Kansas City, Four Years Ago (Part 1)

A Story By Kirk Howard Hazen
Based on characters created by John Carpenter and Nick Castle

Fading out of the haze of heat was a woman and a little boy. They materialized from the horizon like phantoms, tendrils of rippling, pulsating humidity writhing around them, blurring their forms and then pulling back, revealing again. The woman was dressed with very little left to the imagination. A pair of cut-offs and an old 70's looking tube top. She didn't appear to have any shoes on. The boy was wearing a T-shirt, and nothing else. His bare feet bumped and rubbed across the concrete. The woman dragged him along, pulling at his arm every once in a while, nearly lifting him off the sidewalk.

Snake Plissken watched them with his one good eye, tracking with them as they got closer. As he watched, he listened to Fresno Bob, who was sitting next to him in the passenger side of an '84 Omega Snake had stolen in Pittsburgh. Bob liked to talk.

"...Once we get everything transferred, we gotta go to Seattle. That place is one big fuckin' flea market. Everything you'd ever want. I can't believe you've never been there." Bob wheezed the last part out. He liked to talk quite a bit for a guy who had lungs that were about as efficient as two crumpled pieces of saran wrap. Snake heard him pull out his aspirator and take a hit.

The woman was much closer now. From what Snake could see of her, she looked good. She had a pleasingly curvy figure; rounded hips, smooth belly, nice breasts, and even nicer legs. The cut-offs were gently hiking up the interior of her leg, exposing the pale skin of her inner thigh. Then Snake saw her face. It was a face entirely out of synch with that body. Her mouth was drawn in a tight grimace, pulled over her teeth like an animal, distorting the rest of her features along with it. Her eyes bulged and darted from side to side, appearing to see everything but seeing nothing. Snake knew immediately what it was. Nerve gas infection, stage two.

Right now the woman was three or four days away from being crazy as fuck. Her brain was rotting away, and it was only a matter of time before it would be a done deal. Crazy people like this were an everyday occurrence. Snake had read somewhere that an estimated sixty-two percent of the country was borderline insane or had already reached that point, due to the nerve gas. Plissken had a theory that most of them were in the United States Police Force.

The woman was yanking on the little boy's arm again and Snake could see her fingers digging into the child, turning his hand purple. The hand matched the color of his screaming face. The woman hissed something to the boy and pulled him across the street.

It was late afternoon in Kansas City, and it was hotter than hell.

Plissken let out a long, deep sigh. He was not a happy camper. Bob looked at him and took the aspirator from his mouth.

"Snake, you just gotta trust me on this one. He's got his shit together." Bob's face was still flushed red from the aspirator hit. He was a good ten years older than Snake, and not in the best of health.

Plissken reached down onto the floor, grabbing his water bottle. He took a drink. It was piss warm. Swell.

He turned to Bob and spoke.

"You know the reason we got in this shit in the first place?" Snake let the question hang for a beat. "Because he said cash. Not credit, not some swiss fuckin' bank account. Cash. There's a big goddamn difference."

He set the water bottle down, and placed his arm on the edge of the door frame, feeling the heat sear into his skin. It was the most he had said all day. All through the morning and afternoon he had been on a slow burn, the tension coiling up inside. When he was like this, you stayed away from him, if you knew what was good for you. Fresno Bob usually didn't.

This time, however, he was silent. He sank into his seat like an admonished child. Snake didn't like snapping at him like that. He was a friend. They had been working together for the last couple of jobs now and Bob, along with Bill Taylor, was one of the few people on god's green earth that Snake Plissken truly liked. But trust was a different matter. Trust was something that he had long ago said goodbye to. You count on someone to back you up and sooner or later you get crossed. Or killed. Trust was the issue here, and right now Snake was having a problem trusting a guy named Harold Hellman.

They had hooked up with Hellman in Pittsburgh, and right off the bat he sold Bob on the Kansas City deal. Snake thought the guy was full of shit, but Bob had worked with him briefly a few years back on a small time counterfeit operation, and he said they could count on him. Hellman had gone on about how they would score up to seven hundred grand in cash, so long as he got the overseas account access. That was then. Now it was all credit, corporate accounts, and government funds; not exactly something you can steal and go to the local mom and pop and buy smokes with. Now the stakes were raised into the millions, making it a risky, high profile job. And Snake had let Hellman drag him and Bob to Kansas City, the hottest damn place in the universe.

Snake felt a trickle of sweat worm its way out of his hair and onto his temple. He brushed it away, sweeping his long hair back from his face. Sweat was rolling down underneath his eyepatch. He leaned foreword and pulled his black T- shirt up, using the fabric to dab under the patch. He winced slightly as a familiar pain shot through his eye.

Imagine a piece of metal shrapnel smashing into a pair of flight goggles you are wearing. Imagine the force of it striking, kicking your head back, sending tiny shards of glass from your left eye piece into your cheek, your eyelid, your face. Now imagine the nerve gas seeping in, attacking your tender, bloody eye, and no matter how hard you try to cover your shattered eyepiece, the gas still comes in. Imagine the searing, exquisite pain as it burns into you, lighting your entire fucking head on fire.

Snake Plissken didn't have to imagine.

His eye was a constant reminder of Leningrad. Snake had come out of the war with four things: Two purple hearts, a fucked up eye, and a truckload of burning hate. Things might have turned out differently if there had been a family to come home to, but the Blackbellies had them planted in the ground before Plissken had even left the hospital. So much for the homecoming festivities.

His family had been taken hostage by some crazy people. Not terrorists, not extremists. Just plain crazy people, like the woman he'd just seen. The United States Police Force didn't negotiate. They just moved in and burned everyone out, including Snake's parents and younger brother. They were buried in a mass grave somewhere, along with the rest of the millions that had died.

Things might have turned out differently, but they didn't and Snake had to deal with it. Try to heal and move on. But it would always be inside him, burning hot rage.

Fresno Bob had asked him something. "What?" Snake snapped.

"You mind if I have some of your water?" Bob said uneasily.

Snake picked up the bottle and handed it to him.

The sky was turning a golden amber as late afternoon started giving way to dusk. Hellman was running late.

Plissken looked at the First National bank across the street. It was big, nondescript, and functional. It was more of a military bunker than financial institution, with the security system to match. The bank didn't do walk in business. Transactions were done by computer, with a skeleton crew keeping things running smoothly on the inside. Should you decided to walk in and apply for a loan, and managed to get past the access card identification station, you would be greeted by a black, rolling Sentry unit that resembled a small refrigerator. The Sentry would then tell you that you had ten seconds to exit the bank. And should you foolishly decide to stay, the little rolling Sentry would unleash armor piercing, explosive tipped bullets at a cyclic rate of eight hundred rounds a minute, blasting you to pieces. It would leave just enough of you left for the janitor to mop up the next day.

This was not going to be a run of the mill stick-up.

"Christ in a Cadillac!" Bob exclaimed. "What the hell is he doing!"

Snake turned his head and looked out of the back windshield.

Hellman had just rounded the corner, and was now standing roughly a hundred yards behind the Omega, chatting it up with three Blackbellies. They had their rifles shouldered and Hellman was standing nonchalantly with them, his face lit up with that fake smile of his, the one that never seemed to reach his eyes. One of the Blackbellies lifted up his visor and Snake could see his cold, craggy face grow red with laughter.

He glanced at Bob. Then he started the car, letting it idle. Any sign of trouble and it was all off. No bank, no money, no Oregon. Snake looked at them in the rearview mirror.

A Blackbelly had just handed Hellman a cigarette.

"What do you want to do?" Bob looked worried.

"Wait and see." Snake replied, putting his hand on the butt of the Glock .40 caliber holstered to his side. If it was a double cross, Harold would catch lead too.

Hellman was wrapping things up with the boys in blue. He started toward the car, still talking to them as he moved away. Just another friendly chat with the police. But when you had the most wanted criminal in the United States waiting in a car less than a hundred feet away, you better have a damn good reason to be yucking it up with the local smokeys. He was very well known in the law enforcement community. A Blackbelly could write his own ticket with the reward money for bringing in Snake Plissken.

He despised the Blackbellies. Crazy, trigger-happy, murderous bastards, each and every one. There wasn't any idealism in their ranks. Upholding law and order wasn't their priority. Their priority was death.

The door on the back drivers side opened with a squeak and Harold Hellman sat his lanky frame in the car. "It is too damn hot out today."

Snake lit a cigarette and took a long drag.

"Have a nice talk, Harold?" Snake purred, exhaling.

Hellman pulled at the sweat soaked bandanna around his forehead, loosening it. "Those guys? Don't go getting bent out of shape. They're local USPF." He looked out the back window. "Used to go to school with one of them, hadn't seen him in years." He turned back to look at Snake. "He just wanted to know what I was up to."

"What'd you tell 'em?" Bob asked.

Hellman grinned. "I told them I was robbing banks with Snake Plissken."

Fresno Bob choked on a laugh. "You gotta be jackin' me!"

"Real cute Harold." Snake said, slamming the car in drive.

"Come on, Snake, you think they believed me?" Hellman said. "To those guys, Snake Plissken in Kansas City would be like the Loch Ness-fucking-Monster showing up in their kitchen sink."

The Snake eyed him through the rearview mirror. "All it would've taken is one look my way from those sons-of-bitches..."

"But they didn't see you, everything's fine, so lets just drop it." Hellman sounded irritated. Plissken was way beyond irritated.

"If your big mouth gets us caught Harold..." Snake said and glared at Hellman, letting his good eye burn into him. He left the threat unfinished. Hellman was so damn smart, he could fill in the blanks for himself.

Snake made a left, turning behind the bank complex. The sun was low on the horizon. The heat distorted it, making it swell and ripple. It looked like it was going to engulf the earth. It certainly felt like it.

"The off ramp over there," Hellman pointed. "To the right." His arm bumped Snake's shoulder and Plissken gave him another look. Hellman pulled into the backseat.

He didn't have anything tangible against Hellman. The man was smart as a whip, and Snake respected that. Hellman had put the logistics of the job together himself, and it was damn near air tight. All of that was fine and dandy with Snake, but he had never worked with him before. He seemed shifty to Snake, a natural born bullshit artist. But with Bill Taylor up in Oregon, his leg out of commission, he needed a reliable crew member and Hellman had the plan, ready to launch.

Snake listened as Hellman went over the computer grid with Fresno Bob. Hellman's chatter had its own rhythm, a rollercoaster of complex verbosity. The man had brains, that much was certain. But balls...The jury was still out on that. For now, Snake would let it ride, play things close to the vest. Sooner or later, the moment would come when Hellman would have to show his hand. God help him if he had a joker in his deck.

The first phase of the job was a cakewalk: they would park four blocks away, in an abandoned parking garage, lower floor. At the sub-basement level, they would access a service tunnel that ran from one end of the city to the other. They would take the tunnel until they reached the electrical service corridor to the bank. Hellman would trick the system, Snake would move in and, along with Bob, take down the score while Hellman waited in the Omega. Simple and clean in the beginning and end; the bitch was the middle part, in the bank.

They moved down the service tunnel, their way lit by the low neon glow from the corridor lights that were positioned in ten foot intervals. The tunnel was remarkably clean. Kansas City itself was spotless compared to the urban decay of say, San Francisco. It was the only fully operational government city on the edge of the new frontier. Pretty much everything from the mid-west to the Pacific rim was a no man's land, save for a few select places like the Colorado Federal Reserve Depository.

Oregon was the land of milk and honey as far as Snake was concerned. The money would go a long way there, and he could take a year or two off and keep a low profile. He could go live in the mountains, get away from everyone, everything. Maybe see if there was anything left of the American dream.

"It should be up here." Hellman gestured down the corridor.

Behind them, Fresno Bob tripped on the steel grating they were walking on. He swayed for a moment, almost dropping the duffel bag, then steadying himself on the wall.

"You drop that shit, Bob," Hellman snapped, "and we might as well go stick up a fucking Burger King." The bag contained a compact super computer and various accessories, most of it funded by Hellman himself.

Bob gave him a sour look. He tossed the duffel to Hellman, who barely caught it.

"Then you carry it, Harold." Bob spit the last part out with disdain.

Hellman pulled the bag onto his shoulder with a grunt, ignoring him.

Each of them had brought something to invest: Hellman brought the electronics, Snake supplied the guns and antipersonnel equipment and Bob...well, Bob just brought experience and charm. Each of them had a Heckler and Koch MP-5 with suppression and laser sighting. Snake had the rest: two Glocks, a beat up .12 gauge, and six programmable timelock Rollermines. He hoped like hell he didn't have to lay a hand on any of it.

Hellman set the duffel bag down and started unpacking.

The service corridor looked like another hole in the wall, except for one difference: intersected and crisscrossed over the opening was a security grid of laser beams. It was actually kind of beautiful looking, a mosaic of cold green and blue. Snake realized now why the tunnel was so clean. Should something as small as a stray gum wrapper interrupt one of those beams, Kansas City's finest would be on an all night wild goose chase.

From the duffel bag, Snake pulled out a compact circular aluminum frame that he thought looked uncannily like a lawn chair missing the seat cushions. He unfolded it and Bob started applying epoxy to the outside edge of the frame.

"This shit will hold?" Snake asked.

"You could glue your crank," Hellman answered, "to the bottom of a 747, fly transcontinental in a hurricane, and be in Seattle in time for the crab cook-off."

"That a personal testimonial, Harold?" Bob returned.

Snake smiled, just a little bit. Hellman was smart, but he was no Richard Pryor. Bob, on the other hand, was one of the few people who could make Snake crack smile. Sometimes unintentionally.

Hellman made a face, an odd cross between a grimace and a frown and started setting up the computer bypass. It was a little gray lap top computer that Harold had apparently hotrodded, and it was without a doubt the most important piece of equipment they had. Once they hooked it into the system, it would bypass the security computer and duplicate the exact binary code, fooling the system into believing it was at homeostasis. This was exactly the kind brainiac-computer geek shit they needed Hellman for.

They mounted the frame to the outside of the corridor, and Snake pulled on the structure to check it. He was impressed. After just a few minutes drying time, the thing was solid as a rock.

Snake attached the cables to the frame, duct taping them just in case. He looked at Harold.

"Wait..." Hellman fiddled with the lap top and then nodded. "Okay."

Snake flicked a toggle switch on the side of the frame, and it hummed to life. The sound was an eerie drone, low and melancholy like a dying whale at the bottom of the sea.

Hellman's fingers did another dance on the keypad, and the frame moved with a clicking sound. From out of the side came long, clear fiber optic rods in the form of a circle. They slowly moved into position, a few centimeters from the beams, a rod for each beam.

Hellman looked at Plissken. Snake stared back, giving him a clear, level gaze. This had better work Harold, it said.

"Let's hope that sonofabitch at Radio Shack knew what he was talking about." Hellman joked, pressing ENTER on the keypad.

The optic rods all moved at once, perfectly synchronous, and locked into the beams.

Snake let out a long, deep breath.

On the face of the corridor, where the laser beams had intersected a moment earlier, was a circular hole approximately three feet in diameter. The optic rods had rerouted the beam path and gave them a nice little door to walk into the bank through. And if all went as planned, they would walk out with close to fifteen million in instantly liquidatable credit discs.

Something caught Snake's eye. Next to Hellman, connected to the laptop, was a small, nylon covered rectangular box. On the side was a blinking red light. It was the battery recharger and it was running low. Harold looked up at him.

"What did I tell you, Snake? We're in like Flint." Hellman grinned.

"Did you remember to charge the batteries on the headsets, Harold?" Snake asked, pleased to see Hellman's grin drain from his face.

"They're still good for another three, four hours." Hellman didn't look too sure.

"Are they?" Snake pressed.

Fresno Bob stepped over to them. He turned to Hellman. "You didn’t charge the headsets?"

"I didn't have time," Hellman snapped irritably. "These have enough juice to cover the job."

Snake slowly shook his head. "They damn well better, Harold."

Hellman didn't reply, he just went back to securing the equipment. Snake had told him specifically to charge the batteries on all the portable equipment. He and Bob had pulled a job in Detroit last year when their security bypass computer went dead. They barely made it out of the bank before the Blackbellies arrived. Things were different this time. There was a hell of a lot less room for error.

Fresno Bob started pulling out the guns, handing an H&K to both of them. Hellman held it in his hands like it was someone else's dick.

"There a problem?" Bob asked.

Hellman looked at them. "I told you guys, I'm not very good with these things." Snake reached over and grabbed the gun, priming the bolt and clicking the safety on. He handed it back to Hellman.

"It's real simple, Harold," Snake said. "Safety off...and pull the trigger."

"And try not to shoot the shit out of us." Bob added.

Snake looked at them both with his single, cold blue eye.

"If we all do our jobs right, we won't have to shoot a damn thing." He said, staring at them. There was always a moment like this on every job. The moment when you were about to cross the threshold and there would be no turning back. Everyone would become acutely and precisely aware of what they had to do. Now all they had to do was do it. He let his eye linger on Hellman, watching him shift uncomfortably. Plissken could out stare anyone alive, and Harold wasn't exactly Charlie Bronson.

Hellman looked away.

Snake let a small, quiet smile creep across his face.

"It's time to rob us a bank." He said.

Part 2