The Path to Power

Chapter Seventeen




Reality Check



Jax paces impatiently in Ned's office. Finally it's just too distracting to Ned and he shuts down the information he's getting off the computer and leans back in his chair. "What the hell is your problem?!" Ned protests. Jax gives Ned a look. "If that was supposed to mean something to me... sorry. Kinda got my hands full here. So either spit it out or... go grab me some dinner. I skipped lunch today."

Jax growls. "Sonny's gone too far."

Ned's jaw drops at that one. "What?"

"Calling me. Telling me to meet him at a warehouse. Accusing me of trying to have him killed!"

"Oh yeah, like you'd be crying big alligator tears if Corinthos bit the big one."

"That's not the point."

"Then what is the point? Look Jax, things are rolling right along as planned. But I have my hands full. There are just some things you're going to have to handle on your own."

"I did handle it. Taggart investigated. But there was nobody at the warehouse when the cops showed up or rather there were nobody when the cops got into the warehouse. And Baldwin..." Jax rolls his eyes.

That finally gets Ned's attention. "There is something wrong with that guy."

"What do you mean?"

"Port Charles has had it's share of corrupt district attorneys before. Schultz comes to mind. He was so into Grandfather's hip pocket. Even Justus financed his political career as DA with Moreno's money. But Baldwin is out of control and it's not just Grandfather's donations to his campaign fund. Maybe it was when he couldn't put Alcazar away for the explosion that killed Kristina. Maybe it was something before but there is just something..."

"Off about the guy?" Jax finally takes a seat allowing Baldwin to ease the problems with Sonny to the back of his mind.

"Yeah. It was one thing when he was harassing Corinthos. Didn't particularly care if everything he was doing was crookeder than the road to hell as long as it drove Sonny nuts."

"But then it was Brenda, and Skye and Alexis." Jax nods. "I think he's still got an eye on Alexis. Wants to make sure that she never runs for DA again."

"I don't think that will be an issue." Ned says wryly. "Have you talked to Alexis since the hospital?"

"No. Not after she didn't know me." Jax admits and feels guilty. "Everything I've been doing has been thru Dara."

"I went over to Spoon Island once." Ned holds up one finger as a nonverbal reinforcment of his statement.

"It didn't go well?"

"She thinks I work for Mikkos. And that the reason I had pictures of the baby was because her sister was with Mikkos and Kristen."

"She doesn't even realize Kristina..."

"No. And I wish she were faking. I'd love for her to be whispering in my ear Gotcha about now but..." Ned shakes his head. "... not with Stefan back. If Alexis were faking then he'd be pushing for the Cassadines to have joint custody. To have Kristina over on the island."

"So Alexis could see her. And he's not?"

"Oh he wants visitation alright. But on this side of the water. There is no real effort to put Alexis and Kristina together." Ned looks up to the doorway and sees Zander standing there. "Zander?"

"Natasha's not faking." Zander says flatly.

"How do you know?" Jax asks disbelieving. "Alexis could fool the doctors if she put her mind to it."

"Cause I went to see her again after that time." Zander tells Ned ignoring Jax. "And Alexis couldn't fool me. Natasha is different. She's just a kid who misses her parents, her little sister and her pony. Who thinks they have abandoned her cause she wasn't a good girl and didn't stay with her sister. Who knows that the evil blonde lady is after her and her sister."

Ned winces. "Enough, Zander. Faith is my wife. I know how Alexis feels about her, how Natasha feels even. Keep your opinions to yourself even if you're just repeating what you think Alexis would say. Alexis doesn't know Faith, not really. All she saw was Helena, not Faith."

"If she knew Faith she would have been freaking even harder." Zander mutters.

"Faith is letting you see the baby." Ned reminds Zander with the implied threat that, that could change at anytime. "Was there anything else?" Ned asks pointedly.

"No, I was just telling you I was leaving the office for the day. I'll see you tomorrow." Zander bites his tongue clipping off each word to keep from saying more.

Ned looks at the time and winces. "I'm not far behind you."

After Zander leaves Jax studies his friend. "Heading off to see the missus? You don't seem to be to enthusiastic. Guess this means the honeymoon is over."

"Thanks to Grandfather." Ned mutters. He stands and starts packing his briefcase. He hesitates over the desk top but then grabs the framed picture of Brooklyn. He'd get a couple of copies made... it would have to do until Lois sent some more. Damn he was going to have to let Lois know the change in address and that he'd gotten married... again.





Faith smiles a slow smile as she eyes AJ sitting on her couch. He hated being there you could see it in ever cell of his being but there he was. "I appreciate you stopping by."

"Did I have a choice?" AJ asks.

"Sure, you didn't have to come by just cause I called." Faith shrugs. "Course you know you've gotten more done with my suggestions than you have in... how many years?"

"You're working with Coleman."

"And why do you have a problem with that? If it were true that is."

"He forced my wife into stripping!"

Faith starts laughing and then takes a seat on the couch next to AJ. She toys with the hair over his ear smoothing it back. "And from what I hear she was really good at it. Like she was born to it-- shaking her ass in your brother's face and getting him all droolie over her. Sliding his hands all up and down her thighs to get the really big tip. She couldn't dump you fast enough to get her hands on that. You thought she was a princess. That's your deal. Sonny's little sister is a bunny. And all she wants to do is fuck and you weren't getting it done. But I bet little brother can pump away until even a bunny would say enough"

"Shut up." AJ grinds out between clenched teeth. He brushes Faith's hand away like a pesky mosquito.

"And you didn't even get custody of the dog. First you lose your kid to Carly and then the dog too?" Faith tsks.

AJ pops off the couch and starts pacing. "Just shut up!"

"You're the one that brought her up." Faith counters. Her voice is low and cold. "I thought you wanted to get your kid back seems I was mistaken."

"You weren't mistaken." AJ turns toward Faith. "But I want to know what's in it for you?"

"Why should you care if you get what you want?" Faith shrugs. "What I don't get... you just signed your kid over kinda like a quit claim on a piece of property you weren't interested in anymore."

"It wasn't like that!" AJ protests.

Faith eases back on the couch and gets comfortable. "Then what was it like? Tell me exactly and don't leave anything out."





Penny racks a load of dishes to go thru the washer. She wasn't supposed to be here tonight. An emergency had come up. An emergency where she ended up working a double. She was going to have have veins like a roadmap if this didn't stop. Arches that would fall a lot sooner than Rome. Enough oil on her skin to solve the world's crisis. When would she ever learn? No would be good to learn. No would be excellent to learn. But the first step on the curve is realizing that Sure is a four letter word. One that had come back to bite her in the butt constantly. No wonder Tammy had left for greener pastures over in Salem. At least she'd gotten an apartment out of the deal. How in the hell had Tammy managed it? She not only had covered for the No Shows, Gotta Gos, and working constantly but also still managed to have three men on her string. She'd probably moved to Salem to stop juggling Tony Jones, Mike Corbin and Luke Spencer! Tammy had been busier than back when she'd been hooking.

"Miss, could I get some coffee?"

"Sure." Penny internally winces as she answers but puts on a smile and wiping her hands on a nearby bar towel grabs the pot and brings it out onto the floor. There aren't that many people here. It's kinda that vague time between dinner and when the spring sports practice is over. People with families were home having their meal. People with boyfriends were out on dates. "Is there anything else I can get you?"

"You know an eight letter word for lame that ends with a C?" The regular doesn't look up from the crossword even as he's reaching for his refilled coffee cup.

My life. Nope that's only seven and ends with an e. "Pathetic."

"That's great! Thanks." He looks up at Penny and grins at her. "I always figure that I have a better shot of finishing the crossword when you are working."

"Thanks. I think." Penny laughs. Penny goes back behind the counter and puts the coffee back on the burner and loads the last of the dishes in the washer and starts it. The noise kicks up a notch in the diner so Penny turns to the radio and turns up the volume as well.

So did you win? The radio voice demands. Last night's drawing was the biggest in New York Lottery history at 57 million dollars. And the only winner is from right here in Port Charles! So check your numbers boys and girls! Here they are again---3, 7, 24, 35, 41, 57 and the bonus number is 12!

Penny realizes that she'd flipped her pad over and actually written the numbers down on the cardboard backing. She didn't often buy a ticket but what the heck it had been 57 million. That had to have been worth a buck.

"Penny, could I get..." Nikolas looks at the blackboard. The food was better at the Grille but thanks to that Who wants to Marry a Millionaire producer and the resulting media storm things had started to get crazy at the Grille and he hadn't been able to get a damn thing done. "A... pattymelt I guess. And an ice tea."

"Did you want fries, potato salad or cole slaw?"

"Fries are fine." Nikolas sees that she has written a series of numbers on the back of her order pad. "You didn't actually play the lottery did you? You have more chance of being struck by lightening than of really winning."

"I know." Penny admits sheepishly. "I was weak. Besides what do they always say? You can't win if you don't play?"

"Rich isn't all it's cracked up to be." Nikolas says wryly as he accepts the plastic tumbler filled with tea and ice.

"I'm sure everyone has their own dream. Most people goes something like... When I win the lottery..." Penny informs the rich boy on the other side of the counter.

"I'm going to buy a fishing boat!" The guy doing the cross word puzzle chimes in.

"I'm going to take a trip around the world." Another over by the jukebox agrees.

"I'm going take about a million dollars of it and spread it all over my bed and then roll around in it nekkid." A corpulent man informs the diner. That brings out laughs for everyone along with mental winces as the image settles in. And that's the thing-- once its there you just can't get rid of it.

"What would you do, Penny?" One of the regulars ask. "You'd keep working right?"

"Yeah. Right." Penny nods. "Cause you all know I live for Kelly's and your abuse!"

"Glutton for punishment and nobody can dish it out like us. Right guys?" The jukebox man looks around to the other regulars.

There are a chorus of "Rights." from around the room.

Penny just shakes her head and goes back into the kitchen getting the things together to make the patty melt first putting on the sliced onions to caramelize on the grill in a dab of butter then slapping two hamburger patties on and then on a cooler spot the dark russian rye bread buttered side down. "Nikolas, did you want american or swiss cheese on your patty melt?"

What difference does it make really? Processed yellow or processed white cheese food. "Swiss is good." Nikolas calls out. "So what would you do? If you won the lottery, I mean." He watches Penny thru the pass thru as she bustles around the kitchen.

A heaping handful of fries go into the fryer basket and then dropped into the hot grease. Penny shrugs going back to the grill. She puts a couple of slices of swiss on both pieces of bread. She likes the sandwiches to be nice and gooey and well if Bobbie didn't like it-- then Bobbie could just fire her. "I have no idea. But it would be fun figuring it out! Oh I know. I'd go to that Ward House Fundraiser over at Club 101. I still haven't been over to that place because I'm always working. I hear it's really nice. And the Ward House is a good cause. Maybe take a day off and read a book with my feet up. I haven't done that since..." Penny winces. It has been too darn long.
The onions are caramelized so using her spatula Penny flips them into the melting cheese atop the rye bread. She uses the spatula to give the burgers a press against the grill rushing the cooking along then flips the burgers on top of the onions. Carefully she puts the other slice of bread on the top and then grabbing a lid for one of the sauce pans sets it over the top of the sandwich. She goes over to the fryer and gives it a good shake so that the julienned spuds cook evenly. As they rise to the top she pulls the rack out and gives it another shake then lets the grease drain from the potatoes. They made their potatoes from scratch here at Kelly's. No frozen spuds-- no sirrie, Bob. Nice long shoestrings of crisp yummy addictive bad for you french fries. If you wanted frozen fries you could always go to McDonald's.
Going over to the prep table she grabs a platter down and puts the garnish of a wedge of dill pickle on the plate and then brings the sandwich from the hot grill slapping it down on the counter. Putting toothpicks on either side so that it would stay together once cut in half, Penny grabs the nice big knife that is kept at the ready in the kitchen and with a smooth rocking motion bisects the sandwich, arranges it artfully on the plate and then dumps the fries on the plate. Bringing it out to the front she makes sure that Nikolas has ketchup and plenty of napkins. "Here you go."

"It looks great." And smells better. Nikolas reaches for the ketchup.

"Thanks. Is there anything else I can get for you? More ice tea?"

"I'm fine."

"Okay well let me know." Penny walks to the other end of the counter and reaches under it to where her purse is. She pulls out her wallet and the lottery slip. She flips her order pad onto the counter so she can see the numbers and then compares it to her slip. oh my gawd. oh my gawd. OH MY FUCKING GAWD!

"Penny, Are you alright?" Nikolas asks curiously. The waitress had made a squeaking noise and then grown pale, her whole body swaying.

"Oh Gawd."

"Breathe." Nikolas orders firmly getting up from the stool and coming around the counter in a rush. "Breathe! What is it? What happened?"

"I hope you catch me." And with that Penny slips into a graceless faint.

Nikolas grabs her by the waist holding her up with one arm and shifting her around. In her hand is a slip of paper. Figuring it is the cause of Penny's distress he examines it: 3, 7, 24, 35, 41, 57, bonus number-- 12. He compares it to the numbers on the back of Penny's order pad. By this time all the guys in the diner are crowded around the counter.

"Is she alright?"

"Did you want me to call an ambulance?"

"I know CPR and rescue breathing."

"I wonder if she ate anything today? She's probably exhausted. She's always working."

Nikolas sees the key hanging underneath the register and hands it to one of the guys on the other side of the counter. "Lock the door and turn the sign around." He says grimly. Then lifting Penny up into his arms he brings her around to the front of the diner and since there are no booths picks a chair that he can prop her against the wall and sets her down.

"Is she alright?" Crossword man comes back after locking the door.

"She did it, didn't she?" One of the other regulars realizes. "She won the lottery."

"If you care about her at all you will not say a word." Nikolas demands. "Not a word to anyone."

Reality sinks in for everyone in the room. The ordinary joes might dream about winning the lottery but reality is a bitch. "Gees. What the hell is she going to do?"

"Enjoy it I hope."

"She will." Nikolas declares. "If she is given time to examine her options. That's why privacy is paramount."

"We won't tell. Right guys?" Crossword man looks around to his buddies. They all shake their heads.

Penny groans and reaches for her head and then straightens abruptly. "Where is it?"

"Right here." Nikolas hands her back the ticket.

"Since you're awake and all... we're going to get out of here. Make sure that you sign the back of that slip!" One of the customers says awkwardly. "And you don't have to worry about us saying nothing."

"Yeah, dinner is on me." Penny says gratefully. "Thanks guys." Nikolas walks the guys out and makes sure that the door is locked again when he comes back. "I know that I just made you that sandwich and I'm sorry but I really think..."

"I'm not leaving yet." Nik says calmly and then goes back over to the counter and sits down by his patty melt with fries. "You need to come up with a plan. And going home can't be part of it."

"But the guys said..." Penny winces.

"And they probably meant it. But one of them will realize that they are part of the biggest story..."

"Yeah, I get it." Penny sighs and comes around the counter. She automatically refills Nikolas' ice tea. "So you're rich. What should I do?"

"You need a lawyer; I would recommend Dara Jensen since my Aunt no longer practices. You need an accountant. I can get you a name there. And you need to buy a dress for the Ward House fundraiser." Penny laughs at that as Nikolas intended. As he finishes a bite of his sandwich he asks. "How much was it anyway?"

"Fifty seven million. Even after they take taxes..." Penny shakes her head. "My head is spinning."

Nikolas thinks she means literally and rises ready to come around the counter again. "Sit down before you fall down." Penny doesn't follow his advice but instead leans back against the reach in ice cream cooler that was kept in the front to make shakes. "How did you get to work today?"

"I took the bus." Penny asks automatically. "Why?"

"I'll give you a lift..." Nik shakes his head. "Home is really not a good idea. Not until that is verified and your claim acknowledged. And even then I doubt you have the necessary security. My family owns a summer house outside of town. It's very secluded and since you have no ties to the family no one would think to look for you there."

"Why are you doing this for me? Why are you helping me?" Penny asks.

"Because you just made my life so much easier. Welcome to the front page of the Herald, Ms. Penny... what is your last name any way?!"





Zander puts the key in the door to his room over Jakes and then swears as the door just eases open. He knows he locked it. He always locks it. Oh well there wasn't anything that he couldn't afford to lose in the room. The door drifts open and Zander groans at the sight.

Faith leans up on her elbows watching the door. Her legs are crossed at the ankle but it is more than obvious that she'd made herself comfortable on the most comfortable piece of furniture in the room... the Bed. "Close the door."

"I really don't think that this is a good idea."

"Thinking has never been your strong suit has it, Zander? Shut the door."

Zander shuts the door momentarily closing his eyes to gather his strength and then he turns around to face his boss' wife. "What do you want?"

"It's time for you to pay up. I told you there would be a cost to you seeing the baby." Faith says seductively.

"um... Ned..." Zander shifts awkwardly from one foot to the other.

Faith starts laughing. "Oh you should be so lucky!"

"If it's not that then what... look I'm not doing anything illegal. I've gone straight. I don't want any trouble with the PCPD."

"And I don't want you to have any trouble either. It's really very simple."

The hair goes up on the back of Zander's neck. He wasn't liking this already. "So if it's not..." Zander indicates with the wave of a hand to the bed. "...and it's not anything illegal-- then what?"

"Come over here and sit down." Faith orders patting the bed next to her. As soon as Zander gingerly sits on the end of the bed, she sits up and drawing her knees under her kneels behind Zander pressing against his back but whispering in his ear. "A little bird told me that you have something on Sonny Corinthos."

"I don't know what you're talking about." Zander denies.

"You were there when AJ lost custody of his son. Offering up quality scotch in exchange for a signature." Zander doesn't comment so Faith continues. "You know that AJ's signature was coerced and would never stand up in court if it came to that. I want you to write it all down and swear to it."

"No way. I'm not signing my own death warrant."

Faith murmurs. "And I thought that you loved Alexis, that you owed her and wanted to be around for Kristina."

"I do." Zander protests.

"I want that admission. AJ will never press charges. I'll make sure of that. You were just a... witness. Priorities, Zander. What is more important to you? Corinthos hates your guts. Morgan has beat you up how many times-- put you in the hospital how many times?"

"And Roscoe didn't?" Zander retorts sharply.

"I'm not Roscoe." Faith presses a kiss to the ticklish spot right below Zander's ear. "You don't owe Corinthos anything. But the Quartermaines on the other hand... Emily's family. Kristina's family. AJ says that Emily is Michael's godmother. I wonder what she would think if he was blown up in a little carbomb meant for Sonny? And you could have prevented it."

"You wouldn't." Zander jumps up off the bed and starts to pace.

"Of course not. I love kids. I could just eat them up with a spoon." Zander gives Faith a look but doesn't stop pacing. "Insurance, Zander. It's insurance. I can't believe that you didn't think of this before. You beat Sorel by having the goods on him. Pinning that dead undercover on him."

"Sorel almost killed me!" Zander snarls.

"So do it smarter this time. You were there: Kidnapping, assault. All the things that the PCPD, the feds, have been trying to hang on Corinthos for years. And if Sonny kills you then he doesn't have any witnesses now does he? Killing you is a get out of Jail Free Card. Can you feel the ice cracking under you, Zander? Unless of course you write it all down and put it somewhere safe... like with a lawyer. And wouldn't it be nice to have a Quartermaine on your side?"

"Emily doesn't care what AJ thinks... only what Jason thinks and if I give it up on Sonny then she'll never speak to me again." Zander says bitterly. "Besides Emily already knows. AJ told her. It's why she broke up with me."

"See how that worked. You screwed her brother over, and she screwed you over. Make it right with AJ and then you've got someone saying sweet things about you to the little Mafia Princess-- AJ, Ned, I think I could even swing Skye. All you have to do is tell the truth. Write it down, swear to it. Heck you can even send a copy to Sonny just so he knows that if anything happens to you that his family is going to be blown to bits... figuratively-- of course."

"I'll think about it."

Faith grabs her purse and her coat and walks over to the door. She stops at the last minute and turns around. "Don't bother coming to the park until I have that affadavit in my hand. Until you give me what I want your loyalty is still to Corinthos... not Kristina, not even the crazy lawyer. And if I can't control you then you're not getting anywhere near the kid." Faith grins at Zander. "I bet you're wishing about now that all I wanted was best two out of three in mattress tag, you would have pony'd up fast enough. Sorry lover. But look on the bright side. This works for you too." Faith leaves shutting the door behind her and walks down the stairs into the bar.

Coleman is working behind the bar. Bruno is standing on one end waiting for Faith. "Everything go okay?" Coleman asks.

"Peachy." Faith smiles and hands the master key back to the owner of the bar. She looks around. "This is supposed to be a step up from the Oasis?"

"It's more of a lateral move." Coleman admits looking around. "But it's got possibilities."


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