Kansas City, Four Years Ago (Copyright 1997 Kirk Howard Hazen
)


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.

They started down the corridor and Hellman went back to the car. The going was a bit rough at first: they had to get through the opening in the laser grid, and then in the corridor they had to duck-walk for a couple hundred yards because the ceiling was so low. Snake was going need a heating pad applied firmly to his back when this was all over.

Finally, the tunnel got bigger. They stood and stretched, readjusting the flack jackets they wore around their chests. The jackets were Bob's idea. Snake had never liked them, and he liked them even less with the frigging heat. He felt that if you relied on vests too much, sooner or later you would wind up catching a bullet in the face. Flack jackets had a way of making you fearless. They wouldn't be much protection against the Sentry units, but Bob had insisted, so Snake was now sweating his ass off in one of the finest bulletproof vests a criminal's money could buy.

He hefted the weapons satchel to his shoulder and they moved on.

Bob was huffing and puffing, his lungs wheezing.

They were getting close to the in-point. It would be time to call Hellman soon.

When Snake planned a job, he tried to do all the work up front, and that included the briefings and all the details and loose ends, every decision made weeks in advance. Get them down up front so they didn't come up and bite you in the ass. His military background had taught him that. Too much chit-chat on the day of the heist was bad. It led to confusion. What did so-and-so say? I thought he said this? Well, let's do it this way and see what happens.

Bullshit.

Despite the batteries not being charged , things were going as planned. They all knew the details: once Snake and Bob got into the basement and penetrated the bank, they would have a ten minute window to get in and get out before the computer discovered the virus. If they were lucky, they would get back down to the service corridor in time to pull out the virus before the system even knew they were there. And all this was Hellman's brainchild.

An island of light loomed up ahead in the dark corridor, and Snake turned on the com headset.

"Harold?" He whispered.

The response came back instantly. "Right here." Hellman's voice sounded tinny.

"We're at the entrance." It was all Snake needed to say.

He could hear a clicking sound at the other end. Bob looked at Snake, making a jacking off motion with his fist. Bob certainly was an amusing fellow.

Finally Hellman came back."Okay guys, your on."

They came upon the entrance, an unassuming, plain looking doorway. To the right of the door was a small computer panel with a slot for an access card. Bob set the satchel down and took out a dark green plastic box that had a jumbled mess of wires attached to it.

Snake moved over to the panel and pulled a can of silicone spray from the satchel. He sprayed the slot once and then stood back, waiting for Bob.

Bob was attaching what looked like an access card to the wires. It wasn't. It was another one of Hellman's little toys. Bob positioned himself on the other side of the panel and Snake took the silicone and lightly sprayed the fake card. It glistened and gleamed in the neon light.

Plissken reached down and powered up the green plastic box. It hummed.

Since after hour access to the bank was prohibited, the card wouldn't be scanned in and analyzed by the employee database. It would do something much simpler: send a silent digital virus into the core of the system putting it to sleep for exactly ten minutes. The virus was designed by Hellman to last that long because once the system reached the ten minute mark it would switch to auxiliary. Then the show would be over.

"We're ready," Snake whispered.

Silence. Then Hellman replied. "Insert the card. And remember to tell me as soon as you see green."

Snake nodded and Bob gently slid the card in to the slot. A drop of sweat fell from Bob's balding forehead.

As soon as the card slid home, the panel lit up and Snake pressed a small clear button on the side of the green box. He held his breath and looked intently at the button.

Finally it lit up.

"It's green." Snake said, exhaling.

"Okay!" Hellman shot back. "You have nine minutes and fifty-seven seconds... fifty-six... fifty-five..."

Snake and Bob set their watches. They read 9:54.

"We're goin' in." Snake said and he pressed a glowing keypad marked ENTER on the panel and the door slid quietly open.

The inside of the bank was cold. The sweat seemed to evaporate instantly as they hit the icy air. Like the corridor they had just come through, the building was dark, illuminated only by the blue lighting grids that ran low along the walls. Plissken felt like he was at the bottom of the ocean.

They moved quickly, out into the basement level and up to the elevator doors. The sign on the doors read:

SECURITY ZONE - BANK EMPLOYEES ONLY!

Bob pulled out an employee access card that Hellman had procured for them and placed it into the drive slot. The elevator was silent for a moment; then the quiet hum as the lift came to life.

"We have time?" Bob said.

"Time for what?" Snake asked.

Bob gestured over to the other side of the hallway. Two water fountains stood out from the wall.

"Sure could use a drink." Bob glanced at the elevator.

"Can't hurt." Plissken shrugged, and they ran over, their footsteps slapping off of the basement floor. They leaned over the water fountains. Snake took in what seemed like a gallon. The heat had really drained him. He heard the elevator doors open and he quickly splashed icy water on his face, soaking his patch. The cold felt good on his eye.

Snake glanced around, surveying the basement as he went back to the elevator. Off to the right was a series of escalators. They were silent, the light from the upstairs lobby filtering down, gleaming across the metal.

As soon as they entered the elevator, the doors slid shut. It was silent inside. Bob turned off his headset and whispered.

"I've gotta hand it to that pretentious prick." Bob whispered. "This is gonna be a cake walk."

"We ain't done yet." Snake pressed on the emergency stop button and the elevator shut down. The floor panel indicated that they were right below the first floor level.

"SNAKE."

Hellman's voice cut sharply into Plissken's head, making him jump. Bob smiled and Snake shot him an icy look.

"Turn your volume down, Harold!" Snake growled.

A pause on the line. "Sorry Snake." The voice came back softer this time. "Where are you guys?"

"The elevator." Snake started pulling out the motorized winch and the nylon ropes from his duffel bag.

"It's 8:07." Hellman muttered testily.

"We know." Plissken replied.

Hellman fell silent. The line went back to its static drone.

Bob lifted him by the boot up to the elevator ceiling. Snake turned the emergency hatch lock on the roof and with a heave, pushed up on it. The hatch flapped back with a clang and he pulled himself up, scraping his head on the side of the metal frame. He winced. Just add that to the rest of the abuses that he put his body through. Bob handed up the winch, rope, and the other equipment, and then Snake pulled him to the top.

They chose to utilize the elevator because it would provide direct access to the vault floor and minimize their exposure to the Sentry units. Plissken hated them. Not as much as the Blackbellies, but close. There was something about being killed by a machine that bothered Snake. It seemed so impersonal.

He attached the winch to the elevator cable. It would pull them both up the elevator shaft at the same time and then they would attach the nylon ropes at the top for the trip back down. A ten minute window wasn't shit to work with and they needed all the shortcuts they could get.

Snake pulled out a tension release clamp and locked it on the waist harness they both had on. Bob did the same. They both grabbed the cable tight.

"Ready?" Bob asked.

Snake nodded and Bob turned on the winch and they started rising. The first floor passed. Then the second. The shaft wall rushed by dizzyingly. It was difficult to tell what floor they were at, so they slowed the winch down. Letting go of the cable with his right hand, Plissken grabbed his flashlight, shining it onto the outer bay doors of the floor above them. A yellow reflector on the lower lip of the door read FLOOR 7.

"One more." Snake said and he yanked the lever on the winch. It made an unpleasant grinding sound. The winch shuddered and the cable thrummed, lifting them up through the darkness to the eighth floor of the bank


Harold Hellman was tense. He was high strung, no doubt about it. He felt like he was at F sharp and going higher. His hands shook when they were still so he tapped on the dashboard of the Omega. He drummed out a series of off-kilter rhythms to keep those nervous hands busy until it was time to put his twitching fingers to use on the laptop computer. Only then did his hands have control.

Hellman hated pulling bank jobs. Hated them. He felt much more at home with mail fraud or embezzlement through the computer. No real physical risk, unless you counted back pain from sitting all day, and the rewards were many for the skilled computer con artist. And Hellman certainly was skilled. The problem was, he had a habit of getting himself in jams. His most recent resulted in a former business partner holding him at gun point and taking by force virtually every piece of hardware and software Hellman owned. He had skimmed a little more off the top of his cut than he was apparently entitled to and the wrong people got pissed off. And Harold Hellman was put out of business.

He was desperate, so he decided to pull a bank job. His mother and his sister, Hannah, were all the family he had left, and with no steady income, they had fallen on hard times. Mom was sick from the nerve gas and they all needed to eat, so one morning, two months ago, Hellman set out to find the man who was the most successful bank robber in United States history: Snake Plissken.

Hellman had learned long ago that the key to success (and survival) was to ally yourself with winners. A known loser was a poor pony to bet on. He still hadn't made up his mind if Plissken was a loser or not. He just knew he didn't like the son of a bitch.

Hellman checked the time. 7:10.

The parking garage was silent as a tomb. He was parked a few hundred yards from the basement/service tunnel entrance. Besides a few abandoned junkers, the Omega was the only car in sight. He rolled down the window to let some air in. It was hot, and it smelled faintly of exhaust fumes.

The bank job was Hellman's operation. He set it up, crafted it. It was his show and Plissken had taken it over. Plissken and Fresno Bob. Those guys were not team players. Hellman could hold his own with almost anyone. Even if he was nervous, he could still bullshit his way into or out of anything. It was his gift. But there was no bullshitting Snake Plissken. Sure, you could lay a line on him and for a while it would stick, but sooner or later he would come back at you. Hellman could see it in Plissken's eye: I don't trust you.

Good. I don't trust you either, Hellman thought.

As he waited for them to reach the vault floor, he poked around the Omega.

The car was devoid of the detritus that you would think an outlaw like Plissken would have. No Soldier Of Fortune or Penthouse magazines lying around. Besides a few odds and ends, the Omega was clean. Hellman leaned over and opened the glove compartment. Inside was an old crushed pack of generic smokes (obviously for emergency nicotine fits only), four or five worn road maps and a couple of music cassettes. Nothing to write home about.

He leaned back in the seat, his sweat soaked shirt re-adhering to the car upholstery. He glanced down at the MP5 auto lying in the passenger seat. It looked for all the world like it was alive somehow, its sleek, gleaming form radiating death. He hated guns. They were necessary these days, but Hellman refused to carry one. If he couldn't use his wits to protect himself, then by god, it was time to hang it all up. Everything was a damn wild west show these days, and he prided himself on non-violence. Let the thugs and lowlifes kill themselves off. Besides, he just plain didn't have the guts for it. He supposed he could kill another human being, but it would have to mean something. Hellman would have to really dislike the person.

He picked the water bottle up off the floor and splashed his face with it. The water felt bathtub warm. He took a drink, readjusted his headset, and wished he was somewhere, anywhere but Kansas City.

"We're on the eighth floor." Snake whispered into the head set. He didn't expect any reply from Hellman. Radio communication had to be kept to a minimum on the vault floor. Everything had to be kept to a minimum. The possibility of a run-in with a Sentry unit was real good if they went storming around making a racket. Stealth was the key here, and Snake Plissken and Fresno Bob were damn good at keeping quiet.

They moved quickly but cautiously, checking every corner, every dark hallway. They had the entire floor committed to memory: hallways, access grids, ventilation ducts. But everything was damn near pitch black, a maze of shifting shadows. It was like walking through a carnival funhouse.

A distant whirring sound echoed from somewhere.

Plissken stopped and waved his hand, pointing his finger down. In the dark, he could see Bob's eyes widen. They both crouched down at the corner of a long hallway. Snake pulled his hair back from his face, feeling sweat on his finger tips. The whirring sound was getting closer. He heard Bob shift behind him and he held up his hand.

Quiet!

The Sentry entered the hallway. It turned slightly, servo and hydraulics sliding and hissing. Then it stopped cold.

Snake felt the hair on the back of his arms stand up.

It sat there for what seemed like an eternity. The Sentry was silent, its gleaming black form a malevolent shadow. Snake and Bob were silent too. They didn't even breathe. Plissken slowly placed his hand on one of the Rollermines. He was sure the Sentry could hear his heart beat, sure that it was homing in on its rhythmic pounding.

A ray of light flashed out of the Sentry. It was an infra-red targeting beam, and if it found them, the rest of their life would be measured out in milliseconds.

The red beam made a quick pass over the hallway in a zigzag pattern, covering every angle. It was a real pretty light show. The beam skirted the corner, coming within inches of Snake's face.

Then suddenly, it shut off and the Sentry moved down the hallway. The whirring noise receded off into the darkness. It was gone.

In an instant they were up and moving. Snake checked his watch, lighting up the LED readout.

6:01. They had to get moving.

He tapped his wrist at Bob and they took off toward the vault.

Plissken was amazed at how easy this was going to be. Armed Sentries aside, this phase of the job was simple: with the alarm system out, all they had to do was crack two vault doors and snag the discs. And since they already had the password and nine digit code for the first vault, the final step would be to burn through the second vault with a high powered laser torch.

They reached the door to the vault room. Bob pulled out the laser torch and went to work on the lock. Snake pulled up his MP-5 and trained it on the hallway. The torch was silent except for the sizzling of the metal as it burned through. It emitted a glow that lit the corridor a cobalt blue.

With his other hand, Plissken reached into his satchel and pulled out a Rollermine. It was a dark sphere the size of a softball, military green, covered with a thin coating of rubber. He opened the side of the sphere, exposing a tiny panel. The panel had three buttons: arm, 10 second timer, and abort. He pressed the arm button. The rest was easy: you just gave it a twist, locking it in arm mode, and then you threw it or rolled it in the general direction of whatever it was that you wanted to completely destroy. His bowling technique was a bit rusty, but he felt he could still pitch a minor league fastball, maybe even one with a little english on it.

Snake whispered into his headset. "We're at the vault."

No response. The line was silent.

Bob shut the torch off and darkness descended over the hallway again.

"Got it." Bob whispered.

Bob carefully pulled the door open. The room beyond was pitch black. They went in, closing the door behind them.

It was 5:11 and Harold Hellman was getting pissed off.

"Snake? Bob?" He repeated. There was no reply. He had lost contact with them. His only guess was that they had run into a Sentry and had to shut down their headsets to avoid being tracked. Or maybe they had just been blown to pieces.

Either way, they better have made it to the vault by now. Time was running out.

Fresno Bob had set up a small ultraviolet portalight by the first vault door, just enough to see what the hell they were doing. It was more relaxed in the vault room. They were safe from the Sentries, and they could talk. Or at least Bob could talk.

"Man, do I hate them damn things." Bob muttered. "My cousin Dwayne got smoked back in '90 by one of those motherfuckers. He was doing a bank in Erie and..."

"You told me already." Snake said sharply. He was typing in the password and code. He didn't need distractions right now.

"Right." Bob clammed up.

Snake was becoming acutely aware of the time factor. They should still make it in time to pull the bypass, but it was going to be close. Real close.

The first door opened with a hiss. They didn't waste any time: Bob ran over and started in on the second vault door, cutting through the metal in an oval pattern.

Snake set the satchel down on the floor. It was time to get some feedback from Hellman. He was being unusually quiet and non-intrusive.

"Harold?" Plissken tapped on the mic. "We're at the second safe."

Silence.

"Harold, what the fuck are you doing?" He listened for a beat. Still nothing, not even static. He pulled his headset off and looked at the battery light.

It was dead. Thank you Harold fucking Hellman.

"Shit." Snake reached over and pulled Bob's headset off and looked at it. Bob glanced up. Snake stared back, dangling the headsets in the air.

"They're dead."

Bob's brow creased. "Both of 'em?"

"Yep." Snake answered, flinging them into the corner. "Don't worry about it. He knows where we're at."

Bob continued cutting. The second door was a little thicker but not by much.

There were banks back in the Old West that had better vaults than this. Banks these days relied too much on their security systems. That was their weakness, and Snake exploited it every chance he got.

Bob was grimacing with concentration, the laser searing away at the metal.

Snake looked at his watch. 4:26.

It was time to speed things up.

"Almost there..." Bob said, just as Snake kicked the vault door with a heavy combat boot, sending the huge piece of metal crashing to the inside floor.

Bob jerked back, dropping the torch. "Holy shit!"

Plissken moved in, placing a heat resistant aluminum lined blanket over the hot metal on the openings lower half. He turned to Bob and gestured to the vault.

"Come on," Snake growled. "The clock's ticking."

The inside of the Vault was laughably small. Along the wall were shelves that surrounded them in a U-shape, and Snake could have touched either side with his arms stretched out. There were other vaults in the complex, but this was the pick of the litter. On the shelves, just sitting there for the taking were hundreds of credit discs, bank account access software, and government account software. It wasn't cold, hard cash but it was transferable, liquidatable and most importantly, untraceable.

Plissken zipped open his satchel as Bob scanned the lower shelves. He started to pull the plastic sealed discs off of the shelf and into the bag.

"Well ho-ly shit." Bob said, reaching underneath the shelf.

Snake turned. "What?"

Bob stood up, pulling a vacuum-sealed package out from under the lower shelf. He held it up.

"Will that be cash or charge, Mr. Plissken?" Bob said, grinning.

Snake let his eye run over the package. He could see fifty and one hundred dollar bills, all tightly bundled and ready to spend. This was good. Great. A million times better then credit or account numbers.

Plissken smiled. "Pack it up."

They went back to looting, Bob filling his satchel with the cash bundle and Snake taking care of the discs and software.

A low humming sound came on. They paused.

Snake felt a icy cool breeze hit him from below the shelf.

"Air conditioner." Snake said, pulling the last of the discs into his satchel.

Bob picked his satchel up and glanced around. "Man, this place gives me the friggin' willies."

Snake was getting a good case of the willies too. He looked around, zipping up the bag. The place was eerily still. His radar was up, and the vibe was wrong. He knew enough to trust his gut, and his gut was telling him to leave. Now.

He checked the time. 3:58. They were behind schedule.

Plissken looked at Bob and turned toward the hallway.

"Not much time left. We gotta go."

In the Omega, Hellman was running a systems check. Since the headsets went down, there wasn't much he could do besides wait. Damn batteries. He'd probably catch hell from Plissken, but as long as they had the discs, he didn't give a shit. Snake could break his arm in five places and tie it into a fucking knot for all he cared. There were other things to worry about.

He leaned over the laptop. The fiber optic bypass was fine. It could sit down there for days without the bank even knowing about it, at least until some city employee stumbled across it. He clicked to the next screen.

Hellman looked up for a moment, eyes darting, scanning the quiet, empty garage. He always got this way at the tail end of a job. His nerves would scream at him, and all he could do was try to ignore it. He turned his attention back to the computer.

There was something on the screen.

"What the hell is..."

Hellman felt his gut clench up and sink like a rock in a deep summer pond.

On the laptop screen, where his systems status check should have been, was a rapidly scrolling series of numbers. They filled the screen from top to bottom:

54564545674421.016387864641245725101274545 44864175465468432178979+89532346353246565 8677*-/4654320303.15756475467985669++134876 168+417565456665454646543468464148734.......

They moved faster. Hellman could hear the harsh grating whine of the signal as they sped up. The security system wasn't switching to auxiliary.

It was decoding the virus Hellman had planted.

"This cannot be fucking happening!" Hellman's hands attacked the keyboard.

There was nothing he could do. Not a damn thing.

446331897972358564346845136464326652125332 345433679798779979746442*56449396050130203 010101010101201201010101000101000000000***

>DONE.

It was all over. The bank security system knew they were there. The jig was up.

Hellman looked at the time. 2:52.

The bank alarm was silent. It would alert the Sentries and send out a signal to the police. Snake and Bob would have no idea that the world was coming apart around them. And Hellman couldn't even warn them. He felt a familiar, dull ache take hold of his stomach and he hunched over, clutching his abdomen. He wished he had never left home. He wished that his family could have had better life. He wished he had never heard of Snake Plissken. He wished he was dead.

They were almost at the elevator. The coast was clear and Bob was talking about the bundle of cash.

"Should we tell Harold about the money?"

Snake scanned the elevator foyer, then looked at Bob.

"We have to." He knew what Bob was thinking, but they had made a deal with Hellman and they were sticking to it. Snake didn't care much for Harold, but he wasn't going to double cross him.

"Maybe he'll just want the discs," Bob said. "He can probably convert them easier than we could."

"Maybe," Snake said. They came to the elevator and he checked the time.

2:11. Not too bad. They would make it.

Snake noticed Bob had said we. As in WE are a team. Buddies. Pals. But after this was over and the loot was split, Snake was going to part ways with present company. He may do a job again some day, but for the time being, he would take a much needed vacation. Alone. No trip to Thailand. No long weekend in Amsterdam. Just Snake Plissken and the open road.

He reached into the elevator shaft and turned the winch on. Bob was still talking. "Man, I can't wait to get to the coast. I was there once when I was a kid. My dad took me to Point Reyes. There's this lighthouse..."

Snake turned at him. "Let's talk about this later, Bob."

Bob grinned that grin of his. "Sorry, man, I'm just a little hyped up, that's all..."

Snake narrowed his eye. There was something moving on Bob. A red dot of light, moving across his chest....

They were being targeted!

"GET DOWN!!" Snake roared.

It was at that moment the air exploded around them.

He felt Bob slam into him, spraying blood. He heard the echo of the gunshot and saw the beam sweep for another pass. What he did next was pure instinct: he fell with Bob and they rolled into the elevator shaft, dropping over the edge into the darkness. The air where they had been a split second before was filled with fire, slugs ripping into the elevator doors, punching golf ball size holes in the metal.

They were hanging on the side of the shaft, clinging to the ladder. Snake had his arm jammed painfully between the rungs and his hand twisted into the material of Bob's flack jacket. The jacket had two gaping holes in it near Bob's upper left side. So much for product reliability.

"Bob!" Snake had to get him holding on to something. The jacket was slipping between his fingers. Below them was a seventy foot drop into darkness.

Snake strained with all his might. He could hear the Sentry closing in.

He felt Bob move below him, felt his hand reach up to grab his.

"Grab hold of the ladder!" Snake looked up and saw two beams now, intercrossing paths. "Come on!"

Bob reached over and clutched one of the ladder rungs. He coughed, blood spraying out in a mist from his mouth. Snake opened his satchel, pulling out a Rollermine. He twisted it counterclockwise until he heard it lock. Another volley of fire hit the opening, sending glowing metal shrapnel down into the dark shaft like a meteor shower.

He turned at Bob again. "Start down!"

Bob started to slowly, painfully move down the ladder.

Snake looked up and scanned the hallway. He would have to get them close together for this to work. Once he tossed the first Rollermine, the other Sentry would be too close for him to get a second chance. He would have to have a decoy.

Plissken unstrapped the MP5 machine gun, primed the bolt and thumbed the safety on. He snapped one of the plastic belt clips off of his flack jacket and jammed it between the trigger guard and the trigger.

Snake popped up from the edge of the opening, flicked off the safety and flung the firing, chattering gun into the hallway. It slid across the floor, emptying bullets into the wall and spent shell casings into the air. It had the desired effect: the two Sentries tracked with it, firing at the target as it slid into the wall. That was when Snake let loose with the Rollermine.

It sailed through the air, spinning, curving slightly. And then it hit home.

The mine exploded, sending the Sentry slamming into the other as a fireball engulfed them both. Scooby-Do and fuck you too.

Snake ducked for cover as the heat blast rushed into the shaft opening and pulled back, dissipating. He reached up from the ladder and grabbed the winch control pad, bringing it down between him and Bob. He could hear him down below, his shallow breathing reverberating in the shaft.

Plissken hooked himself up to the winch line. He pressed the controller and descended down to Bob. Above them, the fire still raged, even as the sprinkler system came on. The orange glow lit up the sides of the metal shaft, raining cinder, ash and water droplets down on them. It looked like a doorway to Hell.

He hooked Bob to the line, taking his MP5 from him, hanging it on his own shoulder. Bob didn't look like he was in any condition to use it, anyhow. He wasn't responding. He was just hanging there in mid air, blood drooling from his mouth. Snake needed him to hold the rope. They were both going to fall if he didn't.

"You gotta hold the rope, Bob!"

Bob looked up at Snake. His eyes were swimming, unfocused. "Go...Leave me. Just go."

Snake reached down and grabbed Bob by the collar, pinning him against the rope.

"No." Snake pressed the winch controller and they started their descent to the elevator. He gritted his teeth as the rope burned along his forearm. He gripped Bob's collar tighter. The security system knew they were there and it wouldn't be long before the Blackbellies made an appearance.

If Snake got bottled in and cornered, then god help them all.

He'd kill every goddamn Blackbelly in Kansas City if he had to.

For the time being, Hellman was safe where he was. He was blocks away and even the police sirens that were surrounding the bank seemed distant. He turned on the scanner and listened. It was all cop technojargon, none of which Hellman really understood. He supposed that if he were a truly professional bank robber he would have learned the lingo.

The scanner crackled with voices, some of them overlapping:

"We're in the bank, doing a sweep of the lower two floors..."

"3T109, what are the instructions?"

"Code 1876- sanction use of force, with extreme prejudice..."

That was all he needed to hear. It was time to go.

He leaned over and went to start the Omega. He paused.

Hellman rubbed his eyes and took his hands from the ignition. He would wait a little longer. Just in case. But the way things were going, Snake and Bob were either dead now or soon would be.

"Shit." Hellman said, to no one in particular.

Snake was having trouble with Fresno Bob. He had gotten them through the elevator and now they were in the basement of the bank. He was trying to keep Bob on his feet. The man was wheezing badly. He sounded lungshot.

"Bob, I can't carry you..." He was slipping to the floor and Snake pulled up around his chest, careful not to aggravate the wounds. Bob gasped in pain and dug a gnarled hand into Snake's knee.

"Sonofabitch!" Plissken dropped him on the floor, hard. Bob had pulled an old bar fighting trick on him. He knew the guy was in pain, but this was bullshit. Snake crouched down and grabbed a fistful of Bob's hair.

"Do you want to live?" He shook Bob's head. It was all he was going to say. If Bob couldn't cooperate, he would leave him here. It was that simple.

Bob's face twisted up, in pain or in rage, Snake couldn't tell which. He tried to say something, but it got choked off. He had never seen Bob this way. He had never seen him this angry. He let go of his hair.

Plissken leaned in close, looking Bob in the eye.

"Don't you fucking quit on me."

He didn't know if it was what he had said or the tone of his voice, but Bob's eyes suddenly shifted, became clear. A weak smile spread across his face.

Snake was about to help Bob to his feet when the first wave of Blackbellies came down the escalators. He reacted at once, hands snapping the MP5 up from his side and letting loose a stream of gunfire. The gun chattered, sending empty shells into the air, a stray one hitting his face, burning.

Blackbellies were swarming down the escalators like hornets. He picked them off in three round bursts, aiming for their heads, their faceshields and skulls shattering, spraying blood. Stupid sons-of -bitches. They were so easy to see, bathed in the light from the lobby, while Snake and Bob were safely covered in shadow. The Blackbellies he didn't kill returned fire, but fortunately they couldn't see what they were shooting at.

A stray Blackbelly ran towards them, firing his AR15. Snake dropped to the floor, lowering his profile, and shot the man through the throat. The MP5 clicked dry. He reached for another magazine and realized he had left his satchel with the ammo back on the eighth floor. All he had left were his handguns.

Snake picked up his waist pack and felt the comforting spherical shape of a Rollermine. He leaned over and looked at Bob, holding the mine to his face.

"Time to go." He motioned towards the service corridor. "Can you make it?"

Bob nodded, barely, and Snake opened the mine, arming it.

The Blackbellies were coming down, only this time, more cautiously. They skirted the wall, stepping over the bodies of their fellow killer elite. Then the lights came on, flooding the basement, and whatever advantage the two men had was gone.

Snake grabbed Bob, and they ran like hell.

The Blackbellies started shooting, the floor spitting up around them. A slug hit Snake in the back, near his kidney. He grunted in pain. It was like being punched by a prizefighter when you had a flack jacket on. The bullet wouldn't get to your skin or vital organs, but you sure as hell felt the fucker. He even felt the heat from the lead as it sat in the kevlar. He gritted his teeth, pushing Bob towards the service corridor entrance. Snake pulled his Glocks from their holsters.

"Go!" He screamed at Bob, and spun around, blasting away at the Blackbellies behind him. They shot back and Snake took another slug, this time in the stomach. It knocked the wind out of him and he fell to the floor, still firing.

"Son-of-a-bitch!!" Snake roared, and he shot one of the bastards in the groin. The Blackbelly went down screaming. Plissken rolled around the corner and saw Bob ahead of him, crawling on the floor, leaving a glistening trail of blood on the tile. Snake could hear footsteps as more Blackbellies filled the hallway. He holstered his Glocks. It was time for another Rollermine.

Snake tossed it around the corner, lobbing it up into the air. He dived into the service corridor. He heard one of the Blackbellies scream. Then came the explosion.

The hallway was small, channeling the force of the blast in two directions. Snake slammed the door to the service corridor shut as the Rollermine did its work. Every Blackbelly in the hallway was torn apart; shrapnel shredding flesh and bone, fire burning layers of skin off, heat and pressure so intense that eyeballs ruptured in their sockets.

Plissken didn't feel one bit sorry for them.

Flames licked from the doorjamb as he pushed against it. The computer bypass they had so carefully set up minutes earlier was hanging from the card slot, barely connected to the wires. The only thing that saved them form being blown to bits was the fact that they were around the corner, and not in the line of the blast zone. Snake looked at his watch. 0:22. Time didn't mean jack shit now, did it?

He turned around and saw Bob slouched against the wall, pushing along the surface, trying to stay upright. He went over to him, pulling Bob's arm up around his shoulder. It would take the Blackbellies time to clear the hallway. Maybe even enough time for them to get to the parking garage.

"We're gonna make it, Bob..." Snake muttered. He almost believed his own words.

They started towards the garage.

Hellman stood on his tip toes, looking over the concrete partition at the street above. In the distance he could see flashing lights and strangely, smoke. Snake must be really giving them a hard time. Sirens rose up and then faded. He looked back at the Omega, then scanned the room.

He heard something. From the car.

He jogged over to the Omega and climbed in the front seat. The screen on his laptop was blinking. A readout came up. It didn't look anything like the program Hellman was familiar with. On the screen were two words that chilled Hellman to the bone:

TRACE COMPLETED
"Shiiit!" Hellman lunged across the seat and grabbed the laptop. He tried to pull the file menu to exit the program, but the screen was locked up. He climbed out of the car and threw the computer onto the concrete. It shattered and sparked, fizzling out.

"Stupid sonofabitch!" Hellman screamed to himself, kicking the side of the Omega, stoving his foot on the door. He climbed in the front seat and turned the ignition. The car fired up.

They knew where he was.

He had forgotten he was still connected to the bank security system. It had performed a location trace. They knew where he was and any minute now the parking garage would turn into a Blackbelly festival.

Harold Hellman didn't plan on sticking around for any of it.

Plissken had read somewhere once about the various defensive modes that the human brain used to deal with stress and physical threats. Your average, ordinary Joe Meatball operated on the condition white principal: float through life, oblivious to any danger until it hits him square in the face. Then there was condition yellow: you were aware, alert, cognizant of the possibility of danger. Finally there was condition red: you were pumped with adrenaline, ready for the fight or flight response. It was life or death. Snake didn't know what condition he was. Purple? Green? It was off the fucking map.

He was pushing hard. He could hear the blood roar in his head and through his bad eye, making it throb, keeping him on the edge.

They came upon the fiber optic bypass in the tunnel. The crisscrossed web of beams looked like salvation to Snake. They were home free. Almost.

He dragged Bob through the opening, smashing the optic rods out of the way, and then they were in the tunnel. Bob was still bleeding, on the verge of passing out, but he was keeping up and that was all that counted.

Snake sat him down against the wall. He noticed something was missing. The cash. The duffel bag of cash was gone. He must have lost track of it during the shootout.

Shit.

At least he still had the credit discs. He moved over to the satchel Hellman had left earlier. He could hear noise from the tunnel they had just come out of. The Blackbellies were getting the fire under control. They would be here soon. Snake rooted through the satchel and his hands found a familiar rectangular shape.

He turned it on and spoke into it.

"Harold!"

The voice thundered over the walkie-talkie lying on the passenger seat, almost making Hellman piss his pants. He was just about to put the Omega in drive.

"Harold!" It was Plissken. He sounded very unhappy. "Answer me!"

Hellman picked it up with a shaky hand, turning the volume down and responded. "I read you, Snake."

"Get ready. We're on the way." Static rippled across the line.

"What happened?" Hellman knew it was a stupid question.

"What do you think? Everything fell the fuck apart!" There was a pause. "Bob's hit...The Blackbellies are on our ass."

Hellman took a deep breath. "They did a trace on me Snake! They know where I'm at." He wiped his forehead and scanned the garage. "I can't stick around long."

There was silence. Then:

"How much time?"

Hellman punched the dash with his free hand. He couldn't afford any time.

"For fuck sake, Harold answer me!"

Hellman didn't know what to say. He just wanted to get as far away from Kansas City as possible.

"You have sixty seconds," Hellman answered. It was all he could give them.

There was a pause.

"You be there, Harold," Snake's voice came back, laced with implied threat.

Hellman set the walkie-talkie down on the front seat and pulled the car around in a circle, moving it in front of the tunnel entrance. He checked his watch.

They had exactly 48 seconds.

Snake was thinking about Oregon. He kept it in the front of his minds eye, all the images of it: the mountains, Crater Lake, the coastline. He let this fill his head, because that was the goal. Oregon and survival were all that mattered right now.

They ran down the tunnel, stumbling every few dozen feet. Bob was covered in blood from the chest down. A lot of it had gotten on Snake as well. If they were lucky, they might be able to get Bob to a doctor. Hopefully, Harold would have some kind of connection. With the hole in his lung, Bob would definitely need fixing. If he could be fixed.

Snake yanked up on Bob's arm. He was slipping into unconsciousness again.

"Bob!" Snake grabbed his face, shaking it.

Bob slurred and with a bloody hand pushed on the tunnel wall for support.

"Where's...where's Harold?" Bob slurred weakly. Snake noticed blood dribbling from his nostrils. Not a good sign.

Snake helped him up and started him moving. "He's at the car. All you gotta do is make it to the car. We're gonna get out of here."

The garage wasn't much farther. Maybe only a few hundred yards. A cakewalk as Bob would say.

It seemed like forever.

Harold Hellman's heart felt like it was going to pound its way right out of his chest. He was parked in front of the entrance to the tunnel, waiting for Snake and Bob when two USPF squad cars screamed in, sirens blaring.

They squealed past the entrance and up onto the second floor ramp, completely missing Snake's blue Omega, and more importantly, completely missing Harold Hellman.

He couldn't believe it. They had gone right past him.

He looked outside and realized that the area he had pulled the Omega in was covered in shadow. There weren't any overhead lights to make the car stand out. Nothing except the red glow of the entrance light over the dark service tunnel.

They would be back down soon. And there would be more on the way. A whole lot more.

Hellman looked at his watch and realized he hadn't even marked off the time. It had to have been at least a minute and a half by now? He didn't know for sure. He just knew he had to get while the getting was good. He would have to forget about the money. He would have to forget about Snake Plissken and Fresno Bob.

The sound of tires squealing on one of the levels above echoed down. They were turning around.

He looked at the service tunnel entrance one last time, stared at that eerie red glow. It was empty. Silent.

"Son of a bitch." Hellman clenched his jaw and slammed the Omega into drive, tearing across the basement level, up over the ramp and out into the street.

He never looked back.

There was a red light ahead of them. The tunnel entrance to the parking garage. The door was still propped open, but Snake couldn't see past it. The garage was too dark. He just saw that beautiful red light. He pushed Bob out in front of him, holding him by the collar.

Snake shoved hard the last ten feet. They both stumbled out into the garage. He pulled back on Bob, lowering him to the concrete for a moment. He scanned the garage, letting his eyes adjust to the light overhead.

The Omega was nowhere in sight. And neither was Harold Hellman.

He was gone. The bastard had run out on them.

Plissken closed his eye for a moment, gritting his teeth. He took a deep breath. He needed to think, to get his bearings, even if it was just for a moment.

There was a flash of head lights, coming toward them, fast.

His moment was gone.

Snake turned to get Bob but he wasn't there. He was already several feet away, hunched over, lurching toward one of the concrete support columns.

"Bob!" Snake yelled.

Bob wasn't listening. He had fallen to his hands and knees and was crawling toward the column like it was an prayer alter. People did strange things when they were dying.

The car was almost upon them.

Snake back pedaled, running over to the other column. With any luck, Snake would draw the gunfire away from Bob. He reached down with his left hand, whipping out his other Glock, pressing the back sight against his belt edge, racking the slide.

The squad car hit its breaks, fishtailing sideways to a stop twenty feet away. Right behind it was another, pulling closer, next to the column Bob was at.

It was now or never.

Plissken ran out, both guns firing, kicking hard in each hand. He aimed for the front side passenger window, keeping his target pattern tight. They didn't have a chance.

He took out the Blackbelly in the passenger side right away, the man's body snapping and jerking as each slug struck him. He slumped over into the driver, blood splattering the windshield. The driver was climbing out, swinging his rifle up. He was screaming.

Snake ran and jumped, feet connecting with the roof of the car as he scrambled across just as the Blackbelly swung around. Plissken dived into him, firing both Glocks into the mans chest and throat. Blood sprayed into the air, splashing onto his forearm. It looked almost black in the low light of the garage. He kicked out with a booted foot, knocking the body away from the car.

A piece of windshield glass struck him on the patch side of his face, lodging in his cheek. Snake swatted at it as if he were stung by a wasp.

He was being shot at.

One of the Blackbellies from the other squad car was firing from behind the hood. Snake shot back blindly, ducking into the car, busting off a few stray shots before his pistols locked back, empty. He threw them onto the floor of the car and tossed the satchel full of discs into the backseat. Another slug punched through the dash, inches near his head. Fragments of plastic shrapnel flew at his good eye, making him flinch.

"Fuckers!" Plissken would be damned if he'd lose his other peeper.

Outside, a Blackbelly was pulling Bob out from behind the column, dragging him by the hair into the open. He had passed out, his body limp, leaving a trail of blood on the concrete as he was dragged.

The other Blackbelly came out from behind the hood and was moving in, approaching the car, his gun hand shaking with rage.

"We got the man himself here!" He flipped his visor up, revealing a dark, sinister grin and eyes that looked like black marbles. He looked into the front and back seat. Empty.

"Snake-fuckin'-Plissken! I gotta tell you, I'm honored! I'm gonna enjoy blasting your head off, you sawed-off little son-of-a-bitch!" He jerked suddenly and ran around to the back of the car, firing into the trunk and back seat. The man thought he was real clever.

Plissken popped up from the other side, the 12 gauge buckling hard against his shoulder.

BLAM! The very suprised look on the Blackbelly's face vanished in a shower of skull, flesh, blood and brain. The body fell back, legs twitching spastically.

He turned his attention back to the other squad car. He looked over just in time to see it speed away, Bob's head visible in the back windshield. They had him. The Blackbellies had Fresno Bob.

Snake stood there for a moment, confused. Where the hell were they going? No Blackbelly in his right mind - not that their minds were sterling examples of intellect anyway - would pass up the chance to take down Snake Plissken.

He was standing there, pondering this thought, when his back exploded.

Plissken spun around, instinctively diving backwards, squeezing off a shot as he rolled over the hood of the car, catching himself on the side of the door as he hit the concrete. The wind was knocked out of him. He sat up quick, crawling into the drivers seat. The flack jacket was still paying off, but it was losing its effectiveness: a bullet fragment must have gotten through the kevlar. He could feel a burning sensation and a warm wetness run down his back.

"I got 'em!" He heard a voice scream.

Snake bolted upright in the seat and looked out of the passenger window.

His eye widened.

Blackbellies, maybe a dozen were pouring out of the service corridor. One of them out in front, the one who in all likelihood had just shot him, was raising his rifle for another try. "There he is!" The man screamed.

Plissken dropped the car into neutral and hammered the gas, the engine roaring.

A shot struck the seat cushion next to him, spitting foam and fabric into the air.

He raised the shotgun, shifted the car into drive and pulled the trigger, blowing a nice big hole in the Blackbelly's chest. I got you, motherfucker.

The tires squealed, ripping at the concrete as the squad car shot foreward. He could hear sharp plunking sounds as the Blackbellies shot back, slugs ripping through the trunk and back sidewalls of the car.

Please don't hit the gas tank, thank you very much.

He yanked the wheel hard left and sped across the lower level of the parking garage. As he tore up the exit ramp, he passed two squad cars on their way in. They didn't even notice him or stop to turn around.

For the moment, he was one of them.

The first thing Snake did was ditch the squad car. He broke into and hot wired an old rice burner. He picked it because it was unremarkable. It would blend in. The drivers side seat was broken, stuck in place. He couldn't get it to budge. His knees were pressed uncomfortably against the console and his back ached like hell, the cramped position he was in not helping matters any. He missed his Omega.

He drove through the maze of back streets, through the slums and crumbling neighborhoods, avoiding the major highways. The USPF would already have them roadblocked around the entire city.

But they couldn't road block all of them. It was one of these forgotten backroads that Snake would take, and then he would vanish. And once he was in the badlands, they would never find him.

He thought about Fresno Bob. The man was injured. He would need medical attention. There was nothing Snake could have done to change that. Maybe the Blackbellies would fixed him up and put him away. Dump him in the New York pen like they were doing to everyone else these days.

A few days later, Snake would see a news report on a TV in a rundown gas station outside Klamath Falls, Oregon. They would talk about what was being called the Kansas City heist, and he would learn about what they had done to Fresno Bob. The Blackbellies had made an example out of him. No arraignment, no trial. Just the execution of a brutally harsh sentence. Bob never once said anything to them about the whereabouts of Snake Plissken. Not even when they were cutting off his face.

He thought about Harold Hellman. He thought about what he would do if he ever saw the bastard again. Snake had a knack for getting even. And if he ever saw Harold Hellman again, payback would be delivered in full.

He was moving outside the city limits, the glow of pollution fading in the sky. The farther he drove from the city, the cleaner the air got, the clearer the sky became. He could see stars now, peppering the night sky, peeking through wisps of receeding clouds.

Snake rolled down the window, letting in the cool summer night air . He let the breeze caress him, drying the sweat on his face and neck, sweeping his hair back from his forehead. It felt good, soothing, like the blue night he was driving into. He took in a long, deep breath and exhaled, pressing the gas pedal to the floor.

He had things to do in Oregon.

The End