The Payne Continues
Part 1: The Escape
It started out just like any other day. Except for the undeniable fact that I was in jail. It was three weeks after the Aesir incident, and I was in a minimum-security prison. How's that for you? I guess this was where those five years on the force paid off; I didn't have to go to a penitentiary. Not to mention, of course, that I had taken out numerous mobs and gangsters when I went on that three-day vendetta after Alex was shot. I left only one mob. The Russian Mafia.
Boy, were the feds going to be sorry when that mob ruled the town. And as sure as they would, for Max Payne would be in the front of the fleet, gunning down those who had betrayed me. Goodbye, NYPD. Goodbye, DEA. The Payne was going to return. And return it would.
But, for now, that wasn't to be worried about. I would need help to get out. I knew that help would come, and I knew it would come in the form of a 25-year old man with a thick Russian accent. But I needed to prepare.
I sat in bed, reading a bad book that had curses in blue ink in the margins and too small a font. I was the only one in the cellblock. Everybody else was outside. The warden, a short man of about 30, came up to my cell and banged on the door with his stick.
"Come on, buddy. Time to go outside." I got up, though I didn't mean to go outside. I walked past the door of the cell, and before the warden could close it, I jabbed him in the throat with an outstretched hand. He gave a surprised little gurgle and keeled over. I smiled. I pulled the key out of his pocket, replaced it with my old house key (which they had stupidly let me keep) and walked back into my cell.
Downstairs, I could hear running. I patiently closed and relocked the door of my cell, and I walked over to the bed and sat on the key. I opened my book again and flipped to a random page.
A man ran in and inspected the body. "What the hell happened here?" he yelled at me, as if I had done something wrong.
"I don't know. He was walking by the door, and he told me to go outside. He suddenly started retching and complaining of a pain in his throat. Before I could say anything, he fell over. My cell door was locked the whole time. Is he okay?"
A short pulse check. "Nope. He's dead. Sorry for the inconvenience." He walked away.
"Quite all right." I went back to reading my book. My end of the deal was done. He would be autopsied and the truth would be found out in about a week, maybe two, but I would be long gone by then.
A different warden came up to the door and banged on it. "Visitor. Follow me to the visiting room."
We walked down a long hallway past a lot of cells. I had never been to the visiting room before. Down two flights of stairs, through a couple security doors, and we were there. My visitor was in the room already, shooting pool. I smiled when I saw who it was.
"Mike! What are you doing in a place like this?"
"Maxy boy, I couldn't leave you hanging without a lift!" He pulled out a fast food bag that appeared to be full to the brim with oil-rich food by-products. My favorite.
Mike Lincan was a character, all right. He had wild, long, bushy brown hair that stood out everywhere. I knew for a fact that he had not had a haircut for three years. He was heavily into reggae music and played his electric guitar on street corners for money. He was 20, but he was already richer than I was, for his guitar skills were unmatched. He had always been heavily against the government, and believed in communism and atheism and anarchy and fun bull like that. Oh, and he was Alex's son.
Mike didn't have a mother. Well, yes he did, but she died to the second after his birth. Despite his appearance, Mike was a good kid, who always wanted to follow in his father's footsteps. Alex had raised him better than anyone I ever knew could have. I got a letter the first day that I was in jail, saying that Mike had disappeared the night the news aired that his father had been shot.
I sat down at the table across from Mike. "Mike, where did you go? I heard everyone was out there looking for you."
"Yeah, I needed to get away and think. A car hit me and I pulled a muscle in the landing, though. I landed right in the middle of a bunch of Russian guys. They were about to shoot me, when I said, 'Guys! I know Vladimir!'"
I slouched. "Really? Nice thinking."
"Thanks. They believed me and took me to Vladimir. I told him I knew you and he laughed. He offered me a job. I took it. I was so taken aback. I'm living at his place, now. I turned myself in to the feds and told them I was staying with a friend. Nobody's on the lookout for me anymore."
I thought for a minute. I looked at the camera. I whispered to him, "Come on, look natural. The camera's watching us. We need to talk about getting me out of here. Just look natural and whisper."
He slouched, now, too. "Gotcha. Hey, want a cigarette?" I was about to protest, but he had already lit the match. I noticed he hadn't taken out a cigarette. "Mike, don't you have any -"
He cut me off with a wink. I looked at the match. He was holding it abnormally close to the upper corner of the paper food bag. I gasped. "Mike, you're going to burn -"
He winked again. I looked at the match. But then, an odd thing started to happen. The corner of the bag curled, but a brown name appeared on it. My name. I sucked a breath in through my teeth. Invisible ink.
Mike saw my expression and pulled out two cigarettes. I lit one, he lit one, and a look of understanding passed between us. I crumpled up the top of the paper bag. He tossed me a book of matches and winked again. I pocketed it.
Mike took upon his face a look of seriousness. "Maxy, you, um, you didn't really kill him, did you?"
I smiled halfheartedly. "What do you think?"
He smiled back. "Good. I knew you didn't, I just wanted to double-check. Thanks, Max. For avenging him, I mean. He was a good man, and I'm almost sorry to be working for the opposite side, even though he's dead."
I put a hand on his shoulder. "Mike, I was too. You get used to it. Vladimir's not one of the bad guys, though. He may be a mobster, but he has honor. He doesn't run around shooting people. Lupino, Gognitti, the Finito Brothers, Muerte, Punchinello, they were all idiots. They were jerks, and they suffered. I'm indebted to Vlad for helping me out with the guns, and it makes it a whole lot easier to work for him when I've got a friend next to me. What are you doing for him?"
"Oh, you know, the same stuff I did for Dad. I fiddle with his computer network, fix his guns, and the like. I take care of home base."
I smiled inwardly. From a very early age, Mike had always had a knack for fixing things. The DEA used to let him work his magic on their computers, but once he was sixteen, they allowed him to fix the guns that had been damaged in firefights and such. They had said he was the best they had ever had.
"Good. Good job for you. Don't worry about the killing. If you ever absolutely have to shoot somebody, do it. It'll hurt you more than him, and you'll spend the next week sick in bed. But Vladimir will understand, and even though you don't want it to, It'll get easier."
I saw some fear escape his face. "Thanks, Max." I looked behind him, where the security guard was tapping his watch.
"Mike, take care," I said aloud, and then whispering, "I'll see you in a while."
He smiled. "It's all on the bag. Good luck."
"Thanks." I walked out of the room. The guards patted me down once I got outside the room, and I swore under my breath as they took my matches. They peeked around haphazardly inside the food bag, and finding nothing but chicken nuggets, sent me back up to my room. I walked slowly, pondering how to decipher the message.
There was a lighter in the bag! I walked over to the door of my cell and looked through the bars. There was nobody around, save a sleeping guard down at the end of the hall. I threw a pencil at him. He didn't wake up. Heavy sleeper.
Three matches and fifteen minutes later, I had this message on the side of the bag:
Hang in there, buddy. We've all got a plan to help get you out of there. Here's the deal. Two nights after you get this message, there will be a black Mercedes waiting for you out behind the tennis courts. There will be a hole cut in the fence surrounding the courts. It is your job to find a way out of your cell and avoid any guards on the way down to the courts themselves. Good luck, Max. We're all waiting for your safe return. Yours etc. Vlad
Well. That was it then. All I had to do was wait the two nights and get out. They had given me time to find myself a way out of the cell, but I already had a key. I was ready whenever they were.
My plan was simple. As far as I knew, the car would be there all night, and as soon as he place became quiet enough, I'd grab my key, let myself out, head for the fence, and get out of this hell-hole scot-free. Simple enough. I had enough stealth training on the force, and if push came to shove, I'd knock out a guard and steal myself some clothes. Like I said, easy money.
They let us back into our cells after the exercise period was over. I whiled away the rest of the afternoon practicing my aim. I drew a target on a piece of paper and threw pencils at it from across the room. I hit the bulls-eye every time, despite the fact that I hadn't shot a gun in weeks. I walked across the floor of my cell hundreds of times, practicing my stealth. At about three, a guard walked by right in the middle of my practice and looked at me sideways. "Heh heh," I countered. "Just testing the floor for, uh, durability," I said lamely.
He smiled nicely and said, "Sure you are. Go ahead. I won't bother you." He walked away. Great. Now he thought I was nuts. Well, I was escaping from prison, so maybe he wasn't all wrong. Eight o' clock, nine o' clock, and ten o' clock came and gone, and still I didn't feel safe enough to creep out of my cell. I worried and paced, and heard a burly guy down the hall scream curses at something he had walked into. Stupid idiot. I looked at the clock. Ten forty-five. I grumbled and waited some more.
Finally, at eleven, something in my head just snapped. I suddenly didn't care if I had to shoot everyone in the place. I was leaving. Now.
I walked silently over to a brick in the wall and took it out. I felt around in the crevice and pulled out the brass key. I checked both ways down the hall. Nobody. I listened for footsteps. No sound except the softer swearing of the man in pain to my left came out from the hall. I smiled devilishly as I swiftly unlocked the door of my cell and glided out. I winced as I closed the door; the click of the lock was louder than I had expected. I looked around. The floor had suddenly become quieter, as if everyone was straining their hearing to the breaking point trying to listen. The silence was broken only by the occasional flush of a toilet and the tap of an impatient foot. I padded softly down the hall, peeking around every corner, until I got to the staircase. No problems yet, although I still had a floor to go and probably guards to get by. I held my breath and stole slowly down the staircase to the second floor.
This floor was going to be harder. I had to sneak past approximately five or so cells to get to the staircase that would give me the best access to the ground floor's tennis courts. I sniffed loudly and fell silent. Footsteps, from around the corner to my right, stopped quickly. I swore and jumped into a convenient shadowy crevice to my left. I ducked down, and peeked out. A security guard came around the bend carefully, peering into every corner. He neared the staircase, searching everywhere. Suddenly, a brilliant idea popped into my head. A way to kill two birds with one stone. Or, rather, two birds and one idiotic security guard. I poised myself silently, waiting.
The idiot security guard peeked over the railing that guarded people from falling down the rest of the staircase. This railing was about seven feet off the ground. He decided that there was nobody there, and slowly turned around to go back to his post. That's when I sprung. He probably heard me running up behind him, but I only had to go six feet, and he had no time to react. I caught him off-guard, grabbed the back of his neck, and hurled him over the railing. I knew he wouldn't scream if I had moved fast enough. He would be too scared to do anything except die. He hit the floor with a thump, and I listened. Nobody stirred. Success. I walked down the steps, and dragged the body back up. I took the clothes, gun, ammo, and nightstick, and stashed the body in the crevice. Not a good hiding place, but I would be long gone before anyone found it. Time to move on.
I peered down the next hall, and put on a front of a confident, scary security guard. Five cells to walk past. Easy. I walked past the first and second ones with nothing but a glance at my clothes. They didn't even lift a finger. I walked past the third one with equal ease. He stirred, but didn't question my costume. I walked up to the fourth cell and saw the one thing I really did not want to see right now. It was the guy I had hit this afternoon. He recognized my face and smiled. "Busted," he said with a smirk. He took a deep breath, and I made a split second decision. I knew he was going to scream something like, "JAILBREAK!" and wake up the block, but if I was getting caught, I was getting caught on my terms, dammit. I did the only thing I truly wanted to do. I whipped out the guard's pistol, twirled it once around my finger, bared my teeth, and put a bullet in his throat. He squeaked in surprise and fell over backwards. The gunshot echoed off the walls. I sighed and clicked the gun back into the holster. Somebody downstairs was sprinting up the steps I had just left, and I heard them discover the blood of the guard who had fallen. I sprinted toward my goal, knowing that I would be home free if I got to the court doors.
I took the steps two at a time, and arrived in front of the doors just as I saw a fat guard run around the corner in front of me, his gun raised. He fired off a shot. It whizzed past my ear. I swore.
Time suddenly slowed down. It always did when I was caught in a bad situation. I saw the muzzle of his gun explode, and I knew the bullet was coming toward me. I ran at the wall opposite the door, jumped as high as I could, and kicked off. I flew across the hallway into the doors, firing shots rapidly into the guard's gut. He flew backwards majestically, hitting the floor with a squelch and sliding a few feet. I had no time to look twice; time sped up again, and I was through the doors and on the ground. I scrambled up and sprinted for the nearest part of the fence. I ran wildly around, and finally found the hole hidden behind the bush. I dove through. I had some trouble, and they hadn't cut the hole well enough, and by the time I was through, two more security guards were watching me escape. One fired off a shot, and it whined off the fence next to me. I laughed hysterically as I left them behind to curse their slowness at reacting to alarms.
The black Mercedes was waiting for me across the street. I saw the back door of the car open at the same time as I saw six guards in a group pile out of the prison to watch me get away. They all seemed to raise their guns simultaneously; and things slowed down again. I was halfway across the street, dodging bullets, when I saw the front passenger's window of the car open wide. The muzzle of an assault rifle peeked out, and I saw Mike take aim. I smiled, turned around, and dove backward into the car, firing off shots in unison with him. By the time we were driving away, all but two of the guards had been disposed of. I laughed, and so did my friends.
"So?" Mike asked. "How'd it go?"
"I think they took it quite well," I said. "I said that I wanted to go, and they only gave me minimal resistance."
Vladimir was driving. "How many people, Maxy?"
I smiled. He knew me too well. "Two guards and a civilian. Hey, I could've done worse." He looked at me in the rear-view mirror. "I agree totally. Glad to have you back." Mike chorused a "Yes" in agreement. We all fell silent.
Outside, the harsh lights of the night swept the car in brilliance as we drove down the street. I peered out the window at the falling snow as it covered everything in sweet silence, not to be discovered until the morning. I closed my eyes, and the softened glare of the streetlights penetrated my eyelids just enough to give light to my thoughts. I was in the company of friends, and it was going to stay that way. I was tired, and I gently let the soft rumbling of the car lull me into sleep. Before I dozed off, one last thought escaped the inner recesses of my mind. Max Payne was back.
Part 2 - The Job
I woke up, my head spinning from the events of the night before. The room whirled in a mass of green and red for a few seconds, then slowly began to steady. I heard a voice, cool, confident, and, above all, relieved. "Maxy? Maxy, you all right?"
The room came into focus. I was lying down in Vladimir's hotel, and the room was incredibly well decorated. A large screen TV sat across the room from my double bed, and next to it, an opening in the wall led to a well-stocked kitchen and pantry, and then another opening into Mike's room. I was impressed. "Holy cow. Mike, is this where you've been living for the past few weeks?"
"Yeah. Pretty swank, no?" He smiled. "Want anything? I can get you something to eat if you like, or maybe a drink?" He was obviously worried at my appearance. I must have looked like I was going to puke. At least, that's how I felt. "No, I'm okay," I said, and then, as he got up to help me out of bed, "No, seriously. I swear I'm okay. Just let me grab a drink of water." He smiled and sat down, watching.
I pulled my legs over the side of the bed, and expecting the worst, eased myself over the edge, keeping my weight on my hands. I stood up and slowly shifted my weight onto my legs. Two things happened at once. One, my legs wobbled a little, and gave; and two, Mike dashed out of the chair to catch me and put me back onto the bed. He smiled again. "I tried to tell you. The second we got you back and diverted attention, we took you to Vladimir's physician. He found some sort of virus in your bloodstream. Something that would have killed you. We have no idea how you caught it, but you've had it for a while, and we had to give you shots. You'll feel wobbly for the next couple days, but you'll turn out fine."
I scowled at him as he went to sit back down in his chair. "Thanks for telling me after I almost broke my ankles." He grinned and went back to reading his magazine. I flipped on the TV and switched to the news.
The next day, I was able to walk around the hotel and see the other tenants. This hotel was a front for Vladimir's Mafia, and many of his most trusted officials were living on the higher floors, along with Mike and me. I met many of the men I had heard about only in children's stories and urban legends, and I was glad to hear that all of them were on our side.
Nobody from the outside world ever seemed to notice Vladimir's hotel. It didn't even have a name. Well, it's not that people didn't notice it; it was the biggest hotel in Manhattan. But nobody ever found it odd that nobody ever stayed there, and that the only people coming in and out were those with leather jackets and Russian accents, and occasionally vodka bottles. It all seemed perfectly normal to the men and women outside, rushing to work or home or dinner or wherever they happened to be going. The hotel became lost in the current of life, as millions of people passed it and gave no more than a second look. And if somebody strayed and tried to come in, the lobbywoman would smile politely, declare no vacancy, and give the sad person a few dollars for their trouble. Either way, we were undisturbed to use the hotel however we pleased.
On my fourth day in the hotel, Vladimir arrived back from a long gang meeting in Queens. We had sectors all over the city of New York, all working for Vladimir. This was our home base, but we had other places like this one, in case somebody got caught on hostile ground unprotected. I always found it funny that even though this mob ran the town, nobody knew. We could have raided the whole city, and there were so many of us, nobody could have done anything about it. We were an army. An unstoppable army.
Vladimir suddenly showed up in the doorway of my room. "Maxy, how are you? I heard about your ailment; I hope you're feeling better." He waited on the doorstep and smiled.
"Heh. Thanks, Vlad. Come on in," I smiled too, glad to see an old comrade in arms. "I feel much better. I get dizzy a little, but mostly I'm okay."
"Good, good. I have a proposition for you." He took a seat on the couch in the living room, and I sat down across from him. I pulled out a cigarette and offered him one. "No thanks," he said, smiling. "Those things kill you, you know."
I grinned. "Vlad, in my profession, I think the last thing I have to worry about killing me is cigarettes."
He smiled. "Yes, I think that may just be the case. Anyway, enough of what you Americans call this 'small talk.' Like I said, I have a proposition for you, if you know what I mean." I straightened up. He knew I was anxious to get back on my feet. "Good. At least you're eager. But I'm telling you, this is no ordinary assignment. This isn't the DEA anymore, Maxy. You will need to be alert and conscious of yourself the whole time. I am opposed to putting you on a tough mission the first time out for us, but, well, you're the best I have."
I nodded. "Okay."
He tossed me a folder. I opened it as he talked. "Three days ago, my good friend and comrade Arkady Gugichov was shot and mortally wounded in Queens." I looked at his picture. An old man smiled back at me from the black and white photo. He had a KGB marking on his hat. "Was he ex-KGB?" I asked.
"Yes. And he was an informant for my Queens sector. He was out for a walk in the park at about seven last Sunday. He was unguarded, but many of my men were in the park as well. A sniper got him from the top of a church steeple across the street. Arkady was wide open, and before anybody could figure out who had fired the shot, the sniper was gone. But, he left one thing. A torn piece of the back of his shirt." I pulled out the torn piece of the shirt. It had a logo on the back. "As of yet," Vlad continued, "we have been unable to discern where this shirt came from."
I dropped the shirt back into the folder and closed it. A wave of unbelievable uneasiness came over me as I dropped the folder back on the table. "Ragnarok," I said.
"What?" Vladimir cupped his hand around his ear.
I took a deep breath and began again. "Before you had me go on that hunt against Dime, I had set my sights on Jack Lupino. My trail led me to his nightclub, Ragnarok. This is where the shirt is from. It was on every one of those thugs I had to kill to get to Lupino. The place is a seething cesspool of sex, drugs, and violence." I rubbed my temples. I suddenly had a throbbing headache.
"Look, Maxy, if you don't want to go, I under-"
I got up and looked through the window. Outside, the night was blacker than death. "No, I'll go. I need to take care of that place once and for all. I'm going to go in, kill this guy and all his thugs, and then I'm going to set fire to the place. I need to get these dreams out of my head. When do I leave?"
He made a reassuring smile and patted my back. "Anytime, preferably sooner than later. I'm taking you myself. And Mike is going with you."
I whirled around from my place at the window. "No way. Never. I am not letting him go with me. He is too young to get involved with this sort of thing. Keep him here, where he will be more useful."
Vladimir frowned, and his tone was suddenly severe. "I know you are fond of the boy, Max, but he is older than you think." He saw further protest and stopped me. "Max. Listen to me. He has been trained, and he is the most proficient person with a gun I have seen, well, since you. He knows his way around any pistol or rifle I could throw at him. He is fast, strong, and intelligent. He will be the perfect partner for you." He still saw me angry. "Max, you know you cannot do this alone. You need help, and why not in the form of a friend?"
"Because I don't want him killed."
Vladimir walked to the door before replying. "Your actions and thoughts are wise and just, Max, but they are hidden by severe independence. I am sorry to pull rank, my friend, but I order you to take him with you. Remember. The man who asks not for help is the first one to die." I turned around, but he was gone, leaving me in a whirl of thoughts.
I went back to my room and looked out the window. Outside, the night had gotten blacker. A white film of snow was upon everything, and people rushed home to be with their families. I felt a twinge of loneliness, even as all those people rushed by, hundreds of feet below. I was never to know their world. I was nothing but a mobster now, not working for the good of the city any longer. I turned away from the window, disgusted at myself for becoming this soft. I flipped on the TV and fell asleep to CNN.
It was the next day. I sat in the front seat of Vlad's black Mercedes. My Beretta dug into my left side, my Desert Eagle into my right. Slung across my back, under my coat, was a sawed-off shotgun. I fidgeted as I looked back towards Mike, dressed in the same fashion as me. He looked excited, and I wondered if he had ever seen a dead body before.
Vladimir ran a red light and took the corner at sixty. My weight pushed against the door. We rounded the bend and Vladimir sped up to eighty-five. I didn't know if it was nervousness or Vlad's driving, but I felt somewhat sick. We pulled up outside the fences of the nightclub, which was closed until eight-thirty. I looked at my watch. It was five. Three and a half hours. That would be nowhere near enough time, especially with Mike behind me. Yet, maybe I was underestimating him. Maybe he would prove himself to be useful. He had been quite good covering me out of the jail...
"Max!" I snapped out of my thoughts. Mike was standing outside my door, holding it for me. "Oh, thanks," I said as I stepped out. I looked at the place. It was just like I remembered it. Old, ugly, and dirty, both in cleanliness and morality. I shuddered. Vlad walked with us up to the door. "Well," he said, "this is where I leave you. Good luck to both of you, and I guarantee there will be a celebration when you return." He smiled and got into his car, pulling away in an instant. A moment later, once his car had faded into the distance, all was quiet again. A chunk of snow fell from the roof of the building and landed next to me. I took a deep breath, turned toward the door, and kicked it directly above the lock.
The door flew open with a crack, but as soon as I regained balance, I lunged forward and barely caught the edge of the door, so it didn't bang into the wall. I silently stepped in, and Mike followed suit. I whispered to him, "From here on, be as silent as possible unless I tell you otherwise. Do as I do." He nodded. We sneaked up, past the empty security booths, and walked up to the door. I pulled out my shotgun and cocked it. Mike did the same, and just like that, we were ready to do one of the most daring things either of us had ever done. "Welcome to the ninth circle of Hell," I said to him as I grasped the door handle. I pulled it open, and a loud creak sounded throughout the building.
I had no time to react. Instantly, a shot rang out - not mine, not Mike's - and a bullet blasted through the plaster right next to me. It whizzed and hit the door we had kicked open. I dove through the door and turned to the left. A big, burly man with a black beard held an AK at me, about five feet away. I raised my gun, mid-dive, and fired it right into his belly. Time slowed down. I could see Mike diving through the door backward to give me cover, but it was unneeded. I looked, and the man I had just shot flew into the wall behind him. He slid down it, a smear of scarlet blood dripping from his gut. I looked away, and Mike stared, in horror. "Max!"
I grew angry, though I didn't know why. "Mike, stop it! I know it's not a nice thing to see, but this is what we are going to be doing, okay? This is what our lives will consist of for hopefully less than the next three and a half hours. Get it?"
He looked at me, dumbfounded. "No, Max, that's not what I meant. I meant that I wanted to shoot him. You always get all the fun."
Now it was my turn to be dumbfounded. "Um…okay. Well, good job then. You can get the next one if I miss." I walked up to the dead man and grabbed his ammo, chuckling in spite of myself. Looked like I had been underestimating him. We walked around the right-side security counter -oddly enough, although it was after-hours, there was nobody else there - and I hit the button beside the security sign. A secret panel in the door opened, and nostalgia filled me, accompanied by adrenaline. I was home. This is what I did. I smiled at Max, and we entered the hideout. It was time to kick some ass.
We worked our way along the base quickly, always knowing that we had only a few hours left. We had gotten through most of the base, and we were nearing where the "boss" was (I had "interrogated" a few guards along the way). Finally, we got to his door. It was at the back of the facility, and the drumming techno beats could be heard warming up inside the dance area. It was like we weren't there. I crouched down, and Mike followed my actions. He turned around to cover me, and I peered into the frosted glass on the office door. I could hear a man talking. "…well, I know he's a danger to me, but there's nothing I can do about it. I'll just have to wait until he decides to hunt me down. He doesn't know, though, that I ended up getting a tail on him. He may be the ultimate gangster, but he's incredibly gullible sometimes. He's probably out running around, just waiting to be backstabbed by his little 'sidekick…'"
It was him, all right. It sounded like he ran this whole operation. I took a couple of deep breaths and kicked open the door. It flew, in pieces, to the floor inside the office. Crappy place, I thought.
I looked up. A gun barrel, inches away from my face, was looking back. It made a clicking sound as its owner pulled back the hammer. "Max Payne. How nice to see you. It's been a while, hasn't it?" I knew that voice. It haunted my dreams, yet now, it was saner, less hysterical. I blinked in shock.
Some anonymous lackey was holding the gun, but the man behind him clicked down his phone and swirled around in his chair. More accurately, Jack Lupino clicked down his phone and swirled around in his chair. I blinked again. The crony backed off and sat down on a couch next to the door, still aiming at me.
Lupino grinned and offered me a seat. I sat down. "I bet you have a lot of questions for me, don't you, Max?" I was still speechless, but he went on, answering the questions I was bound to ask anyway. "Well, it turns out that you didn't end up killing me after all. I was addicted and shot full of Valkyr the last time you saw me, and even though you filled me with quite a few bullets, as I remember, you were no match for my brainpower." He got up and looked out the window.
"You see, Max, the mind can do wonderful things. If the owner believes enough, wants something enough, the mind can make it happen. It's that simple. I didn't want to die. The Valkyr stimulated my brain even while I was unconscious, and even though I woke up far from fine, I recuperated."
I sat there for a moment, listening to the trance music throb somewhere in the club. When I had finally regained my power of speech, I said, "Well done tracking me down after that, Lupino. It seems that you finally have me. Though, your bodyguards are severely lacking in quickness, I've noticed."
Lupino smiled, though his eyes were cold with malice. "How do you mean, Payne?"
I stood up. "I'll show you." I turned around, and the guard's eyes met with mine for a split second. I dove over the chair and, as always, time slowed. I tucked my knees in, and I watched the guard's gun as I rolled across the floor behind the chair. It followed me with expert precision, and I watched the barrel explode and the bullet flying out. It grazed my shoe as I regained my balance. I yanked my Beretta out of my left breast holster and fired a shot into the sitting guard. He slumped forward in his chair, blood dripping out of the wound in his forehead. Time reverted back to its normal state. I looked at the guard and felt a twinge of something - remorse? - as I spun around to face Lupino. I shook it off. Lupino started to clap. "Well done, Max. Well done. I have never seen agility like that before. Your skills have improved."
I was surprised. He had to have something up his sleeve. Death was looking him in the eyes, and he had the smuggest expression on his face. "You old fool," I said. I pointed my gun at him and clenched my teeth. "Now die, and don't come back." He still did nothing but smile. I heard a gun click behind me. "Don't worry, Mike, I've got this," I said without looking back.
"No, I don't really think you do, Max," said a cold voice. I glanced behind me, and Mike was standing there, pointing a gun at my face. "Drop your guns, Max."
"What the hell?" I stared closer at his face. Mike's eyes showed no signs of emotion, and he held his gun steady, like an expert, pointing it at my nose. "Mike, what the hell do you think you're-"
"Put them down, Max. Now." His voice was deep, deeper than I had ever noticed before. "All of them." He cocked his gun.
I obeyed, swearing silently in my mind. I unslung the shotgun from my back and looked up. "Why, Mike, why? Why would you do something like this? I thought we were friends."
Mike smiled coldly. "Friends or no friends, Max, I needed the money. After Dad died, I had nowhere to live. I had nobody to trust. I don't even trust Vladimir. All I know is money, and I needed it. So I took a job. And I had to kill you."
I was blind with rage. "You would sell out your good friend for a couple grand? Why didn't you trust me?"
Mike walked closer, peering into my eyes. "I still think you did it, Max. I don't believe you didn't kill my dad. You were the only one there. Nobody else was around. I think you killed him."
The next voice came from behind me. "Game over, Max. Time to die." I spun around. Lupino had a gun up too, and I knew that if I didn't do something, it was the end. They meant to kill me. I made a split second decision and turned around. A pane glass window stood in front of me, opening into an abandoned lot sprinkled with litter. A bullet hole was through the lower left pane from the shot that had killed the guard. I dove through the glass and instantly felt the frigid night air hit me. I hit the ground and ran as hard as I could, in a zigzag pattern away from the building. Two gunshots fired, and I felt one of them hit the dust under my feet. I rounded the corner onto the street.
It was no warmer outside, in winter, than it was in my thoughts. I had trusted Mike, and he was one of my best friends. Why didn't he believe me? Why would I have killed Alex? I ran, my lungs burning, block after block. The snow continued to fall. Just like they had the night that Mike and Vlad broke me out of jail, the streetlights swept over me as I sprinted past everything. The darkness closed in around me, but I shook it off and ran.
I ran into the cold, black, night.
To be continued...
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