Chapter 10

Smitty was confused when he pulled up in front of Herbie's house; Jonathan's car was there, but Herbie's wasn't. Smitty frowned and went to the front door. No answer. He rang the bell a couple more times. Still no answer. Logically, Smitty knew there wasn't any real reason to panic, but it worried him all the same. He climbed in the flower bed, trying to sneak a peek in the front window. From what little he could make out, nothing seemed amiss. He went to the back gate, and tried to climb over. Too high. He turned around and tried to look in a different window. He could see where the mail had piled up on the floor, to one side of the door, not quite under the mail slot. Like the house had been empty for a couple of days, and then someone had come in and gone right back out, without checking for the mail. Maybe he made the drop...?

He heard a car screech to a halt in front of the house, and went back to investigate. Herbie was double-parked, and rushing up the walkway to his front door. Smitty trotted over and grabbed him by the arm. "What's going on?!" Smitty demanded.

Herbie jerked away, and went to the front door. "No time. There's no time."

"No time for what, Herbie? What the hell is wrong with you?"

Herbie didn't answer, just scurried into the house. Smitty followed him inside, annoyed that he hadn't been answered. They paused at the telephone, and Herbie lost it. "What am I gonna do? What the hell am I gonna do??"

Smitty put his hand on Herbie's shoulder. "Just talk to me. Maybe it's not as bad as you think."

Herbie whirled around, eyes wide, cheeks flushed. "That's right, Steve. It's not as bad as I think. It's worse! She wants another five million dollars! Where the fuck am I gonna get another five million dollars!?!?"

Smitty sighed, his patience nearly at an end. "So she wants the whole twenty million. She's a kidnapper. Not unreasonable expectations for someone with her job description."

Herbie was already shaking his head. "No, no, no! I gave her the twenty million. She took it - and she took Steve! And she didn't tell me where they were going! I did my part! I swear, I paid!"

Smitty was horrified. "Are you sure it was all there?"

"YES!! Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit-" Herbie continued to chant his mantra while walking around in frantic little circles. Smitty wasn't feeling much better. He tried to lead Herbie over to a chair when something crashed to the floor.

They jumped and ran to the hallway, where an elaborate step-ladder lay in the middle of the floor. They looked up at the ceiling, and Jonathan was crouched in the attic crawlway, looking perturbed and worried. "I think you need to have your house looked at, Herbie."

"What the fuck are you doing up there??" Herbie and Smitty cried.

Jonathan gave them a 'Duh' look and said, "Hiding."

"Well, you need to find a better place to hide than that!" Smitty said. "And so do I."

Herbie began to protest. "You can't just leave -"

Smitty held his hands up. "You held up your end. You managed the impossible. I believe in you. And I believe that Jonathan and I had both better get the fuck out of Dodge, while we still can."

"But Ross..."

"Told his wife where he was," Jonathan said. "Tané doesn't know where I am. And I'm sure Susan won't either. We'll be okay."

Smitty nodded nervously. "Just to be on the safe side, I don't think we should have any contact until it's over."

Herbie threw his hands in the air. "How the fuck are we gonna know that!?"

Smitty turned towards the door. "Don't worry. We will."

Neal readjusted his sheet and wished that he could have clothes and ropes like ordinary ransom victims. He glanced at Ross, who was sleeping fitfully. The meatheads that were supposed to be watching them were off in a corner, having a semi-private discussion. Not that they seemed to care what Neal heard. They made no attempt to lower their voices."But she's gonna- "

"She's one person, Murphy. One person. I can take her by myself. All you gotta do is make sure the rock band doesn't start jumping us."

"No, man, it won't work. I still got bruises, man. And Perry can hardly walk."

"Of course he can't walk, Murphy, she hasn't fed anybody! Hell, we're only getting food because we go get it ourselves. And don't forget, you were chasing Perry through an entire mall, and you already knew that if she found out you'd lost him-"

"I did not!"

"-you were gonna be in deep shit, and yes you did lose him. But that's beside the point. We gotta be ready for her."

"And what if the dude does pay?"

"Then we take our cut and get the fuck away from her, just like we said before."

"But -"

The door burst open suddenly. Steve and the bitchy ringleader stood in the doorway. She was clutching one of Steve's arms fiercely. Her other hand was busy shoving a little gun in his neck. Steve was holding onto a big, black duffel bag. Neal began to feel hopeful, until he noticed Steve's eyes. They were red and shiny. What the hell is he crying about?

She butted him forward a bit, and kicked the door shut behind her. Then she noticed the two meatheads still sitting in their corner. "What the fuck are you two looking so goddamned guilty about? No, nevermind, I don't wanna know. It's time to look for Cain."

The dark haired guy frowned and stood up. "Why, Gina? What's in the bag?"

"Don't worry about it," she snapped. "Just get out there."

The meatheads didn't move. The moron with the red hair stayed in his seat, looking nervous. The dark guy glared down at the woman and folded his arms. "Gina, it's the strangest thing, but I would swear that the bag Perry's holding looks remarkably like the bag the ransom is supposed to be in. Could it be that it's time to end this?"

Neal sat up a little straighter, not wanting to hope that this could be the end. The woman showed no signs of backing down. "Get the fuck away from the bag, Jim. Take Murphy and find Jonathan Cain. Now."

Jim turned his attention to Steve. "Did your manager make the drop?"

"There's a gun to your head, Stevie baby," Gina growled.

Steve bit his lip and let a sob escape, but he didn't answer Jim. Instead, he dropped the bag at his feet and let his eyes drift toward the ceiling. Neal wasn't particularly religious, but he began to whisper what little he could remember of last rites, just in case.

Gina looked pissed, but she didn't fire. Instead, she shoved Steve violently, sending him careening head-first over the bag. Steve landed inches from Neal, and mouthed "Herbie paid" before inching to a corner far away from everyone in the room. Neal's heart sank.

The phone rang, startling everyone. Gina swore creatively and went to answer it. "Hello! Oh. No, he didn't. Excuse me?" She put the gun down on the countertop and started gesturing with her freed hand. "I know you aren't accusing me of anything! Hey, hey, I'm just trying to do my job, here!"

While she was busy on the phone, Jim inched over to the bag and nudged it with his foot. He turned his head this way and that, obviously trying to ascertain its contents without just leaning over and opening it. He eased it towards the bed with a foot, and lowered himself to the mattress. Neal watched him carefully lean over and patiently unzip it. Judging by the look on the man's face, Steve hadn't been mistaken about the payload. The man reached in and pulled out a bundle of cash, and stuck it in his jacket pocket.

Murphy was leaning forward in his chair, with an odd expression on his face. Before he could do anything, however, Jim was already up and moving towards the door. Gina was so caught up in her conversation that she might never have noticed, had she not caught the look on Murphy's face. She turned around, and saw Jim walk out the door. She whipped back around, looked for the bag where Steve had dropped it, noticed it's new position, took in its recently plundered state, and dropped the phone. "JIM!" She headed for the door, and Murphy made a move for the bag. Before he could get his hand in the pot, Gina was on him, teeth bared. "Get your disgusting, grubby little hands off MY MONEY!!!"

Murphy didn't pull his punches. It soon became clear why, as they scuffled in the little room. Neal thought about trying to get to the telephone, but it was on the other side of the fight. Instead, he focused on trying to protect Ross' inert form from any stray blows.

It took him a moment to realize that he didn't know where Steve was. Had he escaped? Maybe he was going for help. Or at least trying to save his own skin. Neal couldn't figure out where he'd disappeared to in such a tiny room, until he saw him crawling out from underneath the bed. By the telephone.

And the gun.

Neal was surprised that the normally peaceful Steve would choose the gun over the phone, but he kept silent. Something about the look on Steve's face. His eyes followed the fight around the room, and his hands formed around the gun, molding to it perfectly. He raised the weapon, as if he'd used semi-automatic pistols all his life. Neal thought he looked eerily mechanical as the gun began to follow the fight along with Steve's eyes. What the fuck is he looking for?

Steve shifted slightly, stepping back just a touch, and eased his thumb over the back of the gun. There was a tiny click, and the fight stopped. Neal hazarded a glance in their direction. Murphy looked startled. Gina just looked insulted. "Put my goddamned g-"

An explosion ripped through the room, but only Gina seemed to be affected. She jerked back suddenly, and then collapsed. It took Neal a moment to register that the bubbly brook noise was blood gushing from her neck. Nobody moved for what felt like an eternity. Finally, Gina's gurgling quieted, and Neal could hear someone yelling "hello" on the still disconnected telephone.

Murphy made a move towards the phone, and Steve immediately aimed at him. Neal decided to risk a bullet to the head. "He's unarmed, Steve."

Steve lowered the gun a touch. Murphy gulped and eased towards the phone receiver. "H-hello? I - I work - worked - for Gina. No. Because - um, I think she's dead. I'd rather not say... Because he's still holding the gun, and I think he wants to kill me, too. No. No. Yes. Okay." Murphy lowered the phone a touch and cleared his throat. "Um, okay, he, uh, he says, um, if you, uh, let me, um, finish the delivery, um, we won't ever bother you. Ever. Sir."

Steve cocked his head to one side. "How do I know you're telling the truth, Murphy?"

Murphy glanced at the dead woman and licked his lips. "I - I just am..." His eyes darted around the room. "I just want to get paid and get out of here."

Steve remained unconvinced. "Why did you up the ransom?"

All fear fled Murphy's face, replaced with a confused grimace. "Huh??"

Steve seemed to calculate the response, then lowered the gun a touch more. "How do I know I can trust the person on the other end of the phone?"

Murphy had a harder time with that one. Finally, he repeated the question to the caller. "Because if I die, he'll never get this money."

Steve raised the gun again. "That didn't stop Gina."

"She wasn't even gonna give us that much!" Murphy cried in desperation. "Please! I'm sorry! I - she said it would never get this far!"

Steve shook his head. "You're the only one that shot at me, Murphy."

Murphy shut his eyes, as if waiting for something to happen. When nothing did, he opened them again. "Aren't you gonna kill me?"

Steve lowered the gun. "Take the bag and get out before I change my mind."

Murphy blinked, and put the phone back to his ear. "He said okay." Murphy listened for a few moments, and hung up. Then he grabbed the bag and left without another word.

Steve watched him go. Then he keeled over in a dead faint.

Herbie peeked out of his bedroom window for the millionth time that hour. Paranoid didn't even begin to describe his mood after Smitty and Jonathan took off for parts unknown. Every time a car approached the house, he was certain that it would stop at his front door and deliver some other bad news. But every car had passed without stopping.Except for the big, yellow cab.

Herbie ducked down, as if anyone could see him from the second story. He watched a man get out on the street side of the car, and what looked like a waif-thin girl ease out on the sidewalk side. The man hurried over to the waif and they helped a third person out of the car. The man patted the car on the roof, and the cab drove away. The trio hobbled towards Herbie's front door.

He wanted to continue to hide in the bedroom, but curiosity got the better of him, and he snuck down the stairs. He performed some stealth maneuvers, and snuck up on the front door. The doorbell rang, and he decided not to answer. Let them make the next move...

"I can see you in the living room, Herbie," Neal called. "Open the damned door!"

Herbie looked behind him and saw that he'd left one of the curtains completely open, affording him a wide view everything in the street, and vice versa. Neal and Steve were leaning against the window, half supporting a sagging Ross between them. Steve smacked an open palm against the window. "I'm hungry!"

Herbie chuckled, as hysteria began to tug at his edges. "All I have is roast beef, Steve," he called back.

"I don't care! I'm fuckin' hungry, goddammit!"

Herbie opened the door and went out to his boys. Maybe things would be alright, after all.

Murphy adjusted his backpack and approached the hostess' station apprehensively. What if he's not here? What if I get set up? What if there's cops? What if they connect me to her? He tried to squelch the what-if's and glanced in the restaurant. He saw the man with the yellow baseball cap, and waved the hostess away. Time to get this over with."Are you waiting for Gina?" Murphy asked.

The man looked him up and down, and gestured towards the other side of his booth. "I take it you are her assistant?"

Murphy snorted and removed his backpack. "Something like that," he replied, sliding into the booth. He placed the bag under the table, away from the booth's entrance.

The man pushed a menu towards Murphy. "Hungry?"

Murphy shook his head. All he wanted was to finish up and split.

The man shrugged and sat back in his seat. "Did you already take your cut?" When Murphy nodded, the man reached for one of the menus. "Okay. Thanks."

Murphy furrowed his brow. It can't be that easy. "Aren't you gonna count it?"

The man sighed and reached for the bag. He looked in it, prodded around, and looked back at Murphy. "I believe you. If it's not all here, well, I'm a sucker, and you got away with it."

Murphy smiled. "It's all there."

The man smiled and picked up the menu. "Then you have quite a nest egg. It should be enough to get you safely out of the country."

End of meeting. Murphy nodded, and stood. "Nice doing business." Then he turned and walked out.

The tour was completely rescheduled, and Nightmare took a massive loss. The band was exhausted, both emotionally and physically, and Herbie just couldn't bring himself to force them back on the road so soon. Jonathan had returned to the band more paranoid than ever, jumping at every sound, carrying flashlights and whistles with him, "just in case". Ross had to take several driving courses before he was willing to drive at night, and he insisted on following Jonathan around, "since he's always so prepared". Neal became a loose cannon, "because you never know when you're gonna bite the big one". Smitty had withdrawn, focusing on a much needed house remodel, "to keep his mind off things".Steve was having the hardest time of all. He was increasingly violent, and prone to anxiety attacks, complete with tremors and crying. After a couple of weeks of this personality change, his girlfriend confronted him about his behavior. He finally revealed that he was under suspicion of murder for the shooting death of a Regina Kolipolampas, a former flight attendant on probation for grand theft auto.

Word got back to Herbie, who was fairly concerned about the police discovering his shady dealings to acquire twenty million dollars in the course of 26 hours. He managed to collect everyone but Smitty, who was still hiding, and instructed them to keep quiet on the paid ransom. Then he contacted the police and explained the kidnaping, citing the original missing persons call, the rescheduled tour, and the car crash as proof. The evidence collected at the scene of both crimes, as well as consequent physical examinations of both Steve and Ross, confirmed the story, and the District Attorney decided to withdraw the charges, accepting Steve's plea of self defense.

Kolipolampas' accomplices, brothers Murphy and James DeLaCruz, had a number of small time jobs on their records. Fresh warrants were issued for hit and run, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, assault and battery, three counts of abduction, three counts of accomplice to extortion, possession of illegal firearms, and grand theft auto, as well as a number of related misdemeanors.

After several months of therapy and assurances that Nightmare was indeed adding a security department, which Herbie would be screening himself, the band members began to put the episode behind them. Ross began to show signs of sarcastic independence, Jonathan stopped making Tané turn all the lights on in the house before dark, Neal began staying at home, and Smitty began to take visitors. One of the first was Steve Perry.

"Hey, the front yard looks awesome," Steve said when Smitty came to the front door.

"Thanks," Smitty said shyly. "Come on in." He took Steve on a brief tour, chit chatting about nothing. They retired to the backyard and sat in silence.

After a few minutes, Steve broached the delicate subject they'd been avoiding. "Smitty... Steve. Are... is everything alright?"

Smitty looked up at Steve sharply. "How do you mean?"

"Well, you... you aren't really talking to us. I mean, we were all pretty shook up by that... week, and it really helped us to talk about it. But you... you know... You've been holed up in here."

Smitty felt an eyebrow creep up his forehead, and tried not to laugh out loud. "Who are you, and what have you done with Steve Perry?"

Steve frowned, clearly hurt. "What's that supposed to mean? You saying I'm insensitive?"

Smitty couldn't hold in the laughter. "No, Steve, jeez! I mean you never tell anybody what's eating you, and here you are being Mister Therapist with me."

Steve continued to pout. "I just did."

Smitty stopped laughing, confused. "Huh?"

"It's bothering me that you aren't talking to us. I mean, you don't have to tell us what happened or even talk about this, but..." He turned bright red, then ducked his head so his hair hid his face completely, and mumbled something unintelligible.

Smitty leaned forward. "What?"

"I miss you!" Steve looked up at Smitty, a deep scowl on his face. "This is the first time I've seen you since we were in the limo. You said the clock might be wrong, and I snapped at you and I was thinking that I could have died and I never would have had a chance to say I never meant to bite your head off." He ducked his head again. "I never meant to bite your head off."

Smitty was shocked and touched. He put his hand on Steve's shoulder. "We're okay."

Steve sighed and looked away, shifting in his seat. "Yes, I know, she's dead, they're supposed to be never bother-"

"No, Steve." Smitty squeezed Steve's shoulder, and patted his back. "You and me. It never occurred to me to be offended. We're okay."

Steve sat there for moment, then sat back, taking a deep breath. "Okay. Yeah, okay." He looked around, and nodded to himself. "Okay. I gotta go take a leak, and we can... we can hang, watch a movie or something."

"Sure." Smitty watched Steve go in the house and sat back. He was glad Steve didn't ask why he hadn't been offended. And as long as you never find out how I could afford that new bathroom, you'll never know.


Chapter 9

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