Balancing pure bliss with business wasn't easy. Sonny preferred the warmth of Dara's arms. The icy, cold business of staying free of the long arm of the law didn't compare. He palmed the gold watch attached to his vest. The meeting with his informant was impromptu. It cut into his dinner plans with Dara and Sonny didn't appreciate the interruption.
"I can talk to Manning," Jason said. "Enjoy your dinner."
"Dinner can wait." Sonny returned the watch to his pocket. "What time is he coming?"
"He should be here any minute." Jason poured a shot of whiskey into two glasses. He slid one to Sonny and kept the other for himself. "Are you sure we can trust him?"
Sonny shrugged. "He wants to get in. He won't risk it with lies." His mouth tightened. "Todd Manning knows better than to cross me."
"He doesn't come across as trustworthy." Jason swallowed the shot and poured another. "I wouldn't put it past him to report back to Luciano."
"I don't care if he does. Lucky doesn't trust anybody. He never has and he never will." Sonny gave Jason a hard look. "What's brewing with you and Dara's sister?"
Jason's eyes flashed with fire. "I saw her, gave her a present, but she didn't want it."
Jason flinched. "You know? So, what? You're keeping an eye on me?"
Sonny ignored Jason's question. "You are to leave Dawn Jensen alone. The little brown canary is off limits. Leave her be."
"Because you promised her sister. That's why she's here with you. To keep me away." Jason firmly set his glass on the counter. "No one asked me what I wanted."
"No one had to," Sonny said.
A deadly quiet filled the room. Sonny loved Jason like a brother, but there was no way in hell, he'd allow the younger man to come between what Sonny wanted. And Sonny wanted Dara more than anything.
Rinaldo came to the door. "Boss, Manning's here. Want me to show him in?"
"Yeah." Sonny moved behind his desk and sat. Jason continued to glower near the bar. Sonny ignored him. This was business. As far as Sonny was concerned, the issues with the Jensen women were resolved. Jason would leave Dawn alone or suffer Sonny's displeasure.
Todd Manning entered the office without his usual fanfare. His habit of making a loud entrance irritated Sonny. He was glad the smart mouthed snitch finally toned it down. The smartest wise guys knew how to slip in and out without being noticed. It looked like Manning was finally taking the job seriously.
"Hello, Mr. Corinthos," Manning said. He nodded in Jason's direction but didn't bother to look at the lieutenant. "I have some information for you."
"I gathered that," Sonny said. "What is it?"
"Do you know RJ Gannon?"
"I've heard of him. He has a little hole in the wall in Maywood."
"That hole in the wall is bursting through the seams, Mr. Corinthos," Manning said. "He's drawing in big crowds every night and he's selling hooch like it's water after a rainstorm. His numbers are rivaling your respectable lounge, sir."
Sonny frowned. He always kept an eye on any possible competition. Gannon's connections and penchant for the illegal hadn't gone unnoticed. The fact was Sonny never considered the other man a threat. Apparently, he was wrong about that.
"Where's he getting his shine?" Jason asked.
"I don't know."
"Find out," Sonny snapped.
"Yes, sir." Manning backed toward the door. He lingered at the threshold.
"You'll be rewarded when you find out the rest."
"Of course." Manning turned on his heel and bolted out of the room.
"I still don't trust him," Jason said. "His eyes are shifty."
"Yeah." Deep in thought, Sonny rubbed his chin. "Have Rinaldo follow him."
"Check out the Black Bottom," Sonny added. "Let's find out first hand what the real draw in Maywood is."
- - -
Evangeline knocked once on RJ's office door before entering. The hurried move from the Chandler Home for Women brought her and Keesha to his doorstep. She didn't like going to a man for anything, but that was how the world worked. As soon as she and Keesha had enough money, they were out of there. It was only a matter of time.
"Do you hear that?" RJ stood and took her hand. Ever the gentleman, he kissed her hand before leading her to the soft cushioned chair facing his desk. "We almost don't have enough room. The Black Bottom may have to expand or look for another location."
She nodded. The increase of customers bordered on extraordinary. Every night, more new faces filed in. This was better than the clubs in Llanview.
"I know," she said. "That's why I'm here. We need to talk."
RJ perched on the edge of his desk. His dark gaze captured hers. She had his full attention. "I'm listening."
"Money," she said.
"Name your price." He smiled. "I'm open to negotiation."
"I can see the change since I've been here. I should profit from that, too." Evangeline squared her shoulders. She always hated to ask anyone for anything. But some things couldn't be avoided.
"You want a percentage of the profits." He moved behind his desk. The usual romantic gleam faded from his brown eyes. He became all business. "How much?"
He chuckled and shook his head. "I can't afford that. My payroll requires a lot. Five percentó"
"I can't afford that," she said. "Twenty."
"Ten," he countered.
His eyebrows rose. "Fifteen percent? In addition to what you're already getting paid."
Someone knocked on the door.
"Yeah?" RJ called.
"The band's ready and the people are calling for Miss Evangeline," Marcus said through the crack in the door. "Do you want me to stall them?"
"No," RJ said. "She'll be out."
Evangeline didn't move. "Well? Do we have a deal?"
"They're calling for you," he said. "I'd be a fool to give you a reason to leave." He extended his hand. "We have a deal."
Evangeline shook his hand and stood. When she left his office, she found Keesha waiting for her in the hall.
"What happened?" her best friend asked.
"We got the fifteen percent!" Evangeline pulled Keesha into a quick hug.
"I never thought he'd go for it," Keesha said as they headed backstage. "I thought he'd agree to lower if he agreed at all."
"What else could he do with them screaming my name?" Evangeline smiled. "Next, we'll look for somewhere else to stay."
"I like that." Keesha wiped tears from the corners of her eyes. "Thank you."
"You don't have to thank me. We're family now. We look out for each other."
- - -
Stone remembered the sparkle in Keesha's eyes and smiled. He arrived at Black Bottom for the last set. Seeing her there in the audience refueled him immediately. He played an extra set at the Paradise Lounge. For some reason, Sonny wanted the speak easy to stay open longer than usual. Stone didn't question his friend's decision, but he resented the extra time there.
For a long time, playing at Black Bottom was just fun. He enjoyed the other musicians' company and he learned from them. The blues seeped inside his soul and filled him up. But something changed when Keesha started showing up there. The stolen moments they shared made up for the madness of the world. Her fragile demeanor made him want to be the man who made her whole again.
He reached his basement apartment and closed the door. A light shone from the crack at the bottom of his bedroom door. He didn't remember leaving a light on. He grabbed a bat from the front closet and quietly edged to the back.
A slight whimpering sound greeted him when he pushed open the door. At first, he didn't see anything or anyone. Then, he heard it again. He dropped the bat.
He hurried to the other side of his bed. The sight of his sister huddled on the floor shocked him. She was hardly recognizable. Her soft blonde hair lay matted to her head. Dark circles framed her puffy, red-rimmed eyes. She looked ill.
"What's wrong?" He touched her forehead. Her skin was clammy. "Are you sick?"
"No." She weakly tried to push him away. "Not sick. No more. Leave me alone."
"It's Stone, Gina," he said. "I'm trying to help."
"They won't leave me alone, Stone," she said, starting to cry. "I took this, but I can still feel them. Touching me. Making me..."
"Oh, Gina." He pulled her into his arms. A bottle rolled from her lap. He picked it up and read the label. "Morphine."
He quickly unscrewed the top. The bottle was empty. Dammit!
"All those hands...all those men...none of them were Jason." She began to sob. "I can't forget it. I took it all and I can't forget..."
"You don't have to do that anymore," he said. "You can leave Port Charles. Jagger and Karen would love to have you."
"I'll never forget," she said, continuing as if he hadn't spoken. "Never."
Then, her legs and arms started to flail. Stone held her close. The convulsions wracked her body. In a haze of fear, he scooped her into his arms and took her to General Hospital. By the time they arrived, it was too late. Stone carried the lifeless shell of his sister inside the hospital and cried.