The grim faces of Justus and Mac greeted Dara as she entered Justus' office on the top level of the Criminal Courts Building. She closed the door behind her and just stood, accessing them. The writing was clearly on the wall, Dara thought. She'd been tried and convicted without giving a defense. Fine. If that's the way, they wanted it.
"Of all the people in Port Charles, I never thought you two would lead the witch hunt."
Justus opened his mouth, but Mac spoke first. "Dara, that's not what this meeting is about."
"Isn't it?" She crossed the room to stand in front of them. "Your faces tell a different story."
"We're just surprised," Justus explained.
"You called me in for a sudden meeting because you're surprised?" she asked, her expression incredulous. "I'm sorry, but I don't believe you. This is because of my daughter. Admit it."
Mac sighed and folded his arms across his chest. "The meeting is partly because of your daughter. We're happy that you have been reunited..."
"But?" she prompted.
"Her father is Sonny Corinthos," Justus sputtered, as if that explained everything.
Dara kept her features deceptively composed. "I'm well aware of who my child's father is." Her eyes cut back and forth between the two men. "So, this is about Sonny. What? You're firing me because we share a child?"
"No one is firing you!" Justus said, excitedly. "This is just a meeting, Dara. Nothing more, nothing less. And yes, it's because of your child's father. Sonny Corinthos. In case you've forgotten, he's the leader of the city's biggest criminal family!"
"I know that, Justus, but why am I here? If you're calling me in here because he's the father of my child... You're both hypocrites."
"Excuse me?" Mac said. "What do you mean by that? We're trying to help you."
"The same way you helped Robin when she was involved with Jason. She and Sonny are close pals. Have you forgotten that? And you, Justus. Do you rake Lois across the coals because of her friendship with Sonny? Somehow, I don't think you do."
"Lois isn't the Assistant District Attorney of Port Charles," Justus said. He drew in a deep breath and slowly exhaled. "Look, arguing isn't getting any of us anywhere. We didn't ask you to come here to start a fight. We want to talk to you and make you aware of what's to follow."
"What's to follow?" she asked. As her anger faded, she noted the concern in their eyes. She sat on the guest chair facing Justus' desk and said, "What do you mean?"
"The media," Mac said. "Once the story gets out that the ADA and a mobster have a child together, you won't know a moment's piece. Neither will this office or the city's Justice Department."
"Every case you've handled will be brought under close scrutiny. Appeals will be filed," Justus said, "and your work will be brought under review. The cases you've lost... The citizens will demand answers and some will create their own answers."
"In a nutshell," Mac added, "your past association with Corinthos will come into play. Some will believe that you've been involved with him all along and the cases you've lost were because of him. You were doing him a favor--"
"That's not true!" Dara stood suddenly and began to pace. "You know it's not true! My relationship with him ended before our baby was born! Tell me you don't believe I'd do something as underhanded as that."
Justus and Mac looked at each other before Justus said, "No, I don't believe it."
"Neither do I."
She gave them a faint smile. "Thank you."
"Don't thank us, yet," Mac said. "I value your friendship and I know that Justus does, too. However, we have a job to do."
"So, you're firing me."
"We don't want to," Justus said.
"But you want something from me," she said. "What? What do you want me to do?"
"Take a leave of absence," Justus said. "We've thought about it and it's the best solution. Take some time off and in the meantime, we'll conduct a review of the cases."
"I thought you trusted me!"
"We do!" Mac said, crossing the room to her. He lightly grasped her upper arms and squeezed. "This review will serve to protect you as well as the DA's office. Trust us. When the media starts their attack, we plan to be ready. Don't you agree this is the only way?"
"To be honest, I hadn't thought about it," she admitted. "Hope's return has taken up my every thought. I never even considered how my past with her father could affect me now." She nodded. "I'll take the leave of absence. Do what you have to do."
"What about you?" Justus asked. "What will you do?"
She smiled. "Get to know my daughter."
# # #
Frank leaned in close against Keesha's ear. "Are you sure about this guy?"
Keesha nodded. Pinkie, her informant, sat across from them in a secluded portion of the park. She'd bought him coffee, donuts and a burger. The jittery man had pushed aside the burger to wolf down the donuts. The sugary glaze coated his fingertips and now, he was voraciously licking his fingers. The sugar provided a quick fix when his drugs were low. Keesha was more than happy to give him sweets, but drugs were out of the question.
"You got any more sugar packets?" Pinkie asked. "The coffee isn't sweet enough."
She fished inside her pocket and pulled out another packet. There were at least ten more packets, but she was holding out. It was a tactic she'd learned from Taggert. Of course, it worked.
"What did you hear on the docks the other night?" she asked.
"Sorel's planning to hit Corinthos close to home," he said. His fingers shook as he ripped open the packet. Sugar crystals flew everywhere. "He's gonna nail someone close to him."
"His wife or the little boy?" Keesha asked. It was true she didn't care for Sonny's lifestyle, but she didn't wish the death of loved ones on anyone. She'd been through it enough times to know how hard the recovery could be.
Pinkie shook his head. "Nah, not the missus or their kid. Somebody else."
"Who?" Frank persisted. "Give us a name."
"Don't got one," Pinkie argued. He swallowed the coffee. His face scrunched up with dissatisfaction. Apparently, seven packets of sugar weren't enough. His eyes pleaded with Keesha for more. She held out another but didn't release it. "I don't got a name," Pinkie whined. "All I know is it's someone close to him. He don't let too many folks in, so it outta be easy for you two to figure it out."
"That's all you know?"
The informant nodded. "Yup." After he added the eighth sugar, he gulped the coffee down and stood. He would have left if Frank hadn't called out to him.
"Take the burger, too, man. You're gonna need it."
Pinkie hesitated for a fraction of a second. Then, he grabbed the greasy brown bag and took off.
Keesha barely noticed the interaction between the two men. She was too busy thinking about what Pinkie had just said. Someone close to Sonny would be hit. There were only two other people that came to mind. Mike Corbin. And Jason Morgan.
"What's up?" Frank asked. He frowned as his brown eyes bore into hers. "You look like you just lost your best friend. Are you okay?"
Her best friend? Yeah, a long time ago Jason was her best friend, but now... Now, he was her lover and as hard as it was to admit, she didn't want to lose him. Not again.
"I'm fine, but something's come up," she said. "I have to make a run. Do you think you could find your way back to the station? I can drop you off..."
"Nah," he said. "It's cool. I can find it." He paused. "Are you gonna need back up?"
She gave him a tight smile. "Not for this. It's personal."
# # #
Jason withdrew enough cash from his account to pay for the garage in full. He'd had his eye on the place for awhile, but never made a move on the property. There wasn't much about the place to garner interest from the average man on the lookout for a business opportunity.
The place was rundown and would need work. The location was okay, but nothing spectacular. Mike's Recovery Room was on the opposite corner and the hospital was around the block. Another service station chain was at the opposite end of the block. It would be Jason's biggest competition. He didn't mind. The garage was his starting place. Besides, he wasn't in it for the money. He had enough of that stored away. He just wanted a change and a chance to build something for the future.
He rolled his bike inside and dropped his duffel bag onto a spot on the floor not covered in oil and grime. His gaze took in everything. He could make something out of this place. Fixing bikes and cars came easy to him. But maybe he'd hire a kid to help him out. So many possibilities. He was surprised by how thoughts of the future energized him.
A shadow filled the opening and a voice called out. "Jason?"
He shaded his eyes with his hand. "Yeah?"
"I thought that was you." Mike stepped inside and glanced around. "What are you doing? Did you buy this old place?"
He nodded. "This morning. Morgan's Garage will be opened for business. One day."
"Is this a part of Sonny's...?"
"No, Mike. It's mine. I'm not with Sonny anymore."
"Why not?" Mike asked, concerned. "If Carly pissed you off..."
Jason's mouth curved into a faint smile. "I didn't quit because of Carly. I wanted something different. Something of my own."
"I understand," Mike said, nodding. "So are you on your own? Nobody's with you?"
"It's just me," Jason answered. He shrugged off his leather jacket and tossed it onto a work table. After pushing up his sleeves, he began with the clean-up.
"Sonny didn't give you a guard?" Mike persisted.
"No, Mike. He offered. I turned him down. I don't need a guard."
"Yes, you do," Mike countered. Jason stiffened and the older man quickly added, "I'm not trying to tell you what to do. People associate you with Sonny. Sorel's men associate you with Sonny. Don't let this new project come to an end before it has to."
"I won't," Jason vowed. "I have plans. None of them include dying."
# # #
Sorel left the stuffy confines of his spacious home to journey to his turf. The row of warehouses on the north end of town wasn't beautiful by any stretch of the imagination. On the outside, they looked like the backdrop for the garment district. But really, the place laundered drug money until it was so clean that even the paper money sparkled. And since he had to work his ass off to acquire this little piece of the pie, Joseph Sorel was damn proud of it.
He, with his slew of bodyguards following him, moved casually in and out of the warehouses. The impromptu visits did much to keep the worker bees in line. Since they never knew when he'd show up, they were more inclined to tow the line. Especially considering what happened on one of his other visits. He caught a sneak skimming from him. It wasn't much. A fifty here. A twenty there. But it was enough. The SOB lost a thumb and an ear. Since then, no one ever stole from Joseph Sorel again.
Soon the sight of his turf became depressing. Sorel went back to the limo and his driver guided the long black auto away from the warehouses. The limitations of his territory angered him. It wasn't fair that Corinthos had the waterfront. That little piece of shit hood wasn't even entitled to it! It wasn't in his blood. He didn't come from the same stock as Sorel. Hell, his Pops wasn't a contender! Nothing more than a two-bit cook with a gambling habit!
"Where to, boss?"
The driver's question ended Sorel's silent tirade about Mike Corbin and his worthless son. He collected himself and spoke with cool assurance. "The docks?"
It was Corinthos territory. Sorel wasn't disheartened by the driver's reluctance. It showed the man paid attention.
"Yeah, the docks. Don't worry about it. We're just taking a quick tour of our home-to-be."
# # #
Dara called the penthouse after her meeting was over. Hope found herself oddly relieved at the sound of Dara's voice on the other end of the phone. She'd tried to play it cool but she'd been worried. Dara had been a little agitated before she left. Maybe things worked out for her. Anyway, their shopping trip was still on. Sonny could join them if he wanted to. Hope was surprised when he said he'd tag along.
They found Dara waiting for them outside a trendy boutique. Hope exited the limousine first. A warm smile graced Dara's face as she stepped forward and began to usher the teenager into the store.
"Wait," Hope said.
Then, Sonny joined them on the sidewalk. Dara's smile faltered and faded.
"What are you doing here?" she asked. "The invitation was a courtesy."
"I'm taking my daughter shopping," he answered. "She needs things. I'm gonna provide them for her."
"It's not necessary," Dara countered. "I can afford anything she wants or needs."
"So can I," he said. He looked away from Dara to glance pointedly at the passersby who seemed interested in their conversation. "Let's take this off the street."
Dara's eyes flashed. Hope watched the older woman regain her composure and force a smile onto her face. Hope glanced at Sonny and saw the gleam of triumph in his eyes. She drew in a deep breath. These two were a piece of work together. She could see where she got her attitude. They were oozing with it.
"This boutique caters to teenagers," Dara said, giving Hope her full attention. "I thought we'd start here first--"
Sudden blasts exploded in the air. Sonny landed on both women, knocking them to the ground and shielding them with his body. Hope's heart pounded in her chest. She'd read about the attempts on her fath--his life. The bomb blast that killed his first wife and unborn child. The attempt on his model girlfriend's life. But reading was nothing like experiencing it first hand. She was terrified.
"Everybody okay?" Sonny asked as silence echoed around them. He stood and helped both women to their feet.
"I'm fine!" Dara responded. "Hope?"
She wanted to reply, but she couldn't. Her teeth were chattering so hard that she couldn't speak.
"Michael," Dara said, her hand caressing Hope's cheek.
"I have her."
Sonny swept Hope into his arms and ushered her inside the limousine. Dara followed them and in the next instant, the automobile roared down the street.