The Plant was surrounded by police and the press. Aid cars and the medical examiner's van blocked enough of one street that they had to close it down altogether. Most of the block was cordoned off anyway by then. Brian parked the Suburban a block away, and clipped his badge to the outside of his shirt.
"I'm tellin' you," Neal said again in response to Jon's whitefaced silence. "That was Mugs. And he wasn't alone." Something was bothering Neal, and he couldn't decide what.
"First thing's first," Stacy said. "Let's figure out what the hell happened here so that we know _something_."
A flash of Brian's ID and a bit of namedropping got them more info than the press was able to glean; the identity of the body from the basement and the still-living gunshot victim. Neither was Mugs or Ross, but the one name triggered something in Jon's memory. He was too relieved to give it much attention. Blood samples had been sent to a lab to be analyzed, and it would be hours in the least before they would even know the types. There was no sense hanging around.
"They know something we don't, though," Stacy said. "We're a step behind, somewhere. Any ideas where either Ross or Mugs would be headed? Assuming they're together, assuming someone hasn't grabbed them."
They headed back for the Suburban, preoccupied with the question. Then Brian shoved Jon to the left suddenly, behind a dumpster. Stacy and Neal followed suit wordlessly, confused. They walked parallel to a strip mall, away from where the Suburban had been parked. "Anybody leave anything in the car they can't live without?" Brian said. "Because there's a couple of suits hanging around it, out in the open. If they're that comfortable, we got trouble."
"Can't anyone leave my goddamn car alone?" Jon said.
Whatever had been bothering Neal since they'd supposedly seen Mugs resolved itself. "The piano," Neal said.
They looked at him. "Meaning?" Stacy said.
"The Whale. The place Ross was gonna have it sent to...we talked the whole thing out just before we left home, when all this bullshit started. The shop he was gonna have it sent to is pretty close by. In the direction Mugs was headed."
"You can't be sure it--"
"That was Mugs," Neal said. "Jesus, what else do we have to go on? We got some time on our hands, don't we?"
"What was the name of the place?" Brian said. Neal glanced around and saw a phone booth across the street they'd just crossed. Without saying anything else, he moved for it, and they followed him. He looked up the number and dialed it on Brian's cell phone.
* * *
Mugs tried the back door carefully on a whim, finding it locked. He pressed his ear to the door and couldn't hear anything beyond it.
"Let's call 911 and say the goddamn thing is on fire," Ross whispered. "We can find out all kinds of shit without getting shot at again."
Mugs shook his head. "They'll get away."
Ross spun him around. "I'm okay with that."
"I just want an idea of what's going on," Mugs said. "And whatever's in the piano." He walked further around the back, and Ross began to follow. The back door opened behind them and someone stepped out.
It was never determined who was more surprised; it was only a matter of who was faster with a firearm. Mugs and the guy who opened the door went for their guns at the same time, and Mugs was glad he lived to learn that the waistband of your jeans was a crummy place to draw from, because the front sight snagged on the denim.
They were ushered into the back of the piano shop, which was dark.
"You guys here for piano lessons?" the gunman said.
"No...just gonna rob the place," Mugs said, and Ross kicked him.
"Uh huh," the gunman said. "By drivin' up to the front of the place." He pushed them ahead of himself, into the repair bay. There were two other men, each wearing gloves. In the middle of the floor were the remnants of the Whale. They had only just started from the look of it, because the piano wasn't any more disassembled than it had been the last time Ross had seen it.
"Let's see some ID," the gunman said. "Empty your pockets. Go on."
Mugs froze. All they'd need to do was see the name 'Cain', and it was over. Ross wouldn't be much better off. They'd recognize the names.
The phone rang. It went ignored.
"Don't have nothin'," Mugs said. "I told you, we thought it was empty."
"What kind of stupid fuck robs a goddamn piano repair shop?" the gunman said. "How fuckin' stupid do I look?"
There was a loud rapping on the front door, and everyone startled. There was a dark figure out there, obscured by the signs on the windows. "We're closed!" the gunman shouted.
"I need directions!" a voice yelled. The phone kept ringing.
"I said we're closed!" the gunman yelled. "El closio! Go away!"
"I'm trying to find McDonalds!" the voice shouted.
Mugs nudged Ross, and Ross nodded a little. The gunman cursed and moved for the door, waving the gun briefly at the two in gloves, telling them silently to watch Ross and Mugs. He shifted the gun to his other hand and tried to see out the front window without ripping posters down. He couldn't, so he unlocked the door.
The moment he did it, the door came in with enough force to knock him back. He stumbled away but brought his gun up while the two in the repair bay went for their weapons and Ross pulled Mugs to the floor.
Aug shot the gunman by the door twice before he could get his gun up, then leveled it at the two in the repair bay, shouting at them to drop whatever they had. Neither moved any further, just stood with their hands in view.
Aug dropped his eyes to Mugs and Ross for just a second, his expression telling them to stay were they were. "Find anything?" Aug asked the shorter of the two in gloves.
They both shook their heads.
"Don't lie to me," Aug said. "I got no trouble blowin' you up before the cops get here."
"Nothin'," the shorter of the two said.
"Then get back to work," Aug said. "You got probably three minutes to find somethin' before the cheese gets here." When they didn't move, he shouted, "Move!"
They did, and Ross and Mugs got up from the floor. "I love you guys," Aug said. "I want you to work for me. It'll be like a male version of Charlie's Angels."
"Hey," Ross said, "Our morning sucked, too."
Aug yelled at the two in gloves to hurry up, and that if they scratched the Whale he'd shoot them whether they found something or not. They heard the first sirens when one of them came up with something behind the dismantled keyboard, between the hammers but far enough out of the way to be ignored if the piano was tuned. They looked like digital master tapes, the cases painted the same red as the Whale.
Aug made sure that was all that was there. Then he took the tapes and tucked them into his jacket, and he, Ross and Mugs went out the front and peeled away.
* * *
Brian had run back to the Plant to see if one of the patrol officers could run them to the piano shop when he heard the call come in over the radio for shots fired down the block. Another set of units was responding, but they were close enough that one of the patrol officers offered to take them over there and act as backup at the same time. They were pulling into the parking lot of the piano shop minutes later.
There was a dead gunman inside the door, and a shop employee was dead in one of the storage closets. The Whale was dismantled in the middle of the repair bay. There was nothing in it. There was no telling if there ever had been something in it. And no way of knowing who had done the shooting.
Jon tried not to panic, but he knew Mugs was in the middle of whatever was going on. Realizing they wouldn't get any more info from the scene, Brian asked one of the patrol cars to take them back to the Suburban. There was no one anywhere near it, but they sat for a few minutes and watched to make sure anyway.
* * *
Steve picked up his cell phone on the first ring and said, "I hope this is good."
"It is," Aug said. "I have something everyone and their dog has been looking for. If you still wanna go through this bullshit, meet me where we've already been." Then he hung up and looked at Mugs and Ross.
"Yes," Mugs said.
"No," Aug said. "We're almost done, and if you guys get creamed at the very last, there will be folks very angry at me. After 20 years of playing piano, your brother's hands are very strong, and I don't want them around my neck."
"Are you gonna shoot me?" Mugs said.
"I would love to," Aug said. "Stay in the fuckin' car. Keep your gun on your lap. You guys were just lucky with all that shit at the Plant. I'm gonna be right over there." He pointed at the bus station just across from the Chronicle. "Stay here unless something so awful happens that you need to leave the car. And I think you guys can tell what awful is, by now." He got out and walked away.
"It's in the genes," Mugs said.
"What the hell's that supposed to mean?" Ross said.
* * *
Steve was sitting on a bench at the bus station, looking tired and bored. "Deja vu," he said.
"There's a club in Seattle called that," Aug said. "They say they've got hundreds of beautiful girls, and three ugly ones. One of the ugly ones looks just like you." He handed the tapes over, and Steve looked them over.
"This is it? All this bullshit, for this?"
"To each his own," Aug said. "Let me get this straight. You give this over to dad's part of the mob, the other part that's been trying to off the band will be screwed."
"Yeah," Steve said. "And the other stuff I got will put us to rights with dad's part of the mob. It's not just me. Or I'd keep on the way I am."
Aug nodded. "Can you live with this?"
"I'm not done," Steve said. "They think they've got me. But I got a few things to settle. I just won't be settling with this one side, anymore." Then he laughed. "'Live'. That's cute."
"Well," Aug said, "I'm cute. Or at least that's what Stacy said. Come back, when it's done. 'Cause I got things to settle with you, too, along with a few other folks."
Steve nodded. They shook hands again and parted without looking back.
* * *
Jon was glad to see his brother again. Everyone was glad to see everyone else, and once they'd had time to put the pieces together, Brian wanted to know where the hell Steve was.
Aug had nothing to say.
* * *
Midnight came, and Steve waited outside the Embassy Suites in San Francisco. He saw a limo pull up across the parking lot from him, and continued to wait. When it was obvious the limo wasn't going to move on, he left his car in the shadows and walked across the parking lot. He felt the tension of the exposure, knowing that if anyone wanted to they could make an easy mess of him then and there. But his celebrity protected him the way the celebrity of The Voice protected him.
One of the rear windows rolled down. It was dark in the back of the limo. The Voice said, "It seems we're both early. Care to come inside?"
"I'd rather chew glass," Steve said. "You realize, I've got copies of a few things stored away in case this goes wrong."
There was a low chuckle. "I know you, Matthew," The Voice said. "You're boring, as usual. Now...."
"I've always known what was in the piano," Steve said. "The stuff you've got encoded into our concert tapes could easily go public, if you back out on me."
The Voice was silent for a moment."Don't make this any harder, Matt. You're barely squeaking by as it is."
Steve paused a moment longer, then handed the tapes and the microfilm through the window of the limo, knowing there were at least three guns trained on him at any time.
"Thank you," The Voice said. "Now...there's one more thing, and we'll call it even."
"Fuck you," Steve said.
"No," The Voice said. "I'd rather...what'd you say? Chew glass. Hmm. I think you'll be amenable to the idea."
Against his better judgment, Steve listened. Then he shrugged and agreed. It made no difference to him, this last detail.
"Fine," The Voice said. "You know...Tipper always hated 80's rock. I'll give her your best."
* * *
One week later, Rafael Rafferty mysteriously disappeared. He has yet to be found.
Irving Azoff has also been unavailable for comment.
Within a week after that, several people with known mob connections--and nearly a dozen federal agents--were gunned down in random public places. Media coverage was extensive. One witness claimed the gunman looked suspiciously like someone they'd once seen on MTV, back when MTV actually showed videos. He was not taken seriously. When the smoke cleared, there was no one left for the band to testify against.
Within thirty days, the band had returned to their former lives. They're still looking over their shoulders, but that's the lead singer's job.
Eight months later, a little girl was born in a hospital north of Hanford with her maternal grandmother's first name and the last name 'Morandini' on her birth certificate. Her mother is now head of her own unit with the US Marshalls.
In October, 1996, Journey's last studio album with 'Steve Perry' was released. He left the band soon after.
Steve Augeri joined the band in 1998 and has been watching their backs ever since. He no longer serves as a US Marshall...well, not officially.
Steve Perry is still loose and wreaking havoc on organized crime. Just not all the factions of it that he's used to.
Greatest Hits Live came out in 1998. This is a direct quote from the inside of the 'Greatest Hits Live' liner:
"In one of those improbable but true stories, these long-missing live tapes were unearthed in late 1997 in one of Sony's tape storage facilities. The tapes, after years of storage, had to be baked in an oven to allow a one-time only transfer to digital tape."
If you listen closely enough with the right equipment, you'll find out enough about the mob and its connection to the White House to make yourself dangerous...