Flame Turns Blue

Chapter 17

Jason gave Zander his patented blank stare. "Don't push your luck," he stated.

Zander laughed. "Why not? I'm feeling lucky tonight."

"You're stoned."

"Your point being?"

Jason made to step by him, but Zander blocked his way. "You really don't want to do this," Jason warned.

Zander smiled, a cold curving of his lips. "Sure I do." And to prove his point he threw the first punch. It was pretty much the only punch he got in. Muffled gasps of pain escaped Zander as blow after blow connected with his midsection. He knew what Jason was doing. Specifically placing blows that were meant to incapacitate without leaving obvious evidence. Zander remembered this beating well and almost welcomed its familiarity. And this time there would be no reason for Jason to stop. No Elizabeth to come rescue him.

"Leave him alone!" Nikolas shouted as he ran towards Jason.

"Stay out of this," Jason replied, but he stepped away from Zander, only to rock back as a fist connected with his jaw.

Nikolas shook his hand to ease the pain but was ready to deliver another punch if necessary. "Walk away, Jason. If you don't I'll call the police and I'll be happy to tell them that I witnessed the whole thing. How you jumped Zander when he was in no condition to fight back."

Jason blinked at Nikolas then looked at Zander who was curled up on his side. Much in the same way and in the same spot as the first time. Then Jason locked eyes with Nikolas. "I won't walk away the next time," he warned, before turning on his heel and climbing the stairs to disappear into the night.

"Zander?" Nikolas knelt down beside him, wincing as he listened to Zander's labored breathing. His face was pale and pain glittered in the half closed eyes. "Can you stand?"

"No…problem," Zander gritted out. He tried to sit up and almost blacked out as pain stabbed through his ribcage. He felt Nikolas hooking his hands under his arm pits to haul him to his feet. It bothered Zander a bit that Nikolas was able to lift him with all too apparent ease. "I....I can walk," Zander said, hearing how his voice was slurred. He blinked against the black spots dancing before his eyes. Then the darkness folded over him and Zander didn't feel the strong arms that caught him and lifted him, before carrying him away.

* * * * *


"Put this on your ribs," Nikolas ordered, holding out an ice pack that he had found in the freezer.

Zander glared at him. "Don't you need to be somewhere?" he countered, ignoring the ice pack. He was sitting on the couch, half reclined. He wanted to stretch out and sleep but he couldn't breathe right lying down. "What are you doing here anyway?" Last thing Zander remembered was fighting with Jason then hearing Nikolas' voice.

Nikolas sat down on the coffee table, across from Zander, then hauled up his tee shirt to press the ice pack against ribs that were already bruising and looked swollen. He ignored Zander's gasp of pain. "I brought you home," he countered. "I take it you don't remember me carrying you in here? Or to the car from the docks?" Nikolas smirked.

"No...I don't remember that!" Zander spat, and it grated at him because he could tell that although Nikolas was taunting him a bit, he was also telling the truth. The thought of being that vulnerable bothered Zander to no end. Along with the fact that Nikolas appeared to be playing *hero* to his own *damsel in distress* in theory as well as in fact, well that was enough to make Zander want to break things. Including Nikolas' nose. At this point he would have enjoyed wiping the smug look off the other man's face. "So you did your good deed for the day," Zander sneered. "Now leave me the hell alone. And in case you didn't understand that I'll translate for you. Get the hell out of my house!"

"Want something to drink? You could probably use a gallon of coffee," Nikolas countered, completely unfazed by Zander's fury. He stood up and headed for the kitchen, not even missing a step when the ice pack whizzed by his head.

Zander bit back a moan of pain, regretting throwing the ice pack as his entire body protested the motion. Then he cursed as he realized he had no one to blame for his condition but himself.

Nikolas returned with the coffee. "I found some aspirin in the cupboard." He offered it and a mug of coffee cooled down with milk.

"I drink it black!" Zander hissed.

"Not tonight you don't," Nikolas replied. "You can take the aspirin on your own or I can stuff them down your throat. Your choice."

Zander narrowed his eyes and studied Nikolas, before deciding he meant what he said. Sullenly he took the pills and the mug. Zander looked at the two pills in his palm and considered asking for about a dozen more before heaving a silent sigh and downing the aspirin with a swallow of coffee. He made a face.

Nikolas moved to the other end of the couch with his own coffee mug. "Feel like talking about it?" he asked.

"Talking about what?"

"Why you goaded Jason into beating the crap out of you?"

Zander shrugged and regretted it. "It was so much fun the first time I thought I'd try it again," he drawled.

Nikolas took a sip of coffee. "What are you trying to prove, Zander?"

"Uh.." Zander pretended to give the question grave thought.
"Hmmm....I dunno. Maybe that I'm as stupid as everyone enjoys telling me I am. I'd hate to disappoint the masses."

"Are you aiming for a slow and painful death?" Nikolas asked softly.

Zander looked away from the intense gaze directed at him. "My entire life has pretty much been a slow and painful death," he whispered, and was surprised at himself for blurting that out.

Nikolas put his mug down and leaned forward. "We all have our private hells to deal with, Zander. I admit, I used to think you were just a worthless thug who didn't give a damn about anyone and was just out to trash yourself and anyone else you could take with you. But I was wrong. You got a raw deal in life, Zander. Everyone you should have been able to trust has betrayed you, and it took me a while to see in you what Emily did. What Elizabeth and Gia see. You care about people. And when you do care you devote yourself to them one hundred percent. And you're honest to a fault. And as hard as you try to do the right thing, it gets twisted somehow. When everyone else would get rewarded for what they've done, you seem to be punished in some way."

"Been taking psych 101 in your spare time, Nikky?" Zander interjected, a sneer curving his lips. "You could give Dr. Baldwin a run for her money. Or has my dad been coaching you?" He made a move to get off the couch but the movement jarred a moan of pain out of him.

"Zander.." Nikolas was on his feet.

Zander waved him back and slowly sank back down against the cushions. It took a moment for the pain to ease and his breathing to even out. He locked eyes with Nikolas and smirked. "Everything you just spouted translates into...Zander is a loser. And damn good at it."

Nikolas sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. "You're caught in a downward spiral, Zander. No one blames you for that. In fact, we all understand."

"Really? How nice of you all. Thanks." The sarcasm oozed out of Zander and the anger he felt stirring offered enough of an adrenaline rush to get him on his feet with only a minor grunt of pain.

"Maybe I should take you to the hospital," Nikolas suggested.

Zander glared at him. "Not in this lifetime!" he snapped. "And why are you still here? I threw you out!"

Nikolas rose to his feet, hovering close by Zander. "So what lies are you going to tell your father this time?" he asked, changing the subject.

"I'll think of something."

"I'm sure." Nikolas got in Zander's face. "You tell him the truth, or I will."

Zander wanted to take a swing at Nikolas, but he knew he would fall down in agony if he tried. "Why the hell won't you leave me alone?" he snarled. "What is it with you? We're not friends. You don't owe me jack shit! So why won't you get the hell out of my life and stay out?"

Nikolas smiled. "Because I'm not going to make it easy on you, Zander. If you're going to self destruct, you're going to have to work at it. And I'm doing it for two reasons. One is for Emily..."

"Get out!" Zander snapped. He didn't want to hear this.

"The other reason is because...I want to."

Zander could feel himself laboring to breathe again. He would need more than aspirin if he were going to hide his injuries from his father. He spotted his coat lying on a nearby chair and Zander fumbled in the pocket, drawing out ten foil packets containing two pills in each. One, of course, was missing since he had taken it earlier on the dock. He ignored the pain that rippled through him as he tried to punch out another pill, only to grunt in surprise when all the packets were ripped out of his hands. "What are you doing?" Zander asked, as Nikolas stalked away from him.

Nikolas headed down the hallway to the nearest bathroom. "Getting rid of this crap!" he shouted over his shoulder.

"NO!" Zander winced then practically limped his way after Nikolas. By the time he reached the door it was closed. Zander tried the knob but it wouldn't turn. Nikolas had locked it. "What the fuck are you doing?" Zander shouted. Then he heard the toilet flushing. "NO! NO!" Zander pounded on the door in desperation, the action causing pain to burn in his abdomen and ribs. His knees buckled and he slid down to the floor. "You son of a bitch! Do you know what you've done?" Zander doubted that he did. Nikolas had just flushed one thousand dollars worth of product down the toilet. One thousand dollars that Zander did not have. Zander banged the back of his head against the wall.

Nikolas came out of the bathroom and knelt beside Zander. "Stop that!" he ordered, as the banging continued. He grabbed Zander's head between his hands when it didn't stop. "I did what I had to do," he stated.

Zander shoved his hands off him. "Go to hell," he whispered.

"I'll help you up." Nikolas reached out only to have his hand slapped away.

"Get out!" Zander hissed, then he buried his face in his hands.

Nikolas walked away and grabbed his coat. As he left the house he had his cell phone out.

* * * * *

"Another hit?" Luke asked as he watched Cameron Lewis down his second scotch.

"No, thank you," Cameron replied, then he heaved a sigh.

Luke nodded. "Rough night?"

Cameron shrugged. "They're all rough lately.”

"How's your kid doing?"

"I don't know." Cameron glared at his cell phone which was lying on the bar top. "Alexander disappeared on me. I've been looking for him."

Luke grinned. "So you made a pit stop here for a little fortification before you continue the search?"

Cameron played with his empty glass. "Something like that." He jumped as his phone rang and fumbled it as he hurried to answer. "Dr. Lewis." He listened for a moment then said," Thank you, Nikolas. I'll be right there."

"Baby boy's been found?" Luke guessed.

"Yes." Cameron said nothing more as he pulled out his wallet.

Luke waved him away. "On the house. And good luck."

Cameron smiled wanly. "Thank you. I'll need it." Then he turned and walked out.

* * * * *

Nikolas greeted Cameron at the door. He had waited for him on the front steps. He didn't say a word about what had happened to Zander. No details. Nikolas would give Zander a chance to tell Cameron what happened. But one chance only. "Can we talk later?" Nikolas asked.

Cameron nodded. "Of course. And…thank you for bringing Alexander home. I appreciate it."

"Someone has to keep an eye on him," Nikolas stated, his tone a bit frigid. He would lay the blame squarely where it belonged.

"Yes, someone does," Cameron allowed, then he watched Nikolas walk off to his car. Cameron then prepared himself to face his son. He opened the door and stepped inside and saw Alexander pacing about the living room. With a practiced eye he noticed that his son's gait was pronounced and that he was bent over a bit. Alexander's face was too pale as well, and slicked with sweat, and when Cameron got close enough he could see that his son's pupils were a bit dilated. Alexander was high again. "Are you all right?" Cameron asked.

Zander smirked at him. "Swell."

Cameron nodded. "I was worried about you."

"Don't bother."

"I can't help it. You're my son."

Zander laughed, a sharp, bitter, sound. "And that's supposed to mean something to me?"

Cameron knew his son was not going to make this confrontation easy on either of them. He also knew that his son was injured, possibly seriously, and he needed to examine him. But Alexander wouldn't make that easy either. "Are you sure you feel okay?" Cameron asked again.

"I told you...I'm fine!" Zander's tone was harsh. He stopped pacing and leaned against the back of the couch.

"You look pale." Cameron moved to confront him. "Maybe you have a fever." Without warning he reached out to feel his son's forehead only to have his hand batted away. The movement caused Alexander to gasp and double over. Cameron grabbed him and could feel him trembling. He could also hear how labored his son's breathing was. "I'm going to help you sit down and then I'm going to examine you," Cameron stated. "And you're going to allow it or I will call 911. In which case we both know you'll end up in a private room in rehab by this time tomorrow. Dr. Baldwin will find out about your injuries and the fact that you're high and ship you out immediately. She already knows you're using again. She just doesn't have the proof she needs to send you off."

Zander didn't respond as he was settled on the couch. He took some deep breaths then asked, "Why are you covering for me?"

Cameron carefully lifted his son's shirt and winced at what he saw. Ribs and abdomen were already bruised and there was swelling. "I told you, I want to help you. I messed up in the past, Alexander. I want a chance to amend my mistakes, and to help you get better." As he spoke, Cameron gently prodded Alexander's ribs and abdomen, hearing the hiss of pain that escaped his son. But it had to be done. "I'm going to bind your ribs," Cameron said, when he was done.

"Don't bother!" Zander shot back, sullenly. He shifted on the couch and a moan escaped him.

"No bother," Cameron drawled, as he headed for the bathroom. He grabbed what he needed then returned to find that Alexander hadn't moved. Not surprising. Cameron was tempted to take him to the hospital for X-rays, but knew that if he did that, it would be over. Alexander would be shipped out to rehab in the morning. "Let me help you sit up," Cameron said, carefully placing one arm under his son's armpit to help him sit up.

Zander blinked back tears and bit his lip to stifle cursing. After the binding was done he tried to stand.

Cameron eased his son off the couch. "I'm going to get you into bed and give you something for the pain."

"You're going to give me drugs?" Zander was stunned.

"Yes." Cameron could feel how heavily Alexander was leaning on him and that worried him. He also took note of his son's right hand. He had wanted to ask about it before but hadn't dared. But he knew that the raw, bruised, knuckles had to be bothering him. "It's against my better judgment to give you anything, but you won't be able to sleep if I don't and you need to rest."

Zander said nothing as they climbed the stairs. He stretched out on his bed, moving slowly, then closed his eyes. "I won't forgive you," Zander whispered, as he felt a pin prick in his left forearm.

Cameron covered his son with a blanket. "I don't expect you to," he replied, then he sat down in a nearby chair, expecting Alexander to order him out of the room. But his son said nothing and Cameron listened as the labored breathing eased. After a time he knew Alexander was asleep and only then did Cameron risk brushing back the dark hair to press a kiss to his son's forehead. Then he quietly left the room. He was pouring himself two fingers of scotch when a knock sounded at the door. Given the hour, Cameron was surprised. He opened it. "Nikolas?"

"I told you I wanted to talk to you," Nikolas stated. "Can I come in?"

"Can we talk tomorrow? It's late?"

Nikolas shrugged. "Do you think Zander has any time to lose?" he countered.

Cameron said nothing for a moment then he stepped back to let Nikolas inside. "What do you want to say?"

"Did Zander tell you what happened tonight?"


Nikolas sighed. "I didn't think he would. I found him on the docks, being beaten to a pulp by Jason Morgan."

Cameron rubbed a hand over his face then turned to retrieve his drink. He downed it in one swallow. "I see," he drawled, while the scotch was still burning a path to his stomach.

"He's dealing drugs." Nikolas stated.

"Dealing?" Cameron echoed. He hadn't known about that. "Are you sure?"

Nikolas nodded. "I'm sure. You have to help him before it's too late."

Cameron started to pour himself another drink but stopped. Getting drunk wouldn't help the situation. It wouldn't help Alexander. "I'm doing what I can."

"By letting him do this to himself?" Nikolas countered, surprise evident in his tone.

"I can't force Alexander to save himself," Cameron said softly. "If I push him too hard he'll leave and then it will be all to easy for him to find a reason to end it."

Nikolas shook his head. "He's already doing that. He's pushing everyone he can think of to put him out of his misery."

Cameron sat down, feeling a hundred years old. "I know that. Thank you for watching over him. He needs a guardian angel and I guess you're it."

"I'm no angel," Nikolas replied, then he walked out, slamming the door shut behind him.

"You're all we've got," Cameron replied to the empty room. Then he pushed himself off the couch and headed back upstairs to check on his son.

* * * * *

Zander felt like he was under house arrest. Three days had passed since the beating and he had slept away almost two of them. Mostly because his father had kept him woozy with pain killers. Not that Zander minded. But this morning he had hauled his butt into the shower and slowly made his way downstairs. Food hadn't been a priority for the past two days, but now he was hungry. His father was working in his office when Zander first appeared downstairs. He had come out to ask how he was doing and to inform Zander that he would be home, all day, for the rest of the week and that he had re-scheduled Zander's sessions with Dr. Baldwin but that he had one late this afternoon. Then he had outright informed Zander that he was not to leave the house otherwise and that if he did, he would call Dr. Baldwin himself and help Zander pack for rehab. Zander had let that slide. Truth be told, he didn't feel up to going anywhere, but internally he felt trapped.

He dumped his uneaten cereal in the trash and washed the bowl at the sink. He wasn't as hungry as he thought. Zander then went into the living room and eased himself down onto the couch. He turned on the TV and flipped through channels, pausing only when his father came out to offer him some aspirin. Zander simply took them. Then he allowed his father to check his injuries, wincing as strong fingers probed his ribs and abdomen.

"You're healing nicely," Cameron stated.

"Lucky me," Zander drawled. He pushed his father's hand away and turned his attention back to the television. "What time is the appointment?"

Cameron glanced at his watch. "Four-thirty. Dr. Baldwin will probably notice that you're moving like you're injured."

Zander shrugged. "I'll tell her I fell."

"Alexander..." Cameron began, but the phone in his office rang and he hurried off to answer it.

"Stupid TV," Zander muttered, flicking it back off and tossing aside the remote. He pushed off the couch and muffled a curse at the pain that stabbed his side, then he headed back to the kitchen for something to drink when the doorbell rang. Zander was tempted to ignore it but figured his father would answer it if he didn't. So he opened the door and stared. "Gia."

She smiled at him. "Can I come in?"

Zander locked eyes with her. "Why? I would have thought you'd have gotten the hint by now. I'm anti-social."

"I got it, I just finally got the courage to ignore your attitude. So…mind if I come in?" Gia didn't wait for an invitation, however, instead she pushed past Zander and entered the house.

"If you've come here to lecture me, save it!" Zander hissed as he closed the door with a bang. "I appreciate everything you've done for me in the past. I really do. I'm grateful to you for being a friend to me when I needed one, and when no one else would. But that time has passed, Gia. Got it?"

She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him. "No...I haven't *got it*, Zander. You're talking Bullshit because you're hurt. Fine. I can deal with it. What I can NOT deal with is you trying to self destruct and thinking that it's okay to do so. Cause it is not okay with me. Got it?"

Zander glared right back at her. "I don't need this." He made to turn away but she grabbed his arm to haul him back around and Zander couldn't hold back a gasp of pain.

"Zander?" Gia was all concern. "Did I hurt you? What's wrong?"

"Nothing," He gritted out, as he bent over a bit and hugged one arm over his middle.

Cameron came out of his office and went straight to his son. "Sit down," he ordered, easing Zander towards the couch.

Zander wanted to argue but he lacked the air to do so. He let his father settle him down with a few pillows behind his back. He did not, however, let him touch him.

"What's wrong?" Gia asked, hovering at Cameron's side. "What did I do?"

"Alexander was...injured...a few days ago," Cameron replied. "He'll be all right."

Gia was anxious. "Is there anything I can do?"

Cameron nodded. "A glass of water might help."

"I don't want water!" Zander hissed.

"Get the water, please," Cameron countered.

Zander glared at his father. "You want to help me, send her away. Tell her I'm not up for visitors."

Cameron gently, but firmly, pulled his son's arm away from his abdomen. He lifted his shirt and probed the injuries again. "Take slow, deep, breaths," he ordered.

"I know how to breathe!" Zander snapped. He tried to sit up put his father pressed on his shoulders to keep him down. Then Zander heard Gia returning with the water. He scowled as he watched his father accept it then hold it out to him. Zander considered grabbing it then hurling it across the room, but the look in his father's eyes made him hesitate. He took the glass then took a sip. Surprisingly, it did seem to help.

"Thank you," Cameron said to Gia. "Alexander will be fine, just try to keep him resting if you will." Cameron rose to his feet. "I need to get back to my work."

Gia nodded. "I'll do what I can." She took Cameron's place, kneeling beside the couch. "I'm sorry I hurt you, Zander," Gia said softly.

Zander saw the tears in her eyes and looked away. "You didn't."

"Why are you doing this to yourself, Zander?" Gia asked. "It's like you're trying to punish yourself for something. As if...as if you don't feel you've suffered enough. But you have, Zander. You've suffered more than anyone deserves. So why won't you give yourself a break?"

"I have a shrink, Gia. Two of them actually," Zander shot back, coldly.

Gia didn't back off. "Why won't you listen to them? What's going on in your head, Zander? Seriously! I want to know. Do you think Emily would approve of this behavior? Do you think it would make her happy?"

Zander shot off the couch, propelled by the adrenaline rush that was fueled by his fury. "GET OUT!" He screamed at Gia, and he could feel himself shaking. Pain stabbed at him but he welcomed it.

"Zander.." Gia began, but he cut her off.

"Get the fuck out! NOW!"

Cameron came running. He touched Gia's arm. "I think you should leave," he said quietly, ushering her towards the door.

Gia nodded, blinking back tears. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset him..."

"I know." Cameron nodded as he opened the door. "Thank you for coming." He closed the door and turned to face his son. "Do you feel like talking?" he asked.

"I feel like drinking," Zander replied. He was still shaking and tears burned in eyes and he rubbed them away. He was so tired of everyone throwing Emily in his face. Emily was dead. No matter what he said or did was going to bring her back. Zander wished everyone would just leave him alone.

Cameron moved towards the kitchen. "I'll get you some coffee."

Zander shook his head. "No...I don't want anything."

"Sure you do," Cameron replied. "You want to suddenly wake up and discover that this has all been nothing more than a bad dream. You want Emily to be alive. You want to make it through just one day without it hurting so much. But you would settle for simply not feeling anything at all anymore." Cameron locked eyes with his son. "Am I warm?"

"I want people to stop making decisions for me," Zander replied, his voice barely a whisper. "I want to be free to wallow in my pain or in my self pity or whatever..." He was coming down from the adrenaline rush and feeling the pain. Slowly he made his way to the stairs. "I'm gonna lay down till it's time to go."

Cameron nodded. "I'll wake you in time."

Zander said nothing as he climbed the stairs.

* * * * *

"Are you all right, Zander?" Gail asked.

"I'm fine." Zander glanced at the clock. He had twenty minutes to go but it wasn't going to be easy. He had refused the aspirin his father had tried to push on him before leaving for his sessions, and now he was starting to feel the pain. It was making him fidget in his chair. But walking around made it harder for him to hide his injuries.

Gail moved to stand before him. "You look pale and your eyes are glassy. Are you in pain?"

Zander decided to tell the truth, at least partially. "Yeah...I am in pain. Happy now?"

"What happened?"

"I fell."

Gail nodded. "When and where?"

Zander locked eyes with her. "None of your business."

"Okay. Let's talk about something else then. Have you visited Emily's grave yet?"

"No!" Zander forced himself out of the chair and began to pace, his stride a bit uneven and one arm was pressed around his ribs.

Gail returned to her desk and wrote in her note book. "You need to visit her grave, Zander. You need to say goodbye."

Zander fought against the anger that churned deep inside him. "Why...why does everyone insist they know what I need?" He gritted out. "Everyone deals with pain and grief in their own way."

"True, but not everyone has suffered the emotional and mental and even physical trauma that you've suffered through, Zander. It makes a difference in how you react to things, and in the way you need to do things to deal with what happens in your life."

"You know nothing about me and what I feel," Zander shot back. "No one knows much of anything. Not even my own father."

Gail nodded. "That's true enough. But that's because you won't let anyone get close to you. Except for Emily."

Zander laughed and it was a bitter sound to his own ears. "Even Emily didn't know me. Not really. She was so beautiful...and there is a lot of ugly about me. I didn't want to get her dirty..." Zander broke off as his throat tightened. He took a deep breath and expelled it slowly. He wasn't going to do this. He wasn't going to play Dr. Baldwin's game. "There is something I want to talk about."

"Good. What is it?"

"Say I was to have kids someday...Would I be like my dad? Would I treat them the same way? I mean...say I had two of them. Would I treat one like they were perfect and the other like they were a mistake?"

Gail winced and took a moment before replying. "All I can give you is my opinion on you, Zander. I think that you would make it a point not to copy your father's mistakes."

Zander shook with silent laughter. Pained laughter. "Maybe you're right. I'm way too busy repeating my own mistakes...over and over again...to bother copying his." He glanced at the clock and it was time to go. "See you in two days," Zander stated, then he walked out the door. And found his father waiting for him.

"Ready to go home?" Cameron asked.

"Yeah," Zander replied, following his father to the elevator. There was no place else to go. No place he could run to and hide.

* * * * *

Three more days passed before Zander felt up to leaving the house. He was getting antsy and if he didn't get out soon he would implode. It seemed his father realized this for he went back to work at the hospital and had told Zander he was pulling an all-nighter. Zander knew what he was doing. Letting him off the leash to see what he would do. He could deal with that. First place he headed to was Jake’s, only to be waylaid on the way in. Two guys grabbed him and hauled him around back. Zander was still too sore to put up much of a struggle. So he allowed them to pin him against the wall and he wasn't really surprised when Benny sauntered out of the shadows. "Hey Benny, long time no see," Zander offered in greeting.

"Too long," Benny drawled, moving directly into Zander's personal space. "You disappeared on me, Zman. With alot of product. My boss is not a happy man and neither am I. So I'm assuming you have either the product...or the money. Right?"

"I don't have either," Zander confessed. "But I'll get the money. I promise. You know I'm good for it."

Benny laughed. "No…I don't know that. You started selling again to get money...remember? Cause I sure do." Benny stroked Zander's face with a finger tip then gripped his jaw hard. "I want the money tonight, Zander."

Zander felt himself break out into a sweat. "Look...I can't get it tonight. Not all of it. But I can get you some and I'll have the rest soon. Okay? Just give me a break. Alot of shit has been going on."

"Tell you what." Benny patted Zander's cheek then dropped his hand. "You've always done right by me in the past, so I'll give you a bit of leeway. I'll take what you give me tonight and put up the rest you owe so you're square with my boss. But you won't be square with me. But the thing is, I'll give you a little more time and no interest on the payments. How does that sound?"

"That's great. Thanks, Benny." Zander was relieved when Benny signaled his goons to release him. "I'll pay you back. I promise."

Benny smiled. "I know you will. And I'll remind you if you don't. And that's a promise." With that Benny snapped his fingers and he and his goons turned and walked away.

Zander realized he was shaking as he straightened his shirt and ran a hand through his hair. He took some deep breaths then he headed into Jake’s. Luck was with him tonight, at least for a little bit, and Zander made three hundred dollars. An hour later he was down a hundred and he left Jake’s before he could blow it all.

Benny was on the docks when Zander showed up. He accepted the two hundred then tossed a warning at Zander before strolling away. "One week, Zman. Make or break time."

"Fuck," Zander hissed when Benny and his goons were gone. He kicked at the nearest post then cursed at the pain. "Son of bitch! This is all your fault, Nikolas!" Zander railed. "You bastard!" Zander was ready to throw a punch at the post but he heard footsteps approaching. He recognized the beautiful blonde. Faith Roscoe. An idea occurred to Zander and he was calm and smiling when she reached him. "Hello Mrs. Roscoe," Zander said.

"I know you," Faith replied. "Ned's little flunkey. Um...you have an unusual name."

Zander winced. "I don't work for Ned anymore."

Faith nodded. "Smart move. Uh...so what's your name again?"


"Right. Isn't it past your bed time?"

Zander resisted the urge to curse at her. He needed something from her. "Um...I have a favor to ask you," he countered.

Faith smiled then almost purred as she looked him up and down. "I like people owing me. Especially when they're men and they're hot. What's the favor?"

"I need a loan. Not that much. Eight hundred dollars."

"Drugs or gambling debt?"

Zander shrugged. "Drugs." There was no reason not to tell her the truth.

Faith smiled. "Naughty boy. I might be able to help you. But you would have to come work for me."

"That's not a problem," Zander began, only to fall silent as he noticed someone coming down the stairs. He was surprised at who it was, given the late hour. "Elizabeth, what are you doing out here?"

"I could ask you the same thing," she replied. "And why are you with her?" She almost sneered at Faith.

Faith sneered back. "We'll talk later," She said to Zander, letting her fingertips caress one cheek before she glided off.

Elizabeth was in Zander's face. "What was she talking about?"

"None of your business!" Zander shot back.

"You're my friend, Zander. So it is my business. Stay away from Faith Roscoe. She's bad news."

Zander stepped away from Elizabeth. "It's late. Why are you out here?"

Elizabeth sighed. "I was working the late shift at Kelly's and I tried to go to sleep but I had too much coffee and so I came out for a walk and ended up here."

"It's dangerous at night. Alot of lowlifes hang out here." Zander considered himself one of them.

"I can take care of myself, Zander," Elizabeth replied.

Zander shook his head. "Go home."

Elizabeth confronted him. "I went to visit Emily's grave today. I brought flowers. Her favorite. I miss her so much, Zander, but going helps. It keeps me connected to her. I think it would do the same for you."

"I'm happy for you, Elizabeth," Zander drawled, sarcasm heavy in his tone. "You go bring Emily all the flowers you want. I'm not going there. Got it? She's dead. There is no connection left. And I don't want there to be."


His glare cut her off. "Leave me the fuck alone, Elizabeth!

She didn't back away from his anger. "You can push me away all you want, Zander. But I won't leave you alone."

"Fine...whatever. I'm out of here." Zander turned away and ran for the stairs.

* * * * *

Zander ended up at Luke's place. It was almost closing time. He was flirting with a pretty blonde and had made arrangements to go to her place. He waited at the bar as she made a pit stop in the ladies room. "One for the road," Zander ordered, banging his glass on the bar top.

Luke strolled over. "Is the lady driving?"

"Not that it's any of your business, but yes."

"Good enough," Luke replied, as he poured two fingers of Jack into the glass. "Looks like you're having a rough night, kid."

Zander chuckled. "I'm having a rough life...what's it to you?" He downed the Jack in one swallow and set the glass down with a bang.

Luke shrugged. "Just making an observation. The blonde's pretty. Know her name?"


"Guess you're not totally hammered yet."

Zander laughed. "Not even close." If he hadn't owed money to Benny, he would have bought some pills tonight. As it was he had just enough money left, after suckering some chump out of fifty bucks for accepting a dare, to pay for this last drink. Zander realized he didn't even remember what the dare was. Maybe he was totally hammered.

Luke took Zander's glass and tossed it into the dish pan behind the bar. "Sex and booze...good way to forget your troubles. For a while."

"Works for me," Zander allowed. He saw Pam approaching and stood up. Then he realized he was still holding the money for the drink. He held it out but Luke waved it away.

"On the house, kiddo."

Zander glared at Luke as he stuffed the ten back in his pocket. "Don't call me kiddo!" he snarled.

Luke grinned. "My place...I'll call you anything I like. But not late for dinner." He smiled at Pam. "Have a nice night, kiddies...drive careful."

"Fuck you," Zander replied, in a polite tone, then he took Pam's hand and led her out the door.

"Y'all come back now," Luke called after them. Then he picked up the phone and dialed a number. He got the answering machine. "Dr. Lewis. Sorry to call so late. You don't have to call back. Just thought I'd let you know your baby boy was here. Left with a busty blonde babe. So I think it's safe to say he won't be coming home tonight." Luke chuckled then hung up the phone But a look of sadness passed over his face.

Chapter 18