chapter twenty-four

***discourse***

St. Petersburg, Russia

The former Soviet country was anything but welcoming, the trio of Tommy, Justus and Sabrina discovered. Racism was bad everywhere, but St. Petersburg's affliction was on another level. Some of the people made racial slurs right to their faces. A group of skinheads attempted to confront Tommy and Justus, but quickly backed off when they saw the flash of Tommy's handgun, nestled in his shoulder holster. On their last day in the city, they hoped that their latest lead would give them the information they needed so that they could return home.

They journeyed to the center of the old city to The State Hermitage Museum. Yasha Ivanov agreed to meet them there. After snooping around a few orphanages, Sabrina received a message from him. She returned his call and spoke to him in Russian. Once the call was over, she turned to her cohorts and explained that Ivanov had agreed to help them...for a price.

"I should speak to him alone," Sabrina began.

Both Tommy and Justus quickly shook their heads. "Not a good idea," Tommy said. "He could be just as ignorant as the skinheads from the other night."

"He's right," Justus agreed. "It's not safe, Sabrina."

"I didn't say for either of you to disappear," she explained. "Just stay far enough away that you're not hovering over him. Russians possess a unique attitude. If Ivanov feels that I don't trust him, he won't tell me what he knows about Alexis. We can't take that chance."

"Nor can we take the chance of losing you," Tommy softly added. "We won't hover, but we'll be within close range."

Sabrina frowned. "Tommy..."

He shrugged, as the expression on his face hardened. "That's the final offer."

"You're stubborn," she protested, but she offered no further protest. "Okay." She turned away from the men and searched the crowd. A tall blonde man with wire-rimmed glasses strode through the crowd. He wore a vibrant red rose on his left lapel per the agreed signal. "That's him," she told the two men. "Make yourselves scarce."

Justus and Tommy moved towards one of the displays just as Ivanov reached Sabrina. She conversed with him in Russian and couldn't help but note how his eyes widened in surprise at her level of fluency. Ignoring his reaction, she quickly asked him about Alexis and Helena's visit. He chuckled when she told him that she hadn't been able to find out more from the places she'd visited.

"It's no surprise," he responded in Russian. "Your skin is fair, but not fair enough to be pure Russian-bred. We protect our own here. No one would answer your questions. Russian loyalty is impenetrable."

"Then why are you here?" Sabrina asked him. "Do you have answers for me?"

He nodded and smiled. "I told you I did. You ask about the Cassadine women and their business here in St. Petersburg. They were here in regards to a baby boy."

Her brows knitted together into a frown. "A baby boy? I don't understand. Were they looking into adopting a child?"

"No, they wanted information about a child who had been adopted many years ago."

"How many years ago?" Sabrina asked.

"At least twenty," he replied. "He was adopted by an American couple and has no idea of his parentage."

He was baiting her and she knew it. "Parentage?" she repeated. "Who are his parents? His biological parents?"

"Very good," he complimented. "I noticed a hint of Russia in your jawline and I see you have inherited our intelligence as well. His biological mother is Aleksandra Davidovich or rather, Alexis Davis. The biological father is unknown."

Sabrina's blood ran cold. She remembered when Alexis left for boarding school and always wondered about her cousin's abrupt departure. Now, she knew...if Ivanov was telling her the truth. Her eyes narrowed as she assessed him. "How do you know this?"

"I have friends in high places as well as in low ones," he said. "Do you have any more questions?"

"Do you know why Helena Cassadine accompanied her here? Do you know what they were looking for?"

He nodded once. "They wanted to find the child. Helenka's reasons for joining Aleksandra are unknown."

"Where in the States did the adoptive parents live?" she asked. "Did Alexis and Helena find what they were looking for? What is the child's name?"

He shook his head. "They were unsuccessful in procuring this information, however, you will not be. The adoptive parents lived on the East Coast. They named the child Alexander Smith."

Sabrina couldn't think of anything else to ask him so she gave him the envelope filled with the amount of one hundred thousand rubles. He quickly counted the money and then smiled. "It has been a pleasure."

He left and once she was alone again, Tommy and Justus joined her. "Well?" Justus asked.

"He was quite informative," she said, returning to the English language. "Alexis had a son about twenty years ago and gave him up for adoption. An American couple adopted him."

"Did he know anything else?" Tommy asked.

She nodded. "Yes. The boy's name is Alexander Smith."

"What?" Tommy exclaimed. "As in Zander Smith?"

Justus frowned. "Do you know him?"

"Yeah, he's Emily Quartermaine's boyfriend. Don't you remember? He was Dara's star witness in the case against Joseph Sorel."

"Oh, no," she murmured. "We have to go back to Port Charles tonight."

"I'll alert the pilot," Justus said.

~*~

In a jet over the Atlantic Ocean

Stefan couldn't stop staring at Andrèsj. His youngest son had lost weight since the last time Stefan saw him. His dark eyes had lost their luster and he appeared more wary than usual. The change pained Stefan. The imprisonment robbed Andrèsj of his innocence and that is something, which cannot ever be replaced.

"You are staring, Papa," Andrèsj said, giving his father a faint smile. "Have I grown a third eye or a second head?"

"Do not make light of this, my son," Stefan said in a hoarse, gravelly voice. The WSB agents were on the lower floor of the plane and Stefan spoke freely to his son. "Making sport of your abduction will not make it any less tragic than it was. Tell me. What did they do to you?"

Andrèsj's jaw tightened and he looked away. "I do not wish to think about the past. It is irrelevant-"

"No!" Stefan bit out. "I have taught you better than that. The past is our teacher. It can be painful or filled with joy, but either way, there is a lesson to be learned. Those who took you are our enemies. You were within their domain. You have knowledge of them and the lengths they will take. I do not ask this out of idle curiosity, Andrèsj. I am quite sure that what you've experienced was horrific and if I could make your memories my own, I would. But I cannot, so you must answer my questions. Do you understand?"

The younger Cassadine swallowed hard. When he looked at his father again, unshed tears glistened in his eyes and he told Stefan everything.

Philana's men abducted him at his boarding school. They waited for him in his room and there were too many of them for Andrèsj to fight. He remembered seeing the flash of a needle and then a sharp prick. The room faded to black and when he awoke again, he was in a dungeon and shackled to a wall. His clothing had been stripped from him, and the room was dark and cold.

He lost track of time. They fed him at odd intervals when they fed him anything at all. Later, when he was transported to the suite, they allowed him to bathe and gave him clothes. An electronic shackle was placed around his ankle and whenever he disobeyed a command, the shackle emitted a sharp electric jolt.

As Andrèsj ended his story, tears streamed down Stefan's cheeks. He pulled his son into his arms and held onto him tightly. "Words of apology are insufficient for what you've gone through, but I assure you that your captors will not go unpunished."

They slowly released each other and Andrèsj's hand went to Stefan's face. The bandages had been removed and his face was dark red from injuries. "They did this to you," Andrèsj murmured. "Philana and Zarek tried to kill you."

Stefan nodded once. "Yes."

Andrèsj spoke in a low voice, filled with tears. "The voices told me you were dead. I didn't want to believe them. Do they believe it to be true?"

Stefan nodded again. "Yes. Only a small number know that I live. Only you, Nikolas, your Aunt Sabrina and the WSB agents who helped us know that I am alive."

Andrèsj lowered his hand from his father's face. "Is there more that I should know? Please, Papa, tell me. I am not a child. Not anymore."

"Our Nikolas is alive and well. I did not tell you this before because I feared for your safety, but there has been an Impostor in our midst, pretending to be Nikolas. Sabrina and I discovered the ruse. Our Nikolas is in Port Charles and we will see him upon our return." Stefan paused and then added, "Helena and Alexis were killed in the fire. I know how fond you were of Alexis and I am sorry to tell you this."

Andrèsj became silent. He stood up and walked around the jet. His hands clasped behind his back, he paced until he was ready to speak again. "Does Nikolas' title mean so much to them?"

"Apparently so," Stefan said quietly. "They would kill for it."

"Then we must be prepared to kill to protect it," Andrèsj stated. "We cannot allow them to win. We owe that much to Alexis, don't you think?"

"Yes." Stefan extended his hand and Andrèsj took it, joining him on the long sofa once again. A soft rustle came from the staircase and Stefan smiled at Keesha. He beckoned to her with his other hand. "Come."

"I'm sorry," she said. "I shouldn't interrupt. I just wanted to see if either of you needed anything."

"You're not an interruption," Stefan said. "We finished our discussion. Please, join us."

She glanced once in Andrèsj's direction before sitting beside Stefan. Her hand slid into his and Stefan drew comfort from her soft touch. "I have been an ungracious host. I should have inquired to your needs. How are the other agents faring?"

"Steve and Jagger are fine. They're watching a movie."

"And you?" Andrèsj asked. "How are you, Keesha?"

His dark eyes bored into her with heated intensity. Stefan recognized the gleam in his son's eyes as interest. He looked at Keesha for response. Her smile was warm, but polite. It was as if she was unaware of Andrèsj's feelings for her.

"I'm fine, too, and happy that you have been safely returned to your family." She smiled at Stefan. "Soon, you will be reunited with both your sons. Frisco is in Port Charles, acquiring a safehouse for your family. He will see that Nikolas is taken there."

Stefan sighed. "I look forward to our return and having both my sons close to me again. I will never be able to repay you for this, Keesha," he said in a husky voice.

"I wouldn't ask you to," she replied, squeezing his hand.

~*~

On the Port Charles' docks

Dawn looked across the lake to Spoon Island. "Before, you could see the tops of Wyndemere from here. All spooky and majestic. Now, you can just barely make out the rubble. What a horrible waste! It's all so senseless. Violence is so destructive and never truly solves anything."

Frisco put his arm around her shoulder and squeezed. "I agree. Energy is wasted needlessly and the only thing to show for it is destroyed lives and unhappiness."

She leaned against her trusted friend. "I don't understand it, Frisco. I've studied the minds of criminals in grad school and even then, I didn't get it. Mental illness usually plays a significant role, but still..."

"I know," he said, leading her away from the docks' edge to the wooden bench a few feet from the stairs. They sat and he shifted so that he could look at her. Gone was the little girl who clung to Steve's hand when her nose wasn't buried in a book. The child had blossomed into a lovely woman and Frisco was more than pleased with the outcome. He had no doubts that her intelligence and beauty would take her far in life. "You want to do something and you do, but you're never sure if it's enough."

"Is it worth the sacrifices?" Dawn asked.

"You mean Felicia and the girls?" he asked. "I don't know. I want to say yes, but that's not true. Another man raised my daughters and I've never been as close to another woman as I was to Felicia. So, I suppose the answer is no." He laughed humorlessly. "I suppose you will say no to the WSB now."

"Wrong," she said softly. "I want to say yes. I've been thinking about it so much lately. I grew up with Daddy's horror stories about how wonderful, exciting and scary the job could be."

"Is that what held you back?"

She shook her head. "Not exactly. I don't know what the answer to that is. I guess I wasn't ready."

"And you're ready now?" he asked.

"Yeah, I want to do something to help," she answered. "I want to help Nikolas and his family. I want to do more than rescue stranded motorists. Did you find out what happened to Lucky Spencer? Was he poisoned with a hallucinogen?"

Frisco smiled and tapped her nose. "Very perceptive. Yes, he was, but the lab at GH will never recognize the compound. Even the CDC is unaware of it. It's virtually undetectable in the blood stream."

"How was it administered to him?" she asked.

"Through the walls in his apartment. It was in the paint," he told her. "If inhaled over long periods of time, the victim will become addicted to it. The withdrawal symptoms will include violence, agitation and confusion."

"He's going through that now," she said. "Are there any residual effects? Will he be okay?"

"He'll be fine in due time. The longer he's in the hospital the better."

"Nikolas and I spent some time in his apartment," Dawn said. "Nikolas was there longer than I was. Later, he exhibited those same symptoms."

"How is he now?" Frisco asked.

"It wore off. He left last night. I don't know where he is. Could you find him for me?"

"I can try," he said. "Now, when can I expect you to report for duty?"

She laughed softly. "As soon as I can find someone to replace me at the garage, I'm all yours."

"Promises, promises," he quipped with a teasing grin.

~*~

Philana instructed her driver to wait for her at the curb and then she left the car to head inside the seemingly old warehouse. The keys she had been given worked like a charm as she unlocked the door to the loft and stepped inside.

Her eyes darted around the spacious room and she found herself admiring Dawn Jensen's taste in decor. Of course, Philana wouldn't reside in such meager surroundings, but for a young woman who hadn't made her mark on the world, the space was just right.

Taking her time, Philana inspected every inch of the loft. Nothing was left undisturbed by her inquisitive eyes or wandering hands. She found no physical evidence that would incriminate the young woman or her lover. What Philana found to be useful was the sentiment that hovered in the atmosphere. Nikolas and Dawn were in love. Deeply so and that sentimental aura hovered strongly all over the loft. Almost like a protective shield. Regardless of Philana's skill, she was powerless here. She would have to get Dawn somewhere else.

She left the loft as she found it and went back downstairs to her waiting car. As her driver pulled away from the curb, she said, "Take me to the garage, but be discreet. We must be able to hide in plain sight."

~*~

Dara grabbed the set of contracts that Zarek wanted her to review. She settled into a comfortable position on her sofa with her legs curled underneath her and went to work. Everything else faded into the background as she went work and then the telephone rang. She answered it with a muffled, "Hello."

"Dara?"

A tingle ran up her spine at the sound of the concerned voice murmuring her name. She smiled. "It's me. Hi, Zarek."

"You recognized my voice," he replied, sounding pleased.

"Of course. How are you?"

"I'm fine," he answered. "Are you? Your voice sounded strange..."

"I was working and when that happens, everything except my mind shuts down. Sorry about that."

He laughed softly. "There's no need for apology. How would you like a break? I think you could use one."

"What kind of break do you have in mind?" she asked, excited by the idea of seeing him again.

"One where the break comes to you and all you have to do is wait. Are you interested?"

"Yes!" she exclaimed, laughing. "How long will have to wait?"

"Not long," he said with an air of mystery. "Open your door."

With the cordless phone still pressed to her ear, Dara rose and went to the front door. She opened it and released a girlish squeal of delight when she saw Zarek standing there. A picnic basket rested on the floor beside his feet. He closed his cell phone and took the cordless from her. Bending forward, he brushed his lips across hers in a slow, sensual kiss.

"Hello," he said in husky tones when the kiss was over.

"Hi," she replied somewhat breathlessly. She stared at for a few moments as if in a stupor. When he began to chuckle, she blushed and stepped aside. "Come in."

He did and they began a break that lasted for a couple of hours.

~*~

Sonny and Michael played on the floor in the front of the fireplace. The Lego set had been constructed to resemble a bridge that Michael would soon knock down. He did so with a toddler yell and Sonny joined in laughing. Michael clapped his hands and said, "Again."

"Okay," Sonny replied, happy to indulge his little stepson.

Carly stood on the landing and watched the two males she loved most in the world play. Sonny was a wonderful father to Michael just as Jason had been. She made a good choice in giving Sonny Corinthos her love and in sharing her little boy with him.

"Hey, you two," she said, walking towards them. "Can Mommy play, too?"

"Yes!" the little boy exclaimed, running to her. He grabbed her hand and led her to Sonny. "Again!" he said to Sonny and the toppled bridge.

"We're building bridges and knocking them down," Sonny explained as Carly sat on the floor beside them. "One bridge at a time."

"It sounds like fun," she said, reaching for a Lego piece.

Sonny handed a bright yellow piece to Michael. "I thought you had a meeting with Laura this morning."

"It was postponed until this afternoon. Lucky is sick and is in the hospital."

Sonny frowned. "What's wrong with him?"

"They're not sure. I asked Bobbie to keep me posted."

"Can he have visitors?" Sonny asked.

"I think so," she said. "Bobbie didn't say that he couldn't. Wanna drop by later?"

"Yeah. Luke won't be thrilled to see me, but I like Lucky. I wanna give him my best."

Carly smiled and reached out to stroke his cheek. "You're special, you know that?"

The dimples in his cheeks deepened as he grinned at her. "I was wondering when you'd notice."

"Oh, I noticed a long time ago," she admitted, "but sometimes it takes a bridge to fall on me before I really pay attention."

"Boom!" Michael yelled as he knocked the bridge down.

All three laughed.

~*~

Patroni knew the inner workings of organized crime like the back of his hand. Like all crime-bosses, Sonny Corinthos didn't trust his automobiles to just anyone. He had a mechanic on his payroll who did nothing except work on Sonny's cars. Finding the mechanic took some legwork, but Patroni found the man and his garage. And to his understated joy, he also found one of Sonny's cars in the garage right there waiting for him.

The mechanic worked alone and Patroni had no problems dispensing of him. With the butt of his gun, he pounded the base of the man's skull and killed the mechanic instantly. He then focused on Sonny's black Suburban. He grabbed a palm-sized object from his duffel bag and slid underneath the vehicle.

He inserted the tiny bomb in a place where it wouldn't be detected and slid from underneath the car. He didn't set the timer because he could do that from a remote location. He then unlocked the car and moved into the driver's seat. He pressed a transparency over the rearview mirror. The transparency was very high tech. Invisible to the eye, it served as a camera and recording device. Without being anywhere near the vehicle, Patroni could see who was inside and set the bomb accordingly.

Once his work was done, he shoved the mechanic's body inside a trash bag and threw it into a dumpster out back. When he returned, he pulled on a mask that made him look exactly like the slain mechanic and drove the Suburban to HarborView Towers. He gave the key to one of Sonny's bodyguards and smiled.

"It's all ready for him."

"Thanks!" the bodyguard replied.

Patroni shrugged. "Don't mention it."

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