Anderson answered her phone without referring to any kind of sports arena.
"911," Steve said.
"You know by now they're tracking these calls," she said.
"Doesn't matter anymore," Steve said. "Listen, I got three guys and a lady here who need out. I'm gonna get them to make a break, and I need you to pick 'em up."
"What the hell's going on?"
"I think Raff and Wheeler finally showed their true colors," he said. "Wheeler's either dead or handed Liz over to the dark gray guys willingly. They don't know where we are yet, but we're cornered. The Family is out here pretending they're with the feds, and I think they've been doing that for a long time, you know?"
"Where are you?" she said.
"Out by the old ruins above our spot," he said. "I won't tell you anything they don't already know. I'm outside in one of the foundations, because I don't want Jon and Neal hearing what I'm telling you. They're gonna hold Liz over our heads, and it's gonna work. But I can't let them wipe these guys out. Mugs is out in the woods somewhere, and I think he'll be a good wild card if he jumps in at the right spot. I want you to get these guys out of here and take it to the press. The system's screwed, and I think you know it."
"That's what the cleanup crew was for," Corey said.
"The cleanup crew is cleaning the rest of the place out and making room for more of the mob," Steve said. "You guys gotta stop following your rules and protocols and start looking at what's right in front of you. The whole program is dirty. Stop denying it. You're living in a bubble."
"That's terrific, coming from you," Corey said. Then she added, "How many of us do you really think are left?"
"Not many," he said. "Problem is, I think they've let it happen, love. The current administration has been in bed with these guys for awhile. It's bad when they decide they can come out in the open like this. Get them, and get out. Go to the press, go to the fucking Enquirer if you have to. Oh, and here's another chestnut for you: 'trust no one'."
"What about you?" she demanded. "What are you up to now?"
"Getting these guys out of here, and Liz with 'em," Steve said. "Don't wait up for me."
"Don't you go playing martyr," she said sharply. "Goddamnit, it won't work."
"They'll get whatever they get," Steve said. "And so will I. I'm tired, Cor. I need to get this over with."
"Goodbye," Steve said with finality. "I did love you, you know. I just wasn't good at it, that's all." He hung up on her, hating himself for it but putting it aside and punching in *69 to call up whoever had called his number last. He dialed it, and two rings later the same voice picked up.
"Listen, motherfucker," Steve said, "what's to stop me from plugging Cain and Schon right here? I don't need 'em. For all you know I'll do it. This is us, and how much I've embarrassed you assholes, and you know it. So bring your candy ass down to that road, and I'll take all of you myself."
There was laughter on the other end. "Very dramatic. I've already made plans with Jonathan."
"Bullshit. I'm running this show. You're gonna let that woman go, and take me instead, because that's what you're after. Don't think for a minute that this Journey cover shit is getting you anywhere. They don't know anything and never have. You're not gonna put the band back together to start that smuggling thing again, because this is the 90's and your chance is gone. I got as many of you as I could the last time we were touring, and I'm through. You're not pulling it again with these guys."
Irving Azoff held his head away from the phone for a moment and gestured at one of the snipers, indicating he should get back in the trees. There was still another Cain out there somewhere. "Keep talking, and let your time run out, Perry. Don't worry, you won't have the chance to explain to Jon why his wife is dead. You'll be gone by then."
"I'm not letting you get your hands on them," Steve said. "For Christ's sake, trade her off with me. Let the whole thing die."
"Oh, I will," Azoff said, and hung up on the singer.
Steve sighed and went back to the pool house, where the others had gathered. Aug had stopped bleeding. Neal was staring at Steve and said, "I've seen that look before."
Steve nodded, and pulled Aug out into the daylight. "Corey is coming," he said.
Aug nodded, understanding immediately. He held out a hand, and Steve shook it.
"Let's go," Steve said, and turned away without adding to it. Aug raised his eyebrows at Jon and fell into step behind Steve.
Jon said, "We have to..."
"We have twenty minutes," Steve said. "That's it. Hurry, Jon."
"We're not gonna make it, with you walking like that," Jon said.
Aug checked the magazine in his 9mm as he walked, falling a little behind Neal as Jon fell in beside Steve, pretending he heard nothing.
"Do you really think there's gonna be some kind of rational conversation when you get down there?" Steve said. "Did the barn getting shelled make any kind of impression on you? Don't go blind on me now, Jon. No one'll ever find your bodies."
"You can't play with us like this!" Jon shouted.
Steve turned around. "Keep your voice down."
"Bullshit! You're right back to the cowboy shit again. Goddamnit, you're up to something, and I'm not finding out about it too late this time!"
Neal said, "Jon, it doesn't matter what he's up to, now." He turned to include Aug in the conversation...
And Aug wasn't there.
"You go down there," Steve said, "and you're gonna die with Liz. As long as you're out of sight, she's alive, because they won't kill the bait. You guys are gonna walk the other way, and Corey is picking you up. You guys have to blow the lid off this thing, tell the press where you've been."
"They'll kill us in our sleep, after that," Neal said. "Where the hell did Aug go?"
"Never mind," Steve said. "Go. Get the hell out of here."
"Liz," Jon said. "No, I'm not walkin' out of here without her."
Steve drew his gun again and pointed it at Jon. "Fine then, here we are, full circle. I'll shoot you in the goddamn leg, and Neal can carry you out of here."
The words and tone were halfhearted, but Jon never doubted for a moment that Steve would do it. "We have to stay here," he said softly.
"You can't help this anymore," Steve said. "You can't help me. Dammit, Jon, I need you out of here and making noise. Get out and let us handle this. I'm not letting anything happen to Liz. They don't want her. Go on, and get out of here."
They stood for several long moments, trying to stare each other down.
"They'll kill you in front of her," Steve said. "There aren't any deals. They came down here to sweep us out. Now go. Or so help me God, I'll shoot you myself. Better you go that way, than the way they've got planned for you."
Jon hesitated, and Neal took his arm. "Let's go, Jon."
"I can't just--"
"He's right. We been set up. We gotta try something else."
Jon kept staring at Steve until the singer walked away. After a moment, Jon let Neal take him in the opposite direction, back across the remaining driveways of the ruins.
* * *
Steve found the road again with five minutes to spare, out of breath again and light headed enough that he had to lean over and brace his hands on his knees. There was no one in sight. He suffered a moment of genuine terror that they'd decided not to bother to get him, had taken Liz somewhere else. For that matter, there was nothing to stop them from killing him where he stood and keeping Liz anyway. It was all a bet, but a good one. He was relatively sure they'd come for him and let Liz go. So he stared at the rough surface of the road, trying to get his breath back...
...and someone shoved a gun barrel under his chin and lifted it slowly, forcing him to straighten by degrees until he was looking at a younger man in dark clothing. He recognized him; they'd crossed paths before. It was one who'd gotten away.
"Been waiting for you," the man said. "A long time. I got a lot to make up for, with you."
"Not yet," another voice said, the voice from the phone. Irving Azoff came out of the bushes lining the road, followed by another man who had Liz in tow. Liz regarded Steve calmly, and Irving looked at his watch. "On time, but a couple of guys short. You never did respect authority, did you, Steve?"
"You bastard," Steve said, too angry to say more. He hadn't recognized the voice because he'd spent so little time talking to the guy during the making of the album.
"You're not wearing a vest, either," Azoff said. He jerked his head at the guy holding the gun on Steve. "Make sure he's clean."
The guy dropped the gun enough to reach around and frisk Steve, disarming him. When he tried to pull back, Steve lashed out at him and was too slow, giving the guy room to come back and hit him in the ribs. Steve went to his knees without a sound, unable to pull air.
Azoff came close enough so that his feet were inches from Steve's head. "That's better," he said. "Now, you know there's nowhere you can try to send those guys that we won't find them, sooner or later. And I won't be pleased with Jonathan, for standing me up."
One hand on the road, the other on his own chest, Steve rasped, "Let her go."
"Still trying to tell me what to do? No, I don't think so."
Azoff held a hand out for the gun the first guy had taken off of Steve. Then he pointed it at the singer's lowered head and squeezed the trigger.
* * *
Several things happened in such rapid succession that later no one was sure exactly in what order they occurred. Liz screamed, and Steve dove to one side, causing Irving's shot to miss. The bullet shattered fragments of pavement, which struck Irving in the face and temporarily blinded him. Two shots rang out from the woods, one striking Liz's captor, who fell to the ground with her in tow. Steve grabbed the legs of the man standing next to Irving, bringing him to the ground, while reaching for the gun Irving had dropped with one hand. When the dust settled, Steve was standing with a gun to Irving's head. The guy who had been holding Liz was either dead or dying, and the third man apparently had sense enough to sit still with his hands up.
Liz extricated herself and stood.
"You okay?" Steve asked gently.
She nodded. "Where are Jon and Neal?"
Steve reached into Irving's inside coat pocket and took his cell phone. Never taking his eyes off either of the two mobsters, he dialed with his free hand.
"It's me. You got our boys?"
"Yeah, I just picked 'em up. We heard the shots. Who's down?" She sounded worried.
"One of them. You still on the road up there?" He looked toward the trees, even though he knew he couldn't possibly see her from where he stood.
"Yeah, in the process of turning the car around now."
He could hear Jon in the background. "Is that Steve? Is Liz okay? Let me talk!"
He smiled to himself. "Come down to the road to the safehouse and pick Liz up."
"And I'll be picking you up too." Her tone of voice indicated that it was not a question.
"Nah, I'm not finished here yet." He held the phone away from his face and addressed Liz. "Start walking that way. Someone you know will be along to pick you up."
"Steve, you can't take out the whole mob." Corey pleaded.
"I'm not going to try. I've just got a little business to settle with a former manager, then I'm going to round up Mugs and head for home. Listen, you remember what you broke the last time you were at my house?"
"Yeah?" She was clearly puzzled.
"Well, look there, and you'll find something that will give you what you need to take to the press. It's the ace up my sleeve I've been holding onto against this bunch."
"Steve..." Her voice verged on panic.
"Just do it, Cor," he sighed. "It's over. One way or another, this is all going to end tonight." He flipped the phone closed. _Hanging up on her twice in one day. If I ever see her again, she's gonna be pissed._
He motioned for the man on the ground to hand over his radio. Handing it to Irving, Steve ordered "Tell your guys to let them out of here alive."
Irving reluctantly complied.
Steve watched until Liz disappeared around a bend in the road. Then he turned to Irving. "Okay, asshole, it's you and me now."
"Can I play?" a voice called from the woods to his left.
Steve looked over to see another commando step out of the woods, walking Aug in front with his hands up.
Aug stopped about ten feet away and shrugged, hands still up. "Sorry, bubba."
Irving rolled his eyes at Aug. "Mr. Augeri. How inconsiderate of you to still be alive. And I'll have to speak with Jonathan about his honesty."
The man holding the gun was another that Steve had had several encounters with. Steve didn't give him the chance to rub it in.
"Well, I guess we have what you would call a Mexican standoff. You have a gun on my guy, and I have a gun on yours. You got any brilliant ideas about how we should end it?" Steve smirked.
"Yeah," the guy answered. He turned his gun and shot Irving.
Irving was wearing a vest, but Steve was caught so off guard it gave the third man on the ground the opportunity to pull his backup weapon.
Steve's shoulder's slumped, and he dropped his gun. _I'm getting too damn old for this, and it shows._
Irving stood and made a show of dusting himself off. "Well, now we have the brothers who refuse to die. Bobby, let's escort these gentlemen back up to the barn. Then once we find the other Mr. Cain, we can make arrangements for their short future." He turned and walked up the road.
The man who had brought Aug out of the woods motioned with the gun for them to follow Irving.
Aug fell into step beside Steve. "Bobby? Who the hell names a gangster Bobby?"
Steve made a face. "Who names a gangster Irving? Too bad you missed that other dude. We could have been out of here."
Aug glanced over at the man with the gun and lowered his voice. "I only fired one shot. And I didn't miss."
* * *
Corey did as Steve instructed, picking up Liz, and getting the two musicians and their wives out of there, but it didn't stop her from glancing in the rearview mirror every few moments.
"They haven't gotten the best of Steve in the past twenty years," Jon said softly, leaning forward from his position in the back seat between Liz and Dina.
Anderson nodded, but her jaw was clenched so hard she couldn't speak.
"I know this is a silly question, but we're not going to Steve's house, are we?" Liz asked. "Someone had to have been monitoring your phone conversation. I'm sure the place is overrun with mafia by now."
Corey took a deep breath and shook her head. "The last time I was at Steve's house, I fell over his stupid cat and broke the heel off my shoe. The shoes are at my place. I never got around to taking it to be fixed."
Neal glanced up from adjusting the radio dials. "I take it that no one else knows about it, right?"
"Just me and him. But what's with my shoes or how it got there, I have no idea."
* * *
The two Steves were ordered into the back of the U-Haul truck, without the benefit of drugs.
Irving smiled icily. "Now, we just have to find Mugs Cain, and then we can begin again with our negotiations with Jonathan."
"I mean it, Irving. The rest of the band knew nothing. Let them go, or you'll just make things worse for yourself. If you harm Jon or Neal, or Mugs, I _will_ kill you." Steve spoke calmly, but with deadly intensity.
"Well, Steve, seeing that you are unarmed, and about to be locked in the back of a truck, I would love to know how you intend to do that." Irving stepped back and gestured for one of his goons to close and lock the rolling door.
They sat in the darkness in silence for several minutes.
Finally, Steve said "I guess this is where we're supposed to have one of those long, heart to heart talks, huh?"
"Yeah, but it would be one of those embarrassing, awkward moments when we get out of here," Aug answered.
Steve laughed, but did not reply.
After what seemed like a thousand years, but really was not long at all, the door rolled upward. "Come on, hurry," a whispered voice urged.
Blinded by the sudden light, Aug held a hand in front of his face. "Who is it? he asked in the general direction where he thought Steve was.
"The A-Team," Mugs answered. "Come on."
"So are you BA or Murdock?" Steve said.
Mugs snorted. "Har dee har har. Gimme a bunch of shit, and I'll shoot you again. Are you gonna hang around for them to come back, or what?" He reached up a hand and helped the two out of the truck.
On the ground, Aug looked from Mugs to Steve. "Now what?"
Mugs rolled his eyes. "We get the hell out of Dodge!"
"How?" Aug looked at Steve.
"Don't ask me, it's his plan!" Steve pointed at Mugs, who was already walking toward the front of the truck.
"I left the keys in the truck," Aug called over his shoulder, hurrying after the drummer. "Don't tell me that the mob or feds or whoever they are were dumb enough to leave them there."
The engine of the truck started.
"I guess there's the answer to your question," Steve wheezed in response.
The two brothers clambered painfully into the cab of the truck, barely getting the door closed before Mugs was taking off.
"Okay, where to?" Mugs asked.
"We gotta lay low, and hope that the others do their part." Steve answered, collapsing against the seat.
* * *