Steve slapped a hand to his forehead. That's right, moron. Go out for a midnight snack and forget the keys. That's what I get for keeping the car keys and the house keys separate. He looked around to make sure no one was watching, then pulled the spare house key from its hiding place. He knew Beth didn't like him using it, even though he made sure not to keep it in any of the usual places, but he refused to wake her up. She had a hard enough time staying asleep at night without him waking her up for stupid reasons. He opened the door, put the key in a different spot and crept quietly into bed. He managed not to disturb Beth at all, which was a good thing. Tomorrow they were back in the studio for the clean-up work. It would a long day.
He drove home to his apartment. He could tell Donna had tried to wait up for him, but she'd failed. He tucked her into bed, but he was too excited to sleep himself. He couldn't wait until tomorrow. When morning finally came, it was all he could do to force himself to wait until he usually left for work. Donna made him breakfast, commenting on how excited he seemed. "Big day at work," he explained. He said goodbye to Donna, drove to a pay phone and called in sick. Then he made his way to Steve's house.
Their car was still there. He waited impatiently until around noon, when Steve and Beth finally left the house. He was glad that what he'd read about Steve liking to take Beth to the studio with him was true. When they were out of sight, he got out of the car and walked up to Steve Perry's door. The walkway was made of large, pastel colored stone tiles - pleasant, but not too fancy. It led straight to the door, where it widened a little to accommodate the doorway. There was no porch, which didn't surprise him. He knew that both Perrys preferred the privacy of their backyard. On either side of the front steps were several neatly placed walking stones the same color as the path. He walked on the grass to the fourth stone on the right and lifted it up. There it was, right where he'd seen Steve put it the night before. The house key. He glanced around nervously, even though he knew the neighbors wouldn't be looking at him. No one had noticed him yet, even though his car had been parked across the street every single day for the past four days. Steve must have chosen this neighborhood because everyone kept to themselves.
He picked up the key and walked into the house as if it were his own. Only when he'd locked the door behind him and tucked the key deep in his pocket did he turn around and allow himself to actually look at the house. This was his house. Steve's house! A wide grin spread across his face. He stood still for several moments, just looking. He liked how the living room and the other rooms he could see actually looked lived in, rather than like something out of a Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Framed and hanging above the mantel, he saw the infamous single for which Beth had almost lost her life a few years before. Steve had saved her. What a heroic person he was!
He walked slowly through the living room, lightly touching everything. He sat on every cushion on the couch and love seat, and on every chair in the room. He couldn't stop thinking things like, Steve Perry sat in this chair. Steve Perry listens to this radio. Steve Perry lives here! He moved to the kitchen and looked in the refrigerator and all the cabinets, making a mental note of the kinds of things they seemed to buy in quantity. Maybe they were Steve's favorite foods. He was about to taste some interesting looking dessert from the fridge when he started to giggle. "Leave the food alone, Goldilocks," he said aloud.
He moved out of the kitchen. He went through the guest bathroom and bedroom quickly. They were the only parts of the house that looked pristine and unused. Not interested. He came to another room almost as large as the living room, that was full of musical instruments. There was a bass, a keyboard, four or five guitars and a small drum kit - not to mention several speakers, amps and mixing equipment. There were also several pads of paper and pencils lying around. Song ideas, no doubt. He went in and looked around, not touching anything. He knew Steve didn't do all his writing in this room, but it was special all the same. Almost sacred. He didn't feel right about putting his hands on anything.
When he'd had his fill of that, he went to the next room: the master bedroom. The room was nice - as unpretentious as was the rest of the house. The king sized bed was covered in blue and white blankets. There were night stands on either side with three drawers a piece and a small lamp on each one. He moved closer to the bed, wondering if he could tell what side of the bed Steve slept on. Eventually, he decided it must be the right side. There were notepads and pens in both night stands. The one on the left had notes on something that looked like it was going to be a fantasy story. The handwriting was unfamiliar. Must be Beth's. The one on the right had shorter phrases similar to the ones he made himself when he was writing a song. The writing was a messier version of the writing Steve had put on his album cover. He ran his hand along the pillow. Steve Perry's head rests here.
He glanced into the bathroom. It was huge, with a large stand-alone bathtub and a separate shower stall. There was a long counter with two sinks and two mirrors so that they could both get ready at the same time. He looked at everything in the bathroom, memorizing the brand names of the toothpaste, soap, razor, combs, brushes, powders, shampoos and other toiletries that they used. Then he left the bathroom and headed for the closet.
There were two walk-in closets in the room. One was Beth's. He looked briefly at her clothes before moving on to Steve's. He opened the door and stepped in, practically vibrating with excitement. He'd saved this for last on purpose. His passion for clothes was almost as strong as his passion for music, and he'd always loved Steve's. Like everyone else, Steve's clothes told a story about him. They were full of his personality. His essence. His scent. He stood still and breathed deep for at least a minute, basking in the experience. Then he went through every item in the closet one by one, fingering the fabric and grinning like a maniac every time he saw something he recognized from an album cover or a promo picture.
When he'd gone through everything, he went back and found a shirt to try on. He was about the same width as Steve. He was a couple inches taller, but that wouldn't matter. He picked out a white silk button down to try out. He was tempted to try on a pair of pants as well, but he didn't want to be that intrusive. Besides, could tell just by looking at them that all of Steve's pants would be too small, even though the star had put on a few pounds since Journey hit the big time. He looked at Steve's shoes without much hope. Ha, he thought when he saw them. Not a chance. The singer's platform boots and tennis shoes were all much too tiny for the feet of a normal human being.
He stepped out of the closet, took off his own shirt and put on the silk one. It fit him perfectly. He stroked the fine, smooth material, then walked over to the full-length mirror to check himself out. He turned and craned his neck to see how it looked in the back. Then he shot his arm into the air in Steve Perry's classic "the-song-is-over" move. He grinned. Perfect. He glanced at the closet with a pang of guilt. He didn't really like the idea of stealing from his idol. But Steve wouldn't miss one shirt, would he? Nah! Not with all those clothes. He took off the shirt and folded it carefully. Then he put his own shirt back on and looked around the room with a sigh. Time to go.
He left the house, making sure to leave it just as he'd found it - minus the shirt. He drove to the nearest locksmith and had two copies of the house key made. Then he drove back to the house, put the key back under the walking stone and went to kill time until his "work day" was over.
A small, narrow strip of white cloth was cut from the inside of the lapel in such a way that it's absence wouldn't be noticed by even the most careful observer. It was tied loosely around the doll's chest and further secured with a little hot wax. More charms were spoken. The doll was complete. The mission could now begin.
Steve groaned. "What was wrong with that one?" he asked.
"It just didn't seem to click," Herbie said. "Come on, fellas, just try it again."
Sighing, Steve checked his watch. Damn! Eleven o'clock already? They'd been here almost twelve hours! He glanced at Beth. She seemed to be okay, but he didn't like to keep her out all night. "Let's see if we can get it right this time, okay guys?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Neal snapped.
"Nothing! I'm just ready to go home, that's all."
"You act like it's our fault we're still here," Neal said.
"What are you talking about, man?" Steve asked. "I never said that."
"You didn't have to. I know it's what you meant!"
"Listen, guys," Jay interjected. "We're all pretty tired and we're just getting testy. I'm sure that's not what Steve meant, Neal. Let's just get through it, okay?"
"It is too what he meant!" Neal snapped. He turned back to Steve. "Maybe if you'd just sing it right, we'd have been out of here a long time ago."
Steve glared at Neal. He knew Jay was right, and it was a stupid argument, but he hated it when Neal insulted his singing. "Maybe if you'd play it right, you mean," he countered.
Ross sighed. "Here we go again," he mumbled.
"What did you just say to me?" Neal shouted.
"You heard me, butterfingers! If you'd stop flubbing the riffs maybe we could get out of here!"
"Now, fellas," Herbie said placatingly. "Let's calm down, okay?"
"There's nothing wrong with my playing," Neal yelled, ignoring Herbie. "You just can't get it together with those goddamn high notes you're so fuckin' proud of!"
"Maybe I could if you'd get it together with those fucking year-long solos of yours!" Steve and Neal were now mere inches apart, yelling at top volume. Steve could tell the argument was getting stupider by the second, but he was too mad to care.
So was Neal. "At least I can write music with a little backbone! Not like that fucking melodramatic garbage you always want to write!"
"Melodramatic garbage? What the fuck do you call Mother Father?!" Neal growled and gave Steve a violent shove. Steve stumbled backward, tripped over a chair and fell to the floor. In a second, Neal was on top of him, fist raised. Then suddenly, Steve screamed. There was a pain in his left hip more excruciating than anything he'd ever felt before. He was dimly aware of Neal scrambling hastily off of him.
"What the hell did you do?" Smitty asked.
"I didn't even touch him!" Neal exclaimed, sounding scared.
Beth was at his side in an instant. "Steve? What's the matter?" She sounded ten times more afraid than Neal, but that didn't even come close to the utter panic Steve was feeling. He opened his mouth to answer her, but he was in so much pain he couldn't even form a coherent thought, much less express one. He just bent double and clutched his left hip, holding his breath in an effort not to scream again. "Oh my God," Beth breathed. "Somebody call an ambulance!"
There was the scuffle of hurrying feet as everyone was jolted into action by Beth's command. Something warm was laid over him. Hands gently stroked his hair, and Beth's voice told him that everything would be okay. The unrelentingly intense pain in his hip made it impossible to believe her. Finally, after several unbearable minutes, he lost consciousness.
Beth paced the length of the waiting room. The rest of the band sat in chairs, watching her and fidgeting nervously. Finally, the doctor came out, holding a clipboard and frowning slightly. Beth walked toward up to him, not liking the look on his face. "Well?" she whispered.
"Why don't you have a seat, Mrs. Perry?"
Beth felt sick. She didn't want to be told to have a seat. In the movies, that always meant somebody was going to die. Smitty stood up and led her to a chair and the doctor sat down across from her. He looked at his clipboard, scratched his head and looked at them with a mystified expression. "There's really no easy way to put this, Mrs. Perry," he began. "So I'll just spit it out. We don't actually know what's wrong with your husband."
"Huh?" came several voices.
"He has all the symptoms of a serious hip injury," the doctor continued. "But from what you've told me, the fall he suffered couldn't possibly have caused anything like that. Some of my colleagues have speculated that it could be a degenerative hip disorder, but it is extremely rare for a man of his age to suffer from such a condition. Not only that, but our x-rays have shown no sign of any degradation whatsoever."
"So... what does that mean?" Beth asked.
The doctor sighed and scratched his head again. "It means there's nothing physically wrong with him."
"But he was in serious pain," Jonathan said. "There has to be something wrong with him!"
"Let me rephrase that. There's nothing wrong with him that we can detect at this time. Since we can't find anything wrong, we can't do anything to treat it. The only other option I can think of is that this is psychosomatic."
"You mean he's faking it?" Neal asked. "Wow. He's a better actor than I would have given him credit for."
"It's not exactly a matter of faking," the doctor explained. "Psychosomatic symptoms feel as real as actual symptoms. They're usually caused by depression or extreme stress."
"But he's not depressed," Beth said. "And he's not under any more stress than he usually is. In fact, he's probably less stressed."
The doctor sighed. "I'm very sorry, Mrs. Perry," he said. "But until I know more about this, I can't tell you anything more than I already have."
"Well, what's going to happen to him?" Beth cried. "Is he going to be able to walk?"
"There's no physical indication that he shouldn't be able to walk. But if the pain is as excruciating as you say, it may incapacitate him anyway. We'll have to wait until he regains consciousness to be sure. I'd like to keep him here overnight for more observation, of course."
Beth ran a hand through her hair, trying to make sense of everything, and failing. How could there be nothing wrong with him? He had been in so much pain he couldn't even speak to her! But if there was something wrong, why couldn't the doctors figure it out? Should she take him to different doctors? She frowned and decided it was too late to do anything like that tonight. "When can I see him?" she asked.
"Right now if you want."
Beth hopped up and followed the doctor to Steve's room. She walked in and looked down at him. Steve lay in the hospital bed, sleeping peacefully. Aside from the I.V. attached to his arm, there was no indication that he was sick at all. Beth stroked his hair for a moment, before beckoning to the others. They stopped hovering in the doorway and stepped inside. "He doesn't look so bad," Neal said. "Maybe he'll be okay in the morning."
"I hope so," Beth said. They stood looking down at him for a few more moments, before Beth sighed. "I guess there's nothing we can do about it tonight."
"Do you want me to give you a ride home?" asked Ross.
"No thanks," she said. "I want to stay here."
"One of us'll come by tomorrow and see how you're doing," Jay said.
"Thanks, you guys. See you later."
"Try not to stay up all night," counseled Smitty.
"I will." They left, and the doctor went to arrange for a cot to be brought to Steve's room. Beth sat down in the chair next to his bed and started stroking his hair again. She should have told the doctor not to bother with that cot. Despite what she'd told Smitty, she knew she wouldn't be getting any sleep tonight.
The doll lay in its place on the low table - a rusted nail embedded deep in its left hip.