"Are they all full of shoes?" Neal asked, indicating the approximately fifty shoe boxes in Corey's spare closet.
She narrowed her eyes at him. "Yes, and don't say a word."
It took her only a minute to locate the box she sought, but several minutes to dig it out. As soon as she lifted the lid from the box, the rest of the group leaned in to look.
She made a sound of frustration. "Back up, guys, _I_ can't see."
At first, she didn't see anything either. She examined the broken shoe. Not finding anything unusual about it, she handed it to Jon, who checked it over again. There was nothing out of the norm about the other shoe, either. Just as she was about to conclude that she had misunderstood Steve's message, she noticed a bulge in the cardboard. There was something under one of the end flaps. She lifted it carefully, and a key fell out.
"A safety deposit box key," Dina announced unnecessarily.
"Yeah, but where's the box?" Jon asked.
Corey took the box completely apart, and found a scrap of paper with a street address. "This is probably the bank where the box is." she said. "Bastard. I had to tear up my box. Now I don't have anything to put my shoes back in."
"But the shoes are _broken_," Neal pointed out.
Everyone ignored him.
"Now what?" Jon asked.
"We stay alive until the bank opens in the morning." Anderson answered.
* * *
They stayed at Anderson's house throughout the evening, and when Anderson tried to raise Steve on the cell phone several times without an answer, she grew antsy again.
"I'm gonna go out looking for them," she said.
"No," Neal said again. "Anybody leaving here takes all of us along, too, because there's no way we're splitting up again. They'll show up."
"We can't stay here anyway," Anderson said. "It's a pretty obvious spot. Trouble is, I don't know who the hell is with us or after us, anymore. I don't even know who I work for, after today."
"Good question," Liz said, looking at Jonathan. "You guys better be asking yourselves the same thing."
"How long do you think Irving's been dirty?" Jon said, asking no one in particular. "I mean, if what Liz heard is right and we were only put together to...what? Be used as a means to an end?"
"I still think Perry knows a lot more than he's told us," Neal said. "I think he was clipping folks for one governmental branch or another."
Anderson cleared her throat.
"Sorry," Neal said. "I haven't been sleeping with him, so I don't exactly view him the way you do."
"That's not what I heard," Anderson said with a smirk. Jon made a strangled noise.
"Oooh," Neal said. "I guess a smart mouth can be sexually transmitted, after all."
Anderson looked for a moment like she might actually draw on the guitarist, but Dina said, "I think I hear someone in your driveway, Corey."
They were all instantly alert, and Anderson drew her gun to walk to the livingroom windows. "U-Haul truck," she said when Jon and Neal joined her. "Can't tell who's driving, though." She punched in the release code on the keypad next to the front door that obviously belonged to a security system, and opened the door without making herself visible.
"We got anybody hiding in the yard waiting, now's the time we'll see 'em," she said. "Keep away from the windows."
Mugs jumped out of the driver's side of the cab, and Jon made a soft noise best described as a puppy finally being given a treat after having it dangled above his nose for too long. It was the same noise he'd made when he'd seen Liz, and Neal said, "No you don't."
"Let these guys get to the door," Neal said. "No more traps, no more surprises. I swear to God, I'll tie you up."
Mugs looked warily at the house for a moment, leaned back into the cab of the truck to say something, and perused the house again. Then the other door opened and Aug and Steve hopped out and joined him in looking skeptical.
* * *
Mugs put the truck in park and said, "You sure this is the place?"
Aug jostled Steve awake, startling the other singer into reaching automatically for his gun. "Hey, hey," Aug said. "Final destination. Put all trays back in the upright position and extinguish all smoking materials."
Steve took a breath he didn't have a hope of getting and said, "Asshole, you can't smoke on planes anymore."
Aug looked at Mugs. "Well, he's definitely awake and in possession of his faculties."
Mugs said, "It doesn't look like anybody's here."
"If they'd moved on, Corey would have told me," Steve said, reaching into a pocket for his cell phone. When he looked at it, the little bars indicating the amount of battery power left in the thing were missing. "Or not," he said. "Fuck."
Mugs opened his door and jumped down, leaving it open and looking around. The little stucco raised ranch was showing only darkness through it's windows. Mugs glanced at his watch. Just after 7, still light enough not to have interior lights on, but...
He leaned back into the cab. "This looks pretty goddamn suspicious to me."
Aug shrugged. "You can stay in the truck."
"Fuck you," Mugs said. "It's the guy who stays in the truck that always gets killed."
Aug laughed and opened the passenger door, jumping down before offering a hand to Steve. "C'mon, old man."
Steve brushed him away. "Get out of my way."
"You suppose there's any chance they made it to the bank before it closed?" Aug said, ignoring him. Steve had explained the majority of it to them before he'd dozed off. "Stays open until 6 on Fridays."
"Supposing does us all a hell of a lot of good," Steve said, getting out of the truck and looking around. "For all we know, they're all being held at gunpoint in there, or they're not there at all, or they've been rounded up and converted by Hare Krishnas. We gotta treat it like we're walking into trouble. In which case, you _don't_ drive right up on a place beforehand." He shot Mugs a dirty look.
Mugs shrugged. "I'm new at this."
Steve gestured at Aug. "I'm going up the front stairs. You and Tweedledee hang in the bushes at the foot of the stairs and cover me. Anything happens, run like hell and live to fight another day, huh?"
"Bossy," Aug said. "You're older, so we have to do what you say?"
Steve looked at him for a moment, and instead of flying off the handle like he wanted to, he said, "I've been shot twice. When you get shot a couple more times and get ahead of me, we'll talk."
"Hey," Aug said, gesturing at his own shoulder, "number one, this isn't the first time I've been shot. Number two, this one was obtained while shoving you out of the way."
"Oh yeah?" Steve said. Aug was up to something, and he decided he'd better play along. "How about twice in one day? Can you beat that?"
"Wearing a vest," Aug said. "Whoopy doo. You don't even need stitches."
"Really," Steve said, keeping the front door of the house in his peripheral vision. He saw it open approximately a foot, but didn't see any other motion. "Wow. A little scratch doesn't get you the purple heart, jackass."
"Ungrateful," Aug said. "That's three you owe me, now. Keep it up, and whoever's in there'll get jittery enough to open up on us. I mean, twice in one day by the same civilian? That's not a stat I'd be telling anyone."
"That same civilian hauled both of us outta trouble," Steve said, gesturing Mugs closer to the truck. Aug turned a little sideways to keep the door in his peripheral vision also. "So I guess he's smarter than your average bear, wouldn't you say?"
"The not so average bear needs to get a little closer to the truck," Aug said, and Mugs did move, trying not to look confused. He moved so he was standing behind the open truck door.
"You clowns almost through?" Mugs said.
"Is he Yogi or Boo Boo?" Aug said.
"They're not doing anything in the house yet," Steve said. "That means there's either trouble, or whoever's in there hasn't caught on to what we're doing yet. Boo Boo. Definitely Boo Boo."
"They're waiting to see if we're doing this under duress," Aug said.
"It sure feels like duress," Mugs muttered.
"Quiet, Boo Boo," Steve and Aug said in tandem.
"You owe me a Coke," Aug said.
"Bullshit," Steve said. "I started saying it first."
"No," Aug said. "I distinctly recall getting a jump on you there, and the rule is when you both say something at the same time, the one who started it wins."
* * *
"What the hell are they doing," Neal said.
"Making sure it's okay in here," Anderson said. She tried to get a response out of Steve's cell phone again, listening hard by the door. "I should hear it ringing from here," she said. "Battery's probably dead. God, is this the height of paranoia, or what?"
"You don't think they're in trouble?" Liz said.
"No," Anderson said. Then she saw Steve gesture Mugs closer to the truck with one hand, using the first two fingers only. "They're fine; they're waiting for us."
"What the hell was that?" Neal said. "How do you know?"
Anderson shrugged and moved to open the door further. "We have signals."
"I'll just bet you do," Neal said in a tone of voice that had Anderson turning toward him again. Dina stomped on his foot, and he moved away from the door with a grimace.
* * *
Steve had just challenged Aug to a round of 'paper scissors rock' over the question of the Coke when they heard a sharp whistle from the doorway of the house. They both had their guns out and pointed toward the door at the same time, so quickly that Mugs barely registered the motion from his angle. Then Anderson poked her head out and gestured.
They both dropped their arms, and Aug said, "What's with the two finger thing?"
"Special code," Steve said, tucking his gun away.
"I drew first," Aug said.
"No way, Tonto," Steve said.
Mugs walked toward the house. "God, please let there be someone in there who'll act like an adult." He barely made it to the doorway before Jon grabbed him and lifted him clear of the floor in a tearful bearhug.
* * *
By midnight, a plan for most of the next day was in place if not agreed upon, and Mugs had agreed to take the first watch. The small house was quiet. They'd left the lights off and the security system on. Liz and Dina had checked in with their respective parents several times, and Steve had made a call that he wouldn't let anyone else hear. All he'd said was that no one would have to worry about their kids or parents that night. When Neal had taken issue with him over it, Steve had finally said, "Even the mob is scared of somebody." Azoff had made it clear he wanted another crack at Jonathan, and he'd probably make a grab for anyone the keyboardist loved, sooner or later. Steve told them that wasn't a worry anymore, and refused to say anything else.
Aug joined Mugs for awhile, and they sat in the silent dark without speaking for a long time, listening to everyone else sleep. They'd all gathered in the livingroom to avoid having to round anyone up if anything happened. Neal was snoring.
Finally, Aug murmured, "You ever get the hang of the brother thing?"
There was a beat of silence. Then Mugs whispered, "No. Not even if you're born into it. It's a relationship you never have with anyone else, not even close."
"You think he believes me?"
Mugs thought again, then said, "No, but I don't know him well. I don't think anyone does." He paused. "Should he believe you?"
"Yeah," Aug said. "I looked for him a long time, and it's the truth."
"Well, he was pretty goddamned scared when that storage spot blew and he thought you guys were in it," Mugs said. "Might be he was just worried for Jon and Neal, but I don't think so. You said it was three he owes you, now."
"Outside, earlier. You said that's three he owes you. I figure gettin' Jon and Neal away from the mob was one, taking a bullet for him was another. What was the third one?"
"You don't miss a hell of a lot, do you," Aug said. "I tipped him off about someone he was looking for. We had kind of a...mutual interest."
"When'd you find him?"
"Just before I started working undercover in the organized crime unit," Aug said. "About a year ago. I put in for the unit on purpose, because of what I found out before our dad died. There was a particular someone in The Family who'd been instrumental in setting the fire that killed Michael, one of the last left who knew anything about what had put Steve's family in the program in the first place. Steve'd been looking for him for a long time, and I just about got myself and my career killed trying to find Steve to tell him. He wasn't sure about me, at first. We, uh...had kind of a bad run in the first time we met. But the tip paid off, and we tried to keep in contact after that. He had a contact inside The Family so he could stay one step ahead of 'em, and I could keep an eye on him."
"When were you gonna tell him?" Mugs said.
"Maybe never," Aug said. "Might not be fair, but I wasn't sure how he'd take it." He paused. "I don't know what else he's been into. I don't care. He's my brother, and I gotta help him out."
Mugs made a sound of agreement, and they fell silent, never knowing that Steve had been awake and listening the whole time from the recliner he'd settled into several feet away.
* * *
In the morning, watches synchronized and cell phone batteries charged, they broke up into small, separate groups that caused all kinds of arguing before it was sorted out. That way, if anything went wrong, enough of the group would get away to either try taking the whole thing to the cops, or to regroup and do what they could on their own. Mugs was with Liz and Jon, Anderson with Neal and Dina, and Aug decided he had to stay with Steve.
"No," Steve had said in the kitchen. "No, no no. You need to be Mugs' backup on Jon. These bastards are gonna do something stupid to get hold of him."
"And who's gonna watch your back?" Aug said. "You gonna waltz in there by yourself, not knowing if they're onto us? Brilliant. Mugs has no problem shooting anything he sees."
"Well," Mugs said, "I wouldn't go _that_ far."
"It'll only take a minute," Steve said. "I run in, get the stuff, we go to the press. There's a hack at the Chronicle who's dying to break something like this. Plus, I owe him one anyway."
"What the hell's in the box, anyway?" Neal said.
"A couple of disks, some photos," Steve said. "And a couple of faxes I intercepted. These dumb bastards never thought of a shredder until it was too late. I've got proof on every single goddamn front company these guys have been running in the States. And stuff on a couple of contracts they put out in the 80's, and which feds they're connected to."
"Great," Neal said. "Which helps explain why the feds are about as pissed at you as the mob is. And let me guess, you're still not telling us everything."
"It's not good for you to know anything," Steve said, glancing at Dina pointedly. "Anyway, _Aug_, I need you to keep an eye on the other two cars from a safe distance."
"Mugs," Steve said, "shoot him."
"Just because you owe him a Coke," Mugs said, "is no reason to build up all this resentment."
Before anyone else could get even more confused, Steve said, "Dammit, let's just go get this over with." Aug grinned, knowing Steve had given in because he'd hoped Aug would argue.
Neal, Dina, Jon and Liz went in Anderson's car; Mugs, Aug and Steve hopped back in the U Haul and took it back where it belonged and rented another car that Jon, Liz and Mugs kept. Then Aug and Steve picked up Steve's car and headed for the bank.
"What time does Key Bank open up on Saturdays?" Aug said.
"9 am, the lazy bastards," Steve said. "It's 8:55 now." A couple of minutes later, they pulled into the parking lot. Steve kept a close eye on the rearview mirror, watching Mugs pull in across the street and Anderson's car pull in to the 7-11 next door. He and Aug got out of the car after a look around, noticing the complete lack of cars in the lot. There should have been employees, something.
"Shit," Aug said. "You sure about this?"
"Yes," Steve said between his teeth. He didn't see any interior lights, and began to have severe doubts the closer they got to the door.
"You don't think--" Aug said, then trailed off.
There was a computer-generated banner on the door that said THIS BRANCH NO LONGER OPEN ON SATURDAYS. WE APOLOGIZE FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE. PLEASE USE THE ATM.
"Fuck," Steve said softly.
"And I'll just bet there was no warning, either," Aug said with a sigh. "Great."
"Fuck," Steve said.
"This is not what I call good customer service," Aug said, looking around at the roofs of the closest buildings, watching for movement.
"Fuuuuuuuuck," Steve said.
"Hello boys and girls," Aug said. "Today's episode is brought to you by the letter F, which Steve will go on demonstrating for you." He turned Steve back around to head back for the car. "What's plan B, boss?"
"We'll break in," Steve said.
"Ah, no," Aug said. "Try again."
* * *
At the 7-11 next door, agent Anderson had a hand against her stomach and was slowly turning green.
In the passenger seat, Dina took her eyes off the men in the parking lot next door and frowned in worry. "You okay? You want me to run in and get you some water or something?"
"No," Anderson said. "It'll pass. I'm fine. Thanks."
"Touch of the flu?" Neal said.
"No, not really," Anderson said. "It's okay."
Dina closed her eyes briefly and stilled the urge to clap a hand against her own forehead. _God help us all_. "Babe," she said to Neal, "I'm dying for some tea. Would you run in and get me and Corey some plain, hot tea?"
Neal glanced suspiciously between them, sensing some sort of mysterious female thing going on. "Yeah....okay."
As soon as Neal's door closed, Dina said, "How far along are you?"
Anderson sighed heavily. "Eight weeks."
"Does he know?"
Another heavy sigh. "No. And thanks for not asking whose it is."
* * *
After a lot more swearing, Steve opened his car door and was about to tell Aug where they'd better head next when suddenly...
There was a sharp sound. A gunshot. Aug and Steve both reflexively dove for the ground. Registering the sound of a diesel engine, Aug looked over to where Steve lay gasping for breath.
"Truck backfired. God, we're paranoid." He stood and reached down a hand to help Steve up. "We've got to get those ribs taken care of."
Steve gained his feet just in time to see Corey's car heading straight for them. Lacking time to shout or the breath to do it with, he shoved Aug to one side and dove after him. The car narrowly missed them, careening into the wall of the bank.
As he and Aug scrambled to their feet again, Steve glanced across the street and was shocked to see Corey's car still at the 7-11, Neal standing outside with two cups in his hand and Corey throwing her door open. He quickly looked again at the accident scene, and realized that another Eagle Vision, not Corey's, was starting to burn.
Aug was pulling the driver through the broken window. Jon, Mugs, and Neal all reached the car at about the same time, and helped get the driver to safety. Steve grabbed a first aid kit and the extra shirt he kept in the trunk of the car and motioned them to bring the injured man toward his car. Just as they laid the man on the ground, the car exploded.
Steve put the folded shirt against the man's chest wound. "Hold this firmly," he instructed Jon as he tore open several packages of bandages.
"Lotta damage for an airbag," Mugs commented.
"Not for a bullet," Aug answered grimly.
Corey leaned over Steve's shoulder. "Ambulance and firetruck on the way." Catching sight of the blood, she turned and made about three steps before she threw up.
Steve glanced over at her like she had lost her mind before turning his attention back to the injured man. "They'd better hurry," Steve muttered. He placed the bandages over the shirt, which was completely soaked with blood.
Neal looked from the remains of the car embedded in the bank wall to the car still parked across the street. "Black and silver is a factory color scheme for Eagle Visions," he said. "But you don't see that many of them. Somebody shot this guy thinking they were shooting at Anderson's car?"
"Oh my god," Jon gasped, staring at the dying man's blond hair. "They thought it was me."
* * *