Another shot sounded from the parking lot, immediately followed by a second, and the retreating figure of the guard skidded to his knees across the asphalt, landing face down the way his boss had, drilled in the back by one of the Home Depot twins. The overall clad figure showed himself immediately after, coming around the side of the building and in the door, gun held out in front of himself and looking pissed.
Steve tried to make it to his feet and failed when the guy in paint-splattered overalls aimed the gun at his head and told him to stay put. The first cop picked himself up from the floor, cursing, and retrieved his gun.
"What the fuck was all that?" Home Depot said.
"More of a mess than you amature assholes planned on," Steve said.
"Shut up," Home Depot said, keeping the gun trained on him.
"Your mess," the second cop said. "I got a gun right here with your fingerprints on it that shot the bank manager before we were able to....subdue you and gain possession of the weapon." He thumbed his radio off his hip and identified himself into it, reporting shots fired and requesting backup as well as an aid car. Suspect in custody, he said.
Steve gaped at them, not really surprised but amazed that they thought the sloppy attempt at covering the whole thing up would work. "How are you gonna explain the guard?" he said.
Home Depot tucked his gun away and turned to walk out, checking the lot for eyewitnesses as he did so.
"You weren't alone," the first cop said. "We just didn't manage to catch the bastard who shot the poor guard. There'll only be you left, though, and you won't be doing much talking." He checked the action on his gun, then said, "Get up."
Steve got slowly to his feet, watching the bigger cops' hands. There was blood on the floor, a hell of a lot of it, spreading into a pool around the bank manager. For all he knew, the poor guy was still alive, along with the guard, but he doubted it. His word against two cops. Dirty or not, Family or not, still cops. He remembered what Jon and Neal had told him about Tim, aka Guido, and how cops would look the other way for their own. He knew it already. But it was hitting home kind of hard right then.
"Come on, Steve," the second cop said. "You gonna fight? What about this big reputation you got? Come on, we don't have much time. Try for one of us."
Steve wondered if Aug had done what he asked him to and hauled Jon and Neal out of there by then.
"Run right out the door," the first cop said. "See how far you make it across the parking lot."
They were damn near laughing, and Steve felt confusion on top of his amazement. "Not playin'," he said.
The second cop slid Steve's gun back to him across the floor. "Pick it up," he said. They could hear the first sirens in the distance, closing on them in a hurry, and Steve not only realized his choices, he _felt_ them. At the very least, he was in lockup for the next two nights until he could be arraigned Monday morning and bail could be set. And during that time, anything could and probably would happen to him. He'd be the example of all examples.
Hallelujah. The kind of irony you could practically taste.
The only other choice was to face these idiots down and take his chances. Drilled in the back while trying to make a run for it, or gunned down out of 'self defense' when he picked up his gun.
He was fucked.
He tried to be angry about it; tried to summon some kind of outrage for being cornered so easily and taking civilians with him. But nothing surfaced, and he glanced out the doorway and into the early afternoon without much regret. Then he made the decision about his own fate with the same clinical calm that he'd decided a lot of other fates over the years, and leaned over to pick up his gun.
Both cops startled, but not as badly as Steve did, jerking upright and facing the doorway.
There was a man, large in build and fair-haired, with his badge flipped open in one hand and one hell of a big gun in the other, pointed straight at the cops.
"Put your weapons down! US Marshall, I said!"
The cops stood frozen for a moment, until the taller one said, "We got the scene covered. This is the jurisdiction of--"
"Fuck you and your jurisdiction, asshole," the man in the doorway said. "I'm a _federal agent_, wiseass, and that means I can plug even a uniform, especially after hearing the last 20 seconds of that conversation. On the floor."
The cops stared him down, tense, hands ready.
"_Drop your weapons and get on the fucking floor!_"
"You can't touch us," the taller cop said. "You're in over your head, G-man."
"Save the cliche's," the man in the doorway said, his tone suddenly so much softer than the scream had been that it unnerved all three men in the foyer. "Perry, move toward me."
Steve didn't believe for a moment that he was looking at a real US Marshall, and even if he had believed it, he still wouldn't have complied. _Out of the frying pan, into the fire_, he thought, mind jumping wildly over a myriad of stupid things he'd heard over the years that fit the situation while the whole scene before him seemed to slow down. He stood rooted to the spot.
The Marshall cursed under his breath. The sirens got closer.
The taller cop leveled his gun on Steve then, and said, "Checkmate. Gun on you, one on Perry. No one's gonna believe him anyway, and he'll be gone long before anyone sorts it out. And you? Heresay don't stand up in court, G-man."
A shout drifted in from the parking lot. "Steve! He's the real thing, just go along with it! I know this guy!"
"Thanks, Aug," Steve said softly. "Timing is great. Everything's great." He fixed his eyes on his gun on the floor. When, not if, the balloon went up in there, it was going to be a goddamn mess no matter what. It was only a matter of what set it off. He looked up at the Marshall, met his eyes for a second. The guy looked like he wanted to shoot Steve himself. It was only a glance, but it was an instant understanding. Steve hated the feeling he got from that, that this guy _knew_ him and what he'd do. But he'd live with it. Supposedly.
And then he thought about the Home Depot twins. And how he didn't know where they were.
Another shot of adrenaline hit him, and without thinking about it any further he threw himself on the floor, diving for his gun and rolling as he did it, never seeing the one cop lower his gun and fire on him, the noise enough to make him scream. The bullet ricocheted off the rust colored tile an inch from Steve's shoulder with a shriek and slammed into the wall next to the Marshall, who was already shooting. The second cop spun away with a shout, hitting the floor a moment later. The taller cop's aim didn't get any better, off guard as he was, and the door frame partially shielded the Marshall, who ducked away when part of it splintered. Steve had rolled back to his knees to one side of the taller cop and opened fire, knowing he was far enough behind to get around the cop's vest. He emptied the rest of his clip, six shots all told, and the cop was still standing but had been dead by the third shot, long since dead by the time he folded bonelessly to the floor. It took Steve a moment to realize he was still firing, snapping on empty chambers long after it was necessary, and he dropped his arms.
The Marshall returned to the doorway in a crouch, then dropped his stance when he saw Steve. The second cop didn't move or make a sound. Neither did Steve, listening to the sirens get closer and more insistent, but they were still a couple of minutes out.
The Marshall made a gesture behind himself and walked into the bank, almost ignoring Steve in favor of checking to see if both cops and the manager were dead. They were. He did a quick check of the rest of the building, which was short since it wasn't more than 1500 square feet of space. Then he walked back to Steve and flipped his badge open at him, at face level. "US Marshall Brian Aaron, you dizzy bastard. My sister wants to talk to you, but bad."
That made almost no sense to Steve, who suddenly couldn't figure out where to find the strength to get back to his feet. Lying down on the floor seemed like a better idea, especially when little black spots started crowding his vision. But...
"Jesus," he said aloud. "Two more. There's two more guys, they looked like construction guys. One of 'em killed the guard, out in the lot."
Brian offered him a hand, and he took it, wrestling to his feet and stumbling for the door. Aug had pulled into the lot and was hovering near the driver's side door. Jon and Neal were out of the car, carefully avoiding the sight of the bank guard, looking nervous. Too close to the side of the building. Aug opened his mouth like he was going to say something, and Steve felt the world twist out of control, watched it all slow back to a crawl. He was too hot, his eyes weren't working right, everything sluggish and rough around the edges. He heard the Marshall behind him telling Aug to get Jon and Neal out of there for now, that there might still be trouble, and then his peripheral vision picked up the motion to his left. Steve meant to scream, meant to do all kinds of things, and stood there frozen, locking up.
Aug saw the guy too late, was still getting his gun out from under his shirt when a shot _whanged_ off the roof of the car, narrowly missing both Jon and Neal. All three ducked, and Neal ducked into the back of the car on his side and lunged across, reaching for Jon to pull him back into the car. Steve saw the look on Jon's face, the outright fear, and still didn't do anything in time when the guy who'd shot the guard reached Jon first. Brian was already past him, shouting, gun raised, and Steve realized his own clip was empty. He felt in his jacket for the extra clip, taking too long to find it, too long to slam the magazine out of his gun and eject the spent clip. Too long to reload, while Neal's grab for Jon fell short and the man in overalls grabbed Jon and yanked him away from the car before Brian or Aug could get a shot off. Neither had an angle that guaranteed they'd miss Jon.
Steve did, or he thought he did, and he brought his gun up and kept walking, barely hearing the shouting around him, unaware of the approaching sirens. The world had dwindled to a pinpoint of focus, even as his sight began to gray. The man in overalls had looped an arm around Jon's neck and was holding a gun to his head, beginning to backpedal him away. Jon was doing everything right except get away, not being passive but not fighting either. It was hearing Neal's scream of denial and absolute fright that jostled Steve partially back to alertness as he kept advancing. He knew then that if he didn't do what he was trying to, Neal would go after them and get shot.
Steve was only about ten yards away when the guy first saw him angle in from the decorative shrubs by the entrance, and the guy said, "It's all over."
"Yeah," Steve said, keeping his gun level on the guy's face.
Home Depot kept using Jon as a shield, kept his gun tight to Jon's head, and said, "I'll do him, right here. Back off."
Steve kept walking, paying no attention to the fact that some of the shouting was directed at him by then.
"_I'll do it_!"
Desperation. There was a lot of it, had been through this whole thing, and Steve thought about it dimly, thought about why a guy would dart out into the middle of a scene he should have abandoned ten minutes earlier, to get his hands on a keyboardist. A keyboardist--a friend--who was staring at him in abject terror but wasn't going to plead. Steve had to hand that to him.
"I know you will," Steve heard himself say to Home Depot. To Jon, he said, "Hold still, Jay."
He knew if he didn't move quick, Brian would reach him and try to stop him, or Neal would get involved, or something else would go completely out of control. He kept a bead on the center of Home Depot's forehead, saw the look of disbelief on his features...
_it's an impossible shot, on the best of days, and this is not your best day_, he thought.
...saw Jon close his eyes and try to duck his head as he squeezed the trigger.
The report didn't seem like much; the hole in the right side of Home Depot's forehead didn't seem like much either, but it still did the job, and somehow the dying man managed not to squeeze the trigger before his gun left the side of Jon's head. The man slid to the pavement, arm still locked around Jon's neck, the stuff nightmares were made of. Jon struggled to get loose, hyperventilating as he did so. Steve didn't feel his gun slide out of his fingers, didn't hear it clatter and slide away across the pavement. Neal was out of the car by then; Aug was coming around the far side of the car toward Jon, and the world was already mushy by the time Brian got a hand on the back of Steve's jacket and spun him around.
"What the hell were you--" was all Steve got, because the rest of it faded off, receding back to a pinpoint that winked out and left him in darkness.
* * *
The room was dark, with only a dim glow from a streetlight shining through the barred window set high in the wall. Steve had reached the conclusion that he had lost the two roadies, when he saw a shadow on the wall approaching him from behind. He hesitated for a minute, mentally kicking himself for walking into a setup. If he turned to face the figure behind him, he would be leaving his back open, with the man's partner still unaccounted for. He didn't have a weapon, and he had no idea if either of them did. He never should have come in here alone. He should have told someone what he was doing, but he was afraid the guys were from the Family, and didn't want to have to explain anything if they weren't. He should have called...
"Don't turn around, Steve," a deep voice interrupted his thoughts.
The hair on the back of the singer's neck rose. This was not one of the men he had followed in here.
"Didn't your mother ever tell you that it was impolite to listen in on other people's conversations? I think you of all people would have learned that lesson. After all, that's what got your father into trouble years ago."
Steve listened hard to the voice, desperately hoping that it was someone from the agency, someone who didn't mean danger. His stomach sank as he could find no memory of having heard the voice before.
"Well, you're not a good little grasshopper. The Family's usual style is to make you look your assassin in the eyes, not take one in the back in the dark." Steve hoped his tone expressed a bravado he didn't really feel.
"Oh, but Mr.Morandini, I'm not _actually_ a part of the Family. I have a, shall we say, "understanding" with them, and with someone in the federal agency you think is protecting you as well." The Voice paused. "I am not at all pleased about your nosiness. You would think someone in your position would know to stay away from things that did not concern them."
Steve's mind had been scrambling crazily since he heard "Morandini." Matthew Morandini had been dead for over twenty years. He was standing in a dimly lit back room with someone who knew who he really was talking to his back. The whole scene was just too crazy.
"_Journey_ does concern me. This is my band, my friends, my job. If you're using the band as a cover for shit..."
"Then it would be in the best interest of your friends not to know about it." The Voice finished. "When I leave here, you're going to count to 1000, walk out of here, and resign as Journey's lead singer."
"The hell you say!" It was all Steve could do not to turn around and look at the bastard.
"Take my advice, Mr. Morandini, Stathakis, Perry, whatever you want to call yourself. Getting out now will keep you alive. Not saying anything to your bandmates will keep them alive. It would be a shame for the Family to find you after all these years. And even worse for there to be a terrible accident on the road. The choice is yours. I hope you can live with whatever decision you make." The shadow on the wall turned and walked away.
Steve stayed where he was for several minutes, having seen enough gangster movies to be afraid that someone was waiting to ambush him when he walked out.
_Was that why Gregg quit? Did he find out something he shouldn't have? If he did, why did he let us bring Jon into it? He's just a kid, what have I gotten him into? Do the rest of the guys know anything? If the Family were the ones behind this, they would have taken me out by now. This means someone in the agency is involved. They're not safe if I stay if anyone knows who I really am, they're not safe if I leave with this shit going on._
Standing in the dark, Steve made a few decisions that shaped Journey from then on, but the rest of the band never knew.
Steve woke with a start. He shouldn't be surprised that he had dreamed about The Voice, with everything that had been going on lately. But now, he was frightened, because he realized who The Voice belonged to.
He became aware that he was in a hospital bed in what appeared to be a storage room, that he hurt all over. And that Raff was in a recliner by the door with a gun in his lap.
"You son of a bitch!" Steve intended to jump out of bed, but was barely able to sit up. "You set us up! Where are Jay and Neal?"
"Calm down, Matt, being so high-strung is what landed you in here to begin with." Raff fumbled in his pocket for his cigarettes before remembering again that he had quit smoking. "Brian and Stacy Aaron have taken Jon and Neal underground. Their families are at home, and the Family appears to be afraid to touch them. No one knows you're here, and I'm here in case anyone finds out."
"Yeah, just like you guys were there to keep Liz and Dina and the kids out of trouble," Steve was trying to be sarcastic, but he was so tired and hurt so much that it was hard to even make the words come out.
"For the record," Raff said through gritted teeth, trying hard not to lose his patience. "Dina bypassed the security system and sneaked out, for reasons I still don't know. The Family got to Doris, Wheeler, somehow. She had been on my team for over 15 years, and I never would have dreamed that anyone could get to her. But I guess everyone has a button that can be pushed somewhere. She was found in your front yard this morning, by the way. I guess someone was trying to make a point."
"Who the hell are you people?" Steve asked softly.
"I figure you checked me out already, didn't you?" When Steve nodded slightly, the agent continued. "I never retired from the military. We're a special investigations team. The "granddaddy of all cleanup crews" thing I said to you wasn't that far off the mark. I have a higher security clearance than the president. We've been setting this up for five years to straighten out what's going on in this agency."
"How many of you are there?" Steve tried to remember any other new agents that may have come along in that time period.
"Just the two of us were involved in this area," Raff answered. "We were afraid to bring in any more."
"Where are we, and why?" Steve really wished that Raff would volunteer some of this information so that he wouldn't have to keep trying to talk.
"We're in a back room that no one ever uses at a military hospital. Brian Aaron showed up to save your ass, and you didn't even thank him before you kissed the pavement. You've got three broken ribs, an infection of the lining around the lungs, you were starting to set up pneumonia, you're dehydrated and exhausted. The doctor can't believe that you were able to run around as long as you did, but I told him what an ornery bastard you were."
Steve almost smiled. "Is Corey okay?"
Raff regarded him cautiously for a moment before answering. "Yeah, she's fine. She passed out when she heard you had been taken in by ambulance, but they checked her out and said she's fine, just a little tired, too stressed, so forth."
Steve had the feeling that there was something he was missing, something that everyone knew except him, but he didn't have much time to worry about it before he fell back asleep.
* * *
Aug, Jon, and Neal left Steve's car at the bank and rode with the big blond agent. Aug had introduced Brian as Stacy's brother, but with the scene at the bank, Jon and Neal had been too brain-fried to ask any other questions than if Stacy was safe.
The rode in silence for over an hour. Jon was too tired and too worried about Steve to even ask where they were going. At this point, he didn't even care if Brian Aaron was light gray or dark gray. This crap had been going on for two weeks, and he was just ready for it to all be over.
Brian's cell phone rang. After a brief conversation, he reported to the others that Steve would be fine, but was going to be out of commission for a few days.
Aug visibly relaxed, which reassured any lingering doubts Neal had about him. Neal wasn't ready to admit yet that he was concerned about Steve, but he was glad that someone cared whether his former friend was dead or alive.
Jon leaned into the front seat. "Can I use your cell phone?" he asked the agent.
"Why?" Aug asked.
"I want to make sure Mugs is home," Jon replied, dialing the number. "Hey, it's me, pick up." He said to the answering machine. He waited for a minute. "Come on, pick up the phone." He hesitated a few more seconds, looking at his watch. "I'm not kidding around! I'm worried about you!" Each word got a little louder and a little more panicked. "Pick up the damn phone, Thomas!" Cursing under his breath, Jon flipped the phone closed and tossed it back into the front seat.
Neal put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Hey, he could have been in the shower or something. He might even be with Liz. He did say he was going to help keep an eye on her."
In the front seat, Aug and Brian exchanged a look that said "One loose cannon, unaccounted for."
Half an hour later, Jon and Neal realized they were at collapsed barn where they had been the day before.
"Deja vu all over again," Neal joked lamely. "Who's in the trees this time?"
Brian shook his head. "I circled long enough to make sure we weren't being followed. Of course, no one would expect us to end up back here."
"We can't hide in the barn..." Jon trailed off, starting to figure things out.
"No, but we can hide in the bomb shelter again," Aug supplied. "All sorts of people walked right over the top of us earlier, and never knew we were there. It's got food and whatever supplies we need."
As they hiked through the woods, careful to follow one of the trails they had made earlier, Neal asked "So what's the plan?"
"We stay hidden until dark, and then we go get the other copy of Steve's evidence." Aug called over his shoulder.
"Please tell me we're not breaking into a bank." Jon looked back, and turned around just in time to walk into a tree branch.
"No," Aug shook his head, willing himself not to laugh. "We're breaking into a cemetery."
"What?!" Jon and Neal both exclaimed, but Aug just shook his head and smiled.
"I hate when your brother does that." Neal glared at him.
* * *