Neal stared at the contents of his refrigerator as if they held the secrets of the universe. He reached in the fridge, searching for a midnight snack. He sorta touched a couple of juice cartons, then allowed his hand to drop limply by his side again. He yawned loudly, then reached in the fridge again. He made a decision, changed his mind, changed it back, changed it yet again, and dropped his hand again. He scratched his bare chest, adjusted the crotch of his sweatpants, then looked in the fridge again. Finally he grabbed the carton of orange juice and opened it, then looked around as if he thought Rose would be awake to see.
Instead of a small, dark, sexy lady, there was a tall, red-haired, muscular man with a lump on his forehead. Neal blinked, too drowsy to do much else. "Uhhh... do I know you?"
The man smiled and shook his head. "No. But we're gonna be good friends for a little while."
Neal frowned. If they didn't know each other, then how did the dude know that they were going to be good friends? "We are?"
"Oh, yeah," the man said expansively. "In fact, we're gonna take a little trip together - just you and me, pal."
Neal didn't want to take a trip. He'd just had a trip. He was still tired from the trip. He was still tired from the wild threats that made him take the trip in the first place. After all, Neal was a potential kidnapping victim...
Neal dropped the juice and bailed. He slammed through the kitchen door, banked off the wall in the hallway, and tore into the den. He struggled for a minute with the sliding glass door, managed to get the latch up, and slipped through just as a hand brushed his arm. He slid in the dewy grass, cursing under his breath about his lack of footwear. He ran as best he could, losing his balance more than once, and tried to make it to the cypress trees that marked the edge of his property. If he could slip though there, he could probably make it to a neighbor's house...
Someone tackled him from behind. He fell forward, the wind knocked from him. Then someone was straddling his back, and yanking painfully on his hair. "Don't run, Neal. That's just gonna piss us off." He felt something cold, metallic, and cylindrical on his neck. "My boss is gonna be upset if I have to use this, fella. Don't test me." The pressure was off Neal's back. He felt a tug on his hair. "Up."
Neal struggled to his feet. He was marched towards his driveway, through the gates, over to a small, green car. "In." The thug shoved Neal in the backseat, and slid in next to him, gun still poised at the ready. Another thick, muscle-bound meathead was behind the wheel. As soon as the gunman's door closed, the little car peeled out of the driveway, and sped off into the darkness.
The jangling phone startled Herbie out of a deep sleep. He lay in bed and tried to catch his breath, then turned to read the luminescent digital clock. 1:13 A.M.? He snatched something that felt like a receiver and said, "What the fuck?"
"It's one-fifteen in the morning. Do you know where your guitarist is?"
Herbie sat up in bed, instantly alert. "I can explain."
The woman snorted. "Yeah, I'll bet you can. Not that it'll do Mr. Perry or Mr. Schon any good. Won't save Mr. Valory, either."
Herbie began to sputter excuses. "It's too much money! I can't get it together. We just don't have that kind of money around! What about stuff? Will you accept stuff? We got cars. And houses. Lots of houses. You want a house? I got a ranch in - "
"Zip it, Herbert. Twenty million dollars. Nothing else is acceptable. Get a pen." Herbie scrambled to find pen and paper in the dark, as she rattled off instructions. "Don't be late." Then the line went dead.
Shit. Herbie put the receiver back in the cradle. Now what? After a moment's hesitation, he picked up the phone again and dialed Ross' number. After a few rings, Herbie started to hang up again, when a rumbling voice slurred, "What the fuck?"
"Wake up, Ross. You've only got 24 hours. Get out of town. Don't pack a bag. Don't tell your wife. I'll call her in the morning."
"You aren't even going to try to get the money together, are you?"
"Where from? I already tried, Ross. I'm not gonna be able to get it together before she comes after you, so go. I'll figure it out, but I can't worry about the cash and your safety at the same time."
"Right. I'm gone." Ross hung up, and Herbie got up to look for his address book. There was one last favor he could call on. It'd probably put him in a bigger mess in the long run, but at least the band would be safe. He guessed.
Five minutes after Herbie's phone call, Ross was rolling down the I-80, as fast as the law would permit. He weaved in and out of lanes, drove through off/on ramps, and tried not to have a destination in mind. When the adrenaline wore off, and the early hour caught up with him, Ross pulled off the highway.He rubbed his eyes blearily and thought about sleeping on the side of the road for a little while. The thought of being found weeks later with a bullet hole to the head gave him pause. He could stay awake long enough to find a motel to hole up in. He wasn't terribly far from Fresno - there had to be lodging close enough to get to without wrecking his car. Mind made up, Ross pulled back into traffic, and looked for a motel.
He found a couple of nice looking motels fairly quickly, but he bypassed them. He didn't want to stop at the first place he saw, especially if it looked like an exterminator had visited within the last decade. But he started to worry when the buildings grew sparse. Damn. Maybe I should turn back. He exited the freeway and started to backtrack when he happened upon a seedy looking motel. The place was so tiny that he'd never seen it from the freeway. Ross shrugged and pulled in. Score one, Valory.
He went into the dark, dank little office. There was dust everywhere. The brochures looked like they were at least ten years old. The curtains were tattered, there were stains on the desk, the carpet was ripped up, and it smelled like mildew. Perfect. Ross smiled a triumphant little smirk, certain that his assailants would never think to look for a rich rock star in such a run down dump.
"Hello?" Ross tapped the rusty, dust covered little bell on the desk. It didn't ring so much as bonk. Okay... Ross cleared his throat and called a little louder. "Hello! Anyone back there?"
A door opened behind the desk, and a dark, tired-looking, middle aged woman in a dressing gown and slippers shuffled out to the desk. "Yes," she said shortly.
"I need a room, please."
The woman glared at Ross as if to say No shit, Sherlock. "Rates are posted. Registration cards are in the tray. Ring the bell when you're finished." Then she shuffled back through the door, yawning loudly. Ross sighed and took one of the four dust covered cards from a cardboard box. He found a pen in the complimentary ashtray, and got to work.
He was stumped by the first question: Name. After several seconds of deliberation, he opted for John Doe. Satisfied, he moved on the next question. Shit. Address. Good thing she went back to bed... It took Ross nearly half an hour to write down his "name", "address" and "phone number". He reached out and bonked the bell. "Hello? I'm finished!"
After an incredible delay, the woman returned, still in her dressing gown. She snatched the card up and stared at it for several seconds. "I.D.?" she asked, finally.
Ross shifted from foot to foot. "I... don't have any."
The woman sucked her teeth and put the card down. "I have to see I.D."
Ross reached in his pockets, pulled out a wallet, and handed the woman five twenties. "How long will this buy me?"
The woman shrugged. "'Bout a week." She opened a drawer, shuffled around, and found a key. She made a note on Ross' registration and passed him the key. "Room 215. Second floor. Good night. Morning. Whatever." Before Ross could respond, the woman had already gone back through the door.
When Ross got to his room, he was fairly certain that the woman had given him the wrong key. He struggled with the rusted lock for five minutes before the door finally thunked open. He was almost sorry when it did.
There were water stains on the walls and ceiling. The carpet was worn and threadbare. The bedspread looked like it had been burned by the mother of all cigars. The light fixture was swinging from the ceiling, hanging on by one lone wire. Ross inched into the room, giving the light a wide berth. He found the bathroom - and the reason for all the water damage. There was a steady stream of water coming from the shower head, keeping the opposing wall permanently damp.
"Good God." Closing the bathroom door behind him, Ross wandered back to the bed and plopped down on the edge - which was a mistake. The entire bed went crashing to the floor, kicking up a giant dust cloud, and disturbing a family of rodents. "Ack!" He hopped up and jumped away - into the light fixture. It swung back and hit the ceiling, leaving a pretty hefty dent. Ross hopped out of the way just in time, as it swung through the space where his head had been. Rather than leave another hole in the ceiling, the wire snapped, and the fixture flew across the room, and crashed right through the bathroom door.
Ross stared at the newly air-conditioned bathroom, and decided that he needed somebody to tell him that he wasn't necessarily doomed. He found a telephone in remarkably good repair (it had a dial tone), and managed to convince it to call his house. He wondered if Diane was awake yet, and thought about hanging-up before the call went through.
She'd picked up before the phone finished the first ring. "Ross?!? Is that you, honey?"
He laughed a little. "Calm down, hon. I'm fine."
"The hell you are! You came home unannounced two days ago, and got all misty eyed on me over a porcelain doll that you can't stand, you took a phone call at some ungodly hour this morning, and then you were just... gone! Where the hell are you?!? What's going on?! Ross, what's wrong??"
Ross rubbed his forehead in frustration. "Diane, please, take it -"
"I will not! Don't even bother to ask! Taking it easy is absolutely out of the question! Tell me! Ross, I'm scared."
"Everything is okay. I just... needed to... go... somewhere."
Diane was silent for a beat. Then she took a breath and said, "Ross?"
"That was fucking lame."
Ross laughed. "I know. But... if I say more than that... you might have a reason to be scared."
"Too late. Give me a phone number, so I can at least talk to you. That's okay, right? Talking to you?"
"Yeah. I want to be able to talk to you. I wish... Never mind. Ready?" Ross gave her the number to the motel, and chatted with her for a little while longer. When they got off the phone, he felt much better. At least until he looked around the room again.