Chloe stirred her soup while she waited for it to cool off. She and Philip had gone to lunch at Brady Pub after the meeting. "So," she said nervously, "um, you really didn't like that preschool?"
"It's not that." Philip sipped his water. "Not mainly, anyway. They seemed all right, but when push comes to shove, what do we know about these people? Daniel chose it, and I'm not saying that to undermine him. Not this time. It's just… if we're all going to live in Salem we all should have equal say in Parker's life. Even if I was 100% sold on that school, which I'm not, I'd take 24 hours to talk it over with you."
Chloe bit her lip. "Daniel might not be terribly nice when it comes to you or to us, but he is a good father. He wouldn't pick a school that was sub-par."
"I'm afraid you've misunderstood me. I'm not rejecting the school based on Daniel's opinion. I'm just putting space in between the meeting and our decision so that we can discuss what we think, that's all. Remember how you said you wanted to make sure your voice is heard? I'm giving you that opportunity. All you have to do is tell me that this is where you want Parker to go and we'll put things in place."
Chloe took a spoonful of soup. "I'm not sure, to be honest. The principal seems great and everything, but she was so focused on whether he might be behind academically. It was like his heart condition was an afterthought. I want to know that she's actually following up with Kayla and that she has a plan in place in case Parker's heart does something it shouldn't before I'm comfortable."
"Agreed. It's probably best if you be the one to let Daniel know that, given recent events."
"And not so recent events too." Chloe reached across the table for Philip's hand. "Maybe I should let Nicole be the bearer of bad news, although considering how she was at the meeting I'm not sure anymore."
"I don't know that there's anything to worry about. I never thought this day would come, but I have to admit that Nicole seems to have the most level head on her shoulders of all of us." Philip squeezed Chloe's hand. "Go ahead and make the call, my dark swan, so that we can have some time to enjoy our lunch before our meeting with Father Louis."
Paige glanced nervously over her shoulder as Jenkins said into the phone, "Really. So I was right? What'd that punk do to you now?"
"It… it doesn't matter. Look, he's at the memorial garden by the tunnels. Go get him." Paige hung up before Jenkins could reply.
Russo's eyes flashed as his attacker dropped his hand from his mouth. "Are you crazy? I'm a cop, man, you don't want to - " His face contorted with pain as his attacker twisted his arm harder.
The guy said, "I think you lost the right to demand respect when you tried to use Paige Larson's rape against her to force her to make false accusations against JJ Deveraux and if not then, then when you agreed to this ridiculous kidnapping plot. Now we're wasting time. Are you going to do what I ask or do I need to break your arm?"
"All right, all right." Russo was sweating. "I'll do it."
"Good. Be a man of your word." Russo's attacker put his hand over his mouth again as he heard Jenkins' footsteps coming. "Act like you never met me." He let Russo go and receded back into the shadows.
Russo's arm throbbed with pain but he ignored it, taking a deep breath as Jenkins came back in. "Well?" he demanded, keeping his voice as even as he could. "What'd the bitch want?"
"Nothing much." Jenkins smirked. "She just wanted us to know exactly where Deveraux is. Looks like show time's coming sooner than we thought."
Russo bit his lip. "Sounds like a trap."
"Of course it is. You think I don't know that?" Jenkins played with his cuffs. "Come on, that little slut who's going around saying she was raped and that no one but her loser boyfriend cares suddenly turns on him and rats out his location? The two of them must really think we're stupid. But it's all right cause we're gonna get the last laugh."
Russo swallowed hard. "Of course we are. But ten to one they got the Feds watching wherever she said he'll be, just waiting for us to mess with him so they can swoop in. Maybe we should do our own search for Deveraux, pay him a visit when he's not expecting us, not rely on some damn tip from a stupid bitch who's so crazy about him she doesn't care what she has to do to be with him."
"Uh uh. If the Feds are watching him now they're gonna watch him wherever he goes. We gotta show them who's boss sometime."
"How?" Russo made himself sound way more eager than he felt. "Second we draw our guns they're gonna be all over us, and they probably have the kid mic'ed up too, cause that's how they roll. Tough kid like Deveraux's not going down without a fight to begin with and with the Feds backing him up… I don't wanna trade in my uniform for an orange jumpsuit, do you?"
Jenkin's eyes narrowed. He said, quietly, "You think it's that easy to back out now, Russo? You forget rat patrol has the goods on us? We could go down either way so we might as well take Deveraux down with us, right?"
"Who said anything about backing out? I'm just saying, we gotta be smart here, Jenkins, and we gotta find a way around them. And that's just the first step cause you know as well as I do it doesn't end with grabbing him. Rodman's gonna want him tortured into begging Hernandez to pay the damn ransom. And then once that's done, he's gonna want him killed and that pretty girlfriend of his too. You wanna be a murderer, Jenkins? That what you went to the Academy for?"
"It's not gonna come to that," Jenkins said, uncertainly. "Look, don't freak out, Russo, all right? One step at a time. Let's get Deveraux what he deserves and we'll figure out the rest later." His eyes narrowed. "Unless you're too chicken. I can leave you here to keep the other rats company and find someone who can get the job done."
Russo knew how that would fly, that Jenkins would have no way to explain why he came back without his partner and it would blow the whole thing out of the water. He glanced over his shoulder, trying to spot the weirdo who'd attacked him. He couldn't tell if he was still here or not.
"Well?" Jenkins demanded. "What's it gonna be?"
Russo purposely averted his eyes, made himself seem afraid. "I wanna do it."
"Good." Jenkins patted the butt of his gun. "We're gonna have to change the plan up a little, that's all. No matter how many losers they got out there watching that punk's back, we got the advantage cause they care about his life too freaking much."
JJ pulled away but before he could do anything, Abe said, "I'm sorry, JJ. I didn't mean to scare you. I should have let you know it was me."
JJ let his breath out slowly. "Rafe send you to babysit me?"
"Actually, it looked to me like you could use a friend. May I join you?"
"Whatever." JJ was starting to have that sinking feeling like he didn't have a choice. He bit his lip as pain shot through his arm.
"You know," Abe said, "sometimes when I see all the progress Theo's made these past couple of years, I wish his mother was still here so that she could see it too. Lexie left a hole in Theo's life, and in mine, that can never quite be filled. But I try to keep in mind that she must have added a whole lot to our lives when she was with us or we wouldn't be missing her as badly as we do. Do you understand what I'm trying to tell you?"
JJ nodded. He stared at his dad's plaque, not wanting to speak. "Um, I'm… I should have remembered I'm not the only one who freaking lost someone. I'm sorry."
"Nah. You certainly have more than enough of your own pain to bear without taking on anyone else's." Abe patted JJ's shoulder. "If you ever want to talk about your father or anything else, I hope you know I'm always willing to lend an ear. Rafe and Roman and I are all proud of the way you've conducted yourself throughout this whole Brotherhood business and especially that you didn't let Jenkins or anyone else interfere with your decision to stop using drugs."
JJ bit his lip. "Yeah, except you don't want me out here trying to end this. I wasn't gonna listen to Rafe so he figured I'd listen to you."
Abe said softly, "We all care about you, JJ. We want you to have a long and happy life, just like your father wanted for you."
"You think I don't?" JJ's eyes flashed. "I told Rafe and I'm telling you, I'm not the same stupid kid who went after Jeff without thinking, all right? But there's only one way I'm ever gonna have any peace, man, and that's if we neutralize the Brotherhood. So that's what I'm gonna do."
Abe sighed. "I'm not sure you're aware of exactly how dangerous what you're about to do is. We're talking about police officers drunk on power, willing to use the badge to do whatever it takes to cover their tracks so that they don't get in trouble for what they did before that they shouldn't have. And if they get their hands on you - "
"Do me a favor and skip the lecture, dude. Rafe already gave it to me, all right? I know what they wanna do to me and they're not gonna get away with it, not with a dozen FBI agents scattered around and whoever the hell the Brotherhood didn't get to yet helping them out."
Abe was quiet for what seemed like forever. Then he said, slowly, "I'm not sure I should tell you this, JJ, but before you agree to risk your life, you ought to know. Rafe isn't calling the shots, not completely. Victor Kiriakis is. And he doesn't play by the same rulebook."
"I know that. Why do you think I called him?"
"I'm aware of that. What I'm trying to say, JJ, is that Victor is more interested in revenge against the officers who want to hurt you than in protecting you. He feels that it would be best to attack them at the warehouse where they're planning on holding you prisoner."
JJ stared straight ahead. His heart beat fast and he said, "You saying what I think you're saying?"
"I don't know what you think I'm saying, but what I do know is that Victor encouraged Rafe to allow the Brotherhood to take you to that warehouse so that he can have his men take over the operation. Now Rafe is an experienced FBI agent and I have no doubt he'll do the right thing, but if he thinks that we need more evidence of wrongdoing than you can get for us, he could be persuaded to go along with Victor's idea so that there is incontrovertible proof that they intended you harm."
The memory of Jeff trying to force JJ into the back of his car popped into his head. He had been barely aware of the ropes digging into his wrists or the knife on his throat; all he could think about was how he had to get away or it was all over for him. He swallowed hard and said, "I don't freaking care, not when I got Victor Kiriakis watching my back. He's got a reason for wanting me at that warehouse. I can put up with being cuffed and messed with for a little bit if I have to."
"JJ - "
JJ stared at his dad's name on the plaque. "Rafe show you the video my dad left me?"
"He did. I'm sorry that we didn't know what was going on all those years ago. It would have saved both of you a lot of heartache if we'd been able to put Rodman behind bars when this all started." JJ swallowed, forcing the lump in his throat down again, and Abe looked at him. "I know this is personal for you and that's why you're insisting on on bringing down what's left of the Salem branch of the Brotherhood. But if you're going to do this - "
"I am, so you might as well stop wasting time trying to talk me out of it!"
"If you're going to do this," Abe said again, ignoring the interruption, "you have to keep your emotions in check."
"I told Rafe and I'm telling you, I'm not gonna do anything stupid to mess this up!"
"You need to take some deep breaths and get calm, and if you can't do that you need to let me help you walk away from this. Now, I'm not doubting you, JJ. But you've been through a lot and sometimes that can hit you harder than you realize. There is no shame in admitting that this was a mistake. Just say the word right now and I'll get you safely out of here so that Rafe and the FBI can deal with the Brotherhood themselves."
JJ glanced at his father's memorial, thinking. "It… this is way harder than I thought it would be. I wanted to do it here cause if they hadn't messed with my dad maybe everything would be different. But, um, seeing his name on the wall like this, it, like, brings it home that no matter what I do, it's not gonna bring him back." He touched his father's name, gently. "Best I can do is help him get his peace. If I can help get the Brotherhood for the way they screwed everything up, maybe he can rest easy. So there's no way in hell I'm going anywhere now."
Paige walked along the dirt road, doing her best to make it look like she was hurrying away when really she wanted desperately to run back to JJ and make sure he was all right.
The car that had been following her came closer. Paige glanced over her shoulder. It was just an ordinary sedan, tan colored, almost blending in with the dust on the road. She swallowed hard. "Keep it together, Paige," she told herself as she began walking faster. "There's no reason to be afraid. Rafe knew you were doing this, so if that's not a random car it's someone he's sending to come get you and make sure you're safe."
The car sped up a little. Paige began to run but the car sped up more and she knew she couldn't outrun it. She ducked into the wooded area by the side of the road, figuring she'd let the car pass unless, of course, Rafe had sent it.
The car parked directly across from where Paige was hiding and two men jumped out. No masks, but they both had guns. "Put your hands up and come out of there, Ms. Larson," one of them said. "You're coming with us."
Paige swallowed hard as she obeyed. One of the guards said, "We heard everything. You're under arrest." As her hands were pulled behind her back and bound with zip ties, Paige swallowed hard, praying that she was right to assume these were the guys Rafe had said would pick her up afterwards and that she wasn't being kidnapped again.
The two men had put Paige in the back seat of the car between the two of them and put their guns in their laps as it took off. The car was speeding along now, going far too fast and every time it hit a bump the plastic dug into her wrists. The windows were tinted, too, so she couldn't see where she was being taken.
Paige glared at the guard next to her. "I know you speak English because you just told me to get in the car," she said. "I think I deserve to know where I'm being taken. It obviously isn't the police station because we're going in the wrong direction for that so I doubt you guys are cops." The guy stared straight ahead, saying nothing. "¿A dónde me llevas?" Paige demanded, switching to Spanish in case her captor was determined to pretend he didn't know what she was saying. He still didn't answer.
Paige stared at her reflection in the window. For a second, she saw Jeff's face as he pulled her out of that other car, but she swallowed hard and shook her head. Whatever this was, it wasn't that. Anyway, Rafe knew she was involved in helping take the Brotherhood down and if she didn't turn up wherever his guys were supposed to take her he'd realize something was wrong and JJ would know somehow. Except that Rafe was going to be busy for God knew how many hours and JJ… if her JJ was kidnapped too or worse he wouldn't be able to get to her this time.
In her head, Paige heard her muffled protest as Jeff put his hand under her blouse, felt the bedpost digging into her back… "No," she told herself under her breath. "Stop it. That's not what's happening here."
Someone in the front of the car was on the phone. Paige strained her ears but she couldn't make out a word. "To korítsi eínai fovátai ton thánato." Was it a foreign language or could she just not hear?
The car stopped and the door opened. Paige held her head up high as the two men took her out of the car and started walking her down a trail. She looked around, trying to get her bearings. They were in a bad neighborhood, but she was pretty sure it was still Salem because they hadn't been traveling that long. There were a lot of rundown not many people around. Paige was well aware that both the men holding her had guns though they kept them in their holsters.
She was walked into a dilapidated building and taken down a flight of steps to the basement. There was someone sitting in a swivel chair behind a desk. Paige was taken to the desk and one of the guards said, "Sir? We're here with the girl."
Paige swallowed hard as the person slowly turned around in his chair. It was an older man with a white mustache and a slight twinkle in his eyes that seemed like it didn't go with the situation at all.
"Well," Victor Kiriakis said. "What are you waiting for? Take off those ridiculously uncomfortable restraints so that the girl can stop thinking she's stepped into a 1950s era horror movie and relax enough to tell me how her part of the mission went."
The ME's office was on the lowest floor of the police department except for the holding cells. It was cold and dark even in the hallway and it gave Lani the creeps.
"Better get this over with," she said under her breath, putting her hand on the doorknob. But she heard a noise and saw something out of the corner of her eye.
Jenkins had just come out of the bathroom. He was standing in a dark corner between there and the ME's office. Lani glanced at him, nervously, remembering seeing him steal drugs from the evidence room and wondering if he'd just taken something. She shuddered as he turned towards her.
Lani started to open the door to the ME's office, but Jenkins called her name.
Swallowing hard, Lani turned again. "Oh, hey Jenkins. You got a case down here too?"
"Actually, I came down here looking for you. Someone upstairs told me you'd got sent down to the ME's office. Horowitz's having you do her busy work for her these days, huh?"
Lani bit her lip. "What do you want, Jenkins?"
Jenkins scowled. "I'm trying to do you a favor, Price. Don't talk to me that way." Lani raised her eyebrows at him and he said, "It's like this. You're too good for Horowitz's leftovers, for the cases she thinks are beneath her. Why should you settle for crumbs when everyone knows you're a better cop than her? You want her to make detective when you're the one who should be getting your gold shield?"
Lani glanced over her shoulder at the door to the ME's office. "Not up to me," she said coolly.
"I know people who could make it happen. All you gotta do is show me what you're made of."
Lani made her eyes widen. "I'm listening."
Jenkins said, "There's something going down in a few hours at the memorial gardens. Can't give you more details than that, but I'm gonna need backup. Commish has me working a desk cause of this nuisance lawsuit so I'm kinda doing this off the books."
"Right." Lani's voice was flat, remembering the map of the gardens she'd seen out of the corner of her eye when Horowitz got that phone call. "What do you need me to do?"
Jenkins lowered his voice. "I know you've been a bad girl before, Price. You did something in Miami you shouldn't have and your daddy had to bail you out. So now you're gonna be a bad girl again, show up at the memorial gardens volunteering to join whatever stakeout the Feds think they've got going out there. Only… little do they know that you're a… what do ya call it… an enemy agent, cause your job isn't to help them protect whatever punk they think has more rights than all the innocent people who're gonna get hurt if we don't get him off the streets. Uh uh. It's to help me do what I gotta do."
"And if I don't?"
Jenkins lowered his voice even more and said, "You got even less use for rat patrol than I do. You don't want them getting wind that you did something you shouldn't in Miami and that your daddy covered it up, now do you?"
Lani locked eyes with him. "You wouldn't dare."
The elevator dinged behind them. Jenkins said, "You have an ME report to get. Hurry up." He walked off.
Lani let her breath out slowly before walking into the ME's office. She didn't see Horowitz come around the corner, trailing Jenkins.
Rafe and Special Agent James had parked down the road from the memorial, far enough away that they could see and hear without being spotted. Abe and JJ's conversation came over the SUV's radio loud and clear as Rafe sipped his coffee.
I appreciate you taking the time to try to help me out or whatever, but honestly all I want is to know that this is over and me and Paige are both safe, And that's not gonna happen if you're standing here cause if Jenkins rolled up right now, he'd know it was a freaking trap and he'd turn around and do something to Paige to get back at her for tricking him. Look, you don't trust me and that's on me cause I let Jeff get me so scared I did the first thing that popped into my head and I didn't care if I made it another day. But I told Rafe and I'm telling you: that was then. This is now, man, and now I'm working with you guys cause I wanna make it to the other side of this for once and for all. But you gotta let me do this, Mr. Carver, cause otherwise this whole thing's been a waste of time and me and Paige'll end up with even bigger targets on our back than when we started.
"Brave boy," James said to Rafe as Abe told JJ that he wasn't sure Jack wanted him to sacrifice himself this way. "Even knowing he might have to spend some time under the control of people who want to kill him isn't dissuading him."
"I dunno," Rafe said. "I can't decide if it's bravery or stupidity but if he really helps us end this maybe it won't matter."
Rafe's walkie talkie crackled. "Sir. Jenkins just turned onto Baker Drive. ETA five minutes."
Through the binoculars, James saw Abe pat JJ's shoulder and walk off. "Looks like Carver's taking his position just in time."
Rafe nodded. He picked up his walkie talkie. "Code 0, Code 0. This is it, people. Watch JJ's back from afar for now. Keep your weapons close by but don't use 'em unless I give the command."
Russo and Jenkins had taken an unmarked van to the memorial gardens. They parked a little behind the SUV, leaving a couple car lengths between them but close enough so they could see if anyone got out of the Feds' car.
"Deveraux's alone," Russo said, staring through his binoculars at JJ, who was sitting by the memorial wall, his back to them.
"Good. You ready to do what you gotta do?"
Russo swallowed hard. "Let's do this and get it over with."
JJ rubbed his arm one last time, telling himself he couldn't afford to let it get to him right now. Standing up, he touched his father's name and said softly, "This is for you, Dad. Wherever you are, I hope you're watching over me."
The wind blew through the trees right then, almost drowning out the sound of a car door slamming. JJ shoved his hands into his pockets, suddenly cold even though it was a warm spring day. He felt for the flash drive that had his dad's video on it, trying to calm himself as the gate around the memorial garden creaked open. He turned and locked eyes with Jenkins and Russo, biting his lip to try to press down the pain in his arm, as they marched towards him, their hands over the butts of their guns.
Week 76 - Day 3
"First cadaver?" the medical examiner asked Lani. They were standing over Kurt's body and Lani had put her hands over her mouth to make sure she didn't vomit when she took a look.
She'd run down the steps after she'd shot, that fateful day in the drug house, only to find her partner lying on the floor, his eyes glazed over, his mouth open as if he were shocked he'd gotten shot. There was so much blood that Lani couldn't look. She had tears in her voice as she radioed for an ambulance.
She shook her head now. "It's… it's been a while."
"This can be hard even for seasoned officers," the ME said. "Try to center yourself though because I need to show you a few things."
Lani took a deep breath and let it out. "I'm all right now."
"Good. Note how the skin has a bluish tint. This suggests a lack of oxygen. He basically suffocated. Now, the tox screen hasn't come back yet but you can see he had a lot of dry skin, that he had jaundice and that the bottom of his nose was bigger than usual. Plus if you feel his sweat glands, they were also enlarged. All of these symptoms point to someone who was a chronic alcohol user, and that's even before I opened him up. His liver was damaged which pretty much cinched it. We should have the tox screen tomorrow to confirm that there was nothing else in his system contributing to his death, but my preliminary finding is that this was an accidental death due to alcohol poisoning."
Lani shook her head. "27 years young and that's what he did to himself."
"I'm afraid so. We see it more often than I'd care to admit. Do you think you can handle giving the results to Detective Horowitz?"
"She's not - " Lani began, but thought better of correcting the ME. Jenkins was right about one thing: Horowitz would probably make detective as soon as this whole mess with JJ was over. Roman and Abe had made it clear how much more they respected her abilities than Lani's even though Lani had more time on the force and would have got that promotion if things hadn't gone wrong in Miami. "Yes, sure. Do you have a written report I can give her?"
The ME pressed a few buttons on her phone. "Just emailed it to you. Make sure to pass it on to her."
Lani walked out of the ME's office, holding her head as high as possible. She leaned against the wall and mumbled, "I'll show her all right. I'll go show her in person what I'm made of."
JJ backed up a step, his heart beating fast. He knew Abe Carver was probably watching him from the bushes somewhere, and Rafe was listening from the side of the road and was gonna send guys to help if he needed them, but he felt as alone as he was when he had been stupid enough to give himself up to Jeff. He squeezed the flash drive, praying for his dad to give him strength.
Jenkins said, "Well, well, well, look what we got here. Someone looking for trouble. Get your hands out of your pockets, Deveraux, and don't even think about trying to run from us."
JJ's eyes narrowed. "What for, man? What the hell are you trying to say I did now?"
"I don't need a reason," Jenkins told him. "See, I got two little magic words. 'Suspicious behavior.' Now if you don't get your hands out of your pockets so I can see what you're trying to do, I'm gonna start thinking you've got a weapon in there, and I'm gonna have to protect myself."
JJ glanced at Jenkins' taser. "Whatever, dude," he said, taking his hands out of his pockets. Crossing his arms, he said, "Heard you got put on a desk. Is that cause you got caught trying to cover your ass after what you did to me last time?"
Jenkins' jaw was clenched and he said, "Keep talking and you'll be sorry. Shut your mouth, turn around and get your hands up on the freaking wall."
JJ's eyes flashed "Yeah, I don't think so. You've done a lot of crap to me, Jenkins, but there's no way in hell you're gonna humiliate me right under the plaque telling the world that my dad died a hero. He made the ultimate sacrifice to save my sister, man, and he almost had to do the same for me cause of some losers like you who tried to make him choose between my life and his. So if you think you're gonna freaking finish the job - "
"Shut up!" Jenkins shouted. He signaled to Russo to start moving. "Your old man was no hero, Deveraux, cause heroes don't raise punks. He was a no-good, backtalking, lying piece of crap who put his nose where it didn't belong one too many times and he got what he deserved just like you're gonna. You think what I did to you at Fall Festival was bad, keep talking! Yeah, I knew the chances were you were innocent for once in your life but the thing is, that one mistake I made doesn't make up for all the freaking garbage you'd got away with between your last arrest and us crossing paths. You should be up at Statesville making license plates and praying the parole board sees it your way after everything you've done, and you'd better start acting like you know it. Yeah I lied and yeah I twisted your arm a little, but that should have taught you the lesson that your loser of a father never bothered to teach you. You need to learn respect and you need to learn your place and a couple hours behind bars wasn't nearly what you deserved, that day or any day." Jenkins put his hand on the butt of his gun. "So keep talking, Deveraux, and see how bad things get for you, cause it's judgment day and you. are. gonna. start. paying."
JJ's eyes flashed but he knew better than to let Jenkins get to him. He clenched and unclenched his fists as he moved forward. "If you don't get by now that nothing you do to me sticks, you never will. You can think whatever you want about my dad, man, but you're in his space messing with his son, so maybe you're the one who'd better show some respect before something happens to you."
Jenkins pulled his gun out, pointing it at JJ's chest. "Don't come any closer, Deveraux. Stay right where you are, hands in the air."
In the SUV Rafe's radio crackled. "I have a clear path to Jenkins, sir. Permission to approach?"
Rafe and James exchanged glances. James said under his breath, "All we got so far is proof he doesn't like Deveraux. Take him out now, this was a waste of time."
"I got a loose cannon pointing a loaded gun at an unarmed kid. You wanna be the one to look his mom in the eye and tell her we could have stopped him from getting shot at point-blank range?"
"Come on, Hernandez, where's that legendary cool head you had when you were at the FBI fulltime? You getting rusty working with these small town cops or what?"
Rafe scowled but before he could respond Horowitz said, "Sir?"
Rafe let his breath out slowly. "Hold your position for now. But if his finger gets any closer to the trigger, you do whatever you think you have to."
"Damn it!" Horowitz said under her breath. She was crouched under a tree; her gun was perfectly aligned with Jenkins' back and she could be over there ordering him to drop his weapon within seconds.
Lani slipped in next to her as JJ stopped moving but did not raise his hands. "You have a clear shot."
"Can't yet. Hernandez's orders." Horowitz didn't dare take her eyes off Jenkins, not for a second. "I'd ask you what you're doing here but I can't be distracted. Crouch down next to me, get your gun out and hold your position." Lani nodded and crouched down too.
Jenkins said, "Don't have anything to say now, do you, tough guy?"
"Actually, I do," JJ said. "Put that gun away, man, you're not shooting me and you know it. I'm worth way too much alive for you to even think about it and anyway, even if you put a freaking hole in my chest, it's not gonna change anything. You can shut me up but you can't shut up the truth, man, and no matter what you do the whole world's gonna know what you and your freaking friends in the Brotherhood did to me and my dad and everyone else I care about. You're done so you might as well - AAAH!"
JJ screamed involuntarily with pain as Russo, who had steadily been sneaking up behind him, suddenly grabbed his wrist and twisted his bad arm behind his back while grabbing his shoulder firmly with his other hand. JJ struggled, twisting and pulling. "Get off me!" he shouted, but Russo held his arm tight against his back while pushing on his shoulder, forcing JJ down onto his knees. Pain shot through JJ's bad arm as he hit the ground, so bad that he thought he was going to pass out.
"I don't want to hurt you," Russo said, "but I'm gonna do what I have to." He pulled his taser out and pressed it against JJ's ribs. "You have til I count to three to stop struggling or you're getting tased."
JJ swallowed hard. His arm hurt so bad that he couldn't hear the guy counting and everything was starting to go blurry. He stared up at the sky, unhappily, breathing hard. He felt dizzy and when he blinked, his eyes suddenly jerked open like he'd passed out for a second.
He hesitated, not wanting to give in. But either he was gonna pass out or he was gonna get tased, and either way the freaking bastards would be able to do whatever the hell they wanted to him while he was knocked out.
JJ had no choice. He slowly raised his free hand over his head, biting his lip to stop himself from trying to fight as Russo cuffed his hands behind his back and pulled a cloth out of his pocket to gag him with.
Chloe and Philip both sat on the edge of their seats when Father Louis called them into his office for their first pre-cana session. Chloe wanted to hold Philip's hand but she wasn't sure even that much was allowed. Instead, she brushed his fingertips with hers while Father Louis was settling into his chair, then dropped her hands and put them in her lap.
Father Louis smiled at them. "I'd tell both of you that this isn't a test and there's no reason to be nervous but I don't think you'd believe me. So tell you what. We'll start with the easy questions and work our way up. Chloe - "
"Yes?" Chloe jerked up, realizing suddenly she wasn't sitting up straight enough in her chair.
Father Louis smiled disarmingly. "Suppose you begin by telling me what you admire about Philip."
"So much that I don't know where to begin. For one thing, he's the absolute bravest person I know. He probably thinks it's just because he's a Kiriakis, that facing situations head-on is in his blood. I know sometimes he thinks he doesn't live up to that, but let me tell you something. There might be people out there who rush into burning buildings without a second thought or are addicted to the thrill of jumping out of airplanes or surfing the roughest waves, but that's nothing compared to my Philip. He came back into my life after years of heartbreak and he wouldn't accept me thinking it was too late for us, and more than that. He is willing to do whatever it takes for my son, whether that's rushing into his room to show him there's no monsters or sit by his hospital bed hiding his fear that he's not going to make it through this heart thing. That takes real courage, dealing with Parker's special needs, and he could have walked away a long time ago and he didn't."
"I could never do that," Philip said. "I made that mistake for far too much of my life, putting my father's opinion over my own, convincing myself I was in love with other girls, girls who I guess would have been more to his liking, though honestly my dad doesn't like anybody, and that was the stupidest thing I've ever done. Chloe, you're the one I'm meant to be with, you and only you and my biggest regret is that I didn't see it years ago."
"And what you admire about her is?" Father Louis asked.
Philip swallowed hard. "I'm not the kind of man who talks easily about my feelings, but when I'm around Chloe, it's different. She is so open and so giving. She adds softness to my life, softness I didn't even know I needed. She is strong, too, stronger than she knows. She's been sharing parenting duties with Parker's fa - with Daniel Jonas for a long time, and until recently she was living 400 miles away from her son's other home but always managing to put Parker first anyway and being a wonderful mother to him even though sometimes she wasn't able to be physically near him. She's been through some hard times, to say the least, but she hasn't let the world beat her down."
Chloe had tears in her eyes. Philip said, "May I kiss her?"
Father Louis said, "I pride myself on my modernity, but dare I ask that you save something for the wedding?"
"Right." Philip settled for taking Chloe's hand and kissing it. "So, um, that part was easy. What else have you got for us?"
"Well," Father Louis said, "clearly you have strong feelings for one another and there's much you admire about each other. Let me ask you, what problems do you anticipate in your marriage?"
JJ swallowed hard. Once he was gagged, he wasn't gonna be able to get his captors telling on themselves. He needed his mouth free; somehow he had to talk Russo out of stuffing that cloth into it without opening it wide enough for him to force it inside.
His arm hurt so bad he couldn't think and his feet tingled; they were starting to fall asleep from the way he was being forced to sit on his ankles. He wasn't gonna make it too much longer unless he was allowed to get up, but he knew better than to let the guy see how weak he was.
Russo poked him with the taser. "I said, open your mouth."
"C-come on man." JJ opened his mouth just enough to speak. "T-take me wherever you want, I don't care. Just don't gag me. Please."
Russo hesitated, but he pressed the taser harder into JJ's side and said, "You ever gonna learn you don't call the shots?"
"Look," JJ said, keeping his teeth clenched. "It's not for me, it's for you. You stuff that cloth in my mouth, everyone's gonna know you're doing something you shouldn't be. Leave it off and if anyone asks, you're taking me to jail." Russo bit his lip. JJ's arm hurt worse than ever but he took a deep breath as quietly as he could and let it out through his nose. "I won't make a sound, I swear."
"Shut up right now, then," Russo told him. He stared into space, thinking.
Jenkins had the gag and a roll of duct tape on his lap. "You roll it up like this," he said, rolling up the cloth, "and shove it in his mouth, then make him close his lips and tape it in nice and snug. He won't be able to make a sound. And the best part is, he's gotta go along cause if he struggles it'll slip into his throat and he'll suffocate. Make that clear and he'll do whatever you say, the gun you're holding on him'll just be for show."
Russo shook his head, now. He shoved the balled up gag back into his pocket, then poked JJ with the taser. "Here's the deal," he said under his breath. "You want the gag off, you keep your mouth shut unless we talk to you first and when you do talk, you keep a civil tongue in your head. Understand?"
JJ nodded. Russo pressed the taser against his ribs as he began to pull him to his feet. JJ felt lightheaded and the tingling in his feet made it hard for him to stand at all.
Jenkins grabbed him by the other elbow. "Head bowed, Deveraux. Show your friends your shame." He turned towards Russo. "Where's the gag?"
Russo bit his lip. "L-let's just get him out of here," he stammered. "We can gag him when we're away from prying eyes." He poked JJ with the taser. "Start walking. Keep your mouth shut and your head down."
JJ held his head up high, refusing to give in by looking down at his feet. He felt dizzy and when he tried to walk he couldn't feel his feet and stumbled.
Jenkins laughed. "We broke you already, didn't we, Deveraux? That didn't take long."
JJ's eyes flashed. He bit his lip, letting anger surge through him and make him strong again. "Yeah, I don't think so," he snapped. "If you thought this was gonna be easy, dude, you'd better think again. You might have got the better of me back at Fall Festival but that's cause I actually thought cops played fair. I figured you might think for a second I did something I'd never do, but once you asked me and Paige a couple questions you'd see you were wrong and let me go and I wasn't even gonna feel bad about it. But once you started messing with me, I got the message pretty quick that this wasn't about fairness and it sure as hell wasn't about protecting Paige. It was about how much you freaking hate me. You didn't win then and you won't win now, either. You wanna gag me, you wanna shut me up cause you don't like what I have to say? Go ahead, man, but just remember everything you do's gonna end up on Nicole Walker's news show and the whole world's gonna know exactly what you did to me just cause I told a couple truths you didn't wanna hear."
Jenkins grabbed JJ by the hair and pulled his head back. It hurt like hell but JJ held his breath and clenched his jaw, refusing to give him any satisfaction. "Shut up, you little punk!" Jenkins said. "You think you're so freaking untouchable, do you? Well, let's see how you feel after you've spent some time among the rats. Once I'm done with you you're gonna be begging for mercy you're never gonna get cause you're only staying alive for as long as we need you to get our way. We'll see who's laughing then." He shoved JJ backwards, and he would have fallen except Russo caught him. "Let's get him out of here," Jenkins told Russo, "before I do something he's gonna regret."
Russo nodded. He held the taser firmly against JJ's side while he and Jenkins took him by the elbows and began leading him away. JJ was beginning to be able to feel his feet again but it was hard to stay balanced with his hands cuffed so tightly behind him and he had to let his captors hold him up.
"You gonna at least tell me where you're taking me?" JJ demanded as they approached the gate. "Cat's out of the bag now, man, so you might as well."
Russo poked him with the taser. "You want to get gagged? Stop talking." He made JJ take another step forward…
...and Abe Carver was standing in the entrance, blocking Jenkins and Russo from taking JJ out of the memorial gardens.
"It's all right, JJ," Abe said. "He doesn't have to tell you, because he's not taking you anywhere." He pulled out his gun. "Your attempt to kidnap JJ Deveraux is over. I want the cuffs off him right now and then the two of you can drop to your knees just like you made him do a minute ago."
Before JJ could even smile, he felt something metallic press against the back of his head.
Jenkins was holding him at gunpoint.
The gun felt hot, like it had been fired recently - or was it just cause they were standing in the sun? JJ felt dizzier than ever and his heart was pounding so hard he was afraid it was gonna cut off his breath. He stood still, biting his lip hard and trying to keep his face from showing the bastards who had him how freaking scared he was while he silently begged his dad or God or maybe them both to do what Abe Carver couldn't and protect him.
"I don't think so, Carver," JJ heard Jenkins say. "You want Deveraux to live more than another five seconds, you'd better put your gun on the ground and get against that fence behind you. And you can call off anyone else who's lying in wait for us, too."
Pain shot through JJ's arm. He stood up as straight as he could and looked Abe in the eye. "Don't listen to him, Mr. Carver. There's no way in hell he's gonna - "
"Shut up!" Jenkins told him. "Look down towards the ground and don't say another word." Abe nodded slightly and JJ obeyed, looking down at his feet like he was ashamed of being in trouble, just the way Jenkins wanted.
Jenkins poked the gun into JJ's skull so that he wouldn't forget who had all the power. He turned towards Abe. "Hurry up, Carver. I don't have all day. Drop your gun and get against the fence or Deveraux dies. Now!"
As soon as the guards cut the zipties, Victor sent them away. Paige crossed her arms, now, and glared at him. "There's not much to say," she told him. "I made a five second phone call, hung up, and didn't even get to find out whether Jenkins fell for it because your guards swooped in, tied me up, and put me in the back of a car like I was a criminal and wouldn't even tell me where they were taking me. JJ asked you to help protect us, not make everything worse."
"I would apologize, my dear, but I don't believe in wasting my breath on empty platitudes. You had to be transported without arousing the suspicion of anyone who was engaging in the ancient art of spying on innocent people and plotting against them. Besides, judging from the foolish optimism in your boyfriend's voice when he called me, I felt a reality check was more than in order for both of you." Paige scowled and he said, "I can set your mind at ease on one point. The enemy did indeed take the bait."
"But JJ's still out there somewhere." Paige's voice was flat. "He's still fighting being kidnapped unless it's already happened and you're not telling me. Either way, he's not safe yet or you would have told me so."
"Blunt and to the point. No wonder JJ has fallen head over heels for you." Victor smiled, but Paige didn't smile back. "Not to worry, my dear. I have provisions in place for every eventuality. From the little I've seen, your boyfriend possesses an unusual level of determination and resiliency that is sure to confound most of their efforts to subdue him, and I have taken care of the rest. You will be back in each other's arms before you know it." His phone rang. "Excuse me."
Victor walked off to answer the phone. Paige tiptoed to the door and listened, not sure yet whether or not she could trust him. "Yes? What?" There was a pause, then Victor said, "I see. Why are you wasting time? The boy needs backup more than I need a progress report. Take care of him!"
Victor came back in the room. That weird twinkle in his eye was back. "I apologize, my dear. Now where were we?"
Paige crossed her arms. "JJ's in trouble, isn't he? Tell me everything."
Victor frowned. "Listening at doors is not a trait I ordinarily look highly upon, though it does have its uses. However, in the interest of not alienating a young woman that actually might deserve the heart my wife's nephew has given her, I will take the uncharacteristic step of empathizing with your circumstances and give you a pass."
Paige's eyes narrowed. "That doesn't answer my question. Please, Mr. Kiriakis, even if something horrible happened to JJ, I can take it a lot better than I can take not knowing. She turned towards a space on the wall where the window would be if there was one. "I kissed him goodbye," she said, her voice shaking. "He gave me the signal that it was time and I kissed him and hugged him and even though I knew it might be goodbye forever I told myself it was no big deal, it was just a few hours, like when he gets in the elevator to go up to his internship and I know we're going to see each other as soon as we're both free. But now, that same voice in my head that was whispering before that it might be the end and that I'll never make up for all the time we lost because of all the lies coming out of my so-called mother's mouth that I let get in between us… it's screaming now, Mr. Kiriakis, and until I know that JJ hasn't actually taken his last breath I have to make myself take my next one." Paige played with the bracelet JJ had given her when they got back together right after Christmas. "I know you barely know me and you already don't like me very much, but JJ says he knows you have a hidden soft side because otherwise his aunt wouldn't feel about you like I feel about him. So please, have some compassion for me and tell me exactly what you know. I won't tell anyone that you actually had any empathy. I promise."
"I wouldn't say I don't like you," Victor commented. "I certainly abhor you less than any of the alien creatures passing for women that my grandson has insisted on sharing his bed with. And I certainly don't want to disabuse your young man of his notion that my relationship with his aunt is something to aspire to. Have a seat and I will tell you everything you need to know about JJ's current circumstances." He gestured towards the couch. Paige hesitated, but then she sat down.
Victor sat down next to her. "I'm afraid, my dear, that your boyfriend is currently in the custody of the Brotherhood."
Paige stared straight ahead. "So I was right. They got away with kidnapping him."
"No. This is part of the plan, allowing them to think they can get away with taking him prisoner. They haven't taken him out of the area where they confronted him, and with any luck the FBI can actually be useful enough to ensure that doesn't change. Even if they do, he won't be harmed. I've seen to that. This can end in only one of two ways, my dear.. Either the miscreants posing as police officers are stopped at the scene or they will meet a most unholy fate when they enter the warehouse. Either way, there's nothing to worry about. This is temporary, just them thinking they have control over him for a moment, that's all. I have seen to it that the consequences for their attempt to harm him are as severe and as immutable as any the three Fates prescribed in ancient Greek times. Tonight is just the first act of the drama they put into place when they began making plans to abduct him. Decorum forbids me from telling you what horrors they will face later on, but I can assure you in no uncertain terms that JJ will be relatively safe despite his foolishness in this matter."
Abe holstered his gun but kept his hand over it. "You don't want to do that, Jenkins," he said softly. "You want JJ to stay alive so you can use him to get whatever it is you really want. Besides, you don't want a murder on your conscience."
"Don't. try. me." Jenkins was losing his patience. JJ's arm throbbed and he automatically went to rub it, pulling against the cuffs. "You!" Jenkins said. "Stay still!"
"Do what he says, JJ," Abe said quietly. He turned back towards Jenkins. "Now I'm sure we can work this out. If I get against this fence like you asked me to, you need to do something for me in return, besides not pulling the trigger on that gun. How about instead of taking JJ wherever it is you're planning on taking him, you just sit him down next to me and guard him while you tell me what it is you want in exchange for his freedom?" Jenkins rolled his eyes but Abe said, "You have a captive audience, if you'll excuse the bad pun. All sorts of cops out here willing to do whatever it takes to get the boy free. So you don't have to take him anywhere. We can do this right here and right now. What do you say?"
"Get on the fence and we'll see," Jenkins said. "Gun first. Put it on the ground and let me see your hands while you back up to the fence."
"You're asking an awful lot of me," Abe said. He took his gun out of his holster and slowly squatted down to put it on the ground by his feet. "Tell you what. How about you take that gun off of him? Russo's got a taser on him and I'm going to cooperate. We're all going to work with you, Jenkins. So you don't need to hold a gun to the back of his head or anywhere else."
"You think I'm stupid? I lose the gun, I lose the power. No more talking. On the fence, hands behind the bars. Right now."
"Have it your way." Abe put his hands up and started moving slowly towards the fence.
JJ lifted his head slightly and said, "Don't, man. I'm not worth it."
"You are worth far more than you realize, JJ, and someday I hope you see it." Abe leaned against the fence. JJ's arm throbbed worse than ever as he watched Abe put his hands through the bars, but there was nothing he could do about that. Jenkins poked him with the gun and ordered him to get his head back down. He obeyed, silently, praying that Mr. Carver didn't get seriously hurt behind trying to save him.
Behind the trees, Lani whispered to Horowitz, "I got a clear path. I could get my gun on Jenkins and make him drop his real quick."
"No!" Horowitz said, her voice firm even though she was talking under her breath. "It's too dangerous, Price. Jenkins is so far gone I don't trust him not to kill JJ knowing he's gonna die himself for it." Her radio crackled and Rafe said, "Everyone hold position and let Abe try to talk him down."
"See?" Horowitz said. "10-4," she said into her radio. "Back-up plan just in case, sir?"
There was a silence, then Rafe said, heavily, "We're gonna have to let him think he's won. Let him take JJ to the warehouse and rescue from there."
"Come over here and finish what you started, Jenkins," Abe said, while JJ bit his lip and prayed that the pain in his arm didn't make him pass out. "Cuff me to the fence like you want to. You can even hold the gun on me while your partner takes JJ out of here."
"I'm not stupid," Jenkins said. "I know this is a trick, Carver, I'm not falling for it."
"I know you're not stupid." Abe's voice was soft and soothing, the same way it had been when this all began and JJ had freaked out about Abe having to take him to see Rodman whether he wanted to or not. "But I'm giving you a gift, Jenkins. I know you have your orders to lock JJ up. I understand that. But imagine how much more pleased they'll be with you if in addition you can tell them you got one over on the police commander who had his back. And I'm sure the other men and women who are out here protecting JJ will be equally concerned about making sure you don't shoot me, and we'll all know that he's in good hands, that even if you have to rough him up a little bit you won't really hurt him while you're waiting for us to arrange the trade you wanted, and that'll make it easier for us to let you do your job and take him where you need to take him."
Jenkins hesitated. He glanced at Russo, who jabbed JJ in the side with his taser and said, "I got him under control."
Jenkins nodded. "Get him the hell out of here. I'll catch up in a minute."
JJ felt a release of pressure as Jenkins took the gun off the back of his head. He let his breath out, slowly, as Russo grabbed his arm so tight it hurt.
Russo pressed the taser into JJ's ribs and said, "Keep your mouth shut and start walking." JJ let him lead him through the gate, walking as slowly as he could get away with so he wouldn't fall.
In the SUV, Rafe's face was grim as he watched through the binoculars. Jenkins was walking towards Abe, his gun pointed towards him, while Russo took JJ out onto the dirt road and began walking him towards an unmarked car. JJ looked over his shoulder at Abe as he was led off, watching Jenkins press the gun into Abe's back as he cuffed him. Russo poked JJ with the taser and he turned around again.
Rafe picked up his walkie-talkie. "Listen up. This isn't over. I need - "
A shot rang out all of a sudden, loud enough that it came through Rafe's speakers.
Russo flinched. His finger slipped and he almost dropped the taser.
JJ felt something burn the skin outside his rib cage. Before he could react, his legs totally gave out and he fell face first into the dirt. The burn spread through his entire body, making it ache and throb way worse than his arm ever had. He wanted to scream with pain but he couldn't get his mouth open and he couldn't lift his head, either, to see what the hell was going on. He didn't know what had just happened, but he thought maybe he was dying, maybe any second now his dad was gonna come get him, and he almost hoped so cause that's how bad it hurt.