Twenty/Zero: There's Always One - The Zotmeister
solving the puzzle of life one entry at a time
May. 7th, 2006
05:45 pm - Twenty/Zero: There's Always One
Mike Hartford was used to staring down multiple gun barrels by now. They were usually pointed at em before e even introduced emself, and today is no exception. E doesn't blame them, really, given their line of work - it's a survival instinct, and a necessary one for thieves. Mike, on the other hand, is unarmed, not to mention that e's intentionally suppressing about a dozen other survival instincts having walked into a warehouse full of thugs without so much as a toothpick for defense... at least, not on es person. E remains perfectly calm and simply starts talking es usual spiel:
"Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Mike Hartford, and I'm Sam Colbert's partner."
There were ten pistols aimed at Mike; after about three seconds, there are only four, accompanied by two looks of apprehension, three looks of defeat, and one "Aw, SHIT.".
"I see some of you have heard of us. I'm honored. But there is no cause for-"
"WHY HASN'T ANYONE SHO-"
"SHUT YOUR STUP-"
"Can we please keep the volume down?"
"Yes sir, Mr. Hartford. My apologies."
"Boss, what are you DOING!? Who IS this retard?"
"The reason I'd be willing to kill you if you don't shut up, that's who e is!"
"Now now, there's no need for any killing today. Sam certainly doesn't need the practice, and I certainly don't need the paperwork."
Only one gun is still pointing at Mike. There always seems to be one left. Mike isn't worried in the slightest about this; once there's only one left, that's when e knows e's perfectly safe. That's when e knows Sam only has one target.
"First of all, don't worry about your sentry - e's alive. The feds are having a chat with em. Secondly, don't worry about me - I'm unarmed. So with those out of the way, shall we get to business? I think you know why I'm here."
"Boss" knew there'd be heat. E knew somebody would care about those weird "high-energy power cells" e heisted; after all, buyers don't offer twenty-five grand each for AA's. Whatever these batteries operated had to be pretty impressive, and e had just opened a box of seventeen of them. This was es gang's ticket to the bigtime.
E knew there could be a fight. E felt it was worth it, even if e lost some men in the process - hey, fewer hirelings to pay, and with the money e could hire some useful heavies. But e never expected to be in Sam's sights. Not over this. E knows e's made. E knows that e's losing either es loot or es life any moment now. If only e had more time to think... but e knows e doesn't.
"I surrender. I suppose I should be honored - guess I made the bigtime after all, given I got your attention."
"That's... one way to think about it, I guess. Thanks."
"CAN it, Spencer."
"I said CAN IT!"
"What the fu-"
Boss grabs Spencer by the shirt collar and pulls es face right up next to es, marking the first time Mike isn't covered by a firearm. "Listen to me, you useless punk. I intend to-"
"'Useless'? Who do you think got you that box of supercells?"
"I intend to walk out of here alive, you hear me? I'll do the bloody time. I'll print license plates for a few years. You, on the other hand, are probably the first one Sam would shoot."
"E is.", Mike says colloquially.
Boss releases Spencer, who promptly looks back at Mike with a facial expression of complete lack of comprehension.
"You are.", Mike says equally colloquially.
It apparently didn't help.
Yep - there's always one. Mike adopts an instructional tone. "Sam is a sniper, and you're in es sights right now."
"A 'sniper'? That's the word you use to call the planet's deadliest mercenary?"
"I was trying to keep it simple."
Spencer takes a quick look around, but up at an angle. E doesn't find what e's looking for. Es ears come up empty as well. "Wait a minute. We're in a warehouse. The only windows are along the ceiling, and we're all in the center! I don't hear any planes or copters, so how could a sniper be on us?"
Crap, Mike thinks to emself, given e's been trying to wean emself off of "crude language". E was hoping Spencer is stupid through and through. No such luck - this guy is just smart enough to get emself in trouble. Just when it seemed like the day would be bloodless...
"Doesn't even matter, man. Ol' Rockhead was in es bloody fortress, surrounded by five dozen men, and Sam dropped em. With one shot."
"You're telling me you believe that fairy tale? That fogey was shot by one of es own men. Bastard had it coming, too. 'No one saw where the shot came from' my testicles."
Boss has to admit e thought the same thing emself from time to time, but e knows better - or at least, isn't willing to wager es life on it. "I'm telling you it's true. Sam's a damn magician or something. Shoots through walls, through other people, without leaving a scratch. No one's even SEEN Sam - no one knows what e looks like. E could be anybody, anywhere."
"I can't believe you buy into that! Any of you other assholes goin' for any of this?"
Fuck, Mike thinks to emself, having something far more compelling on es mind than weaning emself off of "crude language". The situation just went from stable to possible open war. For the first time today, Mike is scared.
"Think about it. This guy walks in here unarmed and expects us to just give em the box?"
Yes, please talk some sense into em...
"No man is that dumb, not even you."
Shit! An insult is the last thing you should say...
"E's bluffing, and you're gonna let em get away with it! You're ALL gonna let em get away with it! What kind of a boss are you, Trevor?"
If Mike Hartford and Boss Trevor had a contest to see who is more afraid right now, the judge would have a hard time deciding a winner. They both realize what's about to happen, and now there's nothing they can do about it except to try to correctly time when to duck.
"If there's really a sniper on us, then why aren't we all dead already? Why does that fool have to walk in here like e owns the place, much less with you kissing es arse like a damn dog? I'm the boss now. We're gonna split the profits of this job, guys - ALL the profits."
Three other thugs redraw, all aiming at their apparently former employer. One by one, five others follow suit.
"You've just killed us all."
Spencer laughs. "No, just two of us."
Mike lets out a small cough.
Spencer draws as e turns around to face Mike. "Em first."
The sound of a shot echoes through the warehouse.
Seconds later, Spencer's corpse collapses to the floor, quickly followed by Mike and Trevor hitting the deck. Mike knows the thugs will have seen where Sam fired from and more shots are due; Trevor knows it's killing time, and with es mutineers distracted, this is es only chance.
The other thugs shout the things thugs say, trying to communicate with each other, trying to pin down the shadow hiding in the back corner of the warehouse, but the bottom line is that one gunman with cover is more than a match for eight without, especially when that one is Sam Colbert. Within a quarter-minute, Sam fires eight more shots with eight more kills - it's all over.
The warehouse is quiet for a few moments. Mike looks up to witness the carnage. E risks lifting emself up to make a count: yes, nine bodies and ten guns. How wise of Trevor to discard es gun. E does get to live today.
Mike walks over to Trevor, who is still lying prone. "You can get up now. It's over."
Trevor takes some deep breaths after standing to try to calm emself. "E got all of them?"
"Every single one."
"Useless shits." E takes another breath. "I can't believe Sam was in the building the whole time. How'd e get IN here?"
"E snuck in during the heist. That's what happens with small-time outfits: they figure they have nothing worth defending when out on a job, so they never leave enough sentries. Sam's been there all night, waiting for me to show up. Shall we get back to business, then?"
"Wait - how'd you know about the heist? How'd you know when we'd do it?"
Mike smiles. "Because I'm the one who hired you to do it."
Trevor looks shocked at first, but it quickly gives way to admiration."Wow, you set me up damn good. I'm surprised I was worth the effort."
"What can I say, I needed a small-time outfit and yours fit the bill. Now I believe there's a box of special batteries you were planning to sell. I'm afraid I'll only be buying one."
"...Hunh? You're not working for the feds? You really did hire me?"
"It's complicated, and I get the feeling there'll be issues - for all three of us - if we don't get a move on here. I have twenty-five thousand-dollar bills here. It's legit and clean. That'll be one Lumicell, please."
"Um, okay. Sure. One 'Lumicell' it is. Say, what are these things for, anyway?"
"That's also complicated. I'm also afraid that the rest of them will need to be-"
Three knocks emanate from just outside the front door.
"Shit. Change in plans."
"Who is that?"
"That was Sam, and we've got to get out of here, now. Leave the box, and leave the outside door open." Mike starts to bolt.
"When did Sam leave? I didn't see-"
Mike stops only long enough to turn around and spit out "You value your life, so RUN!" before heading out the door at top speed.
Trevor doesn't understand what's going on, but e knows this much: when Mike Hartford tells em to RUN, e RUNS. E runs right out of es former headquarters as fast as es legs can manage, barely keeping up with Mike. There is a hill a short distance from the warehouse; Mike stops after reaching the top, then lays down, looking back at the warehouse. Trevor catches up, and not having a better idea of what to do with emself, lays down next to Mike.
"Check this out. It'll be cool. And hey, you'll be in the clear. No evidence. Least we could do, really."
"Elsewhere, but also staring back. Should be only another moment or so. E's probably waiting for the authorities to actually show up before firing. It'll generate less questions if they actually witness the explosion."
In the near distance, the sound of a siren starts to wail. Moments later there are police cars and black vans visible heading down the street to the warehouse. Just before they arrive, however, a bullet is fired from the rifle of Sam Colbert, striking the box of Lumicells. The entire warehouse suddenly detonates, a massive plume of flame shooting out of the open doorway. A seven-car fender-bender results.
"I suggest you sneak out of here, like, now. I'm certainly leaving now." Mike gets up and heads down the back of the hill; Trevor follows. Stopping just outside a wooded area not far from the bottom, Mike turns to Trevor: "I'm heading in - you head back to town. Don't try to follow me, and hey - best of luck. Pleasure doing business with you, and maybe we'll meet again some time if you keep yourself alive."
Trevor is not about to start arguing now. "I'll do my best. Hey, think maybe I could meet Sam some day?"
"Heh. There's always one." Mike vanishes into the wood without another word.