Aug jumped up and wandered around the barn aimlessly. Maybe his sixth sense was working overtime, but the hair on the back of his neck was standing up for some reason. He was about five feet away from Steve when he realized that the older man was still standing directly in line with the open doorway. He was about to make a comment about Steve's getting careless in his old age when he spotted the movement in the trees. Then there wasn't time to say anything. He dove for his brother, knocking Steve off his feet just as the sound of the shot registered with them.
"Sonofabitch!" Neal shouted, pulling Dina down on the ground as well.
No more shots followed. Either the sniper didn't want to risk his position any further, or he couldn't get a good bead on any of them.
Jonathan, still on his stomach on the floor, commando crawled over to where the two men were still entangled. Steve was gasping for breath. The tackle might have saved his life, but it had probably completely broken at least one of the ribs that had been cracked earlier. Aug rolled onto his back, trying to get his breath as well. There was blood on both of them, and Jon panicked for a moment, not sure which one had been hit or how badly. Finally realizing that Aug had a good bit more blood on him, he ripped the agent's shirt open. Rather than the small round wound he had been expecting, there was a long jagged tear on Aug's shoulder and arm. Jon shook his head, willing his still-fuzzy brain to cooperate.
"Bullet hit right on the edge of my vest and deflected, " Aug answered the unspoken question. "It cut me pretty good, but it's not imbedded." He tried to shove Jon back with his good arm and sit up. "We gotta get out of here before he makes it down the hill. Who the hell did you bring with you?", he flung at Steve.
Neal was helping Steve up. Dina stepped around to the singer's other side, offering her arm as well.
There was a low whistle, a small explosion, and suddenly the far side of the barn was falling.
"Shit! What are they firing at us?" Aug yelled, grabbing Jon's arm and propelling him out the door.
The group thrashed into the woods. They only progressed about 50 yards before Steve had to stop to catch his breath. Aug leaned against a tree, bent over and looking a little green himself.
"Ok, we've got two wounded singers-slash-secret agents, no vehicle, we're making enough noise to raise the dead, and we've destroyed enough forestry to give whoever's chasing us a nice clear path." Dina pronounced. "If anyone's got a plan, now would be a good time."
"It's feds," Aug said. "Or at least wiseguys with federal issue weapons."
"Raff's got a hell of a grudge," Neal rolled his eyes.
Steve shook his head. "They're shutting things down," he managed. "I know a place we can hide, but we've got to get them off our trail."
Jon, who was wearing a button up shirt over a t-shirt, took off his outer shirt. Folding it, he stepped over and held it against Aug's shoulder. "We can't run far. You can't breathe, and he's losing a lot of blood. We've got to get somewhere and get the two of you stabilized, but it better be a pretty damn good hiding place, since the guys after us are shooting heavy artillery."
Steve took another deliberate deep breath and nodded. "It's our best shot. Spread out, go as straight as you can through the woods in different places. Tear up a lot more vegetation. There's an old road a few hundred yards over that way. We'll meet up again there."
They did as he instructed, Dina staying with Steve, Neal going alone, and Jon as close to Aug as the agent would allow. They all found the old road, its pavement broken and twisted. When Dina and Steve reached the group, they had to pause another moment for Steve to rest again.
"Where are we, and where are we going?" Aug asked with a tone of voice that indicated that he wasn't sure he would get an answer.
"Well, you know California burns to the ground every few years. For once, that's a useful thing." Steve gestured down the road, indicating that they should move on.
Neal slipped an arm around Steve, helping the singer along. Dina put Steve's other arm across her shoulders, giving him more support. Steve started to shake his head and pull his arm back, but Dina stopped him.
"Hey, I married this idiot. I'm stronger than I look. We've got to hurry, so we don't have time to argue."
They made good time on the road. Twice, Steve stopped them to have Jon make false trails back into the woods, once leaving Aug's bloody shirt at the treeline.
It began to rain again. Neal began to curse about the rain, being on the run, being dead, wandering in the woods, which was causing him to sneeze, embezzling mob accountants, and life in general. Aug waited until he paused for breath to point out that the rain would be to their advantage when, not if, the bloodhounds were brought out.
Several times, they passed gaps in the woods fifteen feet or so wide. As they approached an old mailbox, Jon finally put things together.
"There used to be houses out here that burned. You're going to hide us in the ruins? Isn't that a little obvious?"
"Not if they can't find the ruins." Steve answered.
* * *
Mugs waited a few minutes for the agents to be gone before getting up. No sooner than he was upright and starting to move, he heard other voices approaching. Ducking back into the brush, he watched two more men in suits pass, talking between themselves about how much risk they were taking by being in the vicinity.
"But now we know that Augeri, Cain, and Schon got out of the warehouse alive. Mr. Gianetti is not going to be pleased."
Mugs had a sinking feeling that Mr. Gianetti was not another federal agent.
He had to find the guys before anyone else did.
* * *
Liz and Wheeler dropped off Irving, who begged out by saying that he was a manager, not a commando, and would probably be more hindrance than help. The women did not press the issue, knowing he was probably right. Wheeler acquired a police radio from a parked patrol car, and soon found the channel that the US Marshalls were transmitting on.
"...would have taken care of him, and we'd have Schon and Cain in custody. But that agent we've had in with The Family...Augeri. Jumped in front of Perry and took a round from the sniper we had in the trees. And we still lost all of them in the woods. But I don't think they'll get far, even if they dump Augeri."
The person on the other end gave orders. "Seal the area. I don't want a fly going in or out of the place without us knowing about it. I'll send the dogs. I want them found by dark. Perry has been a pain in my ass for way too long."
"Right, sir." The agent then began calling others, giving them positions to take, setting up the perimeter security.
Wheeler made a sudden right turn with the rented Buick, almost getting the car up on two wheels. "Dammit! I should have known he'd go there."
"Where?" Liz asked.
"Area not far from here. Used to be a bunch of really nice houses up there, but they burned about 20 years ago. The area was never rebuilt, so the agency rebuilt one of the houses and used it for a safehouse."
"So why would Steve go there?"
"Sentimental reasons. He and Anderson burned the place down."
"Huh?" Now Liz was really confused.
"You hadn't figured out that there was something going on between the two of them? Has been, most of her adult life." Wheeler glanced sideways, an eyebrow raised.
"No, I didn't get to spend much time with her, and Steve's name never came up. So why don't you fill me in on any _other_ significant details I may be missing." Liz crossed her arms.
* * *
Steve indicated about the eighth former driveway they came to. "This one."
They reached the burned ruins of the house, already being overgrown by brush and a few small trees. Steve stepped away from Neal and Dina, cautioning the others not to fall into the empty swimming pool, and approaching the ruins of what had apparently once been the pool house.
The roof of the small building was burned away, but three of the brick walls still stood. Steve knelt near one wall, reaching into the debris that littered the floor. He winced painfully, and Jon rushed to his side.
"Reach through where my hand is, and you'll find a metal handle. Turn it to the left, and then lift it." Steve instructed.
Jon did as he was told. A large chunk of floor lifted upward, debris and all.
Aug let out a low whistle. "Pretty good, for a washed up old wannabe agent. But what happens when someone thinks that some of these old houses might have had basements?"
Neal answered for Steve, who was already climbing down through the trap door. "Who's gonna look for a basement in a poolhouse?"
"Don't the feds know about this place?" Dina asked, stepping off the ladder as Steve fumbled with an oil lamp.
"Not as far as I know." Aug supplied, sinking into a chair and putting Jon's shirt back against his injured shoulder.
Steve shook his head, handing the now-lit oil lamp to Neal and reaching for a kerosene lantern. "Nope. This is my place. No one else knows about it."
"How the hell..." Neal abandoned the original question, putting the lamp on a table in the far corner. "What is this place?"
Steve opened a box, pulling out bottles of drinking water and passing them around, before answering. "The house used to belong to a friend of Marv's. He built this as a bomb shelter after World War II, in case the commies decided to drop California off into the ocean. He told me about it once, bragged about how well the entrance was hidden, how it had its own water supply and ventilation, and so forth. He and his family actually hid in here while the house burned. Took me several weekends of coming up and scouting around to even find the place. So I figured that it would be perfect to set up in case I ever needed to go underground."
"Literally," Aug said, rolling his eyes.
Steve sank onto a cot in the corner. He pointed across the room. "Over there, in the cabinet next to that bunk, is a first aid kit. See if you can bandage him up."
"So why are there two beds in here?" Dina asked. "Did you expect to have to bring someone underground with you?"
"He never spent much time alone up at the burned out safehouse," Aug teased. "But that's a good question. Why _are_ there two beds in here?"
Steve looked over at him wearily. "If I'm the big brother now, I gotta lot of ass-kickin' to catch up on. Just as soon as we're well enough to do it."
Jon, who was applying anti-septic to Aug's shoulder, shook his head. "Steve Perry is a federally protected witness and a leak detector for WITSEC. The lead singer of Tall Stories is a secret double agent and his long lost half brother. Next you'll be telling me that the guys in Bad English were secret agents, too."
"Nah," Neal answered. "Ricky's not smart enough, Deen doesn't have time, and if John Waite spent much time around people with guns, someone woulda shot that fool by now."
Jon laughed, as much from nerves and hysterics as from what Neal had said. He finished bandaging Aug, and returned to the cabinet. Removing a sheet, he cut several strips, which he wound around Steve's ribs.
"Well, aren't you just Florence Nightingale," Steve joked. He looked over at Aug. "By the way, thanks for choosing that safe house, little brother."
"Duh. You had to know where to look for us." Aug shot back.
They noticed at the same time that Jon had frozen. "What?" the brothers and Neal asked in one voice.
"Mugs is going back there."
* * *
Liz and Wheeler knelt on the ground, on the ridge overlooking the now-ruined barn.
"The place is crawling with feds," Wheeler whispered. "Too many. Something's up."
"What? What's going on?" Liz whispered back.
Wheeler turned the binoculars, looking at the area closer to them. She cursed, handing the binoculars to Liz. "See that guy over there, hiding in the trees, who looks like Jon? Is that his brother?"
"Yeah, wonder what he's up to." Liz answered.
* * *
Steve had turned on a police radio, and the group listened to the progress of the search. Aug and Dina dozed off. Steve was almost asleep himself, reassured by the fact that a search team had crossed the property, and apparently did not notice anything unusual.
Steve's cell phone rang, startling everyone. Steve flipped it open.
"Gator Bowl. Elvis speaking."
Instead of Corey, a male voice answered. "Mr. Perry. How fitting that you should refer to someone else who just refuses to die."
Steve sat up, instantly alarmed. "Who are you, and what do you want, motherfucker?"
"I would like to speak to your friend Mr. Cain. I have someone here who is important to him. I wish to see if we can reach an arrangement."
"No deal," Steve said. "You're not gonna guilt trip him into anything. You can talk to me, or go fuck yourself."
"Hostile," the voice said. "Good. It wouldn't do to be picking you off when it's all been beaten out of you. I could do that anytime. But it's better to corner you, see what you'll do to get out. And you'll still be smartmouthing me when you're on your knees in front of me, won't you? You're my bitch now, Perry."
Steve was so angry for a moment that he couldn't speak. There was silence, from the people around him and the asshole on the other end of the line. Then, forcing calm into his voice, Steve said, "Well, at least this phone didn't blow when I answered it. I guess that means we got business."
"That's right. Now put Cain on the phone. He's missed his wife, hasn't he?"
"You son of a bitch," Steve said, enunciating each word. "The scare tactics only work on the rookies. Try again."
There was a sound of the phone on the other end being jostled, and then Liz said, "Stephen, put Jon on the goddamn phone."
Steve cursed and held the phone out to Jon, who took it in a hand that was long since stiff from clenching his fists. He'd known what was coming, could tell by the tone of Steve's voice and the quick, guilt-laden glances in his direction.
"I'm here," he said into the phone.
"I'm fine," she said. "But there's a lot of them, and--"
"There," an unfamiliar male voice said, smugly confident. "Are you convinced, Mr. Cain? Would you like to discuss this further, in person?"
"What do you want?" Jon said. "God, can't someone just tell me what the hell they want? I would have given anything to avoid all this. Tell me what the fuck you want!"
There was a beat of silence on the other end. Then, "First, you're going to have to stop running. We'll meet you back on the road to the barn where this...unfortunate situation started today. We have a few things to discuss, that I'm sure you'll agree to. You don't have a choice, anymore. And Perry needs to be with you. Do you understand?"
"Yes," Jon said, choking on the word.
"We shot the agent with you, Augeri. I imagine he's not doing very well."
"He's...he died, in the woods," Jon said, and he didn't have to work at making himself sound shocked and horrified. "We had to leave him."
"That's fine. I'm sure we'll run across him sooner or later, won't we?"
Jon didn't answer, praying the lie held.
"Thirty minutes." The connection ended, and Jon handed the phone back to Steve. "It's over," he said.
Steve nodded. "I know. But you realize, we gotta do something other than what they're asking, because they'll kill all of you."
"How do you know what they--" Neal said, then dropped it.
Steve nodded again. "It's the same old thing with these guys, Neal. They've got us, and they'll jerk us around into doing whatever they want. But their end of the deal won't hold up. We'll go out there--you guys'll go talk to them--and they'll kill you, and Liz, and anyone else they want to. There's no honor here, unless you're a member of the Family." He glanced at Aug. "Sometimes not even then." He shrugged, then winced. "Shit. I hope Mugs is still out there somewhere, and isn't trying to get himself killed. I think they would've said something if they had him. So you guys had a problem with this Wheeler chick, right? I though she was watching Liz."
"Watching her real good, obviously," Neal said.
"We got half an hour to get out of this," Jon said. "I told him Aug didn't live. It was all I could think of."
"Did he sound like he believed you?" Aug said.
"I don't know. I couldn't tell. Maybe he didn't even hear me. He wants you with us," he said to Steve.
Steve sighed. "I've been hassling 'em for years, Jon. It'll be to our advantage, don't worry."
* * *
If she never saw another federal agent--fake or otherwise--she'd be happy.
Liz sat in the passenger side of a Jeep Cherokee with Not-Wheeler in the driver's seat. There was a gun being held loosely on her, and she was tired of that, too. At least the kids weren't with her. But it wasn't like they didn't know where to find the kids, if it came to that. Jon wouldn't let it come to that, though. Neither would she.
They'd seen Mugs, and to the drummer's credit, he hadn't been caught yet. Right after they'd spotted him, Wheeler had stood and whistled into the clearing below, to Liz's horror, getting the attention of the commandos.
She'd unwittingly helped them set Jon and the others up. She hated that.
She'd sat and listened to everything that went on around her, trying to pick up what she could. Bit by bit, what she already knew helped her get a handle on what she'd learned since Wheeler had blown their 'cover'. The clean up crew that was in place, the supposed leak pluggers for WITSEC and the INS, had been infested by the mob without anyone noticing. Raff and Wheeler had been called in not to clear the leaks and plants out of the clean up crew, but to make sure the way was clear for them--the leaks--to do their job. It had all been a charade.
Where she and her family had become important in the scheme of things, she wasn't sure. But she understood what the channels of the program had been used for all this time: laundering. Arms dealing. Slavery. The INS had become a means of getting cheap, forced labor into the country, and WITSEC had been a means of smuggling damn near anything. Not to mention finding witnesses who could damage the mob.
The disk Neal had accidentally gotten ahold of had probably had a lot more on it, in hidden files. And Journey...
Had toured the damn world several times, giving anyone who wanted it the opportunity and excuse to be abroad. Had the mob been laundering money through the band? Had Steve really been purposely placed there to--what? Keep it under control?
Or assassinate anyone who got in the way?
_At least I was able to talk to Jon again,_ she thought. She looked at Wheeler and the gun again, and weighed her chances.
* * *