Chapter 7

"Baby, if you don't stop all that damn pacing you're gonna wear a hole in the floor! Stop it!" Tané reached out and grabbed Jonathan's arm. "I'm sure everything is okay, babe."

Jonathan yanked his arm back and paced more furiously. "No, it is not okay! Everything's a mess! A mess!" He stopped and grabbed the sides of his head. "Ross is supposed to be at home!"

"Jay... please... take it easy..." Tané patted Jonathan's back comfortingly and tried to lead him to a chair. "Let's sit down for a minute, babe."

Jonathan dropped his hands and turned to the third figure standing in the kitchen. "Do you believe this bullshit, Smitty? My fiancé wants me to sit down for a minute, like that's gonna change any-fucking-thing!"

"I wish it would." Smitty looked uncharacteristically malevolent. Jonathan couldn't blame his friend; gentle as Smitty was, his temper was far more likely to flare than was Jonathan's, and Jonathan was feeling positively murderous at that moment. Smitty closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "I need to know where Ross is."

"We all do. But pacing isn't going to help us find him, Jonathan." Tané pointed at the chair. "C'mon -"

"NO!" Jonathan's roar startled all three of them. He licked his lips and tried to regain control of his temper. "Sorry, baby. But please don't ask me to sit again. Just let me pace. Please."

Tané nodded and scurried out of the room. Jonathan sighed. He hadn't meant to hurt -


Jonathan and Smitty dove for the telephone. It stopped ringing before either of them reached it. Jonathan swore and went back to pacing. Smitty leaned against the countertop and glowered. A moment later, Tané reappeared with smeared mascara and a smug expression. She sniffled and thrust a piece of paper at Smitty. "That was Diane again." She cut her eyes briefly at Jonathan, as if to say I told you so. She rubbed her nose and turned back to Smitty. "She said Ross called her. He's at this number. She said he told her he wasn't going anywhere, and not to give the number out. I dunno why." She looked pointedly at Jonathan. "Not that I care. He's okay, so I'm okay." Then she stalked out of the room, still pouting.

"Guess I'm in the doghouse," Jonathan said softly.

Smitty patted Jonathan on the shoulder. "It's better than where we're headed, Jay." He scribbled something on the paper Tané handed him, tore it in two, and gave Jonathan one piece. "Now that we know he's okay, I'm gonna go home and chew him out on my own phone. Stay safe - and don't pull a stunt like that comedian just did."

Ross spent the entire day staring at the hole in the bathroom door. He'd considered taking the plates off his car, but he'd have to leave the safety of his room to do so. He was too afraid to even go out for a paper. Paranoia - it's not just for crackheads anymore.He nearly jumped through the hole in the door the first time the phone rang. Ross stared at the phone as if it would eat him. It rang several times before he picked it up. "Uh... hello?"

"If you ever disappear on us like that again, I swear I'm gonna string you up by your fucking toes!!"

Ross rubbed his face wearily. "So, Jonathan, you been looking for me long?"

"Don't fucking tease, dammit!! I'm already in deep shit with Tané, Herbie's fuckin' around doing God only knows what, we have no idea what's up with Steve, and you're... just gone! Are you just trying to give me a heart attack?!?"

Ross sat quietly and let Jonathan rant and rave until he ran out of steam. "You better, now?"

Ross talked to Jonathan a little longer, until he was sure Jonathan wasn't going to crack. Then he got off the phone and puzzled over how to get some food without being seen outside his room. He didn't have time to consider much of anything before the phone rang again. "Hello?"

"Jeez, Ross, you really scared us. You couldn't even leave a note?"

"Hello to you too, Mr. Smith."

"Hi. What made you jump up and leave like that?"

"Herbie told me to skip town, pronto. Not that it's done me much good, obviously, since I've gotten two phone calls from people I didn't give this number to."

Smitty didn't answer right away. "Well, anyway, I'm glad you're okay. Are you leaving the room tonight, or can we call you later?"

"I'll be here. I paid for the whole week, so I might use it for tonight anyway."

"Okay, Ross. Take care of yourself, and keep in touch. We're all in this together, man."

"Right." Ross hung up the phone and went back to looking at the bathroom door. Before long, the insanity of the past few days caught up with him, and Ross fell asleep on top of the ruined bedclothes.

Neal would have preferred being tied up. Instead, he was ass-naked, with only a pillow to cover his privates, staring at a pile of cold, wet, shredded cloth that had once been his pajamas. Across the room, Steve was in a similar state, covering himself with one of those little, white motel hand towels. Steve hadn't said much, beyond warning Neal not to bother with escape attempts. Neal figured that the black eye and the bruised neck probably had something to do with the unsolicited advice.The guards seemed to rotate on a regular basis, though there was nothing that Neal could do with that information - he and Steve were never left unattended. The two guys that came to kidnap Neal were usually the ones to come watch them, although occasionally, a teeny-tiny woman with a serious attitude would come in and glare at Steve. Neal started to make a joke about pissing off chicks, but one look at Steve's face, and the humor was gone. Steve was clearly terrified of the woman. At one point, she'd moved towards Steve, who whimpered and tried to meld with the wall behind him. The woman made a derisive comment, kicked at him, then laughed at Steve's reaction. Neal wasn't sure of what to make of that. He filed it away for later, and stared into space.

He was startled from his reverie by the slamming of a door. The woman was back, and she was definitely not happy. She was barking orders at the thug that was watching him and Steve. He rubbed his eyes blearily, and watched her stalk over to the phone. She dialed, and waited, silently fuming. Neal glanced at Steve. Steve was visibly shaking, face pasty white. Neal raised his eyebrows and turned his attention back to the fuming woman, who'd begun her conversation.

"He wasn't there." Neal watched her scowl deepen as she listened to the person on the other end of the line. "What? How the fuck am I supposed to do that?? I'm not a miracle worker!" The woman's face turned red. "Dammit, I know that!!! But what am I supposed to do??!? If you want that cash, then let me handle it!" She rolled her eyes and threw her hand in the air. "I can't control that! You - " she paused, ducked her head, then began again, subdued. "Yes, you're the boss. But - wait, just lemme finish! I... this isn't working. I knew that from the - yes I did! You didn't want to hear me, and you still don't! Just... I'll worry about it if I have to take the whole band, alright? You trusted me when we started this thing. Trust me now." Another pause. "Yeah, they're in the car. What? For shit's sake..." She fumbled around the drawers, until she found pen and paper. "Uh-huh, uh-huh... okay. Yeah, I got it. You know, I deserve a bonus for this. I know. But I still deserve one. Yeah. Bye." She hung up the phone, then looked at Neal. "I hate Journey." Then she bolted out the door.

Neal couldn't believe it. She'd left them alone, with the door unlocked. He wasted no time, scrabbling to his feet in a hurry. "C'mon Steve, before she gets back!" Neal went to the door, then looked back to see if Steve was following. Instead, Steve was still in his corner, shaking his head. Neal rolled his eyes. "We can worry about clothes when we get the hell out of here! Let's go, man!"

"If you go, I hope you make it to the police in time to save me. Because if you don't, she will snap and kill us both." Steve sat in his corner and hugged himself. "I already told you, don't try to escape."

Neal shook his head and went out the door. He could see the bitch leaning into a car window across the lot. There weren't very many other cars around. He didn't bother to take in the rest of his surroundings, just zoomed away from the room. He didn't get very far when he heard screeching tires. He hazarded a look back - yup. They were on him. The car zoomed past and cut him off. He tried jumping up and over the car like he'd seen in dozens of movies, but he just sort of flopped on the hood of the car and slid off. Before long, the two burly men were on him, and they dragged him back towards the little woman, who was stalking towards them menacingly.

She pointed towards the room, and the four of them made their way back into the motel room. Steve was still in his corner - praying. Neal wondered what exactly the men had been doing to Steve that made him find religion again. He was surprised when they let go, and even more surprised when the woman told them to get going.

"Aren't you wondering why Steve is scared to death of me, honey?" The woman stood next to Neal and tugged at one of his curls.

"G-gina, please..." Steve's hands were still together in prayerful supplication. "Don't..."

"Don't what?" She grabbed a fistful of Neal's hair and pulled hard. "Do this?" Neal saw stars as a fist connected to his forehead. The pummeling didn't let up until long after Neal stopped fighting. He felt vaguely detached from it all, amazed that some little bitch was beating the living daylights out of him.

When the beating stopped, the bitch stalked off to the bathroom. Neal spat blood and glared at Steve. "There's two of us. You could have helped me."

Steve rocked back and forth, staring at the ground. "There were five of us when this started. Any one of you could have helped us all. But it's too late to worry about that now." He stopped rocking and looked at Neal. "I did try to help you. You left anyway. Don't blame me for your ass kicking. I'm not blaming you for mine." Then he went back to rocking.

Ross woke up in the middle of the night. It took him a moment to remember what he was doing in such a shitty looking room. He sighed and got out of bed. He was hungry. Maybe it would be safe to leave in the middle of the night, grab a bite to eat, and keep driving. He nodded to himself, and headed for the door.There was a car parked next to his. He didn't like the looks of that. He got in on the passenger's side, and slid behind the wheel. He glanced at the car next to him. It seemed to be empty. He let out a breath he hadn't been aware he was holding, and started the engine. He would be fine. Just had to get going. He eased the car into reverse, and slid quietly out of the parking space.

Nothing amiss. He relaxed a little more, and left the hotel's lot. The road was deserted - not even streetlights. He checked his mirrors every five nanoseconds, but he saw nothing but darkness. He would be okay. He just had to get to Fresno. Not that he knew what he was gonna do in Fresno...

He heard a distinct thud-dump-thud-dump as he rode over a bump in the road. He sighed and turned his thoughts back to Fresno... as he heard another, fainter thud-dump-thud-dump. Ross looked in the mirrors again, but he still didn't see anything. He went over another bump, and listened closely. There it was again.

He ignored the pounding in his chest. There was nothing there. Nothing behind or beside him but darkness, nothing in front of him but his own headlights.


Ross slammed on the brakes. Tires squealed, brakes screamed, rubber burned - smash! Something rear-ended Ross. He slammed on the gas again. His tires squealed even more before the car lurched away. He could hear the roar of another engine, and the scream of tires skidding against blacktop. He checked the mirrors, but wasn't surprised to see darkness. He began to swerve, trying to keep whoever it was behind him.

He heard an explosion, and the car careened out of control. Perfect time for a blowout, car. He tried to get the steering wheel to cooperate, but there was another explosion, and the car jerked in another direction. He looked in the mirror in time to see a flash of light as a third explosion blew yet another tire out.

They're shooting at me??

Ross drove on three rims, ignoring the sparks behind him. He pushed the car to the limit, trying to keep ahead of the mystery car. It didn't work. He caught a glimpse of the car before it rammed into him, knocking him off the road. He hit his head as the car flipped over, and the last thing he thought about before he lost consciousness was Diane's stupid Kewpie doll.

Chapter 6
Chapter 8

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