
It was more important to mollify Anthony Zacchara.
“Elizabeth…” He lowered his forehead and just touched it to hers. “When this is over—”
“We’re not worrying about that right now.” Her fingers twisted in his shirt. “We’re going to make sure the people we love are safe. I’ll talk to Bobbie. Like Courtney said, she’s the best conduit to Carly. Michael and Morgan are in the middle of this, too. And we have to find a way to help them. We’ll make sure the kids are safe, across town and away from Sonny. You’ll find Johnny Zacchara, and ship him home. And then you’ll put Sonny under lock and key until he agrees to see another doctor. We can do this. One step at a time.”
He sighed. “I know, but—”
“And then you can go back to not telling me a blessed thing about what happens when you walk out that door, and I can go back to worrying about whether or not I can actually run an art gallery.”
And she made it sound so simple, Jason thought they might be able to do it.
He should have known it wouldn’t be that easy.