As if the night hadn't been stressful enough already.
Matt Hardy glanced up from his circle of friends, distracted by the sharp note in the security guard's voice as he tried to prevent a fan from pushing his way into the backstage area. Jeff's head snapped up at the same time, and he grimaced at Matt, nodding towards the commotion.
"Man, I was really just kind of hoping to sneak out of here and get some sleep. Been a long night for a house show."
And it had. A missing owner, two major stars showing up late and a brother who had disappeared for the vast majority of the show had all contributed to the dull ache behind Matt's eyes. Still, the fan calmly refusing to allow security to escort him away didn't have the look of a typical groupie. In fact, he seemed both polite and well-dressed, his dark suit tailored nicely to his somewhat blocky frame. Matt hoped somewhat optimistically that there was still a chance to make it through this obstacle and back to the hotel in time for room service and a long hot shower.
With that thought spurring him to action, Matt stepped away from his group and towards the security officer. Patting him reassuringly on the shoulder, he stuck out his other hand towards the fan, trying to sound both friendly and brisk. "Hi, I'm Matt Hardy. You need an autograph or something? I can see what I can do..."
"Mr. Hardy," the man repeated, giving Matt a quick once-over. "You're an employee of the WWE, correct?"
"No pink slip yet," Matt grinned wryly. "Haven't been watching long, huh?"
"It's a new interest," the man admitted, sliding a hand inside his jacket. The fabric bunched as he did so, revealing the dull shine of a revolver tucked into the waistband of his pants. "Something wrong?" he asked mildly, hesitating as Matt's jaw dropped.
Matt glanced incredulously at the security guard, who appeared not to have noticed the weapon. "No, I...I just really don't like guns." The guard's eyes widened, but the man resumed his motion before the guard could clear the stun-gun from his holster.
"Understandably." His mouth tightened in what Matt assumed was supposed to be a grim smile as he pulled a brass badge out of his jacket's inner pocket. "And I really don't like having to do this, but I'm going to have to ask you to come down to the station." He paused for a moment, then nodded at Jeff and the other wrestlers congregating in the hallway. "Your friends, too."
"Matt! What did you do?" Jeff demanded, stepping towards them. Matt's speechlessness as the officer began directing fellow policemen to round up the remaining wrestlers must have been answer enough, because Jeff darkly added, "As soon as I find out, I'm so calling Dad."
Matt barely managed a chuckle as the officer steered him outside towards a waiting police car.
As out of place as they were in most aspects of life, wrestlers managed to fit in surprisingly well in jail. An hour after their arrival at the small precinct, they had already taken over all the available seating, signed a multitude of autographs, and started up a game of blackjack with the on-duty guards. Shawn Michaels had even managed to wheedle a fresh pot of coffee out of the cops, now in desperate need of a refill.
Matt was considering mentioning this when the officer who had first approached him reappeared, striding into the middle of the room. The chatter died down instantly as he began to speak.
"For those of you who don't know, my name is Detective Mike Evans. I'm the head of the investigation into the disappearance of Vince and Linda McMahon." The wrestlers began to murmur, but he cut them off with a decisive wave of the hand. "The McMahons, as I'm sure most of you are aware, has been missing less than 24 hours. Normally, we would not open an investigation this early, but the concern expressed by their children has convinced us to begin early and, hopefully, close this case just as quickly. To do so, we will need all of your cooperation. I have a series of rooms set up, and each of you will be individually interviewed by a police officer. None of you are under arrest, and you are free to go if you wish, but I strongly encourage you to assist us in any way you can so that we can all move on from this."
"Nobody's leaving," the Undertaker said flatly.
"As I said," Detective Evans reiterated, "That's entirely up to each of you."
"Nobody. Is. Leaving," the Undertaker insisted, scanning the room for signs of dissent. "We all want to know where Vince is as quickly as possible. None of us have anything to hide. In fact, I'm going to request that you use a lie detector during each of our interviews so that we can get to the bottom of this."
"Man, that's totally unnecessary," Hunter disagreed. "None of us had anything to do with this."
"Mr. Levesque is well within his rights to refuse," Evans stated. "And anyway, no moderated testimony without sufficient cause for suspicion would be admissable in court, if--"
"Does anyone have a problem going under a lie detector?" the Undertaker interrupted. Hunter clenched his jaw, but remained silent. "Good. Then that's settled."
Evans contemplated that for a few seconds, rocking back on his heels as he thought. Finally, he shrugged, his face impassive. "Fine, but we've only got one machine, so this might take a while. Who wants to go first?"
With Shawn Michaels electing to take the first interview slot, Jeff convinced a guard to open an empty two-man cell, providing both him and Matt cots to nap on while they waited their turn. Matt snuggled into the thin mattress gratefully, far too exhausted to worry much about the cleanliness of the previous occupant. He had already begun to drift into sleep when Jeff quietly whispered, "Are you scared?"
Matt thought about failing to answer, but decided against it. "Not really. Why should we be scared?"
"I don't know. Just...I don't want to say anything stupid."
"Well, then maybe it would be better if you just didn't talk," Matt teased. "Seriously, though, we didn't have anything to do with Vince disappearing. That's really all we have to say."
"Yeah." Jeff hesitated as if he had more to say, then rolled over.
"Where were you during the show tonight?"
A few anxious heartbeats later, Jeff scoffed, "I was at the show. Where else would I be? I ain't handcuffed to you or anything, you know. I was just walking around for a little while."
The answer unsettled Matt, but before he could respond, the Undertaker approached their cell. "Boys, we need you out here for a couple minutes."
"Yeah, what's up?" Jeff asked, jumping to his feet.
"For some reason, they're having problems getting the lie detector working against Shawn. The detective says he'll sort it out, but in the mean time, he wants all of us watching the interview. The idea is, since we've worked with Shawn so long, we'll be able to see if he gets nervous or anything."
As he explained, the Undertaker led them through the hallways to the interrogation room. A crowd of wrestlers had already gathered behind the one-way mirror looking out on Shawn, who was fiddling with the polygraph wires still attached to his wrist and fingers as he waited. Glancing up, he tossed a quick smile at the wrestlers behind the mirror. Matt was momentarily confused, then decided that Shawn was either guessing their location or grinning at his own reflection. With Shawn, either possibility was valid. Evans was speaking quietly with the polygraph technician in the corner of the room, and another officer remained in the room with the wrestlers to brief them on the procedure.
"I know this seems a little unusual, but Mr. Hickenbottom has already freely agreed to the surveillance. We're not looking for your side of the story yet; you'll all get a chance to speak later. For now, we're concerned with determining which parts of the conversation might affect Mr. Hickenbottom more deeply than the rest. Speak up if you notice anything unusual." After the wrestlers nodded their understanding, the officer switched on a speaker to notify Evans that they were ready to begin.
Evans nodded, seating himself in a chair a comfortable distance from Shawn. "The tech thinks he's got the machine working, so we're still going to run it, if that's all right with you. If it works, great, if not, we'll just have to take your word for it."
Shawn nodded easily, taking a sip of his coffee. "Fire away."
"Let's start with some true answers to get it calibrated. Your name is Michael Hickenbottom, true?"
"That's what they tell--"
Evans held up a hand, silencing Shawn. "Just yes or no answers when possible, please."
Shawn laughed, sipping his coffee again and giving Evans a long look before nodding agreeably. "Yes."
Both men glanced automatically at the polygraph machine in the corner, but it kept beeping at a brisk but steady pace. The technician shrugged at Evans.
"My heart rate's a little fast, isn't it?" Shawn offered, wrinkling his nose. "Sorry about that. I'm a little nervous this close to cops. Old habits die hard, I guess."
Evans stared cooly at him. "Please just try to relax, Mr. Hickenbottom. Can you tell me about the last time you saw Vince McMahon?"
"Yes," Shawn answered primly. An awkward pause settled in before he continued. "Oh, can I say more than 'yes' and 'no' now?"
"Please," Evans ground out, frustration visible in the stiffness of his back.
Shawn flashed him another smile. "That makes it much easier. I hadn't seen Vince since the show the previous night, but he called me that morning to check on my shoulder."
Evans scribbled a note on the pad in front of him. "This was unusual for him?"
"Not at all," Shawn contradicted. "He always called if he knew I was injured. I'm one of his biggest stars, after all."
"What was his tone? Did he sound afraid of anything? Nervous? Concerned?"
Shawn shrugged. "Only about whether I'd be able to perform."
"I see. What was you relationship like?"
Shawn seemed surprised by the question. "With Vince? Incredible. I'm not going to pretend it wasn't a little rocky in the past...in fact, just about anybody behind that mirror could tell you otherwise. But as they could also testify, I am the single best active wrestler in the world today. I could work anywhere I wanted and name my price. I've been with Vince over 15 years now because I respect the man. He's become a second father figure to both me and H--" Shawn hesitated. Matt's eyes swung to Hunter just in time to see him flinch.
"You and...?" Evans pressed.
Shawn recovered almost instantaneously, flipping his ponytail back over his shoulder. "I was going to say Hunter, but I just realized that he's not like a father, he is Hunter's father-in-law. I was being even more honest than I thought."
Evans ignored his smile. "Can you describe your relationship with Mr. Levesque?"
Shawn stretched his legs out in front of him, nearly able to reach Evans' feet. "I can't describe the relationship because I don't really feel like we have one. It depends on the time period. Sometimes we travel together and we get reasonably close as far as co-workers go. Sometimes we don't, and we drift. I think we're currently somewhere in-between."
Matt watched as John Cena opened his mouth to object, but the Undertaker's hand came down hard on his shoulder. A few muttered exchanges later, John kept his mouth shut.
"So you wouldn't say that your relationship is, say, sexual in nature?" Evans pressed calmly.
The laugh that swept through Shawn was so violent that he nearly tipped his chair over. "Who told you that?" he finally gasped.
"I'm not authorized to reveal sources at this point," Evans deflected.
"Right, right," Shawn agreed, rolling his eyes through the remaining laughter. "Well, let me clue you in about rumors in wrestling. You're talking about a group of egomaniacal, highly competitive professional liars. I think a grain of salt is in order."
"Professional liars," Evans repeated, scribbling in his notebook. "Are you including yourself in that characterization, Mr. Hickenbottom?"
"Most definitely," Shawn agreed easily. "But in this case, you can believe me. Hunter's as happily married as I am. As I'm sure you are," he added, gesturing to the dull gold glint on Evans' left hand. "Am I right?"
Evans tensed. "I fail to see how that's relevant--"
Shawn frowned, leaning forward to lay a hand on Evans' knee. "Oh, it's extremely relevant. Any wrestler can tell you sexual frustration is a performance inhibitor. In the interest of solving this case as quickly as possible, I hope you're at least getting a little on the side, Mike."
It was less of a statement than it was a question, and it was less of a question than it was an offer. The wrestlers held their breath for the two seconds it took Evans to process the situation and scoot his chair back out of Shawn's reach. "Your concern is appreciated," he stated dryly, reaching out towards a disappointed-looking Shawn for a handshake. "I'll be sure to give you a call if I come up with any further questions."
Hunter, naturally, claimed the next interview spot, and after a brief test to determine that the polygraph machine was now miraculously working, the rest of the wrestlers were sent back to the lobby. Jeff returned to the cell to try to get back to sleep, but Matt opted to hang around and try to score some coffee. By the time he located the coffee pot, the Undertaker and John Cena had begun a fairly heated argument in front of it.
"They're fucking cops, man," John hissed. "Not calling Shawn out on his shit was basically throwing a wrench in the whole investigation!"
The Undertaker was unmoved. "Nothing he was talking about had anything to do with what happened to Vince and Linda. I'm not going to allow wrestling to get a worse name in public than it already has because of the police investigating a bunch of meaningless bullshit. If you have any idea where Vince is, say it. Otherwise, you keep your damn mouth shut."
Matt considered ducking back out of the room, but the last thing they needed was a fight keeping there longer than necessary. "Hey," he interjected, deliberately moving between them to brush them back on his way to the coffee. "There's no reason to lie to cops. They're professionals. They really don't care who's fucking who. But lying to them is just going to piss them off."
"If you get caught," John pointed out. "Did you hear that lie detector, man? Like a fucking metronome. How'd he do that?"
"How'd he do what?" Shawn asked from the doorway, coffee cup in hand. "Refill, please?" he added, handing his cup to Matt.
"Your little interview," the Undertaker explained as Matt silently filled the cup and handed it back. "You beat the polygraph."
"Ah." Shawn nodded as he grabbed a handful of sugar and started looking for the cream.
John sighed impatiently. "So, how'd you do it?"
"Practice," Shawn answered, grinning at John's expression. "Seriously. I meant it when I said we were professional liars. Look, lie detectors have to be calibrated, right? They measure how fast your heart beats and how much you sweat when you're telling the truth, and then they compare that against all of your other answers. They assumed all my answers were true, because I had the same reaction to each of them. Really, I was lying every time."
"They make you tell the truth first," the Undertaker disagreed. "They ask you your favorite color and shit."
"Yeah. I lied about it," Shawn shrugged.
"I heard them ask your name."
"You heard them ask about Michael Hickenbottom. Hell, Taker, when's the last time anybody called you 'Mark'? I've been Shawn Michaels for almost two decades. Hickenbottom's more of a character than Michaels is at this point. Look, it's easy. Lie about things that are true, and they'll believe all your lies are true. If you can't do that," he shrugged, "just believe everything you say, true or not. That always fucks with them. Anyway, I think I'm going to go call a cab and get some sleep. See you all at work tomorrow."
A young officer popped her head in the room just as Shawn was leaving. "Mr. Calloway? You're up next. Would you please come with me?"
"Cameron, North Carolina." So far, so good. The polygraph machine beeped softly and steadily in the corner.
"Do you like your job, Matt?"
Evans grinned, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms. "I was just curious. It seems like a rough life."
"Well, it is. And, yeah, I do like my job. I love my job. You have to." Matt took a deep breath, trying to focus on not rambling.
Evans looked mildly interested and Matt felt suddenly sympathetic towards him. It had been a long night for the detective as well. "Why is that? Why do you 'have to' love it?"
"Because it's so rough. Because we'd all be working office jobs if we could." Matt flashed a tentative smile and relaxed a little more when Evans returned it.
"Man, do I know that feeling. I've wanted to hang up the badge so many times, but it's just...it's loyalty to the job, you know? It's loving what you do."
"I just had Mr. Calloway in here, in fact, and he was talking about how his first priority was what he called 'protecting the wrestling business.' You know what he means?"
There was a trap somewhere in the question, but it was easy to find and Matt stayed calm. "Yeah, I think I do. I don't think it's the number one priority, though."
"No? What is?"
"In this case, the truth. I want to figure out where Vince is. I want him back." The polygraph beeping stayed steady and Evans grinned broadly.
"You would've made a good cop, you know that?"
Matt shrugged. "I like a good mystery once in a while."
"Great, maybe we can put our heads together over this one. You know, 99% of the time, when a couple disappears, it's just an unexpected vacation or something. But I talked with the son and daughter already, and I gotta say...I just don't see it."
"That's not it," Matt said decisively. "Vince only takes a vacation every leap year, and it's planned months in advance. He's not a spontaneous kind of guy. And we'd all know if something weird was up. The locker room is too tight for any rumors not to get around. Everybody knows everything."
"Well, that makes our job much easier, doesn't it? So, what do you think happened?"
Matt spread his hands in front of him. "I have no idea."
Evans looked genuinely disappointed. "Really? I mean, sure, you don't know, but you didn't catch anything weird going on during the show?"
"Everything was weird during the show. Vince wasn't there, so Shane was in charge and kept rewriting the script, and Hunter and Shawn were both late and..." Matt stumbled over Jeff's name, opting to leave it out. "It was just a weird night."
The polygraph beeped more insistently, but Evans didn't glance over. "Why were Hunter and Shawn late?"
"They didn't tell you?"
"Levesque said their car battery died outside the gym. He looked like he was lying."
Matt shook his head. "Shawn was, too, but you'll never catch him. He can lie as easy as breathing. He and Hunter are, uh..."
"Go ahead," Evans encouraged. "It won't leave the room. This is all off the record."
"They've been fucking for more than a decade now. Everybody knows about it, but they pretend it's just a rumor. Trust me, it's not. They have 'car trouble' at least once a month when they're riding together."
"Ah." Evans chose not to comment further, drumming his fingers on the table as he considered. "Hunter's married to the McMahon's daughter, right?"
Matt nodded. "Stephanie. She, uh, knows they have a history, but she thinks it's over now."
"I see. So with the McMahon's disappearance, Stephanie and Shane have moved up in the company's standings. And by extension, Hunter."
Shifting uncomfortably in his chair, Matt shook his head again. "Look, I know it looks like Hunter's one of the few people that would benefit by Vince being gone, but I just can't...Hunter and Shawn love each other, but in his own fucked-up way, Hunter loves Stephanie, too. The locker room would've stepped in and said something if we didn't believe that. And Hunter sees Vince like a father. And more than anything else in the world, Hunter loves wrestling. And say whatever you want about him, but Vince invented modern wrestling. Hunter would never do anything to hurt him."
Matt slumped back, running his fingers through his hair. "I honestly don't know."
"Fair enough." Evans yawned and stretched. "Can you think of anybody else who was acting weird? Or anybody who might have a bone to pick with the McMahons?"
Without warning, Matt's heart jumped into his throat, the sudden rush of panic echoed by the loud and irregular beeping of the polygraph. "No, I...shit."
Evans' face remained impassive. "Look, this machine's stressing me out, too. How about we turn it off, huh?" The tech nodded and threw a switch, killing the noise. "Now," Evans continued, leaning towards Matt. "I'm going to tell you what I'm thinking, and you tell me if I'm way off base, OK? I like you. You're being honest about wanting to know who did this. But you're getting nervous whenever you think about it too much. I think you're protecting somebody. Either you've got a lover involved in this case, or you're worried about your little brother." Matt's jaw tightened, and Evans paused before nodding. "From that reaction, I'm guessing Option #2. I can understand that. I've got a kid brother myself, up in New York. I'd shoot anyone that posed a threat to him, no doubt about it. But to tell the truth, he's a grown man himself. He really doesn't need my protection anymore."
"Jeff does," Matt whispered, feeling like the words were being dragged out of him. "Mike, you've gotta believe me, Jeff's a good guy and he wouldn't hurt anybody, but, um, he's a little wild sometimes. He and Vince had a little spat a couple days ago, and I'm afraid it's going to get taken out of context and...I know he didn't do this."
Evans simply nodded, leaning back. "Good enough for me. What was the fight about?"
"Just work stuff. Jeff's not good with time, and he tends to either show up late or disappear for a while to get his head together. It was frustrating for Vince."
"I imagine. Was he running late at the show last night?"
"No." Matt chewed his lower lip before continuing. "I couldn't find him during the matches, though. I don't know where he was." He met Evans' eyes, trying to portray as much certainty as possible. "I do know he wasn't with the McMahons. He wouldn't keep that from me."
"I believe you." Evans stretched again, then covered a yawn. "Look, it's been a long night and I've only got a few more interviews to go. The easiest way for us to clear your brother's name is to find out who did this. So if you hear anything or remember anything that might be useful, give me a call, OK?"
"I can do that," Matt nodded as he stood up.
"Nice working with you," Evans said with a smile as he reached to hand Matt his card.
The sun was already up when Matt finally got back to his hotel. He went through his nighttime routine regardless, determined to get at least some sleep that night. As tired as he was, he gave serious thought to ignoring his cell phone when it started buzzing as soon as he started brushing his teeth. Hope that Vince had finally shown up overrode his exhaustion, and he reached for the phone.
"Yo, Matt, it's Cena. Oh, man, I didn't wake you up, did I?"
"Nah, I was just brushing my teeth. What's up?"
"Sorry, man, I didn't even think about it before I dialed. I just got out of my interview and I wanted to say thanks for standing up to Taker for me. I appreciate it."
"Not a big deal, John...wait, you just got out? What, were you the last one or something?"
"Yeah, pretty much. I kind of wanted to wait to the end, you know, see if anything interesting came out." John laughed softly, "I'm terrible at mysteries. I always flip to the last page to see who did it first. I can't sleep till I know."
"I know what you mean," Matt grinned. "But you have to keep in mind, Vince might be fine. I mean, it's weird he left without saying anything, but stranger things have happened."
"Yeah. Maybe he just went on vacation."
"Yeah. Or maybe he got sick and had to go to the hospital and they couldn't find any ID."
"Yeah. Or maybe he got kidnapped by ninja pirates."
"Yeah. Or maybe the aliens finally called him back home."
John laughed. "If we ever find him, I'm telling him that."
"If we ever find him, I'm suing him for emotional damages from having to spend the night in a police station."
A comfortable silence dragged on, and Matt was just about to find some way of ending the call when John asked, "Hey, you believe in honesty, right?"
Matt blinked. "Of course. Why?"
"I don't know, you just...what you said to Taker kind of convinced me that you're one of those guys on the up and up, you know?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"So, did you do it? Or do you know who did? I'm going to believe you no matter what you say, Matt, and I'm not going to be able to prove a thing, so you might as well just tell me."
"John, I swear, I don't have any idea what happened."
John was quiet for a few seconds, taking that in. "Yeah, me neither," he finally offered. "For real. You believe that?"
"I do." Surprisingly, Matt actually did.
"Cool. So two suspects down, and the rest of the company to go."
"You're going to solve the case all by yourself, huh?"
"I hope not. I just don't think the cops are ever going to get as close to it as we are. Wrestling's crazy, and guys like Taker aren't going to let them into the inner circle. So I figured I'd do what I can, at least, give it a shot. You, um...you want to help me out?"
"Yeah. I like that idea. How do you want to do this?"
"Tell you what. ECW and RAW are doing a joint house show on Saturday. How about we just keep our ears open until then, and then we'll get together and compare notes. Sound good?"
"Absolutely. And if you need to talk in the meantime, give me a call."
"Yeah, you too, man. Get some sleep, a'ight?"
Tired as he was, Matt was smiling when he drifted off to sleep.
The weekend house show came and went, and still no sign of the McMahons. Shane had stepped up to fill his mother's role as company CEO, and Stephanie had declared herself interim head of creative until their parents were found. Nobody mentioned the possibility that they might not be found, at least not where other wrestlers could hear them.
Matt had showered before returning to his hotel after the show, and was flipping through his phone's contact list when John showed up at his door.
"I brought crime-fighting supplies," John offered, holding up a large pizza box, a few bags of chips, and a six-pack of beer. "You still up for our talk?"
"Absolutely," Matt said, waving him into the room. Minutes later, they were happily situated on the bed, the food spread in front of them like a picnic.
"So you start," John suggested between huge bites of his extra pepperoni slice.
Matt frowned and grabbed a handful of chips. "Didn't learn much," he admitted. "I know a lot of people that I don't think did it, but I can't prove anybody who did."
"Yeah, that's pretty much where I wound up, too. Let's go through the list of suspects, though, and we'll eliminate who we can."
That made sense. Matt took a deep breath, then started, "OK. Not me. Not you."
"Not Taker," John added. "He's not making things easy, but his alibi for the right time period checks out. And I can vouch for Orton and Batista, because we spent most of the day at the gym."
"Cool. Really, most of the guys don't have motives, if you think about it. Vince was rough, but he was the boss. I don't think anybody wanted him gone."
John tilted his head to one side, absently chewing as he thought. "Yeah, good call. Let's think about people who would want him gone. Hey, what if it was Bischoff or Heyman or somebody?"
"I'm pretty sure that they're not in wrestling anymore. And even if they were, they're not going to gain anything by making Vince disappear."
"But what if it was revenge?"
"Then why would they wait so long and then do it so quietly? I don't know, man, it just doesn't seem right."
"And if it was the TNA guys, we'd have heard it by now. I've got friends on that roster."
"Mmm." Matt hummed his acknowledgement around a mouthful of pizza. "So who are you thinking now?"
"Hunter's the obvious one. Or Shawn. Or both."
"Or Shane and Stephanie, really, by the same logic."
"Yeah. You know, those two don't seem quite as upset as I would if I lost my parents. I mean, maybe they're holding it inside, but you know...maybe not." John frowned and sat back against the headboard, seemingly oblivious to the smear of tomato sauce on the tip of his nose. Matt had to look down at the bed to hide his smile, and John took the movement for commiseration. "I know, it sucks. I don't like not trusting people. I feel all paranoid. But really, it could've been anyone. How am I supposed to know?"
"You said you trust me, right?"
"Absolutely." John offered him an uncertain smile. "I don't know why, man, but you're just so sure about right and wrong. You seem like one of the few guys who knows where he stands, and the world needs more people like that. Does that sound lame?" he finished, turning pink at the wide smile on Matt's face.
"Not at all...well, maybe a little," Matt admitted. "But mostly I'm just loving how absolutely earnest you can look with pizza sauce all over your face." He laughed harder as John's crystal blue eyes crossed, automatically trying to examine his nose. "Here, I--" he moved forward to wipe the sauce off at the same time as John sat up, managing to bump their foreheads. Laughing again, Matt sat back, unintentionally seating himself on John's lap.
John was laughing, too, using one hand to rub his forehead while he wiped his nose with the other. "I knew I should've asked for extra napkins. Sometimes food just attacks me."
"Ah, so you were wolfing half that pizza down out of pure self-defense, huh?" Matt teased. "Big, bad John Cena can't handle a little condiment?" Suddenly leaning forward, Matt swiped at the skin just above the collar of John's t-shirt. "Is that...Jesus Christ, John, who taught you how to eat?" he demanded, displaying a pizza sauce covered index finger.
"I was clearly raised by wolves," John admitted, still a little pink. "Sorry." Smiling apologetically, he lapped the sauce off Matt's finger.
Matt froze, brain momentarily fried by the unexpected heat of John's tongue swiping his digit. He forced himself to breathe again when John's expression changed to one of concern. Sitting back slowly, Matt suddenly became aware of his position straddling John's waist. His cock twitched in his thankfully baggy pants, and he instantly moved to dismount the larger man.
"Whoa, what's up?" John asked, putting his palms flat on Matt's thighs and preventing him from moving. "Something wrong?"
"I..." Matt sat back down, eager to keep John's hands from wandering into dangerous territory. This time, he could feel John's soft penis trapped under his ass, and he twisted hard to one side in an effort to find a graceful escape from the situation. The motion rubbed the front of John's jeans against his oock, and John gasped at the friction. "Jesus, man, I'm sorry, I didn't realize I was..."
"Practically dry-humping me?" John offered with a grin. "Who's the one who was raised by wolves now?"
Matt scowled down at him. "I wasn't trying to 'dry-hump' you."
"Oh, really?" The palms of John's hands slid toward the inside of Matt's legs, rubbing up against his rapidly stiffening member. John's eyes opened wider, the light in them going from teasing to something closer to interest.
"J-John," Matt panted, willing himself not to thrust towards the hand now experimentally squeezing his erection through his pants. "We better stop."
"Yeah, we could do that," John said seriously. "But then I'd have to go back to my place with pizza sauce still God knows where...I'm not sure we found it all yet."
It wasn't the most direct invitation, but it was good enough to spur Matt to yank John's shirt up, tongue-tracing the planes of his muscular chest as John shrugged out of the garment, tossing it to the floor. "Jesus, Matt," John groaned, gripping Matt's hips to hold them in position while he pressed upwards with his own, grinding against the two layers of denim. "Too many clothes."
"I can fix that," Matt grinned.
"So remind me," John murmured into the side of Matt's neck, wrapping an arm around his waist to pull their bodies flush together. "Did we figure out who did it?"
"Um, I think we did it," Matt pointed out, snickering as John's teeth grazed his shoulder. "But if you mean the McMahon thing, no. Dick Tracy we are not."
"Damn," John responed, sounding somewhat less than disappointed. "I guess we're going to have to keep meeting up like this until we sort it all out, huh?"
"Damn," Matt echoed.
John pulled away suddenly, propping himself up on one elbow so he could stare down at Matt. "Hey, before I forget, do you want to ask your brother to help us out? I figure the more people looking into it, the better, right?"
"Yeah..." Matt agreed hesitantly. "I just...Jeff's got a lot going on right now, and he really doesn't do well thinking about stuff like this. I don't want to bother him."
Confusion wrinkled the skin between John's eyes, but he nodded agreeably. "Yeah, I can understand that. No big. I just wanted him to vouch for whoever he was hanging out with, narrow down our suspects a little."
"He wasn't..." Matt abruptly rolled over, swinging his feet over the side of the bed and sitting up, gaining a little distance as well as time to think about his answer.
"Yo, something up?" John asked, his voice heavy with concern as he reached out to touch Matt on the shoulder.
The truth wasn't particularly appealing, but a lie would be even more suspicious at this point. "I told the detective, and I guess I can tell you, too. I don't know where Jeff was all day. He says he was just wandering around, but I can't get a straight answer out of him. It's not a big deal, he's always disappearing like that, I was just worried that people might take it out of context. You know about the fight he and Vince had..."
John nodded silently.
"Yeah. Well, I just don't want anybody misinterpreting that. I know him, John. He didn't do this."
John thought the statement over before nodding again. "Cool. Then I guess we better hurry up and figure out who did, so nobody gets the wrong idea, right?"
An unexpected wave of relief rushed through Matt, and he tackled John, pinning him to the bed and kissing him hard. "Thanks," he managed to mutter as they both paused for air.
"No problem, man. I don't think Jeff did it, either. You, on the other hand," John teased, pivoting to one side and rolling on top of Matt, "might require some deeper investigation."
Despite the general worry about the elder McMahons and the sympathy it engendered towards their children, it didn't take the locker room very long to resume grumbling about schedules. Not without cause, of course; Shane and Stephanie were at least as demanding of the wrestlers' time as Vince and Linda had been. Today, for example, had been the only day Matt had been able to spend entirely out of the ring all week, and he was booked for an autograph signing.
At least it was an excuse to see Jeff again. Matt was starting to get the distinct impression that his brother was avoiding him, although he seemed relatively normal when they talked. And, as usual, he was failing to answer his phone until at least the fourteenth ring, which should be coming right...about...now.
"Hey, little brother. You need a ride to the signing tonight?"
"Mmm, nah, man, I got it under control. Thanks for the offer, though."
Matt wasn't giving up quite that easily. "You sure? You know where the place is? When are you planning to leave?"
"Jesus, Matt, don't you start, too."
"What does that mean?" Matt asked, frowning.
Jeff sighed. "Nothing, it just seems like a lot of people trying to babysit me lately."
"Just everybody. Everybody wants to know where I was and if I'm doing OK...that detective keeps calling me and asking stupid questions. Even John Cena's been wanting to talk about something. I just need a vacation, that's all."
Matt made a nondescript noise as guilt washed over him. "Yeah, a vacation would be nice. We can talk about it at the signing, OK?"
Jeff paused before answering. "I don't think I'm going to go, Matt. I really don't feel up to it, and I've got other places to be."
"I...well, you do what you gotta do, I guess," Matt answered, slightly surprised. Jeff hadn't missed a day of work since his latest bout of personal issues, and that was worrisome in and of itself.
"Yeah. Talk to you later."
Matt listened to the dial tone for several seconds, debating whether to make another call. Finally, he went for it, staring at his hotel wall as he listened to the phone ring.
"John, it's Matt."
"Hey, babycakes, how's--"
"Have you been harassing Jeff?"
You would think the appropriate answer to that question would be pretty clear, Matt thought, feeling his mood darken as John remained silent.
"I don't know what you're talking about. I asked him some questions, but--"
"About where he was? Because of what I told you? John, I told you he didn't have anything to do with it. You said you believed me."
"I did believe you," John insisted. "I mean, I do believe you. I just wanted to get his side of the story so I could help you clear him."
"Well, congratulations, you've made him so defensive he won't even talk to me anymore."
John was hurt by the accusation, and his tone was bordering on sullen. "I was just trying to help. Look...I don't want to fight over the phone. Let's all three meet up at the signing tonight, and we can get this thing straightened out."
"No go. Jeff's so stressed that he's taking some personal time."
The silence that followed that statement held accusations of its own.
"He's not on drugs, if that's what you're thinking," Matt clarified. "Although I'm sure you're just going to ask him anyway. Dredge up some more bad memories."
"Dude. I know you're worried about your brother. But I'm worried about him, too. Tell you what, how about we both take tonight off, go find out where he's going, and put all this to rest? That way we'll all be on the same page."
"I'm not spying on my brother, John."
"Because it's not right or because you're afraid of what we'll find out."
That was low. But not entirely untrue, Matt admitted to himself grudgingly. Besides, it would help him sleep a little more at night. "Fine," he finally conceded. "But after this, I want you to stay away from him, OK?"
"I'll pick you up in an hour."
"Man, this is starting to feel like real police work," John ventured, smiling hesitantly as he glanced towards the passenger seat.
"Mmm." Matt was starting to feel nervous as they followed Jeff's car down the highway, but he tried not to let it show. "He'll freak if he sees us, you know. Slow down a little bit."
"Hey, we're headed right for the signing venue. Maybe he decided to go after all," John suggested hopefully. "Or maybe not," he added as Jeff's car made a sharp right, heading for what looked like a cluster of office buildings. "Jeff got a secret thing for filing memos or something?"
"Never say never with Jeff, but I doubt it," Matt muttered, frowning as Jeff's car parked behind a nondescript corporate building. "What the hell is he doing?"
John drove past the parking lot, pulling into a nearby alley and stopping the car. "Only one way to find out," he encouraged as he hopped out of the car.
It took several minutes to find a good vantage spot, close enough to see in the car but still hidden by shadows. Even so, Jeff was still sitting in the car when they were finally situated, watching the door as he sang along with the radio.
"This is ridiculous," Matt hissed, angry with himself for spying on his own brother. "I'm just going to go talk to him."
"Who?" John demanded, following Jeff's line of vision to the office door. "Jeff or Shane?"
Matt whirled around just in time to see Jeff clamber happily out of the car, pulling Shane McMahon into a fierce hug followed by an even more passionate kiss. Matt's jaw dropped as he stood up from his crouch. "Hey!"
Jeff and Shane broke away from each other instantly, squinting into the darkness that hid John and Matt. "Jeffrey Nero Hardy!" Matt shouted, managing two full steps forward before John tackled him, clapping a hand over his mouth.
"Matt?" Jeff ran straight for them with Shane close on his heels. "Matt, what are you doing here?"
Biting down hard on the hand over his mouth, Matt managed to kick his way away from John and get to his feet. "What am I doing here? What are you doing here? With him?"
Shane cleared his throat uncomfortably, shoving his hands into his pockets. "We wanted to tell you, Matt, but you seemed kind of high-strung and..." He trailed off, seeming to notice John for the first time. "And distracted with your own life. Is this your new...?"
Matt started to answer, but the fury in Jeff's eyes stopped him cold.
"Yeah, I guess," John hazarded, glancing at Matt. "We just hadn't gotten around to saying anything yet, but--"
"You're dating John Cena?!" Jeff bellowed.
Shit, shit, shit. Matt ground his teeth, fighting back his own anger. "That's not any of your business."
"But what I do with Shane is your business?"
"I'm not the one skipping out on work to meet with my boyfriend!" Matt snapped. "We're not sneaking around all suspiciously in the middle of an investigation!"
The color drained from Jeff's face. "You think I had something to do with Vince and Linda disappearing."
"No. I never said that--"
Jeff looked at John and another piece clicked into place. "You asked Cena to check up on where I was."
"Dude," John protested. "I'm sorry about that, but don't blame Matt. That was my idea. You gotta admit, it looked kind of shady. And now with you shacking up with Shane, that's a pretty damn good motive."
Shane's eyes widened and he stepped towards John, but Jeff stopped him with an outstretched hand. "Fuck both of you," Jeff spat, ice frosting the edges of his words. Matt watched wordlessly as Jeff and Shane climbed into Jeff's car and took off.
"Well," John sighed, rubbing the top of his head and glancing at Matt. "That could've gone better."
John's over-developed sense of responsibilty, while definitely endearing, made scheduling serious conversations difficult. After the fight with Jeff and Shane, John had driven Matt back to his hotel in silence. As he stopped the car, he finally spoke. "Look, man, I'm really sorry."
"It wasn't your fault," Matt responded tonelessly, too exhausted by the argument to put much effort into reassuring John.
"No, I shouldn't have accused him like that. I could've...look, I know we need to talk about this, but I really feel like I should show up for at least part of the signing. Is there anyway I could get a rain check?"
"Yeah, no problem. I just want to lie down right now anyway," Matt answered truthfully.
"Cool. I'll call you when I get back, OK?"
"Yeah." Matt made his way back up the stairs to his room by sheer muscle memory and immediately fell into bed, kicking off his shoes just before drifting off.
When the knock on his door woke him hours later, Matt wasn't sure whether to hope it was John or be worried that it was Jeff. Or maybe it was the other way around, he debated as he stumbled towards the door. Either way, he definitely wasn't expecting the man he found.
"Hey." Shawn Michaels' bloodshot eyes flickered up to Matt's before dropping back to the floor. "I didn't mean to bother you. Are you busy right now?"
"No, what's up?"
Shawn paused, looking down the hallway before answering. "Nothing. I could just really use somebody to talk to."
The idea of blowing him off and going back to bed was rather appealing, but the hesitation in Shawn's voice dissuaded Matt. "Yeah, absolutely, come on in," he invited, pulling the door open wider.
Shawn entered the room gratefully, seating himself on the chair in the corner and leaving Matt the bed. A few moments passed quietly before Matt cleared his throat. "So what's up?"
"I...um...I know we're not exactly close," Shawn started, tucking a strand of hair behind his ear nervously. "But I've always thought you seemed like a good guy. Like somebody who values honesty. And I don't really have many friends like that because, well, people like that tend not to like me."
Shawn half-smirked at that, but Matt simply nodded, and Shawn breathed deeply and continued. "If I don't tell you now, I'm sure you'll hear about it soon enough. Hunter and I got into a kind of a fight at the end of the autograph signing today. It was over something stupid, and I don't really remember, but by the end, he just got so angry...I know it sounds dumb because everybody probably thinks Hunter yells all the time, but he's never been like this before. And, um..." Tears welled up in Shawn's eyes at the memory, and Matt scooted forward on the edge of the bed, getting close enough to rest a hand on Shawn's knee. "He, uh, he got kind of violent and I said a bunch of things I wish I hadn't said and he...anyway, long story short, we broke up."
"Jesus, Shawn," Matt whispered sympathetically. "You two had been going out forever."
"I know. I can't--" The rest of Shawn's sentence dissolved into tears, and Matt moved forward again, sliding off the bed and wrapping Shawn in a tight hug. He could feel Shawn's breath hitch as he sobbed, and held on until Shawn gently pushed him backwards, shaking his head.
"God, I just feel so dumb. I mean, I kind of knew, you know, but I didn't want to believe it and I didn't think that he'd be like that, but then when I saw it--"
"Wait. Saw what? What didn't you want to believe?"
Shawn sucked in another deep breath to compose himself. "Sorry. I didn't come here for the sympathy, I just wanted to tell you because it seemed important for you to know what happened to Vince and Linda."
Matt froze. "You mean you think Hunter--"
"He told me about it, I just didn't believe it. I should've told you to begin with."
"Where are they? Are they OK?"
Shawn shrugged helplessly. "I don't know where they are. But Matt, they're...they're not coming back. He got rid of them."
Sinking down onto the floor, Matt tried to process that idea before giving up and latching onto a plan of action. "Shawn, we have to tell the police."
"I thought you'd say that," Shawn admitted, cringing. "Matt, I really can't. He'll kill me. He--"
"He's not going to touch you ever again," Matt promised. "The cops have dealt with this before, and they'll know what to do. Shawn, if you keep this to yourself, you're going to get tried as an accessory."
"I know that, I just...it's too hard. I love him, and I don't want to turn him in."
"And I respect that, but you know this is the right thing to do, right?"
"Right," Shawn agreed quietly, wiping his eyes before speaking louder. "You're right. Just...could you come with me? I really don't want to go alone."
"We can go right now," Matt assured him, reaching for his wallet to search for the card Detective Evans had given him.
"I," Matt announced a month later, twisting the cap off his next beer, "am the stupidest man on the planet."
"Oh, come on," Jeff slurred. "'m sure there's one or two dumber than you."
"Yeah, like Hunter," Shane cracked, nuzzling against the side of Jeff's neck.
John leaned forward suddenly, lying down on his stomach on the hotel room carpet, propping his chin up with both hands. "And probably me, because I'm still not getting it. So explain to me why they couldn't press charges again?"
"Because Shawn's a fucking genius," Matt summarized. "He gave me that sob story about Hunter, got me to take him to Detective Evans, and between the two of us we convinced him to cut Shawn a deal. Total immunity for him in exchange for testimony."
Jeff took up the explanation while Matt took another drink. "So when Shawn got on the stand and just admitted that he did it himself, they couldn't charge him with it. And Hunter got off because they already had Shawn's confession."
"I hear they're back together now," John announced, to no one's surprise. "How fucked up is that?"
Matt shrugged. "I wouldn't be surprised if they were in it together from the beginning."
"They weren't. This was all Shawn's idea," Shane said, reaching for another beer himself.
"How'd you know that, baby?" Jeff asked, tilting his head back to peer at Shane. "And how come you're acting so easy-going about what happened to your parents, anyway?"
Shane took a deep swig, then stared hard at each of the wrestlers in turn. "You want the whole truth, you can have it. But this doesn't leave the room. Everybody understand?"
Three pairs of eyes stared expectantly at Shane.
"The thing is, my dad's a little crazy. And this is his idea of a retirement. He wanted to leave wrestling, so he wrote this storyline where he and Mom disappear and me and Steph take over and bring in the new era of wrestling. And when we decided who we wanted to lead it, we would make people think that he was the one who killed off my parents, because that's mega-heat. We could feud over that for years."
"Wait," Matt protested. "Like, wrestling-feud? With the guy who killed your parents?"
"Yeah." Shane shrugged. "We hadn't worked out all the details about why he wouldn't go to jail, but we wanted everybody to believe it. Like, seriously believe it. It could've been an awesome angle. But Steph wanted to give it to Hunter, and I didn't, and while we were fighting about it, Shawn up and decided to go into business for himself. So now we're kind of stuck giving him this huge heel push, or the whole angle's shot."
"Wow." John mulled that over. "So where's Vince?"
"Bermuda, last I heard. I called him after the trial, but he just laughed about it and said to give Shawn the push. If he doesn't get the limelight now, he'll just find some other way to get it."
Jeff stretched backwards, rubbing the base of his spine and yawning as he commented, "Baby, I don't think I've ever said this, but your family make me look normal."
"Just wait till you hear some of the really juicy stuff," Shane laughed.
Matt groaned as John's eyebrows shot up. "Don't even think about it, Johnny. Matt Hardy, Private Dick, is officially off the case."
"That's OK, Matt," Jeff commented. "You'll always be a dick to me."