One - Changing of the Guard
Rami didn’t like debriefings. They were a waste of time in his eyes. The job was done, why talk about it? Nothing could be changed. He rarely made mistakes worthy of reflection. The only review he agreed with was his own.
But that was how things were done weren’t they? Not just in the United States, but also out in Israel, or anywhere else. Ultimately, did it matter?
Niko was a worthy adversary. Although Rami had triumphed, he had not wanted to face up against the man at all.
Still, life was a series of events, expected or unexpected. You had to roll with some of them, and dodge the others.
And so it was that they had another job. Rami sat in his car – a silver Habanero with darkened windows – as he cruised through the Liberty City traffic. He remarked on that word, Job. Sure, this was his form of employment, but he didn’t like calling each individual assignment a job
. Rami didn’t work behind a counter. He didn’t like calling them missions either. Too military.
Assignments. That works, he decided.
And so he had another assignment. Soon he had pulled his vehicle in through the rolling door and into the secure underground car park. Minutes later he was in the office.
To a new face.
“There’s been an incident.” The man said matter-of-factly. “Your former employer was involved in an automobile accident. His Cavalcade was hit and fell off the elevated section of Union Drive. He was pronounced dead on arrival at Lancet Hospital.”
Rami nodded, as though hearing the weather forecast. He also noted the presence of two other men.
“As of now, I am your superior.” The man continued.
Again, Rami nodded.
“There is, however, one compilation. I do not believe that this was an accident.”
Rami raised an eyebrow. “How so?”
“Well firstly he was looking into some political corruption. Had he involved you two with that?”
Rami shook his head.
“I don’t know whether it got that far. Either way, here’s the flap: The Liberty City mayoral elections are approaching, as you’re probably well aware of. There are two running parties. I believe that your former employer was murdered to ensure a certain party comes in to office.”
“Makes sense.” Rami turned and looked at his partner. “Political corruption?” Rami asked.
His partner nodded. “That seems to be a major theme in this country.”
“Or indeed any country.”
Rami’s partner nodded. “Greed?”
“Alright that’ll do.” Their new boss said. “Let me give you some background. You both remember Julio Ochoa?”
“Yes. He had a hugely successful campaign to close all gun stores. Gun crime during his term was the lowest on record since the war.”
“That didn’t stop the sale of guns.” One of the two mystery men said.
Rami shrugged. “There will always be illicit supplies.”
“Exactly.” Their new employer said. “Things were good for Ochoa until the Kapowitz scandal.”
“Yeah.” Rami’s partner nods. “I know about that well.”
“Of course you do.” Rami poked.
“Indeed, gentlemen. Following that, Ochoa did not run for another term. This opened the doors to the current office’s predecessor. Now fast forward to today. As you know the current mayor had continued Ochoa’s gun policies. Only, they’re no longer working.”
Rami shared a look with his partner. “How so?”
“Where the gun shops were closed, other figures stepped in, selling guns illegally in alleyways, and out of car trunks.”
“That’s completely natural though.” Rami said. “The illicit firearms dealers have existed long before gun control policies were implemented.”
“True, but when you can no longer buy something legally, the demand and thus the supply goes up tenfold.”
Rami nodded. “Logical.”
“Which is a problem. To begin with Ochoa’s policies were working, but in the long term they’re simply not. Guns are no longer a rarity in this city.”
“So what’s this got to do with us?”
“My predecessor had run his operations to support Ochoa and his policies. In short to keep the streets supposedly gun free. However, as I said, it didn’t work. They were looking at it the wrong way. Instead of banning firearms, they should have simply regulated them. This is the key issue between both parties running for the mayor’s office.”
“So one wants to keep guns banned, the other wants to legalize them.”
“Yes, Rami.” The new boss said. “By legalizing guns we’ll drive out the organized crime element. No longer will old, often damaged guns be for sale. Every gun will be in a good condition. At the moment you could buy a gun in a dingy alleyway, but when you go to fire it, it may backfire, or fall apart. We’ve had incidents where such has happened, and people have died – other than the intended of course. Instead of the gun being a danger to one person or a method of defense, it’s endangered so many more.
“On top of that, the money made from the controlled sales of firearms can be injected back in to the city, and thus to schools and hospitals, police funding et cetera.”
“So you’re saying take the gun dealers out of the picture, steal their market and use the profits to support the city.”
“In a clench, yes.”
“And where do we fit in?”
“Like I said , I suspect that the current mayor’s office were aware of our existence, and made an attempt to eliminate us. The reason being, that they are in cahoots with the illicit gun smugglers and dealers, getting a tidy buck in the process. That puts us at war with...”
“...your own country.”
“Not quite that extreme.” The man told Rami’s partner. “We’re working on confirmation but if they had killed my predecessor, then this elevates this to an entirely new level.”
“So do we have an assignment?” Rami asked.
“Indeed you do. All four of you. Firstly we have to keep this contained. This does not leave this room. No one else may learn of any of this, is that understood?”
The man got four nods.
“Right. We are now operating black. Blacker than black. Invisible. Now a shipment of weapons has been secured and transported to places of our control. These weapons are to be used by us. They came from the middle east, and we’re using them so there’s no trace; guns bought from suppliers have model numbers on and can be tracked. These simply can’t, because of where they came from. Does that make sense gentlemen?” More nods. “The only problem is the unit that procured the weapons. They have decided that they wanted something else.”
Rami’s partner raised his eyebrow. “Blackmail?”
“Yes, blackmail. This is a sensitive situation because these are American citizens – American soldiers. Kind of like your special friend.” The man glanced at Rami’s partner. Rami knew full well what he was talking about. Rami’s partner nodded. “The blunt truth is that these so-called soldiers are threatening our operations. If they follow through on their threats of ‘exposing’ our operations – which, while not morally wrong, the public will disagree, mainly on the secret war subject – then we’ll be finished.”
The men nodded again.
“So to the meat. Two targets. One is the unit’s commander – likely the one who decided to blackmail us. He is on his way to meet someone in an effort to expose us. This cannot be allowed to happen.
“The second target is a soldier of the unit. A captain actually. I’ve managed to arrange a few other ‘incidents’ on some of the other soldiers but right now, these two targets are yours. There may be more afterward too.” The man picked up two manila folders and slid them across the desk.
“Firstly, to the Captain. He’s blessedly travelling through Liberty City. I want you two – ” The man nodded at the other two men, and Rami looked on “ – to intercept this man before he reaches the Alderney ferry terminal, where he’ll catch a ferry south. Make sure you eliminate him before
he disembarks from the ferry. The ferry is your last chance to eliminate him.”
“Won’t be a problem.” One of the men said in a gruff voice, snatching the envelope up.
“Good. Now you two.” The man turned to Rami, who had picked up the file and begun flicking through it. “This guy’s trying to be slippery. He’s on his way to Vice City to meet with his contact. Your flight is already booked, and a vehicle and weapons are ready for you down there. Get to the airport and locate the target. Follow him to whatever hotel he’s staying in. Once there,” The man bent down beside his desk and came back with a small case. “plant this tracking device on his car. You can track it through the modified sat-nav, which is in here as well.” He slid that across the table to Rami. “Find out who he’s meeting with, and eliminate them.
“Gentlemen, I don’t need to tell you the importance of doing this low key. No witnesses if possible. Quietly.” The men nodded. “And careful with the files. Memorize the details then destroy them. Do not let anyone even see the envelope. Keep them hidden and safe until their destruction.” The man sat back and stared out at the four men in front of him, each one skilled. He watched them for a moment as they looked through the files then coughed. “Alright gentlemen. Off you go.”
A few moments later Rami and his partner were outside.
“What do you make of that?” Niko asked.
Rami offered a single-shouldered shrug. “An assignment’s an assignment.”
Niko squirmed. “I’m not sure. It all seems a little thin to me.”
“Makes sense to me. It’s all about money. Whichever way you look at it, guns are being sold on to the streets. At the moment they’re coming in from overseas suppliers, stolen, bought – whatever – and smuggled in through the borders. That’s a lot of work and risk – the smuggling part in itself is a huge operation. We’ve both seen it and how it can go wrong. The level of danger is significant. Then the guns are sold through the local dealers for a high price.
“He’s right, if guns are legalized, the smuggling operations are drastically reduced. The money goes to the ‘right’ people.”
“The right people – you believe that?”
Rami shrugged. “We’re talking guns, Niko. Humans have a natural instinct to kill. Think about it, from the dawn of time, there’s been war. Ochoa was ignorant. You cannot stop the sale of guns. There will always be someone selling them.”
“But there’ll still be people selling them illegally.”
“True, but much less of them and the margin for profit will be smaller. It won’t be worth it; obtaining them, shipping them, smuggling them moving them under risk....” Rami shook his head. “It’s not worth it.”
Niko nodded. “I guess.”
“Niko.” Rami laid a hand on Niko’s shoulder. “You need to segregate. We’ve got some work ahead of us. You’re a good operator, but you have one flaw.”
“What’s that then?” Niko asked with a scowl.
“You’re too moralistic. Too concerned with right and wrong. Now I put that down to your experience in the Baltic, but still. You’re a skilled and dangerous gunman, but your conscience gets in your way. A killer with a conscience is a danger to himself and others around him, Niko. When the chips are down, I need to know that you can pull the trigger without asking whether you should. People will capitalize on it. Imagine a kid comes up to you, aiming a gun at you. Or your cousin. Could you shoot that kid?”
Niko stared with weary eyes.
“I don’t think you could. As a result of that you’d get shot, or your cousin would get shot. Because you can’t do it. I like you Niko, but I’m a...”
“...professional?” Niko asked, holding back what he wanted to say.
“You know I hate that word, but yeah. This assignment is the priority, not friendship. If you’re unable to operate objectively then... I cannot work with you.”
Niko bit his tongue. Rami was right, he knew, but he didn’t like hearing it. In fact he’d rather have a conscience and morals then be like Darko. Or Dimitri.
“Look Niko,” Rami continued, as if reading the Serbian’s mind. “I’m not a monster. I do have morals, I do have a conscience. But in this game, there is no room for such things. I leave that at home. Perhaps it’s my training; all my life I’ve been trained to do this kind of thing. You kind of had it thrust upon you. Listen, we’ve got...” Rami looked at the ticket he’d pulled out of the file. “Our flight’s in the morning. Go home and chill out or whatever. If you can not think so much about things, I’ll see you at the airport in the morning.”
“And if I can’t?”
“Then this isn’t for you. Go drive a cab or something. For what it’s worth, I do hope you’re there in the morning. I think we work well together.”
Niko nodded and the men shook hands. Rami walked to his silver Habanero and Niko to his Comet. He had an hour’s drive ahead of him – longer if there’s traffic – and he used that time to think.
Niko pulled his car onto the driveway, stopping it behind the minivan that sat in front of the garage. He'd spent the drive mentally reviewing the excersize, which Rami had 'won' with a cheeky sense of theatrics. The assignment was also on his mind. He stepped out of the car, shutting and locking it. He could hear the engine ticking as it cooled, or was that the body? He shook his head. Who cares?
He pushed the doorbell.
Instantly his spirits lifted when the door opened. It wasn’t just the sight, but the smell.
“Niko!” Roman sang, instantly embracing his cousin. “Come in cousin.” Niko followed Roman to the kitchen where Roman fetched Niko a bottle of beer – a tradition they’d developed whenever Niko came round. In the mornings it was a coffee, or tea, which Roman had started drinking on his honeymoon. To anyone else, Niko knew, the image would be strange. Having a child had changed his cousin. He still ran his cab company – relatively successfully too. Sure he didn’t have the money for a luxury penthouse, a Super Drop Diamond and a yacht, there was no mansion, or Barbara with big titties – though Mallorie had put on a couple of pounds since the pregnancy, he breasts appeared larger, but Niko caught himself from such observations. She was still attractive, and in good shape – another change that had been impressed unto Roman. He’d started exercising – not with Brucie, thankfully, but he jogged round the block most mornings, and visited the gym often. He was not a skinny man, but he looked healthier. Niko remarked on the irony in that. Now, when he no longer pursued wanton girls, but his appearance would probably allow him to pick up pretty much anyone. Niko smiled at that thought as his cousin handed him a beer.
“Mallorie’s not in.” Roman said and, for a second, Niko worried that Roman had trespassed on his thoughts. “She’s taken Kate to the park.”
Niko smiled at that, something he didn’t do much before the child’s birth. The name stirred up mixed emotions for Niko. Every single time her name was mentioned his thoughts were cast back to Kate McReary. He remembered her and some say that she’ll live on in memories. But Kate Bellic was a beautiful girl. Her face promised to grow with the grace and beauty of her mother’s and the eyes had the same playful nature that Roman once had.
“I still see Kate in her you know.” Niko said. Roman nodded. He knew the story.
“How is the rest of the family?”
“What’s left of it?” Niko shook his head, knowing that he was responsible for the Irish-American family falling apart. “Packie’s back in Ireland.”
“I thought he was in Thames City.”
“He was. He was working with some club owner, but there was a raid – something to do with drugs – and the guy had to split. So Packie went back to Ireland with him.”
“What made him leave Liberty?”
Niko frowned “Haven’t you asked me that before?”
“He left two years ago, Niko.” Roman laughed.
“I think it was his family. He’d had enough of Liberty City.” Niko shrugged. “Soon he’ll be fed up with Ireland and go to Vice City, or Los Santos or something.”
Again Roman nodded. “He’d been through a lot.”
“Hadn’t we all?”
They sat there for a minute before Roman offered Niko a late lunch. Niko laughed.
“What?” Roman scoffed with an open mouthed half-smile.
“Coming here’s like stepping into a different world.”
“Well this isn’t Liberty.” Roman had moved after his wedding to a small town north of Liberty. The houses were nice – colonial style – and the neighborhood was postcard-esque. In the summer the place looked sublime, with trees evenly lining the road, sitting on the flawless grass between the asphalt and the concrete sidewalk. Detached houses sat neatly set back from the road by lawns and driveways, with well kept gardens. Roman referred to the road as American Dream Street. The perfect image of American suburbia. Another irony hit Niko; only when Roman had stopped pursuing his dreams had they finally come true.
It was quiet too. There was no highway nearby, and the main thoroughfare wasn’t hugely busy. Very little traffic came down the street – only residents of the street or surrounding ones, or the odd driver taking a suburban shortcut, or perhaps getting lost.
Niko loved visiting Roman and family. His niece – not technically his niece, Niko knew – always cheered him up. He had managed, with Roman’s family’s help, to put the war behind him. Darko, Dimitri, while still remembered, were nothing more than a memory. Coming out here was a joy and it made him forget his troubles.
reminded him why he’d come.
“Do you enjoy what you do?” Niko asked.
“What? You mean my family?”
“No – your job. Running your cab company.” Roman’s cab company had grown. His headquarters was now an office in Algonquin, with the cars being run out of the back, onto a main road. He’d never contend with the yellow companies, but he had, rather smartly, marketed his cabs as “comfort cabs”. In fact, his business’s tagline was “Comfort Cabs – Ride in style.” He’d also been voted for – and just beaten to – a city award. Although Roman had not won the award, his cars wore the “nominated” badge with pride, one day, Niko was sure, to be replaced by the ‘best of liberty’ badge.
“Yes.” Roman said. “It may not be glamorous but it’s nice.” Roman no longer ran dispatch. He simply ran the company, and could afford tons of time off. He’d made it. “Why?”
“I’ve got a new assignment – as Rami calls it.”
Roman nodded. Part of him disliked his cousin’s choice of work. But another part took solace in the fact that Niko was working for the good guys.... well, working against the bad guys at least. While unorthodox, and probably illegal, Niko was doing good work; protecting the city. Roman did, however, want Niko to quit and join him in the good life.
“What’s this assignment about then?”
Niko laid it out to Roman, knowing that he shouldn’t be telling anyone and not caring about that rule.
Roman listened patiently and, once Niko had finished, with a ‘there you have it’, leaned back with a sip of beer.
“Well?” Niko asked.
Roman was quiet for a moment. His face told Niko he was thinking. “Niko. As a father, I want the best for my child. I want her to be safe. I don’t want guns on the streets. You’re right when you said that they’re sold anyway – you can buy a gun from a gun store or if they’re illegal, a dealer. I don’t know whether reopening the gun stores will work, but... “ Roman shrugged. “Kill the organized crime element? I can see that. I would rather there be none though – for the safety of Kate and Mallorie. I’ve been shot, Niko. Alright, I survived, but it wasn’t nice.” Roman shook his head. “But if they mayor’s corrupt, working with the gun smugglers.... I guess it’s the lesser of two evils.”
“So do you think I should go along with the job?”
“I would rather a way to rid the streets of guns completely, but yes, Niko. I think that perhaps you should. If the mayor’s deliberately flooding the street with illegal and potentially dangerous guns... He needs to go.”
Niko nodded. “Thanks cousin.”
Roman cocked his head, and then stood. “How about that lunch?”Click Here to read the next chapter - Target Zero.