Chapter Seven - The Russian Gambit
“Oh, this is cool,” Trevor said with a wide grin. He looked at Michael with the augmented reality goggles. A red mark glowed in his vision, floating over Michael's ankle.
“What's the effective range on these?”
“A hundred yards optimum,” Lester said. “Hundred-fifty theoretical – you know if there's not any walls or bad weather in the way.”
“Alright,” Michael said. “The mic work?” Lester nodded. “So we're just waiting on Franklin.”
“Yeah. We're meeting him downtown, off San Andreas and Alta.”
Trevor picked up the bag with the M249 in, hefting it over his back with a groan. “This sonofabitch is heavy.”
“I guess that's why they call it a heavy machinegun...?” Lester chuckled at his own joke as Michael and Trevor exchanged disapproving grimaces. Lester regained his composure. “Right then, time to move, gentlemen.”
Franklin had chosen an Exemplar, which he had gotten armoured. He'd dressed in chinos and a combat jacket, with driving gloves. He waited in the subterranean parking lot for Michael and Trevor to arrive.
“Frank,” Michael said, extending his hand as he approached.
“You ready for this, man?”
Michael nodded hesitantly. “I've been in worse situations.”
“Are you prepared for them to pat you down?”
Again, Michael nodded. “I've got a small revolver hidden on me.”
“How's it feel?” Franklin asked with a mocking and knowing smile.
“Uncomfortable,” Michael said with a scowl “What you think?”
“Alright, kids,” Trevor said. “Let's go.”
“Man, I do not like this,” Franklin said from behind the wheel, guiding the car out onto Alta Street. “Walking into the lion's den... It's stupid, dawg. These cats don't sound like they play by the rules.”
“Yeah,” Michael said. “But then, we've got an ace up our sleeve.”
“We sure do,” Trevor said with a smirk from the back seat.
“What do we do if they don't go for it?”
“Oh, they will,” Trevor sang. “Who would say no to the money?”
“Right,” Franklin said, pulling over a block from the bar downtown. Traffic had been light, and even the traffic lights were on their side. He looked back at Trevor, hoping the easy journey was a good sign. “This is you.”
Trevor grinned but it was hollow. His face dropped and he stepped out of the car. Franklin waited for him to retrieve the bag from the trunk and watched him walk off.
“You ready, Michael?” Franklin asked, driving off.
Michael nodded. “It'll be fine. They're businessmen.”
“You say so, dawg. I'll be waiting.”
“Good,” Michael said, looking out of the window as Franklin drove round the corner. Within moments he had pulled over, and Michael stepped out. Franklin watched as he stumbled the first few steps.
Michael walked through the door, his eyes sweeping from left to right. Two tall, dark haired men greeted him, their black suits well-fitting. He bit his lip and took a deep breath.
“Can we help you?” one of the men asked with a thick Russian accent. His voice was as challenging as his physique was intimidating.
“I'm here to see Victor.”
“Victor...?” The man looked as though he didn't know who Victor was; a good act, but Michael wasn't accepting it. He lifted the briefcase in his left hand.
“I have a proposition for him.”
The Russian spoke to his partner in his mother tongue and the second approached Michael, proceeding to frisk him without delay.
After the search, the two Russians exchanged a few short words and the first spoke into his radio mic.
“It's regarding a man called Alex,” Michael said boldly. The man relayed the message and nodded at the reply.
“Send him through.”
Michael did his best to walk straight, despite the nervousness he felt so abundantly. He climbed the steps that Lester said were there, leading from the entrance hallway to an upper landing. He passed two more Russians, who watched him approach. He met their gaze as he passed, almost holding his breath to make himself appear more steady.
The landing led to a large set of double doors, which a man opened for him, ushering him like a polite maître d' – Michael didn't know what the Russians called them.
The bar was dimly lit, like any stylish or expensive establishment seemed to have these days. From the many times Amanda or Tracy had dragged him around the malls, he'd realized the darker the establishment, the steeper its prices. The floor was marbled, and the furniture was ornate, the tables glass-topped. Neon lights added multicolored glows from around the walls, more noticeably the bar, which was incredibly well stocked. The bar was populated by at least half a dozen men, most seated.
Victor was exactly what Michael expected. He was a stout man with black hair, and a thick mustache. He wore an expensive suit which fitted as well a suit could fit a man of such body shape and size. The shirt was open, revealing a virile forest of chest hair.
Michael presented the briefcase and was quickly relieved of it.
“What is this?” Victor asked.
“Compensation. And a peace offering.”
“Peace offering...? What has this to do with Alexei?”
“A deal went wrong recently. I'm acting on behalf of the party involved. They wish to remain friendly and do business in future, so here is all the money he can spare.”
Victor smiled greedily. He waved for one of his men to open the case. The man looked at Michael.
“What's the code?”
“Two nine zero eight.”
The case's latches snapped open. The man looked inside then showed Victor, who nodded.
“How much is there?”
“Two hundred thousand.”
“Two hundred thousand?” Victor looked at his subordinate. “Count it.” Then he turned to Michael. “What is your proposition?”
“You currently have a bounty on one of the parties involved.”
“Cut the fancy speak,” Victor said. “We both know his name: Trevor Phillips.”
“Alright. Basically, my proposition is this: call off the price on his head. There will be additional payments, also. He has agreed to respect all your your endeavors and keep his distance.”
Victor stood. He walked across the room to a bar, where a barman had almost telepathically poured two vodkas. Victor picked both up and handed one to Michael. Michael sat, holding it.
“Drink,” Victor said, sipping at his. Michael thought about declining, but didn't want to offend this man any more. He took a polite sip. Victor smiled. “We have to wait for the money to be counted.”
Across the street, laying prone on a rooftop with the M249 resting on a bipod in front of him, Trevor watched the building. Along with a balaclava and tan-camo pants, military pullover and tactical gloves, he wore a pair of Eyefind glasses, overlaid with the GPS signal from Michael's tracker. Just as it had when they'd tested the devices, a red dot appeared in his vision, showing where Michael was; across the street on the second floor behind a line of blacked out windows. The conversation was transmitted to Trevor and Franklin's headsets.
“Things sound calm enough,” Trevor said.
“Yeah,” Franklin replied, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. A balaclava sat rolled up on the top of his head. “Let's hope it's that simple.”
“Sometimes things do go our way you know, Franklin.”
“Yeah... But the way I've seen it, something always gets f*cked up. The fact we're in this situation goes to show that.”
“It was all a misunderstanding.”
“Isn't it always?”
“Yeah...”A moment passed.
“T, you still have Michael's beacon?”
“It's too quiet.”
“They're counting the cash.”
“You don't think they've found the beacon?”
“In his shoe? I doubt they're going to pull apart his clothing.”
Inside, the man had finished counting.
“He speaks the truth,” the Russian goon said.
Victor placed his now empty glass on a glass dining table. “Excellent. Now, Mister...?”
“Mister will do,” Michael said, feeling his nerves in his throat.
Victor smiled. “This American has balls. Okay, Mister balls. We'll accept your money.” As he said that the man with the money left the room.
“So we're square?”
“Square? No, we're not. Your client – I suppose is the correct word – killed a lot of my men. There will be no calling off of the bounty on mister Phillips's head. He will die.”
“How about more money?” Michael blurted out. Victor smiled, and Michael knew why: he had panicked and the Russian knew his guest was worried.
“The twenty thousand will do, but the price will not be removed. You do not kill my men. Twice, might I remind you. Such an act is unforgivable.”
Michael sighed. He turned his head and looked at the door. Victor chuckled.
“You will not be leaving,” he said, standing and walking toward another door.
“sh*t,” Michael breathed. “T?”
“I've got you,” Trevor replied, although Michael couldn't hear him. He aimed his M249, deliberately keeping his sites away from the red dot on his vision. He pulled the trigger.
The first few shots struck the glass but didn't penetrate. All of the Russians turned their heads, just as the glass began to crack under the proceeding impacts. Michael was moving, his hand reaching down into his underpants, and to the small revolver he'd crudely hidden.
The glass fractured and bullets began to tear through. The Russians strafed for cover and drew their own guns. Most aimed for the window, but Michael noticed a few had their eyes on him. He took aim and fired.
The glass finally gave in. Large chunks fell, as bright sunlight flooded the room. The Russians flinched but began to shoot back. Michael took down another man and dove for the MP5.
With the window collapsed, Trevor could see the gun-flashes. For a brief moment, the red blip in his vision matched up with a figure moving around in the building. The gun-flashes helped him aim at the targets. He glanced to his side, checking the belt of bullets. He was halfway out.
“Better get out of there, Michael...” He saw the red blip change direction and move away from the shooting.
Michael had turned to the doors he'd entered through. He kicked them open, firing reflexively at the men behind it. He turned and moved down the hallway, his gun leading the way. Another pair of gunmen appeared, and Michael spun into cover. He checked his weapon and blind-fired toward the men.
Franklin pulled down the balaclava and guided the car toward the entrance of the Russian bar. He looked up toward Trevor's position, then at the bar. He reached under his seat, pulling out his pistol.
“Come on, Michael,” he whispered.
Michael sprayed his gun wildly toward the two men and stepped out from cover. He took a more focused aim and drilled a three-round burst into the first of the two men. He maintained his movement and adjusted his aim toward the second man. He squeezed the trigger again, slightly more urgently, firing five shots. The second man also fell.
He moved through the doors and looked down the stairs. The two Russians that had greeted him were there, their guns pointing up. Michael pulled hard on the trigger as he darted to cover. The men back-pedaled, probably realizing that they had no cover.
Franklin watched as the doors opened. Two well-suited men stepped out. One was walking backward, firing a submachine gun at what looked like stairs. The other actually watched where he was going, and saw Franklin.
Franklin brought his pistol up and took aim at the Russian. He fired once, hitting him in the chest. The man stumbled, dropping his gun. The second man saw this and turned.
Michael saw the man fall and the second turn. He leaped out of cover and took aim, running down the stairs.
Franklin fired, a little too quickly, and missed. But the man fell. He saw the clouds of red appear on his arm and side, and he fell away from the building. Franklin took aim and fired a single shot into the man's head.
“We're gone, T!” Franklin rapped, seeing Michael run out of the building.
“Just as well; I'm almost out!” Trevor stood, grabbed the gun and bag and ran, keeping his head down. There was nothing he could do about the spent shells, but they'd not offer the police much of a lead.
Michael scrambled, almost diving into the back of the car, laying on the seats and aiming his gun at the building.
“Go!” he barked, turning his head toward Franklin. Franklin stood on the pedal.
Trevor ran down the stairwell, holding the gun, bi-pod still attached. The satchel that it was in flapped against his legs, hitting his back and upper leg as he ran. He reached the bottom and kicked open the door, aiming the gun out into the street. Light filled his vision just as an engine roared. He brought the gun up to aim at the car, but the driver honked the horn and pulled up.
As soon as Trevor was in the car, Franklin sped off. He'd gotten two blocks, with both passengers looking back. Both expected the Russians to follow, but Trevor sighed.
“I think we lost–” Trevor's words were interrupted by a shot shattering the passenger side window. A black SUV appeared, with men shooting out of it.
“sh*t!” Franklin shouted, pushing harder on the throttle. “Guys?”
Both Trevor and Michael leaned out of the car and began shooting. Trevor had dropped the heavy machinegun on the floor of the car and pulled out an Uzi. He sprayed bullets all over the hood and windscreen of the SUV whereas Michael was barely firing at all.
“Mikey!” Trevor shouted. “You feel like shooting any time soon?”
“Shut up!” Michael shouted back, his eyes locked on the SUV's front tire. “Turn right, Frank!”
Without a word, Franklin took the next right and the SUV turned to follow. Michael tracked the vehicle. He fired three bursts, seeing the second group of shots burst the SUV's front tire. The SUV, mid-turn, and suddenly losing the front left wheel, flipped. For a second it was in midair, bodies bouncing around inside. Then it hit the ground, metal squealing against the road surface and glass shattered. The SUV rolled a couple of times before sliding to a stop against a lamppost. There were no more vehicles following.
They'd gone another three blocks when Franklin looked back at his two passengers.
“So they didn't go for it.”
“No,” Michael said, frowning at why Franklin was questioning it; he'd heard it all! “Looks like it's Trevor's plan.”
“sh*t, Mike, take them all on?”
“Yeah. They've seen me, now. They'll probably know who I am soon enough.”
“sh*t, dawg. Maybe they won't. I mean, you look like any other dude in the street. Trevor's their target, they'll assume you were just a hired lawyer.”
“You don't think they'll come after me then?”
Trevor coughed. “After shooting up their club, they'll want to know who you are.”
“Did they have CCTV?” Franklin asked.
“Most likely,” Trevor replied. “Though I doubt they'll be going to the cops. But saying that, they'll have their own ways of tracking people down. Then again, Michael, you're a dead man. You don't exist, so there isn't a file for them to find. sh*t, you might just be lucky, here.”
“Alright, alright. I'm going to assume I'm not. Let's assume they're after me too. I gotta be careful. I think we need a safe house to set things up from.”
“Not a bad idea, man,” Franklin said. “But right now, we gotta get off the street. We're three men, with guns, two with balaclavas, in a shot-up car, that they'll be looking for.”
“Alright,” Michael said. “Head for the flood control. Swing via the car park near the hospital, I'll get a ride. We need to torch this car.”
Trevor leaned over and picked up the M249, stuffing it in the satchel. “What will we do with this? Even in a burned out car they'll find this.” Franklin took a turn slightly too hard, still driving fast. “Jesus, take it easy, Frank!”
“Yeah, Trevor,” Michael said. “We'll take it out to sea and drop it. It's heavy enough that it'll sink.”
“Throw some bricks in it anyway,” Franklin said. “Just to be sure.”
“We'll ditch these guns, too,” Michael said. “That's what they do in the books and movies.”
“This isn't a f*cking movie, Michael!” Trevor yelled.
“sh*t, T,” Franklin said. “Michael's right. Lets get rid of everything that connects us to this. Burn our clothes, too.”
“Do it out of the city,” Michael said as Franklin pulled over on Crusade Street. Michael opened the door. “Right, see you in a minute.”
Franklin drove down into the flood control and drove up the branch that led toward the freeway intersection. He parked on the slanted wall slightly, so the car was angled. He phoned Michael to let him know where he was.
“Nice spot,” Trevor said, stepping out of the car, instantly hit by how, in such a loud and bustling city, quiet it was.. He slung the M249 in its satchel over his shoulder as Franklin walked round to the gas tank cap, prying it open.
“Give me a hand here,” he said, walking to the other side of the car and leaning on it. Trevor did the same, taking a second to realize Franklin's plan. They tipped the car on its side, hearing gas trickle out of the tank. With a final heave, they managed to topple the car so it was on its side. Franklin waved Trevor off to a safe distance.
Franklin took aim with his pistol and fired one shot at the puddle of gasoline spreading across the floor. The fuel ignited and flames quickly spread up the stream that rushed out of the tank. Franklin jogged away just as the tank exploded. The car flipped and landed on its roof, engulfed in flames.
“Right,” Franklin said, pointing. “Michael's waiting up here. Let's go.”
They ripped their balaclavas off as they saw Michael through the car's window. They jumped in.
“Head out of the city,” Trevor said.
“I think Sandy Shores is probably out, T,” Michael said.
“Paleto bay, then,” Franklin said. “I'll get us some clothes, Michael, you get a motel room. We'll get rid of the gun tomorrow, then give it a day before coming back and deciding what our next move is.”
“Good thinking, Frank,” Michael said.
The drive to Paleto bay was long, and they barely spoke. They'd stopped off in Grapeseed, where Franklin had bought the clothes. They stopped at the Procopio truck stop, where they changed their clothes in the restrooms, transferring their tainted apparel into the carrier bag Franklin had picked up in Grapeseed. Then they walked down to the beach and away from prying eyes. They built a little campfire and set about burning the clothes – which took longer than they thought. Trevor disappeared partway through, coming back with a sixpack of Pißwasser.
“Now's not the time to–” Michael paused in scolding Trevor and sighed. “f*ck it, give me one.”
Trevor tossed Michael a beer and handed one to Franklin too.
“You know,” Trevor said, “If it wasn't for the fact that we just had a shootout with the Russians who want to kill me, this would be quite nice.” He waved the bottle of beer out to represent their campsite.
“sh*t, man,” Franklin chuckled. “Talk about looking on the bright side.” He turned to Michael. “Mike?”
“What?” He shook his head as though lost in thought. “Sorry, what were you saying?”
“Man, quit the daydreaming.”
“Sorry. I'm just thinking whether we've actually got a chance here or whether it'd be better to just leave town.”
“Run away? That's always your answer,” Trevor said.
“f*ck sake, Trevor. We have the Russians after you, possibly after me, too, now. You think you can just shoot a few of them and they'll give up? I don't.”
“Well it worked for Merryweather.”
“Yeah, partly because their license to operate in the states was revoked, so most of them were already out of the country at the time. We won't get that lucky with the Russians.”
“Well like we said before, cut off the head...”
Michael sighed. “I guess.”
“Well I think a safehouse is a good idea,” Franklin said. “But guys, so far they don't know me. It has to stay that way. The moment that's at risk, I'm done. I got other fires burning, I got a life, and I ain't throwing that away. I'll help but it's gotta be anonymous. You guys gotta understand that.”
“Don't worry, Franklin,” Trevor said. “We get you.”
“Yeah,” Michael agreed. “Fair enough.”
“Right, ladies,” Trevor said, hurling his bottle across the beach. “Shall we get going?”
Michael took the last leg of the journey, as Franklin had been doing most of the driving so far. They pulled in to the parking lot, and Michael jumped out.
“Franklin,” Trevor said while he was gone. “Let me ask you a question.”
“Do you still trust the old man?”
“sh*t, this again? After all we've been through, this shouldn't even be an issue.”
“You're right; it shouldn't. But you heard him. He's thinking of doing a runner.”
“Man, you're reading too much into it. He's just worried. I'm worried. So far the only protection I've got is that they don't know me. That has to stay that way. Michael doesn't want to get iced, and I can't say I blame him. He's not about to turn states. I'm not about to hang around and get made.”
“Leopards don't change their spots.”
“Yeah, and you're judging him on past mistakes that were what, ten years ago? You've never made mistakes?”
“No, Franklin. I am perfect.”
Trevor sighed. “Alright, even I have made a few mistakes.”
“And wouldn't you want to be forgiven for them?” Trevor nodded. “Man, you're cool, but sometimes you're too much, like you try too much to be this crazy-ass fool. No one thinks that's really you.”
“So you're telling me to what, calm down? Stop being me?”
“Nah, man. I know you, and you can be a cool cat –”
“A cool cat? I like that. A cool cat, like my homie Franklin.”
Franklin chuckled. “Yeah, man, sure.”
The door opened and Michael returned. “I got three rooms. I figured none of us fancy top-to-tail.”
Trevor shrugged. “Scared of a bit of intimacy, Mikey?” Trevor caught a glare from Franklin. “I'm joking, Jesus.”
Michael parked the car and the men checked out their rooms. It would be for one night, which turned out to be uneventful.
Michael was up at the crack of dawn. He dressed in the new clothes that Franklin had picked up – a pair of mustard chinos and a blue canvas shirt. He stepped outside, the sky turning blue but the ground was still clinging on to darkness. He decided to take a stroll down to the beach, to think to himself.
The waves whooshed and sighed, and each footstep was a soft, crunchy puff, the tide foaming just shy of his feet. Out to sea, nighttime hung in the air, the horizon barely distinguishable as the sea fading into the dark sky. The sun was rising, but did so shyly, hiding behind Mount Chilliad like a bashful child hiding behind a parent's leg. He thought of Amanda, Tracy and Jimmy. They'd had their share of problems, and arguments, and at times he had thought he resented them – heaven knows they'd said they'd hated him enough times. But he missed them. He needed to talk to Lester about what information was available on computer databases. His deal with Dave, to falsify his own death, had resulted in his digital existence being hollow at best. The police database, and any local resident database would not have him on it. His house would exist under a ghost identity. Maybe I am safe, he allowed himself to wonder.
And Franklin. He was at risk, because of Trevor and because he had met him at that restaurant. Should he have left him alone to his life?
But then, Franklin could have said no.
“You're thinking too much into things, old man,” he said to himself. Ahead on the beach he saw a couple jogging. He realized how much he'd neglected Amanda and their marriage. Perhaps he should have put more effort into that.
He sighed; that was over. He decided it was time to head back, wake the others up and get rid of the damned gun.
Unsurprisingly, Trevor and Franklin were still asleep. Franklin's annoyance at being woken faded in a matter of seconds. Trevor's lasted until breakfast.
They sat in a booth in a cafe and ordered pancakes, coffee, and orange juice.
“So,” Franklin said, digging deeply into his pancakes. “Any ideas for our next step?”
“Well another job is a no-brainer,” Trevor said. “If we need a safehouse, we need to pay for it.”
“Yeah,” Michael said. “Lester can get that set up, under a shell company or something. We'd need somewhere with good escape routes.”
“sh*t, like an underground tunnel?” Trevor said, smiling.
Franklin chuckled. “Yeah, that'd be great, homie, but a little over the top.”
Michael, having picked his coffee up, sipped it. It was bitter, and however it was made, it was cheap. “Thinking about that, like Franklin's done with the warehouse, perhaps somewhere in gang territory. If the Russians turn up shooting, then the local gang will light the area up.”
“Problem with that,” Franklin said, “is that the gang would make it hard to be anonymous. They'd be suspicious of a house with people in who are never seen. Gang territories are usually tightly-nit places; everyone knows everyone. A warehouse is slightly different.”
“Somewhere quiet, then?” Trevor said.
Michael dabbed his mouth with a paper napkin. “Downside with that is that it'd be easy for them to surround us.”
“Nah,” Franklin said. “I like your first idea, Michael, and I can think of a decent place. We'll get rid of the you-know-what, then we'll have a look. If not, we'll just stick to the warehouse. Pick up a few camp beds.”
"A regular Kumbaya dohickey?" Trevor asked. Franklin chuckled and nodded.
“Yeah, cool, Frank.”
The freeway was mostly quiet until they approached LoS Santos. Michael volunteered to get rid of the gun. They packed the bag with bricks, using gloves, having wiped the gun down. They used bungee chords to keep the gun and bricks together, before closing the bag again. Then they drove to the marina, where Michael rented a boat, and took it out to sea.
Michael stopped the boat and let it drift, Los Santos sitting on the horizon, looking like a model of a city, the sun beaming down on him and the waves lapping against the boat, rocking him like the arms of a mother with a newborn baby.
He looked around and saw only a couple of boats; dots on the horizon. He'd brought some powerful binoculars from up north – bird-watchers' ones – and looked at the distant boats. He could just make out the boat and the tiny figures on them. They all appeared to be leisurely enjoying the sun and sea; no one was looking at him.
Lastly, he checked for helicopters and saw none.
He lifted the bag and, with a grunt, pushed it over the side of the boat. It entered the water with a plop and floated for a couple of seconds until the air escaped from the bag. It sank quickly and he knew the water was deep here. He wasted no time before moving away from the location.
Franklin had picked up a Los Santos tourist map from a convenience store. He and Trevor had driven to Rancho, parking near the warehouse.
Inside, Franklin spread the map on the hood of the Felon. He'd gotten Lester to set up a security system that would light up Lester's computer system, should someone break in. Hidden CCTV would flag up any movement detected, which Lester would check remotely. No one would get close without them knowing it.
“I'm thinking,” Franklin said, “that we should maybe not keep doing heists in Los Santos. We need something quick, with a decent payout, but out of town.”
“What are you thinking, liquor store?” Trevor offered.
“Nah, that'd be too small.”
“Small town bank, then?”
“That's what I'm thinking.”
Trevor looked at the map. “Another bank.” He groaned. “Any suggestions?”
Franklin nodded, tapping his finger on a location on the map. “Right here.”
“That looks pretty good.”
“Michael meeting us here?”
“Well I'm going to go scout it.”
“You want company?”
Franklin shook his head. “Nah, bit of space will be cool.”
“Alright, homie.” Trevor flashed a high-beam smile. Franklin chuckled and held up his hand. Trevor did too, and they exchanged a slapped-handshake.
“I won't be long, man.”