Steve was startled from a deep sleep by a sharp whap on the forehead. He rubbed his forehead and unfolded himself from his cramped position in the back seat of the car. He was mildly surprised to see that he was in the parking lot of another hotel. This one seemed nicer - a clean swimming pool glistened in the fading light, surrounded by benches and freshly cut grass. Steve figured they must have found a bigger city to hole up in.
"Come on, sleeping beauty," Murphy said, and grabbed Steve's arm.
"Piss off, wiseguy," Steve shot back. He yelped when Murphy twisted his arm back.
"Knock it off, boys," Gina said wearily. "I don't want any trouble from either one of you clowns tonight. Start walking."
Steve sighed quietly and allowed Murphy to drag him towards the stairs. They went up and through a hall, and around to the other side of the hotel, away from the parking lot. Steve could see a rotating sign for a shopping center nearby, and he tried to make out the name. Before the sign could complete its rotation, Murphy was dragging Steve inside.
Steve shook Murphy off, and turned to look at the window, but Jim and Gina already had their guns drawn. "Yeah, right, sugar," Gina said. "Go on, start the bath water, pretty baby."
Steve sighed. He went to the bathroom and turned the cold tap on in the tub. He leaned against the door and waited for the tub to fill up. He could just make out Gina's voice through the door. Curious, Steve cracked the door slightly and listened. "I don't care how long it takes, Murphy."
"Look, Gina, why can't I just go with you? Let Jim do it!"
"Hey, I ain't staying with the diva!"
"Shut up, Jim. It's your turn, Murphy. Deal with it. This is not difficult. All you have to do is stay awake and keep him quiet. Let him watch TV or something."
"Don't fuckin' argue with me! We'll be back in a couple of hours. C'mon, Jim."
Steve closed the door again. They were leaving him alone with the dip. Awesome! He could take the shirt off, toss it in the tub, hide his pants behind the toilet, and wait for Murphy to fuck up. Steve smiled, finally hopeful.
He undressed and tossed the t-shirt in the water. Then he folded up the sweatpants and tucked them behind the toilet bowl. He moved the bathroom's little trashcan to one side and tucked his shoes on the other, to help cover the pants, then grabbed a towel and went to the sleeping area. He sidled over to one of the king sized beds and got under the covers.
"Oh, relax, I ain't interested," Murphy groused.
"That's because I haven't let you get a decent look," Steve snapped.
"How do you think you got dressed this morning, asshole?" Murphy growled.
"And do you usually get off on dressing naked, unconscious men? Because that's really sad." Steve smiled triumphantly when Murphy couldn't come up with a retort. Steve settled back in the bed while Murphy flipped channels. After about an hour, the channels stopped changing. Steve watched Murphy's face for a little while, then called him. "Hey. Murphy. Hey." Steve grabbed his towel and, covering himself with it, got out of bed. "Murphy. I'm thirsty." Steve went right up to his jailor and peered into the man's face. Asleep. "Perfect."
Steve tiptoed as fast as he could to the bathroom and grabbed his pants. He yanked them on, nearly falling over in his haste, slid his feet into his tennis shoes, and tiptoed back out into the main area. He thought briefly about searching for Murphy's gun, but decided against it. It would take too much time, and he didn't know how to handle a gun anyway. He peeked out of the window, and, finding that the coast was clear, he slipped out the door.
Freedom! Steve forced himself to walk slowly and casually through the short hall, and stroll down the stairs as if he had all the time in the world. He looked at the glistening swimming pool as he sauntered past it, marveling at the moonlight. He kept his head low as he walked across the parking lot, hoping to get a little father away from the hotel before he made a mad dash to freedom.
The moment Steve's foot hit the sidewalk, he was off and running. He dashed across the street, cut through the front lawns of two businesses, and zoomed down an alleyway. He didn't care where he went, as long as it was the fuck away from Murphy. He ran for a good five minutes before he came upon the most beautiful sight in the world: Springfield Shopping Center. Steve cut across the parking lot, sliding across hoods when cars got in the way, and hurled himself at the mall doors.
He stopped when he was inside, aware of the odd looks he was receiving. He figured it was because of the way he burst into the building. He shrugged, folded his arms across his chest, and went to the mall directory.
Steve searched for anything that resembled law enforcement, and was about to settle for the mall information desk when he heard an authoritative voice behind him. "Sir!"
Steve glanced behind him, and was surprised to see a thick, heavyset security type holding a nightstick. "Uh...hi?" Steve asked.
"Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
"You must have shoes and a shirt at all times. Sir."
Steve looked down at his bare chest and rolled his eyes. "Actually, I need your help. I need somebody to call the police for me."
"Sir, there's a payphone right outside the mall entrance, you can just dial 911 from there, but I'm going to have to ask you to leave, sir." The guard pointed in the general direction of the door and stared at Steve.
Steve bit his lip and tried again. "You don't understand, I've been kidnapped, and -"
"If you do not leave voluntarily, I will be forced to escort you from the premises." The guard put on his most dangerous look.
"Well, that's fine, but can you at least escort me through another door? I don't want them -"
"You are going to have to leave now, sir." The guard grabbed Steve's upper arm roughly.
"OW! Hey! Not so fucking hard!" Steve struggled to get free, but the guard had a firm grip on him. He tossed Steve out the doors, warning him to stay away until he could obey the dress code. Steve glared behind him at the dumbass guard before making his way towards the phone booth.
Steve thought about just walking around the mall and trying to find a different phone, but there was only one person waiting. Fuck. Steve went and stood behind her. He stared off into space for a little while, until he got the distinct impression that he was being watched. He looked at the woman waiting for the phone, but she was facing the phone, her back to him. The teenaged boy on the phone was looking in the opposite direction, too, presumably ignoring the people waiting for the phone.
Steve dismissed the feeling and went back to staring at the sky. Chilly. He rubbed his arms briskly. Shoulda saved the stupid t-shirt. Steve sighed loudly, eliciting an "amen" from the woman in front of him. He picked at his fingernails for a bit, then looked up suddenly. There was nothing there. Gotta relax. It's safe now. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to calm his frazzled nerves. He opened them and glanced around him -
Murphy. He was walking across the same parking lot. Steve froze. Maybe if he just stood there nonchalantly -
"God-fuckin-dammit!" Steve ran back in the mall, and slid to the floor when he saw the same security guard. He slipped between the man's legs and scrambled away on all fours, picking up speed as he got to his feet. He could hear the guard behind him, shouting at him to stop, but Steve ran like a locomotive.
He dodged startled shoppers and narrowly missed two other security guards trying to stop him. He found an open elevator and jammed the second story button. He hopped from foot to foot, shaking his hands out wildly, and trying to catch his breath before the next sprint. The doors opened and he exploded through the doors, nearly toppling a stroller in his haste. "Sorry!" he called out to the air.
Steve hopped over children like hurdles in a race, and zoomed through the food court, knocking over chairs and shoving tables aside as he ran through the mall. Steve hazarded a glance behind him - nothing. The security guards couldn't keep up with a frightened rock star. Slowing down a touch, he looked back in front of him -
at Murphy's drawn gun.
Steve turned on his heel so fast he fell to the floor. He could hear Murphy's disgusted shout as he scrambled to his feet. He ran to the nearest escalator and ran down the steps, two at a time, shoving through the crowd. He could hear Murphy calling him, warning him to stop. Steve darted through a different hall, and swore softly. There were fewer people in the hall he'd chosen, and they were headed in the opposite direction. Steve could see that it ended in a T-intersection, and he wondered if there was an exit nearby.
Steve heard a sonic boom echo in the empty hall when an explosion shattered a store window just as he passed it. Oh Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I am gonna die. Steve ducked and weaved, hoping to evade Murphy's bullets. Another boom, another window bit the dust. Steve clapped his hands over his ears and forced himself to ignore the burning sensation in his legs and the pounding in his chest.
He made it to the intersection and veered left. Bad choice. A cul-de-sac, almost completely deserted. Steve looked over his shoulder, and sure enough, there was Murphy, still taking potshots at him. Behind Murphy was the exit Steve was never going to see. Still, Steve wasn't ready to give up. He leaned right, towards a sporting goods store. Steve could see a couple discussing something with a store clerk. He started to ask for help when the woman looked at him.
Steve stopped so fast he slid to the floor. Trapped between a wild gunman and a criminal mastermind, Steve did the only thing he could think to do.
Ignoring the startled clerk, Gina shoved her parcels into Jim's hands and ran over to where Steve lay screaming his head off. She grabbed him by the arm and dragged him to the opposite corner of the cul-de-sac. He hurried to his feet and tried to pull away from the little woman, but she dug her nails in and pushed him into a corridor.
The short corridor terminated in a set of double doors. Halfway into the corridor were the restrooms. Gina used Steve to shove the door of the ladies' room open and forced him towards the back of the room. She tightened the grip of one hand on Steve's arm, used the other to grab his hair, and slammed him into the tiled wall so hard he saw stars. Then she spun him around, shoved him so hard he fell to the floor, jumped on him, and started to pummel him with her fists. Steve tried his damnedest to defend himself, but Gina was so wild and angry that all his attempts at deflecting her blows were more like offering her other places to hit. He could barely see her through her wild mane of dark curls, but he wouldn't have been surprised if she was drooling. This crazy bitch is really gonna kill me! He started to scream again, but she grabbed his throat with both hands and squeezed. Steve's panic escalated by leaps and bounds as he tried to pry her little fingers off his throat. Gina just growled and squeezed harder.
When he stopped trying to fight her, Gina finally let go of his neck. She grabbed him by the hair, and hopped up, dragging him with her. She yanked him back out to the corridor, and went over to Murphy. "You. Are. DEAD." Then she dragged Steve towards Jim, who was holding open one of the doors at the end of the corridor. The quartet went out into the cool night air, back to the hotel.
When they were safely in the room, Gina grabbed a handful of Steve's hair and a handful of Murphy's hair and banged their heads together. Steve fell to his knees, still dazed from his beating. Murphy rubbed his head and whined. Gina took the butt of her pistol and hit Murphy with it over and over, until he was on his hands and knees begging her to stop. She did, and looked at Steve.
Steve scooted backwards, whimpering and begging. Gina took two steps and grabbed him by the hair again. "Do not run."
Steve started to shake. He was at least three inches taller than Gina, and probably fifteen pounds heavier. The fact that she could beat his ass to a pulp was more than a little frightening. "P-p-please," he stammered.
"Shut it. Everyone is entitled to their one escape attempt. That was yours. The next time you pull some bullshit like that, I'm gonna beat your ass until you stop breathing, and then I'm gonna chop your ass into dog food." She tugged even harder on his hair. "Is that clear?"
"Good." She let go of his hair. "You fucking clowns interrupted my shopping trip. Now there's nothing to eat. Hope you're happy." She turned to Jim. "Guess what. You're watching the diva after all."
Herbie stood on the balcony and gazed eastward. He balled his fists up and willed the sun to stay down. No such luck. The inevitable glow of dawn crept up the horizon, not quite bright enough to blind, but definitely bright enough to see. With dawn came the start of a new day, the promise of fresh hope.Bullshit.Herbie sighed, and contemplated his choices - he could scrap the tour, withhold the pay of everyone at Nightmare, tap his savings, sell his possessions, and hope that the band could convince their families to do the same, or he could just miss the deadline.Shit. Shit! Shit shit shit shit shit shit! He'd called damn near everyone he knew. No one had twenty million dollars to spare, especially to a rich man that refused to say what the sum was for. He'd considered calling the police more than once, but every time he went to the phone, the memory of Steve's choked sobs came back, and Herbie just couldn't bring himself to call. So instead, he watched the sun rise on what was shaping up to be the worst day of his life.And Steve's, and Neal's...
The loud brrring of the telephone startled Herbie out of his reverie. He grimaced, knowing full well who was on the other end of the line. She could wait. Any information she wanted to give would be useless anyway - there wouldn't be any money to drop. After a few more rings, Herbie went back in his room and picked up the phone. "Hello."
"Hello, big boy. Got pen and paper? I'll wait." Herbie sighed and pretended to fumble for a notepad. "I'm ready."
"The pick-up point is in Albuquerque. Wait in the smoking section of the Denny's next to Motel 6, off Interstate 40. Wear blue jeans and a red t-shirt, and sit facing the entrance. Bring an unmarked, black, soft pack duffel bag filled with four thousand unmarked 500-dollar bills. Don't bring ID or weapons. Come alone. You need to be watching for a petite, white female with long, dark curly hair. She will be wearing blue jeans, a white t-shirt and dark sunglasses. If all the money is there, the bag will be change hands, and Mr. Perry will be brought out. If not, I will have my operatives remove Mr. Schon from your presence within 24 hours of that point. Understand?"
"Yeah," Herbie said sarcastically. "Loud and clear."
"Don't fuck with me, Herbert," she said sharply. "Prettyboy here just pulled one hell of a stunt last night, and I am not in the mood. Anybody else pulls a stunt - anybody - and Stevie's gonna find out what standing in the line of fire really means. I am not a happy camper. Do not test me."
Herbie counted to three. "May I speak with him?"
"How do I know that he's al-"
"OW!" A familiar, high-pitched yelp that dissolved into tearful pleas for mercy.
The woman was unrepentant. "Oh, shut-up, you big baby. Are you satisfied, Herbert?"
Herbie blinked, dumbfounded. "Er... um... okay..."
"Great. We'll be looking for you." Then the line went dead.
Steve awoke to someone shaking his shoulder roughly. "Wake up, buddy. Today's the big day." Steve pulled the covers down to see Jim holding out a sweater and a pair of jeans. "C'mon, it's time to go. Don't keep her waiting."
Steve sat up slowly, stiff from the previous evening's beating. He took the clothes from Jim and glanced at the bathroom. "Can I-"
"Leave the door open. Don't try anything with me, buddy." Jim pulled out his gun. "I ain't Murphy - I won't miss." He pulled the hammer back on the gun.
Steve chuckled nervously. "I'm not Murphy either - I learn from my mistakes." He turned and went into the bathroom, aware of Jim's watchful glare. Steve did his business as best he could with such a hostile audience, changed his clothes, then came out of the toilet/bath area and looked in the mirror. He scowled. He hadn't shaved for three days, and it made him look scruffy. He started to search for a razor.
"Hey!" Jim said sharply. Steve jumped a mile and whirled around. "I said don't keep her waiting! Move it!"Steve rubbed the stubble on his cheek and started to protest. "But I need -"
"In case you haven't noticed," Jim interjected, gesturing at his own chin, "everybody's hairy, buddy. You can shave when we get paid."
"Can I at least brush my hair?"
"Gina has a brush. The longer you take, the longer it'll take to make the pick-up. Do you wanna go home or not?"
Steve decided not to press the issue, and settled for running his hands through his hair. Jim sighed and grabbed him roughly by the arm. Steve bit his lip, but he couldn't keep from crying out. Jim ignored it and dragged Steve out of the room and over to the stairs where Gina was waiting. "What took so long?" she asked irritably.
Jim looked pointedly at Steve, who looked away, embarrassed. "I was looking for a razor..."
"You gotta be kidding me." She took Steve's free hand and addressed Jim. "I've got the cutie pie. You keep an eye on that fool." Then she led Steve down the stairs.
When they got to the parking lot, Steve noticed that they passed up the big white car they'd arrived in. He wondered where Gina was leading him, but he kept silent. They stopped at a big, ugly Chevy whose god-awful burgundy paint job was peeling. Steve could see the seats were tattered, and the dash was warped and cracked in places. When Gina opened the passenger-side door for Steve, the scent of stale cigarettes and old beer assaulted his nose. "Uh, we aren't going to go anywhere in this car, right?"
"Get in the goddamned car before I kick your fucking ass again."
Steve covered his nose and quickly sat in the seat. Gina slammed the door shut, locked it, then went over to her side. Steve reached for the handle to roll down the window, but was disappointed to see that it had been removed - along with the door latch. The only way to get the door open was to use the outside handle, and with the window rolled up, he would have to rely on someone else to do that for him. Great.
"Buckle up." Gina had the key in the ignition, ready to start. She turned the key, and the smell of gasoline and antifreeze joined the glorious cigarette/beer aroma, creating a mechanic's garage turned nightclub atmosphere. Steve choked on the fumes, and Gina waved one little hand furiously, hastily rolling the window down with the other. "Stupid piece of shit car," she coughed. She tried a couple more times before the engine finally turned over with a deafening roar.
Gina struggled with the gearshift for a moment, before it chunked into reverse. The entire car jerked, and Steve thought for a moment that they might have to drive the white rental. But the Chevy kept running, and Gina coaxed the car out of its space. She fought with the gearshift once more, which chunked into neutral, then 2nd, then back to reverse before finally ka-chunking into drive. Gina grumbled some more, and drove out of the hotel's parking lot.
They were on the highway for nearly an hour before they came upon the signage for Interstate 40. Steve frowned. The first useful sign he'd seen since his kidnapping, and it was for the freeway that cut through more than a fifth of the continental United States. Really great. He tried to look on the bright side of things. If they were going to make the pick-up, maybe he would see Herbie. Maybe he could make a break for it. Maybe Herbie had managed to come up with the cash.
Maybe Herbie developed wings and flew to the moon today.
They got off the freeway fairly quickly after that, exiting onto a large, wide street. Steve sat up a little straighter. A big city? This was something he could work with. He took note of the street signs. Coors Boulevard. I can remember that... They pulled into the parking lot of a Denny's. Steve waited patiently for Gina to open his door, and allowed her to lead him towards the restaurant.
When they got to the host's station, Steve glanced at his captor. She was scanning the restaurant, probably looking for her money. A young man came to the podium and began pulling out menus. Gina just ignored the young man and held on to Steve, cursing under her breath. "Let's go," she growled. She dragged Steve out of the restaurant and shoved him back in the car. She plopped down in the driver's seat a moment later, and slammed the door. Steve cringed when she slammed her fist on the dash. "God-fuckin'-dammit!!"
Steve took a deep breath and waited for the tantrum to subside. "You're going to kill me, aren't you?"
"If the ransom isn't met." Gina glared at him. "We already covered that."
"But... I've seen your faces. I know your names."
Steve clutched at his neck, trying unsuccessfully not to think about his head being severed from his body. "You'll never let me go." His fingertips brushed against the chain on his neck, fingers clasping the little golden eighth-note that hung from the chain. "You'll never let me go! I'm never going home!"
"Stop it!" Gina snapped. "Be a man, for shit's sake! I'm not going to kill you if the term is met. Period. Now shut up."
Steve shook his head furiously, certain of his impending doom. "You'll kill me," he whispered.
"If I was going to do that, you'd be dead already," Gina said disgustedly.
"No, 'cause they won't pay if they think I'm dead!" He began to sob, panic making his voice squeak. "You'll get your money and kill me and they'll be poorer and you'll be richer and my family will never know what happened to me and I'll never see my mom again and - *gasp*!" Steve slammed against the door with a thud when Gina backhanded him across the face.
"Shut. Up." Gina grabbed Steve by the hair and pulled him forward. "Shut the fuck up." Her face was red, eyes ablaze with fury. "Now you listen to me, you goddamn midget. I am not going to kill you if I am paid because you will not turn me in. You will not turn me in because you will never be able to find me. You can go to the police if you like, and you can give them a description if you like, but you won't have any place to link me to, you don't know my name, or the names of my boys, and you don't have any evidence. You can't touch me, even if you wanted to. I'm airtight, and I know it, so there is absolutely nothing you can do to harm me in anyway once I'm done with you. There is, therefore, no need to kill you." She shook him a little before slamming him back in his seat. "So relax. Before I change my fucking mind."
Steve forced himself to remain quiet. He didn't believe for a minute that Gina was telling the truth, but it wouldn't do him any good to piss her off so much that she killed him before she got her money. He could feel her venomous glare on him a little longer, then she began the arduous task of starting the car.
They had been on the freeway for close to an hour before Gina finally began to calm down. She announced that they were making a pit stop, exited and stopped at a gas station, pulling up close to a payphone. Gina reached out and dialed through the window, presumably to keep Steve from attempting any daring escapes. Steve leaned closer, to see if he could figure out what was happening.
"Hey, it's me. Bad news. No, no, nothing like that. Yeah, no-show. You do? Great! Well, you know what I mean. Okay. Yeah. Okay. Okay, bye." She reached out to disconnect, then dialed another number. "Murphy? It's me. No. No-show. Uh-huh. Where's Jim? No, that's okay. We're starting part two. At home. Mm-hm. Bye." Gina disconnected, then smiled cheerily at Steve. "Looks like you'll be having company tonight."