Howie ducked as the pillow came sailing across the hotel room in his direction.
"Ha, missed me!"
AJ picked up the other pillow and drilled it towards Howie again, this time it hit the ice bucket on the dresser, spilling the bucket and it's contents onto the carpeted floor.
"I am definately not picking that up," Howie said as he turned the page on the magazine he was leafing through.
"I am so damn bored D, let's do something crazy instead of staying cooped up in the damned hotel room," AJ sputtered as he kicked the ice into a pile with his feet.
"What ya up for?" Howie replied, still looking at the magazine.
"How about checking that cool mall out we saw coming in?"
"Sounds good to me, but I need to use an ATM before we go there," Howie said as he tossed the magazine aside.
AJ rubbed his hands together, "Let's get the hell out of here then."
Howie grabbed the room card and his ball cap with AJ doing the same. They happened to pass Nick in the hall on their way to the elevators.
"Where you guys going?" Nick asked.
"Out," AJ replied without an explanation or an offer of Nick coming along with them.
Nick chuckled. "Out, eh? That means you guys are going to a mall again, am I right?"
"Sure, whatever Nick," AJ replied dryly. He punched the down button on the elevator.
Nick responded with a flip of his middle finger and AJ reciprocated the move. Howie stood watching them, rolling his eyes. "Knock it off you two, god!"
"Just remember we have sound check at 3:30," Nick reminded.
"Like we really care Nick," AJ retorted.
"God, what the hell is your problem?" Nick asked.
"Don't mind him, Nick, he's just feeling caged up, he don't mean it," Howie tried to smooth Nick's feelings out. The elevator doors opened up and AJ darted in quickly. Howie shrugged his shoulders and followed AJ.
As they walked out of the front door of the hotel, Howie noted that there was a bank on the corner.
"Hey, we're in luck, it's the bank I use," Howie remarked.
Howie realized his luck was short lived when the sign on the ATM read: Temporarily Out of Service.
"I guess we go in then," Howie mumbled.
"God, lets's just go to the mall and use an ATM there, this is crazy!" AJ sputtered.
"Not when I can just go inside and save myself $1.50," Howie replied.
"God, Howie, you're starting to sound like Mr. Cheapskate himself," AJ remarked.
"Leave Brian out of this!" Howie said as he pushed the door open.
The wait in line lasted for over five minutes when it was finally Howie's turn at a teller window. The young girl smiled at Howie and AJ.
"How may I help you?" she asked in a cheerful voice.
Just as Howie opened his mouth to speak, a voice boomed in the lobby.
"I WANT EVERYONE UP AGAINST THAT WALL, NOW!"
Howie turned towards the sound of the voice and saw a tall man holding a rifle, dressed completely in black with a black ski mask covering his face. People started running towards the wall shoving each other to obey the commands of the gunman.
The barrel of the rifle was pressed into Howie's back as the partner of the gunman tried to get them to move to his satisfaction. Howie winced as the gun dug into his back.
Once the gunman and his accomplice were satisfied with the people against the wall, they ordered the crowd to empty their pockets and to remove all jewelry. Howie removed rings and all but one necklace, praying that the man wouldn't notice.
"Hey slick, I said all jewelry!" the man yelled at Howie.
Howie reluctantly removed the necklace that was given to him by his sister Caroline. It was a simple gold cross that she had give to him on his last birthday before she died.
"Now I want all of you into that vault," the gunman hissed.
The crowd of four women and three men walked quietly into the vault. The bank manager was instructed to remain outside of the vault. Standing in the middle of the room, Howie felt helpless as he watched the masked man close the cage to the vault and then finally the thick steel door.
AJ started pacing back and forth in the vault. "Dammit Howie, I told you we should have gone to the ATM in the mall, but n-o-o-o-o-o-o, you had to save a buck fifty!"
"Calm down AJ!" Howie snapped, "I'm sure everyone in here has better plans than to be stuck in here with you."
Folding his arms across his chest, AJ leaned against the wall and slid down to the floor. "So now what do we do, genius?"
Howie looked at the other people stuck in the same predicament they were in and sighed. "I guess we wait."
Nick tossed the duffle bag onto the floor. "Ya know those two are gonna be in deep shit when Steve gets a hold of them."
"I'm sure there's some valid reason for AJ and Howie to miss sound check," Brian said as he took his blue tee shirt off.
Nick picked up the remote control and started channel surfing. He paused as he grabbed the hotel directory for a listing of the channels on the cable. A poorly shot image of Howie flashed across the TV screen.
"Brian?" Nick called out.
The tone of Nick's voice caused the hair on Brian's neck to stand up.
"What's wrong Nick?"
Nick didn't reply, he just pointed at the television screen, his mouth agape.
Brian rushed over to look at the television screen. He felt sick to his stomach as the blurred, black and white video image of Howie, with a dark figured man standing behind him with a rifle to Howie's back, flashed on the screen.
"Turn the sound up!" Brian commanded as he sat on the edge of the bed.
"Oh my god, they must have gone to a bank and it's being held up," Nick stated, shocked. "They're holding all of them hostage.
Pounding on the door answered the question Brian was about to ask. He opened the door and found Kevin standing in the hallway. He brushed past Brian.
"I guess you heard then?"
"Yeah, that bank is right down the street," Kevin replied, walking towards the window and pushed the curtains back with his hand. "They have police blocking the entire street off."
"Shouldn't we be down there or something?" Nick questioned Kevin and Brian.
"NO, Nick, the best that we can do is just sit tight, wait and watch," Kevin replied.
Sweat poured off of Howie's face as he sat on the floor next to AJ. The room was getting stuffy and the air seemed to be minimal.
"So this is how it's gonna end, huh?" AJ remarked, forcing out a fake laugh.
Howie looked around at the people in the vault. Three of them were already unconscious, evident of a lack of oxygen. He shook his head. "No, no, don't think that way, AJ."
"How the hell else should I be thinking? We're locked up in this friggen vault, no air coming in, no way of getting out, you tell me!"
As AJ's panic from claustrophobia started to rise, Howie noticed that AJ's speech was starting to slur. Howie was also starting to feel the effects from lack of oxygen as he was beginning to grow sleepy.
Howie leaned against AJ, trying to fight off the sleepiness. Thoughts flashed through his mind.....growing up in Orlando.......playing at home......getting his first car.........the concerts......fans.......his sister Caroline.
"Howie? Howie? Can you hear me?"
Howie coughed and opened his eyes expecting to see Caroline.
"Oh, thank God!" Brian exclaimed when Howie opened his eyes and looked at him. "How ya feeling?"
Howie looked over his surroundings and determined he was no longer at the bank but in a hospital room. He licked his lips and swallowed, wincing at how dry his throat felt.
"Tire," Howie replied, noticing that his voice was hoarse from his dry throat.
Brian put a hand on Howie's shoulder. "We were all so worried about you, I'm glad you're back, buddy."
"Glad to be here," Howie replied.
Brian could see the tears and the concern in Howie's eyes. "Something wrong?"
"Kinda," Howie replied softly.
"Want to tell me about it?" Brian asked as he sat on the edge of the hospital bed.
"I saw Caroline," Howie replied flatly.
"I saw her, she came to me and we had a nice long talk. I know, I was dreaming, but for a few moments, it felt good, you know?" Howie said quietly.
Brian smiled. "Howie, I think that was her way of telling you that everything would be okay. She's always going to be there for you."
"You think so Brian?"
"I know so. AJ's sleeping, you should rest too," Brian ordered.