Ryan crouched behind the rusting, metal trash bin, flinching as bullets sparked near his head. He held his gun with both his hands trying to steady his trembling. The shooting began to pitter off and Ryan used the moment to collect his thoughts.
Breath. You’re okay. You’re okay. You got yourself into this mess, you can get yourself out. He was jarred back to the present as a man wearing kevlar body armor and heavy combat boots rounded the corner. He reached down and grabbed Ryan by the collar of his t-shirt.
“You fucking brat,” he growled, shoving Ryan against the wall of the alley. “You thought that you could steal from us and we wouldn’t fucking track your ass down?”
Ryan tried to force his gun to point at his assailant, but the older man just smirked and twisted Ryan’s arm back, forcing him to drop the pistol and cry out in pain.
“You’re in way over your head. There are only two ways to get out this. You tell us where the fuck the money is and we kill you quickly. If you don’t, we’ll force it out of you, and your death will be much less painless.”
Ryan sneered at the man and launched a glob of saliva into his face. The man stared in shock, then a bone-chilling smirk came across his face. “Message received, asshole.”
Pulling back his arm, the man prepared to slam his fist into Ryan’s jaw. The sound of a gunshot rang throughout the alley, and the man jerked back, yanking Ryan in front of him to act as a human shield. One arm pointing a gun down the alley and the other wrapped tightly around Ryan’s neck, the man let out a small gasp.
“What the hell are you doing here, Pattillo?”
Ryan’s vision began to blur, and he didn’t hear the response given by the other individual in the alley.
The man holding Ryan to his chest let out a curt laugh and sneered, “This doesn’t fucking concern you.”
Ryan clawed at the thick forearm wrapped around his neck. He struggled to find purchase with his feet and a small ringing began filling his ears.
The last sound Ryan heard before his consciousness faded were gunshots.
Ryan thought he was dead. He really did. He should’ve chosen who he worked for more carefully, but what else was he supposed to do? If all he had was a shitty apartment and a shitty laptop, hacking for gangs that offered good pay seemed like the best route for him to take. It was Los Santos. All things considered, it was safer than getting a job... well anywhere really. Working anywhere that made even a bit of cash was like turning on a giant neon sign that flashed an enticing message for any low ranking robber. He could have aimed for an office job, but who would hire a sixteen-year-old high school dropout? No, all things considered, hacking was the best option. It just sucks he ended up pissing off the wrong people.
When Ryan opened his eyes, he was surprised to find out that death hurt. His head was throbbing and limbs felt as though they were made out of jelly. He turned his head to the side and realized he was lying on a white sofa in an extremely nice apartment. That was the first thing he registered. The second thing were the green eyes of a small child inspecting him intently.
“What the fuck,” Ryan murmured, pushing himself into a sitting position.
“That’s a dollar,” The kid said. Ryan glanced at him, absorbing the fact that this little blond kid was British and demanding money.
“Where am I?” Ryan asked then, thinking better of it, followed up with another question. “Where are your parents?”
The boy’s deadpan answer took Ryan by surprise. The bright smile that followed sent shivers down his spine.
“So... uh,” Ryan stammered. “Who do you live with?”
“My brothers and Jack and Geoff.”
“Jack and Geoff? Who are you talking about?”
“You must be new if you don’t know who we are.” A female voice responded and Ryan turned to catch sight of a tall, red-headed woman enter the room.
“Gavin, can you give us a moment please?”
“Okay Jack,” the young British kid grinned. “But don’t forget that he owes a dollar to the swear jar.”
Unwillingly, Ryan blushed under the scrutiny of the child.
“Thank you for letting me know, kiddo. Now, go play with your brothers.”
The blond skipped out of the room, waving to a barely conscious Ryan. The woman, Jack, sat opposite of Ryan and offered him a glass of water. Ryan accepted the glass but set it down on the coffee table suspiciously. Jack raised her eyebrow but didn’t challenge his decision.
“Let’s start with the basics,” Jack said. “Name?”
“Nick,” Ryan lied.
“Where are you originally from?”
“How exactly did you end up in that alley? Why were those guys after you?”
“They wanted to mug me. I was carrying a pretty pricey watch on me. I guess I was just an easy, stupid target.”
Jack nodded and pulled out her phone. Ryan waited in uncomfortable silence as she swiped across her screen.
“James Haywood.” Ryan froze as Jack used not only his real name but his full name. “Originally from Georgia. Reported missing September of last year. Around the same time, a new hacker appeared in Los Santos. Goes by the name the Mad King. Established himself pretty quickly considering how many hackers live in Los Santos.” Jack placed her phone on the coffee table and leaned forward in her chair. “Some people may consider a hacker who becomes this popular in that amount of time is becoming too big for his britches.”
Ryan bolted. He sprinted to the front door of the apartment and threw it open. He came face to face with a Caucasian man with thick black hair and a well-kept beard to match. The man looked just a surprised as Ryan with keys in his hand hovering, as though he was preparing to unlock the door. Ryan shoved past the dark haired man sprinting down the hall.
“Hey wait!” The man shouted. The hall was lavish with an intricate wooden banner circling around the center of the hall. Ryan ran towards the stairs but, before he could get too far, he was tackled around his waist. Attempting to shake off his captor, more weight landed on his back and hands pinned down his ankles.
“Get the hell off me!” Ryan shouted.
“That’s a dollar,” A familiar British voice laughed. This time, however, it was joined by a few more childlike voices reiterating the same phrase.
Ryan dragged himself across the carpeted hall trying to shake off the small bodies that were holding him down. He hated the fact that they were kids, and tried his best not to use too much force for fear of hurting them.
White tennis shoes appeared in front of him and Ryan turned up to make eye contact with Jack.
“That’s enough boys.” The weight on his around his waist and ankles alleviated, but the pressure on his back remained. “Jeremy,” Jack said in a warning, but motherly voice. Ryan stood as the last of the weight was removed.
He turned to see three kids that looked to range from six to nine staring at him with rapt attention. He recognized Gavin joined by two new kids, the youngest with brown eyes and thick brown hair and the oldest one, with brown curls and black-rimmed glasses. He glanced back at Jack before making a motion to leap over the banister, his only feasible method of escape. Jack, identifying his plan quickly, caught his shirt and dragged him back.
“Chill out kid,” the dark-haired man moved forward to face Ryan. “We’re not going to kill you.”
“Mad King,” Gavin gasped. “You’re up to three whole dollars now.”
Ryan glared at the kid who just smiled in response. “If you aren’t going to kill me, you’re going to torture me. Neither seem like very good options.”
“Why would I save you just to kill you?” Jack asked.
“Good point. Torture then.”
“Ryan,” Ryan cut off the dark-haired man to correct him.
“Ryan. We don’t want to hurt you. We just have a job proposition for you.”
Ryan glanced down at the kids that stood between him and the older man. The youngest one shied away from his gaze and the older brunet moved in front of the other two, protectively. He glanced back at Jack who offered him an apologetic smile while maintaining her tight hold on the back of his shirt. He turned his attention back to the other man and sighed.
“What kind of proposition?”
The bearded man smiled and extended a hand to Ryan. “Geoff Ramsey. Nice to meet you kid.”