As far as the eye could see, there was white sand, clear blue ocean and an even bluer sky. Lush green trees dotted the shoreline, adding to the already tropical atmosphere.
The beach was sparsely populated. The locals were too jaded to soak up the magnificent view. That left only the tourists. And at nearly a thousand dollars a night for lodging on the island, there were very few of those.
The current occupants of the beach weren't the usual vacationers. An odd tension radiated all around the private little trio. It was plain to see that there was a story behind their arrival. And it wasn't a pleasant one.
“Don't put…” Alan James Quartermaine closed his mouth with a snap. There was no point in instructing Carly on anything . She would only ignore whatever he said. AJ focused instead on his son Michael, much as he had done since all this began. Luck, fate, God… something had smiled on him in the form of custody of Michael. He didn't intend to mess that up chasing after something that would never be with Carly.
AJ grimaced. He could certainly count on his family to douse any spark of hope he had about a life with the mother of his son. The family had made their feelings on the subject crystal clear. Carly was toxic to both Michael and AJ. On this the Quartermaines were united.
The young Quartermaine heir wished his family could be as united when it came to the other threat to his happiness with Michael. Jason had returned to Port Charles and though only Emily knew of it, the choosing of sides had already begun. AJ had given his little sister every opportunity to alert him to Jason's presence. Emily had only smiled and questioned AJ about Michael's progress and emotional state – reports he knew were repeated directly to Jason.
Emily's behavior was just a prelude to how the rest of the Quartermaines would react when their prodigal son made his presence in Port Charles known. Everyone, from their grandfather Edward on down, would campaign for Jason to be an integral part of Michael's life once again. Never mind that thanks to Jason and the choices he made, Michael would forever be a fraction of the little boy he'd once been.AJ watched his son lurch awkwardly across the pristine sand. It had been over seven months since Michael's shooting and the little boy was just learning how to walk more than a few steps at a time. AJ marveled at his son's resiliency. Despite it all Michael was a joy to be around.
Dara Jensen glanced down at the gas gauge of her Mercedes Benz coupe and debated. The station coming up on Grace Way was well lit and the pumps automated. It was a bit deserted that time of morning, but so much the better.
Smoothly she swung the polished silver car next to the center pump. There was only an eighth of a tank of gas in her car. Dara did not normally allow the level to drop below half if she could help it.
Dara took a cursory glance around. Her surroundings were quiet, as she expected them to be. Grace Way, named by the Port Charles City Council in honor of Mary Mae Ward, passed through the heart of a small neighborhood filled with children and young couples. There was a little park just opposite the gas station. It was as family-oriented a place as could be.
“Not now!” Dara swore in frustration. The purse she had with her was only a month or so old. Compartments in the leather, designed to hold her license and credit cards, were still very tight. She regularly had trouble removing the license from its holder.
“I will pump while you do that.”
Dara started violently. She had not heard anyone approach. “You know, I thought you knew better than to do anything this stupid,” Detective Marcus Taggert said softly.
“It's a safe neighborhood, Marcus.”
Taggert shook his head at Dara's weak excuse. “There is no such thing.” He filled her tank in silence. “Okay, you're full.”
“Thank you.” Dara waited a beat. “That's it?”
“Yeah. You expecting something else?”
“Well, you seem to have no problem discussing me with Mac. I thought you'd like to actually talk to me for a change,” Dara said sharply.
“Don't get all pissy.” Marcus began to fill the tank of his truck. “I just thought you'd both like to know that you weren't as discreet as you thought. Guys were beginning to whisper.” Marcus shook his head at Dara's wide-eyed expression of surprise. “What did you expect?” Your boyfriend commands a bunch of trained investigators. Figuring things out is what we do.”
Marcus grunted. “Uh-huh.”
Dara started up the Mercedes. At Marcus' gesture, she lowered her window halfway. “You guys,” Marcus said, “might want to start spending your nights together at your place instead of his. Nobody,” the tall detective smirked, “would think twice about seeing him out at four in the morning wearing the same clothes from the day before.”
“Stop hovering over him!”
“I'm not hovering over him.”
The calm response threw fuel on the irrational fire that sprang to life as Carly Roberts watched AJ interact with his son. “You, you are. That's all you ever do! It's a wonder Michael has made any progress at all with you crowding him the way you do.”
AJ didn't bother to respond anymore. When Michael and Carly had first come to live at the mansion as part of the custody agreement, he had jumped to defend himself against every criticism Carly leveled his way. It hadn't taken long for AJ to see that Carly was determined to pick a fight with him whenever they were together. The tactic was her response to the frustration she felt at not being able to dangle Michael before AJ like some forbidden treat.
“Jason knew more about being a father than you ever will.”
And there it was. AJ knew that the subject of Jason would rear its head. It was Carly's trump card, one she used when she wanted to inflict the maximum emotional damage AJ's way. “If Jason were here,” Carly railed, “he would-”
“He would what, Carly? Succeed in getting Michael killed this time?” AJ shook his head sadly. With all that happened to Michael, Carly still believed Jason was the better choice for their son.
AJ carefully lifted a weary Michael into his arms. His days spent playing on the beach not only helped strengthen the little boy's weakened muscles, but allowed him deep, unbroken sleep for the first time since the shooting. “Are you coming?” AJ hated the hopeful tone of his question.
“No.” Carly kept her gaze focused on the horizon.
Almost casually, Carly launched her last grenade of the afternoon. “You know that Jason is going to come back for us, don't you?” She didn't have to look at AJ to know her aim was perfect. “He's going to come back for me and his son.”Any regrets AJ might have harbored about sweeping Michael away from Port Charles disappeared in the wake of Carly's taunts. The fear that Jason would do exactly as Carly claimed kept AJ awake most nights. Carly's words were an unnecessary reminder to AJ of the stakes involved in a fight he could not afford to lose to his younger brother.
Each time Marcus Taggert reflected on Dara's outrage at his parting shot, he began to laugh all over again. Of course, there'd be hell to pay if she repeated the comment to his boss Mac Scorpio. Somehow, though, Marcus reasoned that Dara's pride would prevent her from doing just that.
“Badge 812!” Marcus' walkie-talkie squawked to life. “Come in, badge 812!”
“812 here,” Marcus responded. “What's up?”
“Reports of a B & E in progress.” The dispatcher gave the abbreviated police code for ‘breaking and entering'. Someone had called the 911 dispatch system to report a robbery.
Marcus was curious about the dispatcher's reason for passing the report his way. Breaking and entering was the type of crime the beat cops dealt with, not detectives. Not unless the victim was someone of importance in Port Charles. Then, more often than not, plain-clothes detectives like Marcus were sent by the department honchos to soothe the ruffled feathers of indignant wealthy citizens.
“Who's the mark?”
“Apparently… you,” the dispatcher replied. “Your landlord says there is someone moving around in your place.”
“Shit!” Marcus abruptly ended the transmission. He floored the accelerator and the Hemi engine of his big Dodge Ram roared with power.
Marcus reached beneath the seat and grabbed his auxiliary beacon. He tossed the flashing light onto his dashboard and sped toward home. At nearly ninety miles per hour, the trip took less than ten minutes.
Two beat cops awaited his arrival. Normally, they would have already entered the apartment and taken control of the situation. Wisely, they reasoned that the tall, muscled detective would welcome the opportunity to confront the unsuspecting burglar personally. “The perp's still inside,” the first uniformed cop told Marcus.
“Your landlord says that white van has been parked here most of the night.” The second cop gestured toward the side of the building where a nondescript panel van sat illegally parked against the curb. “That's what made him suspicious.”
Marcus merely nodded. He strode toward his apartment; the two uniformed cops were forced to hustle to keep up. Without hesitation, Marcus inserted his key into the lock and threw open his apartment door. The apartment looked as though it had been bombed. Marcus tamped down the sense of anger and violation he felt and tried to concentrate on dealing with the unfortunate intruder who had chosen his place to rob. “PCPD! Come out with your hands up!”
“Don't shoot!” a defiant voice came from the kitchen. “I'm coming out now.!”
“ No ,” Marcus shook his head. “ Oh. Hell. No .”