Nightshade

She was all cat, black as the night and lithe like a panther. Her eyes glowed in the reflected street light while a small, tight smile curved up her lips. "That's it," she purred, her voice low and husky, "Just a tiny bit closer…" Claudia raised the rifle to her leather clad shoulder, looking through the sighting scope with her right eye while her left scrunched closed reflexively.

Her target was standing in the open door of an abandoned warehouse. His figure was outlined by the faint light of a low wattage bulb dangling from a frayed wire in the room behind him. The dim illumination was all Claudia required. She was used to making do, to getting by with what circumstances allowed her and. really, this was actually quite a bit better than her usual lousy luck.

Claudia didn't hesitate, her right index finger curled with steady inexorable pressure around the curved trigger of the gun. Accompanied by an abrupt crack that ruptured the peace of the night, the bullet flew unerringly toward its target.

The man never even raised his head or removed the cell phone from his ear. He was caught, entirely unaware of his impending mortality, in the process of fruitlessly calling the person who had purportedly arranged to meet him at this godforsaken location and at this entirely unacceptable time of night.

He was rasping out the name Giovanni but only managed to say "Gio..," before his head exploded into a shower of bone chips, blood and spongy particles of brain. All three materials were permanently embedded in the wooden frame of the door by the time that the reverberation from the shot had died away.

The cell phone simultaneously shattered into uncountable shards of plastic, metal and glass. Some of those pieces joined the organic fragments already captured within the door frame surrounding the now headless figure. The tiny pieces, fused together by heat and pressure, created an amalgam of man and technology like some bizarre harbinger of a future world.

Claudia stared through the lens of the scope for a moment longer at what was left of the man. He, rather it, swayed unsteadily on its feet, deprived as it was of a cerebellum and unable to maintain its balance or combat the inevitable effects of gravity. Claudia dispassionately watched the man, who had donated half her DNA to her, lose his last unequal battle against fate as he finally faltered and fell in a graceless heap upon the concrete floor of the warehouse. His dignity was abruptly and irrevocably lost as was his life force.

Claudia shook her head in a futile attempt to clear her mind of the ghoulish scene she had just orchestrated and slowly pulled herself up from the low wall she had been leaning upon for support. She had carefully chosen the dark roof of a warehouse across the street to take up her vantage point as a sniper. It was the sole location in the vicinity which would allow her to perform her unnatural act under a protective cloak of invisibility.

Claudia felt not a single twinge of regret for committing the legally and socially unacceptable act of patricide. Yet, she also knew for a dire certainty that the vision of her father's headless corpse tumbling into a boneless heap upon the ground, would haunt her dreams for the rest of her life. Still, she couldn't find it in her to care because it was a penance she was entirely willing to pay. If her conscience, always more maddeningly tender than either her heart or brain would care to admit, was going to try and ruin her future sleep, it could just go right ahead and do so.

For her aberrant actions this black night had assured Claudia of one irrefutable fact which she embraced with unabashed relief. From this evening forward, the peace of her slumber might indeed be compromised on a nightly basis. Still, in exchange for that costly forfeiture, her waking hours had suddenly become infinitely more secure.

"Sayonara, Daddy," Claudia whispered, the words drifting out into the humid air of the hot summer night, "I guess you never knew what hit you and you always said that was the best way to go. Glad I could help out in achieving that little dream of yours." Claudia's words were sardonic and uttered with a fierce hatred that was belied by the gleam of tears coating her eyes, imperceptible in the all encompassing darkness of the flat, barren rooftop.

She was surprised to discover her hands were trembling as she began to come down from the adrenalin high engendered by shooting Anthony Zacchara. Yet, somehow, the slender fingers still managed to function with careful meticulousness. With the precision of an automaton, Claudia broke down the high powered rifle into its components parts which she then carefully placed into the foam pockets of the black, brushed-metal briefcase she had purchased in anticipation of tonight's events.

Claudia grabbed the briefcase, holding it flush against her right side, she ran to the solitary structure on the roof, a small building which housed the stairs she had methodically ascended a scant hour beforehand. Claudia pushed against the wedged open door, she stopped to whip out a small flashlight from the multitude of pockets adorning her cargo pants and then stepped into the hot, cramped space. The high-powered beam of the artificial light illuminated the dank walls and eroded stairs of the dilapidated building, a twinned match to the warehouse which currently entombed her father. She dashed down the crumbling stairs, taking some of them two at a time, an unwise choice given the uneven lighting and Claudia's agitated state of mind.

Yet, she was compelled to flee as she felt an undeniable atavistic urge to be gone, to leave this place which had borne silent witness to her committal of an unforgivable sin. In an additional pragmatic nod to self-preservation, she didn't particularly want to still be there when the Port Charles police arrived. Claudia cynically realized that the timing of that particular event was elastic but she still presumed it would occur at some point before dawn.

The bike was waiting patiently for her by the curb, even motionless and silent it still possessed an aura of contained power. Claudia had left it standing there unsecured. She was confident that the residents of the surrounding derelict neighborhood, the demographic of which consisted mostly of homeless people with mental health issues or disabling drug dependencies, would leave the motorcycle untouched. They represented the flotsam and jetsam of modern society, as disenfranchised and forgotten as the very warehouses they squatted in. Such broken people were in no way up to the task of stealing the sleek and darkly dangerous machine that Claudia was now straddling.

She gave a quick proprietary twist to the motorcycle throttle which released a deep throated roar of restrained power to shatter the bleak silence of the deserted street. Claudia cast a final glance toward the open doorway of the other warehouse. For a moment, she gazed reflectively at the crumpled figure of her assassinated father, lying supine in a pool of his own blood.

Chewing on her bottom lip, Claudia said softly, her voice full of inexpressible emotion, "I'll be sure to send flowers, Daddy, lots and lots of flowers."

Then, with a quick swivel of the handlebars, she was gone, heading down the street in the opposite direction from which she had come. The snarl of the engine faded away to a dim growl, courtesy of the Doppler Effect. The twinkle of her tail light lingered a bit longer, casting a faintly sparking trail of red, an enticing beacon which no one left behind was able to follow.

Claudia didn't bother with a motorcycle helmet, as far as she was concerned it would only serve to mess up her hair. She firmly believed that if it was your time then you should face the cold embrace of mortality without barriers. Death harvested when it would, just as it had for Anthony tonight, and as it had attempted to do so for Claudia herself, so many months ago in that isolated cabin. Yet, it would appear that death, or perhaps just Michael Corinthos the junior, was fallible because she hadn't actually died that night.

Instead, knocked unconscious by the handle of the axe Michael had hit her with, Claudia lay in her chilly and shallow grave, out in the aptly named Pine Barrens, for some unknown duration of time. Eventually, Claudia regained her senses and managed somehow to claw her way out of the earth's clammy embrace and then made her slow, tortuous way to safety. Eventually, when she recovered to a degree where she could once more plan, Claudia returned to her erstwhile grave. With every fiber of her being trembling with rage and fear, Claudia placed the body of an anonymous other into that despicable narrow aperture.

The new occupant of the burial site was an unidentified female corpse who matched Claudia with regard to such generic particulars as height, weight, eye and hair color, Claudia also had the foresight to include supplemental materials to provide corroborating forensic evidence in case the body was to be disinterred and examined. Assuming that the post mortem investigation wasn't too intensive, Claudia was confident that the surrogate corpse would withstand a cursory inspection and convince everyone that she was truly dead.

Her plan worked, as she presumed it would, because neither the Port Charles police nor Sonny and his men were clever enough to suspect that a decomposed body exhumed from the exact spot where Claudia had been buried, might, in fact, not be she. Claudia thought that only her father's deviously Machiavellian mind would have been capable of suspecting that his daughter could have performed such a convoluted bait and switch scenario.

Fortunately, at the time when her marriage to Sonny had so spectacularly imploded, Anthony had been conveniently housed in Pentonville Prison. When the incarcerated mob boss was eventually informed of his daughter's untimely and violent demise, he appeared to accept the news without showing much in the way of either remorse or regret.

Actually, the main reason Claudia felt compelled to kill Anthony was because her father would once again be the only person likely to have his own outlandish suspicions aroused upon her successful completion of the second task she had set for herself this night. With her father's demise, she had managed to remove the only true obstacle to her future freedom. In order to insure the most fortuitous outcome possible, Claudia fully intended to complete her next self-assigned chore before the sun rose and illuminated her dark hewn handiwork left sprawled on the stained floor of a deserted warehouse.

Claudia had needed to neutralize Anthony before he could either blab about his theory of her rising from her grave, like some creature of the night, to anyone or, even worse, take action against her on his own account. Parents, in the Zacchara family, at least the live ones, didn't love their children any more than rattlesnakes did. Claudia had been raised to know that, within her immediate familial circle, with the exception of her beloved brother Johnny, it was a case of either kill or be killed. Frankly, given the odds against her, Claudia was both surprised and rather delighted to still be dwelling amongst the living and fully proposed to do whatever was required in order to maintain the status quo.

She sped along Harborview Drive, both rider and bike melding into the dual cloaking blackness of the night as they merged with the dark road surface. Claudia drove without a headlight, her catlike eyes dark adapted and her mouth set in a grim line of determination. She was heading for Greystone Manor, the cheerless home of Sonny Corinthos, her former husband. Anthony had only been Claudia's practice target for this evening, Sonny was her actual prey.

From her experience of living there for several hellish months, Claudia knew a dozen different ways to get into the house without being detected. Tonight, Sonny Corinthos would pay for every cruel slight she had endured as his wife, not the least of which was that she had fallen in love with him. For that untenable fact alone, he deserved to die.

Claudia pulled the bike up beside the distant south wall of the manor grounds. She cut the engine, allowing the concealing veil of silence to descend around her. The wall was undoubtedly a formidable piece of masonry. Yet, no one had ever thought to cut down the large oak tree which grew adjacent to it and thereby providing an overlooked access point to the heavily guarded grounds.

Claudia opened the left side storage compartment of the motorcycle and pulled out a silver plated, nine-millimeter hand gun. Jason Morgan would have immediately recognized it as a clone of his own weapon of choice. Strangely enough, even though Jason had never laid eyes on this specific gun, it was registered to him. Claudia grinned maliciously at the thought of the chaos which would erupt throughout the Corinthos organization as all the inevitable finger pointing began.

"They'll think Jason did it," Claudia murmured to herself as she reached for the lowest branch of the venerable tree.

Claudia was determined, using every method at her disposal, to force that nascent misapprehension along to its foregone conclusion of having Jason indicted for Sonny's murder. She planned to start the process by accidentally dropping the silver gun on the grounds inside the wall when she returned from killing Sonny.

Additionally, the make, model, and even the actual brand of tires of her motorcycle were all identical to the one possessed by Jason Morgan. Earlier this evening, she had slashed the tires on his own machine as it sat innocently in the underground garage at Harbor View Towers. Claudia's prophylactic action insured that there could be no possible match made between the tire casts made at the scene of the crime at Sonny's house and those taken from Jason's innocent motorcycle. It was quite likely that the police would probably just accuse Jason of slashing his own tires to prevent the accrual of any forensic evidence.

Jason, as Claudia knew full well, was currently ensconced in his penthouse home tending to his wife and roommate, Damian Spinelli. The two of them were suffering from food poisoning incurred through ingesting the Szechuan chicken included in their order of Chinese food. By carefully scrutinizing the household's regular rota of takeout ordered from Feng's Fine Chinese Cuisine, Claudia had serendipitously discovered that the poultry dish was the one menu item which Sam and Spinelli both loved but that Jason despised.

Earlier tonight, Claudia distracted the delivery boy, in the alley behind the restaurant, by pretending to have lost an earring. The young man set the bag of hot food down on the alley pavement as he eagerly accepted the opportunity to be of use to such a beautiful and alluring woman.

Claudia had taken advantage of his distraction, as he peered intently down at the filthy, ill-lit ground looking for what wasn't there, to sprinkle the chicken dish with ipecac powder. Then she cheerfully called out that she had found the errant earring nestled under the collar of her leather jacket. Claudia profusely thanked the delivery boy for his trouble before disappearing into the gloom of the alleyway.

The boy stared after Claudia in a daze of adolescent infatuation. He forlornly sniffed the air for the remnants of her spicy perfume which was being rapidly overwhelmed by the combined odors of hot cooking oil from the kitchen and spoiling food from the alleyway dumpsters.

Claudia realized Spinelli's and Sam's protestations concerning Jason being with them at the time of the attack upon Sonny would be considered of little value in a court of law. Given their long history of unswerving loyalty to the hit man, their entirely candid assertions would fall upon legally deaf ears, especially when their testimony was placed within the damning context of their intimate relationship with Jason.

Thus, the end result of Claudia's elaborate machinations would be to place Jason at the scene of the crime via impeccable layers of circumstantial evidence. The beleaguered mob enforcer would be even further incriminated, with regard to motive, when it was revealed at his trial that he and Sonny were recently fallen out over matters pertaining to the business and Michael's increased role therein. All of Port Charles knew that the single person in the world whom Jason was more loyal to than Sonny Corinthos was his son and heir, Michael. That amply documented allegiance would play nicely into the pesky missing piece of the puzzle, the hit man's motive for killing his boss, as the prosecutor would surely argue that Jason had killed Sonny in order to protect Michael. For once, Diane Miller might have to struggle mightily in order to earn her astronomically high attorney fees.

If Jason actually did go to prison for Sonny's murder, Claudia would consider such a salubrious outcome the crowning achievement of tonight's choreographed program of methodical vengeance. Still, it certainly wasn't a necessary result for her plan to still reach a successful conclusion. No, her revenge would be complete entire the moment Sonny dropped dead at her feet, a neat round bullet hole set in the precise center of his receding forehead.

The only wild card in the whole scenario was the apparent inability of her brother Johnny to grab at a golden opportunity and to twist a given situation to his own advantage. She and her father had shared that particular Zacchara character trait of sell-aggrandizement in abundance. Yet, Johnny's own character, much as he loudly protested it as being the opposite case, was much softer than that of either his father or sister.

Claudia supposed that Johnny's stringent code of honor, originating as it did in the antithetical circumstances of being raised in such a depraved home environment, might be one of the reasons why she loved him so much. The convenient deaths of both Anthony Zacchara and Sonny Corinthos, combined with Jason Morgan's coincidental legal troubles, would be a prime time for Johnny to seize the opportunity to finally make Port Charles a Zacchara power base. Yet, Claudia believed it was quite probable that Johnny might fail to act swiftly enough to jump into the power vacuum created by the confluence of those two auspicious events.

Even though she couldn't accurately predict his reaction, Claudia would still make the attempt to secure her brother's future by filling the trough with enough cool, clear water that even the most skittish of horses would feel constrained to come forward and drink from its bottomless depths. Metaphors aside, Claudia devoutly hoped Johnny would, just this once, not hesitate and instead, step boldly up and claim his birthright.

Regardless of her personal wishes or wants, the eventual consequences of this evening's deeds still lay in the future. Claudia knew full well that ultimately tomorrow would have to be left to fend for itself. So, all she could do in the meantime, was to focus on her primary task and favorably set the stage in preparation for whatever Johnny's ultimate decision would be.

With a grunt of effort, Claudia pulled herself up onto the low hanging branch and then began to climb up into the higher reaches of the oak with a surprising degree of adept agility. "No matter what happens, I'll be lying on a beach in Curacao this time tomorrow." She quietly vowed to herself from within the shelter of her leafy abode.

After climbing to a spot in the tree where she was at the summit of the high wall, Claudia briefly rested. A few minutes later, she securely tied a rope onto an overhanging branch prior to lowering herself down onto the deserted grounds of the large house. Claudia serenely surveyed the dark and shadowed enemy territory she must cross not once but twice tonight.

Taking a deep breath in calming preparation for rappelling down the wall, Claudia spoke with wry humor, "Sometimes it pays to be dead."