Justin entered the office of Andrew's Vineyard to find Jared well into a bottle of a very old, very fine, and very expensive scotch. Jared eyed him warily, and then took another long swallow directly from the bottle. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he asked, "Ever had a day when your entire life turned to sh**?"

"As a matter of fact, I have," Justin admitted, as he forced memories of his past to the farthest recesses of his mind. "Worst of all, it was my own doing."

"Then we are brothers," Jared muttered, his words slurring. "Sit down-both of you."

Stifling a chuckle, Justin removed the bottle from Jared's nearly limp fingers. "You're going to feel like hell tomorrow."

"Wouldn't make any diff'rence," Jared groaned. "Feel like that now."

"Then you are going to feel a hell of a lot worse tomorrow."

"Good. ...deserve it."

"You want to tell me what you did to deserve this punishment?" Justin corked the bottle, then thought better of it and poured himself the last drink.

"...said I was a selfish, self-centered bastard with a sorry a**"

"Are you?"

"Must be. She's always right." His eyes closed, and he forced them open. "Always. So, mus' be. Tol' me to pick bugs off the grapes. Wretched grapes." He grinned drunkenly, adding, "tried to fire me. Too quick-already quit."

"Ahhhh. It's Marty."

"How'd ya know?" Jared stared fuzzily at Justin and then, as if a light bulb had gone on in his head, he asked, "Tol your sorry a** to pick wretched bugs off grapes, too? (hic) That why you're here?"

Justin chuckled, and shook his head. "Not exactly, my friend. I'm many things, including a sorry bastard, but Marty never told me to do any of that. She saved my sorry a** and gave me the opportunity to have another chance at a life. I owe her for that."

Jared brightened momentarily. "Maybe she'll give me another chance?"

"Not if you're drunk as a skunk next time she sees you."

"Won't be a next time," Jared muttered, gloomily, his words still slurred. "She threw me out of her office. Said I wasn't ever coming back."

"And you're going to take that?" Justin asked, curiously. "Every woman who's ever lived has thrown her man out at one time or another. SOP-Standard Operating Procedure." He leaned back in the chair and asked the other man. "Besides, making up is always great fun."

"Got a lot to make up for. Kid hates me, too."

"Then you'd better get started," Justin pointed out, reasonably. "There are rarely things that can't be made right as long as you're both alive to do it." He stared moodily off, recalling things he wished desperately he could forget. In time, he would, and his new life would, he hoped, bring the happiness he'd been forced to leave behind.

But, Jared was asleep, and as Justin watched, remembering the countless nights he'd drowned his sorrows in a bottle until he'd climbed out of it to find a green-eyed woman standing next to him, asking if he was ready to get on with his life and make something of what was left. "I know who you were," she'd told him, "and I know where you've been. I can use a man who's been to hell and escaped, if he's willing to be used to fight the good fight."

"You know who I am?"

"I know your name, who your natural father was, and why you can't go back to where you were. I know the woman you left behind and why. I can't give back what you lost, but I can offer you a chance to make the world a better place, and maybe just make a place for yourself in that world again."

Justin sighed deeply and continued remembering that night long ago in a bar in Mexico City. "A place for me?" He'd laughed bitterly, and swigged down another tequila. "In this godforsaken world?"

"A place for you. I have something in mind. Something specific, but I have to be sure of your resolve."

"You mean sure that I won't turn back into what I was?"

The woman had laughed softly, and shaken her head. "I've no worries about that. I've researched you thoroughly, and I know that a man who'd do what you've done is a man I'd like to have working for me. And, you did it at great physical and emotional cost to yourself. No, I'm not worried about that. All I need is your word."

"And who are you that you'd expect me to give it to you?" He was openly skeptical of the woman, someone who'd approach him in a bar in Mexico and make these propositions to him. "Don't tell me-I go with you and wake up in the morning, badly hung over and missing my wallet?" He laughed nastily. "No, be on your way, lady. I've got the rest of this bottle of tequila and the rest of the evening. Besides, I prefer brunettes."

"English ones, from what I hear," she countered. "With brown eyes and a taste for danger."

At that, he sat up straighter. "Who are you?"

"Someone who will value your past experiences and help you find your way back into the real world."

"Quit talking in riddles, lady. I want facts, names. Why the hell should I listen to you?"

She smiled the smile that he'd come to recognize as the one she wore when she knew she had won the game. Leaning over, she whispered a few names in his ear, and then leaned back. "You see? I know who you are, and if you're interested in knowing more, then come with me. It's a long road back, and while I can't give you back what you lost by forfeit, I can offer new opportunities. A new life. A chance at happiness."

And, Justin reflected, he'd left the bar with her that night, never even knowing her name. He glanced over at Jared, and said softly, "Don't worry, old man. She'll give you another chance, if she thinks you're worth it. And, she must, or she wouldn't have asked me to look out for you."

Kevin Collins looked at the man he'd come to think of as Tom Hardy, and wondered how he'd ever regarded the other man as Tom. They weren't even in the same class. Viewing the reclining man over steepled fingers, Tom wished that he'd known Tom before Africa had claimed another victim to whatever darkness was stalking that continent. Lucy had told him that Tom had been a tad serious, maybe a bit pompous, but a good hearted, kind man who had a need to help others. That need had caused him to volunteer for service in Africa a few years ago, and returned the man calling himself 'Tom Hardy' to Port Charles, for whatever reason.

"Talk to me, Tom," Kevin said gently. "I know that it's hard for you to look at me and not see my brother, Ryan, but understand that it's hard for me to look at you and not see the face of the man who almost had me killed, and was largely responsible for having me lose my job at GH. Oh, I recognize the differences in personality between you and him, but you've got to do the same. I'm not Ryan."

Tom turned around, and shook his head, a slight smile turning up one side of his mouth. "I can't remember much, Kevin, but don't think I'm mistaking you for Ryan. He was diabolically clever, and while you're smart, there's not the same air about you." Tom made a sound that might have been a laugh, but it was so faint that Kevin thought he might have imagined it.

"Then talk to me. There may well be lives at stake here, yours included, if it gets out that you're not dead."

"But I don't remember much," Tom told him, simply. "I can remember more and more about Port Charles, about my life before Africa. In fact, I don't remember anything about Africa."

"Tell me what you do remember."

Nodding, Tom began. "I was in Monte Carlo. I had a couple of days to kill before I began my tour of duty, and I decided to do something different. Something not stuffy or staid. Something that my father wouldn't approve of." He grinned. "Dad was a duty-first sort of guy." His eyes teared at the thought. "You said that he's gone now. I didn't get the chance to say good-bye."

"None of us did, really," Kevin consoled. "One day he was there, the next day, he was found at his desk. Apparent heart attack."

"I wonder," Tom said. "Knowing what happened to me, I have to wonder..."

Kevin shook his head. "We've both taken some hard knocks in the past," he told Tom. "Yours have done more physical damage, and we've yet to determine the emotional damage, but trust me on this. Whatever happened to you, to your father, and maybe even to me may have a common link, and maybe it's this other Tom. But, we can't confront him without having a better idea what we're fighting."

Tom sighed and closed his eyes. "I'm so tired, Kevin. I fought for so long..."

"What did you fight, Tom? Tell me about it."

He shook his head. "When you ask me, I can't remember. It all vanishes. Like I said, all I can be sure of is that I got to Monte Carlo and went to a casino."

"Then tell me about that."

Tom swallowed and said, his voice faint as he traversed the months in his brutalized memory. "I was at a table-watching the card game. Some poor sucker was getting taken to the cleaners. Betting big and losing badly. He kept betting, like he thought that his luck would turn."

"Did it?"

"No. Finally the dealer had to turn him away. He was about to get kicked out of the place when someone beckoned him from a few yards away. He gave the gambler an envelope of money."

"Can you describe either of them?"

Suddenly, a pained expression crossed Tom's face, and he clutched at his head, moaning. "I...can't....oh, please!!!!"

"It's okay, Tom. Nobody is going to hurt you."

"I can't!!!" Tom screamed, leaping to his feet, then collapsing into a heap on the floor. "No more!!"

Kneeling beside the man who was curled into a fetal position, Kevin felt a surge of rage at whoever had turned the doctor into a weeping shell of a man.

8,935 Fans of "Web of Deceit" visited us previously