Raff looked into the small window in the door of the holding cell. Mugs lay on the narrow cot, staring at the ceiling. According to the staff, he had been calm, rational, and even joking during the last two hours. Didn't fit the profile of someone overwrought by grief or anger. That made the situation much more dangerous.
_Like we didn't already have enough loose cannons in this case._ Raff thought to himself. Picking up a folding chair, he indicated for the guard to unlock the door.
Mugs sat up when the agent entered, silently appraising.
"Deputy US Marshall Raphael Rafferty." Raff extended a hand, which was ignored. He unfolded the chair and sat down. "Okay, so why were you going to kill Perry?"
"I wasn't going to kill him," Mugs said calmly. "I was pretty sure he was wearing a vest. I was just trying to shake things up and find out what you people have done with my brother."
"'Pretty sure he was wearing a vest,' huh? Damn lucky for you he was, or you'd be up for first degree murder right now." He reached into his shirt pocket, finding it empty before he remembered that he didn't smoke any more.
"Now the question is what to do with you."
"I guess you'll have to let me go. Steve told you at the cemetery to let me go. I assume that means he didn't want to press charges."
"Yeah, well, if you fire a semi-automatic hand gun into a group of people, at a funeral, no less, the police have the right to bring you in whether the victim likes it or not." Raff tilted his chair back on two legs. "So did you find out what you wanted to know?"
"I found out that probably half the people there were cops or undercover agents of some variety. Kinda strange, that many badges would turn out for the funeral of two rock stars they didn't know. Of course, most of what's happened in the past few days has been awfully convenient. Jon and Neal were a little high profile to go into the witness protection program. But of course, if they were dead, that would be the ultimate cover. Really convenient that their bodies were too badly mangled for anyone to see them. Are there really bodies in the caskets, or are they just sandbags or something?" Mugs paused, but when Raff didn't answer, he continued. "Not to
mention the fact that their bodies were found the same day they found the dead federal agent. Perry's always been prone to some weird behavior, but the crazy-assed shit he's pulled in the last two weeks takes the cake. It was pretty obvious at the funeral that Gregg and Smitty aren't involved, and Ross isn't in it as far as Steve is, but Ross knows something. So where's the
person who was taking shots at Perry when I was being cuffed and stuffed into the back of the patrol car?"
"Excuse me?" Raff asked, knowing that Mugs would not fall for it, but having to take the chance.
"Yeah, I know," Mugs sighed. "Officially you're going to deny everything. But when I get out of here, I _will_ find out what's going on and where Jon and Neal are."
Raff jumped up from his chair, knocking it over with a clatter, and began to pace. "Dammit, don't you understand how important it is for you to leave it alone? These aren't Boy Scouts that are after your brother and Neal, they're professional killers!"
"So you just admitted that they _are_ alive," Mugs pointed out. "You mentioned them in the present tense."
Raff rattled off an impressive string of oaths. "I used to believe that I would die in the line of duty. No, I'll probably die of old age in a rubber room, because a group of crazy rock stars is going to put me there!"
* * *
Mr. Gianetti and his bodyguard ducked underneath the door, leaving the man in the black sweatsuit. Dina, Neal, and Jon tried to move closer together.
"I'm sorry, I just never know what to say in times like these," the man called Augeri began. He displayed a narrow bladed knife. "Not many people are able to avoid the family for several weeks. It would be a shame for it to have to end here, like this."
Neal stared openly at the man, trying to figure out why he looked familiar, who he reminded Neal of.
"I'll tell you what I can," Jon began. "But I have no idea what we're supposed to know."
Neal nodded. "I didn't like Leroy enough to have too many conversations with him. I have no idea why he gave _me_ the disk."
"My boss would like to know..." he was interrupted by the ringing of a cell phone. Augeri answered the phone, turning his back to the three figures huddled together on the floor.
"You gotta love the '90's." Neal rolled his eyes at Jon.
Jon started to respond, but stopped when they caught the mobster's half of the cell phone conversation.
"Yeah, as soon as I'm sure Mr. Gianetti is gone. We'll meet at the same place. We got one complication, though, Schon's wife is here. No, she won't say where the baby is. Do you want me to bring her, too?"
Jon, Neal, and Dina exchanged puzzled glances.
"No, 'big favor' doesn't even begin to cover it. You're gonna owe me your soul for this one." He turned back around to face the trio again. "Yeah, we'll see you in a little while." He flipped the phone closed. "Guess what, folks? That was a friend of yours."
* * *
Liz kept staring at who she'd thought was Wheeler all that time, remaining calm but letting her mind whirl over where each of her children were at that moment and how she could get them out of there. Madison pieced together a floor puzzle in front of the TV, and the twins were taking a late nap in another room. In that space of moments, she considered and discarded several plans, including trying to overpower the woman in front of her.
Not-Wheeler read it in her face and said, "Never mind. Won't do you any good. And you're not about to do anything in front of your kids. Even if you did, could you be on the run with three kids? No."
"And what's my other option?" Liz said. "Letting you do whatever you want to us? Who the hell are you really?"
The other woman didn't answer, and Liz said, "Jon is alive. We're going to find a way out of this, no matter what you do. How far does this have to go, before someone tells us...tells _me_...what's really been going on?"
"Liz," the other woman said, "what you don't understand is that no _one_ person in all this knows all of it. It's designed that way. I could no sooner tell you what's really going on than tell you who Raff really is. Everyone's a piece in the puzzle." She gestured at Madison and the project she was so engrossed in..
"Word games," Liz said.
"No. I'm not going to hurt you. I would have by now. My part in the puzzle is to keep you out of it, and you have been so far."
"Not as far as we should be," Liz snapped. "What's to keep me from leaving, really? Are you going to hold me at gunpoint?"
The woman shook her head. "I'm not going to chase you, either. Once you're out there, you're open game."
"I'm not going to sit here while everyone else is 'open game'," Liz said.
The other woman shrugged. "You have to take into consideration what you mean to who's out there, though. You go barging into the middle of it without knowing what they know, and you could kill them all."
"That's why I'm asking you," Liz said, deceptively calm.
"And I already told you, I get one angle to deal with. The game changes from day to day, Liz. I've been doing this--hiding folks--for twenty years. I'm not in the habit of losing people. The reason it works is because I don't know any more than is necessary. I don't know where anyone is anymore--I check in once a day with Raff and see if I should move you again. Most of the time, not even he knows where we are. It's best that way. A week ago, I knew a lot more. But my part is over."
"You're not even an agent, are you," Liz said.
The woman shrugged. "I was, once. But sometimes...playing by the rules is simply wrong. Sometimes you have to make them up as you go. I can tell you that this has been coming for a long time, and you've all been involved for a lot longer than you think. Journey's old manager used to say the members of the band were drafted like NFL players. Toward a purpose. He never knew how right he was."
Liz let her thoughts settle for a moment, discarding yet another escape plan. Her thoughts fixed again on Jon. So long as they were all alive, anything would be possible. She didn't have the sense that the other woman would hurt them; but staying where she was....that was out of the question.
"You know I can't just stand by," Liz said.
"But you should," the other woman said. "If nothing else, then for your kids."
Then Irving Azoff walked in.
* * *
Steve adjusted his tie.
He'd discarded the vest, but the suit remained, and he got a clip board out of his trunk once he made it to city hall. One of the constants in American society was that if you carried a clipboard and behaved as if you belonged somewhere, almost no one would question you. Civil servants were no different. Bureaucracy eating itself.
The badge wouldn't hurt, either.
He had seven of them, for different cities and precincts, and as long as he flashed them without letting anyone really look--and almost no one bothered to look--people answered any question, let him through any secured area, and generally avoided him. Every now and then someone gave him a second look, and once someone had told him he looked just like that singer, Steve Perry. He'd smiled and said he got that a lot.
He walked in the main entrance and through the lobby, ignoring the little informational stand in it's center. Behind a wall of bullet proof glass was a secondary lobby, and even more bullet proof glass encased the receptionist. He flashed a badge at her and said, "You've got a federal agent here. He's waiting for me."
She glanced at him, shuffling something beneath his view behind the glass. "Down in general lockup, toward the back."
He thanked her and she buzzed him through to the elevators. He was in the basement less than a minute later and flashing the same badge at the uninterested rookie behind the desk at the check in. He was buzzed through again and wondered if he should make a point by putting a few bullet holes in the walls. He reminded himself to stay the hell out of jail, because anyone would be able to get in and kill him. In fact, if they really wanted to be rid of him, all they had to do was arrest him for anything, and hold him overnight....
He paused. He hated it when his imagination got going.
He looked through the protective glass of two doors before finding the right one. He tried the knob. Goddamn door wasn't locked. Raff was either a cocky bastard, or getting lax.
Swinging the door open, he was just in time to hear, "...crazy rock stars is going to put me there!"
"Uh oh," Steve said, letting the door swing closed behind him. "Rock stars outnumber the feds, here. Be afraid, Raff."
Raff cursed at him. "Turn right back around and get the hell out of here."
"Aw," Steve said, "but I have my clipboard out and everything. You guys should pay better attention to who's wandering the halls of justice." He looked at Mugs. "You _are_ unarmed, right?"
"What the hell do you think you're gonna get away with now?" Raff said.
"I need Mugs' help, since he's already in it," Steve said. "It's not like he's in much danger, and I need a sidekick."
"Bullshit," Raff said. "This is grandstanding."
"This is me posting bail for Michael Bolton's drummer," Steve said. "Come on, we need a kid who has enough balls to shoot someone on a hunch."
"You know where Jon is?" Mugs said.
Steve looked at Raff, then glanced at Mugs with a small smile playing around his mouth. To Raff, he said, "What you _should_ be doing is looking for the guy with the video camera, not hassling this poor citizen."
"The guy with the video camera was one of mine," Raff said. "The tape's not showing much."
"You're still not getting out of here," Raff said. "Not with him, not without telling me what the hell you're up to."
"I don't work for you," Steve said, tone hardening just a little. "Or, in official terms, you are not the boss of me. Don't make me stand here and dick around with you while The Family is sizing Jon and Neal up for cement shoes. You're the guy who lost Dina in the middle of the night."
Raff narrowed his eyes and didn't bother to ask how Steve knew it. "You're not leaving. Someone's gotta put a lid on this."
Steve shrugged. "I'll ro-shambo you for him, then." He heard Mugs snort and was careful not to look at him. "I'll go first."
"You're not smart mouthing your way out of this," Raff said wearily. "It's over, Matt."
Steve raised his eyebrows. He couldn't tell if the slip was intentional, or if the older man was so tired that he was getting as clumsy as...
_As I am_, he finished reluctantly.
"Your part is, I think. Don't think for a second I won't level this goddamn place getting him out of here. I let you guys take me earlier. But I'm not gonna let you board me--or him--up in here so's The Family and everyone else can play 'fish in a barrel'."
Raff sighed and folded his arms. "I don't want you dead, Matt."
Steve snorted mirthlessly. "Wanting and needing are two different things, huh? Stop calling me Matt, or you might decide you need me gone a lot sooner than you already do." He didn't like this, the whole fatherly act. Raff was stalling for something. Whether it was to give someone time to get at Mugs, or himself, didn't matter. "Step aside, Raff," he said. "Or you'll be coming with me."
Raff raised his eyebrows. Steve let his eyes stray to Mugs, who darted his eyes to the security camera above them.
_Fuck_. He hadn't thought much about it, since he'd already shown himself on at least a dozen others since setting foot in the building. He didn't plan on dealing with a handful of cops, though, and he would be in a moment. He winked at Mugs, then dropped his shoulders. Any sudden movement in front of that camera would bring the place down on him. As little respect as he had for the police in general, he didn't relish the thought of a fight in close quarters.
"Fine," Steve said, "just tell me what time it is, then."
Raff lifted his right hand just slightly to angle the face of the watch, and glanced down.
Mugs leaned forward, lightning fast, and whipped Raff's service weapon out of his hip holster. The motion was spare and compact, and the drummer leaned back on the cot immediately as if nothing had happened, crossing an ankle over one upraised knee, angling the barrel at Raff and holding it down on the cot along his leg to keep it out of sight. Raff startled, half-turned, his right hand automatically reaching inside his jacket for the backup weapon in his shoulder holster, but Steve had sidestepped away from the door and out of Mug's line of fire as he drew his own gun with his back to the camera. "Raff," he said, "I asked you what time it was."
"3:30," Raff said between his teeth, face darkening with rage.
"I'm gonna miss the Poke'mon hour, if we don't hurry up," Mugs said.
"We're all done here," Steve said, glancing at the gun Mugs was holding. "You wanna watch that thing, Bowery Boy? I'm not wearin' the vest anymore."
Mugs shrugged and rose slowly from the cot as if in the middle of a stretch. "Sorry about this," he said to Raff. "But family's family, you know? I promise not to run amok."
"I don't," Steve said, reaching out for the door, opening it slowly and gesturing Mugs through. Mugs tucked the gun away and ducked through. Steve stepped through after him and shut the door firmly behind, tucking his own gun away and thinking about the look on Raff's face.
He didn't really look that mad.
They made it past the lockup entry point uncontested. No running footsteps, no shouts. The elevator ride was silent. Then past the receptionist again without trouble. Once outside, Steve walked Mugs to his car and unlocked it, opening the passenger side door.
"That's it?" Mugs said, climbing in.
Steve walked around the car without answering him, getting in and tossing the clipboard in the backseat. Once they were back on the road, he said, "He let us go."
"What the hell for?"
Steve didn't like what he was thinking, but he said it anyway. "Because I was right. That's where I'm headed, and he knows I can still help."
"I don't get it," Mugs said.
"I don't want you to. Give me the goddamn gun."
"Nah. I should be armed in case something goes wrong."
Steve took his eyes off the road for a minute. Then he laughed.
"I won't shoot you again," Mugs said. "Don't worry. Well, at least not if you tell me where Jon is."
"I don't have a pinpoint location, but he's within a ten mile radius," Steve said. "And alive, the last I knew."
"How are you in this?"
"I'll let Jon tell you," Steve said. "We really don't have time for the messy particulars right now."
"Where the hell are we goin', then?"
"Jesus," Steve said, "you're a nosy bastard. It's not enough that I busted you out of the pokey, even though you were there for shooting me?"
"I practically busted myself out," Mugs said. "Plus, I still have a gun. So answer."
"Where else would two musicians dressed for a funeral go?" Steve said. "Toys R Us."
"Toys R fuckin' Us?" Mugs said, then laughed. "Oh, that sounded so bad."
Steve shook his head. "We gotta meet someone there. Someone I don't want Raff to meet."
"He called you Matt," Mugs said.
Steve shrugged. "You can call me Al."
* * *
A couple of minutes from the toy store, they passed a mini-storage down a dirt road that looked like it was abandoned, and Steve pulled over at the 7-11 adjacent to it without comment. Mugs didn't question, just watched Steve with subdued interest. The singer hopped out and ran for the payphone. Mugs went in and got a Coke.
After two rings, someone answered with, "Dodger Stadium; concession stand."
Steve said, "I know we were gonna stay out of contact, but something is severely fucked up, and I think you oughta be moving sooner than you thought, and possibly in another direction."
"You're at your best when you're vague like this," the voice said.
"Aug...I'm serious. Get out. We don't need to hook up."
"Sure we do. Call me at exactly..." Aug looked at his watch. "It's 4:01 now. Set your watch."
"I'm not wearing one," Steve said. "What the hell is this?"
"Find a way to do it. Hurry up."
Steve looked at Mugs, who had returned with a Big Gulp and was watching him. "What's your watch say?"
Mugs glanced at it. "4:03."
"Set it back two minutes."
Mugs looked at him like he was nuts.
"Listen, Tom," Steve said, "you fucking shot me. As payback, I think I can ask you to change your goddamn watch without a fuss, right?"
Mugs shook his head and adjusted the watch.
To the phone, Steve said, "Watches synchronized, 007."
"Call me at 4:15, sharp," Aug said. "But only from your cell phone. And not before 4:15."
"Listen. 4:15, and it has to be from your cell phone."
Steve wanted to argue further, but knew better than to waste the time, so he said, "And when I see you right after that, we're gonna have a discussion about how you G-men like to be over- mysterious."
"Yeah," Aug said, "we'll do that, while we're discussing how aging rock stars like to think they're tougher than they are. When are you calling me?"
"In 13 minutes, smartass. From my cell phone and only from my cell phone, which is in the goddamn car. You gonna explain this?"
"Just trust me. Goodbye, Matt."
The line went dead, and Steve stared at the phone for a moment, not liking Aug's tone of voice. Suddenly, everyone was calling him Matt. Aug was doing it to get his attention, was telling him something. He looked at Mugs. "We're not going straight to the toy store," he said. "I wanna hang around here a bit first and see what happens. Something's wrong."
Mugs tilted his head. "Something? Like the rest of this has been okay so far?"
Steve sighed. "You're worse than your brother. Get back in the goddamn car."
* * *
Jon had been ready to try and kick out when he'd seen that knife headed for Neal.
But a moment later, the guitarist wasn't tied up anymore, and neither was Dina. Then he was free as well, and the three of them stood in the far corner staring at Aug. They'd heard the second phone call, and that was all the talking the agent had done since hanging up after the first.
Except for asking Dina to scream.
That had been weird. Neal had been certain for a minute Aug would make her if he had to, but he'd just shrugged and told her it was her option, that it was just in case anyone was still hanging around watching, which he didn't think they were. He said something about them probably being at a pretty good distance. So she screamed, and made it a good one, and their ears were still ringing.
And the phone call had been nuts. To someone named Matt.
"Okay," Neal said, "I give up. Who the hell are you?"
Aug smiled. "To the feds, or The Family?"
"To yourself," Dina said sharply. "I've had it with the games. The next smartass to start this shit with me is getting my foot up their ass."
Aug raised his eyebrows and visibly backed down, looking astonishingly like a kid being admonished by a friend's mother. "Hey, I know the feeling," he said. "Look, we just need to hang around here a little longer, and then we'll have all the time we need."
"Uh uh," Jon said, trying to work a kink out of one shoulder. "Did you untie us so we can walk out of here, or what?"
"Not exactly walk," Aug said. "Not yet. Just hang on."
"You didn't finish telling us who you are," Neal said, wanting to keep him talking, trying to place him.
Aug took his cell phone back out and laid it in the middle of the floor, then stepped away and stared at it. Then he checked his watch and said, "You're the one who called us a 'grittier, East coast version of Journey'. I always liked that, you know."
Neal looked dumbfounded.
"But it didn't work out, and I was a cop for three years just after college, so I got myself hired by the feds a few years ago and took up training as a US Marshall. Real turnaround, huh?" He took in their amazed stares and added, "Tall Stories."
Neal leaned back against the far concrete wall and said, "Shit. Steve Augeri. Like I really believe this."
"I'd ask for your autograph, but I lost my pen," Aug said with a straight face. Then he pushed the cell phone gently with his foot, putting it closer to the far wall of the storage space. "I've been undercover, for some while now, and today is...blowing it. But I'd do anything for the guy who called the favor. And even if that wasn't the case, I don't think I'd be favorable to watching you guys buy it. Not the way Gianetti had planned, anyway." He sighed. "Oh well." He glanced at his watch again.
"So...we're standing here because..." Jon began.
Aug shook his head. "You won't feel a thing."
* * *
Mugs finished his Coke and got fed up with Steve asking him what time it was every two seconds. "You want my watch?"
"No," Steve said. "Just call it off, every minute." He took his cell phone out and flipped it open.
"4:14," Mugs said. "Christ, this is spooky."
"When we're thirty seconds til, start counting down," Steve said. His heart was racing. He felt like he was watching a horror movie that he wanted to cover his eyes through but couldn't.
But what are you doing?
"Twenty-nine," Mugs said, and Steve startled visibly. He listened to Mugs get to five, and let a finger hover over the speed dial. Four. Three. Two. One. And without wanting to, without understanding why, he let his finger come down on the number that would automatically dial Aug's cell phone. He heard the first ring come through the receiver, a distant, tinny sound. He was in the act of raising the phone to his ear when he heard the _thud_.
It was a sound you could feel; it was in the concrete below him, wrapping around and over and below.
He heard Mugs say, "Holy shit," in a small, awed voice, and he looked up, lowering the phone.
The storage facility was maybe a half mile off, and it was marked by a roiling, immense ball of black smoke and orange flame that was in the act of shooting skyward, obliterating everything beneath it. Explosives.
Steve looked at the phone, heard it still ringing on a number that would never, never pick up.
"No," he whispered. "No."
* * *