Chapter 1: The First
What Happens in the Penthouse Stays in the Penthouse
Chapter 1: The First
Spinelli walked into the Penthouse singing 'The Way You Look Tonight.' He loved the standards; he had found his great grandfather's collection of pristinely preserved 33 rpm records in the attic when he was ten and had never looked back. He loved them all Frank, Cole, Ella, Judy, and of course Sassy-the divine Sarah Vaughan. He sang along with them learning all the words and dancing through the house much to his grandmother's disgust.
She herself was a product of her time and place, keeping the kitchen radio perpetually tuned to country and bluegrass stations. Neither ever won the war because Spinelli could out sing her but she could make him turn the record player off because 'it was her house, her rules'. So, he mostly indulged himself when she wasn't home and later by joining the school choir. It was one of the few places in the community and school where he felt truly happy and valued.
Since coming to Port Charles he had tamped down his tendency towards spontaneously singing some evocative classic. He instinctively knew that he wouldn't like the expression on Stone Cold's face if he ever heard him expressing himself via song. Also, such behavior certainly wouldn't aid him in his ongoing search for 'manly prowess.'
Occasionally he couldn't control himself and he still sang in the shower. It seemed that what his regrettably pink bedroom lacked in aesthetics was more than made up for by the bathroom's amazing acoustics. Some days he really let loose and on those particular mornings when he came downstairs, he didn't dare look Stone Cold in the eye. If he had looked he would have seen a mixture of bemusement, pride, and humor. Yet, Jason knew how embarrassed Spinelli would be if he said anything and so he held his peace. Still, those mornings were the same ones Jason often went to work unaware that he was humming.
Tonight was different though because he had a date with Maxie. While he wasn't sure exactly what she would be wearing; he knew that the way she would look and everything she would do would be eminently memorable, precisely as the song said. He was just, well, simply put…happy! It was wonderful to have this straightforward, uncomplicated joy welling up inside him. The only truly real and appropriate way he wanted to express it was through the lyrical words and tunes of a time when people seemed to be able to freely articulate romantic love.
Singing, twirling, bouncing and hopping he made his way up to his fuchsia room and into the bathroom. He was going to sing his lungs out, one tune after another. Stone Cold was out on business and he needed to get ready before Maxie came by with the outfit she wanted him to wear tonight. He fervently hoped that she wasn't going to want him to dress up in an animal costume or-he shuddered dramatically at the thought-tights. Still, even if she brought him a bright pink bunny costume to wear, he would squelch his pride and put it on.
Tonight was doubly important to Maximista. It was the launch of the first annual Crimson Halloween Gala and much more importantly-Maximista's birthday! Last year everyone had been running around Wyndemere being chased by crazy Anthony Zacchara and the even crazier text message killer. Emily Quartermaine had died in the ensuing melee and Stone Cold still carried that tragic loss in his eyes. So, for everyone's sake, but most importantly for Maximista's, Spinelli wanted this to be a night of fun and frolic. It would be a magical, bubbly evening that they could both carry forward into the future as a special memory.
As he stood in front of the bathroom mirror brushing his teeth, there was a creaking noise and the bathroom door began to slowly swing closed. Openmouthed, with toothpaste dribbling down his chin, Spinelli tried to make sense of what he was seeing reversed and reflected in the mirror. He closed his eyes and shook his head as he denied the possibility that he could be seeing what was revealed. Slowly, he cracked open one eye and then the next to find it was still there. Spinelli swiveled around convinced that he had been hallucinating and when he looked at the door directly he-it-would be gone. There was no such luck to be had, hanging from the bathroom door hook was an extremely large, extremely dead-there wasn't any more of a more appropriately descriptive term than-goon.
Spinelli, his forgotten toothbrush clutched in his hand, sidled cautiously up to the dead man. He was large but due to what appeared to be a well defined musculature rather than adipose tissue. The corpse was dressed in a cheap grey suit with an unattractive blue waffle tie that was stained and frayed. His iron grey hair was cut short and his large spherical head seemed to be attached directly to his shoulders. Spinelli automatically dubbed him 'No Neck Decedent' as he continued his appraisal. The man's eyes were bloodshot and bulging and his tongue was protruding unattractively from the side of his mouth. If the man had printed up business cards proclaiming himself to be Joe E. Mobster, it couldn't have been any clearer the line of work he had pursued. From the look of things, Spinelli was pretty sure there was a ligature mark somewhere on that nonexistent neck-he had been strangled.
His head was spinning, there was a dead man hanging on his bathroom door. Then a thought came to him, 'Could Stone Cold have started bringing his work home with him?'
As soon as the thought passed through his brain he dismissed it, this wasn't Stone Cold's style. Even if he had done such a thing, which he hadn't, he would never have put the body in the Jackal's bathroom, not where he performed his intimate ablutions. Or if he had, which he hadn't, he would have at least told the Jackal. Stone Cold would have left a voice mail or an e-mail (well, maybe not that) or at least a note on the coffee table.
Something along the lines of, 'Hey, Spinelli things have been hectic lately and I had to store some "files"-wink, wink, nudge, nudge-upstairs in your bathroom. I'll take care of it-them-when I get a chance, Jason.'
Spinelli shook his head in disbelief, it wasn't possible and there definitely must be another explanation. Well, the first thing he better do was call his master. This was much more than a poor little grasshopper should ever be expected to deal with and there was still his date with Maxie to consider.
Just then the doorbell unexpectedly rang causing him to jump, lose his balance and fall forward into the stiff embrace of his uninvited guest. The collision caused a balance shift and the No Neck Decedent was pulled off the hook and collapsed onto a squirming Spinelli, who immediately tried in vain to push the literal dead weight up off of him.
"Ugh! Ugh! Get off, Get off!" he pleaded in a muffled voice as he tried to get out from under this undesired, intimate bodily contact.
He was starting to hyperventilate when, with a huge push of adrenalin fueled energy, he managed to roll out from under the corpse. He immediately jumped up, quivers of disgust running up and down his muscles as he swayed back and forth, trying to decide if he could keep from vomiting. Shrilly and impatiently the doorbell sounded again.
He turned and ran frantically out of the bathroom because he remembered that the front door was unlocked. If anyone walked in and found the dead intruder, there would be unimaginable consequences for both Stone Cold and himself. He skidded onto the landing and threw himself down the stairs just reaching the front door as the handle began to turn. With cat like reflexes that he never even knew he possessed; he grabbed the handle on his side and opened the door just wide enough so that he could look out at whoever was standing on the exterior of the door. Ordinarily the sight of his visitor would have brought a goofy grin to his face and an immediate invitation to enter the humble abode he shared with Stone Cold. Yet, under these fraught circumstances his primary response was a feeling of unmitigated dismay.
"Ah Maximista!" he sidled out through a crack in the door and crossing his arms and legs attempted to appear nonchalant as he formed a living barricade in order to prevent ingress into the penthouse. "To what do I owe the honor of a visit from your gracious loveliness?" he panted as he tried to recover from his recent trials and exertions.
"Spinelli!" Maxie said glaring at him through narrowed eyes, "What's up with you? I've been standing out her for like the last ten minutes waiting for someone to answer the door. Why are you breathing like that?" She continued suspiciously, "What is going on in there?" She tried to reach past him and grab the door handle to enter into the penthouse. "Let me in Spinelli, this stuff is heavy!" Maxie said getting more irritated by the moment as he continued to block her entrance.
Spinelli tried frantically to think of some reason to keep her from coming in, "Um, now is not a good time Maximista, the Jackal, well, he's busy and cannot be interrupted…"
"Not a good time!" She retorted as her voice raised several octaves. "Damian Spinelli is there someone in there you don't want me to see?" The petite blonde renewed her determined attempts to get through the door and he had to keep moving around to block her.
"Well," he started to say sheepishly until one look at her face caused him to back up against the door in fear of what she was contemplating. Suddenly, inspiration struck and he tried to laugh offhandedly though it came out more as a nervous cough. "Actually, has Maximista forgotten what day this is?"
Maxie stopped her frontal assault on both Spinelli and the door and cocked her head at him, doubt still radiating out of her eyes. "Sure, it's Halloween, that's why I'm here to deliver your costume," she held up a garment bag and toed a previously unnoted hat box sitting on the floor.
"Oh, my heavens!" he thought to himself. Spinelli had entirely forgotten about the Crimson party. His earlier concerns about what his costume might entail seemed a distant and pleasant memory. If the unwanted upstairs visitor would simply vanish, he would gladly wear a codpiece, tutu and a papier mache frog's head and call it a worthwhile exchange. He realized that Maxie was growing impatient again and so he quickly said, "Yes, of course the costume party but that isn't what the Jackal meant. No, he was speaking as to the much more prominent and vital meaning of this date-it is Maximista's natal day!"
For a brief moment puzzlement reigned on Maxie's face as she deciphered what he had just said; then a shy smile slowly curved up her lips. "Spinelli, you remembered!"
"Of course the Jackal remembered. It is a date circled in red on his calendar." Now that Spinelli knew how to keep her out of the penthouse he proceeded more confidently, "The Jackal was preparing a birthday treat for Maximista and it is out in plain view in the living room and that is why you cannot enter."
"But it's already my birthday," she coyly pouted, "Let me see what it is."
"No, no," Spinelli responded a tad desperately, "The time isn't right, you'll receive your surprise at the appointed hour and not a millisecond sooner."
He hoped the simple pendant set with her birthstone, an opal, would be enough of a gift to satisfy all this intrigue and suspense he was creating. Spinelli was pretty sure he wasn't going to have any free time this evening to find anything more extravagant.
"That is so sweet!" Maxie seemed to accept his explanation and handed him the garment bag and the hat box. "I hope you like your costume," she giggled, "I picked it out just for you."
"The Jackal knows he will be entranced by anything personally chosen for him by the fair one." He responded with automatic gallantry as he relieved her of her burden. "When and where shall we meet to embark upon the evening's festivities?"
"Nine o'clock on the dot at the Metro Court Sky Lounge, and Spinelli?" The sharp toned Maxie had returned, "Don't be late, I want this evening to be perfect."
"Your wish is the Jackal's command!" He watched her enter the elevator.
Then as the adrenalin faded from his system his legs gave way and he slid to the floor with his back to the door. Groaning, he crossed his arms on his knees and cradled his head in his hands. How on earth was he ever going to get through this night?
Jason's 'business' for the evening involved a cold bottle of beer and a cue stick. He was whiling away the evening at Jake's and playing a desultory game of pool with Coleman. Every time someone needed a refill or more to the point, an unescorted woman entered the bar, Coleman would leave to tend to his bartending duties. Then five, ten or fifteen minutes later, he would wander back and the game would start again.
Jason considered what he was really doing here. After all, he could have played a faster game with himself at home. The beer in hand would certainly have been better quality and cheaper than the stuff Coleman was palming off as an imported Belgian brew.
"It was more likely imported from a beer making kit in the filthy back bathroom!" Jason snorted to himself with irritation.
No, if he were to be honest with himself, he was at Jake's because he was hiding out. Sometimes he just needed a break from all things Spinelli, or at least the new Spinelli that seemed to come prepackaged with Maxie Jones. Ruefully, Jason admitted to himself that if Spinelli wasn't so constantly either with Maxie, talking about Maxie or clearly thinking about Maxie, he would have been happier.
Don't get him wrong, he saw how much the kid loved that snippy blonde and God help her if she broke his heart the way Lulu had or even how Georgie had by dying and leaving him in misery. He didn't want to have to pick up the ravaged pieces of Spinelli's heart one more time. He wasn't sure his own heart could take it. Besides, he knew enough to see that what Spinelli felt for Maxie was on a scale exponentially greater than he had felt for either of the other girls.
The only thing that enabled him to keep quiet and not issue a warning to Spinelli to watch himself around the little minx, was the fact that he was pretty sure Maxie felt everything that Spinelli did and in spades. He guessed she was petrified of admitting those feelings, even to herself, given her lousy relationship track record. Jason couldn't really be judgmental about Maxie hiding how she felt since he had been doing the same thing with regard to Elizabeth. Still, he found it nerve wracking to watch Spinelli constantly hand his heart up on a platter to only have it returned on a skewer dripping blood…
Spinelli had been in a great state of excitement in the days leading up to tonight's events. He had been more hyperactive and talkative than Jason could ever remember. It was Maxie's birthday this and the Crimson party that until Jason's eyes had glazed over and his ears had shut down. It was only the fact that he never made more than minimal responses to Spinelli's conversational gambits which prevented the young man from recognizing that his mentor's presence was only physical. Thus, he didn't realize that every detail he was so eagerly relaying was evaporating unheard into the ether.
So, Jason had decided to absent himself from the penthouse tonight. He wanted to allow Spinelli the opportunity to get ready for his special evening with his Maximista without Stone Cold around to act as a wet blanket. He recognized that the unsettled sensations he was currently feeling were a peculiar mix of guilt and regret. He felt badly because he hadn't been there for Spinelli the way he should have been, in the way Spinelli absolutely would have been there for Jason if their situations were reversed. In addition, part of him was actually wondering about the costume Maxie would pick out for him, wanted to see him dressed and ready to go off with his lady for the evening, maybe (and this was worst of all) even take a picture of him as a keepsake.
Sighing, Jason put down his unfinished beer on the edge of the pool table; he knew when a battle was lost. He tossed down enough money to meet his tab along with a tip for Coleman. Nodding at the bartender, who was obliviously chatting up a pneumatic blonde, he headed out the door. He would go home, check in with Spinelli, perhaps help him with his cufflinks or something but there would be no picture. Already he felt better; he realized he had made the right decision.
Jason was idling the bike at a deserted intersection when his phone vibrated. He checked the screen and with a half smile saw that it was Spinelli. "Hey," he said flipping open the phone.
"Stone Cold! The Jackal is most gratified that his Master is not so preoccupied with his covert activities that he would fail to answer his grasshopper's urgent summons!"
"What's wrong?" Jason asked as he revved up and sped homeward. He could tell that Spinelli was very agitated about something.
"The Jackal dare not speak of it on the open air waves, it is unclear where or when the minions of darkness might be listening to any and all communiqués. Suffice it to say, it is of the utmost urgency that Stone Cold return posthaste to the penthouse. The Jackal can not stress strongly enough the need for speed on the part of his Master in this particular situation."
"I'm already on my way back; I'll be there in a couple of minutes… Are you okay?" Jason asked suddenly concerned that whatever had Spinelli this upset was really serious.
"The Master's grasshopper is not in any physical distress but he finds himself facing a conundrum that requires the cool head and deft hand of his mentor to resolve it."
"I'm here," Jason said as he turned into the parking garage. "I'll see you in a minute." He jumped off of the bike and impatiently hit the elevator button.
Five minutes later he was standing in Spinelli's bathroom looking with disbelief at the large corpse on the floor. "He was hanging on the door hook?" he queried Spinelli incredulously.
"Yes, Stone Cold, and then he fell on top of me and I never thought I would get him off of me." Spinelli shivered with distaste at the memory. "Then Maximista arrived and…"
"Maxie!" Jason groaned, "Did she see him?"
"No, the Jackal prevented her entrance into Casa de Stone Cold with a contrivance about the fair one's birthday gift." Spinelli responded proudly, still impressed with his quick wittedness.
"Good job," Jason said. Sometimes he was so blinded by all of Spinelli's eccentricities that he forgot about the logical, quick thinking brain hidden under that mop of impossible hair.
At the moment, Jason was desperately trying to preserve his usual unflappable demeanor in front of Spinelli. All the while he was slowly being consumed by a cold, ever growing fury. How dare anyone bring a dead body, especially such an obviously mob connected one, into his home, his sanctuary. Even worse was leaving it for Spinelli to discover. Jason constantly tried to keep Spinelli away from the darker side of his trade and while he didn't always succeed as well as he would like, he could tell by one look at his friend's face that he had lost some of his innocence tonight. It was unacceptable and somebody would pay but first he had to dispose of their unanticipated houseguest.
Unfortunately, as much as Jason would have liked to have limited Spinelli's involvement in the situation, he needed his help. This was a time when you needed someone you could trust implicitly and Spinelli was that someone for Jason. He would make it up to the kid later.
Jason's musings were interrupted by Spinelli asking tentatively, "Stone Cold, do you recognize the No Neck Decedent?"
He eyed the body speculatively and realized that no, he didn't know the guy which was in itself odd. After all, you wouldn't stay alive very long in this business if you couldn't identify the players. It was vital to know the men employed by the opposition and Jason knew that he had never before seen this man lying on the bathroom floor.
He did look vaguely Slavic though, and upon simultaneously reaching the same conclusion, Spinelli and Jason both said, "Karpov!"
'Well,' Jason thought grimly, 'I know who will be getting a visit from me later this evening, but first things first…'
He turned to Spinelli and said, "Look, I'm going to get together what we need to move this guy. Meanwhile, I need you to hack into the interior and exterior video feeds for the building, all of them-elevators, garage, front, back. See if you can tell who brought our deceased friend in here. Then, and this is important…"
"The Jackal knows, Stone Cold," Spinelli broke in, "That he should disable the cameras so that the chore you and I are about to embark upon shall not be recorded either for posterity or the Port Charles Police Department."
Well, well, the kid was learning! Jason gave him a quick approving pat on the shoulder as he headed down to the storage space in the garage.
Meanwhile, Spinelli headed downstairs to his trusty cyber companion. He knew he had to help Stone Cold, in all ways possible, to resolve this unlooked for crisis which had descended upon their shared abode. He was indeed gratified that for once Jason seemed to be fully confiding in him and even treating him as an equal partner in the escapade. Still, he couldn't help wishing that all this had not taken place on such an important night for his Maximista. He looked at his watch and set to work with determination. If he and Stone Cold acted quickly, he might still be able to meet Maxie at the pre-established time; and she need never know of the events that had transpired this evening.
When Jason re-entered the penthouse ten minutes later carrying a blue tarp and some rope, he saw Spinelli sitting staring at his computer screen with a puzzled expression on his face. "What's wrong?" he asked him as he groaned inwardly. He simply wasn't up to anymore bad news tonight.
"It is most peculiar, Stone Cold." Spinelli replied absently, still absorbed by what he wasn't seeing on his computer screen.
"Is there a problem disabling the video feeds?" Jason questioned him. He was unable to believe such a simple task would have caused any issues for the Jackal, the undisputed assassin of the internet.
"The problem is that the feeds have already been disrupted. Not a single video camera in and around this building has been operational since about 3:00 pm this afternoon. We don't have to worry about our movements being recorded but there isn't any record of our guest upstairs being brought here either." Spinelli looked up at Jason with regret. "The grasshopper is sorry that he has failed his Master and the trust he placed in his ability to solve this mystery."
"No," Jason groaned, this was all he needed. Then he glanced over at Spinelli hunched miserably on the couch clearly convinced that somehow this was all his fault.
"Hey," Jason said, "Spinelli, look at me." His roommate looked up at him wretchedly, waiting for his mentor to tell him how he had failed him just when he had needed his skills the most. "This is not your fault. You have handled everything this evening exactly as I would have. You kept Maxie from finding out, you didn't panic, and you can't be expected to find video footage that doesn't exist. I am extremely proud of you and I wish I could just let you go get ready for your big night with Maxie; but the truth is that I need your help moving that guy. There is no one I trust more to have my back."
Spinelli looked up at Jason, his expression as he listened to him gradually switching from gloom personified to a bright shiny joy and pride that was painful for Jason to observe. It took so little to make Spinelli happy. Yet, he never seemed to make the effort to achieve it. He made a silent vow to himself that after tonight he would make sure he regularly made it apparent to the kid how much he did like and even need having him around. For now though, they had work to do.
Even though they didn't have to fear being recorded by deactivated surveillance cameras there was still the potential of running across a nosy neighbor on their way down to the garage. Wrapped up in the tarp, the dead thug held a passing resemblance to an extremely heavy carpet. Still, from Jason's perspective there was never any need to run any unnecessary risks. It had been a philosophy that kept him alive and out of jail for two decades. The deceased was a very large man and an entirely dead weight. Just moving him down to the living room was a major exercise in exertion. Certainly the sheer physicality of moving such a heavy burden was an aspect of the expedition which hadn't crossed Spinelli's consciousness.
So, when Jason decreed that they would take the stairs, rather then the elevator, down to the garage; he couldn't help but protest in a whining tone. "Stone Cold, do you know how many flights that is? Also, the elevator would be quicker…." One look at his mentor's face stilled his protests and he reluctantly bent down to again pick up the head end of the tarp.
Getting to Jason's SUV seemed to take an eternity. There were frequent pauses for Spinelli and even Jason to catch their breath. Once they almost dropped their cargo down the stairs, but Spinelli managed at the last moment to wedge his end in between the railings of the stair well. Jason, a sheen of sweat beading his forehead, looked up at Spinelli and said a brief but heartfelt, "Thanks!" If the corpse had started to roll, it more than likely would have taken Jason with it and he didn't want to dwell on the outcome of tumbling down a flight of concrete stairs.
Finally, they reached the SUV without seeing another person, and with a final heave they maneuvered the tarp wrapped body into the rear of the vehicle. Jason was now back in control and they were soon speeding north out of town along a dark country road that was unfamiliar to Spinelli. There was a long silence as each man was wrapped in his own thoughts.
Jason looked over at Spinelli who had his head turned against the window and was looking unseeing out into the darkness rushing by. "You doing okay?" he asked him quietly.
"Jason," Spinelli said unexpectedly discarding the usual nicknames he utilized when speaking to his friend. "Do you ever think about death?"
Surprised and a little concerned at the question, Jason thought wryly to himself, 'always and never.' Responding to Spinelli though he just said, "Why do you ask?"
Gesturing toward the cargo hold, Spinelli said, "Well, he was somebody earlier today. He had dreams, worries, maybe a family. A long time ago he was somebody's son and now…" He continued, "This is your life, your world, the same thing could happen to you. Then I and all the people who care about you might never know what happened. It s..scares me." Suddenly Spinelli sounded like he was almost crying.
Jason was startled and unexpectedly touched. People often expressed fear and even anger at the risks he took and the fact that he could get hurt or die from them. He always shrugged such concerns away. He didn't intend to die and if he did, well that would be that. But this youth, this Damien Spinelli had somehow inserted himself into his life and he hadn't realized until tonight that he worried so about Jason getting hurt.
Jason had always focused on keeping Spinelli safe, he had never thought about how lost or abandoned he would feel if something happened to Jason. Feeling his way cautiously, he tried to answer his roommate's concerns. "Well, Spinelli, I think things through, I don't take unnecessary risks. I have been in this business and this life for a long time and it all comes down to reading people and situations and knowing who to trust."
Spinelli had turned his head and was listening intently, a quick glance showed the green glow of the dashboard lights reflecting off of the unshed tears in his eyes. "Take tonight, for instance," Jason continued. "This was a unique situation and if you notice I didn't call anyone. I didn't need to, my partner was already there and he had my back. I trust you Spinelli, and as long as you are there to help me out and listen to me, well, I am going to be around for a very long time, you'll be sick and tired of me."
He glanced over at Spinelli and saw that he was smiling, "The Jackal will always be there for his Master!"
"That's settled then." Jason was surprised at himself in that he would break his own rule about making promises about his longevity. He had never before done so, no matter who had been asking for reassurance. He just couldn't stand to see Spinelli looking so bereft. So, if he could make him feel more secure by intimating that he would be around for the long haul-then that's exactly what he would do.
He turned his concentration back to the road. Now he needed to find the turnoff he was searching for. After a few moments, he saw what he was looking for up ahead. It was nothing more than a little break in the brush lining the road, easily missed if one didn't know it was there. Once they turned off the main road, he put the SUV into four wheel drive. It was definitely needed since what they were driving along was little more than a weed covered trail. After about fifteen minutes spent crawling along they reached their destination. The rough track abruptly ended at the lip of an old water filled quarry.
Over the years Jason had seldom used the quarry as a dump site. His preference was to let any extraneous bodies drift inexorable to their final resting place in the depths of the Atlantic. There, safely ensconced on the cold seabed, the denizens of the deep eagerly cooperated in permanently disposing of the evidence. Jason also secretly felt that he was being ecologically sound in such cases that it was a matter of recycling the trash which he was forced to take out. Tonight he hadn't had the time or the inclination to make the arrangements that were needed for an ocean run. He knew that the fewer people involved in this unanticipated and macabre situation the better and so he thought of the quarry.
Ironically, though he didn't remember it, he used to come here as a teenager. For several years it had been the place for the youth of Port Charles to clandestinely travel to on hot summer nights. Jason once spent an entire night jumping off the cliffs trying like an idiot to impress some college girl who only had eyes for his cousin Ned. A few years later a boy split open his skull and died diving off that same cliff. The parental uproar which resulted had caused the quarry to be put off limits and as time went by it was forgotten. Jason rediscovered it several years ago on one of his solitary motorcycle rides. Once or twice since then he had come here to perform the same rite he was going to do tonight.
He killed the motor but kept the lights on. There wasn't a moon this evening and they needed to be able to see what they were doing. With Spinelli's help he securely tied several concrete blocks to the tarp wrapped body. Then together they swung the body up and out and released it, they heard a splash as it hit the water.
Jason was turning to get back into the SUV when he saw that Spinelli was still by the edge of the quarry looking down. He was standing there with his head bowed and his eyes closed. Feeling awkward, Jason turned around and did the same.
After a moment, Spinelli looked up and smiled shyly at Jason, "I just wanted to commend his soul to the care of those who watch over all of us," he said simply.
Jason felt a mixture of awe and shame as he looked at this young man who always seemed to unerringly know how to be humane, even in the most bizarre of circumstances. If he lived to be a hundred he would never understand how this changeling ended up in his care, but he was grateful he had.
When they arrived back at the penthouse, Spinelli hopped out of the SUV and dashed off towards the elevators. Abruptly stopping, he turned back to Jason and said, "If the Master has no further need of his grasshopper's services, it might be possible to still be on time for my date with Maximista."
Jason looked at him waiting politely, but impatiently, for his release. He smiled inwardly at the resilience with which the boy seemed to be able to let go of the trauma of the night's events.
"Go on up, I'll be there in a few minutes to see what Maxie wanted you to wear, and Spinelli?" the younger man turned, eager to be off, "You were great tonight, I couldn't have done it without you."
"Thanks, Stone Cold!" echoed from between the closing elevator doors as the Jackal ascended to get ready for his date with his own personal goddess.
Chapter 2: The Second and Third
Jason and Spinelli are both shocked to find more bodies upon their return to the penthouse. The situation they find themselves immersed in is growing increasingly more complex and dangerous.
What Happens in the Penthouse Stays in the Penthouse
Chapter 2: The Second and Third
Spinelli gazed in amazement at what lay nestled within the hat box Maxie had left for him earlier that evening. Reverently, he lifted out the chocolate brown fedora and placing it on his head turned to study his reflection in the closet mirror. It was perfect, identical to the one he envisioned wearing whenever he fantasized about being a film noir detective out to save damsels in distress while simultaneously searching for paint covered golden birds… If he had sometimes thought, in moments of self doubt or even self pity, that his relationship with Maximista was one-sided, and that she didn't understand or think about him one-tenth as much as he did her; well, this was proof that wasn't so. Indeed, for her to have winnowed her way into his subconscious in this manner, meant that she did indeed understand what it meant to be all things Jackal.
After the distressing events of the evening, he had thought it impossible to recover the joie de vivre with which he had first anticipated his date with Maxie. Now the simple act of opening a hat box put him right back into a delightful, anticipatory frame of mind.
Spinelli quickly unzipped the garment bag to discover what treasures it contained, "Aha!" he exclaimed looking excitedly at the enclosed vintage suit. It was a double breasted pinstriped suit of the same color as the fedora with a black triangle of silk peeking out of the breast pocket. Wrapped around the suit in a lover's embrace was a vintage raincoat that looked as though Humphrey Bogart himself had inhabited it only yesterday. Finishing off the ensemble was a white shirt, a set of suspenders and a dark brown and white striped wide tie.
Spinelli frowned, "Everything is here but…" He dashed back over to the hat box and burrowed into the tissue paper, "There they are!"
He pulled the leather beauties out of their nest of paper and sighed in admiration. The wingtip shoes were made of the finest calfskin leather and were polished to a warm glowing coffee tone. Maximista had indeed seen into the soul of the Jackal and he was eternally grateful.
Glancing at his wristwatch, he saw that there was no time to waste if he were to be timely in his rendezvous with Maximista. He hastily stripped out of his everyday wardrobe of jeans and a sweatshirt and slipped into the welcoming embrace of another era. He stopped and gazed at his visage in the mirror and was awestruck. Spinelli didn't recognize himself. His hair was slicked back, he was wearing the high waisted pants complete with suspenders, and his feet were encased in those miraculous vintage shoes. He actually looked like the handsome young hero of some black and white 1940's film noir movie. With a rare show of narcissism Spinelli preened before his reflection. He could hardly wait to see the expression on Maximista's face when he showed up looking so dashing and suave.
He suddenly realized that the shirt he was wearing was as authentic as the rest of the outfit, and as such, had no buttons on the cuffs. Fortunately, this was a SNAFU (he snickered to himself at the appropriate use of period slang) which would be easy to rectify. When he graduated from high school his Grandmother had presented him with a pair of cufflinks as a graduation gift. They were gold and onyx and had a stylized S engraved on the surface. At the time, Spinelli had thanked her politely all the while inwardly wishing that she had given him a more conventional check that he could have expended on perpetually needed cyber accoutrements. He had no expectation of ever utilizing the outdated fashion accessories. Yet, since he had been residing in Port Charles, he found himself time and again opening the little box and inserting the cufflinks in one dress shirt or another. He had long since both mentally apologized to and verbally thanked his Grandmother for her foresight in knowing what her grandson might need to be presentable in certain realms of society.
He went to his dresser and found the little navy box. He opened it with a fond smile and proceeded to insert the first cufflink. As he reached for the second it dropped from his fingers and rolled under the bed. With a grunt, he laid face down on the floor and reached under the bed for the errant piece of jewelry. He felt around blindly and then his hand made contact with something that was definitely not a cold, square piece of metal. As the sensations that were being communicated by his fingertips began to be analyzed by his brain, he opened his eyes and turned his head so that he could see what he was touching.
"Oh, no, not again!" he whimpered as he looked into the blind, staring eyes of another dead man.
Jason was downstairs waiting impatiently for Spinelli to finish getting ready. Once he saw the kid off on his date; he had business to transact tonight. He was looking forward to explaining to Andrei Karpov how inadvisable it was to trespass into the private world of Jason Morgan and his protégé. After tonight's confrontation, it was likely there would be no more incipient Russian mob within the boundaries of Port Charles.
Jason was in the process of getting his gun down from its storage shelf when he heard Spinelli calling in out in a shrill voice tinged with hysteria, "Stone Cold! You need to get up to the Jackal's room instantaneously!"
Grabbing his gun and sliding the safety off, Jason bounded up the stairs to Spinelli's room. He burst through the door, his gun held in his right hand with his left bracing it; he swept the room from side to side and even checked behind the bedroom door. Puzzled, he let the firearm drop to his side, there was no one else in the room besides himself and Spinelli. He looked at his roommate and immediately was worried. Spinelli was standing across from his bed with his back to the wall. Hhe was as pale as Jason had ever seen him and he was shaking like a leaf.
"Spinelli," Jason said to him, trying to keep his voice calm and even. "What's the matter, what happened?"
In response, Spinelli tried futilely to back up further into the wall and then just slid down it and collapsed into a formless heap on the floor. The only parts of him that still showed emotion were his bright green eyes that glittered like emeralds as they stared unblinkingly at the bed.
"A…another o..one, Jas.sson," he stuttered pointing with a shaking finger at the bed.
Jason knelt down by the bed and putting his head down looked underneath it. "Oh, shit!" he yelled, pounding his fist on the carpet.
This was the first time Spinelli could ever remember seeing his mentor react like this to any situation, including ones that were much more dangerous and life threatening. The shock of it actually stopped his own threatened slide into a full blown panic attack.
Jason stayed crouched by the bed for several moments while he struggled to restore his self control. He didn't want to scare Spinelli anymore than he already was and he needed a clear head to deal with the situation. Still, the feelings of violation and anger were proving difficult to repress. Whoever had invaded his home and exposed his young friend to not one but two corpses in a single night was going to feel the unburnished wrath of Jason Morgan.
When he finally stopped shaking with rage and felt he had achieved a fair approximation of his usual demeanor, he got up and walked over to where Spinelli sat huddled in the corner. He knelt down next to him and tipped his chin up so that they were making eye contact with one another.
"Look at me," he said softly. Spinelli complied, though he looked dazed and not quite connected with the here and now. "I need you to hear me," Jason said in a slightly louder and firmer tone in an effort to counteract his friend's disassociation. "I'm here and you're safe and nothing is going to hurt you, I won't let it. Do you believe me?"
Something sparked deep in Spinelli's eyes as he looked into Jason's face. Everyone thought of Jason as cold and distant and that his amazing icy blue eyes were the dead outer manifestation of his lack of a soul. Spinelli had always been firmly convinced that the opposite was true. He thought that he used those eyes to block anyone attempting to view the damaged humanity within. He consistently projected an unfeeling stoicism in order to protect an emotional vulnerability which he tried to keep so deeply buried that even Jason himself denied its existence. At this moment, Spinelli knew that his theory was correct. All he saw as he looked into Jason's eyes were concern, pain and love.
He instinctively knew that Jason would die before he would let Spinelli be hurt; and because of his absolute faith in him, it was the easiest thing in the world to simply say, "Yes."
Jason let out his pent up breath in a relieved sigh and reached over and ruffled Spinelli's carefully pomaded hair. "Hey! The Jackal is out to impress the ladies, well, at least one certain lady tonight." Spinelli said indignantly trying to smooth the errant hair back into place. Then he paused and looked up sadly at Jason, "The Jackal won't be seeing his Maximista anytime soon, will he Stone Cold?" he asked wistfully.
Jason wished more than anything that he could give Spinelli the answer he deserved, but instead, he said regretfully, "I'm afraid not partner, we have to resolve whatever is happening here. Until then, I need you to stick close. I need your help and also I want you where I can keep an eye on you. We have no idea who is doing this or why and I am not risking anything happening to you."
Biting his lower lip and nodding his head in resignation, Spinelli tried to keep his voice from quivering as he said, "the Jackal is at your disposal as always, Stone Cold."
"Thank you." Jason stood up and reached his hand down to pull Spinelli to his feet. "Now, let's move your bed and take a look at our newest visitor."
Together they pulled the bed away from the wall and moved it off to the side. The man revealed was as different from the original corpse as it was possible for two people to be. Where the first was large, muscular, middle aged and eastern European looking; this man was slight, skinny, young and appeared to be of Italian descent. He was wearing a mustard colored t-shirt over brown pants and broken down tennis shoes. His face was sallow complected and adorned with a wispy moustache, oily uncut hair, and two protruding front teeth. There was no mystery as to how he had died. The haft of a knife protruded from his chest and his hands had clenched around it in his death throes. His eyes were open and staring, the yellow sclera indicating an untreated liver condition.
Jason and Spinelli stared down silently at the dead man. This time Jason felt a twinge of recognition, he was sure he had seen him somewhere before. He was a scrawny, rat-faced…"I've got it!" he said aloud, "He's one of Zacchara's bottom feeders. He's called the mouse, the rat… Yes, he's Louie the Rat. He mostly runs errands for the bookies, puts whatever he earns into his veins."
The truth of what Jason said was clearly delineated in the scarred and scabbed over tracks on the inside of the dead man's arms. Such a history most likely explained the liver damage as well.
Jason gave a sigh of frustration and rubbed his eyes. "It makes even less sense now. I could just barely see someone from the Karpov organization trying to make trouble for me by dropping off some soldier that had died or been killed and trying to make a profit from a loss by compromising me. Yet, it just doesn't work though if there are bodies from two opposing organizations. Who does that?" This last was said through gritted teeth as he once again had to work to keep his temper in hand. He never wanted another surrealistic night like this again.
Meanwhile, Spinelli hadn't moved or said anything. He just continued to stare down at Louie who stared right back up at him. There was a small rust colored pool on the carpet, it wasn't enough blood for the killing to have occurred in situ but it was enough to make him dizzy and nauseous. 'How am I ever going to take a shower again or sleep in this bed?' Spinelli thought to himself, depressed and scared. He felt as old as the hills and he had no wisdom or advice to offer his mentor. He was tired, hungry, and thirsty and it appeared obvious that he wasn't going to be celebrating Maximista's birthday with her.
Then the same anger which had been burning in Jason since he viewed the first corpse in Spinelli's bathroom started to flare up inside him. It had am intrinsically different quality to it though. He was indeed furious with the men who would dare come in and challenge Stone Cold, he who ruled the mob universe; the Jackal in him dearly wanted to avenge his Master's reputation. On the other hand, Damian Spinelli was shocked and appalled by the cavalier handling of these two dead men, at the indignities that they had suffered from and had no recourse to amend. He was going to do everything in his power to help Jason find who had done this and make sure they suffered. They might have been criminals, killers even-though he very much doubted Louie was. Yet, they were still human beings and they did not merit such treatment, especially when they were entirely defenseless to prevent it.
As all these jumbled thoughts chased each other through his befuddled mind, he suddenly realized something that both he and Jason had overlooked earlier. He knew that it would be unforgivably remiss of them if they continued to do so. He had to say something; even though he was loathe to interrupt Stone Cold's thought processes.
He reached over and tugged at the sleeve of Jason's leather jacket, "The Jackal has determined that there is something of great pertinence that you and I must attend to immediately."
Jason looked over at his roommate, noting his strained expression and overly bright eyes. He fervently wished that Spinelli could have been anywhere but here tonight. Still, he was relieved to see that he seemed calm and even had an idea about doing something. Jason himself only had visions of another trip to the quarry dancing in his feverish brain.
"What is it?" he asked.
"We should search the penthouse," Spinelli said simply. "It is quite likely that Louie was here the entire time we were dealing with the Slavic unknown. There may be others as well."
Jason gaped at him in disbelief, "Others!"
Spinelli had seen what was obvious. It had never even crossed his mind, but Spinelli was entirely right; where there was one there actually had been two, which meant there could be three or… His mind simply refused to complete that thought.
The unforeseen possibility that there might be more dead bodies scattered around the penthouse, was enough of a shock to pull Jason out of his angry reverie and galvanize him into action. "You are absolutely right," he told Spinelli. "We need to sweep the penthouse and make sure there aren't anymore…surprises," he finished rather lamely. "I'll look up here and you go downstairs, call me if you see anything, and I mean anything out of the ordinary."
Spinelli was happy to have the downstairs duty since he had found each of the corpses and they had both been upstairs. Odds were that the people leaving these bodies would have put the other ones close by as well. He walked down the stairs, pondering Stone Cold's "anything" speech. 'What hadn't been out of the ordinary tonight?' he thought miserably to himself.
Still, dead bodies or no, if he couldn't even see his Maximista in her full glory as a fashion up and comer this evening; he darn well was getting himself an orange soda as a very paltry consolation prize. Thus, it would only be after replenishing his spirits with the sweet Nectar of the Gods that he would embark upon his search for all things necrophilic. Just as he was opening the refrigerator door and retrieving a bottle of the liquid ambrosia, his cell phone rang, startling him. It seemed as though his world had constricted to only include him, Jason, the penthouse and assorted corpses which served to make any reminder of the outer environs somewhat disquieting.
He flipped open the phone pleased to see it was Maximista calling. His bliss was short lived as soon as he got an earful of the invective directed his way by his fair lady. "Spinelli!" her aggravated voice rang in his ears, "do you or do you not possess a watch? Do you know what time it is? Do you have any idea of how humiliating it is to be stood up at the social event of the season? If you didn't want to come, you should have just said so! I am sure that Federico would have been happy to escort me. After all the effort I put into picking out our costumes, I am so furious with you!" There was finally a break in the rapid staccato of justly deserved vilifying speech, but it didn't make Spinelli any happier.
He could hear the background sounds of people chattering and what seemed to be a big band playing. Yet, overlaying it all was something which broke his heart, Maxie was crying, sniffling actually. He knew that both the anger and tears were in response to her perception of the Jackal as a callous cad. He was being viewed as someone who had abandoned her on the one occasion she most required his presence and support.
Sighing, he tried to find something to say that would explain his absence while not revealing the actual cause of it. "It engenders untold pain within the Jackal to have not managed to be there with promptitude to celebrate this evening with his most esteemed Maximista. She must know that only the direst of circumstances would have prevented my arrival by this time. It is most unfortunate, but Stone Cold and I…"
"Jason!" she sobbed angrily, "I should have known that it would have something to do with him! When I get my hands on him…"
Spinelli had ceased to listen because he had noticed that the pantry door was ajar, and he suddenly remembered his brief to search the downstairs. With hesitation dogging each step, he walked towards the slightly open door. His cell phone was dangling from his hand and Maxie's ongoing diatribe acted as a tinny counterpart to his suddenly pounding heartbeat.
Tentatively, he reached out for the door handle and slowly pulled it open. Mops, brooms, and, oh yes, one more body all came crashing out towards him. This time he managed to sidestep the embrace of yet another dead intruder by twisting dexterously to the side.
The noise had been enough to reach Jason and he came running into the kitchen skidding to a halt with an almost comic expression of amazement on his face as he took in the disarray before him. "What the hell," he started to say and then stopped as he saw the most significant item in the mess on the kitchen floor. "Not again, this can not be happening!" he moaned. For one crazy instant, he considered just leaving, grabbing Spinelli and locking up the penthouse. They could find a nice farmhouse out in the country where they would only have to deal with normal infestations of mice and termites.
He shook his head and rubbed his eyes trying to focus on this newest problem. He looked over at Spinelli who was leaning against the counter looking beaten and exhausted. He heard a squawking noise and looked down at the forgotten cell phone still clutched in Spinelli's hand. Jason reached down and gently removed it from his roommate's flaccid grasp.
He couldn't even get the phone close to his ear because Maxie was shouting so loudly as she tried to get a response. "Spinelli, if you don't answer me right this minute, I am coming over!"
"Maxie! Shut up!" Jason utilized the opportunity to vent some of his pent up frustration by yelling himself. He was rewarded by blessed silence as Maxie adjusted both to the fact that Spinelli was no longer on the phone and that she had just been told off by that oaf Jason Morgan.
Fuming, she started to retort, "Who the hell do you…"
Jason grimly interrupted her again, "You will listen to me!" he stated with absolute authority. "Spinelli is helping me this evening. He can not dance attendance on you at your stupid Halloween party."
Enraged by both his dictatorial attitude and his casual dismissal of what was a career enhancing event; Maxie responded indignantly, "Stupid Halloween party, stupid Halloween party! I'll have you know that everyone who is anyone-not that you would have any idea-in the world of fashion is here tonight. This is an extremely vital evening to my career Jason and I will not have you screwing it up by having Spinelli hacking into something for you just because you can't wait until tomorrow!"
Jason sighed, he realized that she had no idea what was going on. It wasn't Maxie's fault that the penthouse was acting as an understudy to a mortuary tonight. In a more reasonable voice, he tried again, "Maxie, I really need Spinelli's help this evening and it isn't anything that can wait until tomorrow. It isn't something that's just important to me, it is also critical to Spinelli as well. He very much wanted to be there for you tonight but what is happening is something that no one expected and it is not under our control."
Maxie had also calmed down, it was clear she had absorbed the seriousness in Jason's tone. Now there was a note of fear in her voice as she asked, "Is Spinelli okay? Is whatever it is dangerous? You better take care of him Jason or you'll answer to me!" Then she said in a smaller, more lost voice, "I don't know what I would do if something happened to Spinelli… You tell him it is all right about the party and my birthday and everything. You do what you need to do and we will celebrate another time. Jason," the unending cascade of words paused, "I am trusting that you will make sure nothing happens to him. Promise me?"
Jason was touched both by her genuine concern for Spinelli as well as her faith in his ability to keep him safe. "I will take care of Spinelli, you can count on it. You enjoy your party." He looked over at Spinelli who hadn't moved during the entire exchange, "Maxie, the outfit you picked for Spinelli? It's perfect, it looks great on him." Without waiting for a response he flipped the phone shut and placed it on the counter.
"I failed her, Stone Cold," Spinelli said miserably, "I failed Maximista. On this most significant evening, I wasn't there to support her as she takes the first pertinent steps towards her future in the fashion industry."
"That isn't how she sees it at all, Spinelli. She was just upset in the beginning. When she understood that nothing except an emergency would have kept you from her side tonight all she could do was worry about your safety."
"Really?" Spinelli asked uncertainly, "I just thought she was so disappointed in me."
"She was really mad at me," Jason said ruefully rubbing his neck remembering her unadulterated rage. "As for you, she said you needed to be careful because she doesn't know what she would do without you. She made me promise that I would take care of you and that you could celebrate another night."
Spinelli smiled wanly and said, "That's a tremendous idea… The Jackal will plan the nights of all nights to make up for Maximista's dashed hopes for this evening."
Jason nodded his head in agreement and then reluctantly pointed to the kitchen floor, trying to pull Spinelli's attention back to the grim reality facing them. "I recognize him also," Jason had been studying the dead man all throughout the highly charged conversation with Maxie.
"Karpov's or Zacchara's?" Spinelli queried, his curiosity piqued
"Neither!" Jason growled as the twists in the maze that was this never ending nightmare further increased. "His name is John Smith and he is…was a freelance gun for hire. He is one of the few true sociopaths that I have ever run across. He will kill anyone for money and if he gets to torture his victims all the better from his perspective. This is one man you should not consider a loss to humanity, Spinelli. Because he is dead it means that others, innocents, will live." Jason made this speech with a quiet intensity that underlined the disgust he felt towards the dead man.
Spinelli wondered if Stone Cold had lost someone important to him as a result of the deadly craft practiced by the deceased. He seemed grimly pleased that this man in particular was no longer breathing. Now was not the time to inquire into the matter though.
Instead he had to ask, "John Smith, really?" it just seemed outlandish for a notorious killer to possess such a patently false sounding name.
"I don't know if that is his real name or not. It is the only name I have ever known him to go by. It fits his M.O. which was to be as inconspicuous as possible."
Indeed, this body again varied from the two previous ones. Where they had required a richness of adjectives to describe their appearance and their ethnicity, John Smith only required two words-average and grey. He was an entirely forgettable man of average weight and height. His features were nondescript and his hair was a medium brown and cut to an average length. He was dressed in a grey suit, as had been the Slavic intruder, but this suit hinted at the inner arrogance of the man. It was a bespoke suit of fine Italian raw silk and had a classic cut that was timeless. Spinelli was amazed to find that he recognized both the fabric and the design of the suit. He spared a brief and fond thought for the memory of Maximista's tutelage in the male sartorial arts. Smith's shoes were also grey, they were hand stitched and the sheen on them reflected the ceiling light. If Spinelli had passed this man on the street he would not have been able to describe a thing about him except that he was exceptionally well dressed.
Jason said reflectively, "I have looked for him off and on over the years. When he isn't working, he is invisible. I had no idea he was back in Port Charles. He knew better."
The last was said with a cold ferocity which reinforced Spinelli's theory that Smith and Jason had crossed paths at some point. He conjectured about the nature of what was clearly an unpleasant personal tragedy involving both men and occurring in the past long before he had entered his mentor's orbit. He knew Stone Cold well enough to understand that whatever had inspired this magnitude of bitterness and hatred had been soul searing indeed.
There was one further aspect of John Smith's body that separated it from the first two corpses. The cause of death for the Slavic soldier and Louie-strangulation and knife wound respectively-had been obvious to the naked eye. On the other hand, John Smith's body was free from any discernible marks or injuries. He simply wasn't breathing. Since the penthouse was not in possession of a fully equipped forensics laboratory, Spinelli presumed the enigma of how precisely Smith died would have to be added to the ever growing, ever more frustrating list of mysteries which had been accumulating all evening.
"Did Stone Cold find anything suspicious upstairs?" Spinelli asked Jason, trying to find a way to bring him back from whatever distant and disturbing memory seemed to currently possess him.
"No, nothing, it seems that three is our current quota," Jason replied distractedly.
"And two of those three are in current occupancy in our domicile." Spinelli was trying to arouse some sense of urgency, some idea that action was required to address the situation. "Surely Stone Cold has no intention of letting these…these interlopers remain here for any sustained interval."
"Of course not!" Jason said vehemently, as he seemed to regain his awareness of his surroundings and the necessity to respond with some type of plan to resolve the predicament they found themselves mired in. He sighed heavily, as he once again took up the burden of leadership, "I'll go back to the storage locker and see what we have left but I think you better go find some old sheets. If I had known about tonight, I would have stocked up accordingly, but lacking any idea of something like this…" he gestured at Smith's corpse, "I missed that last tarp sale at the hardware store." His stab at levity fell flat; neither of them had found much humor in the night's events.
There had indeed been an additional tarp in the storage locker and Jason allocated it for wrapping Louie's body since he was concerned about a possible bleed through from the knife wound. Fortunately, there was plenty of rope available to securely wrap both corpses within their makeshift shrouds.
Spinelli suggested that they move Smith first; he wanted to get this man, who seemed to affect Jason so deeply and so negatively, out of their home as quickly possible. So, they once again found themselves with an unholy cargo working their way down countless stairs to the subterranean parking garage. Smith might have indeed been evil incarnate, but he was definitely a less challenging burden than the Slavic one had been.
They returned to the penthouse to retrieve Louie, who wrapped tightly in a blue plastic sheath, made a small, pathetic package. Spinelli felt a wrench of pity as he looked at the undersized bundle that had once been a living, breathing human being. Louie the Rat may have been considered a 'bottom dweller' as Stone Cold had referred to him. Still, that did not make it acceptable to turn him into a macabre chess piece in whatever insane game was playing out within the confines of the penthouse.
He rubbed his hand over his face and bent down to pick up the body, but Jason forestalled him. "Look, Spinelli, I can take him, he's not very heavy. Why don't you go splash some water on your face and sit this one out, try and relax for a few minutes."
Spinelli suddenly felt totally exhausted and he nodded his head in agreement to Jason's plan. He was too tired to even respond verbally.
"Lock the door behind me and don't open it for anyone but me," were Jason's parting words as he headed out the door with Louie hanging over his shoulder.
Spinelli was happily twirling around the dance floor with Maximista's blonde head nestled on his shoulder. They seemed to be the only two people in the room. He wanted to preserve this moment forever; it was everything he had envisioned. Well, not quite everything, the orchestra seemed to be a little heavy on the percussion section. It was actually becoming very annoying, the noise wasn't even rhythmic and it was definitely interfering with what should have been a memorable romantic moment. In addition to the beating of the drums, he was dimly aware that someone in the distance seemed to be shouting something at him.
'Really, couldn't the world let the Jackal spend some quality time with his dream girl?' he thought, as he started to become extremely irritated.
"Spinelli! Open up!" Jason was yelling as he pounded on the door
Brutally jerked back to awareness, Spinelli rolled off the couch and onto the floor. As he picked himself up, he realized that he had fallen asleep in the short while he had been left alone. As he ran to open the door, he was just in time to prevent Jason from kicking his way in.
"Where in the hell have you been?" Jason rasped, both anxiety and anger evident in his face. "When you didn't answer the door, I thought," he paused, still caught in the grip of the panic that had threatened to overwhelm him when he couldn't rouse Spinelli, "Something terrible had happened to you…"
"The Jackal is mortified that he was derelict in his duty and fell asleep, Stone Cold. Be assured it will not happen again!" Spinelli responded breathlessly. He was ashamed to have been found in such a compromising position by Jason, whom he knew would never have succumbed to the enticing lure of Morpheus.
Jason calmer now that all his worst fears had been proven groundless said "Spinelli, I wish I could let you just stay here and sleep but it isn't safe. I need to keep a close eye on you for my own peace of mind. Besides," he said wryly, "a nap is starting to look pretty good to me too right now. So, if we're together we can keep each other awake, at least your constant talking should do the trick for me."
"The Jackal only speaks to impart that which is most salient and needs to be communicated at any given instant!" Spinelli retorted with spirit. Then he looked at Jason's face and saw a glint in his eye which meant he was teasing his grasshopper. "Well, the Jackal will undertake his assignment in the spirit in which it is given," he continued with asperity. "There have long been many topics upon which he has been desirous of holding forth in his Master's presence. This evening would seem to be the appropriate time for such a dissertation."
"I can hardly wait," Jason said sarcastically, while inwardly he was feeling happy to have the kid back to some semblance of his usual annoying self. "Why don't you go catch the elevator down and wait for me in the garage. I need to get a few more things together and I'll be right with you."
The first thing Jason did, after he got into the SUV, was hand Spinelli a bottle of orange soda. "You forgot this."
Spinelli noticed another bottle sticking out of the paper bag Jason had brought with him. "Many thanks Stone Cold, but the Jackal only needs one bottle of the orange elixir to pep him right up."
"This?" Jason said, with a twist of his lips, as he pulled the second bottle out. "This isn't for you, this one's mine. Tonight we're partners in all things." He turned to clink bottles with Spinelli, "To knowing that someone has your back." He took a large swig and managed not to choke as the very fizzy, very sweet, entirely artificial soda tracked its sticky way down his esophagus. 'Please, somebody shoot me before I ever have to drink another bottle of this swill,' he implored silently.
Spinelli was so touched by the gesture, that he was speechless. His Master had called him his partner and acknowledged that he trusted his grasshopper to have his back. Not only that, but he sealed the affirmation with a bonding drink of the Nectar of the Gods itself. Except for three dead bodies, Maximista's poignant disappointment, and a bedroom and a bathroom he was unsure he could ever inhabit again-this was the absolute best night of his life.
Chapter 3: The Fourth, Fifth and Sixth
What Happens in the Penthouse Stays in the Penthouse
Chapter 3: The Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth
Once more Spinelli and Jason found themselves driving out into the country but this time they were carrying twice the cargo. The journey for Jason was unadulterated torture, while for Spinelli it was unmatched elation.
He had taken his mentor's comment that he should keep him awake and alert to heart. Spinelli had so many divergent interests and pursuits but Stone Cold never seemed to have the time or patience to listen to him expound upon them. Yet, on this most extraordinary and troubling of evenings, his Master had actually requested that Spinelli regale him on any or all of those topics closest to his intellectual heart.
Spinelli suspected that his interpretation of Stone Cold's off the cuff comment might be a little erroneous, but he was an eternal optimist as well as no fool. In his opinion, this was definitely a defining carpe diem moment in the Master-Grasshopper dynamic, one that he would not allow to be wasted.
He planned to start small, holding onto the big guns until he had Stone Cold mesmerized with his brilliance and erudition on lesser topics. When the time was right, he would then share nothing less than the secrets of the universe with his mentor. He was sure that his reward would come when Jason regarded him with awe and expressly thanked him for all his tutorial efforts.
'Think nothing of it, Stone Cold,' he envisioned himself saying offhandedly. 'After all, you have often and freely shared your knowledge and abilities in the arenas of fire power, battle strategies, and winning over the fairer sex with your humble acolyte. Just think of this as a small return for all that invaluable knowledge you imparted to the Jackal.'
The visualization of this exchange between a grateful Jason and a condescending Spinelli was so real, that it took him a moment to realize that Stone Cold was actually saying something to him. "Uh, what Stone Cold, were you speaking to the Jackal?" He asked, trying to cover his temporary lapse into a private fantasy land.
Jason gave him a peculiar sideways look, "I said, 'Are you okay? You were mumbling something about the universe and the fairer sex.' I know tonight has been tough, but I really need you focused right now, Spinelli."
"Absolutely!" Spinelli said flustered to have been caught daydreaming. "I was just mentally perusing which topic I should initially hold forth on in order to maintain Stone Cold's mental acuity for the duration of the evening's events.
"I see," Jason said drearily, wondering how someone as uncommunicative as himself ended up residing with someone so thoroughly vocal.
"Well," said Spinelli excitedly beginning, "I am thinking about enrolling in the winter term at Port Charles University. They are offering an upper level seminar on death imagery in the poems of Emily Dickinson. I must say, Stone Cold, I truly feel this might be a once in a life time opportunity for your grasshopper to gaze pensively into the long dead soul of the most magnificently introverted poetess known to Western literature."
"Death imagery, Dickinson, literature," Jason repeated obediently to show he was listening, as he contemplated the incipient beginnings of a headache at the base of his skull. At least he could see the usefulness of death imagery tonight, he admitted to himself.
"Yes, I agree, an opportunity not to be missed," concurred Spinelli happily. "Now, in a few days we all will be getting ready to vote in one of the most pivotal and historic presidential elections to ever occur in this country. Be it known that the Jackal would never presume to inquire into Stone Cold's political affiliations." Although, Spinelli did indubitably believe that his Master, who wasn't much of a joiner, must be registered as an independent. "He does feel it incumbent," he chuckled quietly to himself at such witty, timely and political humor, while altogether missing Jason's not so quiet responsive groan, "Upon him to urge his Master to be timely in his visit to the polls. Absentee ballot, early voting, doing the deed on election day-all are equally acceptable. The important thing is that we all walk out proudly wearing that most prestigious emblem which our republic bestows on its every citizen."
"Huh?" Jason asked bemusedly. He had been following his own train of thought as to whether he had ever, even once, even as Jason Quartermaine, voted in any election. He was pretty sure the answer was no.
"Why, the 'I Voted' sticker in the proud tricolors of our country's ensign," Spinelli responded in an injured tone. Surely, Stone Cold must not have been paying apt enough attention, for how else could he have possibly not comprehended such a crystal clear elucidation.
'Well,' Spinelli reflected to himself forgivingly, 'I know that Stone Cold will surely step up and do his civic duty, and really, some people aren't crazy about little stickers and that is okay.'
Jason, was thankful for the brief interlude of silence, 'If only,' he thought wistfully, 'I had some duct tape.'
"So, anyway," Spinelli started up again, "The Large Hadron Collider, as I am sure you have read, is down for the season but come next spring they will have it up and running again. Then what unparalleled knowledge will spring forth from that twenty-seven kilometer wide circle deep under European soil. Why they might finally observe the God particle!"
"The God particle?" Jason couldn't help himself, he knew he would regret it but he had to ask.
"Why, yes, the Higgs boson particle. It is postulated to exist but it has never been observed. The theoretical groundwork explaining the role of this particle in nuclear forces has been extensively analyzed and supported mathematically. This has lead to a unifying linkage of the weak and strong nuclear forces combined with electromagnetism. Alas, that troublesome outsider gravity has yet to be included. Thereby, the unifying theory of all forces still remains a tantalizing goal for some lucky future Nobel recipient."
He did, he utterly did regret asking! There was now a full fledged painful pounding in his brain, and they still weren't at the quarry. He wondered darkly if Spinelli knew how to swim.
"Then don't even get me started on dark matter and dark energy."
'I didn't!' Jason thought plaintively at the unfairness of it all. 'I didn't get you started.'
"They think," Spinelli continued, oblivious to his Master's physical and mental suffering, "that up to 96% of the universe consists of these undetectable factors. That means that only 4% consists of what we consider to be ordinary, measurable matter. Additionally, Stone Cold, it is thought that there are actually as many as eleven dimensions rather than the more commonly perceived three plus time model. This is of course where string theory comes into its own."
"Of course," Jason said dully, for the first time entirely comprehending the definition of hell.
"Which reminds me!" Spinelli said even more animatedly, "The new James Bond movie has a wonderful title, The Quantum of Solace, starring Daniel Craig as the newest Bond. I find him quite reminiscent of you, Stone Cold, though not nearly as effective in his role as an angst ridden anti-hero. He frequently is captured and often tortured by his arch nemesis, before finally dispatching him. Still, he does have the coolest gadgets and cars and he always gets the girl. Well, not the first girl, regrettably, she invariably is sacrificed on the altar of necessity in order to act as a spur to get Bond fully committed to the pursuit of the evil mastermind."
'Finally,' Jason thought perking up as they turned onto the track leading to the quarry, 'He is talking about something both interesting and understandable. It has been a long time since I have seen a Bond movie.' He mused, 'Maybe, when this is all over the kid and I can go see it. Surely, even he knows better than to talk during a movie. That alone would be worth the price of admission.'
By the time they reached the quarry, Spinelli had fallen silent. All his chatter had enabled him to forget the morbid nature of their nocturnal trek but now harsh reality was once again intruding. Reluctantly, he disembarked from the SUV and proceeded to help Jason find large stones to weigh down the bodies. Then silently, with what was becoming a practiced rhythm, they swung each corpse over the edge of the quarry.
This time Spinelli didn't take a moment to memorialize either man. From what he had understood from Jason, there was no point in asking for John Smith's redemption. To the extent he felt he was capable of doing so with regard to a stranger, he had already privately eulogized Louie back at the Penthouse.
Almost as soon as they were back on the paved road heading towards Port Charles, Spinelli was again asleep. Jason looked worriedly over at his friend. He realized his excessive sleepiness was a defense mechanism against the traumatizing events of the evening. Unfortunately, given his twitches and murmurs of distress, he didn't seem to be finding any escape in his dreams. Jason sighed unhappily, he fervently hoped their next destination might help cheer Spinelli up.
Spinelli opened his eyes blearily as the SUV engine was turned off. At first he thought they were back at the Harbor View Towers but then he realized this was a different parking garage. "Where are we, Stone Cold?" He queried, wondering why Jason would take a detour on tonight of all nights.
"We're at the Metro Court," Jason responded as he climbed out of the vehicle, while indicating that Spinelli should do the same. He was gratified to see Spinelli's expression immediately change from sleepy confusion to uncomplicated joy.
"Maximista!" he exclaimed delightedly. "Does this mean that the Jackal has his Master's leave to go visit his fair one?"
"Yeah," Jason responded gruffly, trying not to show how touched he was at Spinelli's reaction. "You can't stay long though," he warned, "we should leave in about twenty minutes or so."
Spinelli turned in search of the elevators that would carry him to his cherished prize. Jason called to him, "Hey, you're forgetting something."
Spinelli looked at Jason in puzzlement and then recognized what he was holding out to him. From the brown paper bag at his feet, he had extracted the jacket and fedora that were needed to complete Spinelli's costume.
Spinelli shrugged into the jacket while Jason held it for him. Then, smoothing back his hair into some approximation of what it had been a million years ago at the penthouse, he placed the hat on his head at a cocky angle and grinned at Jason. "How do I look?"
Jason reached out and smoothed down his collar and tugged at his tie. "You'll do," he said with rough affection. "Don't forget this," he added as Spinelli once again started to leave. Spinelli gazed in wonderment at the little gift wrapped box Jason was holding out to him. "It's Maximista's birthday gift!" he said in amazement. Then looking up at Jason with awe bordering on reverence, he said simply, "Thank you, Jason."
"Don't forget," Jason reminded him, "You only have twenty minutes."
"What will Stone Cold do while the Jackal is occupied with the beauteous Maximista?" Spinelli inquired.
"This and that," Jason replied vaguely.
The truth was he planned to scavenge the Metro Court janitorial closets for materials that might be needed if any more bodies showed up. He would replenish them later and he keenly hoped that it was only a precautionary measure. Yet, something told him that there might be more unpleasant surprises this evening and he grimly intended to be prepared for any and all eventualities.
Spinelli waved farewell to his Master and headed off to the Crimson Halloween Gala. Jason watched him depart and turned to canvas the bowels of the hotel for what he needed.
When the elevator doors opened onto the top floor Sky Lounge, Spinelli took a step back as the noise and light assaulted him. It seemed as though he had been dwelling for an eternity in a dark cave with dead bodies and a somber Stone Cold as his only companions. It took him a moment to adjust to the sights and sounds of a large boisterous group of people celebrating a commercially prostituted pagan holiday.
As he stepped out of the elevator, he felt a sense of surrealism overtake him. It was clear that there were two main distinct themes in costume choice at this celebration. The first were those outfits of a political nature. He counted five Hilaries, eight Obamas, three Bidens, two McCains, and an unbelievable ten Palins, in his short journey towards the main ballroom.
The second overwhelmingly popular costume choice was the result of the most recent Batman movie. His head spun as he contemplated a myriad of Dark Knights, Harvey Two-Faces, and, of course, a multiplicity of Jokers.
He briefly pondered the idea of writing a psycho-social opinion piece on the phenomenon of costume choice as an expression of socio-cultural manifestation. Then he saw her, and his brain was suddenly wiped clean of all thought except how gorgeous she looked.
It was as though the room had been cleared of everyone but the two of them and she was standing in a circle of light which seemed to radiate from within her. Her costume was the matching yin to his yang. She was dressed in a maroon suit with a fitted jacket that ended in a flared peplum over a tight fitting skirt. The jacket had three oversized black velvet buttons and a matching velvet collar. Perched on her blonde hair, which had been fluffed and curled for the evening, was the most adorable wisp of a maroon chapeau he had ever seen. The outfit was further enhanced by silk stockings with black seams running up them. They encased her shapely legs in a most enticing manner. Finally, she wore blocky high heels that matched the color and style of the suit right down to the black velvet bows on the heels. Maxie was in a word-entrancing.
She was animatedly speaking to a mixed group of superheroes, politicians and one oddly placed Donald Duck. Suddenly, as though feeling his adoring gaze, she stopped, turned and saw him. "Spinelli!" she shrieked, running across the room towards him. "You're here, you're here!" she cried giddy with happiness. When she reached him, she flung her arms around him and hugged him tightly and then kissed him on his cheek, leaving a bright smear of scarlet lipstick to mark her territory.
"Maximista is a vision to behold. She takes the Jackal's breath away." Spinelli told her, feeling unaccountably shy.
"Thank you," she said twirling around at the end of his hand, allowing him to once again inspect her outfit. "Did you notice how I meshed the two costumes so that we would complement each other?" she asked eagerly.
"Indeed, the Jackal is aware of the most careful thought and care that Maximista put into the choosing of tonight's mutual ensembles. He is most grateful to be the recipient of such kind consideration."
"I wanted us to have an evening to remember, Spinelli." Maxie said with a wistful smile, "Then it was all spoiled when I thought you weren't coming but you're here now!" She grinned at him gleefully.
Spinelli felt a pang for having misled his paramour and felt it incumbent on him to explain the temporary nature of their reunion. Before he could say anything, the orchestra, which had been on a break, started playing 'Embraceable You'.
Maxie tugged at his hand, leading him onto the crowded dance floor. When they had claimed their own space, she turned smiling at him and moved into his arms, nestling her head on his shoulder. Crushed together by the other dancers, they swayed as one, lost in each other. Spinelli realized that this was literally his dream from earlier come true, except that it had lacked the olfactory component of the wonderful medley of scents coming from Maxie's hair and neck. He couldn't remember ever being happier than he was at this moment.
The band finished playing and, after a round of enthusiastic applause, they segued into 'Every Time We Say Goodbye'. This time the music was accompanied by a husky voiced singer lingering over Cole Porter's evocative lyrics. Spinelli's contentment continued unabated for a further few moments as they again danced. Suddenly, he felt a tap on his shoulder and he turned to see an apologetic looking Jason standing at his shoulder.
Surprised, Spinelli realized that Stone Cold didn't look out of place amidst all the costumed partygoers. His usual uniform of t-shirt, jeans, and leather jacket all conspired to make him look like a world weary James Dean. Therefore, on this one occasion, his daily attire permitted him to fit into a high society soiree without awkwardness. Still, Spinelli was for once not best pleased to see his mentor since he knew it meant his time with Maximista must come to an end.
Maxie knew immediately that Jason had come to claim Spinelli and all her revitalized hopes for the evening came crashing down. "Do you have to go?" she asked Spinelli pleadingly.
He could not bear to look into her eyes, which had grown shiny with unshed tears. Instead, he looked down at his shoes and mumbled with heartfelt anguish, "The Jackal regrets he must leave his Maximista in such a rude and untimely fashion. Were it in his power to stay, nothing would dissuade him. Unfortunately, the Master requires the aid and succor of his grasshopper this evening."
Then looking up directly into Maxie's face he said clearly and distinctly, "I am truly sorry, Maximista. I hope you will allow me to make up the ruination of this evening in the near future."
"I'm holding you to it." Maxie said with a twisted smile, recognizing that whatever was happening, it was important and that Spinelli and Jason had to go. She didn't want him to feel guilty or to be focused on anything but what he needed to do. "Jason," she glared at him accusingly, "Remember your promise!"
"I will," Jason said soberly as he put his hand on Spinelli's shoulder in order to get his reluctant friend to leave. Dragging his feet, Spinelli walked slowly away with Jason, casting frequent sad glances over his shoulder at Maxie, who stood in desolate abandonment on the dance floor.
Suddenly, Spinelli remembered something he had to do. "Just a minute, Stone Cold," he turned and ran back to Maxie, pulling the small package out of his jacket pocket. "Here, a small memento in honor of your birthday," he said handing it to her with a bow.
"Oh, Spinelli," she sighed, the tears starting to fall in earnest now. "Thank you, so much, I'll treasure it!"
"Spinelli," it was Jason, his tone brooking no argument, "Time to go."
Spinelli gave her a lopsided grin and ran to join Jason who was already striding away across the ballroom. Maxie stood there watching Spinelli's retreating back until he was lost to view amidst the crowd of revelers.
Feeling lost and alone and suddenly disliking the crush of people, and even the music, she hunted for some place to be by herself while she opened her gift. Maxie found the perfect spot, a hidden alcove with a love seat near a window that showed the sparkling lights of the city below.
Sitting down felt good, she hadn't realized how sore her feet had gotten wearing these vintage heels. She contemplated the box for a minute, guessing what was inside. For many years now, at every birthday, Maxie had inevitably received one or more gifts of jewelry.
When she turned ten, her mother had taken her to get her ears pierced, and as a special surprise had given her a pair of opal earrings. So, what started as a thoughtful gesture on the part of her mother continued over the years. After Felicia left, and the girls were for all intents and purposes motherless, Mac attempted in every way he knew how to compensate for her absence.
In Maxie's case, one way he did that was to commemorate her birthday annually with an opal in some setting. Georgie and Robin observed this tradition as well, and so it continued. Over the years, Maxie had been the recipient of opal earrings, bracelets, pins, pendants-you name it. If it was jewelry and it had an opal in it, she possessed it.
Besides the lack of suspense associated with her birthday gifts, there was one other major problem with this yearly situation. Maxie hated, absolutely despised, opals. She ardently wished that she had been born in April, diamonds-now that was a birthstone a girl could get behind. Opals were opaque and they didn't look good with her skin tone and she was just so tired of receiving them.
Unfortunately, Maxie wasn't as cruel as people made her out to be. She knew that she could never tell her loved ones how she truly felt about their enthusiastic contribution to what they assumed was a cherished tradition.
Well, now it looked as though Spinelli had jumped onto the opal bandwagon. She had visions of endless years of receiving more of the pallid stones in a variety of settings. Meanwhile, each time, she would have to feign smiling with enthusiasm as she opened another jewelry box containing disappointed hopes.
'Might as well get it over with,' she thought wearily.
At least she didn't have to fake a joyful response until the next time she saw Spinelli. She tore off the wrapping paper and opened the lid of the leather box. When she saw what was inside, she gasped in surprise and delight. Maxie had heard about them, but no one in her family was particularly adventuresome and so, she had never received one until now.
Carefully, Maxie pulled out the pendant nestled in the box. The stone was a brilliant dark maroon. It actually was the perfect color match to the suit she was wearing this evening. 'How did he do that?' she thought in bemused wonderment. The stone was pear cut and dangled at the end of a lovely filigreed platinum chain.
Maxie knew that it was a Mexican fire opal. They had been the only version of her birthstone to ever intrigue her. Until tonight, she had never seen one. After tonight, she knew she would never possess any other kind of opal. The light in the alcove reflected off the stone and cast a ruby glow on the opposing wall.
Nearby, there was a mirror over a small table with a floral arrangement on it. While getting up to go put the necklace on and admire her reflection, she dislodged the gift box and it fell to the floor, spilling out a small white piece of paper.
Maxie bent down to pick it up and saw that there was stylized writing on it. It was a note from Spinelli: The fiery beauty of this stone is but a pale reflection of she whom it adorns, lucky be the gem that hangs upon such a column of pure radiant alabaster-Always and Forever Yours, Damian Spinelli
She sat back down stunned, never in her entire life, had she been the recipient of such an entirely romantic gesture. Spinelli had somehow taken something mundane and disliked and turned it into an unforgettable moment. Brushing at her cheeks, Maxie was unsurprised to find them wet, crying seemed to be the order of the evening but this time they were tears of joy.
She made her way to the mirror and put on the pendant. She stared at her reflection in fascination, it was perfect and he was perfect. Maxie thought she might never take it off. The next time she saw the Jackal she would have to find a way to show him her heartfelt appreciation…
Spinelli was silent on the trip back home. Covertly observing him, Jason wasn't able to tell if the stop at the Metro Court had helped or hurt his roommate's spirits. Allowing him to see Maxie to only have her literally ripped out of his arms might not have been the brightest move on Jason's part.
Sighing, he wondered what they now might be facing on their return to the penthouse. He wasn't only concerned about how much more Spinelli could take. Jason was also feeling the strain. He hated feeling as impotent as he had all through this evening. He and Spinelli had only been reacting to events, trying to perform damage control. So far they hadn't even taken one step towards determining who was behind these bizarre and possibly ongoing events. Jason didn't have a clue as to why this was happening and his frustration showed in the fact that his usual iron clad self control was becoming more and more frayed.
Together they stood wearily in front of the elevator, each hoping that they would find nothing untoward when they arrived back at their shared domicile. Maybe they could both get some much needed rest and deal with the situation from the fresh perspective of a new day.
The elevator announced its arrival with a cheery ping and Spinelli hopped into the car. There was already another occupant huddled up against the railings on the opposite side of the small space.
Jason had yet to enter and Spinelli turned to urge him in, "Stone Cold, let's go, I want to get out of this suit and try to…" He trailed off as he realized Jason wasn't paying any attention to him. Instead he was staring intently at the other inhabitant of the small space.
Spinelli followed Jason's gaze towards the tall, gangly man who was leaning at an unnatural angle in the opposite corner. "No! No! Not again, no more!" he knew he was yelling, almost screaming, but he really couldn't stand this for one more second.
Spinelli's outburst penetrated Jason's own shocked reaction, he simply could not believe the audacity of whoever was responsible for all this. He had escalated to leaving bodies in public places where anyone might stumble upon them.
"Spinelli!" he said in an attempt to prevent a full blown hysterical outburst or collapse or whatever other reaction might consume the younger man. "It's all right, you're all right, I am here, we can deal with this, but you need to calm down, now!" He barked the final word, hating having to talk to Spinelli like that at this moment but knowing he had no other option.
It worked, years of responding to Jason when he was in his authoritarian mode connected with something primal in Spinelli's core and he stopped dead in the process of melting down. "Jason," he groaned pleadingly, "how many more, how many more?"
Jason blew out his breath and looked at Spinelli, he shook his head, "I don't know. I have no idea who is doing this or why. Until we have some idea, then he or they have us where they want us. They can do what they want and all we are able to do is respond to it." Jason sounded out of his depth and almost defeated.
His master's uncertainty was almost more terrifying to Spinelli than being exposed to his fourth corpse of the evening. Jason always knew what to do in any situation. That was just one of the immutable laws of the universe and Spinelli believed in natural laws above all things. After all, the apple never flew up from the ground and reattached itself to the tree.
So, he determined, this simply could not be, even if he had to do something about it himself. Laws were laws and this particular one wasn't going to broken tonight, not if the Jackal had anything to say about it. "We will…" he said with such total and complete confidence that it was difficult to imagine him as the same lost boy of a few moments ago. "You and I, together, we will solve this. We will find the fiendish architect of all these heinous and uncalled for murders and we will prevent him from succeeding at whatever nefarious plan he has devised. Together, you and I, Stone Cold and his wingman, we will prevail over any temporary obstacles that are placed in our path and in the end we shall vanquish this evil."
Jason was dumbfounded, he had never seen Spinelli like this. He was so calm, so certain, so full of belief in their ability to conquer anything if they simply worked together as a team. This time around it was Spinelli who brought Jason back from the brink, who let him know that his faith in him was unshaken, whole and shining.
Jason actually felt purpose flowing back into his veins as he nodded at his fr…no brother, he amended to himself, "You're totally right, we can do this, we can and will find whoever is doing this and stop them. When I meet up with him…" Jason growled, imagining the certain outcome of that particular encounter. Spinelli knew at that exact moment that his mentor was fully back in the here and now and prepared to engage in battle.
As though performing a now familiar ritual, Jason and Spinelli turned in unison to study the newest body to find its undesired way into their orbit. Even though he was slumped against the wall of the elevator, it was clear he was very tall and extremely thin. 'A cadaverous cadaver,' Spinelli couldn't help thinking to himself.
He had reddish brown hair that curled down shaggily over his collar, sideburns and a handlebar moustache. His hairstyle and moustache combined with the three piece tan polyester suit he was wearing all conspired to make him look like a refugee from the seventies, or perhaps an extra on the new TV series "Life on Mars". Spinelli definitely felt that tonight couldn't be any stranger even if he actually found himself marooned on the red planet.
"Stone Cold," he prompted, "Seen him around anywhere?"
Jason nodded and sighed, "Yeah, he is small time all the way. Steals cars and sends them to chop shops. I think he gets arrested more than anyone else in Port Charles. He's Scottish, I believe, has that accent, his name's Ian Donaldson. He drank, a lot."
Indeed he had, drunk, a lot. It was clearly visible in the network of red, spider webbing veins on his once broken nose and across his cheeks. His grey eyes were open and staring rather balefully as though he could still see the individual who had the audacity to prematurely end his existence.
Spinelli found himself spontaneously saying, "Fate gave the word, the arrow sped, and pierc'd my darling's heart; and with him all the joys are fled, life can to me impart."
He looked at Jason apologetically, "It's Robert Burns, Scotland's national bard, it just seemed appropriate."
Jason had been examining the body more closely and found that Spinelli's brief burst of commemorative poetry had been more on the mark than he knew. He pulled something out of Donaldson's neck, it was tiny and he lost his grasp on it. The object fell to the elevator floor rolling towards Spinelli's feet.
Jason said sharply, as he bent to retrieve it. "Don't! Leave it alone, I think it's poisoned."
Spinelli froze, his fingers scant inches away from the minute dart. He remembered the handkerchief in his breast pocket and using it he cautiously picked up the small but lethal weapon. He handed it to Jason, who carefully placed it in an interior pocket of his jacket. They were each aware that they had discovered their first real clue and both were equally determined that nothing would happen to it before they could analyze it.
Jason had long since wedged the elevator door open with a nearby trash can. Turning to Donaldson, he lifted the dead man's arm across his shoulder while wrapping his own arm around the other's waist, and prepared to move him out of the elevator and towards the SUV.
'At least there weren't any stairs involved this time,' he thought bleakly.
Suddenly, a clarion call sounded across the parking garage, "Hold it, hold the elevator, please!"
Jason and Spinelli stared at each other with dismay. Their luck had finally run out. All this moving of bodies from the penthouse to the SUV and they hadn't seen a soul. Now, when their destination was a few feet away from them, they were cornered and by the worst possible person, Louise Murphy. She was the resident gossip and know-it-all of Harbor View Towers. She headed up the building neighborhood watch and had often tried to get Jason to join, totally oblivious to the irony involved in that request.
Now she was approaching the elevator and there was no time and no place for them to flee. Jason could do nothing, entangled with Donaldson as he was. She was now upon them and in her arms was her constant companion, her little chocolate colored miniature pinscher called Perkins.
Jason and Mrs. Murphy had only tolerated each other in all the years they had been co-residents at the Towers. Their relationship had dramatically altered into mutual dislike four years ago. It was the first day that Perkins and Jason 'met'. Mrs. Murphy had been waiting for the lobby elevator when Jason came in and stood silently next to her. Suddenly, hearing a distinctive and recognizable sound he looked down in disbelief at his feet. There was the smallest puppy he had ever seen, lifting his leg and peeing on Jason's boots and jeans.
The little dog proved to have excellent reflexes as he skipped nimbly out of the way of Jason's well aimed kick. "Really, Mr. Morgan!" Mrs. Murphy exclaimed glaring at Jason, as she protectively scooped a victorious Perkins up into her arms. "He is just a little puppy and isn't quite housetrained yet. How could you!" Her bust was heaving with indignation while Perkins grinned happily at his new best enemy.
Jason ungraciously accepted defeat in this round and muttered an insincere apology. Then, choosing to fight another day, he took the stairs. From that day forth, he and Perkins had a simple, satisfying relationship built on mutual antipathy. Whenever they saw each other, which was fortunately infrequently, each campaigned to sabotage the other.
Perkins left dead rats outside the penthouse door while Jason repeatedly encouraged Perkins to vacate the building by leaving the lobby door open, especially on snowy days. Whenever Perkins saw Jason, he growled and snarled and barked as loudly as possible, behavior which often nullified Jason's proudly held ability to move as soundlessly as a cat.
Jason, in turn, found the largest alley cat he could and brought it to live in the building, ostensibly as a mouser. He secretly hoped that the outsized, semi-feral animal would teach Perkins a thing or two about the world outside his comfortable fiefdom of the Towers. Instead, within the week, the cat had been driven out, hissing in frustration and fear. Perkins celebrated by somehow depositing a very large and decaying rat smack in the middle of Jason's bed. Of all the adversaries Jason had ever faced, Perkins was the one he most held a grudging respect for. Yet, his reluctant esteem for the canine did nothing to alter his determination to win their ongoing game of wits.
Even tonight, with all that was at stake, the minute Jason's and Perkin's eyes met each curled up a lip in a silent snarl of greeting. Mrs. Murphy, by this time accustomed to their enmity, paid them no mind and instead focused on the trash can blocking the elevator door. "What is this doing here?" she demanded imperiously, "Damian, remove it at once, so we can ascend!"
Spinelli long inculcated in the act of responding obediently to anyone who ordered him around; moved the trashcan away from the door while frantically rolling his eyes at Jason from behind Mrs. Murphy.
Once the doors closed and the elevator began to rise, Mrs. Murphy turned her attention to the fourth dweller of the car. At first her glance was casual but then it sharpened as she took in the peculiarity of it all. "Who is this, Mr. Morgan, and why must you support him? Is he drunk?" she said with the disdain of the life long teetotaler for the inequities of those less strong of character.
Before Jason could reply, Spinelli jumped in with both feet. "No, no Mrs. Murphy, he's not drunk, this…" thinking rapidly, "Is my cousin Ian from Tennessee and he suffers from narcolepsy."
Jason couldn't help himself as he grunted with laughter that he quickly changed into a coughing fit. 'Narcolepsy!' he thought to himself, 'Could this night get anymore weird?'
"Narcolepsy?" Mrs. Murphy queried, "What is that?"
"Oh, it is very regrettable malfunction within the brain that causes the sufferer to spontaneously fall asleep anywhere, anytime. Poor cousin Ian has an especially extreme form of the condition." Somehow Spinelli managed to deliver this complete fabrication with both a straight face and total sincerity.
The effect was almost destroyed as Jason, unable to help himself, continued to snort and cough and choke as he tried to suppress gales of laughter.
"Is this condition contagious?" Mrs. Murphy asked looking with alarm at Jason's contortions.
"Not at all," Spinelli reassured her, while glaring at Jason, "Stone Cold simply has a tickle in his throat."
Mrs. Murphy stared at Ian who was leaning comfortably against a still shaking Jason, "His eyes are open," she observed curiously.
"Indeed," Spinelli responded a little desperately, "That is a distinctive feature of Cousin Ian's particular version of this affliction. It has proven very valuable on social occasions and at work when everyone is unaware of the fact that he is sound asleep."
As he finished speaking, Spinelli reached up towards Donaldson's face and, making a moue of distaste, ran his hand over the dead man's eyes to close the eyelids. He was trying to make him look more naturally asleep. It had the opposite effect as only one eyelid closed, and Ian continued to stare unseeingly out at the world through his remaining open eye.
The effect was quite unnerving but just at that moment they arrived at Mrs. Murphy's floor. Perkins had been uncharacteristically silent throughout the ride but suddenly decided that now was the time to inform his arch nemesis that he wasn't fooled in the least as to the truth of the matter.
He let out one sharp, piercing bark as if to say, "Narcolepsy, hah! You've got yourself a dead one there and I should know."
Jason, no longer laughing, looked into the little dog's eyes with his best icy cold, steel blue, intimidating glare which failed utterly. Perkins yawned, bored with the whole exchange, he barked to be let down and trotted off to his apartment. He was entirely unimpressed with the booted one's attempt at portraying an alpha male.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Murphy cast one more concerned glance at Spinelli's putative sleeping relative and said, "Well, Damian you must bring your cousin over when he is…rested." Maybe that wasn't the best choice of words, she thought to herself. "When you have had a chance to catch up with one another, we'll have tea. Now, don't forget our standing Mahjong game on Thursday. The girls and I want a chance to win some of our money back from you."
Spinelli was so relieved to have survived the last few minutes with their secret seemingly intact that he chirped a bright, "Yes, ma'am, I look forward to it."
Ignoring Jason, Mrs. Murphy bestowed a vivid smile and a farewell wave on Spinelli. She walked towards her apartment door where an impatient Perkins was waiting for her.
As the elevator door closed, Jason could finally release all the pent up laughter which had started building up again upon hearing Mrs. Murphy's plans for a tea party with a corpse. He gasped almost incoherently, "Tea, rested, Mahjong!" This last word seemed to be the catalyst to restart the entire cycle and he almost lost his grip on Donaldson as he swayed and tears formed in his eyes.
Spinelli frowned at him entirely unamused. He had tried his best to formulate an appropriate response to an untenable situation and what had Stone Cold done to help-nothing! As a matter of fact between his uncharacteristic laughing fit and his perennial silverback contest with that little ratter, he had put them both in serious jeopardy. Then on top of it all to impugn an ancient game of strategy and skill, well, it was simply too much.
"The Jackal would have Stone Cold know that Mahjong is an antique and renowned game of skill and ability that takes years to become adept at and, much like bridge or golf, one can always hone one's facility at play." He spoke with a quietly injured dignity. Then he reached over and pushed the elevator button to take them back down to the garage.
The ride down should have taken no more than a few minutes and then they would have been able to store Donaldson in the SUV. Unfortunately, as they descended, the elevator stopped at the fifth floor. Jason groaned, his levity of moments ago all but forgotten, "This is why we don't take the elevator!" he hissed at poor Spinelli, as the doors slid open once more.
One of the things which had initially appealed to Jason when he took up residence in the Towers was the fact that the majority of the inhabitants were elderly, retired, and respectable. This suited him on several counts. Surrounded by a large group of upright senior citizens, his own questionable activities were less likely to undergo scrutiny. Also, any intruders or people intending him or his harm, tended to stick out from the regular occupants. Finally, and this spoke to his personal preferences, he anticipated neighbors who would lead quiet existences much like he did when he was at home.
Each of these tenets had been proven to be true. No one did expect a mob connected enforcer to be actively residing at Harbor View Towers. Anytime someone foreign to the occupants of the building entered, it was always noted, either by a video camera or by the elderly security guard who manned the desk on weekdays. Moreover, Jason had found the low level of residential noise to even exceed his demanding expectations. The inhabitants of Harbor View Towers did not go in for loud celebrations at any time.
Yet, there were several pertinent factors to residing in the Towers which Jason had entirely failed to predict. Since, the majority of the tenants were retired, they had plenty of free time on their hands. Said time hung heavily and the favorite activity of most of the residents was to stick their noses into their neighbors' business.
Jason worked hard at being inconspicuous and turning away any attempts at socialization. Naturally, this simply further encouraged his neighbors' curiosity. The result of Jason's standoffishness was a continual barrage of invitations, spontaneous visits and home cooked meals dropped off for the 'poor boy'.
Still, over time, his implacable resistance to all such overtures eventually paid off. Even the most intrepid do-gooder finally grew weary of an unreceptive Jason standing four-square in his doorway, refusing entry and the offer of free food. In due course, his neighbors gave up on getting to know Jason or even the opportunity of seeing the interior of the penthouse. He simply became their most eccentric resident, one who inexplicably made them all feel safer during the years he lived at the Towers.
Tonight though, reminded him of one more drawback to having elderly neighbors which was that almost every one of them seemed to have trouble sleeping. He often thought that they should form a self help group for insomniacs. Jason came and went from the Towers at odd hours, sometimes it would be so late at night that it was actually early morning. Whatever the time, he would invariably run into another resident out walking their dog, visiting a neighbor or simply putting out the trash. Apparently they seemed to have foregone the need for sleep or perhaps they had simply lost the ability to do so.
Unfortunately, this Halloween evening was proving no different from any other night at the Towers. Jason barely had time to rearrange his supportive grip on Donaldson before the doors opened and in stepped an elderly couple. He was somewhat relieved to see that the pair revealed was retired Army Colonel Brock Hunter and his wife Mimi.
Jason respected the Colonel as a no nonsense, taciturn man. Though his life's service in its very essence had been diametrically opposed to the morality of Jason's chosen path, in all other essential ways they were actually kindred spirits.
On the other hand, Jason couldn't say the same for Brock's spouse, Mimi. She was a tiny white haired woman, as fluffy and superficial seeming as her name would imply. Since Jason himself couldn't countenance picking such a woman for his life's companion, the Colonel's choice in the matter was entirely incomprehensible to him.
"Evening," the Colonel said brusquely as he and Mimi entered the car.
Jason sometimes wondered what Spinelli's grandmother had done to imprint such reliable manners into her grandson. Despite the turmoil of the evening and his recent pique at Jason's behavior, he responded civilly, "Good evening, Colonel and Mrs. Hunter. How are you tonight?"
"Just fine, Damian dear," Mimi said, smiling fondly at him.
The Colonel, on the other hand, sharp-eyed as ever, had turned his attention to Jason and his undesired companion. "Looks like you have your hands full, Morgan!" He barked, "I suppose he was over imbibing for the holiday. Difficult that."
Jason was in fervent agreement with the Colonel's assessment of the situation. One of the things that he found so restful about Brock's company was that he knew a simply manly nod of acknowledgment was all that was required in response. If only all of Jason's communications could be handled in such a succinct and effective manner, he would be a very content man.
While Jason, Donaldson, and Brock all stood in companionable silence, Mimi and Spinelli made up for it by chattering about an amazing array of topics during the short journey. As the elevator doors finally opened to reveal the long awaited parking garage, Mimi stepped out still talking. "Now, don't forget dear, we have the salsa class at our place Tuesday night. You do plan on attending, don't you? We need all the men we can get, you know." As she said this, she looked speculatively over at Jason. Yet, even Mimi Hunter couldn't manage to envision Jason Morgan at a mixed social, learning how to salsa from their dance coach Raoul.
"Yes, indeed, Mrs. Hunter. It's a high point on the Jackal's social calendar," Spinelli assured her.
"Come along dear," the Colonel shepherded his wife neatly away from the elevator, it was obvious he had years of practice in detaching her from endless farewells.
Jason looked over at his roommate in mystification. He couldn't believe how unaware he had been of Spinelli's involvement in the heretofore unsuspected social whirl of Harbor View Towers. He played Mahjong on Thursday and took salsa lessons on Tuesday. Jason wondered what he did the other nights of the week that he didn't see Maxie.
He felt a pang of remorse for never having inquired into what Spinelli did with his free time. For that matter, he could have made it a point to spend some evenings with the kid thereby rescuing him from the company of the geriatric set. He knew how happy Spinelli would be to simply spend time with Jason outside of their work association.
Musing on his less than stellar treatment of his roommate, Jason formed about his tenth resolution of the evening concerning an alteration in his relationship with Spinelli. Yet, until there were no more corpses to contend with, and the person or persons behind this grisly state of affairs had been made to pay, all future plans were indefinitely on hold.
Once Brock and Mimi had entered their sedan and driven out of the garage, Jason half dragged and half carried Ian Donaldson over to the SUV. He was grateful for his foresight in getting supplies while he was at the Metro Court. He had gathered up every drop cloth and tarp that crossed his path as well as several rolls of duct tape and some more rope. In addition, he had found a supply of bricks which he included in his haul. He was resolved not to have to search anymore in the darkness around the quarry for random stones to act as ballast.
With Donaldson safely wrapped up and stored away, Jason decided to once again head up to the penthouse. They had spent a lot of time dealing with the body in the elevator and he was uneasily considering what mayhem might have occurred in the penthouse while they were gone.
"You should go Stone Cold, and the Jackal will stay with the vehicle to make sure no further complications arise." Spinelli suggested.
Jason shook his head in negation, "Sorry, Spinelli, I don't care what happens down here. A dead body, a vehicle, they don't matter to me-you do. I don't want you out of my sight."
Spinelli was touched at Stone Cold's concern for his safety. For some peculiar reason, until Jason had pointed it out, he hadn't thought that the perpetrator was most likely still in the area and perhaps spying on them at this very instant. The idea sent chills up and down his spine.
"Stone Cold is correct, the Jackal will go with him to act as back up, in case the evil doer is still in situ," he said magnanimously.
Jason's lips twitched. He understood that Spinelli's declaration was a cover for his sudden realization that they weren't just dealing with a multitude of corpses but that they themselves might be targets as well. He regretted scaring the young man, but thought it was just as well if it induced caution in him and kept him where Jason could watch over him.
"Thanks, let's go," he said heading for the elevators.
The ride up was a peaceful interlude for both of them. They were each beginning to feel the effects of such a rollercoaster evening, swinging between the somber effects of disposing of the bodies and the adrenalin rush of dealing with the unknown that seemed to lurk around every corner. Jason knew they couldn't go on like this indefinitely but he it was obvious that he didn't possess any control over the situation.
When the elevator doors opened, Jason motioned for Spinelli to stay back as he pulled out his gun and edged forward to look towards the penthouse entrance. When Jason tensed, Spinelli realized immediately that something else was wrong. It took every fiber of his self control to not start babbling questions and warnings at his mentor, and instead to just stay silent until Jason asked him to do something.
Jason sighed heavily and looked back at Spinelli, "It's another one," he said with quiet gravity.
"Where?" Spinelli asked incredulously, as he sidled up beside Jason and looked out at the penthouse door. Jason was right, it was another body, sitting with his legs sprawled out and his back up against the front door. The sheer brazenness of it was astounding.
They exited the elevator and walked towards their newest morbid visitor while Jason constantly scanned the hall for signs of danger. Everything was quiet, most especially the dead man. This time even Spinelli recognized him. Anyone living in Port Charles for the last six months and in possession of a television would have known him.
His name was William Fitzgerald and, until recently, he had been a respected member of the upper echelons of Port Charles society. He was the president of a locally owned bank who had just been indicted on charges of fraud and embezzlement.
Ever since the FBI had arrested him at the bank, half a year ago, Fitzgerald had been all over the local news. It wasn't just the shock of a prominent member of the community being arrested and charged with stealing money from the bank's investors that caused such a public fascination with him. It had also been suggested that he had ties with one or more of the local criminal organizations and that he laundered money for them.
He certainly had nothing to do with Jason's operation. He knew better then to place his funds in any American bank. It was rumored that Fitzgerald worked for Anthony Zacchara. Yet, he remained resolutely silent in the face of both the media, and the District Attorney's offer of a reduced sentence if he would turn state's evidence and testify against Zacchara. Jason presumed that it was more than likely, given what he knew of Zacchara's methods, that his family had been threatened if he said or did anything to compromise the Zacchara family concerns.
If Fitzgerald had been the lone corpse that he and Spinelli stumbled across this evening, Jason would have readily believed it was a mob hit, and that Zacchara was trying to implicate him as the icing on the cake. Unfortunately, given the variety of victims, it was unlikely to be such a clear cut scenario as all that.
Fitzgerald was a tall, middle aged man with iron gray hair and an affected van dyke beard. A broken pair of granny glasses dangled off one ear, indicative of a struggle. His left hand lay flaccidly across his lap and in the palm was a small clear bottle with a rubber flap covering the opening. Leaning in more closely, Spinelli was able to read the tiny print on the label of the bottle.
"Insulin," he said in a hushed voice as he looked up at Jason wide eyed.
Jason simply shrugged his shoulders, not understanding the implications of what Spinelli had discovered. "Stone Cold," Spinelli tried to explain, "insulin is a hormone that regulates the sugar levels in our blood. Diabetics can't make insulin, so they inject it. If a healthy person is injected with insulin it drops their blood sugar levels so low that their entire system goes into shock and they die."
Jason's head spun, so far their killer had strangled, knifed, poisoned, and injected his victims with insulin. The list didn't even include Smith who had no overt cause of death to add to the inventory. He had no idea how to contend with a foe like this.
Jason was a simple shoot first and ask questions later kind of guy. That methodology had served him well over the years. Still, it had done nothing to prepare him to face a psychopathic madman with an unclear agenda and the facility to move in and out of his living space with insolent ease.
Jason was clear about his next plan of action, he needed to check the penthouse. He was conflicted about whether he should take Spinelli in with him or leave him with Fitzgerald. On the one hand, he dreaded having Spinelli out of his sight even for an instant. Yet, if the perpetrator was inside he could act more freely if he didn't have to worry about protecting his roommate.
"Listen to me," he said having decided. "I want you to stay right over there," he pointed to a little alcove off to the side of the hall. "Stand with your back to the wall in the corner. If you see anyone or hear the elevator-you call for me as loud as you can. Is that clear?" He looked directly into Spinelli's eyes as he spoke, trying to convey confidence and a sense of security that he wasn't even sure was his to offer.
"Yes, Stone Cold." Spinelli replied mutedly, his usual effusiveness dampened under the continuous assault of fear and uncertainty. "The Jackal hopes that his Master will take care in his reconnaissance of the penthouse. If he should encounter any difficulties a simple summons will bring his trusty grasshopper rushing to his assistance."
"I appreciate that," Jason said gravely, as he turned to enter the penthouse. "I'll be right back."
Spinelli stood obediently in his corner waiting anxiously for Jason to return. He found there to be more sound in silence than he had ever imagined. Each beat of his heart was amplified tenfold and every breath he took sounded like the rasp of a pair of bellows. Five agonizing minutes passed and then stretched to ten, just as he was getting ready to disobey his mentor and go in pursuit of him, Jason stepped through the doorway.
"All clear," he said, his arms full of sheets which were obviously intended for Fitzgerald. "Let's wrap him up and get him down to the garage.
Together they picked up Fitzgerald's shrouded body and headed to the by now familiar stairwell. Spinelli no longer looked on the elevator as a possible transportation option, as usual Stone Cold had known best.
They made it down the stairs and out to the SUV without further incident. As they were loading Fitzgerald's body into the rear of the vehicle next to Donaldson, Jason looked up and suddenly froze in place. Spinelli followed his line of sight to the driver's seat and saw what had grabbed his mentor's attention.
Closing his eyes in despair, he leaned against the SUV and thought, 'It's endless, they're everywhere! This night will never be over, I will never walk into a room, an elevator car, a vehicle without finding a body slumped over or staring at me…'
Jason, stiff legged with fury, walked up to the front of the SUV and opened the door that had been securely locked when they had parked it here barely an hour ago. Reaching in, he grasped the hair of the head of the man slumped in the driver's seat and pulled him back from the steering wheel over which he had been slouched.
He instantly recognized the man as one of Karpov's bodyguards who seemed to accompany the Russian mob boss everywhere he went. He was relatively young, only in his late twenties or early thirties. He had the distinctive squashed nose and cauliflower ears of a boxer or at least a bare knuckle street fighter.
Jason remembered him as a hulking presence, with barely restrained aggression emanating from him in waves. Now he was just a husk, a shell from which all animation had fled. He had been shot with a small caliber weapon, the entry wound over his left ear was clearly visible but there was no exit wound.
Jason blew his breath out in frustration. No matter what Spinelli and he did, the person tormenting them and killing these men was always ten steps ahead of their ability to react to his plans. Their unknown antagonist was clever, having ensnared him in a diabolical trap so that Jason's only choice was to keep disposing of the accumulating bodies with Spinelli's help.
They obviously couldn't go to the police because predicated upon his adversarial relationship with the forces of law and order, the result of such an action would be the imprisonment of both himself and Spinelli. Jason couldn't even risk involving anyone else from his organization because he couldn't trust that they hadn't been compromised. These murders were all over the map and until he had a better handle on the motivations behind them that meant he could only rely on himself and Spinelli, period.
With resignation, he turned and walked to the back of the SUV where Spinelli was standing. He was slumped against the vehicle with his eyes closed while he muttered inaudibly to himself.
"Spinelli?" Jason queried tentatively. Spinelli's eyes flew open, the brilliant green overlaid with a shiny sheen of tears. "Can you give me a hand, it's another Russian and he's big…" Jason hoped if he treated the moving of yet another corpse as a regular chore rather than the gruesome act it was, they both might somehow manage to endure this evening.
"Certainly, Stone Cold," Spinelli said hoarsely. "Indeed the Russians are the largest by far of our various deceased visitors this evening. The Jackal can't help but ponder why that is, diet or genetics. It always comes back to nature versus nurture, doesn't it?" He faltered, turning his head away to wipe at the tears he was ashamed to be shedding in front of his stoic mentor.
Jason bit his lip, he couldn't remember the last time he wanted to hug anyone except Elizabeth or Jake. Right now he would have given anything to reach out to Spinelli and embrace him and tell him that everything was fine and that they would get through this. Yet he knew better than to indulge that impulse. If Jason gave into his feelings, his pain, his sorrow, and his fear then he would be unable to function, to do what needed to be done to ensure not only his and Spinelli's safety but also their very survival.
So, instead, he reached out and grasped the young man's shoulder in a comforting grip, "Let's go then," he said gently.
Reluctantly, Spinelli followed Jason back to where the newest body sat staring vacantly out through the windshield. He wasn't quite as big as the original Slavic unknown but it was a close contest. This time Jason didn't waste any effort wrapping the corpse in a tarp. Together, breathing strenuously, they managed to heft him up and into the cargo bay where he lay at an awkward angle across the bodies of Donaldson and Fitzgerald. Jason slammed down the hatch with an air of finality. He was definitely getting rid of the SUV after tonight.
The drive out to the quarry was the grimmest trip yet. Neither one said a word and the only sound came from the tires skimming along the tarmac. When they reached the water filled pit, they worked with a practiced efficiency that helped compensate for tired muscles and spiritual exhaustion. Jason hoped that the quarry was deep enough to absorb its sixth body of the evening. He was planning to come back in the daytime to make sure there were no tell tale signs left behind to indicate what had happened here.
He hoped that Spinelli might again sleep on the way back to town. Yet, every time he looked over at him, he was simply sitting up staring straight ahead, lost in thoughts which Jason was unwilling to even guess at.
They arrived back at the Towers two hours after they left. Together they waited edgily for the arrival of the elevator. When the doors opened they peered in cautiously to ascertain it was empty. Sighing with relief, they stepped in and hit the button for the Penthouse level. Each was hoping that all the unpleasant surprises of the evening were behind them. Perhaps then they could get a few hours sleep before once again tackling the puzzling and unpleasant situation.
Jason took point upon arriving at the penthouse floor. Gun in hand, he guardedly checked the hall in both directions but everything appeared quiet. He gestured for Spinelli to join him and they both turned towards the front door of their defiled home. Jason checked the door knob but it was still locked just as he had left it. He pulled out his keys and opened the door. Stepping inside he felt for the light switch and clicked it on.
As Jason looked into the living room, a shocked gasp escaped his lips. He immediately turned back to try and prevent Spinelli from seeing but it was too late. Spinelli took one look at the ghoulish tableau and felt his knees buckle while a merciful darkness rushed up to greet him as he crumpled to the floor senseless.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4: The Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth
Things are moving apace as we head toward the climax of the story with the revelation of who is behind all the bodies which have been plaguing Jason and Spinelli throughout the night.
What Happens in the Penthouse Stays in the Penthouse
Chapter 4: The Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth
It was what so many people dreamed about, the chance some day to find themselves languidly swimming in a tropical lagoon with a waterfall pouring into it from one end. Then, as everyone in this particular dream does, he would swim to the waterfall, clambering out of the pool and scrambling through the roaring descent of the iridescent veil into the slick and secretive cavern beyond. It looked as though he could scratch this goal, this treasured desire off his to do list because it was happening at this very moment and there was only one tiny irritant to spoil the perfection of the experience. Why on earth was he choosing to stand under the pulsing stream of the falls rather than moving further into the sanctuary of the hidden cave or back out into the welcoming sun and temperate waters of the lagoon?
He inadvertently opened his mouth to speak, to breathe it mattered not for he was instantly choking, his mouth and throat filled to overflowing with cold pulses of chlorinated liquid. His eyes popped open and he struggled and fought the grip on his neck that had forced his head under the tap. As he began to resist it, the hold relaxed and he stumbled backwards yanking his head out from beneath the freezing stream of water. He was coughing so hard as he bent over the sink, attempting to regulate his breathing and make peace with the harsh reality of being in the penthouse kitchen rather than a tropical paradise that he entirely missed the anguished whisper of "Thank God!" floating somewhere above his head.
His legs refused to hold him upright as he started a gradual descent towards the floor, first coming to his knees with his head pushed against the sink cabinets and then using what little remaining strength he possessed he twisted his body around and sank down the rest of the way. He sat there his back to the cabinets, wheezing, while he tried to regain control over his ragged breathing, his confused mind. Water droplets from his soaked hair dripped monotonously downwards skidding off his eyelashes and plopping annoyingly on his nose. He sneezed and a fine shower of mist sprayed out from his head, it was reminiscent of a dog shaking itself after being doused in a bath.
"Here," the word was abrupt, it was all Jason could manage without his voice trembling and revealing how terrified he had been.
Spinelli took the proffered towel that had spontaneously entered his field of vision and nodded his thanks. He couldn't yet speak, the fact that he was breathing more easily would have to suffice as his response. With trembling arms he attempted to reach up and towel dry his hair but his movements were ineffectual and weak and with an exhausted sigh, he gave up and letting his arms fall limply in his lap, simply sat there drained of all energy.
The towel was removed from his unresisting hold on it and surprisingly gentle hands proceeded to complete the task he had aborted. The soothing back and forth motion of the towel as it rubbed over his hair lulled him and he felt his eyelids closing as he drifted ever closer to the delicious escape that was sleep…
Suddenly his eyelids flared open, his pupils wide with shock and remembrance as he realized what he had seen and why it was quite possible that he might never sleep again. "St…one C...old," he stuttered, while once again the appalling vision flashed across his mind. "Did…the J…ackal," he was shivering and choking and his lips, teeth and tongue refused to cooperate in forming the words. With a mighty wrench of willpower, he forced himself to spill the utterance out in one unending litany of misery.
Even Jason, who comprehended Spinelli's unique dialect better than anyone save perhaps Maxie, couldn't interpret what his roommate had just said. Still, he didn't need to know the precise words to understand their sense. He sighed, as he took a final pass through Spinelli's now only damp hair before replying. "Yeah, I'm afraid so, Spinelli. It's bad, the worst tonight." He wanted desperately to say the words, "I wish you had never seen it, that I could have shielded you then and that I could protect you from seeing it now." Yet, he couldn't lie, not to Spinelli, the bond between them was solidly predicated upon trust. The truth was that as soon as he was up to it, Jason would once again need Spinelli's help. Besides, much as it seemed immensely appealing at the moment, the Master and his grasshopper couldn't simply spend the rest of their lives sequestered in the penthouse kitchen trying to ignore the carnage present in the living room.
He was kneeling in front of Spinelli as he worked at drying his hair it was the only action currently available to him through which he could demonstrate his caring and concern without compromising his famed 'stone cold' façade. "Feel up to standing?" He asked, tentatively offering his hand to a weary Jackal.
Spinelli took a deep breath as he looked into Jason's shadowed and tormented eyes. He nodded reluctantly and grabbing his mentor's hand leveraged himself unsteadily to his feet. His shirt was drenched and he was shivering with cold and shock. Jason knew he needed to get him warmed up and into dry clothing and that meant traversing the living room and all it contained.
"Spinelli," he spoke softly but with force and out of habit the young man's eyes raised to Jason's, his head cocked attentively as he awaited his mentor's declaration. "I…that is we…there's no avoiding going back out there." He jerked his head towards the kitchen door and what lay beyond it. "I'm sorry," the regret in his voice was plain to hear. "You should just try and not look, at least for now and we can pass through quickly."
He knew there was no way of entirely keeping Spinelli untouched, he had lost that option at the beginning of the evening when the first corpse had been discovered. Even now, he would need his help, his counsel. Truth be told, Spinelli had seen and contributed valuable observations, ideas, plans of action and just pure brute strength to the mad relay race of dispose of the dead body within which they were immersed. Their night was far from over and after a brief respite, Jason would need him to reenter the fray. He simply couldn't do it without him.
A weary smile of understanding tugged at Spinelli's lips as he did the unbelievable and attempted to console his Master. "The Jackal is as steadfast as ever in intending to be by Stone Cold's side through the duration of this nightmarish time. He will not quit the battlefield until either the matter is fully resolved and we are both once more safe or until the valiant struggle be ended by more dire means. This is my vow." He spoke in a subdued manner but the tenacity in his tone was unmistakable. He was to be Jason's wingman regardless of the outcome.
Jason was unaccountably relieved to be assured of Spinelli's determination. It wasn't that he had doubted him for a minute. Yet, actually hearing him say that he was committed to seeing this through made him feel that perhaps they might yet survive the night. If they could attain that desperately distant goal then together perhaps they would once again see the sun rise and find their lives and home reclaimed from the unknown malevolent forces which had tormented them relentlessly through so many hours.
Still, he was sure of one thing, it wasn't a situation that could be dealt with in any way except in small increments or they would both be risking their sanity. So, the first thing, the most important thing in the moment was for Jason to get Spinelli upstairs. He was determined to accomplish that causing the least possible amount of trauma to his young roommate within the parameters of these extraordinary and inexplicable circumstances.
Spinelli was consistently shivering now, his teeth were actually chattering and his hands were cold to the touch. "C'mon," Jason said wrapping an arm around his friend's shaking shoulders, "Let's go, just…just don't look…"
He knew it was lame advice and that it might even precipitate an urge in Spinelli to stare but he didn't know what else to say. Actions were his forte while words were Spinelli's. They were each equally sincere in their performance and speech which created the balance that made theirs such an unexpectedly successful partnership and relationship.
There was no sound except the rattling of Spinelli's teeth as they passed through the tomb that had been their communal living space. Jason stole a quick glance at Spinelli who was on his right side, tucked away best as he could manage from the horror directly to his left. The arrangement was a peculiar parody of a man walking next to a woman and using his physical body to shelter her from the potential dangers of traffic on the road next to them.
He needn't have worried that Spinelli would be tempted to once more glimpse the grisly sight that he had only the briefest glimpse of prior to collapsing. There was a grim cast to the younger man's features as he resolutely stared down at the carpet. He was focusing only on putting one foot in front of the other. It was as though by narrowing his world view to nothing more than this simple exercise that such a determined mental exclusion could thus produce an alteration in reality.
Jason felt a flash of envy, if only he could take even such a transient break from what he knew was a repulsive scene and one entirely unaffected by their twenty minute sojourn in the kitchen. All the wistful thinking in the world wasn't going to change what had occurred or the fact that it would be up to them to ultimately face it and perform the final disposal. Still, he did allow himself the small latitude of averting his own eyes under the guise of focusing on his companion's needs of the moment.
They made a slow painful progress across the small expanse of carpet which wasn't tinged by violence and then up the stairs and down the hall to the doorway of the regrettably pink room. Spinelli looked up as they arrived at his bedroom door and he stepped back as he stared at Jason out of glazed, panic stricken eyes.
"Stone Cold, it isn't possible, the Jackal doesn't desire…Jason, I can't go in there…" His utter desperation had forced him into the unfamiliar cadence of plain speech.
Jason was furious with himself. He was attempting to give Spinelli the time and space to recover his confidence, to come to terms as best he might with the evening's madness and here he was suggesting he shower and change in a room and a bathroom where he had discovered two corpses.
"Spinelli," he said contritely, "I am so sorry. I didn't think…" He reached out an arm and wrapping it around his roommate's shoulders turned him around the way they had come. Spinelli, exhausted, stumbled but Jason caught him, "You can shower in my room and I'll get you some dry clothes to change into."
Jason managed to maneuver Spinelli into his bathroom where he leaned tiredly against the sink while Jason turned the shower on and adjusted the temperature. He turned back and looked critically at his shivering roommate.
"You need some help getting out of those wet clothes?" He asked him straight forwardly.
Spinelli looked at him with over bright eyes which indicated how thinly stretched his endurance was. He was clearly exhausted in both mind and spirit. He gave a brief spastic shake of his head to indicate refusal.
"No indeed, Stone Cold," he replied gamely, small shivers still rippling over his body, "The Jackal is capable of disrobing and partaking of a shower without aid but he greatly appreciates the offer of assistance."
The words were slurred and indistinct which wasn't at all like him and Jason was worried but he knew that Spinelli was trying to keep both his pride and his dignity from fracturing. So he just gave a brief nod of understanding and left the steamy room to the young man's sole occupancy.
Jason found himself in the regrettably pink room searching the drawers and the closet to get Spinelli some dry, warm clothing. He wanted to choose appropriately because not only had Spinelli been veering perilously close to going into shock, he was always sensitive to the cold. Jason didn't think there was another person on the planet who possessed so many coats and jackets.
While they had been running around playing throw the dead man into the quarry, the month had shifted from October to November. The change was more than a simple alteration in date. They had gone from pumpkin friendly, costume crazy All Hallows Eve to frost ridden, somber All Soul's Day. Jason wasn't usually superstitious though after tonight's events he thought he might switch his stance on his previously held viewpoint. Still this day, he didn't know why, it was beyond his understanding, his ken, but it definitely affected him.
It was an important day on the Catholic calendar and at this time of year he often envisioned all the people who had left him-Emily, Alan, perhaps even AJ-as he considered his possible agency in their various demises. Yet, it was far worse to contemplate those for whom he absolutely had been the direct cause of their exiting this temporal plane and such morose musing did not engender happy thoughts. No, they were a direct reminder that Jason Morgan was on the fast track to hell. He had paved his path with the precise intentions that with inexorable sureness produced a one way ticket to the infernal terminus of eternity. There was no negotiation, no fixing it, just the bleak acceptance of what was going to be his ultimate fate.
Jason knew this, recognized it, accepted it and seldom thought about it except annually on this day. This evening's events-all the death and morbid occurrences intruding on their shared home-brought that sober realization even more forcefully to his attention; like most of the cadavers they had dealt with tonight, Jason was damned. He shook his head sharply, angry at himself for dwelling on such an irrelevant consideration. There was nothing to be done about it. He was firmly convinced such an outcome was his immutable destiny.
Yet, his roommate, the young man showering down the hall, he was entirely innocent, he didn't deserve to spend one minute in the horror which had been engulfing them all evening. Jason was bone and soul weary. If it had just been him, he might have stopped trying to control things at the third or the fourth corpse. He definitely would have capitulated when faced with what awaited them downstairs but for Spinelli's sake quitting simply wasn't an option. Who ever was doing this to them and for whatever reason, Jason would fight until the bitter end to bring Spinelli safely through to the other side. He was damaged goods, virtually unsalvageable but his roommate was a virtuous person. Deep down Jason thought that if he managed to save Spinelli it might count in some small way towards his own redemption.
Shaken free of his impromptu and melancholy reverie, Jason selected the warmest clothing he could find. A pair of thick corduroy pants, a t-shirt to be worn under a warm cable knit sweater, wool socks and boots. Spinelli would be armored against the elements if nothing else. A glance through the doors leading out onto the balcony showed Jason that it had begun to snow. He sighed in frustration. It appeared nothing about this night was going to be easy.
Jason knocked on the bathroom door and hearing a soft 'enter' opened the door and peered into the warm, moist room. Spinelli was out of the shower, wrapped in a towel, he was using another one to dry his hair just as Jason had done for him a half hour earlier.
"Clothes for you…it's started to snow."
Spinelli looked at him unhappily, "It is unfortunate that even the forces that control weather seek to conspire against us. It shall make our desolate task that much more demanding." He nodded at the pile of clothing Jason had placed on the counter. "Many thanks for the appropriate apparel. The Jackal will be with you in two shakes of a lamb's tail."
Jason hid the smile that appeared as he heard the outmoded expression that only Spinelli would dare to actually use. It was one of the many reasons that he felt compelled to protect him, as though he were someone existing out of his natural time and place. Jason found his roommate's unique traits appealing and endearing but his reaction was the exception.
Most people found Spinelli to be peculiar, irritating even. Quirky was usually the least pejorative term used to describe him. Jason hated them, despised all the narrow minded people who never bothered to look beyond the surface mannerisms to the pure heart and chaste soul which lay within the young hacker. Jason thought it possible that the reason it provoked so much umbrage in him when people treated Spinelli poorly was directly due to the guilt aroused by the fact that in the beginning days of their acquaintance he had acted in exactly the same way. He had long since repented of those earlier interactions, his dismissive treatment of this young man who had become so precious to him.
Gruffly, unwilling to reveal his sentimentality to the very subject of his musings, he replied, "Take your time…they're not going anywhere."
He regretted saying it immediately as the shutters decisively fell back over Spinelli's eyes turning them murky and unreadable. He was back in survival mode, coping the only way he knew how, by shutting down. Jason fervently hoped that such a defense mechanism didn't become the new de facto face which Spinelli presented to the world or to him. He truly couldn't bear it if the events of this dreadful evening so scarred him that he never returned to his former state of artlessness. Jason prized that particular quality in Spinelli since it had so long ago departed his own life that he had no recollection of ever originally possessing it. The truth was that in his incarnation as Jason Morgan he probably hadn't. It was something else he had lost amongst so incalculably much more when he roughly and irrevocably shed the skin of the accommodating and malleable Jason Quartermaine.
Spinelli came out of the bathroom dressed in the clothes Jason had chosen for him. His hair was still slightly damp but already resuming its usual shaggy appearance now the pomade from earlier had been washed away. "The Jackal is ready to tackle the unpleasant task that awaits us."
Jason looked up at him speculatively, he was sitting on his bed waiting for Spinelli and pondering a potential alteration in plans. Spinelli looked fractionally better than he had when they first came upstairs. He was now warm and dry and his speech appeared to be back to normal as he stood in front of Jason, poised to do anything he asked. Sometimes being the recipient of such undiluted and absolute loyalty was a little daunting and it was his responsibility not to abuse Spinelli's faith in him.
Jason believed in acting with immediacy and so with a fortifying deep breath, he began to speak, "Spinelli, I've been thinking and well…I can take it from here. You could go…" He wasn't able to finish, Spinelli wouldn't let him.
"Stone Cold!" his voice was outraged, the tone as harsh as it was as capable of being. Still, what truly disturbed Jason was the underlying pain clearly evident in those two brief words, in his wounded eyes and in his body itself as he seemed to shrink inward under the opening salvo of Jason's interrupted speech. "You said, did you not and I quote-'tonight we are partners in all things…'" Spinelli paused to catch his breath, to marshal his thoughts for further arguments that would sway his mentor from attempting to remove the faithful Jackal from his side.
Jason tried to remember, tried to recall if he had indeed said any such so trite seeming thing back when it had been October, back when three bodies had seemed an insurmountable task to deal with and dispose of, back in those halcyon days of yore. "I meant it, Spinelli." He was trying to reason with the young man who was standing in front of Jason flushed and agitated. His chest was heaving with distress. This seemed the fulfillment of the hacker's worst fear, to be found wanting when the chips were down and quick wits and action were called upon to resolve a precarious situation. "Partners take care of each other and I don't want anything to happen to you." He made sure his roommate was looking at him as he added with a quiet intensity, "I couldn't live with myself if something did happen, if I couldn't manage to protect you."
He had done it, his rare and raw expression of true emotion had reached Spinelli and the change in his demeanor was gratifying to Jason. His face cleared and he stood upright, no longer hunched in his posture as he countered with the Jackal's usual irrefutable logic, "Who will be there to watch Stone Cold's back if I am sidelined because of your fears for my welfare? How do you think the grasshopper would survive were something untoward happen to his master and he were not there to deflect the evildoers?"
Jason smiled slightly at Spinelli's more melodramatic speech that echoed his own concerns for his young roommate. He hadn't thought it would work that he would manage to convince him to stay in some safe haven while Jason tackled the removal of the bodies downstairs. Afterward, he would then move on to tracking down the perpetrators, adding them to the disposal list once he found them, he promised himself grimly.
He tried one last time, "You're sure you wouldn't rather stay with the Colonel and Mimi Hunter? You could get some sleep and I would come get you when it was all over." Jason trusted the Colonel's discretion, his reliability and he knew that Mimi had a warm heart with a special place in it just for Spinelli, he would be safe with them.
Spinelli was indignant, "As though the Jackal could get one iota of sleep while his mentor is out striving unprotected against the heinous mastermind of these perverse and macabre deeds. He, who unfettered and unremarked as it would seem, roams the dark and dreary streets of Port Charles on this endless night of restless spirits."
Jason was interested to note that Spinelli didn't seem to be anymore crazy about the implications of the date than he was. Yet, the most resonant part of his reply was his obdurate refusal to comply with Jason's request that he remove himself from harm's way.
Jason sighed heavily in resignation. "Okay, partners it is then." As much as he didn't want to move on to the next phase in the night's program, he knew there wasn't any other choice. "We better get started…"
He reluctantly pushed himself up off the bed. A piece of Jason was glad that Spinelli had refused to leave his orbit, would be there as a trusted companion as the rest of the evening unfolded. Yet, the major part of him felt uneasy, felt a leaden weight of dread coursing through his system as though there was some unnamed disaster, worse than anything they had yet faced, waiting for them around an unseen corner. It was an unknowable peril and as such he couldn't prepare for or defend against it. Jason only hoped that when the danger, whatever form it might take, finally came upon them he would manage to subdue it before it harmed his young charge.
Jason left the bedroom, Spinelli reluctantly trailing after him. His feet were dragging as he desperately attempted to find the inner resolve to do what needed to be done, to face the horror that awaited them below. Jason reached the living room first. He stood surveying the surrealistic scene with the most dispassionate demeanor he was capable of attaining. All the while he was struggling internally with a cold flame of fury which threatened to overwhelm him, to prevent him from doing what needed to be done. Jason realized that if he let his temper loose it would accomplish absolutely nothing except take away time that could better be spent appraising the situation and deciding upon a plan of action.
He looked up at the staircase where Spinelli stood huddled against the wall, grasping the handrail as though his very life depended on the physical connection with something, even an inanimate object. His eyes were glued to his mentor as he patiently waited for an indication of what he required from him. Spinelli steadfastly declined to let his gaze wander around the living room. He simply refused to look at its gruesome cargo until circumstances dictated he had no choice but to do so.
Jason sighed, he hated what he was going to ask of Spinelli but he had no choice. He needed his insight, his intuition, and his knowledge base. Jason understood knifings, gunshot wounds and strangulation but it was Spinelli who had recognized the effects of the insulin, who had come up with the narcolepsy story. It was Spinelli's reactions and not Jason's that had salvaged the elevator ride from hell.
"We'd better look at them and check a few things over before we start…before we clean up."
He hated using such an insipid euphemism. Yet, Jason was slowly beginning to appreciate a subtle truth which Spinelli seemingly had always understood. It was the simple but powerful premise that correctly chosen words can act as cushioning barriers to unacceptable realities and by so doing salvage one's pride, indeed one's very sanity.
Spinelli swallowed uneasily as he nodded his head and gingerly made his way down the rest of the short flight of stairs still clinging to the railing. "Indeed, Stone Cold," he affirmed shakily as he crossed the carpet to stand next to Jason, looking neither left nor right but only at the encouraging eyes of his roommate, "The Jackal will offer whatever perceptions which might occur to him."
Jason reached out a steadying hand and clasped Spinelli's shoulder firmly. He turned the boy towards him and looking him straight in the eye, said, "You know all of this, tonight?" He let his voice trail off questioningly as he made sure that the hacker was listening. When Jason was reassured by Spinelli's rapt attention and the strength of their communion, he continued, "I couldn't have done it without you, you know that right?" The slightest dip of a shaggy head was all the response he received. "What I said upstairs, a few minutes ago, it's true I am worried about you but really I am glad you insisted on staying because I don't think…" this was hard for Jason, admitting any kind of inadequacy was nearly impossible for him, "I don't think I could do this without you. You have helped out physically, your quick thinking saved the day with Mrs. Murphy and the Hunters, you have contributed knowledge and ideas and commonsense in order to make this situation manageable. We really are partners, those weren't just words to make you feel better…" Spinelli's eyes were fixed on his, a slightly awe struck expression on his face as he absorbed what Jason was saying, that the Master actually needed his grasshopper. "So, do you think you can manage to bring your best game one more time, to help reclaim our home and find whoever is behind all this?" It was crunch time, Jason really needed Spinelli to be fully present, not just his body but his mind and spirit as well.
Spinelli didn't immediately respond as was his wont. Instead, he stood silently relishing the warm feel of Jason's reassuring and trusting hand on his shoulder as he pondered his answer. He realized that he needed to tell the absolute truth. Either he could do this, be fully engaged and a member of their team of two or he needed to admit that he couldn't handle any more trauma. If it were to be the latter then he should ask to be excused, to slink ignominiously off to the Hunters' apartment. There he would sit, waiting impatiently for Jason's return like a child who couldn't be trusted around grown-up business.
Yet, before he answered Jason he needed to ask a question of his own, "Stone Cold," he began hesitantly and then the words, the deepest fear that had been plaguing him ever since they opened the penthouse door and had seen what lay before them, came spilling out of him. "What if it never ends?" He spoke despairingly, his voice high pitched, with undertones of hysteria. "What if we take care of...these," he flapped his hand disjointedly, not wanting to use the word corpses but still less men, since he couldn't afford to think of them in those terms any longer. Still, they were more than objects, more than game pieces and so, he settled for a gesture in lieu of a word. "Then we come back and there are more, and they pervade our space, our very souls and we are never rid of them. What if they daylight never comes and the nightmare never ends…"
He finished shakily, his voice an exhausted whisper, he felt as though he would never, could never escape the chamber of horrors his once beloved and secure home had become. What was worse, his faith in Jason, in his all seeing, all knowing, all fixing mentor, had been tainted. It wasn't lost, not by a long shot, but it was perceptibly shaken and he was finding it hard to process the realization that there was a set of circumstances that Jason Morgan didn't know how to react to anymore than did Damian Spinelli. It seemed he was just a man after all, an amazing, indomitable man but fallible all the same. The very foundations of Spinelli's world had been shaken this night by external forces just as ruthless and implacable as an earthquake or a tsunami. He simply didn't know if he could cope, if he could keep finding reservoirs of strength to deal with horror perpetrated upon horror.
Jason took his right hand from Spinelli's shoulders and pinched the bridge of his nose and then knuckled at his eye sockets one after the other, Spinelli's eyes were bloodshot and red rimmed with fatigue and he knew his own were mirror images. "I think," he said thoughtfully, "That this is the end of it, the bodies anyway," he modified. "Have you done the count?" He looked at Spinelli curiously, wanting to see that massive brain of his grind back into high gear.
At first Spinelli, looked at Jason puzzled and then with an inhale of breath he took a fast, cursory glance around the living room, numbering off their uninvited guests in his head. It took a moment for the bemused expression to leave his face but when next he looked at Jason his expression was alert and there was a tinge of excitement present in his voice.
"The Jackal ascertains Stone Cold's point, the symmetry of it all…" He stopped suddenly, his head cocked to the side as he did some internal calculation. He seemed satisfied with the results of whatever he had been thinking but instead of explaining his concept or idea to Jason he continued on with his previous line of thought. "So, you believe that whoever is behind the evening's activities has drawn this stage of the plan to an end?" There was momentary relief in his voice as he looked at Stone Cold with an edge of hope that their lives might be reclaimable. "Yet, if this is indeed the Grand Guignol of the devious one's plotting, what then will be his next step? Surely, he would not be content to wreak all this havoc and then slip back into the night forever undetected?"
Jason considered the main points of Spinelli's speech, ignoring as always the references he did not understand, he had found it was the best way to interpret what his friend meant and he usually comprehended eighty to ninety percent of what he was saying. "Yeah, I think he is done with the bodies." He made a sweeping motion around the room, "This was his big finale. He can't keep upping the numbers or even realistically finding and killing people in new and different ways. It can't go on indefinitely the more involved his scenarios get the more he risks getting caught and I think this guy (and oh, how he hated to admit it) is too smart to want to get caught."
Spinelli was nodding his head in enthusiastic agreement, at last there seemed to be a light at the end of the interminable tunnel they both had been trapped within. "Yet, if he is done tormenting us in this way what is his next move? What would he do if we refused to play his game, if we just," Spinelli gulped miserably at the idea of remaining in the penthouse as defiled and over occupied as it currently was but if it would catch the perpetrator he would gladly sleep downstairs in the abattoir that was currently their living room, "Stayed put and thereby thwarted his ability to return here while we are out unwillingly removing all traces of his crimes?"
Jason rubbed the back of his neck in a vain attempt to loosen up permanently tightened muscles. "Yeah, I thought of that too but see I think if we take too long to go into action to do what he wants us to do, what he has planned for us to do that he'll take action."
"Action?" Spinelli echoed, wondering what further action could be taken against the two of them.
They were both exhausted, physically worn out. Additionally, though he knew Jason would never admit it, they were each equally shaken emotionally, pierced to the core by the reality that they were no longer their own masters in charge of determining their own fate.
"Yes," Jason said simply, a frown creasing his brow, "He could call the cops and it would be all over for us. There's no way we could explain this away," another wave around the room, "They would never believe our story and who could blame them? I don't believe it myself," he muttered that last part under his breath. "Besides by shifting the very first body, we incriminated ourselves and destroyed evidence. Mrs. Murphy and the Hunters could be material witnesses against us." He looked up at Spinelli's expression of dismay, it was clear he had not thought of their culpability as it would appear through the eyes of the law.
"But…but that is patently ridiculous…" He was stammering his rejection, only just now dimly becoming aware of what Jason had seen first. That they were held fast in the jaws of a well laid trap as it ruthlessly closed its unforgiving grip around them. "Neither Stone Cold nor the Jackal has done one nefarious thing this entire evening. It has all been due to the machinations of the unseen and malicious wrongdoer." He stuttered to a close as Jason held his eyes with his own in a level gaze waiting for all the implications of the nights' activities to fully sink into his roommate's analytical mind. "He possesses a most diabolical mindset indeed," Spinelli breathed out finally in synchronicity with Jason's beliefs.
His tone held bitterness and the smallest hint of awe as he contemplated the way they had been led step by inevitable step to the untenable position they now found themselves mired in by the invisible and pitiless hand of a seemingly omniscient antagonist. Spinelli couldn't seem to fully absorb the pure malevolence required to enact such a pernicious plan. He found it impossible to believe that someone could be so wily, so foresighted, so damnably crafty and entirely mentally deranged to have both devised and executed a plan so thoroughly despicable and complex. It would appear that all this energy and effort was expended for no other purpose then to simply entangle his mentor and himself in the sticky spider web of depraved and darkly comic homicides spun by the invisible hand of their nemesis.
Then a sudden thought struck Spinelli. "Stone Cold, you refer to the culprit as a he. While it is the common default term when speaking of an unknown individual as this cipher indeed is, how is that that you always reference him in the singular?"
Jason had been looking around the room and committing the bizarre scene to memory. He thought that before they began to break the grouping down and get ready to start trekking to and from the SUV for what he fervently hoped was the last time tonight, no, actually this morning that he and Spinelli ought to analyze the area and the bodies themselves for clues. So far there had been little enough in the way of information left behind by their wily adversary but it would be foolhardy to overlook an opportunity to glean more, albeit limited, forensic evidence. Jason wanted this guy, he wanted him so badly that he was practically salivating over the prospect of what he would do to him once he was in his clutches. So, that meant it was all the more vital for them to discover, interpret and preserve any leads or proof which could help make that particular dream a reality.
Jason looked vaguely over at Spinelli as he spoke. His was mind still dwelling on the tactics of how they should accomplish the clean-up in the most efficient and least traumatic way possible for the young hacker's emotional stability. His brain belatedly intercepted and translated Spinelli's query and it was a moment before he could pull his attention away from his own concerns to answer him.
"Why only one?" He spoke distractedly, still considering possible logistics as his brain rapidly analyzed the situation, choosing some options and rejecting others. "Because," now his gaze had focused as he responded to Spinelli's question, finding himself intrigued as he tried to explain why it was that he thought only one man was responsible. "All of this is complicated, sure," he quickly scanned the area around the couch and fireplace before returning his attention to Spinelli, "But it can all be accomplished if someone is confident and methodical and knows what he is doing. The bottom line Spinelli, the reason I think there is only one man behind all this, is simple. He's nuts, crazy, stark raving mad. Someone like that isn't going to play well with others unless they match him by being just as bananas and that's a very unlikely alliance. Besides," he gave Spinelli a crooked grin, "By bringing in just one other person he more than doubles the likelihood of getting caught, of being betrayed intentionally or by mistake and this guy-he just doesn't make mistakes."
That last assertion was uttered much to Jason's chagrin. He hated having to admit how truly formidable this phantom of an opponent was. If he hadn't created such destruction, hadn't threatened Jason's world and by extension Spinelli's sanity, he might have even enjoyed the contest of wits in which they were currently engaged. Yet, this man, whoever he might be, was depraved beyond redemption and Jason intended to put him down the way he would destroy a mad dog without a moment's thought or a tinge of remorse.
Time was passing, they had done enough talking, enough speculating and they now needed to act. Jason began to speak, "Let's break this down, try to figure out if he left any clues, slipped up in any way. Then we'll start wrapping them up and getting them out of here." He peered anxiously at Spinelli whose face was gray and greasy with a thin translucent sheen of sweat covering his apprehensive features. "Sure you're up to this? It's fine if you want to go to the Hunters…" Jason was offering him a final way out, a last reprieve.
Spinelli shook his head firmly, his flyaway hair now fully dry as it framed his face and his fearful green eyes. "The Jackal stands next to Stone Cold, partners in all things." He tried to speak bravely but couldn't quite mask the underlying tremor in his voice. In order to counteract his momentary lapse in courage, he turned resolutely to look fully for the first time at the grim tableaux mordent arranged before them.
There were four dead bodies in the penthouse living room. 'At least this time around Stone Cold and I shan't have to gather them up in dribs and drabs like some outré corpse round up.' Spinelli thought to himself with a flash of black humor. His moment of brief levity was followed immediately by a flush of shame which stained his cheeks red.
Spinelli recognized that the quip was nothing more than a coping mechanism in order to allow his mind to protectively separate itself from the horrendous sight in from of them. Yet, he consciously attempted to resist the impulse to disassociate himself from what was directly before him. It wasn't right that they were dead, murdered. The very least he and Jason could do was to try and not diminish the humanity of these men. Just a short while ago, prior to dying horribly in their home and perhaps even in their stead, they were every bit as mortal and alive as he and his mentor. The least they owed these unintentional intruders to the penthouse was that entirely minimal observance of respect. It was clear that no matter how savage and immoral their murderer was, the cause of their untimely deaths was a direct result of his vendetta against Jason and Spinelli.
"Ten," Spinelli sighed to himself, unaware that he had spoken aloud and that Jason was looking at him with a concerned frown on his face. It was indeed a significant figure, a number in the double digits and looking around the penthouse it was difficult to conceive of anything further the unknown killer could do to trump himself. He continued on with his musings, "These last four corpses assembled in a single location rather than scattered hither and yon also indicate that he was most likely finished with this part of the evening's iniquities. What else is to come to fruition from such a degenerate mind is impossible to gauge."
Jason nodded, confirming his agreement with Spinelli's thoughts. "Yeah, I'm sure he has something else up his sleeve and as much as I would like to know what that might be, I'm kinda of glad not to…somehow it separates us, you know?" He cocked his head at Spinelli as he searched his face to see if he understood what he meant.
"The Jackal comprehends Stone Cold's point. As useful as it might be to glean what future plans our odious antagonist has in store for us it is to our souls' advantage that we do not, for then we would be no better than he."
Jason gave a small, humorless laugh at Spinelli's earnest speech. "I meant more in the realm of nightmares, having inside our heads what he sees inside his. There's absolutely no way that you could ever be anything like this creep, Spinelli."
He was careful not to protest on his own behalf. He knew too well that only the thinnest of ethical lines separated himself and the blank faced killer they were contending against. 'That and the fact that he's batshit crazy,' Jason silently amended to himself.
He had put it off long enough. Spinelli clenched his fists, inhaled a fortifying breath of air and focused on the couch and chairs of the living room. He slowly scanned the repugnant scene set in the penthouse living room. For a scene it indeed was, it couldn't have been more staged if the perpetrator had been getting ready for an opening night curtain in a theater.
Three of the four men occupied the chairs and couch of the room while the fourth stood in front of the mantelpiece, his arms outstretched along it. He failed to look in the least bit natural despite the glass of whisky wedged into his right hand which was draped along the wooden outcropping. His stance was slumped and Spinelli speculated that it wouldn't take much for the effect of gravity to pull his body down onto the floor. He began to walk toward him, Jason following in his wake.
"Ah," Spinelli said a note of satisfaction clearly evident in his voice as he found his suspicions to be proven right. "I did not think it would be possible for him to stay upright without some external aid."
Jason peered over his roommate's shoulder to see what Spinelli was talking about. There was an ottoman shoved up against the man's legs, holding him in place. It had been hidden by the chair sitting at the far side of the couch which blocked the lower view of the area by the hearth. Slowly, Jason's eyes inspected the rest of the body until his gaze rested upon the juncture of the neck and the head which was encased in a large plastic bag making the corpse appear entirely alien. It was impossible to see the man's face, all that was visible was an inflated plastic sphere that would ordinarily be clear but was currently coated over with the condensation produced from the water vapor contained within the dying man's last breaths. Jason closed his eyes in a futile effort to block out a visualization of the agony of those last hopeless, desperate inhalations, the image of which entirely pierced his hard won armor of stoicism.
"Stone Cold," Spinelli's halting voice, penetrated his consciousness, "We ought to remove the bag both for decency's sake as well as for identification purposes."
Jason looked down at his roommate who was looking up at him anxiously, his brow furrowed with worry. A sudden flood of affection for the boy swept through him, catching him unawares. As always, Spinelli was entirely spot on in his estimation of what action they should take, precisely balanced between practicality and morality.
"Yeah," he swallowed, "That's a good idea,"
Still Jason didn't move, didn't raise his hands to attempt untie the string tied around the corpse's neck as though it were anchoring some sort of ghoulish balloon. He didn't know what it was about this particular body, why it disturbed him so much. Stab wounds, bullets to the head, unmarked and strangled bodies, those he could take in his stride, could maintain an indifferent sort of equanimity as he scrutinized them but this…this was just wrong. Maybe it was the absolute blankness of the perfect sphere in the place of the man's head, the absence of humanity which disturbed him. He didn't know and wasn't very good at analyzing such things. All he knew was he felt nauseated. Jason didn't think that he could reach up and feel the smooth, slick surface of the plastic bag as his fingertips grazed across it, without spontaneously vomiting.
"Let me," Spinelli spoke quietly but there was a grim tenacity carved into his face as he stepped in front of Jason and stretching up began to fumble with the recalcitrant string which had been tied so tightly it was embedded in the swollen flesh of the dead man's neck.
Relieved to be displaced in such an understated manner, Jason backed away to give Spinelli more maneuvering room. He couldn't bear to watch and his eyes wandered restlessly over the rest of the room, his brain feverishly searching for any clues that their unknown intruder might have left behind.
"Here," he said after a moment, belatedly realizing that Spinelli was still grappling with the string but couldn't quite manage to untie it. "Use this," he handed over the pocketknife he always carried with him, a treasured gift from Emily one long ago birthday. Jason fumbled it toward Spinelli's general direction, more unwilling than ever to look up and see the faceless corpse.
"Many thanks," Spinelli grunted, receiving the knife with sweat slicked hands.
He didn't relish the gruesome task but he recognized the symptoms of an imminent breakdown brewing on Jason's countenance. He knew he had no option but to step into the breach and for once be the one to attempt to shield his mentor from an unpleasantness which was more than his psyche could process without potentially fracturing.
"Done!" Spinelli said with satisfaction, almost immediately cringing as he realized the inappropriateness of such a reaction under the circumstances. Reaching up, he pulled the plastic bag free, revealing a man rather than a ghoul meant to inhabit nightmares.
It was as though Jason had been paralyzed, held in place by some evil spell which was broken once the causative bag was removed and discreetly tossed aside by Spinelli. His head snapped up and his eyes narrowed, his stony demeanor was firmly back in place as he took his first look at the newly exposed face.
"I don't believe it!" Shock was evident in his tone as he reached up and distractedly ran his hand through his hair. "That's Felipe Espinosa, he is…was a cop!"
"A law enforcement officer?" Spinelli repeated in a dazed voice, "That is most disturbing news, Stone Cold. This makes the situation even more fraught and the crime exponentially more shocking."
Jason turned to Spinelli, "No…not really," he said dully. "Espinosa was about the most corrupt cop in the Port Charles Police Department and that's saying something."
It was a tacit admission of what they both knew, that Port Charles was a city where it was often difficult to differentiate between the criminals and those sworn to uphold the law. There was honor and depravity represented on both sides. It took a person of a rare ethical stature to resist the free flowing money offered by rival mob concerns. Those ample funds were expended in order to buy insider information, ensure evidence tampering and secure a blind eye when ships full of contraband materials were being unloaded down at the city docks late at night.
"At one time or another, Espinosa provided his services to every organization in town, even the Alcazars back in the day." Jason was staring at the dead police officer, his eyes shadowed, "He killed a cop." He was still incredulous, unwilling to accept the evidence right in front of his eyes.
There appeared to be no boundaries, no restrictions to their unknown tormentor's brazenness and that fact was beginning to seriously perturb Jason. It meant that he was immune to the normal constraints which governed most people's actions-even mobsters observed a certain code of behavior-and such blatant disregard made him an extremely unpredictable and dangerous foe.
Spinelli put his hand gently on Jason's shoulder, trying not to startle him as he was lost in his attempt to make sense of the nonsensical. "It is indeed a perplexing conundrum but there are others we must tend to and further endeavors to pursue this night…morning," he corrected himself wearily.
Jason gazed at Spinelli with incomprehension for a moment, then as the hacker's words were belatedly interpreted by his overwhelmed brain, he suddenly shook his head and rubbed at his eyes as though he was trying to wake himself up. "You're right," he agreed. He reached for Espinosa's corpse and together he and Spinelli lowered him to the ground, arranging his limbs in a more dignified manner. The whisky glass his dead fingers had been clutching was left sitting in forlorn abandonment on the mantelpiece.
As though to make up for his temporary inability to cope with Espinosa's corpse, both before and after the removal of the disguising plastic bag, Jason strode with great resolve toward the three bodies seated around the coffee table. They, like Espinosa, were arrayed in a manner to counterfeit people in a social setting. Jason stopped in front of the man seated in a chair at right angles to the couch. He had an opened bottle of Spinelli's orange soda sitting in front of him on the coffee table placed primly on a coaster. The other two men sitting on the couch also had drinks in front of them, open bottles of Jason's prized imported Dutch beer. In the center of the coffee table, the ironic finishing hostess touch was provided by a ceramic bowl filled to the brim with barbecued potato chips, next to it was a small pile of paper napkins.
Spinelli gave a heartfelt shudder of revulsion as he said, "He's insane, truly insane! The Jackal will henceforth be unable to consume the nectar of the gods nor any longer delight in the wholesome, salty crunch of the zenith of perfection attained by Idaho's finest potatoes."
Jason knew exactly how the kid felt, he had loved that Dutch beer. It was one of his few hedonistic indulgences but now he knew the whole case was destined to be washed down the drain. He didn't have anything to say to help Spinelli, though a small, smug part of his brain thought, 'Maybe now he'll start eating something green.'
Trying to distract Spinelli and himself as well, Jason turned back to look at the occupant of the armchair. It was obvious what his method of death was, he held the instrument in his left hand and his head was slumped down toward it as if he was contemplating his unanticipated loss of mortality. There was a trickle of dried blood running out of his right ear and trailing down his neck. The innocuous trail of red was the only sign of the violence visited upon his brain by the sharp silver sliver of the ice pick head.
"This man, Stone Cold," Spinelli was gesturing with agitation at the drooping body, "I know him, his name is Charlie…He was one of the homeless who search through the dumpsters by the tower's garage." He looked up at Jason in mute appeal as though asking him to just this once somehow manage to erase a single deed from the night's morbid roster. To make it so that this sad, derelict specimen of humanity wasn't another victim of the incomprehensible vendetta being pursued against Jason and Spinelli. "I spoke with him, urged him to seek shelter and occasionally gave him money though I fear he simply spent the funds on liquor. This, this is beyond the pale…" Spinelli stopped speaking and just stood there, staring in numb misery at the bedraggled man who had inadvertently been roped into the night's mayhem.
Jason put his hand on Spinelli's shoulder, knowing that there was nothing he could do or say to make anything about the situation better for him. They stood there for a moment, neither speaking, as Jason considered what it might mean that their opponent was reduced to killing a cop and a homeless man to make his murderous quota. Now, more than ever, he was convinced that this group slaughter deposited smack in the middle of the penthouse was end game. No matter what else might face them tonight, he didn't think there would be any more corpses unexpectedly popping up.
Jason turned his attention toward the two men sitting on the sofa. He peered intently at them for a moment, sure he knew both of them from somewhere but unable to quite place them. Then his concentration paid off and he gave a quick, shocked inhalation of breath as he belatedly recognized the duo sitting on his sofa.
"The twins," he hissed out between clenched teeth. For the first time throughout the long duration of this never ending night Jason felt a primordial prickle of dread trace its path along his spine. "He took out the twins." His voice was soft, astonished, with an underlying current of undeniable apprehension lacing it.
Spinelli dragged his eyes from their despondent contemplation of Charlie's corpse and looked at his mentor with concern. He had heard irritation, anger, and worry all expressed to varying degrees by Jason tonight but never this chilling sound of barely controlled panic. Spinelli instantly riveted his eyes on the two corpses sitting on the couch as he tried in vain to discern what about them could have evoked such a reaction from a man who up until mere seconds ago he would have thought incapable of such a mundane emotion as plain, garden variety fear.
As he carefully scrutinized them, searching for any sign, any difference in their demeanor or appearance which would explain Jason's troublesome response to his identification of the two men, he failed to find any such illuminating discrepancy. Much as Spinelli hated to admit it, because he was petrified of the idea of becoming inured to death and to dead bodies, to losing his moral self amidst this morass of senseless killing, they simply looked like two more corpses, nothing more and nothing less.
"The twins?" He hazarded the question, hoping Jason would elaborate and maybe give him a clue as to why these men were any more important than the other eight they had encountered.
"Yes," Jason was still distracted, but at least he had heard Spinelli's inquiry and was responding to it. "They're called the twins because they looked alike. They were both Irish and were both named Sean. The one on the left is Sean…Murtaugh, I think, and the one on the right is Sean O'Doherty. There was some song about twins and their mothers and that's where the nickname came from."
"Twin Sons of Different Mothers," Spinelli pulled the reference from his encyclopedic mind, "It was a collaborative album by Dan Fogelberg, hence the title…" He trailed, off giving an apologetic shrug as Jason glared at him in exasperation.
Spinelli gave up on his wasted attempt to enhance Jason's paltry level of cultural knowledge and returned to his inspection of the putative twins. The men were indeed superficially alike, each possessed the classic looks known as black Irish with their blue eyes and black hair. Yet, under closer examination, it was easy to distinguish them from one another. O'Doherty had a broken nose from some long forgotten fight and was bulkier in build than Sean Murtaugh who while trimmer than his companion possessed the beginnings of a receding hairline.
"The Jackal doesn't see anything in the twins' outward appearance to suggest why Stone Cold should have responded to their mere presence with such perturbation." Spinelli was still mystified as to why the dead men had produced such an unexpected alteration in Jason's composure. "Were you personally acquainted with them?" He ventured to ask, at a loss for any other reason that might explain Jason's odd demeanor.
Jason was still staring at the two Seans, his eyes were hooded and the expression on his face was even grimmer than usual. He responded to Spinelli's question with a definitive shake of his head. "No, I never met them but I had heard about them. They always worked together, ever since their early teenage years in the IRA gave them a taste for chaos and explosives. They could never adjust to the rough peace which ruled Ireland and so they hired out to anyone who would pay. They engineered African coups and participated in South American guerilla warfare. They came to the states a couple of years ago, made New York City their home base. I heard some rumors that they drifted up this way. I'm guessing they came to check out the scene in Port Charles. Right now, with the mess everything is in with our organization, the Russians, and the Zaccharas, it's exactly what would appeal to them. They were mercenaries, selling their skills to the highest bidders. They were famous for having no nerves, no matter how hot a situation. It's a required character trait-cool hands and level heads-for anyone who deals with explosives. I'm guessing that Karpov might've hired them; he'd like the idea of outsiders being a better fit with his own men. He'd be stupid to trust 'em though. The two Seans had only one loyalty and it was to each other. Dying together, it's all they would have wanted. They were legendary." Jason abruptly stopped speaking, his impromptu eulogy finished as he stood and stared at the clouded eyes of the Irish soldiers of fortune.
Spinelli was speechless for a moment, he had never heard Jason say such things, share such an intimate view of the inner workings of his world. He stood silently for several moments but when it became clear that Jason wasn't doing anything, was still lost in his solemn reflections, he cleared his throat prior to speaking. "It is obvious, much as in the case of Charlie, how Sean Murtaugh died." He indicated the two small wooden sticks, one clutched in each of the deceased Irishman's hands, as the silver wire which connected them gleamed dully in the room's light. "I believe that is a garrote he is holding and it corresponds with the ligature marks around his neck."
"Yeah," Jason looked where Spinelli pointed, "Whoever did it, used a lot of force, the wire cut deep into his neck." There was a red line running the circumference of Murtaugh's neck, it hadn't become inflamed or bled copiously which two factors meant he had died almost instantaneously.
"I see no obvious markings on Sean O'Doherty or any type of weapon either, which harkens back to the man in the pantry-John Smith." Spinelli was craning his neck toward O'Doherty trying in vain to see any overt sign of violence and he missed the slight stiffening of Jason's body as he mentioned the gray man's corpse.
Jason walked around the chair Charlie was sitting in and skirting the end table with a lamp on it, he moved behind the couch to get a better vantage point so he could inspect O'Doherty's corpse more closely for any clue as to what might have killed him. Spinelli also moved toward him but from the front so he might get a different angle from Jason's. He was standing between the coffee table and the couch, bending over and peering fixedly at the second Sean when he caught a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye. It was fast and deadly as it coiled and struck only missing Spinelli's hand by scant inches. He tumbled backward falling onto the coffee table which shifted and skidded out from beneath him.
"Spinelli!" Jason yelled his name as he pulled out his gun and fired.
The impact of the bullet flung the snake up into the air where it twirled and pirouetted while scarlet gouts of blood cascaded onto the couch, the indifferent dead men and Spinelli's legs, twisted up beneath him as he lay huddled where he landed in-between Sean Doherty's feet and the coffee table. The snake's torn asunder body came to rest draped over the arm of the sofa like some gory avant garde decoration.
As he frantically reached for his gun, Jason inadvertently knocked against Sean Murtaugh's neck. The resulting force of the impact was enough to sever the few remaining tendons and ligaments connecting the head to the rest of the body. While the already dead snake flew through the air, Murtaugh's head started to roll from where it was so precariously perched. Traveling down his chest, it hit his knees and bounced, springing off into space like some demented version of ski jumping. The head angled directly for Spinelli landing in his lap with a sickening thump.
Spinelli looked down in disbelief at Murtaugh's head vacantly staring back up at him, the ragged flesh around his neck was seeping a rusty red fluid which merged with the brighter crimson arterial blood from the snake already staining his pants. He started screaming, a full out escalating wail which raised Jason's hackles as he desperately fought his way through impeding bodies and furniture to get to the boy.
Jason grabbed for him, the forgotten gun still grasped within his hand. He reached down and picked up the head and flung it off to the side toward the fire place where it rolled to a stop, nestled against Espinosa's uncaring body. Shoving the coffee table out of his way, he sat down behind Spinelli solidly encasing him within his legs and arms. He held him and rocked him, speaking into his ear, low words without meaning, just soothing nonsense. It took minutes, long endless minutes, which seemed like hours to Jason before that awful keening sound ceased to be replaced by sobs. He removed his right arm intending to just put the gun down on the carpet, to get the emblem of violence out of Spinelli's immediate vicinity. Yet, even that small removal of a part of his cocoon of safety caused Spinelli's body to grow rigid with fear and his sobs increase in intensity.
"I'm right here, Spinelli. See," he placed his arm back into its former position, forming a solid band across the hacker's chest, "You're safe, I've got you." Jason continued to rock him, clutching Spinelli to him like he was just an extension of himself. "I'm sorry," he intoned, hating everything about this night, despising the loss of Spinelli's innocence and his role in it. "I didn't know that would happen. I couldn't let the snake bite you, I couldn't."
The cold analytical part of Jason's mind which never entirely turned off knew that if the identical situation were to occur again he would have taken precisely the same action. A traumatized live Spinelli was infinitely more valuable than a snake bit dead Spinelli, no contest.
It took another ten minutes for Spinelli's sobs to die down into occasional little hiccupping sounds that tore at Jason's heart. He pressed his head against the crown of Spinelli's head, his cheek rubbing against his thick, soft hair. Jason desperately wanted to do nothing more than stay like this for as long as Spinelli needed his physical support and the contact between their two bodies but he couldn't. His mind kept ticking off the passage of time and now that his roommate was calmer he had to press him beyond the limits of what he knew he ought. Slowly, he began to disentangle himself, first pulling his legs back and then extracting his arms from Spinelli's crushing grip. Spinelli hadn't spoken coherently since he started screaming but as Jason extricated himself and stood up, his body stiff from tension, the hacker emitted a low guttural moan of loss.
Jason bit his lip in distress at the sound. He was happy to feel the pain, the salty taste as blood spurted from the wound. It was the least he deserved for putting Spinelli through hell. Still, if there was any way in which being a cold hearted son of a bitch paid off, this was it. He reached down and grabbing Spinelli's hand started pulling him off the floor. Spinelli's body responded readily enough but when he was upright he couldn't seem to stand on his own and he stumbled forward forcing Jason to catch him.
Jason allowed Spinelli a moment to regain his equilibrium and then he tilted his head up and stared directly into his tear glazed, raccoon rimmed eyes. Giving a little shake to his head, he asked softly, "You with me? You gonna be okay?" He did it deliberately, knowing that the best way to challenge the young man was to ask him to reach down into his reserves and prove himself once again to his beloved mentor. Jason absolutely loathed pushing the worn-out button connected to Spinelli's self esteem but he didn't have a choice.
As always, it worked. Spinelli straightened up and stepped away from Jason's supportive arm. He nodded his head but still didn't speak. He hadn't uttered a single word in close to twenty minutes Jason calculated. Deliberately, he stepped away from the boy heading for the door, throwing a brusque "Let's go," over his shoulder. He had reached the door and opened it before he realized that Spinelli was standing in the same spot he had left him. "Spinelli," he said, letting a note of unfeigned urgency creep into his voice, "Let's go."
"Where?" The single syllable was breathed out into the still, putrid air of the penthouse, barely covering the distance separating the two men.
Jason sighed, he had been hoping the hacker's intrinsic obedience would kick in and he would manage to get them to his intended destination without having to have this discussion. "To the Hunters' apartment. Now, come on, time is running out."
"No," it was no louder than the first word but the obduracy contained within was clear.
"Spinelli," Jason had never felt so helpless, so unsure of what he should do. He could physically pick him up and carry him down to the Hunter's but that begged the question of what to do once they got there. While he thought Mimi and Brock would be willing guardians of the boy, he didn't think they would agree to be his jailers.
"You could make me stay," Spinelli was still speaking to the carpet, his fists tightly furled, "But then I would follow and you know what a poor driver I am even on dry road surfaces." Finally, his head raised and he was looking at Jason, his tear stained cheeks a marked contrast to the stubborn will which shone forth from deep within his eyes.
"It isn't meant to punish you but to protect you." Jason was pleading now, he had no more arguments to fall back upon. People thought Jason was immutable when his mind was made up but he was as a sapling in the wind when compared to Spinelli's resolve.
"Who would be there to protect you, to watch out for you Stone Cold?" His tone was reasonable, as he restated his case from earlier when Jason had first suggested Spinelli take refuge with the Hunters. "I know I…faltered just now…" His face had colored and he was once again looking back down at the floor, even the tips of his ears were red with shame.
"Faltered?" Jason was furious with his friend, "You didn't falter Spinelli, you reacted the way any normal, any sane person would to an untenable situation." He stepped away from the door, crossing the short distance between the two of them in a few long and angry strides. "Look at me," he commanded Spinelli, once more grasping his chin and raising it up to prevent any defiance of his will. "You have been nothing but brave, loyal, true and resourceful tonight. Without you I would still be carting bodies to the quarry or even worse sitting in a jail cell with multiple murder charges hanging over my head. I won't allow you to beat yourself up because you finally had enough of the horrors we have been enduring tonight. It just means that you're a decent human being, someone I am proud to call my friend, my brother." He growled down at him, his voice rough with assumed anger, "Got it?"
The miracle happened, it was small, watery and tear contaminated, but a genuine smile nonetheless. Something deep within Jason gave a small sigh of relief as he realized he hadn't yet lost something immeasurably precious to him. "Got it, Stone Cold," Spinelli responded moving back from Jason's grip and swiping his hand under his runny nose. "It would seem we have another journey to undertake to the aforementioned quarry before we can rest from our labors."
"I guess so," Jason capitulated, he couldn't afford to waste any more valuable time pressing for an outcome which would never be attained. He simply would have to make sure that Spinelli stayed safe in his company. "You know the drill, I'm going to run down and get the only tarp we have left which we'll use for…Murtaugh." he sent a sharp glance toward Spinelli to see if he was going to backslide at the mention of the headless corpse and was satisfied to see his gaze was clear and steady as he listened to his mentor. "Meanwhile, you gather every sheet in the place, strip the beds if you have to, and maybe you could start with Charlie?" He phrased it as a question since while the homeless man's corpse was relatively violence free and away from the worse of the result of the recent mayhem, his body was also the one which had most spiritually disturbed his roommate.
He needn't have worried. Spinelli was already headed for the stairs responding with a brief "On it, Stone Cold." Jason gave a wry smile, he was more proud of the kid then he would ever be able to say.
Carrying the tarp tucked under his arm, Jason unlocked the door to the penthouse. He hadn't told Spinelli he was locking it when he left because he didn't want to make the hacker think he didn't believe he couldn't take care of himself. Jason didn't care if he had to be underhanded in his quest to protect Spinelli. He would do whatever it took to make sure the boy survived the night at least physically intact. He knew he might be scarred mentally or emotionally but he couldn't spare the time to worry about that at the moment. Once they had fought their way out of this mess he would evaluate his mental state and even get him professional help if he thought such a step was warranted.
He looked at the scene in the living room, it was clear Spinelli had been busy. Charlie's body was encased in a sheet, his funeral shroud. Jason thought after tonight that the two of them would have compiled enough experience in handling and disposing of bodies such that they would possess the credentials to apply for work as mortuary attendants. There were more sheets piled on the end table by the couch but Spinelli had made no attempt to wrap either Sean O'Doherty's or Felipe Espinosa's body. Jason wasn't surprised, Sean Murtaugh's head was still cuddled up against Espinosa's insensate side and O'Doherty was in too close of a proximity to the headless horror that was Murtaugh's remains for Spinelli to have coped with either situation.
He could neither hear nor see his roommate and he felt the familiar upwelling of alarm which seemed to clutch him at any moment this evening when he wasn't aware of Spinelli's actual location. "Spinelli!" The word erupted from his throat, louder and less sanguine than he had intended speaking it.
"The Jackal is right here," Spinelli was coming out of the kitchen carrying several plastic storage bags and a pair of metal tongs. "Stone Cold sounds perturbed is there a problem of which I should be made aware?" He stood by the pool table, looking at his mentor with a mild expression of inquiry on his face.
"No…I…uh was just wondering where you had gotten to." Jason started walking purposely toward the couch, trying to use action as a diversion in order to buy time to get his emotions under control and his face set back into its usual impenetrable planes. "Nice job with Charlie and getting the extra sheets." He added as a further deflection, though one glance at Spinelli's face told Jason he might as well have not bothered. The boy was one of a select handful of people who could read Jason's emotions despite his best attempts to keep them hidden away from scrutiny.
"The Jackal is fine, Stone Cold," Spinelli responded to his mentor's unspoken feelings rather than his actual words. "He is pleased to note how concerned the Master is for his grasshopper's well being and hopes he knows that his sentiments are entirely reciprocated." His lips were curved in a small smile and his eyes were soft with affection.
Jason merely grunted in response as he dipped his head toward the materials Spinelli was carrying. "What's all that for?" He asked, genuinely curious.
"Evidence gathering," Spinelli replied briskly as he took his cue from Jason and returned his attention to the pressing business of corpse preparation and removal. "The person behind these deeds has left behind a bounty of clues when compared to his previous activities of the night. Until now, all we had in our possession was the knife used to kill Louie, the poison dart in Donaldson's neck, and the insulin bottle clutched by Fitzgerald. Yet, this one scene has provided us a doubling of potential indicators that might help us identify who is responsible." Spinelli held up one plastic bag which contained the ice pick that Charlie had been clutching, "There is this weapon and then if Stone Cold would be so kind as to retrieve the garrote from the hands of the unfortunate Mr. Murtaugh." Spinelli held out a bag to Jason who took it and gingerly removed the item in question, holding it only by the wire between his thumb and forefinger, he placed in the bag and returned it to Spinelli after sealing it.
"What are the tongs for?" Jason was fascinated by Spinelli's methodical actions. He wasn't sure if he would have thought to do the same.
"Ah," Spinelli actually was grinning at him and Jason was surprised at the sensation he felt in his chest, almost as though that smile, that sign of his fundamental spirits returning was lightening his own heart. "It is for the collection of perhaps the most important and rare clue of the evening with the possible exception of the substance that might be detected upon the tiny dart which killed Donaldson. I suspect curare," he added as a further expansion of his thought processes.
Spinelli moved toward the end of the couch where O'Doherty was seated and using the tongs retrieved the shattered corpse of the snake from the arm of the sofa upon which it had come to its final rest. He placed it inside the plastic bag and it wasn't until he had sealed the reptile inside its clear, hermetic coffin that Jason gave a sigh of relief. He hated snakes.
He peered intently at the curled body of the snake and his brow wrinkled in puzzlement, "What kind of snake is that?" He asked Spinelli, fully expecting an answer as he seldom requested information, no matter how esoteric, for which the hacker didn't possess the requisite data.
Spinelli nodded his head in approval, like a teacher proud of a bright student's inquisitiveness. "Well, might you ask, Stone Cold. This snake has no right being here in Port Charles. Though of course, it must be said, all native snakes would naturally be in hibernation by this time of year anyway since they are cold blooded. Still, this particular specimen hails from an exotic land, thousands of miles away and there are probably very few of its brethren in the state of New York."
"So, it's not from here?" Jason was intrigued. Spinelli was right, using a rare snake to kill could indeed lead to the downfall of their unknown adversary. They might be able to track possession of the poisonous reptile back to him if they were lucky.
"In India, there are four snakes responsible for almost all that nation's poisonous snake bites which unfortunately often lead to deaths as well. They are the cobra, Russell's viper, the saw scaled viper and our starring player from this evening-the krait."
"What did you call it?"
"It is spelled k-r-a-i-t and it is a nocturnal creature that bites people as they walk barefoot of a night, oftentimes when they are going out to relieve themselves in primitive facilities in rural areas. These four snakes are so ubiquitous that they have created a polyvalent serum which is intended to treat snakebite victims even when the actual culprit is unknown."
Spinelli had finished his lecture on the dangers of Indian snakes and was heading back toward the kitchen with the snake secure in its bag. "Where are you going to put it?" Jason called after him, his heart sinking as he thought he already knew the answer.
"I am placing the bag in the freezer for the moment, in case we are called upon to produce the snake for reference or verification." Spinelli seemed impervious to the fact that he was putting the corpse of a venomous reptile in amongst their foodstuff.
"Great," Jason muttered to himself, "Just great! Now the freezer's off limits too." He sighed in disgust as he turned his attention to the three remaining bodies. He wanted to reunite Sean Murtagh's body with its head so as to reduce Spinelli's association with the earlier traumatic event.
A half hour later and all four bodies were securely wrapped up and ready for transport. Jason and Spinelli embarked upon the by now familiar ritual of carrying a body down the many flights of stairs to the parking garage. Then Jason would have Spinelli wait with the corpse while he reconnoitered the garage which finally, this deep into the night, was seemingly free of all activity, and together they would move it into the SUV cargo hold.
They moved O'Doherty first as he was the largest, though not a patch on the two Russian corpses. Jason seriously wondered if they even would have the stamina to deal with a Russian body at this point in the proceedings. The second to go was Espinosa since he was slightly taller and heavier than the other two remaining men. Everything had been going well and they were just starting down the first flight of stairs with Murtaugh's body in its leak proof tarp when the fire door they had just come through began to squeak open.
"Damian, dear, is that you?" The voice was high pitched and immediately identifiable as belonging to Mrs. Edna Caldicott, a building resident from two floors down.
Spinelli nearly dropped his end of Murtaugh's body as he looked at Jason, an almost laughable expression of despair contorting his features. "What should I do, Stone Cold?' He implored his mentor in a distressed whisper.
"Get rid of her!" Jason hissed back as he wedged Murtaugh against the railing and waved dismissively at Spinelli, clearly telling him to go now.
Spinelli scurried up the stairs, managing to reach the door before the elderly woman could open it wide enough to see more than Spinelli who quickly moved to block her field of vision. "What a delightful surprise, Mrs. Caldicott, though it is an unexpected hour of the night for a social visit." He was panting but still somehow managed to combine excellent manners with a lightly chiding, almost teasing tone that caused Jason to marvel anew at his roommate's facility in dealing with Harborview Tower's pesky, aged residents.
"Oh you, Damian!" She was actually giggling as she responded to his remarks, "I wasn't intending to visit. I was merely going to slip this note under your door. I couldn't sleep and so I thought I would pass the time by being productive but what are you doing up at such a late hour?"
"Oh, Mrs. Caldicott, it is all due to Stone Cold's insistence on the Jackal's exercise regime." Spinelli was leaning against the door jamb, looking composed and relaxed as it appeared, much to Jason's irritation, he was intending to embark upon a long tête-à-tête with the interfering busybody. "He says that I don't do enough physical activity and that I am forbidden to use the Tower elevators and what is more," he leaned conspiratorially forward as though to include her in a secret and she responded by moving toward Spinelli, her cheeks flushed and her eyes sparkling as she awaited what he would tell her, "He requires me to traverse the stairs countless times a day and to keep a log. Well, alas and alack, it seems I have been entirely remiss in my duties. Tomorrow…well, later today, rather as is his habit on the first day of every month, he checks my log entry. So, that is the sad, enforced activity you caught me at and I mustn't dally long as I have several more circuits to complete." He smiled dejectedly at her, his shaggy bangs and morose green eyes inviting her full commiseration upon his sad plight.
"Why that's torture, that's what it is, pure and simple torture!" She was fully indignant on Spinelli's behalf. "I have a good mind to go and talk to Mr. Morgan and tell him exactly what's what. He can't be allowed to treat you that way!" Her bosom was heaving with emotion and it was clear she was actually intending to go and pound upon the penthouse door and give Jason the dressing down of his life.
Jason cursed under his breath, "When I get my hands on him…"
"Mrs. Caldicott, you mustn't, you really mustn't. You will only make things more difficult for the Jackal and after all, Stone Cold's methods might be harsh but his intentions are worthwhile. He is only concerned for his grasshopper's health." Jason could tell from the sound of Spinelli's voice that he was having a hard time controlling his laughter which infuriated him further.
"You poor boy," she murmured sympathetically, deciding to abort her confrontation, "It must be so difficult residing with that surly brute."
"Surly brute!" Jason repeated under his breath, his fists clenching and unclenching, "Why that old biddy!"
Maybe he sensed Jason's growing though unseen animosity or perhaps due to a guilty desire to divert their downstairs neighbor's hostility away from his mentor, Spinelli changed the subject. "The note, Mrs. Caldicott, to what does it pertain?"
"Oh, silly me," she said flustered as she realized she had forgotten her original reason for coming to the penthouse, "It's just a reminder that you are hosting the Jane Austen book club next Monday at two pm in my apartment."
"Indeed, the Jackal recalls his obligation, it is to 'Sense and Sensibility' and those inestimable Dashwood sisters. I am sorry, to have to chat and literally run but I can not countenance incurring Stone Cold's wrath. Will you find your way safely home?" he inquired courteously.
"Aren't you just a darling," she said as she reached up and patted his cheek affectionately, "I can't remember the last time someone was concerned about my getting home safely. Now, Damian, I don't care what Jason Morgan says, I don't want you wearing yourself down to a mere nub for that man's unreasonable dictates."
"I won't, Mrs. Caldicott," he assured her seriously as he waved her on her way. Spinelli watched to make sure she got on the elevator before he shut the door. It closed with a pneumatic hiss and he leaned against it exhausted and trembling as the adrenalin leached out of his system.
Jason glared at him, waiting impatiently for him to catch his breath and resume their assigned task of getting Sean Murtaugh down to the SUV so they could return for Charlie and be on their way to the quarry. He wanted desperately to berate Spinelli for making him the scapegoat in his excuse for being found in the stairwell at this hour of the morning but he knew full well he had no grounds for such an attack. After all, the kid had simply been thinking on his feet and whatever subconscious issues he might or might not have concerning Jason, which were revealed in his choice of subterfuge, weren't fair game for Jason's censure. So, instead, as Spinelli came wearily over to pick up Murtaugh's feet in anticipation of restarting their interrupted descent, he chose another tack to pursue.
"The Jane Austen book club?" He asked, his tone lightly mocking.
It worked, Spinelli stiffened even as he continued maneuvering Murtaugh down the stairs in concert with Jason. After so much practice, they had developed an easy rhythm which underscored the inefficiency of their first few trips, though it was a skill neither had desired to acquire.
Without looking up at Jason, Spinelli replied in a low voice that held an edge of warning to it. "Jane Austen is considered to be one of the greatest writers in the canon of English literature."
Jason snickered meanly, "What does she write about, tea parties and what kind of dresses the society women are wearing? 'Sense and Sensibility', who names a book that? I think you have been hanging around with the ladies too much, Spinelli."
Stung, Spinelli looked up, his eyes frosty green beryl as he glared at Jason. "She writes, as all great authors do, about the human condition. Her observations contain wit, sympathy, condemnation and are timeless in their relevance."
"Couldn't you read something else, maybe a western or something, like a good Louis Lamour?" Jason wasn't teasing him anymore. He was actually offering him heartfelt advice in an effort to alleviate his tendencies to be a social misfit when around people, especially other guys, his own age.
"At least I read." His voice was ice and the four uncompromising, unadulterated words cut Jason to the quick.
"I read," he retorted, defensive and hurt at the uncharacteristic attack by the hacker.
"What?" Spinelli sneered at him, "Motorcycle Monthly?"
Jason was so astounded at Spinelli's behavior that he couldn't even articulate a good comeback. Instead he just concentrated on negotiating the turn around the tenth floor landing all the while thinking about what Spinelli had said. 'It's a damn good magazine,' he thought rebelliously, 'What does he know about it anyway, can't even drive down the street without risking an accident. Why there was that time I was having such problems getting the fuel mixture ratio just right and that article about that new additive solved all my problems.' Still, he couldn't get his mind off how derogatory Spinelli's tone had been and he very much wanted to redeem his perceived lack of literary awareness.
Doggedly he worried at the problem trying to remember some vaguely overhead conversation when the memory suddenly came flooding back to him. 'Love in the Time of Cholera,' he burst out with the title, proud he had remembered it, "By Gabriel…"
"Gabriel Garcia Marquez?" Spinelli supplied the missing name as he looked at Jason with awe. "You read that masterpiece?"
"Yeah," Jason muttered as he refused to meet Spinelli's eyes, he felt ashamed.
"Most fulsome apologies, Stone Cold," Spinelli was remorseful, sorry that he had ever doubted his mentor. "That is indeed an acknowledged great piece of literature composed by a notable man of letters who won the Nobel Prize for his literary endeavors."
Jason remained silent and they continued their downward trek until just as they were bypassing the seventh floor, Spinelli recollected a conversation he and Diane Miller had about this very book and author. The discussion had occurred several months previously in Jason's taciturn presence.
Eyes narrowed, Spinelli regarded his Master's bent, uncommunicative head. Casually, he spoke, "Surely Stone Cold was most enthralled at the climatic moment in the story when the monsoon rains were in full force, an earthquake having also occurred further crippling a city dealing not only with a deluge but a full fledged cholera epidemic as well. Did you not thrill to the heroism of the native doctor and his lovely helpmeet, the aristocratic Lady Esketh as they faced their travails together, shoulder to shoulder much as we are doing this very night?"
Jason thought the book sounded okay, maybe he would read it after all. "Yes, that was the best part," he agreed sincerely as he looked up at Spinelli, forcing his expression to remain open and guileless.
"Hah! That is not from 'Love in the Time of Cholera' which is a treatise on the nature and forms and disposition of love. Additionally, one aspect of the definition of the word 'choler' is as it references temper and that is also a theme of the book which is so cleverly encoded in the title as a double entendre recognized by the knowledgeable reader. No, the book whose plot I just described is a much inferior tale written by Louis Bromfield and set in India not Columbia. How could Stone Cold prove to be so mendacious?" Spinelli's chest was heaving from the combined effort of carting his eighth body down multiple flights of stairs and his mentor's unlooked for deception.
"I may have lied but you had no right to say I didn't read," Jason said sulkily, glad that they were almost to the garage. While he didn't like Spinelli's image of him to be tarnished, he hated even more the concept that he might find him wanting in intelligence.
They completed the transfer of Sean Murtaugh's body in mutual silence and it wasn't until they were again wending their way down the stairs carrying Charlie between them, that Spinelli spoke, "Stone Cold, I must apologize for making such an entirely uncalled for remark. The Jackal was flustered by your uncomplimentary commentary about the book club and he lashed out in anger. I hope that you will forgive my transgression."
Jason looked up at his roommate, taking in his disheveled hair, the beads of sweat dotting his brow as they made their ninth journey down these stairs and he wondered what he had ever done to earn the loyalty of such a purely good man. He shook his head and gave Spinelli a rueful smile. "You didn't do anything Spinelli. I started the whole thing with my crack about your book club. I'm the one who owes you an apology, I'm truly sorry."
"Well, I suppose we were both a bit snappish and it's no wonder that our tempers should be frayed after encountering such an unending stream of dire vicissitudes throughout this never-ending night." Spinelli's voice was heavy with fatigue but his forgiveness was clearly sincere.
Jason felt he owed him something more in the way of explanation and perhaps his own right to exoneration. "Look, Spinelli, sometimes it's hard for me to be around you when you talk about stuff…You know so much and it makes me feel…well, stupid."
"You?" Spinelli was incredulous, "How can the Master possibly feel stupid in the presence of his woefully inadequate grasshopper? With the exception of the gladsome offering of my uber accomplished cyber skills, Stone Cold knows all. You are fiercely brave, amazingly resourceful and stalwartly constant. I sit at your feet and drink from the never emptying cup of your wisdom. You…stupid?" His words trailed off as they negotiated a turn, the younger man contemplating a startlingly alien precept.
Jason gave a short little laugh in response to Spinelli's speech. "I know you think I never make mistakes or have doubts or that there isn't a situation that I don't know how to handle but that simply isn't true. Before I used to look to Sonny for guidance and then I became more of my own man and had to make my own decisions and choices and that included wrong ones. I mean I get people, what motivates them and causes them to do the stuff they do. I know my way around a gun and how to come out of the right side in a fight. Then you came along and at first I just thought you were all goofy and the only thing you had going for you was what you could do with your laptop and that was a pretty amazing talent. After a while, I got to know you, really see who you are and what a good person you are. That's when I was proud to call you my friend, my family…"
It was Jason's turn to pause as he caught his breath. Charlie was the lightest of the four but they had moved so many bodies it was even beginning to take a toll on Jason's well toned physique.
Spinelli's face was flushed whether from embarrassment or exertion or both it was impossible to say. "You see me as family?" He asked softly, tentatively as though afraid that Jason would snatch away the prized title he had just bestowed upon him.
"Absolutely," Jason affirmed it in a clear, strong voice, making sure that Spinelli was looking directly at him so there could be no doubt. "I guess I should have said it more clearly before now but yes, of course you've become my family. I trust you and rely upon you more than…well, anyone really. That's what makes it so hard." He continued, returning to his earlier contention. "You're just so brilliant, I've never met anyone as smart as you. I mean Robin knows all about medicine and science and Jax knows about art and books and so many people know a lot about one thing but you…you know everything about everything. I mean take tonight-you had information about drugs, exotic poisons and snakes. You quoted poetry and talked about books and rope theory and I can't even remember it all. It's intimidating to live around all that stuff which I've never heard about and don't always understand. So, yeah, sometimes I feel stupid."
"String theory," Spinelli couldn't help making the correction and he grinned as he heard Jason's snort of disgust.
"See what I mean," he demanded as though Spinelli had just made his point for him, "How am I supposed to compete with or contribute anything to a discussion with you when I don't know about any of this stuff?"
"Well, Stone Cold, the Jackal thinks that what we have here is a failure to communicate" he attempted to replicate Paul Newman's iconic drawl, "It would seem we have been at cross purposes all this time, each of us downplaying our own qualities whilst admiring those of the other. Perhaps one valuable result of all the horrors we have dealt with tonight is the discovery that together we make a formidable team, that we are infinitely stronger and more resourceful together than apart."
Jason stopped his downward momentum and stared gravely up at Spinelli, "I think you're right, that is exactly what tonight has taught us, partner. By the way, that's the crummiest Paul Newman I've ever heard, it goes like this 'what we have here is a failure to communicate'."
Grinning wickedly, he started back down the last flight of stairs, studiously ignoring Spinelli's indignant whine of "Stone Cold, the Jackal most vehemently protests your unkind disparagement of his much vaunted thespian skills!"
Their fourth drive out to the quarry was the slowest of the night. Jason drove as fast as he could but the roads leading out of Port Charles were icy and treacherous. There were multiple accidents indicated by the flashing red lights of emergency response vehicles and the ditches were littered with abandoned cars which had slipped off the roadway. Jason's shoulders and neck were stiff with tension as he leaned over the steering wheel, peering narrowly at the slick road ahead. Spinelli sat next to him, not saying a word, terrified at the thought of what would occur if they were to get into an accident and be caught red handed carrying four murdered corpses in the cargo area of the SUV.
They finally reached the quarry and this time there was no wasted effort as they weighted and tipped the bodies into the icy pit. They knew both time and the weather were conspiring against them and they needed to get back to Port Charles, to the penthouse to see what new games their despised adversary might have devised to cause them further torment. Jason hated the fact that there were clear tire tracks in the snow running from the paved surface of the county road to the unmarked track leading to the quarry. Still, there was nothing he could do about it but trust that they would be covered up by new fallen snow.
The drive back was more relaxed since they had disposed of their morbid consignment and were no longer fearful of the potentially prying eyes of the law. Spinelli meant to stay awake, to provide support and companionship for Jason but his eyes were drooping and eventually his body gave into its exhaustion. Jason looked over at his sleeping roommate, a small smile of satisfaction curving his lips. The sky was gradually lightning as he drove along the harbor front toward the towers. The snow had stopped, at least in the city, and there was a faint band of pink between the gunmetal gray of the ocean and the frosty white of the sky, the endless night was finally over.
Jason pulled into his assigned parking place and reluctantly reached over to gently shake Spinelli's shoulder. "Wake up, we're home," he said softly. When he didn't get more than a muffled grunt of protest in response, he tried again with more force, "C'mon, Spinelli, you can sleep once we get upstairs, I promise."
"The Jackal is awake, Stone Cold," His green eyes peered out blearily from between swollen lids, his face was pale and strained looking.
Jason felt guilty waking him but he meant what he said, Spinelli could go back to sleep as soon as they were once again in the penthouse. Jason knew the luxury of sleep wasn't yet available to him. He would have to stand guard as he attempted to puzzle out what their next move should be in tracking down their elusive enemy. He climbed wearily out of the SUV, passing the rear of the vehicle he started walking toward the garage elevators. He heard the quiet slam of the passenger door as Spinelli exited behind him.
"Hurry up," he called back impatiently when he didn't hear any echoing footsteps following him.
Suddenly, he froze, something wasn't right. Pivoting on his heel Jason turned back to look at the SUV and his heart leapt into his throat. John Smith was standing behind the SUV, his left arm was wrapped around a petrified looking Spinelli's chest and his right held the point of an extremely sharp looking, six-inch long knife blade pressing against the delicate skin of his throat. One brilliant ruby red drop trembled delicately at the apex where knife and skin merged.
"Remember me, Morgan?" The grey hued man asked with obscene cheerfulness, his eyes and teeth glinting in the yellow cast of the flickering fluorescent lights.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5:The Third
Jason's past finally catches up to him but it's Spinelli who pays the price.
It was that changing time. At first fall appeared as though it was going to linger forever, all golden days with achingly blue skies followed by crisp nights filled with the orange glow of a harvest moon. Later, much later, caught within the hold of the deeper dark, it would give reluctant way to the stars. They were distant courtesans who shamed their lunar companion with a refined sparkle, an uncontested elegance proclaiming them to be the perennial grande dames of the night sky. Such an astronomical miracle was the provenance of the recent past, of the previous evening’s glory but tonight the moon and stars were invisible, both fallen victim to the earth’s blanket of clouds accompanied by a dense fog which drifted in from the harbor, serenaded by the mournful calling of an isolated foghorn. It wasn’t snowing, no what was falling from the sky was nothing as genteel and graceful as snow. It was sleeting, hard little pellets that came in at a slant and stung your eyes and lips and tasted bitter on your tongue. The temperature had plummeted and it was a good fifty degrees colder than the well behaved sixty of yesterday evening at this same time. An arctic front had descended upon the city and it was clear that winter in all its hoary grandeur had arrived.
“Fuck!” He hissed, his boots sliding out from beneath him for the third time. He wasn’t a runner, he was a rider and a shooter. He took care of his body, for himself, for the women he took to bed but aerobic exercise wasn’t his thing. Besides that he was freezing his ass, his arms, and his ears off. Exposed skin all over his body was tingling in the unexpected cold but he kept going, determined not to lose his target. His arms moved in a jerky rhythm as his breath puffed whitely out into the frosty night. He was gaining, it was a slight change but he could see his quarry a little more distinctly than he could a moment ago.
Heck, five minutes before he’d been lounging around Sonny’s drinking a beer and contemplating which buxom beauty was going to keep his bed warm tonight. He knew it sure as hell wasn’t going to be the redhead who had spent the night eying him like he was a pina colada lollipop, hers to lick up and down and do with as she would. She was gorgeous, don’t get him wrong, but he didn’t go in much for repeats. He liked variety and women got clingy if you gave them too much attention, made one feel more special than all the rest. The redhead, well, her he’d been with twice and he was beginning to think that was one more encounter than was wise. The only girls-women-no, girls, he liked were Elizabeth Spencer, Robin Scorpio and…
”God damn it!” He stopped short at the street corner. It was dark, this part of town was poorly lit. Even when there was a lamp around it was a crap shoot if it worked. Most of their bulbs had long since been destroyed by vandals throwing rocks or, in some cases, shooting bullets at them. “Where the hell did he go?” He was panting, his lungs were on fire and his legs ached from the unaccustomed exertion as his muscles dealt with the build up of lactic acid in the tissues. He was going to be exceedingly sore tomorrow and that was just one more item on the bill he was intending to hand over to the creep he was chasing when he caught up with him.
Nobody but nobody stole from Sonny and got away with, at least not when Jason Morgan was on the job. His allegiance to the club owner was born out of a fierce loyalty forged when he took a chance on the angry, lost young man who didn’t know who he was or what he was capable of becoming. Sonny saw potential in him, mentored him and what’s more had taken a personal interest in his life away from the job. Jason didn’t talk much but Sonny didn’t care. He showed him how to harness his temper, his unmitigated and previously uncontrollable anger and use it on the mobster’s behalf. Jason got to hit and shoot people while Sonny extorted money from them and together they kept his club humming along. It was a match made in hell but neither cared.
Jason had been suspicious of the guy for a while now. John Smith, even Jason knew that couldn’t be his real name. He was always around, watching and listening, his eyes flat and colorless just like the rest of him. If you didn’t know he was in a room your glance could slide right over him. He blended in with his surroundings like a chameleon.
Still, Sonny said let him be and, to Jason, Sonny’s slightest word was law. This Smith guy had increased the club’s profits by forty percent according to the club’s accountant Benny Adams and it wasn’t by doing anything the customers were complaining about either. Jason didn’t know if he fixed cards or the roulette wheels or what but he knew that whatever he’d done to give the house a greater than usual edge it wasn’t legitimate. He didn’t know why the guy irritated him. It wasn’t like anything at Sonny’s was legal anyway so how could you complain about something being even more unlawful, that was just stupid. Still, Jason had an innate sense of fairness and he thought the suckers coming into the club to gamble ought to have a faint chance of winning something sometime. It didn’t bother Sonny at all though. No, his black eyes just shone with an avaricious gleam of reptilian covetousness whenever he looked at the balance sheets Benny dutifully laid out for his perusal.
When Jason had raised his point, the closest he could ever come to disagreeing with the up and coming mob boss, Sonny had simply shrugged. He wrapped his arm around his young lieutenant’s broad shoulders saying, “Jason, Jason they come for the thrill, for the entertainment, for the game and we make sure they have a great time with the girls and the drinks and the playing. They win in that they get a night out and we win in that we get their money.”
Well, that was that and Jason stopped worrying about the ethics of it all but he still didn’t like Smith and he watched him like a hawk that is when he remembered to notice him. The guy sure had a talent for appearing invisible. Take tonight, Jason hadn’t even known he was in the joint or he wouldn’t have been drinking and scoping out prospective lays for the night. No, had he suspected John Smith was on the premises he would have been following him around like a shadow, sober as a judge (well, maybe not the judges Sonny kept in his pocket).
He didn’t have a clue though until Ernie, the club’s bouncer, came careening in from the back office. He was white as a sheet and clutching his chest where a huge scarlet blotch was inexorably spreading over his tan turtleneck. Jason managed to grab him before he fell, he could dimly hear screams as some of the more sensitive club patrons belatedly realized that they were witnessing a death by violence.
This would be the night the legend was born. It was the event which would put Sonny’s on the map as the in place to go and see and be seen. Who knew-maybe you too would get to see a mobster stabbed or shot and lie bleeding out on the club’s filthy floor and all for the price of a cover charge and some watered down scotch. Jason wasn’t psychic, he didn’t know any of that would happen and even if he did it wouldn’t have mattered. Only two things counted at that moment. A comrade of his, a man who was big and bulky, paid to be a professional intimidator was breathing his last in his arms, unexpectedly taken out by the whip-like reflexes of a man only a third his size but with more than enough cunning and speed to compensate for the difference.
“The money,” Ernie gasped, loyal to his last heartbeat, “That creep stole Mr. Corinthos’ money.”
It was the second thing that counted to Jason, Smith having the audacity to steal from Jason’s creator. For he was as much a creature of Sonny’s devising as if he had molded him from clay, like an ancient creation myth. If Smith stole from Sonny then Jason, as the figurative or literal, it was hard to say exactly, extension of his arm would bring him to justice. Smith would pay for Ernie’s life with his own death but, prior to expiring, he would first pay in pain for the loss of Sonny’s face, his prestige amongst his own men. Jason would make sure of it.
That is when he managed to catch the guy. At the moment, he was bent over wheezing, clutching at his knees while he tried to ease his out of control breathing. The sweat on his body was steaming off him in the cold air and the loss of heat from his body, clad as he was in nothing more than a dark t-shirt, was causing him to shiver, a sure precursor to hypothermia. He needed to find the ethereal grey ghost and finish him, fast.
Jason had waited for Ernie’s death rattle before leaping to his feet and tearing into the back room, sparing an incensed glance for the safe door hanging open, its interior an empty, ravished, silver cylinder. He sprinted out the back door and turned down the alley behind the club. He couldn’t see him at first, had turned right instead of left purely based on hunter’s instinct, it seemed he could smell the bastard. His decision was rewarded when a few blocks later he caught sight of Smith running pell mell into and out of uneven splotches of light cast by storefronts, car headlights and the occasional streetlamp, all of it wrapped in a surrealistic mist as tendrils of fog drifted randomly around him.
Jason ran with renewed vigor, keeping him always in sight, gaining on him block after block, more sure than ever of his inevitable capture, until now…”Where is he?” He growled straining his eyes against the blackness of the street, more like another alley really. As much as he wanted to get Smith, wanted him to pay for his actions, Jason wasn’t stupid. Rushing into a place you didn’t know, when you couldn’t see was tantamount to handing his neck on a silver platter to the guy with a little incised arrow suggesting ‘cut here’. He wasn’t intending to be the one to die tonight, not like poor unprepared Ernie, that’s for sure.
So, he controlled his natural instinct to keep going, to dash into danger that could well be the last thing he ever did. He stood there waiting for his labored breathing to slow, the air cold on his extremities but he ignored it. His head cocked, he listened, his steel blue eyes gradually adjusting to the dark began to see gradients of blackness, vague forms, maybe even the light glinting off of something.
Yeah, he was absolutely seeing something and hearing it as well. There was definitely something there, coming toward him, the noise was much clearer now. It was a dragging, shuffling sound, underlain with something muffled and ragged that Jason couldn’t quite place but it sent chills down his spine which had no basis in the freezing cold air surrounding his underdressed body.
“Morgan!” The word was snapped out into the darkness, as sharp and brittle as the sheer coating of ice on the streets and sidewalks of the frozen city.
Jason began to move toward the disembodied voice, his fingers unconsciously opening and closing as his entire being prepared to deliver his peculiar brand of righteous violence. “Smith!” He growled out, and there they were, dim figures in the dusk, facing off like gunfighters standing in a deserted street, dreary and cold but with an undercurrent of electricity because someone was surely going to die.
“Jason!” The voice was high pitched, squeaky with fear and Jason reacted in shock, squinting into the concealing darkness as he tried to make her out.
“Tammy?” He asked incredulously. Now all the disparate sounds, the cockiness in Smith’s voice, they all made sense. He possessed leverage and he knew it.
Tammy was the third one, maybe the main one, of those girl-women whom Jason liked. They were the ones he could envision being with beyond a night spent coiled around one another, wrapped in grimy dirty sheets. Those orrelevant others he kept hidden away within his room above Jake’s, confined only to the biological functioning of his lust but having nothing in the least to do with his heart. Yet, when he thought of the trio of young women whom he kept mostly sequestered from his vocation as Sonny's enforcer, they were the ones he respected, who might have the potential to alter his life. Robin, well, she was cerebral and delicate, Elizabeth, she was unattainable, art come to life, but Tammy-she was real, vibrant and alive despite all the things life had seen fit to throw at her young as she still was, at least in years.
Jason was responsible for running the loose coalition of pimps and prostitutes who plied their less than savory but always necessary trade up and down the alleyways and abandoned warehouses of the Port Charles waterfront which made up Sonny’s territory. He collected protection money from the pimps and gave little or no thought to the women under their domineering thrall. These women, if they were lucky, saw maybe twenty percent of the money that they earned on their backs on a filthy, rudimentary bed situated in rat infested squalor or more simply caught out in a back street somewhere. There they'd stand with their skirts hiked up and some drunken stranger clumsily pushing themselves into their receptive crevices, groans and moans filling the air while the hookers waited it out, their eyes dead and uncaring as they looked past their partners shuddering shoulders, seeing nothing better ever coming their way but only just more of the same. That is until there came the inevitable time when they would be unable to even entice a man to do this most primitive of acts with them, when they would be too old and worn-out at the age of thirty-five or forty, pushed out of the grimy business by others, just as desperate, but also younger, less raddled women. They couldn’t allow themselves to dwell upon that certain future though because it was tantamount to thinking of death and that was perhaps too welcome a thought which could only be faithfully pushed away by their one singular solace. It was a constant, reliable friend, powder or liquid-it varied, but either form of destruction was supplied by the selfsame pimps who profited from their bodies, their degradation, their eventual loss of that internal light which defines the fundamental humanity of a person.
It was a pyramid of greed, built on human suffering and misery. Sonny perched at its summit, as indifferent and uncaring of the wretchedness and deprivation that went into the construction of the underlying structure from which originated the power, prestige and luxury of his lifestyle as was any ancient Pharaoh. After all, he’d clawed his own way up from the gutter back in Bensohurst without anyone’s help or compassion. As far as he was concerned it was up to others to do the very same if they wanted to make it in this life nothing had ever been handed to him so why should he worry about others. Besides, these days he was insulated from the rough and tumble bottom rungs of his various money making enterprises. He didn’t have to see some worn out prostitute stumbling drunk around the streets, dressed inadequately, her eyes blackened by a john or a pimp. She was numb to whichever, her nose raw and running as she searched desperately through her purse, hunting for those last few bills that would go toward buying sweet oblivion rather than rent or food.
No, Sonny didn’t have to encounter any such sights as he was driven to and from his club in a sleek black car with tinted windows because he now had Jason to do that for him. Jason, in his turn, certainly never complained, never gave the slightest indication that he felt any pity or concern for these women. Truth to tell, Jaspm didn’t feel compassion for them. He didn’t quite register them as being human. They were merely cogs in a well oiled machine, responsible for supporting Sonny’s increasingly larger appetites and cravings for power. Jason was akin to the reliable mechanic who made sure the machine was kept in good running order and expected to fix it when it wasn’t, nothing more and nothing less.
That is until he met Tammy. It happened six months ago, in the spring. Jason was simply wandering, prowling really, his behavior indistinguishable from a cat marking the boundaries of its territory. He heard screaming and yelling and went to investigate. The spring air was working at him in strange, unfathomable ways making him itchy and spoiling for a fight, his less than certain temper becoming more difficult to control than ever. He wasn’t surprised to see that it was a dispute between a hooker and her pimp and his blood quickened. Here it was, the perfect excuse to haul off and vent his pent up feelings of rage against bone and sinew, yielding, cracking, bleeding against his fist, the pain of swollen and cut knuckles a fair exchange for the needed relief. It would be an action twice over justified, sanctified even as he protected one of Sonny’s numerous investments and simultaneously avenged the prostitute. You might live off their labors but you didn’t hit them. After all, they were still women, the weaker sex. It was another of Sonny’s warped and rationalized ethical precepts which Jason unquestionably absorbed without wondering at its logic.
With his lips pulled back over gleaming teeth, his eyes wild, lit with a feral light that would have sent the pimp running for his life if he could have but heard the panther quiet approach of the enforcer before it was too late, Jason was upon him. He dragged him back, pulling him away from the girl he was so intent upon beating and with no warning began hitting the man methodically. He showed no discernible emotion except an ice cold fury which exploded in the jack hammer precision of his fist repetitively slamming against the pimp’s face. Jason broke his nose, fractured his cheekbone, split his lip and caused his ear to bleed before he was stopped not by his own inclination but by the unexpected curling of a small hand around his bicep as he once more was reaching back to build up the impetus to land another terrible blow of unalloyed power.
“Stop! You’ll kill him!” The voice was small, quiet even.
Yet, somehow its intense urgency managed to penetrate the red mist of murder which had descended upon Jason’s mind making him insensible to everything around him except the never ending rhythm of punching the lolling head of the man who was now only standing upright by the force of Jason’s grip around his neck. Shaking from adrenalin, from the shocked awareness that he had almost beaten a man to death, Jason stood there quivering, his body covered in sweat, his breathing rough and uneven. The pimp was on the cusp of unconsciousness, one more blow would have probably sent him over but when Jason released his remorseless grip on him, he simply collapsed bonelessly to the grimy ground of the alley, gasping for air and crying, blood and mucus mixing together making it difficult for him to breath through his compromised nasal passage.
“Get the fuck out of here. If you ever go near her again, I’ll kill you.” The words were whispered but the clear truth contained within them had the pimp scrambling away, crawling for a few feet before he managed to stand and make his disoriented way down the alley toward the street, careening into overflowing dumpsters and the wall as he fought to gain his balance. “You okay?”
Jason looked down at the girl next to him, just intending to make sure she wasn’t seriously hurt before he went on his way. He couldn’t see her very well, the only light in the alley was diffused as it wended its way in from the more well traveled thoroughfare. Still something about her prevented him from walking away and leaving her alone. She was small, but then again most women were when compared to him. She was blonde, he could tell that much from the small amount of ambient light reflecting off her hair. Yet, beyond those simple physical aspects there was an innate sense of courage and even dignity about her. She wasn’t weeping or begging him to help her or even being overly effusive in her thanks for his saving her. No, she simply stood next to him, steadily returning his gaze with one of her own though it was more a case of each seeing the liquid surface of the other’s eyes glimmering dimly in the deep gloom of the alley.
“I’m Tammy,” she finally said when it was becoming clear that if she left communicating up to Jason’s sole purview they might be there all night. “Tammy Henderson. That creep who you just pummeled, which, by the way, I am totally grateful for, that was Leon the meanest jerk of a pimp around and that’s saying a lot.”
“He won’t bother you again,” Jason’s words were quiet but the inherent promise in them was clear to the girl.
“Yeah, I think I already kind of got that.” There was something almost teasing in her tone and Jason didn’t know how to respond to it. Since his accident, humor of any kind had been in short supply in his world. He wasn’t the kind of person who made friends easily and laughter and jokes were entirely absent from his limited social interactions. “So, I told you mine, you need to return the favor-what’s your name?”
“Jason Morgan.” He suddenly, for the first time in a long time, wanted to prolong a conversation, wanted to just be with her and listen to her voice talk about everything or about nothing as he simply absorbed each word to play back later when he was alone. “Do you want to get something to eat?” The words were out before he even knew they were forming in his throat and now he couldn’t retract them.
Tammy laughed and the sound swirled around them, Jason felt his cheeks flush with embarrassment and he was suddenly grateful for the darkness of the alley. “I always used to think it was just something my old English teacher used to say about ‘chivalry not being dead’, because she was an incurable romantic. Who would have guessed she’d got it right?”
“We could go to Kelly’s,” Jason said cautiously, not sure if what Tammy had said constituted acceptance or rejection of his offer.
“Oh, sugar,” he could hear the sad tenderness in her voice and he steeled himself for the forthcoming ‘no’ that she would try to couch in kind terms because she was that type of girl and probably also because she thought she owed him something for his actions tonight. “I can’t go anywhere with you. I’m a mess, my skirt is torn, I’ve lost a heel and I’m pretty sure he blacked one of my eyes. What I really need is a nice hot bubble bath.”
Jason took her words at face value because that is what he himself did, spoke the literal truth. “Well, I could go get some take out and bring it to you…that is if you trust me.” For a brief, bittersweet moment he had been something he wasn’t, talking to her as though she were someone she wasn’t. Yet, really, what more were they than an emotionally cut off mob enforcer and a down at the heels prostitute? Still, here he was acting as though they were auditioning for the leads in a production of ‘Our Town’.
“You would do that?” There was a kind of amazed wonderment in her voice, as all the brutality and cold caring indifference she had been subjected to since finding herself a denizen of the nighttime streets came to the fore. Jason heard a hitch in her breathing as she swallowed a sob. What neither the unsought beating nor the unlooked for rescue had managed to do, a simple act of human kindness, a memory of when such acts were commonplace, that is what it took to make her cry.
“Hey,” Jason spoke softly, gently as he reached over to wipe away the tears tracking down her cheeks, his heart yearning for something inchoate as he felt her soft skin yield under his calloused fingertips. “It’s okay, it will all be okay.”
That was how a Midwestern runaway found herself under the protection of a brain damaged thug who wasn’t sure how to classify the way his heart responded each time he encountered Tammy. She was beautiful in that all American way that made her a role model for one of the girls in a Beach Boys song. She was formed from stereotypes-cornflower blue eyes, peaches and cream complexion, long wavy blonde hair and a charming overbite which was the slight flaw that made her unique and therefore, even more beautiful, in Jason’s longing eyes.
After that first night, he found himself regularly hanging out at her apartment during the day. They both had nighttime commitments-her to the street and him to Sonny. Jason tried early on in their relationship, only a day or two after their initial meeting, to get her to stop hooking. He offered to pay her rent and her other expenses. He said he could find her a job at Sonny’s or that she could enroll in Port Charles University. Anything, he wanted anything for her except what she was doing-selling her body and commensurate pieces of her soul night after night.
She refused with an unexpected stiffness of demeanor, her eyes shuttered as she withdrew herself from him and when that happened Jason actually felt cold, felt bereft. He stopped pushing, maybe Tammy was the start of his single rule for all social interactions, people get to make their own choices. Still, that didn’t mean he had to like it though.
The one thing he was going to be damn sure of was that no one touched Tammy. He put the word out on the street, mess with Tammy and it was equivalent to signing your death warrant. Of course if Jason had really wanted to protect her, he could have made it so the clients themselves knew better than to go near her. He thought about doing that, was really tempted to act on the idea, but he knew Tammy was smart, would figure out he had done and then it would be all over between them. He simply couldn’t risk losing the second most important personal connection in his life after Sonny. Not even if it meant knowing that Tammy was out on the streets night after night, going with strangers and giving them what she didn’t give Jason.
For they hadn’t had sex, they didn’t even kiss. She offered but he wouldn’t take it. He knew she thought it was because he regarded her as being soiled, as being other men’s leftovers. It wasn’t the truth at all. He hated that she had sex with anonymous men, hated the danger, hated the degradation and didn’t understand why she would continue to do it when she didn’t have to. When all she had to do was say the word and Jason would make sure that part of her life was finished forever. Still, he didn’t think of Tammy as anyone other than herself. He didn’t look at her and visualize some other man grunting and groaning over her, spilling his seed into her mouth or a condom. Jason didn’t imagine things and he took people for who and what they were, without judging them. The reason he didn’t have sex with her was because he was scared that if he did then Tammy would place him in the same category of every other man she knew, someone who only wanted her for her face and her body and not herself. He refused to do that to her, to himself, to them, to what they had become and what they yet might be. So, they danced around the topic all through the summer and into the fall. Tammy felt rejected and unworthy while Jason was tentative and unsure and neither of them had the objectivity or maturity to see what the other was doing or feeling.
Now here on this freezing cold night their two lives, their two worlds collided as Jason stood stock still, petrified and furious as he realized who Smith’s hostage was, that it was Tammy’s tender neck he was pressing a cold, sharp and unforgiving steel blade against.
“Let her go,” the words meant to be harsh and adamant came out shaky and pleading.
Smith laughed his contempt. “So, it isn’t just any old bargaining chip, I ran across. It seems you two lovebirds know one another.” There was a gasp as he dug the tip of the knife deeper into Tammy’s skin and Jason’s fists clenched powerlessly. “Or do I have it wrong, you aren’t anything more to each other than customer and client?”
“Shut up!” Jason knew he shouldn’t antagonize him, that he couldn’t afford for Smith to lose his temper and take it out on Tammy but he couldn’t bear to think of his hands on her pale skin, his hot breath ghosting in her ear, his voice saying foul things about her, about them.
A sob broke free from Tammy’s lips and now they had moved closer to the street he could see she was trembling, her eyes wide and terror stretched. She was so vulnerable, dressed in her street clothes that Jason despised-a short denim mini-skirt, platform shoes, fishnet stockings and a bustier under a fuzzy faux fur. It made her look cheap and common, his Tammy who was everything fine and decent. For an instant, a pulse of irrational rage passed through Jason's body as he was angry at her for refusing his help, for not choosing to get out of this life when offered the chance. Now, he was being proven right, the danger was standing there at her shoulder, one hand wrapped around her waist and cupping her breasts while the other pressed a knife to her carotid artery mere millimeters away from destroying her vibrant selfhood.
"Morgan, Morgan, Morgan," Smith's voice was doleful like he was reprimanding a small child. “You have been such a thorn in my side these last months. If it hadn’t been for you being so suspicious of me, of always whispering poison about me into Sonny’s ear every chance you got this would have been all so much more simple. Without you on the scene, I could have relieved Mr. Corinthos of his excess funds in a much more elegant manner without having to resort to violence…Don’t get me wrong now, I do adore all the slicing and dicing. The way my little friend here cut through the cartilage of Ernie’s ribs and into his lung, ah it was a thing of beauty. Then there is the pulsing of this young lady’s neck as it anticipates the sting of death…Well, here I am just preaching to the choir, aren’t I, Morgan? You know all about death and pain, the heady feeling you get when you hurt someone or take a life, you like causing it as much as I do.”
“I am nothing like you!” Jason spat out, rigid with fear and outrage.
“Oh, sure. Oh, that’s right,” Smith’s voice was savage in its mockery, “You’re the golden boy of the mob. You kill and not a muscle in your face twitches. You pull that trigger, dispose of the body and a half hour later you’re back at the club. Sonny’s lap dog eying all the bitches in heat, panting for you, hoping that you’ll pick them, plow them, so that they can know what it’s like to fuck death. That’s what it does to you, isn’t it, gets you all hot and bothered. The power of life and death, one of the greatest aphrodisiacs ever discovered. You may not care about causing pain but you are definitely one of the most stone cold killers I have ever run across and I am including myself on that list.”
Jason swallowed, he had never felt such a desire to kill someone in his life. He killed for business. He killed because that is what Sonny asked him to do. He didn’t feel remorse, that was true because he completely trusted Sonny. He believed the people he killed would have hurt or killed Sonny or him if given the chance. Besides, Jason didn’t always kill people, sometimes he only hit them while at other times he set out to break limbs and crack skulls. He didn’t feel ecstatic doing these things but he could do them as easily as other people stepped on bugs.
Yet, he definitely had rules, limits beyond which he wouldn’t go. Some of these were strictures instilled in him by Sonny while others came from a long dormant sense of right and wrong buried deep within him. Innocents, mostly women and children, were to be left strictly alone. You didn’t attack a man’s family either. Yet, it was obvious that such moral delineations were entirely alien to John Smith, he possessed absolutely no compunction about who he hurt or killed, he only cared about his own sleazy life.
Now, in this moment, it was becoming abundantly clear to Jason that he did indeed know what it was to care more about a life than his own, to physically hurt as he saw the pain and panic trapped within Tammy’s eyes. Gone was the confident, self-reliant girl who had recovered so quickly from a beating by her pimp. She understood, as Jason did, that Smith was devoid of human feeling. It wasn’t possible to appeal to his better nature, to hope that he would repent and let her go. She realized that she was a living corpse and such an awareness of her imminent death had undone her. Her face was ravaged by fear, by mascara ridden cheeks. Yet, as he stared at her, absorbing each and every aspect and feature of her beloved face, Jason thought he had never seen someone so beautiful. Their eyes sought each other out and for one peaceful moment the fear melted out of hers while the anger dissipated from his and everything between them was finally clear.
Tammy was falling, her body carving a graceless arc of light colored flesh and clothing against the pitch black background which silhouetted her. Jason yelled, grabbing frantically for her, catching at her, falling with her. Together they landed in a puddle of frozen, stagnant water, the unbearable cold reflected in the clouds of air and water vapor exiting their lungs. Tammy’s white puff erupted grotesquely from the gaping wound in her neck. A gurgling, choking sound consumed the air around them and blood gushed onto Jason’s hands as he tried in vain to seal what couldn’t be mended.
John Smith was gone into the night leaving behind him a blonde boy with tears of grief coursing down the incised planes of his face. He keened one word over and over again, “Tammy,” in hopeless misery, bending over the still form clutched in his arms. Her eyes unseeing, uncaring as the sleet changed to snow and large flakes coated them until, unable to bear it any longer, he reached over with a shaking hand and closed them for the final time.
Jason tries to save Spinelli from a dire situation
Chapter 6: Death Comes Calling
It was as though he was coming up from the bottom of a pool, kicking toward the surface while the blurry blobs bending over and peering into the water began to take on substance and form, were identifiable, first only as people and then eventually as individuals, recognized and remembered. With a gasp, he let out the stagnant air he clasped within his lungs, memories pooling at his feet like droplets of water shaken away, his body quaking with reaction.
“Let him go!” His voice was rusty, the words seeming both infinitely strange and eerily familiar on his tongue, his tone already beginning the recognizable slide down the slope toward defeat.
“Tsk, tsk, Morgan,” the voice was exactly the same, as dry and colorless as the rest of him with the exception of the repellent glint of madness that sparkled deep within his soulless eyes, “After all these years and you can’t even come up with something more original than that? I bet Mr. Spinelli here could. If he were to just open his mouth he could spout aphorisms and quotations of useless albeit lovely poetry which would keep us both entranced for hours.”
“It’s me you want, not him.” Jason’s voice shook, he still couldn’t quite believe this was happening to him all over again.
Yet, the difference was that this time it was far, far worse. Jason fully believed he had loved Tammy, maybe he even had. Still, back then he was just a kid and what passed for love was probably something closer to infatuation, to feeling responsible for a puppy you rescued from the street, except of course he hadn’t managed to even do that much for her. This, the feeling that was constricting his throat and making his heart pound erratically was a thousand times worse, this was actual love. If Spinelli died here on this cold concrete floor because of Jason’s life choices, his past, he knew he would never recover. His body might go on but in any way that truly mattered he would be dead.
“It’s you I’ve got through him,” Smith pointed out his eyes sparkling maliciously. “So, tell me boys,” he shifted his stance, changing the weight of his body from one leg to the other but Jason, watching like a hawk, saw it was still too risky, the knife hadn’t wavered at all. “Did you enjoy my little production tonight?”
Jason knew what he wanted, knew the man’s ego of old. He realized that maybe this was his opportunity, his chance to rescue Spinelli. If he could keep Smith talking, bragging then maybe he would slip up, make some sort of mistake and that’s all he would need. A single instant of inattention and Smith would be dead and Spinelli free, Jason guaranteed it. He risked a quick glance at Spinelli, he had been intentionally keeping his eyes away from him. Jason couldn’t manage to keep himself focused and on task if he saw the worry and fear in the hacker’s face, the blame for which lay entirely with him.
Yet, what Jason saw when he looked at his roommate, no his brother, wasn’t what he was expecting. Spinelli didn’t appear agitated; he wasn’t twisting uselessly against Smith’s iron grip across his chest or exhibiting any signs of panic. Instead, Spinelli’s eyes were eerily serene as he gazed at Jason with a quiet and, entirely misplaced, trust. Jason longed to be able to live up such unadulterated faith placed squarely upon him but bitter experience had unequivocally proven that ability to be a fallacy.
Swallowing, he pried his gaze away from the younger man’s face and looking at Smith, said calmly, “We thought you were dead.”
“Betcha you were glad too, huh?” The grey man grinned at him but the smile was just a matter of muscles pulling at his lips and exposing his teeth, his eyes were dark and there was no true mirth evident.
“Not particularly,” Jason responded coolly, fighting his inclination to beg and plead with him to let Spinelli go. It would just feed into what Smith wanted but as long as Jason could keep him off balance, the more opportunities he would have to come up with some sort of plan to extricate Spinelli from Smith’s clutches. “I felt cheated, having you dead and knowing that I wasn’t the one to kill you. So, thanks for giving me another shot at it.”
Smith gave a sharp bark of laughter, “My pleasure! Hey, speaking of shooting, take that gun out of the waistband of your jeans and kick it away from you. Nice and easy now, the kid here looks like he’d scar really easily.”
Jason grimaced, frustrated that Smith remembered his gun but he wasn’t surprised. A parasite like him didn’t survive all this time without being cautious. He reached back and pulled the gun out, holding it carefully by the nose, he placed it on the ground and gave it a good kick sending it under a parked car. The noise of the action echoed and reverberated within the concrete cavern of the garage.
“How’d you do it anyway?” Jason asked him casually, hoping his compliance combined with offering Smith the opportunity to rub their faces in his cleverness might cause him to slip up, to grow careless. That was all the opening Jason would require, until then, he would just keep him talking. He only hoped Spinelli was alert and aware enough to understand what he was doing. He couldn’t chance looking at him or trying to communicate his plan to him. There wasn’t much he could do without words anyway and Smith was a lot of things but unobservant wasn’t one of them.
Smith cocked his head as he contemplated Jason. He gave a swift downward glance at the top of Spinelli’s head and then sent an ironic halfway smile Jason’s way as if to say, ‘I see right through you, Morgan.’ Jason didn’t care, he figured Smith would expect him to try and play for time, he was just hoping he would get so lost in boasting that he would forget about the possibility of it being a trap.
“Well,” Jason prompted him, “This setup was all pretty elaborate. I am sure you have been dying to share all the details with someone.”
Smith tilted his head, “It’s been a long time coming that much is true.” He gave a sudden vicious backward yank on Spinelli’s neck and Jason reached out his hand in an involuntary movement of protest. A thin red line of red welled up and began dripping red fluid down the boy’s neck staining his sweater and coat. Now there wasn’t a piece of clothing he was wearing which was unadorned by blood-his own, the snake’s, or Murtaugh’s.
“Stop it, you’re hurting him!” Jason’s voice hitched as he asked for clemency.
Jason couldn’t bear to see the alteration in the appearance of Spinelli’s face as fear flooded across it replacing his prior unnatural tranquility. The younger man’s eyes glazed over and he sagged in boneless resignation within the confines of Smith’s grasp. He looked like an animal caught in a deadly hunter’s noose and finally realizing its struggles were in vain because it was fated to die no matter what it did or didn’t do.
Smith wore a curious expression of triumph as he observed Jason’s reaction to Spinelli’s terror induced acquiescence. “So,” he breathed out his satisfaction, “It would appear that I made the correct choice after all.”
“Choice,” Jason repeatedd dully, he didn’t know what Smith was talking about and he didn’t care.
All he wanted to do was wrench Spinelli out of Smith's arms and hold him close, hug him and never let him go, never let a single thing touch him or mar his innocence again after the dark deeds of this horrendous night. Yet, he was powerless to act and so he did the only thing he could. He tore his eyes away from Spinelli’s gently leaking neck and looked at John Smith, silently willing him to once more become engaged in their high stakes game of cat and mouse. It was breaking his heart to abandon even the specious comfort of eye contact with Spinelli but it was all he knew to do to save him.
“You have no idea do you?” Now Smith’s voice was different, his words were clipped, the tone angry, indignant. “About what you did to me, how you humiliated me, changed me life, forced me to leave and all because of some money and a stupid two bit hooker…”
Jason had never before been so grateful for the decades of practiced control he had learned to exert over his temper since the last time he and Smith had tangled. He knew the younger version of himself would have simply given into the blind fury pulsing through his brain, the rage which caused the veins in his neck and temple to throb, and attacked Smith, sealing Spinelli’s death warrant in the process.
Jason dug his blunt nails as deep and as hard as he could into the palms of his hand, relishing the pain. It gave him something else to concentrate on rather than the visions of throttling Smith until his eyes popped out which were currently playing at the personal movie theater of his mind. With an immense effort of will, he managed to respond to Smith, knowing that he was intentionally trying to rile him, to get him to do something irrevocable. “You killed Tammy, you stole from Sonny in his own club, in his own city and you thought there wouldn’t be repercussions. Why couldn’t you just be grateful to be alive and stay away?”
Smith’s voice crackled with decades of pent up frustration and bitterness. “I wanted to be here, on the east coast. It’s where I belonged but everywhere I went the word was out, even in Florida. The Corinthos organization had soured every possible opportunity for me. I barely escaped with my life a few times as people tried to collect the bounty you put on me.”
“Well, it’s too bad it didn’t take. Should have offered more incentive I guess.” Jason uttered the words on autopilot as he risked a quick look at Spinelli who was just standing there in Smith’s grasp, his body slack, his eyes disconnected. Fear spiked through Jason, what if it was too late? What if he rescued Spinelli’s body but his mind or spirit was instead forfeit? Swallowing, he pushed such pointless worries down deep inside him. One thing was certain, both Spinelli’s mind and spirit needed a viable body to exist within and so, saving him was all that mattered in the here and now, everything else could wait.
Smith’s lip curled up in disdain though there was faint flicker of something in his eyes-surprise and an irritable pique-as he registered Jason’s restraint, his lack of response to the intentional gibes. “Well,” he drawled, deciding to discard his losses and continue on with his story, “I gave up after a while and headed west, became a Californian. One thing they definitely do better out there is the weather. I’d forgotten how cold it gets here. Everything else though, from the food, to the shows, and even the feel of the place, is all second-rate out in the west. You took the comforts of civilization away from me, Morgan, and I wanted you to pay. You know a nice cold plate of revenge.” He was grinning again, an ugly upward curling of his lips that was totally devoid of anything resembling humor.
“So, you just decided to come back and play hide and seek with lots of dead bodies?” Jason’s tone was laced with incredulity and Smith rose to the challenge as anticipated.
“No, it took years of waiting and planning. I had connections here; people who kept me informed of what was happening with you, with your life, with the people you care about…” Smith delicately traced the knife above the crusting red line on Spinelli’s neck as Jason held his breath, not even realizing he was praying. “Then I met someone who is a mutual acquaintance of ours.” His eyes were bright with spite as once again he challenged Jason to understand to whom he was referring. “Remember the Metro Court hostage situation?”
Jason gaped at him in unfeigned astonishment, “You were at the Metro Court that night?”
“Yes, number seven at your service.” He laughed at Jason’s shock. “That was a wonderful night, watching all those people you cared about-your father, Robin Scorpio, your sister, Sam McCall, and this one here,” he gave another quick yank on Spinelli but there was no response and Jason felt a dart of panic course through him at his lack of reaction. “All those people, those ‘innocents’ as you like to style them, in danger and you couldn’t do a thing to save them. I really enjoyed myself but what that night really was about was a reconnaissance mission for myself. Jerry Jax was kind enough to let me tag along so I could, within the security of my disguise, peruse potential candidates for my little plan.”
“The hostage crisis was almost three years ago,” Jason couldn’t believe what Smith was saying, “You were planning this back then?”
“This, what happened here tonight?” Smith shrugged, making sure not to remove either of his hands from their respective positions on Spinelli’s chest and his neck, “Is simply a matter of the outer dressing, what really mattered was who it was that would be wearing the clothes. You see, Morgan, it doesn’t make sense to attack you. I could have killed you a thousand times over through the years, paying someone to do the deed or pinch hitting myself but where would be the fun in that I ask you? You have a martyr complex. You know you could die any day and not only do you accept the fact, you actually embrace it with a masochistic fervor. Personally, I think it proves God exists and that he has quite a perverse sense of humor. I believe his plan is to keep you alive until everyone you care about has died. It would be the worse possible punishment for you. So, who knows, maybe I am just delivering a divine punch line, either way I’m happy in my work for the Lord.” Smith’s tone was lightly insouciant and Jason realized he was beginning to relax and enjoy himself. It was exactly the alteration in watchful readiness he had been awaiting.
“You don’t work for anyone but yourself you sanctimonious bastard,” Jason’s voice was raw with hate. He was playing the game but he didn’t need to act, he allowed the full force of everything he was feeling to come across in his tone.
“Well, whatever.” Smith was dismissive of Jason’s outburst, too caught up in his gloating to concern himself with Jason’s ire. “It took time to figure out who the best candidate was. I considered your lovely sister, Emily, but that spoilsport Diego Alcazar beat me to the punch. Then there was the delectable Ms. McCall, Sweet Sam as Jerry calls her, but you and she had a parting of the ways and she no longer seemed a viable prospect. Who would have thought that the ideal choice was right under my nose?” He paused to allow Jason to appreciate his pun but when there was no response, he sighed and continued. “This hacker, he lived with you, I knew that but I thought he was just an employee, an annoying gnat at best. I was mistaken though wasn’t I? He has become more, much more than that to you over the years-friend, confidant, sibling, perhaps even child?” This time there was no mistaking the malevolent glint in Smith’s eyes as he raised the knife and ran it lightly down Spinelli’s left cheek, the razor sharp tip opening another thin channel of seeping crimson.
Jason couldn’t help a hiss of empathy as he watched, his body motionless, willing himself not to react. His eyes clouded with abhorrence and despair. “Don’t…” The single word slipped out before he could catch it.
"Oh, I won't, at least not now, not a smidge more than this because there's more to the tale isn't there? More you want…no, you need to know about tonight." He moved the knife back down to the vulnerability of Spinelli's throat but this time he just held it in proximity without pressing it against the naked skin. It was as clear to Smith as it was to Jason that Spinelli was close to catatonic. He hadn't reacted in any way to the cut upon his cheek. "It would appear that Mr. Spinelli has checked out on us for the moment. I do so hope we weren't boring him too dreadfully with all our talk of life and death and revenge. Now, where was I...? Oh, yes, so once I decided that the boy here was the ideal bait, I thought about how to set the trap. Let me guess, you received a rather frantic, incoherent phone call last night from your loyal grasshopper. What did you think at that pivotal moment when you saw the first body? I imagine you thought the Karpov organization was intent on causing you problems. I bet you took care of that rather hefty Russian and were all ready to head out and teach dear old Andrei a lesson or two when something or someone got in the way."
“You know exactly what happened, you were there, you and Louie.” Jason wanted desperately to reach out and touch Spinelli, to reassure himself that he still had a pulse that he was still breathing. He was so immobile, so silent, it was unnatural.
“Well,” Smith drawled, “I wasn’t exactly aware, anymore than Louie was. I had taken this little concoction of my own devising that worked better than I could have ever dreamed. It mimics death, dropped my respiratory rate and my heart rate to barely detectable levels. I must admit, I was rather proud of my little deception.
“So, then since it obviously wasn’t you, who did we dump in the quarry in your place?” Despite his antipathy for the man, Jason was finding himself drawn into Smith’s explanation, curious as to how he had accomplished so many of the events which had tormented and besieged Spinelli and himself.
“Oh, him,” Smith was indifferent to the identity of one more body, another person he had killed all in the name of retribution, as part of a sick torturous game. “Ritchie somebody, I don’t know but he was affiliated with the Zacchara organization. The most important thing was that he was the right size and weight to match me, handy that.”
“Ritchie Corelli,” Jason supplied, wanting to give Smith’s body double the dignity of a name. He added, “You couldn’t have done this all on your own, you had to have someone help you. Who was it?”
“Very good,” Smith inclined his head slightly, a mark of approval that was irrelevant to Jason, “Sometimes I forget that you’re not just a muscle bound pretty boy. Yeah, I needed help. You met him, Boris, the dead guy trying to drive your SUV.”
“Karpov’s bodyguard?” Jason was surprised, “He was the one?”
“Yeah, he was, shall we say discontent with Karpov’s treatment of him. Andrei is big on pitting his men against each other, showing favoritism to one and then switching to another. When Boris was supplanted as Andrei’s fair haired boy he was ripe for the picking by yours truly. Which leads us to the first victim, Vassily, the sleeping beauty your young friend here found hanging around his bathroom.”
“So, Boris agreed to help you for revenge and he’s the one that killed Vassily and you killed Louie…” Jason was thinking out loud.
“Excellent, Morgan,” Smith said approvingly, “How’d you figure that out?”
“Vassily was strangled and that’s not easy to do, a man of his size, it makes sense that was Boris’ handiwork but a knife that’s your M.O. all the way.”
“You got it. Boris hooked up with me to get back at Karpov and of course for the enticement of a lucrative incentive. He wanted to go back to Mother Russia and buy a country dacha.” Smith shook his head in mock regret.
“Yeah, like that was ever going to happen.” Jason said sardonically. “So, Boris unwrapped you and replaced your body with Ritchie’s and then what, you killed him?”
“Well, not right away. I still needed his help with Donaldson and Fitzgerald. I mean once Vassily was out of the picture, so to speak, I could have handled the others on my own but why waste good help? Anyway, while you and cyber-boy here,” Again, Smith yanked on Spinelli’s neck but the only one to react was Jason who gave a spontaneous grunt of protest, “Were busy playing elevator games with the geriatric set, I told Boris to get into the SUV. He was so used to chauffeuring Karpov around he didn’t think twice about it. I leaned in through the window and shot him while he sat there. Poor Boris, always a pawn in the game of life, never a knight.” He smiled at Jason, his tone light and taunting.
Jason’s concentration was wavering, he was finding it more and more difficult to engage Smith while ignoring Spinelli. He was desperately worried about the young hacker’s silence, his complete withdrawal from the situation. Part of him was grateful if Spinelli’s mental and emotional disconnect saved him from experiencing further trauma but an even larger part was sounding alarm bells which were difficult to ignore. He instinctively knew the longer Spinelli stayed this way that the harder it would be for him to come back, if he ever did.
Fiercely Jason fought against the distraction of worrying about Spinelli. He had to prioritize the situation, to get Smith off guard so that he relinquished his hold on the boy. Then after Jason disposed of him, there would all the time in the world to make sure Spinelli was all right. Jason would do whatever was required to make sure that was the eventual outcome because any other result was simply unacceptable.
Jason cleared his throat and forced himself to make eye contact with Smith who was looking at him cryptically, a small smile tugging at his lips. “How did you get all these men here or did you simply drive around Port Charles trawling for them?” He was amazed at the cool sound of his own voice. It was entirely devoid of any evidence of his inner turmoil and his overwhelming fear for Spinelli.
“You’re right, I arranged for them to come to me or to you, actually. The only one we bushwhacked was Vassily, the others showed up here under their own free will. Louie and Ritchie were promised drugs in exchange for a little bit of insider information about the Zacchara’s. You know it’s sad the way standards have fallen in the local organizations. Back in the day, the men were loyal, they were willing to die after eating the boss’s salt but nowadays they’d sell out their own mother for a fix, a drink, petty revenge, spending money. It’s pathetic really.”
Jason was in no mood to indulge Smith's nostalgic musings on the golden age of mobster ethics. "The others-Donaldson, Fitzgerald, the Seans, Espinosa and Charlie, how did you get them to agree to come here?" He prodded Smith as he still searched in vain for some break in his defenses, for some loosening of his grip on Spinelli which he could use to his advantage.
“Hmmh, let’s see,” Smith contemplated Jason’s question, “There were so many of them…Well, Donaldson thought you wanted him to steal a car, lame I know but that’s his specialty, after all, and he was desperate for funds. His raging alcoholism has prevented him from getting any jobs lately. Then Fitzgerald, oh, that was so much fun! You should have been there Morgan when I called him up and told him you were willing to spirit him out of the country to some nice villa in a country without American extradition in exchange for information about the economics of the Zacchara concerns. It was like hooking a deep sea fish, a marlin or a tuna, he just swallowed the chum and then I reeled him in. Who else?” He paused as though he were having a hard time remembering everyone involved,
Jason couldn’t tell if it was a real memory lapse or an assumed one. He didn’t care either, he stole another quick glance at Spinelli but there was no change. His stare was still frighteningly vacant and Jason thought that without Smith standing behind him and propping him up he might simply slide in a boneless heap to the ground.
Smith snapped his fingers as if suddenly recalling the other names, “The twins, that’s right. They were surprisingly easy, gullible really. I merely had to intimate that they might be able to switch their employment from Karpov to you and Corinthos and they were over here like a shot. Andrei’s group is leaking men like a sieve, I blame it on his poor management style. Then Espinosa, he was just as quick to come as the others. He thought you wanted him to lose some police evidence in exchange for a hefty fee. That man is a worse whore than that little blonde chit-what was her name-Sandy, Bambi?”
“Tammy,” Jason’s voice was ice. Smith might as well save his heart and lungs the trouble of operating, it was all wasted effort. He wouldn’t live to see the hour out. “What about Charlie?”
“Charlie?” Smith looked puzzled, a frown line appearing between his eyes as he strained to remember the name. It was the first genuine emotion Jason had observed on his face throughout their encounter. “Who’s Charlie?”
“The homeless man, the one whose brain you carved out with an ice pick. That was Charlie.” Jason fought to keep his face expressionless. A white hot fury claimed him as he realized that Smith couldn’t remember the most innocent member of his group of hapless victims.
“Ah,” Smith’s face flushed and he ducked his head. Jason was bemused, if he didn’t know better, he would think the other man was actually embarrassed. “Yes, well, I never did know his name. It was just an oversight, a small miscalculation on my part. I thought I only needed nine participants but I had forgotten that Ritchie was required to substitute for me and so that meant I actually need ten. So, I had to think on my feet and, lo and behold, there he was scrounging through the dumpsters outside the garage. I offered to take him up to the penthouse and get him something to eat and drink, maybe give him a little cash. At first he was a little skittish but then I mentioned young Spinelli here and he came along docile as a lamb…”
Jason’s furious yell of “Shut up!” came too late.
Spinelli had heard what Smith said about Charlie, about how he was led to his death through the invocation of his name, the trust they shared. The unwelcome revelation managed to do what the knife blade hadn't, pierce the protective shell of shock encasing him. Agony speared through his eyes, shooting out to pierce Jason’s heart. The only sound he made was an inarticulate groan of anguish.
“Spinelli,” Jason tried, even as he knew it was no use, “It’s not your fault. None of this is anyone’s fault but his.” Spinelli’s eyes squeezed shut and he twisted his head away from Jason and as far away from Smith as the iron bar of an arm looped across his chest would permit.
“Was it something I said?” Smith was grinning. His eyes were demonic in their dark intensity and there was something about his expression which suddenly alerted Jason to his intent. “Well, I know when I am not wanted. I’ll leave you two boys to it then.”
The knife sliced across the tender flesh of Spinelli’s throat. This was no nick, unresisting flesh spread wide and, through the gaping slit, an anatomy lesson of cartilage and muscle was suddenly on full display. Smith stepped away from the hacker, abruptly releasing his hold with a contemptuous shove forward. Spinelli’s body crumpled, blood spattering outward, marking Jason as he darted forward in a frenzied attempt to catch him and ease him gently to the floor.
Smith unnoticed, unmarked was already fleeing, running from the bloody scene in his slick dress shoes, their rhythmic tapping a brisk counterpoint to Jason’s urgently hoarse cries of “Spinelli! Hang on, goddamn it, Spinelli! You’re not leaving me, you’re not…”
Tears diluted the spreading blood as Jason clutched at the boy, his shaggy hair falling across a pale brow, green eyes pain ridden. Desperately, Spinelli fought to breathe while a sucking sound erupted from his trachea, bubbles forming where blood and air met.
Jason confronts Smith while Spinelli confronts his mortality.
Chapter 7-The Promise
Time was simultaneously frozen and fleeting. There was so much to say, to tell him. How he was cherished, loved, admired. All the things he was going to say someday, parceled out on special occasions like weddings, or holidays, or when he was drunk. Moments when he would say small things, give significant looks or render light touches. Such exchanges made up all the inconsequential interactions between two people bound inextricably together, forming the warp and weave of their existence and their relationship. They weren’t meant to happen in a garbled rush, or take place upon a cold concrete floor with one’s life blood ebbing out and the others heart turning to ashes. Regardless, the words were tumbling over each other in a mad race to beat mortality’s inexorably sucking tide.
“You have to know what you mean to me…you can’t just leave me to how it was before.” Jason’s voice was hushed, broken, aching with grief. His mind was in turmoil, mixed messages were sizzling along the neurons of his brain. ‘Call someone, get him help’ competed with ‘Hold him, comfort him, be there for him’ warred against ‘He’s dead, I’ll rip him to shreds with my bare hands!’ The sum result of all of them mixing together was to produce a deadened paralysis. He was in the fierce grip of an incapacity to do little more than cling tightly to the leaching warmth in his arms while whispering the tangled feelings of his heart, his hope, and his despair.
“Jason,” The voice was gentle, the touch on his shoulder feather light. “Let me help him, help you.”
He looked up, dazed and wondering. Her voice was kind and her blue eyes worried but they looked steadily down at Jason. The white of her hair was a backlit nimbus cloud framing her face. “Mrs. Hunter,” he croaked, “It’s Spinelli, he hurt him. He’s hurt bad.” Jason was a lost child seeking the omnipotence of a parent who always knew what to do, how to fix things no matter how broken.
Mimi Hunter gave Jason a reassuring nod to indicate her understanding of his plight. Slowly, leaning on him for support, she knelt down next to him. Reaching over, Mimi Hunter carefully moved Jason’s unresisting hands away from Spinelli’s neck wound which, when exposed, caused her to give an involuntary gasp of dismay. Quickly she reasserted her mask of calm professionalism and looked directly into Jason’s eyes. “It’s all right, Jason, really,” she said quietly. “I’m a nurse. I’ve seen just about everything and I can help Damian if you’ll let me. Will you do that?”
Mesmerized he stared at her for a moment and then belatedly realizing what she had requested of him, he nodded his head. His mind felt too dull and heavy to formulate any words in response.
“Good, that’s good,” she kept talking in a low, comforting tone. Her words and presence managed to soothe Jason and to blunt the edge of his desolation. “Brock is calling for an ambulance but it will be a few minutes before they get here. Do you think you could let me get a closer look at Damian, could you shift him so he’s lying in my lap?”
Jason just gazed at her in incomprehension for a moment, unwilling let Spinelli go, afraid that he might die if he did. Mimi looked at him, giving a little nod of encouragement as she inclined her head downward clearly indicating that he needed to convey the injured boy to her care. With a soul wrenching sigh, he turned towards her and cautiously transferred his hold on Spinelli’s head and shoulders from his arms to her waiting ones.
“Thank you,” Mimi said, a distinct change coming over her as her attention switched to Spinelli. Jason was relegated to a forgotten bystander in her urgency to tend to the injured boy.
Jason hovered over her, watching every move, until an impatient shrug of her shoulders reminded him that he was blocking her light. Immediately he stepped away, pain coursing through him as further distance separated him from Spinelli. He mutely stood a few feet away, anticipating a miracle that somehow Mimi would wave her hands over the boy’s prostrate form and he would arise hale and hearty.
Instead she performed much more mundane actions. First, she searched the wound, defining its confines, its breadth and depth. Then her capable hands flew from Spinelli’s neck to rest briefly, softy on his forehead her breathing slightly elevated as she tried to comfort him, “It’s going to be all right, Damian. You just relax and try not to struggle so much. I know it hurts but you’ll feel better if you don’t fight it, let the air come to you.”
Then the miracle did occur as Spinelli somehow heard and comprehended her advice. Through an effort of will he managed to unclench the muscles of his body, to lie back in Mimi’s lap and allow her body to cradle his. The improvement was readily apparent as the horrible hissing sound that reminded Jason of air leaking out from a punctured tire slowly decreased. The rise and fall of his chest became markedly less agitated and the contorted expression on his face smoothed out. Yet, it was clear that the pain was only lessened but nowhere near banished. The indentation remaining between his eyes and the lines bracketing his mouth were visible indicators that he was still in considerable distress. Jason noted with the closest approximation to relief it was possible for him to feel in such a moment that even the flow of blood from the wound on his neck had apparently decreased. He swallowed as he looked down at Spinelli’s unexpected and unlikely savior, whispering his heartfelt thanks to whatever power was responsible for Mimi’s opportune appearance.
“Morgan!” The Colonel’s no nonsense barking of his name was an unwelcome intrusion upon Jason’s close monitoring of Mimi’s ministrations. “I must speak with you. It’s vital.”
“It’ll have to wait, Colonel.” Jason replied as politely as he could, not wanting to offend the old soldier but unwilling to shift his focus away from Spinelli from an instant.
“It can’t wait, man. As we speak, that villain’s getting away. What he did to Damian, it mustn’t be allowed to stand. It’s up to you to make it right.”
Reluctantly, Jason dragged his gaze away from Mimi and Spinelli and fully regarded the colonel, “Smith, you mean.”
“Whatever the devil his name maybe, it’s up to you to go and take care of it. Mimi’s a fine nurse. I’ll stay, we’ll all stay,” the Colonel gestured behind him. For the first time Jason became aware that in addition to the Hunters, Mrs. Caldicott and Mrs. Murphy, holding the ubiquitous Perkins in her arms, were also present. The two women stood a little apart regarding Spinelli and Mimi with somber countenances.
“I…” Jason shot an agonized look back at his roommate, hating the thought of leaving him but knowing there was nothing he could positively contribute here but fretting. The Colonel was right. The thirst for vengeance abruptly coursed through his body like quicksilver. He was compelled to respond to it. “You’ll take care of him, make sure he stays…” He couldn’t finish the sentence, even saying the word felt like an invitation to disaster.
“I will,” Colonel Hunter vowed solemnly. “The rogue got a head start on you, drove off in a grey Volvo parked out on the street. Last I saw, he was heading toward the Esplanade. Now off with you lad before he is gone beyond your reach.”
Jason turned reluctantly toward the SUV, his body stiff and noncompliant as it protested the fact that it was leaving its heart behind. Yet, as he swung himself into the driver’s seat, his resolve steadied and his eyes turned glacial. He was focused on a single task responding to both the Colonel’s insistence and his own inclination. He would seek out John Smith and destroy him.
“Perkins!” The call was imperious but deliberately ignored as a small shape, courageous beyond the limitations of size, leaped up into Jason’s lap. The mob enforcer’s erstwhile enemy was now his stalwart hunting companion.
Jason shoved Perkins over into the passenger seat with a grunt and a half-hearted growl. “Don’t get in my way,” he threatened already backing out and heading for the garage entrance.
The dog responded with a contemptuous yap indicating that Jason was one who should stay out of Perkins’ way as he brought down the man who had wreaked such havoc on his domicile. Satisfied at having made his point, he moved over to the window and, placing his paws on the arm rest, gazed out the window fully ready to serve as Jason’s navigator. As Jason turned right onto the street, a quick glance in the rearview mirror showed him Louise Murphy, her hands rising in mute appeal, as she stared forlornly after the rapidly retreating vehicle.
The snow which just a short while ago had been his enemy, impeding his movements and marking his trail, suddenly transformed into his ally, much like the tiny canine standing next to him alertly scanning the passing scenery. Now it was tamped down onto the road surface and fresh tire tracks clearly delineated Smith’s trail. It was still early, just after sunrise on a Saturday morning, after the late night bacchanalia of Halloween, after the first large winter snow of the season had passed through Port Charles. The streets were unoccupied, and except for Jason’s earlier tracks and Smith’s current ones, pristine and untrammeled. It was absurdly easy to trace his route. Jason pushed the SUV to go faster, the four engaged wheels doing their best to connect with the slick surface of the road.
Up ahead there was an accident. Two cars sat against the harbor wall, a mélange of entangled metallic chunks, one grey, one blue, one a Volvo, one a Toyota. Jason thumped the wheel in fierce exultation, “Gotcha, you bastard!”
Perkins cocked an ear at him as though to say, ‘I only count the rats I eat, not the ones I chase.’
He hit the brakes so sharply that the wheels locked and the vehicle skidded along the icy road almost adding to the collision scant feet away. Another irritable bark reprimanded Jason for his carelessness. Jason spared the dog a disgusted glance, “Until you can drive, shut up!”
Regaining control, he parked the SUV a few feet away from the accident. Jason jumped out onto the sidewalk, ungraciously he held the door open for Perkins who hopped down and immediately started trotting toward the accident site. “Wait up!” Jason was irritated beyond belief at having to follow in the wake of an attitudinal pipsqueak who probably weighed all of ten pounds dripping wet. Perkins, as was his wont, ignored Jason’s infuriated command and kept moving toward the entwined vehicles.
It was only as he was reaching around under his jacket for his gun that Jason remembered Smith forcing him to kick it away. “Fuck,” he hissed under his breath, even more tense then he had been a moment ago. It didn’t matter though, in fact, maybe it was actually better this way. He would take out the bastard with his bare hands. Enjoy feeling his life drain away from him as he avenged all the fallen ones, but most especially Tammy and Spinelli.
A brief feeling of overriding anxiety coursed through him as he thought of Spinelli lying in Mimi’s arms and struggling to breathe while blood leaked from the wound in his neck. Resolutely, he banished the weakening thought. It wouldn’t help anyone if he let his feelings, his worry over Spinelli cloud his mind so that he became vulnerable to Smith. They were both top order predators, it would only be a small matter of degree, an infinitesimal slip and either one could be dead, the other the victor.
The Volvo was empty, its airbags deployed. The windshield was a mass of spider webbed fractures while a continuous jet of steam hissed quietly up from beneath the car’s crumpled hood. The driver of the other car, the blue Toyota sedan, was standing next to his car which was the mirror image of Smith’s in terms of the damage done. He had a cut on his cheek, a bloody nose and was holding his right arm protectively against his abdomen while he talked to someone on a cell phone. “No, honey, I’m okay…the car’s a wreck though.” He paused listening, his eyes meeting Jason’s and then shifting away uncomfortably as he recognized that here was come no Good Samaritan eager to offer aid and comfort. His face was pallid, coated with a light sheen of sweat, his eyes were enormous and dark, the pupils abnormally expanded. Jason thought he might be going into shock. “Yeah, maybe…I think my arm might be broken.” He winced a little as he looked down at the offending appendage seemingly surprised at feeling pain. “Uh, uh as soon as I get off the phone with you, I’ll call the cops. Yes, meet me at the hospital. Love you too.” Pulling the phone away from his ear he looked once more at Jason, a question in his eyes. “You want something?” He said, his voice filled with deserved scorn that he should be offering to help someone who should be the one doing the asking instead.
He’d picked the wrong candidate for arousing feelings of superficial guilt. Jason was regarding him steadily, while behind him Perkins sniffed around Smith’s car. He knew the guy wasn’t in any real danger. The police and paramedics would be here soon enough and that factor simply reinforced Jason’s need to be single minded in his quest.
“The other driver, did you see which way he went?” The question was brusque, devoid of even a pretense of compassion.
The man gave a small aggrieved smile and shrugged his shoulders. He flinched as the pain from his broken radius flared sending fiery sensations of pain traveling up his injured arm. “Sorry, guess I was so preoccupied with the asshole ramming into me and then the fear of imminent death that I neglected to check with him about his travel itinerary. Still, if you’re looking for him, I imagine the cops will find him soon enough.” Dismissing Jason he returned his attention to his phone, dialing 911 with difficulty. It was obvious he was missing the use of his injured right arm.
Jason realized his window of opportunity to catch Smith was dwindling. Soon the cops would be searching for him too and while they would never manage to even get close to him they would hamper Jason’s efforts to find him. Anyway, he didn’t have much time. He desperately needed to get back to Spinelli, to see how he was doing. If he was going to get Smith, make him pay, it had to be now.
A sharp aggravated bark brought his notice back to Perkins who was staring impatiently up at him. Jason moved closer to the small dog and saw what he had found. “You did good,” he said with grudging acknowledgment while his pulse quickened with excitement. Spattered across the snow, leading away from the driver’s side door of the Volvo was a series of ruby red droplets that grew in diameter as they traveled away down the sidewalk. “He’s injured,” Jason was fiercely delighted, finally something was going his way.
Perkins was already sprinting away from Jason following the blood trail, the iron rich smell intoxicating his highly developed olfactory neurons. Jason started running in pursuit of the dog. His movements clumsy and jerky as his body’s muscles complained about the previous hours of exertion but slowly he gained speed. Matching pace with Perkins, he soon outstripped him. His gait now surefooted he was a sleek projectile of vengeance. Together dog and man ran along the Esplanade, off to their left the harbor glinted in the cold morning sunlight. Then they found themselves turning inwards toward the city and away from the water. Buildings, historic brownstones, the old homes of the city’s founders lined either side of the broad avenue. The path of blood globules continued unabated, splashes of red easy to see against the pure white backdrop.
The trail of drops abruptly stopped but Jason still ran on, carried forward by momentum and the slowness of his brain in interpreting the eye’s tardy message of no more red. Perkins’ reactions were more fine tuned, his body compact and adaptable to sudden changes in direction. With an excited yip of enthusiasm he turned down a narrow alley, a dank passageway inserted between two of the brownstones. Jason was spinning around, recognizing that the dog had run their quarry to ground. Smith was trapped, these alleyways had only a single entrance.
“Perkins!” Jason shouted, it didn’t matter what noise he might make. Smith would have already been alerted to their presence by the dog’s barking. He was running back toward the alley, scared that the dog had more bravery than sense. Just as Jason got to the alley there was high pitched yelp which abruptly cut off. He couldn’t see anything at first, and all he could hear was the thumping of his own heart. He had seldom felt more vulnerable, without the heft of his trusted gun in his hand he felt naked.
Suddenly, there was a glistening flash of steel coming at him from out of the gloom of the passage. His highly honed reflexes kicked in and he managed to avoid being filleted only by an interval of mere centimeters. Jason’s sturdy leather jacket now bore a jagged tear across the left side, mute testimony to the fury of the strike. While Smith was still off balance, leaning forward in space, Jason brought his knee up in the confined area between them, knocking the knife out of Smith’s hand.
The two men faced each other, both weaponless, each striving to end the other's existence. Blood dribbled down the side of Smith’s face, seepage from a scalp wound incurred in the car accident. His eyes glinted in the semi-darkness of the alley, his teeth bared in a rictus of defiance. “Last call for one of us, eh, Morgan? I hope you won’t take it personally if I root for my own victory.”
Jason ignored his taunt He knew that Smith was trying to interfere with his concentration, to catch him off guard. He stood still, the only alert moving part of his anatomy were his eyes busily scanning their surroundings to discern if there were any potential weapons for Smith to utilize or an escape route he hadn’t observed. There was nothing. This was it, he had him. Jason was the bigger, stronger adversary and the only advantage Smith possessed was his biological imperative to survive. It wasn’t going to be enough to deter the remorseless enforcer and they both knew it.
“I could yell bloody murder,” Smith was striving for a light tone, attempting a nonchalance that it was clear to both of them was staged. Sweat dotted his brow and his eyes were shifting desperately as he looked for a way out.
“Go ahead,” Jason meant it, he didn’t care. Smith wasn’t leaving this alley and if that resulted in Jason going to jail for his murder so be it.
Smith’s nerve broke and he made a feint to the right trying to get Jason to move in that direction while he escaped in the opposite. It was a desperate move, doomed to failure. Jason grabbed him when he attempted his futile end run around him; he hadn’t been fooled in the least. It was all over, Jason’s arm wrapped around Smith’s neck, a carbon copy of how he had held Tammy, had held Spinelli, sans the wicked knife blade. Smith was choking, fighting to breathe, his hands scrabbling uselessly at Jason’s iron banded forearm. Jason increased the pressure of his grip, crushing vessels, nerves, finally his larynx. For a brief moment he relaxed his grip and Smith gasped gratefully for air. His head spinning as he wondered at the reprieve, the unexpected mercy on the hit man’s part.
“I should find your knife,” Jason’s voice was colder than the ambient air, Smith shivered involuntarily. “I could make it last for hours…the pain, the blood. Make you pay for what you did to all those people, to Tammy, to Spinelli.” He swallowed, his voice trembling with rage. “It wouldn’t make any difference though, not really, it wouldn’t fix anything or bring anyone back. You are scum and you don’t deserve to exist that is the only important thing. Dead is dead and how you get there doesn’t matter…” There was a sudden snapping noise and Smith’s body hung flaccidly in Jason’s arms, his head twisted at an unnatural angle.
Jason opened his arms and the corpse fell to the ground in an ungainly sprawl. If only he had followed through all those years ago. Instead of forgetting, of becoming so wrapped up in living that he lost sight of his obligation to the dead, to Tammy. If he had tracked Smith down and killed him then all those men would still be alive instead of starting the slow endless of process of decay in the murky waters of the quarry. Spinelli would have been safe…Spinelli, again he had forgotten! What if something had happened in the time Jason was gone, out pursuing retribution. No, he couldn’t think that way, wouldn’t even countenance the possibility in case just thinking about such an unbearable thing might make it come true.
There was a distant rumble from the street in the world beyond the alley. Jason lifted his head, cocking it as he tried to place the noise. A humorless grin curved his lips up. Bending over he grabbed Smith’s body under the arms and began dragging it toward the large dumpster which sat near the entrance to the street. Pausing he lifted the lid, wincing at the rusty, creaking sound of metal on metal. The noise couldn’t be helped, it was still early, the city snowbound and somnolent. He would simply continue on doing as he had been for the last twelve hours and trust to luck. He hefted the killer’s body up over the edge and let it fall into the black depths. There was a muffled clanging as the corpse hit against the walls of the container. Jason reached into the dumpster and maneuvered some of the large black plastic bags over Smith, effectively blocking him from view.
Turning away from the trash receptacle Jason retraced his steps to where he knocked the knife out of Smith’s hand. It lay docilely on the filthy ground, softly gleaming in the dim light. Its lethalness tamed. He picked it up and tossed it into the depths of the dumpster and closed the lid. The sounds of the garbage truck were coming ever nearer.
There was one more thing he needed to do before leaving. Carefully, he scrutinized the walls and ground of the alley. Stepping lightly, he cautiously kicked at abandoned papers and rags, all the accumulated detritus of a busy city tucked away from view. Finally, he found him lying up against the legs of the dumpster, mute and unmoving. Jason crouched down, his hands running over the smooth chocolate brown fur. He would never admit to anyone-ever-the shaky exhalation of relief that escaped his lips when he felt the steady rise and fall of canine ribs.
“I knew you were too tough to die, you bastard.” He said out loud, his voice rough with relief, the affection contained within it unmistakable. Tenderly, he scooped the small form up into his arms. Cradling Perkins against his chest, he wrapped his jacket around the unconscious dog. “It’s cold out and I know Mrs. Murphy always makes you wear one of those stupid sweater things. Tell you, what, when you get better, you and Spinelli, I’ll get both of you a leather jacket.” It was the stupidest sentence he had ever spoken but he didn’t care. The dog had the heart of a lion and he fell on Jason’s watch. He was responsible for him now.
Jason stepped out of the alley back onto the street. The brightness of the snow glinting in the full sunshine of the day nearly blinded him after the Stygian murk he had just left behind. He looked to his left in the direction of the garbage truck. It was nearby, only two stops away. It wouldn’t do for him to be seen here in such close proximity to Smith’s body. Yet, if things went as he hoped, no one would ever discover the corpse. It would end up in the landfill buried under tons of garbage, an entirely fitting end to a piece of trash like him.
Jason turned his back on the oncoming truck and began walking back the way he had come. Already the temperature was warming up and the snow was starting to melt. As he moved down the sidewalk, trying not to jostle Perkins he scuffed at the rapidly dissolving tell tale trail of blood droplets. It was the last significant clue which could link him to Smith.
In a few minutes he was drawing abreast of the wreck site. Emergency personnel were gathered around the two cars. The man from the Toyota was being strapped to a stretcher preparatory to being transported to the hospital. Uniformed police men were examining the two entwined vehicles, attempting to determine the sequence of events leading to the crash.
“Morgan!” One of the cops beckoned to him and Jason reluctantly complied. He couldn’t draw attention to himself by appearing uncooperative. “Did you see what happened here?” He didn’t recognize the officer but the man definitely knew him. It was hard to do what he did and avoid notoriety in a city the size of Port Charles.
Giving a brief sigh of frustration at the further delay in his attempt to reach Spinelli and to get help for Perkins, he shook his head. “No, I came on the scene after the accident happened. I almost ran into the cars myself, the road was icy and I didn’t expect the road to be blocked. So, I skidded and came to a stop. Then I got out to see what was going on and if there was anything I could do. The injured man mentioned that the other man from the Volvo was responsible and ran off. Perkins, here,” for the first time Jason referenced the still figure hidden by his jacket, “Started running away and I went after to him. He got away from me and by the time I caught up with him, he was like this.”
His intentional redirection succeeded. Even hardened cops couldn’t look at a small, helpless dog that some unknown bully had injured and not feel pity. It was just a good thing from Jason’s perspective that the cop hadn’t the chance to meet Perkins when he was awake because then sympathy probably would have been the last thing on his mind.
“Is he your dog?” The cop asked, his demeanor softening.
“No, he belongs to a neighbor of mine and he was just coming with me on an errand. I don’t know how I’ll tell her what happened. Look, officer I didn’t see anything and that man over there can validate what I’m telling you. I need to get this little guy to a vet and let his owner know. Can I go?” His attitude was just the right blend of subservience and anxiety.
The cop nodded, “I guess so. He does look like he needs to get to a vet and it’s not like we don’t know where you live, now is it?”
Jason just shrugged at the unsubtle reminder of their adversarial relationship. He turned away and started walking toward the parked SUV every fiber of his being urging him to get back to Spinelli. He reached across the driver seat and carefully placed the unconscious Perkins on the passenger seat. He allowed himself several light strokes of the silky, chocolate hair before recalling himself with a grunt. He clambered into the vehicle and with a few deft motions reversed and started driving back toward Harborview Towers. He was too late, an ambulance was already pulling out of the parking garage, lights and siren blaring. It headed away from Jason aiming for General Hospital. Cursing, he accelerated grimly intent on arriving at the same time the ambulance did.
True to his intent, Jason arrived at the hospital parking lot just behind the ambulance. He leapt out of the SUV only able to spare a quick, guilt filled glance for the unconscious dog lying supine on the passenger seat. “Look, I have to go but I will send someone to help you and I’ll let Mrs. Murphy know about what happened. You’ll be fine…” He vaguely wondered when he had evolved into such a liar.
The double doors automatically opened and Jason found himself engulfed in the hateful but all too familiar chaos of the emergency room. His eyes darted around the room as he searched for Spinelli. He saw him being pushed along on a stretcher, Mimi Hunter walking beside him, his hand clutched in hers. Jason ran to catch up with them. They were just closing the cubicle curtains for privacy when he pulled them apart, his eyes meeting Elizabeth’s. She looked at him, her eyes filled with sympathy.
He stood at the threshold of the cubicle as the medical team clustered around Spinelli. Incomprehensible words and phrases floated around Jason. He tried vainly to clutch at them as they drifted maddeningly out of his reach like fireflies on a summer’s night, insubstantial and unattainable.
“The patient in his early twenties, victim of a knife inflicted, zone two neck trauma.”
“The platsyma muscle was severed, it’s possible the jugular has also been nicked but there’s no arterial spurting. This lady is a nurse and she knew enough to leave the wound alone and to get the patient to relax to try and improve his breathing rate. We started a full bore IV on site and covered the wound with sterile gauze for transport. The patient has been conscious throughout. BP improved from 90/60 to 110/70.”
The paramedics helped move Spinelli to the examination bed in the cubicle and then turned to leave rolling their stretcher out with them. Patrick Drake began examining Spinelli. Jason was frustrated in his attempt to see the hacker, his view was obstructed by all the people in the confined space. Mimi Hunter had also been shunted aside. Coming to stand next to Jason she linked her arm through his and he found the contact oddly reassuring.
“Spinelli, it’s Patrick Drake. Can you hear me?” Jason couldn’t see Spinelli’s response but he was relieved when a small smile appeared on Patrick’s face. “That’s good, don’t try to talk. You can just close and open your eyes-one for yes, two for no-okay?”
“He’s in good hands,” Mimi whispered, giving his arm a little squeeze. Jason couldn’t speak, he didn’t want to miss anything that was happening but he gave a slight nod of acknowledgment.
“I know you’re in pain but we want to hold off giving you anything for a while until we assess your condition, do you understand?” Patrick continued talking in a low soothing voice as he examined the terrible wound in Spinelli’s neck.
Jason muttered to Mimi, “Why won’t he give him something for the pain?”
“I imagine because he wants to make sure that whatever he gives him doesn’t compromise his respiration or brain function. Also, it’s possible that they’ll need to operate and they’ll want a certain specific progression of sedatives and anesthetics. Doctor Drake wouldn’t want to risk an adverse drug interaction occurring.”
“You think they’ll operate?” Jason didn’t like the thought of Spinelli going into surgery.
Mimi looked at him, her eyes warmly compassionate. ”I think it’s very likely Jason. They’ll need to repair the torn platsyma muscle and check and repair any injured blood vessels while also ascertaining if there has been any damage to the trachea, larynx or any of the nerves servicing them. It’s a densely packed area and they’ll want to thoroughly explore it and the only way to do that is through surgery.”
“Jason,” Patrick had moved from his patient’s side in order to come update his roommate about his condition. “I am ordering a CT scan of Spinelli’s neck to see if we can get more information about the extent of the injury. I have put in a call for Dr. Walters, he’s the best otorhinolaryngologist outside of New York City. Spinelli will be in good hands with him and I will be assisting.”
“He’s an ear, nose and throat surgeon,” Mimi translated as she caught Jason’s baffled expression. “They call them ORL surgeons for short. It’s good that you’re calling in a specialist,” Mimi was addressing Patrick.
Patrick nodded, his eyes concerned, “It doesn’t look like there has been extensive blood loss and what there is dark colored and sluggish indicating a venous rather than arterial source. The larynx has been breached and there’s always the possibility of damage to the nerves which innervate it. We won’t know for sure until we get the results of the scan and then Dr. Walter’s actually performs surgery.”
“He’ll be okay though, right?” Jason couldn’t keep the anxiety out of his voice as he watched the orderlies prepare to transport Spinelli’s bed to radiology. “Can I go with him, for the scan?”
Patrick regretfully shook his head, “I’m afraid not. They’ll sedate him for the CT scan and then he’ll be heading straight for surgery. You can talk to him for a minute right now. Keep him calm,” he added unnecessarily to Jason’s retreating back. He and Mimi exchanged rueful smiles.
“He’s a force of nature, difficult to contend with at the best of times,” she said, “But when something happens to that boy then he’s unstoppable.”
“Spinelli,” Jason was looking down into dazed green eyes filled with pain and confusion and all he wanted to do was smooth that look away, to make him whole and vibrant without having him suffer through tests and surgery and the inevitable recovery period. He didn’t have that ability though. So he settled for reaching out a hand and smoothing back the dark, unruly hair from the hacker’s pale forehead. He studiously avoided looking at the red stained bandages pressed against the still open wound in his neck. “You’re going to be fine. I want you to tell me that you know you’re going to be all right.” He was insistent in his superstition. He wasn’t letting them take Spinelli anywhere until he affirmed that he was absolutely going to survive.
For a moment Spinelli just regarded him, seemingly quiescent and resigned to his discomfort. Jason was getting ready to repeat his demand, to rephrase it in clearer terms in case Spinelli’s brain was too muddled to understand what Jason wanted from him. Then in excruciatingly slow motion his eyelids dipped down once. Jason let out the breath he didn’t even realizing he had been holding. His voice shaky, he smiled, tightlipped, feeling as though he would crack wide open if he tried for any more expressiveness.
“See you on the other side then.” He was rewarded by a second, quicker blink and then the orderlies were there intervening as they rolled the bed away from Jason.
He stepped outside the cubicle watching the stretcher move away from him to a place he couldn’t influence, to procedures which were beyond his ken while dread settled in his heart. A hand reinserted itself into the crook of his arm and he looked down into Mimi’s eyes which were weary and tinged with a worry that complemented Jason’s fear.
“We’ll wait together. He’s too special to go, he’s needed here.”
Her words, meant to be comforting had the exact opposite affect on Jason as he thought of all the special people he knew-Emily, Alan, Georgie, and Michael-who were also needed here. Yet, they were mostly gone, one way and another, from the world, from their loved ones. Meanwhile, he kept going, existing rather than living but still here nonetheless. Maybe Smith had been right. Maybe Jason was a modern day Job, the pawn in a bet between heaven and hell but the wrong people kept paying the marker. He just couldn’t lose one more person from his life, he couldn’t.
Jason nodded his head, “He promised he would stay.”
“Well, then,” and Jason felt immensely reassured at the bright smile Mimi managed to dredge up from somewhere deep and shining within herself. “Damian doesn’t break promises. So, that’s settled.”
Chapter 8: Chapter 8-Waiting
Jason and a large contingent of concerned friends wait for Spinelli to get out of surgery.
“Mimi!” Brock Hunter called out to his wife, trailed by Mrs. Caldicott and Mrs. Murphy. “How’s our boy?”
Jason suddenly remembered Perkins and he was awash in remorse as he realized he had forgotten his canine partner. Unobtrusively, he stepped away from the group where Mimi was updating the others on Spinelli’s condition. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed Max asking him to come down to the hospital.
When he finished the call, he walked hesitantly over to the group, taking a deep breath he spoke, “Mrs. Murphy...Louise?”
Minutes stretched into hours. Jason couldn’t do what he usually did when he was waiting at the hospital. Ordinarily he spent the endless time on the roof, in the fresh air, surveying his city, while he masochistically recounted every mistake he had ever made that brought him to this point of holding vigil for someone he loved. Yet, today he couldn’t retreat into himself, into his well established pattern of self-flagellation. No, this time he had to be like everyone else and not only provide comfort but accept it as well.
He sat in the anonymous waiting room on the surgery floor, Mimi Hunter occupying the chair next to him. Her calming presence seemed to be the only thing capable of keeping him from jumping out of his skin. Colonel Hunter and Mrs. Caldicott sat in nearby chairs, a palpable camaraderie connecting all the tower residents.
Mrs. Murphy and Max had retrieved Perkins from the SUV and taken him to a nearby vet hospital. Max called to announce that the brave little dog was also in surgery, suffering from a fractured skull, broken ribs and a fractured front leg. Jason was still entirely bemused by the way Mrs. Murphy received the news of Perkin’s injuries. When she reached toward his face with her hand, he braced himself for a slap that never came.
Instead she stroked his cheek and whispered, “Damian will be just fine,” before taking the proffered keys to the SUV and heading out to be with her dog.
Maxie glared at him from her seat across the room. Her face was pale and pinched, mascara streaking her cheeks. It was her hand instead of Mrs. Murphy’s which whipped out and slapped Jason when she entered the surgery waiting room. “You said you’d keep him safe, you promised!” Her voice was unsteady, panic clearly echoing below the fury in her tone.
That’s right he had, he promised Maxie that he would keep Spinelli safe and he broke that promise. Jason’s knees were buckling as he suddenly realized all the options he had in keeping Spinelli safe, in preventing what occurred, which he hadn’t put into effect. It wouldn’t have mattered if Spinelli agreed or not, hated Jason or not because then he wouldn’t be lying in a sterile operating room relying on a stranger, expert surgeon or not, to save his life. So, this was squarely on him and still that wasn’t why he suddenly required Brock and Mimi’s combined helping hands to keep him from collapsing onto the floor beneath Maxie’s contemptuous gaze. No, he was remembering that he had extracted a promise not to die from Spinelli prior to his surgery. Yet, a terrifying realization dawned upon Jason, incited by the recognition of his failure to keep his promise to Maxie. If one heartfelt promise, earnestly made and honestly attempted to be kept was unintentionally severed, then what was there to prevent Spinelli from reneging on his own promise to Jason?
He sat in silent misery, avoiding the censure in Maxie’s gaze, watching numbly as the waiting room grew more and more crowded. He recognized people from his building, more of the elderly residents, who were just names and faces to him. Yet, obviously Spinelli meant something to them, something precious. Lulu and Johnny came and eventually Sam showed up. She sat next to Maxie, the two conversing in low exclusionary tones. The younger, blonde-haired girl finally rested her head on Sam’s shoulder and closed her exhausted, haunted eyes much to Jason’s unspoken relief.
Lucky Spencer arrived, looking for Jason. “I got a call that your roommate was knifed this morning.” He avoided looking at Sam, he needed to be cool and professional. Looking around at his surroundings, Lucky was mildly astonished at the crowded waiting room. He didn’t realize so many people were acquainted with the hacker.
Jason looked up at Lucky, and discovered that his wits were failing him, he had given no thought to a plausible cover story to satisfy the police when they inevitably became involved in what was certainly a crime. Diane Miller was one of the people in the waiting room and she immediately stepped up ready to speak on Jason’s behalf. Her eyes were red rimmed with worry over the young man in surgery but she had her game face firmly in place. “My client…” she began.
“Mr. Morgan wasn’t there.” Mimi Hunter spoke, interrupting Diane, who wore an expression of startled pique. “He was out running an errand for one of our neighbors when Damian was stabbed.”
“Who are you?” Lucky beat Diane to the question by a mere fraction of a second.
“I’m Mimi Hunter, this is my husband, Colonel Brock Hunter, and that’s Edna Caldicott over there. Louise Murphy was also present when we found Damian but she is currently unavailable. We all reside at Harborview Towers. Mr. Morgan and Damian are our neighbors.” Mimi was entirely calm as she recited her story, unaware or uncaring of the fact that every person in the waiting room was listening to her with avid fascination including Jason himself.
For once Jason was entirely unprepared. His instincts had reliably kicked in with regard to every body, including Smith’s, which he and Spinelli had disposed of through their interminable night of torment. Yet, he hadn’t given a single thought to the fact that because Spinelli was hospitalized with a knife wound the staff was obligated to report that fact to the police. He had absolutely no alibi prepared. Were the police to get a search warrant to search the penthouse they would find blood and weapons and a frozen snake carcass all of which would certainly start them digging even deeper. He didn’t mind so much for himself but Spinelli would be considered just as culpable in their joint activities. It was inconceivable that he might go to jail for committing so many murders, crimes of which he was entirely innocent. So, Jason sat passively by, watching in disbelieving amazement while Mimi Hunter coolly and mendaciously described what had occurred in the Towers’ garage earlier that morning.
“Mrs. Murphy has a small dog, Perkins and she was out of dog food. She was planning to go out and get some when Mr. Morgan so kindly offered to run that errand for her instead because of the difficulty of getting around after the snowstorm. He took Perkins along with him and was planning to go to an all night store to get the food for the dog’s breakfast. Louise is often lax about such things.” All the building residents, who were well aware of Jason’s and Perkin’s mutual antipathy, stared in skepticism at Mimi as she continued her story but they didn’t utter a single contrary word. “Anyway, the four of us-Brock, Mrs. Murphy, Mrs. Caldicott and myself-all found ourselves together in the elevator heading down. Brock and I were going to take a walk in the first snow of the season. Louise Murphy was going to see what was taking Mr. Morgan so long. She was worried because Perkins and Jason-Mr. Morgan-don’t actually get along very well and he had been gone longer than expected. Edna, dear, what was it that you were going down for again?” She turned her placid gaze on Mrs. Caldicott who smoothly took up her cue as though they had long rehearsed this particular exchange.
“Oh, Mimi, that memory of yours, sometimes I worry about it.” It was such a spontaneous, mildly chiding interchange between two old friends that even Jason almost began to believe their version of the morning’s events. “I was going out to breakfast with some friends of mine.” Mrs. Caldicott continued on with the story without missing a beat. “We always get together the first Saturday of the month. I wasn’t going to allow some measly snowfall prevent me from getting out and about. I come from Canada, Montreal actually,” she added as proud vindication of her weather hardiness.
The conversational baton was now transferred back to Mimi who grasped it smoothly, “That’s right, silly me, I know that.” She looked innocently up at Lucky, “Getting older is fraught with trial and tribulations but as Brock always says it’s decidedly better than the alternative.”
Lucky nodded, impatient with the excess detail and apparently wandering mind of his key witness, “So, then what happened in the garage?”
Mimi sighed, her eyes clouded over and her face twisted in unfeigned distress as she recalled the scene. “We found Damian on the floor of the garage, bleeding from a wound in his neck. I imagine he was just coming home from being out with his young lady friend.” Here she paused to look over at Maxie who had been listening to everything with a stunned expression, “Isn’t that right dear, Damian was with you?”
Maxie, always quick to absorb the nuances of a situation, nodded in agreement. “Yes, Spinelli and I were at the MetroCourt Crimson Halloween Gala last night, well this morning really. We were also celebrating my birthday.” Her hand reached up to absently caress the fire opal pendant hanging from her neck. “So, after the party, Spinelli crashed at my place.” Maxie’s eyes sought out Lulu’s and she was relieved when her roommate gave a quick tilt of her head indicating that her brother wouldn’t hear a different story from her. “He woke up early this morning, said he needed to get back to do something for Jason. That’s when I guess…he was attacked.” Her voice broke and Sam wrapped her arm protectively around her. “I didn’t know he was hurt until Jason called me.”
Once more she fixed the mob enforcer with a sharp, disgusted glance. Jason didn’t care about her overt antipathy toward him. He was just monumentally grateful to Maxie for corroborating Mimi’s elaborate deception while simultaneously providing Spinelli with an alibi should he require one.
“That’s what I thought,” Mimi gave an approving smile to the young, forlorn blonde. “Well, when we saw Damian lying there in such distress, we immediately responded. I’m a registered nurse. It fell to me to check his wound and then I sat with his head in my lap waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Edna and Louise care about Damian as much as Brock and I and everyone else here does.” Her glance swept the room, including all the people who were there out of concern for a gentle, shaggy haired boy who had surreptitiously crept his way into so many unsuspecting hearts.
A disgruntled Lucky recognized he had sat through the old lady’s spiel without a single mention of whoever actually attacked the kid. “Did you see anyone at the scene, find the knife, anything?” He was almost pleading for more actionable information.
Mimi shook her head, her eyes conveying a sincere regret, “I wish I could tell you yes, Detective, so that the person responsible for injuring such a sweet boy as Damian would be brought to justice. Unfortunately, none of us saw anything but Damian. Perhaps he can enlighten you when he wakes up.”
Mimi reached over and grasped Jason’s hand in an outward show of solidarity but the warning squeeze she gave him told him what he already knew. He would have to make sure that Spinelli would claim an unseen assailant so that the trail of his attacker came to a dead end and grew cold. He returned the formidable woman’s gentle pressure as he looked up at Lucky, his face expressionless.
“What about you, Morgan?” Lucky’s voice was weary, “What’s your story?”
Instead of waiting for Jason to answer, Lucky actually turned expectantly toward Diane Miller who had been standing close by the entire time Mimi talked, listening to her with a degree of admiration she only reserved for those who matched her own formidable skills at misdirection. Diane didn’t disappoint the detective. Her mouth was already opened, as she drew breathe preparatory to foiling Lucky’s attempts to interrogate her client, when once again Diane was interrupted before she could speak, this time by Jason himself. She gave an irritated snort of disapproval and turned away to regain her seat. If she wasn’t going to get a chance to practice her superb legal skills then she certainly wanted to be front and center for the rest of the floorshow.
“I was delayed by a traffic accident,” Jason was exhausted and wracked with guilt. His eyes were sunken deep within his face which was grey complected and etched with lines of fatigue. He didn’t need to pretend to be tired and worried since he truly was. “I was out on that errand for Mrs. Murphy and I came across two vehicles which were involved in a collision because of the poor conditions of the road. I stopped to check it out, to see if I could do anything. Perkins jumped out of the vehicle before I could stop him. I could only talk to the driver of one of the cars because the other one had run away. I guess he caused the crash and didn’t want to get caught, maybe he was drinking.” It appeared that Mimi Hunter’s skill at weaving tall tales was contagious. “Perkins ran off for some reason and I followed him but he was too fast and I lost track of him for a while. Then I found him in an alley, he was hurt, knocked unconscious. I didn’t see who did it. I took him back to the SUV and there was an ambulance and some officers at the scene of the accident. You can check their report. They asked me if I had seen anything and I told them I got there too late and needed to get Perkins some help. Then when I was heading back to the Towers to tell Mrs. Murphy about Perkins, the Colonel called me and told me about Spinelli. I followed the ambulance to the hospital.”
“It certainly seems to be a day for no one seeing anything.” Lucky grumbled, instinctually feeling that something was off kilter with the various stories he had heard but unable to say what. Still, try as he might, he simply couldn’t imagine someone like Mimi Hunter covering up for a mobster and his resident hacker. “Where’s Mrs. Murphy?” Lucky asked in a last ditch effort to find a witness who might implicate Morgan in the knifing or at least in the convenient absence of both a suspect and a weapon. It would seem there was no love lost between the enforcer and the owner of the unlucky Perkins.
“I called Max to come down and take her and Perkins to a vet hospital. He’s in surgery also.” Now Jason was suddenly jerked back to the unpalatable reality of the fact that nothing would matter-jail, Smith’s murder or Perkins’ injuries-if Spinelli didn’t make it.
As though his depressing thoughts had conjured him up, Patrick Drake suddenly appeared in the waiting room. Looking significantly over at Jason, he tipped his head at all the other occupants of the room to see if he wanted to hear the news in private or if everyone could be informed.
Jason stood up, his body a coiled and tense spring, “How’s Spinelli?” The room was hushed, even Lucky paused in his note taking, waiting for the answer.
Patrick smiled, he looked tired but content. “The operation went well. Dr. Walters repaired the jugular vein and the larynx as well as the platsyma muscle which sits in the anterior of the throat. It will take a while for his larynx to heal since cartilage isn’t a well vascularized tissue. He’s also concerned that there may be some damage to one of the major nerves which controls the larynx but we won’t know that until Spinelli can talk which won’t be for some time.”
Jason’s entire body was trembling with relief as his hand blindly sought for Mimi’s familiar and consoling grip. She was there, standing next to him and he leaned into her. In the space of less than a day she had metamorphosed from a little known neighbor whom he treated with a cold politeness to an emotional safe harbor. Love for Spinelli brought them together. Proven trust and loyalty further cemented their bond, forging it into an unbreakable connection. Mimi Hunter was now one of the few people for whom Jason would undertake any action, any risk without qualification.
“Can I see him?” It was the only thing that mattered, seeing Spinelli, watching his chest rise and fall as an illustration that he kept his word to survive much more nobly then Jason had managed to keep him safe. As usual the grasshopper was teaching the master.
Patrick nodded his consent. “You can wait for him in his room. He’s still in recovery and then they’ll move him to a surgery bed. It’ll be a while before he’s awake though and of course he can’t talk. Knowing Spinelli it will be a bit of a battle to prevent him from trying to though.”
“I’ll duct tape his mouth if he does,” Jason said grimly, only half kidding.
Two hours later and Spinelli still hadn’t awoken. Patrick had stopped by once or twice but didn’t seem unduly concerned about the delay but Jason was. He simply couldn’t help the superstitious fear he felt. He knew he wasn’t going to be able to begin to believe that Spinelli was all right until he looked up at him out of limpid green eyes which were both aware and alert. He thought it was quite possible the bpu was merely sleeping. After all, minus having his throat slit, he had experienced a terrifying and traumatic night. Jason himself was only running on fumes as he leaned wearily against the door jamb while he watched the inert, recumbent figure lying in the hospital bed.
“Coffee?” It was Mimi holding a fragrant paper cup up under his nose.
Jason accepted it, turning to regard her critically. She looked worse than he felt. He was suddenly aware of the toll the long night and the crisis with Spinelli’s injury had taken upon her. She was showing her age. Ordinarily he thought of her as a fluffy grandmotherly type, good for baking cookies and writing birthday checks. Yet, at this very moment, years of hard earned experience peered out from perceptive eyes as she met his gaze levelly.
“I know I must look a mess,” she said with a wry smile, reaching up in an unexpected display of vanity and fluffing her hair.
He grinned at her, “You look fine, just tired. Why don’t you go home and get some sleep? I’ll be here for Spinelli.”
“I could say the same to you,” she retorted with asperity, “You had quite the night and right now you look like something the cat dragged in.”
“Hey!” Jason said defensively, reaching up with his free hand to feel his face, his fingertips running across the harsh stubble on his cheeks. “I guess you’re right,” he admitted sheepishly. Still, there is no need for both of us to stand around waiting.”
“It’s more than just us,” Mimi said, “There are still a lot of people in the waiting room on this floor. That little spitfire friend of his-Maxie, is it? She keeps trying to come down here but that other brunette girl keeps telling her no. She seems a little high strung.”
“Yeah,” Jason sighed, irritation at Maxie momentarily trumping his overwhelming fatigue and concern for Spinelli. “She has been here pestering me and wanting to sit with Spinelli but I told her to go back to the waiting room.” He shook his head, “Maxie actually really cares about him but she just never knows when to quit. I’m worried she’ll overwhelm him when what he really needs is rest and quiet. He’s incapable of saying no to her, to anyone actually,” he finished ruefully.
“Well, then we’ll just make sure that she doesn’t tire him out.” Mimi said firmly and Jason felt like he had truly found an ally.
One look at her determined face and Jason even felt a slight twinge of pity for Maxie. It appeared her irresistible force might finally have met the inevitable immovable object. He was just beginning to realize how truly formidable tiny Mimi Hunter really was.
“I just spoke with Louise,” Mimi said. “Perkins is out of surgery and just like Damian hasn’t woken up yet. They successfully relieved the pressure from the bleeding in his brain due to the fractured skull.”
“That’s good,” Jason was surprised at the depth of relief he felt upon hearing his former adversary was going to be all right. “They can recuperate together, Spinelli and Perkins.”
He paused, looking down at Mimi’s white curls as she stared pensively over at Spinelli. He was a small, still figure lying in the hospital bed. There were tubes running in and out of him, connecting him to iv’s, full of blood and other fluids, and monitors for his heart rate, blood pressure and still other measurements that Jason didn’t have a clue about.
‘Wake up, Spinelli,’ he mentally urged him, ‘I need my partner back.’
“You know,” it was Mimi speaking in a quiet reflective voice, “When you first moved into the Towers, Jason, you were quite the topic at the tenants’ meetings. There was even one session that was specially convened to discuss what to do about the problems that was ‘Jason Morgan’.”
Jason couldn’t help laughing when Mimi put air quotes around his name and she smiled right back at him, her eyes glinting with mischief. “I guess I’m not surprised. Still, I never received a delegation informing me that I had broken some building by-law and was going to be evicted.”
“You have Brock to thank for that,” she was serious now. “He pointed out how since Sonny Corinthos and you had taken up residence on the penthouse floor things had become much safer for the Towers’ residents. There were no more muggings, no purse snatchings, and no harassment by gang members. He was right, it was true and we all knew it was due to the presence of you and your associate. Still, it was generally felt that your lifestyle was certainly much less flamboyant and quieter in comparison to Mr. Corinthos’. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when he moved out of the building.”
Jason said without passion, it was merely a reflexive response honed from years of practice, “Sonny’s not so bad. He’s just…intense sometimes.”
Mimi responded with an unladylike snort, “Yes, I can’t imagine someone like that, intense, goodness who behaves like that?”
She earned her reward for trying to cheer him up, the smallest glimmer of a tired smile and a slight relaxation in the tension shadowing his eyes. “Well, Spinelli has tried to loosen me up though a lot of the time I think he got a raw deal ending up living with me. He gives so much more then he gets.” His eyes were irresistibly drawn back to the unconscious hacker. “This...this is all my fault. He wouldn’t be in that bed, wouldn’t have nearly died if we weren’t connected. It’s because he lives with me, because of my choices, my world…”
“You know better, Jason.” She was scolding him now, her face stern, as she refused to let him wallow in guilt. “Damian makes his own choices, he adores you and he would do anything for you but the reverse is also true. You two are closer, more devoted to one another than most brothers.”
“Yeah, and look where it got him,” Jason spoke bitterly, all the progress Mimi had made toward improving his attitude was entirely evaporated, “His throat slit.”
“Damian wouldn’t feel that way about what happened, so you don’t get the option to indulge in self pity. You know if you want to do something constructive for him why don’t you spend more time with him that doesn’t involve carting bodies up and down the stairs all night?”
Jason stared at her, aghast, “You knew?” His voice was full of mortification.
“Oh, my dear,” Mimi retorted with good natured exasperation. “We’re older, not dead or senile or blind for that matter. Why do you think I concocted that tale for Officer Spencer while Edna played along with me?”
“I just…I didn’t think…I was too surprised and grateful to wonder why,” Jason felt like Spinelli for a moment as he stammered out words. He was entirely flabbergasted by Mimi’s unexpected announcement. “How did you figure it out?”
“Honestly, Jason! First, of all there is Damian who has been doing nothing for a solid two weeks except talk about his Halloween date with Maxie because he was so excited about it. Yet, instead of heading over to the Metro Court for the night there he is helping you lug oddly shaped, extremely heavy appearing objects down the stairs and out to your SUV. That activity would be followed by the two of you driving away and then returning only to move more heavy and suspicious objects. All throughout your shenanigans, there is still Spinelli dressed up like Humphrey Bogart. It was obviously the costume he was wearing for Maxie’s party but that he wasn’t attending for some inexplicable reason.”
“I took him to see her for a while.” Jason mumbled as he looked at the floor, ashamed and unable to meet Mimi’s clear, direct and, he was sure, censorious gaze.
“Sweetheart,” she tipped his chin up and Jason saw that he was wrong. There was nothing in her eyes but empathy. “We know you didn’t cause any of this and that instead you were simply reacting to events. It was clearly something that was beyond your control and you were trying to deal with it the best you could while Spinelli was loyally helping you.”
“How did you know…” Jason couldn’t finish, he didn’t deserve the kindness this woman was showing him.
He quailed as he remembered how he used to think she was just a vapid elderly woman interested only in gossip and shopping. Jason was now beginning to suspect she might actually be the more formidable member of the Hunter family and considering she was married to Brock that was indeed saying something.
“Well,” her voice was dry and there was a hint of suppressed laughter in her tone, “We didn’t for sure until Louise met Damian’s ‘cousin’ Ian. Narcolepsy, really that boy is so inventive!” She shook her head as they both once more checked on Spinelli who hadn’t moved.
Jason scrubbed at his face and groaned as he recalled his unfounded confidence that his and Spinelli’s nefarious activities were going undetected by the other residents of the building. “So, when you two got on the elevator?”
“Yes, we were alerted by Louise that there was something different going on, since you weren’t using the stairs this time and there was a confirmed body. We were concerned things might be escalating so we came to check on you and to see if you had things under control. It was Brock’s idea to watch and wait and to only give help if it appeared it was needed. He said that’s the way you would want it.”
Jason gave a dry laugh, as he brushed a hand over his hair, “I might as well give up the business and hand it over to the four of you. I’ll write a letter of recommendation to Sonny.”
Mimi laughed also, though hers was lighter and more genuine, before her manner once more sobered. “Well, at first we were rather upset. Here we thought everything we had feared all those years ago, when you first moved in, was finally coming to fruition. Yet, it was Brock who again wisely pointed out two pertinent facts. The first was that he said you would never contaminate your home with any violence and the second was that you wouldn’t risk Spinelli’s safety or even his proximity to such brutality. You would always do your utmost to protect him from such acts. So, that’s when we came around to his plan. We realized that whatever was going on wasn’t something you had initiated and that you weren’t a willing participant in such distasteful deeds. After talking it over, we decided to create a covert operation which involving watching and checking on you two but not interfering until it might be indicated.”
Jason asked, “So when Edna came to talk to Spinelli that was intentional?”
Mimi nodded, “Yes, we were downstairs in her apartment wondering what our next step should be. It was a while since you had returned from one of your mysterious excursions and we wondered if things had finally settled down. Then we all jumped when we heard a gunshot overhead, almost immediately followed by the most awful wailing from Spinelli. I wanted to rush right up but cooler heads prevailed and we waited to see if there was going to be anymore shooting or other worrisome sounds. Yet, we were still concerned even after things appeared to have quieted down and we decided to investigate further which led to Edna’s visit.”
“I never thought about the sound traveling, I was only concerned for Spinelli.” Jason couldn’t bring himself to tell Mimi why Spinelli had been screaming. He didn’t want to sink in her estimation by letting her know that he had caused a head to land smack in the boy’s lap which quite possibly might have traumatized him for life.
“What did you shoot?” She asked curiously.
“There was a snake on the couch, it had killed a man and it struck at Spinelli. I didn’t think, just reacted.” Jason cravenly hoped she would just accept the snake was the cause for Spinelli’s meltdown.
Jason’s plan worked, Mimi was diverted by the exotic cause of the startling gunfire. “A snake! How very convoluted, I always thought you mafia types just shot people and dumped them in the harbor. Also, do you really make Damian run the stairs?” It was clear this was something Mimi had been dying to ask Jason ever since Edna reported her outlandish discussion with Spinelli.
Jason looked at her, his lips twitching as Mimi patiently waited for his answer, only her eyes giving any indication of her internal amusement as she subtly teased him. “No, but I’m beginning to think when he gets better it might be just the thing for him to do. He could stand to get more exercise and after that little tale he told Mrs. Caldicott, it would serve him right if I made it come true.”
“Ah,” she said with a note of satisfaction clearly evident in her voice, “Louise and Edna each owe me a Hamilton.” She smiled serenely at Jason’s incredulous expression.
“You…you bet on it?” He said, wondering if this woman would ever cease to surprise him.
Mimi shrugged, “I knew you wouldn’t ever do anything like that to Damian. Actually, it sounded like something he would create out of whole cloth to earn himself sympathy points. Louise and Edna, on the other hand, were both so outraged by your heavy handed treatment of him that they appeared to forget the real reason we were keeping tabs on the two of you. I thought perhaps a little wager which I knew that I couldn’t lose would maybe get them to see how they were overreacting as well as bring me in a little pin money.”
“After Mrs. Caldicott talked to Spinelli,” Jason prompted her, anxious to hear the rest of the story, “What did you do?”
Mimi's demeanor was once more somber as she picked up the thread of her narrative. “Edna reported back to us and it was clear that whatever had happened in the penthouse, Spinelli was back to helping you and entirely capable of obfuscation as well. Brock thought things were still under some semblance of control and that there wasn’t any cause for us to barge in on you. So, we went back to our watch and wait attitude. You made one further journey down the stairs and then headed back out to wherever you went each time you left.”
It was evident Mimi wasn’t asking for clarification about Jason’s and Spinelli’s destination. She didn’t want to know where they were headed on a wintry night in an SUV loaded down with dead bodies.
“We were waiting when you got back. Brock calculated from the prior trips about how long you would be gone and factored in the impact of driving in the snow as well. We all felt there was a climax waiting in the wings. It seemed that the events of entire evening were leading up to something further, some type of confrontation or denouement. Then when that odious man appeared and proved our suppositions right, we didn’t dare make our presence known as it might startle him and cause him to injure Damian. Of course, in the end it didn’t matter, he acted anyway...”
Mimi paused, she stared up into Jason’s tormented eyes as he was reminded of what had happened to Spinelli and how he was unable to prevent it. “I presume it’s safe to assume he shan’t be troubling anyone in the future?” She probed delicately, careful not to elicit any incriminating admissions on Jason’s part.
He gave a grim nod of acknowledgment, “No, he won’t be but it’s because of my negligence that Spinelli got hurt. If I had just done something about him years ago he wouldn’t have been able to do what he did last night. All those people dead and…” He raised his hand trembling with fatigue and anguish as he wiped at the tell tale glimmers of moisture filling his eyes.
“No, Jason!” Mimi spoke adamantly, “You don’t get to assume all the blame for what happened. I am quite sure if you had done something different all those years ago that maybe things wouldn’t have worked out the way they did. Yet, you’re no different than the rest of us. You make choices and decisions based on what you know and believe at the specific time and sometimes they are incorrect. We all make mistakes and we all carry regrets. It’s what makes us human, forms our character, and allows us to grow and change. We, none of us, can repair the past; we can only look to the future. So, stop wallowing in what did happen and why and start thinking about how lucky you are…that Damian is alive and coming back to us.”
Jason just stared at her stricken, “He’s the best person I know. He’s so special and I am lucky to have him in my life. I never understood why he chose me but I always think that someday he’ll realize what a mistake he made and just…”
“Leave?” Mimi said the word before Jason could. It reverberated around the sterile environs of the hospital room, stark and unadulterated. Jason stood before her vulnerable and exposed, his deepest fear found out but strangely he didn’t mind that Mimi comprehended his pain. “He won’t do that for one simple reason, because he loves you. Despite everything you do to bury any sign of your own feelings so deep down inside in order to protect yourself, it makes no difference. He sees through all that pretense and knows you love him right back.”
“I said I would protect him, I promised Maxie, promised myself and look what happened.” Jason was intent on beating himself up.
Mimi sighed, “Some promises are entirely true and meant and still can’t be kept. Everyone who knows the two of you realizes that you would give your own life to save his. What happened tonight isn’t going to happen again, that’s not the issue. What you really need to do, Jason is to think about the things you can change, that you do control and fix them instead.”
“What do you mean?” He asked her, confused.
Mimi cocked her head looking directly at him, she reached over and gently clasped Jason’s right hand in both of hers. “That boy, he’s a godsend and not just to you. Do you know that within six months of coming to live at the Towers, he knew every resident, including the shut-ins? He especially watched out for the more vulnerable or lonely ones. Damian made sure that groceries were bought, walked Perkins for Louise in inclement weather, and knew everyone’s prescription regimes. He became our communal grandson, since most of our own families have either forgotten us or live too far away to be in regular contact.” Mimi paused for a moment, evident sadness in her eyes as she recited the lonely reality of life for the elderly residents of the Towers.
“Then there are the clubs he started. I saw you rolling your eyes at the idea of salsa dancing.” Jason had the decency to look embarrassed at Mimi’s mild rebuke. “Well, that and many others were all Damian’s idea. In addition to dancing, there was also playing bridge, singing Christmas carols, chess tournaments-Brock loves those. Now, because of him, we are so much more connected than we ever were previously. We used to live our separate lives just knowing one or two of the other residents but in most cases choosing to be isolated. Now everyone knows everyone else, looks out for each other. We all owe him so much. Yet, all he requires in payment, all he craves is love, attention, and our time. He will listen for hours to our stories with real, uncontrived, not impatient attention. He knows us as people rather then just designating us all to the forgotten category of older people not worth bothering about.”
Jason was ashamed of both his indifference and ignorance as he said softly, “I didn’t know.”
“No, you didn’t,” Mimi agreed dryly, “I’m not telling you this to make you feel badly or that I believe you ought to have done something similar. I am trying to tell you about Damian, about who he is to us. Do you know the thing he wants above all, besides for Maxie to say she loves him as much as he loves her?” Mimi stared impatiently at him as Jason’s lip curled in disdain at her comment. “Is for you, yes you, Jason, to spend some time with him that isn’t about the business.”
Jason realized that Mimi had unexpectedly hit the ball back into his court. Caught off guard he asked her almost plaintively, “What am I supposed to do with him?” He put up a forestalling hand to stop her replying as he firmly said, “I am not going to come to the salsa group or play mahjong.” After all, he was still Jason Morgan no matter how emotionally unguarded was his and Mimi’s current conversation.
“Jason,” Mimi sighed with vexation, “Nobody, least of all Damian, expects you to undergo a full blown personality transplant. Still, you could go see a movie and go out to dinner with him. Or if that’s too far outside your comfort zone then get take-out and play a game of pool together. Damian won’t care what you do as long as you focus on him somewhat. It can be as simple as taking the time to ask him about his day. Look at how much you didn’t know about what went on in the towers, how involved Damian is with the residents. Yet, you pride yourself on your observational skills.”
Jason nodded ruefully as he agreed with her point, “Yeah, I’m supposed to know what is going on around me. It’s my bread and butter, being aware has saved my life and the lives of others more times then I can count. I can’t believe I had no idea of what Spinelli was up to in the building.” He gazed fondly down at the older woman. “I’ll try to do better by Spinelli,” he promised her solemnly.
Jason caught a movement from the hospital bed out of the corner of the eye at the same instant Mimi did. She walked over to the bed trailed by a suddenly hesitant Jason, scared of how Spinelli might regard him. “Looks like someone is coming around, how are you feeling sleepyhead?” Mimi smoothed thick brown hair back from his brow as bewildered green eyes stared up at her while Spinelli attempted to free his mind from the lingering effects of the anesthetic.
Jason was standing on the other side of the bed, holding his roommate’s hand and actually smiling down at him. Spinelli turned his uncertain gaze away from Mimi and looked up at Jason who was abysmally failing in his attempt to comport his features into his requisite stone cold glare. His voice thick with emotion, Jason said sternly, “Don’t you ever scare me like that again!”
He felt a distinct loosening of the relentless tightness which had gripped his chest for the past several hours when he was the happy recipient of two distinct blinks from tired eyes that somehow still managed to retain and communicate their long established evidence of trust and affection. Jason let out a heartfelt sigh of relief, Spinelli was still his.
Chapter 9: Epilogue
Jason and Spinelli throw a party.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Jason stood in his bedroom critically regarding his image in the mirror hanging over his bureau. Such an inspection was a rare occurrence, usually he never bothered. Ordinarily, he would grab a pair of jeans and one of his ubiquitous black t-shirts, toss them on and he was good for the day. Tonight though was different, tonight he had promised himself he was going to do something which he despised, tonight he was hosting a costume party.
He was watching himself knot the broad, striped tie that went with his outfit, when there was a quiet knock at the door followed by a tentative, “Stone Cold?”
“Come in,” Jason called over his shoulder as he continued looping the tie over, under and through.
Spinelli stepped into the room and seeing Jason occupied by the dresser walked over to stand next to him. His reflection appeared next to that of Jason, their eyes met in the mirror and Spinelli gave his mentor, as he constantly felt obliged to do these days, a small smile of reassurance. Jason for his part surreptitiously used the opportunity to take the mandatory inventory he couldn’t help but perform whenever he saw his roommate. Spinelli looked good, his eyes were clear and untroubled, his face held a tinge of color and was beginning to reclaim its former fullness now that he had finally regained his appetite. Then, as though irresistibly drawn to it, Jason’s gaze dropped to the thin, pink line of raised tissue that ran across Spinelli’s throat.
It was now exactly two months since John Smith had nearly killed Spinelli and things were slowly returning to some approximation of normal in the penthouse. Yet, whenever Jason saw the scar on the boy’s neck, the sight of it would inevitably catapult him back to the events leading up to the injury and the succeeding endless time period of emotional and physical recuperation endured by Spinelli as a result.
Spinelli had stayed in the hospital for a week. Jason barely left him to return home for a shower or a change or clothes or a quick nap. He knew full well that John Smith was dead, was in a deservedly ignominious grave far out in the Atlantic Ocean where Port Charles transported its trash on barges. Jason’s mind accepted this fact but some atavistic part of him still feared for his roommate, still stayed on alert to guard him against unspecified dangers. If he were fully able to be honest with himself, a condition which mostly transpired between the hours of midnight and dawn as he kept an insomniac watch over a restlessly sleeping Spinelli, his irrational dread was also driven by guilt. He had failed his friend, his roommate, his brother and all because of Jason’s hubris that he would prevail and Spinelli would be safe with him. Yet, the truth of the situation was that Jason’s arrogance in assuming he could protect Spinelli was instead directly responsible for Spinelli almost dying.
It was only during the daylight hours when Mimi’s commonsense and her calming presence cast out Jason’s demons that he could begin to start the long process of his own mental healing, which was always taken in tandem with the more pressing needs of Spinelli to recuperate both physically and emotionally. Mimi, how Jason had ever managed to function before her entry into his life was a mystery to him.
She kept Spinelli’s hospital environment a peaceful haven, somehow managing to minimize not only the medical intrusions but the social ones as well. Even Maxie’s sharp edged personality was altered by Mimi’s unswerving expectation that everyone work together to provide serene surroundings for Spinelli as he lay in a hospital bed weak and forcibly mute. Unlike Jason, who would have achieved the same goal by dogmatic demands and ultimatums issued in an uncompromising tone leading to the simultaneously undesirable goals of alienation and noncompliance; Mimi soothed and suggested her way to an understanding with the various temperaments that crossed the threshold of Spinelli’s hospital suite. Frenetic Maxie became docile and meek, while exuberantly self-involved Lulu spent hours reading to the patient. Meanwhile, Spinelli’s room was transformed into a veritable hothouse containing a colorful riot of flowers and plants which, along with innumerable get-well cards, lined every horizontal surface.
Amidst all the visitors and general bustle accompanying a hospital stay, Spinelli himself remained a cipher. His throat was healing slowly but on schedule. It was understood that cartilage took longer to heal than the soft tissue of skin, muscle and blood vessels. He was forbidden to speak and was nutritionally maintained upon a liquid diet. His only mode of communication was through writing and his expressive eyes. Spinelli was prohibited his laptop and Jason was more concerned by his lack of resistance to the restriction than if he had been predictably upset. Overall, Spinelli was a quiet malleable patient, his spirits were subdued and he slept close to sixteen hours out of every twenty-four.
Each time Jason returned on one of his brief viisits to the penthouse, there was some type of redecorating activity occurring. Edna Caldicott and Louise Murphy were in charge of the project at Jason’s behest. The two women were martinets as they made sure the workmen adhered to a strict schedule. There was common agreement amongst all the residents of the towers that when Spinelli returned home there shouldn’t be any sign of the bloodshed which had so marred both the upstairs and downstairs of the abode he shared with Jason.
To that end there was a concerted attempt to remove even the slightest reminder of the horrific Halloween night he had endured. The carpeting in the living room, on the stairs and in Spinelli’s room was removed and replaced. The couch, chairs, coffee and end tables and all the lamps downstairs were replaced along with Spinelli’s bed. Even the door to the hacker’s ensuite bathroom was taken away and another of clearly different origin took its place. Jason only requested one alteration for himself and that was requiring a new refrigerator. He still felt chills run up and down his spine when he thought of the deadly snake’s body stashed in the freezer. Naturally, by the time the redecorating process began, Jason had cleared out all the physical evidence collected by Spinelli and himself. Jason couldn’t do anything about the various bloodstains distributed throughout the penthouse but then again his neighbors were also his cohorts and as such they didn’t need to have such signs explained away.
During the renovations, Perkins dolefully lay in a small basket lined with a plump cushion placed strategically in the living room of the penthouse so that his mistress could keep a close eye on him. He was released from the veterinary hospital three days after his surgery. Jason accompanied Mrs. Murphy to retrieve him and was both surprised and touched when a small pink tongue flicked out and briefly licked his hand as he drove them both home. Louise saw the overt sign of thawing antagonism but wisely refrained from giving any indication beyond an inward smile.
On the eighth of November, driven in Jason’s brand new silver hybrid SUV, Spinelli returned home. He was greeted by a small welcoming group consisting of Maxie, Lulu, Johnny, Diane, the Hunters, Mrs. Caldicott, Mrs. Murphy and Perkins. Spinelli sat wordlessly on the couch for half an hour before his eyelids began to droop and Jason and Mimi, acting in concert, immediately began to usher people out of the penthouse.
The first night Spinelli spent back in his pink room the nightmares began for both him and Jason. Some feature concerning the anonymity of the hospital setting or exhaustion or another indefinable factor had held them previously at bay while they both slowly recuperated. Yet, that very night Jason woke himself up shouting in a raggedly hoarse voice while a grinning Smith drew his infinitely sharp and shining knife blade across Spinelli’s tender and already marked throat.
Jason was gasping for air as though his was the wounded neck when a horrific realization descended upon him. Stumbling over sheets dragged to the floor in his need to get to Spinelli, Jason made his erratic way down the hall toward his roommate’s room. Thrusting open the door, he fumbled for the light switch instinctively wanting to flood the scene with light.
“Spinelli!” Jason rasped catching sight of the boy twisting in his sleep as he clawed frantically at his throat. There were pitiful little sounds erupting from his yet to be healed larynx, rough inhalations and exhalations of air which failed to produce words.
Jason strode across the room and wrapping his arms around him prevented Spinelli from scrabbling at his neck wound which was showing a slight seepage of pink through the bandages wrapped around it. “Ssh, ssh,” he murmured just as he had barely a week ago when the boy had been in hysterics. Eventually, Spinelli’s eyes opened and he looked up at Jason with dazed incomprehension. “You had a nightmare, that’s all, it was a bad dream. You’re safe,” Jason assured him all the while cursing himself for forgetting that Spinelli couldn’t speak, couldn’t call out when he was in distress.
Jason hadn’t hesitated, even though it was the middle of the night, he called Mimi. She and Brock showed up together and while Mimi efficiently tended to Spinelli’s reopened wound, Brock sat downstairs with a visibly shaken Jason, his silent but imposing presence managing to calm him down.
After that terrifying night, Jason began sleeping on an air mattress placed on the floor of Spinelli’s room. Still, the nightmares kept coming for both of them. In an effort to help the boy cope with his dreadful dreams, Mimi asked Spinelli to write them out in a dream journal.
So, whenever Spinelli was jerked awake, encased in a cold sweat, as he tried unsuccessfully to call out, Jason helped Spinelli to record his still vivid memories of the scenes with which his sleeping mind relentlessly plagued him. Whereas Jason only ever dreamed of the moment that Smith cut Spinelli’s throat, Spinelli’s nightmares were infinitely more varied in their content.
Sometimes the dreams focused upon the moment of discovery of the Russian Vassily hanging on the back of Spinelli’s bathroom door or finding the body of hapless Louie under the bed. Other nights he was tormented by the snake striking at him and Sean Murtaugh’s head landing in his lap. Spinelli also relived Smith holding him hostage but from a more intensely personally painful perspective then Jason’s terror stricken vantage point of guilt and loss. Yet, the worst dreams by far, were the ones Spinelli had of Smith gently coercing Charlie up to the penthouse by mendaciously using Spinelli’s bona fides and then driving an ice pick deep into the recesses of his befuddled brain.
Jason couldn’t bear to see Spinelli’s pain wracked eyes, his drawn, hollowed out face as he shivered uncontrollably in the wee hours of the morning. While holding Spinelli close and uttering soothing words definitely helped calm him down, pouring the poison of those intolerable memories out onto the pages of the journal in spiky, almost illegible, handwriting appeared to actually work even better in terms of salving Spinelli’s tormented spirit. Slowly, glacially, the power of the dreams dissipated, banished to the mystical pages of the journal. Jason would never have believed it if he hadn’t witnessed it with his own eyes.
Finally, one night when Jason lay as usual on the air mattress, awake and apprehensive, awaiting the expected sounds of thrashing and low moans from Spinelli, he was amazed to find that instead he awoke to sunshine after falling asleep at some unmarked point in the dark. Abruptly he sat up to check on Spinelli, worried that he might have been so fatigued as to have been derelict in his duty to watch over him. Jason expelled a sigh of relief as he observed his roommate serenely sleeping through what was apparently Spinelli’s first nightmare free night since coming home from the hospital.
Now, it was weeks later then those first difficult and fraught days and Spinelli appeared to be mostly mended. The dreams recurred occasionally for both of them but Spinelli now utilized the dream journal without his mentor’s assistance and Jason faced his own night induced demons once more ensconced in the privacy of his bedroom. It was a rough, uneasy peace and neither knew if it would ever improve, ever attain some truer form of contentment but they could manage exist in this grey world of an in-between equilibrium for the moment as long as they had one another.
“The guests are arriving, Stone Cold.” Spinelli’s voice was hoarse and still alien to Jason’s ears. As is true of most people, Jason was so caught up in the joy of the instant when the hacker could once again speak, could utter words and make Jason happy to hear his two syllable nickname drop from the boy’s lips that he simply overlooked the timbre, the roughness of his tone. Yet, it seemed that Patrick’s concern about nerve damage had been well founded.
One of the pair of recurrent laryngeal nerves which controlled the larynx was damaged and when Jason confronted him about repairing it, Patrick ran his fingers through his hair and gave a frustrated sigh. “I can’t, Jason, nerves aren’t very good at regeneration unlike skin or muscle or bone. They are very specialized cells and once they achieve differentiation then they can’t divide any more that is repair or replace themselves. Spinelli’s voice will sound like that from now on out. I’m sorry.”
Jason looked at Patrick, disappointment and disillusionment evident in his eyes, “Does it mean he can’t sing either?” He asked, needing to know how much damage he was responsible for.
“I don’t think so,” Patrick responded sadly, “He’s alive though and healthy and that wasn’t necessarily a given with his particular injury. You should be grateful for that…” Patrick was speaking to a leather clad back. Jason had glared at him, clenched his fists in ineffectual protest at Patrick’s irrefutable decree, and then pivoted on his heel leaving mid-conversation.
Now as Jason automatically finished tying his tie and pulling his collar down over it, he continued to peruse Spinelli’s face in the mirror. The scar on his neck and the altered sound of his voice were permanent overt reminders of what that appalling night had cost the younger man and that didn’t even began to address his mental and emotional scars. Once again, Jason was disgusted to find himself virtually unscathed while someone around him paid for his sins, his crimes, his past choices.
Still, Jason didn’t want his morose reflections to ruin the upcoming evening for their guests or for especially Spinelli. Schooling his face into its usual calm façade, Jason nodded at Spinelli in acknowledgment of his remark about the guests. It was a long time arriving, but tonight Jason Morgan and Damian Spinelli would be inaugurating the First Annual Harborview Towers New Year’s Eve Costume Gala. While Jason inwardly cringed over the implications of the word annual in the preposterous and never ending title, Spinelli valiantly attempted to form the letters into some sort of catchy acronym. Eventually, after an exhaustive examination of the conundrum, he admitted defeat. Henceforth, outside of the formally issued invitations, the event was referred to as either the Costume Gala or, even more simply-The Gala.
It was testimony to the elemental changes in Jason’s behavior and perceptions that he was preparing to co-host such a party with the double drawbacks of being set on New Year’s Eve and involving the wearing of costumes. That is if one could actually get past the fundamental premise of Jason even entertaining at all, never mind doing so upon such a lavish scale. Yet, costume party was Spinelli’s idea and it was the first thing he had shown any honest enthusiasm about since Halloween. Jason would have agreed to far more invasive or extreme occurrences than The Gala if it brought happiness to his roommate.
Spinelli had wanted the party to welcome in the New Year and to attempt to forget the dreadful last few months of this one. He also desired to make amends to Maxie for both standing her up on her birthday and for scaring her by almost dying. Spinelli thought he could make further recompense to his beloved Maximista by making costumes a requisite part of the celebration and thereby recreating some aspects of the glamorous Crimson party. Lastly, Spinelli also wished to invite all his friends and neighbors in order to thank them for their help and support during his recuperation, thus, creating the rationale behind including Harboview Towers as part of the full name. The fact that he had to wear a costume and play host to uncounted numbers of building residents and other guests was a just barely tolerable concept to Jason. Yet, it was actually the words ‘first annual’ which sent shudders of trepidation up and down Jason’s spine as he sullenly contemplated hosting this ever burgeoning annual shindig, until years from now when he eventually keeled over wearing an astronaut costume or some equally absurd outfit that Spinelli would coax him into.
However, tonight’s costumes weren’t half bad, Jason thought with satisfaction as he looked at their twinned reflections.In fact, ironically, they were mirror images of what the two of them were wearing on Halloween night. This time Jason was the one dressed in a grey pin striped vintage suit complete with a maroon and white striped tie and a matching soft fedora. Standing next to him was Spinelli, who tonight channeled his inner James Dean to Jason’s Dashiel Hammett. He was clad in his new leather jacket, identical to Jason’s, a white t-shirt and cuffed Jeans and boots with his hair moussed high upon his head. They had also alternated personas with Jason as the world weary sleuth and Spinelli attempting a dead eyed stare of nihilistic contempt for the world and all its inhabitants.
Jason dipped his head toward the jacket, happy to see it actually being worn rather than still pristinely hanging in Spinelli’s closet where it had been placed with appropriately worshipful awe upon receipt. “Looks good on you,” he said with quiet approbation.
The hacker’s face split into a delighted grin as all pretense of being a tough edged delinquent slipped away from him like an ill-fitting skin, “Do you think so, Stone Cold?”
Jason gave a little grunt of pleased laughter, still amazed at the sway his opinion held over Spinelli’s life, his thoughts, and his moods. “Yeah, I do,” he said roughly, hiding the emotions that flowed through him-gratitude, regret, melancholy and a pure, white streak of love, as he flung his arm around the younger man’s shoulders and steered him toward the bedroom door. “Let’s not keep all this hotness to ourselves; we’ll spread it around among the ladies. I get Mimi Hunter but in trade I’ll let you have both Edna Caldicott and Louise Murphy, can’t say fairer than that.”
“Stone Cold!” Jason was thrilled to hear the indignant whine in the boy’s voice as he protested his teasing threat. It was the first time since that terrible night that they had reverted to the pseudo-bickering which had been a hallmark of their old relationship. “Ever since my unfortunate injury, they already hover around the Jackal far more than is healthy. Promise me that you shall do nothing to call their laser sharp eyes to any aspect of your grasshopper’s physique. Besides, I can’t answer for Maximista’s jealousy when she discovers her paramour is surrounded by cougars, albeit aged ones.”
“Cougars?” Jason had no idea what Spinelli was talking about but before he could inquire further they were at the top of the stairs and he nervously looked down into his transformed living room.
There was a large net of multicolored balloons suspended from the living room ceiling which would be dropped when the magic hour of twelve o’clock arrived and the brand new year arrived. In a far corner of the room was a large glittering Christmas tree, left over from the quieter holiday celebration of a week ago. The dining room table was covered with a white damask tablecloth that was barely visible through all the covering foodstuffs including an enormous multilayered cake adorned with the figurines of an elderly man and a diaper clad child representing the departing and incoming years.
The room was filled to bursting with building residents and Jason and Spinelli’s other friends. Maxie was standing at the base of the stairs. She was dressed in a bright red, pencil skirt cinched tight with a wide patent leather belt that made her tiny waist appear a contender for Scarlett O’Hara’s famed seventeen inches. She wore a red and white polka dotted scarf tied jauntily around her neck, a white blouse with the sleeves rolled up. Completing the ensemble were a pair of black velvet high heeled shoes.
Maxie was animatedly chatting with Diane Miller who was dressed in a sequined black cocktail dress which clung adoringly to every ample curve put fully on display. She was four inches higher than her natural height due to the aid of a pair of stiletto heeled, open-toed shoes in bright crimson. On her head perched a black band of silken fabric with one curved white feather arising from the center. The outfit barely passed muster as a costume but it suited the brassy redhead’s persona perfectly. Diane listened intently to something Maxie was saying, her rapid fire words were accompanied by fluttering motions of her delicate white hands describing unintelligible shapes in the air.Almost absentmindedly, the lawyer periodically refreshed herself with a sustaining gulp from the martini glass clutched in her hand
Jason caught sight of Mimi and Brock Hunter as they stood next to the fireplace. They both wore military uniforms, his indicating the rank of Colonel and hers a Captain,. Jason was startled to realize that they were talking to Elizabeth Webber. She was dressed as a nurse in an old fashioned traditional costume of a close fitting, white button down dress. A starched cap was pinned to her mass of chestnut locks and the clinging white stockings curving around her calves caused Jason’s mouth to run dry. The rest of the crowd-Lulu, Johnny, Carly, Jax, and assorted neighbors-blurred into an indistinct mass and all he could see, all his eyes registered as he descended the stairs was a vision in white.
“Elizabeth,” Jason said, interrupting the trio’s conversation and momentarily ignoring Mimi and Brock, “What are you doing here?” He cursed himself, wanting desperately to recall the rude sounding words as soon as they left his mouth. “I mean…I didn’t expect…”
Elizabeth lips curled up in an amused smile, her ego flattered, as she bathed in the self-indulgent glow which consumes a beautiful woman whenever her mere appearance causes a grown man to become a blithering idiot. “Spinelli invited me but I gather he didn’t tell you.” The silvery sound of her charming laughter made Jason’s face blush bright red as both Brock and Mimi looked at the couple with identical expressions of quizzical indulgence.
Jason managed to regain some element of self assurance as he said, “I owe that boy an orange soda. Brock, Mimi,” he turned to the neglected twosome, “I’m so glad that you made it.” His eyes, of their own volition, slid back to the enchantingly lovely nurse and he was lost to all else which was occurring in the busily occupied room. Jason never heard the Hunters’ murmured excuses as they discreetly left the pair to gaze earnestly into each other’s eyes.
The evening was a roaring success. Jason eventually recovered enough of his wits to help Maxie and Spinelli ensure that the catering and bartending went smoothly. He split the remainder of his time between solitary assignations with Elizabeth in the kitchen, out on the piercing cold of the tiny penthouse balcony or anywhere they could find where it was just the two of them. In-between these precious stolen interludes, Jason stoically endured being talked at by all the building’s elderly residents.
Jason had been extremely busy since Spinelli returned to the penthouse. He knew full well his roommate’s propensity for worry and in order to forestall any concerns he might have over not being able to perform his usual duties around the building, Jason took it upon himself to step into the breech. Using a list written by Spinelli, and leaving the boy under Mimi’s or Mrs. Murphy’s watchful eyes, he would make the proscribed rounds to all the inhabitants who were used to receiving the hacker’s kind offices.
Jason made sure needed groceries were brought and delivered without a bill ever being presented. He checked on the frailer members of the building, those with restricted mobility or who were dependent on oxygen. He even took long slow patient walks with a convalescing Perkins who, Jason felt sure, was intentionally aggravating him as he stopped to sniff at some enticing smell every five feet. “Hurry up,” he would grumble impatiently and he could swear that the dog’s lips curled up into an evil little grin as he sat down on the pavement whining his exhaustion. Invariably, Jason would surrender and end up carrying the little terror, returning him to Mrs. Murphy’s eagerly waiting arms with a glower.
The one thing he categorically refused to do was to participate in any of the social get-togethers and clubs with which Spinelli was involved. Jason suggested that Maxie or Lulu should substitute for Spinelli until he could once again go on his own but, after a session each, they reneged. Jason never did find out if it was because they didn’t like the activities or if his neighbors had made the girls feel undesirable as replacements for Spinelli. Either way, it was obvious that no one was going to even temporarily take the place of the shaggy haired boy in the hearts and minds of the dwellers of Harbor View Towers.
Tonight it appeared that every single able bodied person he had interacted with in any way within the building during the last several months had decided that it was due time to express their gratitude. Throughout the long evening, Jason grew more and more uncomfortable as one elderly woman after another stepped up and spoke appreciatively to him while he stood there trapped and shuffling his feet. His face was consistently flushed with discomfort and embarrassment as he reluctantly submitted to having his large hand trapped within their frail, bony ones.
“Mr. Morgan, thank you so much for watering my plants last week. My arthritis was so awful that day.”
“You read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in such clear and ringing tones, only Damian could have done it more justice.”
“I do so hope you will make it on time next week to catch further episodes of ‘Our Lives, Our Loves”. Your insights and perceptions about what makes Brianna so self-destructive in all her relationships ring so true.”
Jason shot a significant glance at Maxie who was giggling as she openly eavesdropped on the unwanted intimacies of these conversations. She belatedly registered the significance of his raised eyebrows and pursed lips as he smiled slightly at her. It worked. Maxie stopped laughing, glared at him and moved away in a fit of outraged pique though the speed of her get away gait was hampered by the narrow confines of her skirt. She exacted a petty form of revenge for Jason’s insult as various people, including Elizabeth, Carly, Diane and Jax, clustered around to hear Maxie regale them with the fascinating intricacies of Jason Morgan’s newly formed social life.
Finally, Jason managed to extricate himself from an appreciated tower resident by pleading the need to get champagne flutes ready to toast the New Year. As he stood at the kitchen counter, carefully placing Lila’s prized crystal flutes on a wooden tray and filling them with champagne, he heard a small whimper. Looking down he saw Perkins staring up at him, wearing the little miniature leather jacket which Jason, true to his word, had presented him with at Christmas.
Jason looked stealthily around the empty kitchen to make sure he was entirely unobserved then he reached up into a cabinet and scrabbled around in the back searching blindly for a certain package. He pulled out what he found and bending down offered a tasty tidbit on the palm of his hand to Perkins, “Here,” Jason said gruffly, “Now go away,” he commanded as the dog took his expected treat and insouciantly trotted back to the living room. “Happy New Year, little guy.” Jason whispered, half ashamed of his sentimentality.
Ten minutes later the champagne was consumed, the New Year rung in and Elizabeth thoroughly kissed. Jason thought it hadn’t been a bad Gala after all and the next one was twelve long months away, hardly worth worrying about.
“Ladies and Gentleman, if I could have your attention please.” It was Spinelli, his voice not up to the task of speaking over the clamor as people chatted, blew noise makers and wished each other a Happy New Year.
“Hey!” Maxie let loose with a fierce wolf whistle that made the ears ring of anyone unfortunate enough to be standing within five feet of her. “Spinelli is going to talk and you’re going to listen! Go ahead, Spinelli,” she smiled benignly at the flustered hacker.
“Ah, thank you, Maximista, for your stentorian intercession,” Spinelli said, once more stepping forward. “As you all know, this party is a way for Stone Cold and myself to pay a debt that is owed. These last several months have been one of those periods in life which are sent to try our souls as we exist on this mortal plane. Without your kind words, thoughts, and actions this difficult time would indeed have been much darker. The Jackal wracked his brain to think of some way of making this evening even more special beyond being a simple convocation of friends and loved ones and I had an inspiration, if you will. What does not kill us and so on, is a well known cliché…Well, I believe in another dictum which would be stated as follows-if bleak times can be alleviated by humor and entertainment why should we not indeed strive for that healing solace? Since Stone Cold, during the renovations to our shared home, so kindly kept his grasshopper’s desires in the forefront of his consideration, I currently have the means at my disposal to fully implement my concept.” Spinelli paused as he grinned at a baffled Jason. “So, without more ado, if you could all find a seat…”
Spinelli had been busy setting up rows of metal folding chairs while everyone else was concentrating on seeing in the New Year. The guests all obediently sat down on the nearest chair while Spinelli personally escorted the Hunters, Mrs. Murphy and Mrs. Caldicott to places of honor, assigning them seats on the new sofa and matching chairs. Meanwhile, Jason found a pair of chairs for Elizabeth and himself in the back of the room.
When everyone was finally seated and the buzz of conversation had died down, Spinelli continued his speech. “Since his arrival at Casa De Stone Cold several years ago, the Jackal languished uncomplainingly under the vicissitudes placed upon him by an antiquated television set and a rudimentary sound system. That deprivation was wonderfully resolved during the redecoration of the penthouse and, as you can see, we now have a sixty inch LED flat screen television set with accompanying theater grade surround sound and a blu-ray DVD player.” Spinelli paused for a moment and looked around the crowded room, no one spoke and all eyes were focused intently on him, “I thought long and hard about what films ought to be used to inaugurate the system but really, when it came down to actually choosing a film, it was a no-brainer. My choice was self-evident between two films, each relevant to recent events in their own way. I vacillated between showing And Then There Were None and the film which I finally decided upon. I hope it proves worthy of your time and enjoyment.”
Spinelli stood in front of the hushed expectant guests, the television was turned on and the screen showed a bright blue background as it patiently awaited signal input. He nodded to Johnny to turn off the room lights simultaneously hitting the remote control to activate the DVD player. The credits came up for a black and white film starring Cary Grant. When the words Arsenic and Old Lace appeared on the screen, all the elderly tower residents and a few other knowledgeable guests burst into spontaneous applause.
The rest of the clueless audience sat in bemused silence, sharing an awkward feeling as though the punch line of a joke had bypassed them. Jason was a member of the latter group but he didn’t care. His eyes were fixated on Spinelli’s face as the flickering light of the movie played across his features. Spinelli was seated off to the side, looking out over the assembled guests. Maxie was sitting next to him as she concentrated on the film, her lips parted in anticipation. Spinelli and Jason locked gazes and for a long moment they simply stared at one another and then a slow, shy smile spread across his brother’s face. Jason gave a sigh of contentment, Spinelli might not be fully recovered but he was well on his way, he had him back. Settling back in his chair, he gave Elizabeth’s hand a quick squeeze as he prepared to discover what all the fuss about this old movie was.
A/N: For those of you unfamiliar with the movies ‘And Then There Were None’ and ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’, I will give a brief synopsis of each. The former is a film based on Agatha Christie’s novel ‘Ten Little Indians’ involving a house party which occurs in an isolated locale. Corpses start showing up and it turns into a race against time to solve the murders before everyone is killed. ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ is a Frank Capra film. It’s a wonderful comedy in which Cary Grant’s character plays theater critic, Mortimer Brewster. On Halloween night, after just getting married, Mortimer inadvertently discovers that his spinster aunts and his brother have a house full of bodies. The movie is a fun romp wherein he tries to protect his family, keep his new wife in the dark and avoid getting tortured and killed by an insane escaped convict, played by Raymond Massey, who also just happens to be Mortimer’s other brother. While I intentionally took the basic plot idea of ‘Ten Little Indians’ and reworked it to form my story, it was only later when I also noticed some similarities to ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’. I wanted to pay tribute to both source materials and so decided to end The Gala with a movie showing. I chose to feature ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ because it is a classic screwball comedy and it seems to me everyone would be in the mood for something light hearted after everything which had occurred.