Original Marvel ReBooted Post: Punisher – Assassin Roulette
Terra Wolf walked up the steps to her New York apartment building, one arm carrying a brown paper bag full of groceries, just like she did every Monday. It was difficult being on her own again. The floors were covered in grime. The walls were tattered from neglect and the whole place smelled like mothballs, but it was home.
She dug into her jeans pocket and retrieved a small key. On the wall to the right of the elevator and to the left of the stairs was the row of mailboxes. She slid her finger across each one until she landed on hers. She pushed in the key and turned. The panel swung open. There were three letters inside. A bit surprising. Normally there was just one. Terra set the grocery bag on the ground and reached inside. The first letter was sent in a plain white envelope. On the back, it read “Dear Mommy,” just like it always did. She smiled and tore open the letter.
The first half was a note from her daughter Rebecca. She would be starting first-grade soon; she was a little nervous. The note ended with a story about her pet hamster and a new yellow raincoat “daddy” had bought her. The second half of the letter was written by someone else. It told her the family was doing well. It assured her that Rebecca was going to the best school money could afford. It told her that Rebecca was excited about being dropped off in a limo. The letter ended with the initials M.M. At the bottom were the words “P.S. I love you”, just like they always were.
Terra closed her eyes and smiled. She paused a moment then switched to the other letters. One had arrived in a red envelope, and the other wasn’t a letter at all. It was a postcard. A landscape shot of casinos and hotels. “Welcome to Las Vegas” was written over the top in big red letters. She turned the card over. The back had originally been blank. The words “Devil’s Arms Hotel and Casino. Grand Prize $5,000,000” was handwritten on the back. Terra quickly tore open the red envelope. Inside was a letter that expanded on the contents of the postcard. She bit her lip.
A few moments went by. She hurried upstairs and walked briskly down the hall to her apartment. Once inside, she threw a suitcase on the bed and opened it. She looked to the maroon colored phone sitting on her bedside table, reached for it but stopped. Terra could feel her heartbeat. Her hands went cold. Another minute passed and she shook her head, grabbed the phone, and dialed.
Two rings. Then three. The line clicked. A woman’s voiced greeted her on the other end.
“Hello?” Terra said. “Can I speak to John — I mean Mr. Fears?… No, I don’t have an appointment. Just tell him it’s Lisa Faraj calling. Thank you.”
The line went silent. Terra retrieved the letter from the red envelope and re-read its contents while she waited. After two minutes, she heard the tone of a familiar voice over the phone speaker. Terra couldn’t help but smile.
“Hello John,” she said. “Yes, it’s…it’s been a while… I could be better, but then again, I could be worse.”
They both laughed.
“Look, John, I hate to do this, but I need a favor,” Terra said. “I need to book a special flight. For old time’s sake. Las Vegas. One way… Thanks John. I really owe you… What’s that?”
Terra glanced back down at the letter in her hand. Her eyes narrowed.
“Yeah,” she said. “I’m working again.”
Her eyes were fixed on the last line of the letter: kill the Punisher.
Frank Castle stood on the roof of the Gold Fire Hotel looking through a pair of military-grade binoculars at the Devil’s Arms Hotel and Casino across the way. Don Arano Mazzato had been the last of the commission to arrive. Three cars full of bodyguards followed close behind. They were the professional type. The black suit and earpiece type. The kind with special forces backgrounds and fancy bulletproof vests. Don Mazzato was easy to spot. He walked from the black limousine wearing a cream-colored suit, the jacket hanging from his shoulders. A white pork pie hat with a black band covered his a balding head of brown hair. The twelve soldiers followed him inside. Four in the front. Two to each side and the remaining six trailing behind.
Arano had taken over the Mazzato crime family after his father had been assassinated six months ago. His assassination had ended a bloody war between the Mazzatos and the Gorlinis. The old Don’s eldest son had taken over Mazzato affairs. Now the entire commission was gathering at the Devil’s Arms to hammer out the final peace agreement and officially approve Don Arano has the head of the Mazzato crime family. Frank had counted each member as they arrived. One by one. Don Antonio Gorlini had arrived early, wearing a navy blue suit with white pinstripes. After leading the Gorlini syndicate for twenty years, his hair had turned an iron grey. He’d been a singer in his youth. Traveled the country with a golden voice. When he took the position as Don, he’d earned the nickname Notes, from his friends. Twenty years later, he’s walking into the Devil’s Arms with his weathered good looks, a blond model on each arm, and a new nickname: Tony “Nine Eyes.” The man you can’t fool.
Frank snapped his body armor in place, wrapped around his torso. On the ground to his left was a long rectangular case made of black metal. Five inches in width and twelve inches in height. On the ground to his right was a thick shield painted a grayish-black with the death’s head skull sloppily spray painted on the front.
Frank grabbed the case and attached its handle to the back of his armor. He grabbed the handle of the shield and stood up. He had a pistol holstered on each hip. A sawn-off shotgun holstered on his right shoulder and an M16 strapped across his back. A pouched belt around his waist held additional clips, grenades, and a combat knife the size of his forearm.
Castle climbed down the stairs and stepped out onto the Vegas sidewalk. Passing pedestrians took one glance and hurried away. As Frank crossed the road, the scenario ran through his head again. The first wave would be common soldiers – thugs at the bottom of the mafia food chain.
A car honked at Frank, the wheels screeching as it swerved to miss him.
The commission should’ve been settled in by now. It would take time for the personal guards of the family heads to jump into action. The real fight would begin once the skilled thugs were able to mobilize.
A young couple couldn’t help but stop and stare as Frank brushed past them and climbed up the red-carpeted stairs to the polished revolving doors. There were two thugs standing at the doorway inside. A big man in a grey suit. Shiny black oxfords. Bald. Double chin. The other was much younger. Early twenties. Thin as a pole. A head of red hair and wearing a ruffled old suit. Second hand. Maybe a quick pick-up from a thrift shop. Maybe his father’s old clothes.
Frank walked through the revolving door. The speakers were playing a somber version I’ve Got You Under My Skin. It wasn’t Frank Sinatra. It was Gorlini’s version. The two men hadn’t noticed. They were joking about something. The fat man had thrown his head back in a fit of laughter. The young guy was smiling, more with excitement, proud that he was able to impress. Behind them was the lobby, and behind the lobby was a hallway that lead down to the casino. Elevators lined the hall each leading up to the hotel.
Last, there would be innocent people. People that had nothing to do with the scum held up in the back. He needed to move them out of harm’s way. There was only one real trick to move that many people all at once. He needed something loud. Something scary.
Frank pulled the Desert Eagle from his left holster and pointed it at the fat man. The mob soldier only had half a second to catch glimpse of the pistol before Frank pulled the trigger. The man’s head popped like a balloon, spattering Frank and the redhead with specks of brain and blood. Before the fat man’s body had time to fall, Frank had switched to the boy. He was young. College age. Probably thinking about that big promotion. Thinking about that one perfect crime that’ll earn big smiles from all the right people. The right stolen goods. The right broken bones. Just the right murder. The Eagle’s flash was almost blinding. The bullet blasted a football-sized hole right in the red head’s chest.
Frank looked out into the lobby. Everyone was frozen. They always froze. An old animal habit leftover from the primal days. Old man. New man. Some things never changed. Frank took aim again and fired. Suddenly Sonny “Knives” Veniti had his brains splattered all over the lobby wall. After that, their senses snapped back to life. A rush of adrenaline pumped through their veins. Their minds all ringing the same thing. It’s flight or fight time. The civilians fled. The gangsters fought. Eddy “Cool Cats” Mironi stood up. He took a breath and said what no one else had the nerve to say.
“It’s The Punisher!”
And Eddy took a bullet, spilling his heart all over the woman next to him. Probably the first time he’d spilled his heart to anyone. The other thugs pulled their guns. Cue firefight.
* * *
Thirty minutes earlier.
The commission was settling in the back room normally reserved for the casino’s owner. Comfortable. Big long mahogany desk. Lots of cameras. Ten different Dons from ten different families were attending that night. Together, their bodyguards could fill the entire casino on their own.
She had escorted Antonio Gorlini into the Devil’s Arms much earlier that day. He and Celia, his part-time mistress and full-time bodyguard. Antonio had been a little skeptical at first. Terra wasn’t surprised. Tony “Nine Eyes” Gorlini got the nickname for having an unnatural talent for seeing through traps and lies. So good, many of the lesser thugs whispered about him having superpowers. But there were no powers. Antonio was as insightful as he was cautious. His caution was almost borderline paranoia. Especially after his family’s war with the Mazzatos. In fact, had she been anyone else, he’d have turned down her offer to act as his bodyguard. He almost did. Terra didn’t mind. Not tonight. Tonight, that paranoia would work to her advantage. Tonight, she was counting on it.
Each Don was allowed one bodyguard during the meeting. Celia was Antonio’s. Terra could have waited outside where the rest of the more elite soldiers were staying, but she decided against it. After all, she wasn’t really there for Tony.
Terra looked down at the thin gold watch fastened around her wrist. According to her estimate, she still had time. She walked across the casino area to the lobby. Past the constant clicks of the slot machines. Past the sounds of clattering dice and the cheering and the cursing. Through the pungent smell of old cologne and cigarettes. The lobby was quiet. Calm. There were only a few men ordered to guard the entrance. The rest were mostly scattered throughout the building. It was no secret that a meeting of ten Dons would attract unwanted attention. Tony “Nine Eyes” covered his bases well. He knew intruders could come from anywhere. Terra knew The Punisher would strike. She didn’t know where, but she had a good guess. That was the first advantage Tony gave. He and The Punisher had crossed paths before and they were both still alive. The Punisher respected Tony’s knack for caution. He knew tricks wouldn’t work. That left him with few options. All of them boiled down to a full frontal assault.
Some old song was playing over the lobby speakers. A slow trumpet with an accompanying drum and piano. Soft. Smooth. Almost relaxing. Little Billy and Big Tommy were standing guard by the door. Little Billy the redhead was telling a few jokes, making Tommy’s giant gut jiggle with amusement. Billy looked over and waved at her. A big smile on his face. Terra gave a polite smile and waved back. He was a good kid. Just signed up a few months ago.
Terra sat down at the bar and placed her small red sequined purse on the counter. The bartender was an old grey-haired man in a white button-up shirt and green vest. He took her order and set a dry martini down in front of her.
“Drinks on me,” said another voice.
Terra turned her head to see Eddy “Cool Cats” Mironi sitting down on the barstool beside her. He was wearing a red suit with a black button-up underneath. No tie. He gave a quick line. Complimented her red dress. Terra wasn’t surprised, her dress was fairly low cut.
Eddy told her it was nice seeing her again. Told her it was nice having Lisa Faraj on their side. He didn’t bring up the Mazzatos. Not even once. He was always considerate in that way. Looking at his smiling face and his friendly blue eyes, you’d never guess this was the same man who burned a shop owner alive for refusing to pay protection. Eddy ordered a drink of his own. Whiskey on the rocks. His order arrived and he launched into a story about him and Tony before their mafia days when they were just players in a band. Tony the singer and Eddy “Cool Cats” on the saxophone. Then the song over the lobby speakers changed. A version of I’ve Got You Under My Skin sung by Tony Gorlini. His was slow. A lazy jazz type. The kind of song you’d have a candlelit dinner to. The kind of song you’d make love to.
Little Billy was still telling jokes. Big Tommy was still laughing. Eddy was talking about his first big break with Tony. Then a gunshot broke the silence and suddenly no one was laughing. Terra looked over in time to see Little Billy splattered all over the floor.
The Punisher had arrived. Walked right through the front door, just like she expected him to. Another gunshot and then another. Eddy’s blood splashed all over her. The warm liquid brought her back to reality. She grabbed her purse, opened it, and reached inside.
* * *
Bullet casings clanged against the lobby floor of the Devil’s Arms hotel. A hail of gunfire smashed against The Punisher’s shield. The whole building had erupted into a war zone in ten seconds flat. Another shot from the Desert Eagle blasted another man’s arm to pieces. Another sent half a man’s face flying six feet behind the other half. Frank heard the elevators ding, signaling the arrival of four more mafia thugs. Frank tossed the Eagle aside and unhooked two grenades from his belt. He pulled the two pins with his teeth and tossed the armed grenades. They bounced and rolled into the hall. The elevator doors slid open. The grenades went off. The air went hazy with smoke. Over twenty men were smeared all over walls and ceiling. A speeding train would’ve left a prettier sight.
The blast had sent the remaining soldiers into a temporary state of shock. Frank took advantage of the lull in the fighting. He grabbed his shield with both hands, lifted it over his head and brought it down like a hammer, sticking it into the ground. Frank checked his watch. He had a few seconds until the heavy guns were brought in.
With the shield standing on its own, Frank unhooked the case from his armor. He set it down and popped it open. He pulled out the high powered sniper rifle from inside. Mazzato’s men wore body armor. That meant headshots. One headshot was difficult on a good day. Twelve in a row would be lucky. Twelve in a row in all this chaos, he would need a miracle. Frank learned long ago that sometimes stopping power was a little more reliable than good aim.
Frank knelt behind the shield and pressed his rifle’s barrel against the side of the shield. Footsteps were racing closer. Mazzato’s guards turned the corner into the hall. Sunglasses and designer suits. Frank braced himself. He squeezed the trigger. The force pushed his whole body back. The bullet struck the first guard rounding the corner and his skull shattered like glass.
Frank managed two more shots. Two more kills before the remaining nine retreated back into the casino. They had the luxury of time. Frank didn’t. He set the sniper down and detached four flash bangs from his belt, took a deep breath and stepped out from behind the shield.
The other soldiers had gone into hiding until now. They found courage when they saw The Punisher running across the lobby floor armed only with two handfuls of flashbangs. A bullet zipped past Frank’s head. Another grazed his arm. He winced when he took two in the vest. Finally, he made it to the end of the hall. He armed all four flashbangs and sent them sliding across the blood-soaked floor into the casino. Frank removed the pistol from his right holster and drew the combat knife sheathed on the left side of his belt. His thumb flicked the switch on the gun setting it to full auto. Then the casino went white. Everything went quiet. The muffled cries of Mazzato’s guards were all he could hear. Suddenly deprived of sight and sound, it was scary. Downright terrifying.
The thugs left in the lobby were closing in, taking positions in sight of the hall. Frank looked back down at his watch. He clicked the small green button set just above one ‘o clock. Six panels popped open on the shield he’d left behind. The shield he’d left facing towards the hall and behind the encroaching soldiers. Frank pressed the red button just below the green and slipped into an elevator that had been held open by a severed arm. Another loud bang as the six claymores hidden inside his shield ignited. A lot of screaming followed. A shower of metal balls peppered the men, tearing them to pieces. Frank saw a head bounce past the elevator doors.
Frank stood up and stepped back out into the hallway. The lobby was a bloodbath but vacant. Frank made his way to the casino. Mazzato’s men were still on the ground. Some were beginning to recover. Frank took aim with his pistol set to full auto and pulled the trigger. The muzzle erupted. A quick procession of empty casings arched from the slide. A second and a half was all it took to empty the extended magazine. The rounds punched through the four men that had taken cover to the left. By the end, they had more of their guts spread out on the floor of the casino than they had inside their bodies. Frank heard footsteps behind him. He dropped the pistol and turned, tightening his grip around the knife.
Frank saw the punch coming. He stopped it, taking hold of the man’s arm by the wrist. He felt the tiny bones start to strain under his grip. Frank plunged the knife just under the man’s bicep. One quick move and the arm was severed. It dropped to the floor a twitching bloody mess. Another swipe cut the guard’s throat almost down to the spine. Blood poured down his neck like a morbid waterfall. Frank shoved him aside just in time to match the next two guards running up to take the place of the last. Frank un-holstered the shotgun from over his shoulder, took aim, and fired. Buckshot took off the top of the first man’s head, leaving behind his tongue and lower jaw. The body flew back and slammed into the second guard who had been at his back. Both fell to the ground. Frank walked over. The surviving man put on a defiant face. He was pinned under what was left of his former squad mate. There was nothing he could do. Not in time. Frank raised a booted foot and slammed it down on the man’s neck, breaking it.
The next two were already making their way over. Frank fired the slug. The shot turned the second man’s leg into hamburger meat. He dropped to the floor, holding his leg. The whole casino was filled with the echoes of his agony.
The first man didn’t stop. Frank reversed the grip on his knife, ducked and stepped behind the man’s defenses. The end was quick. Frank’s knife cut through the man’s neck like butter. Sent his head rolling down near a line of slot machines.
Just then, Frank heard the sound of a gun slide clicking into place. The last man had used the deaths of his team to retrieve a pistol and prep it. Frank looked at him. The man was aiming for a headshot. He had a smile on his face. Already thinking of all the rewards and the fame of being the man who killed The Punisher.
Frank lifted his knife and aimed it at the last guard. The man laughed, knowing he was in control. Frank tapped the button on the handle of the knife. The blade launched and sank into the man’s chest, the tip slicing through to the other side, just beside the shoulder blade. He fell, blood filling up his mouth and running down his cheek, his last flinch of life pulling the trigger and sending a wild shot nowhere near Frank.
“Ballistic knife,” Frank said.
And the life drained from the man’s eyes. Mazzato’s boys were gone. Frank took the M16 from around his back. He made his way to the room where the ten Dons were staying. Across the casino floor. Down another hall. Left turn. Right turn. Six more guards waited at the end, standing in front of a black door. A quick burst of fire turned them into Swiss cheese. Frank walked down the hall. The clip of the M16 clattered on the ground. Frank pushed another one into place. One strong kick and the black door splintered open.
Frank flew back. It felt like a wrecking ball rammed into his chest. He landed on his back, gasping for breath. The sound of high heels echoed through the hall. Frank’s vision was blurry, but the sight of a blond woman in a blue dress was walking his way. A pump action shotgun in her hands. Frank recognized her. One of the two blonds who’d walked in with Antonio Gorlini.
The woman came to a stop at his feet, the shotgun pointed at his head. She smirked.
“Too bad,” she said. “All that handsome gone to waste.”
She squeezed the trigger. Frank took a breath and struck the shotgun barrel with his fist. The gun went off. Everything went quiet. Just the high pitched ring breaking the silence. Frank grabbed the muzzle of the shotgun and kicked the woman just above her knee. The sound of her snapping bone was muffled in his ear. The woman fell. She released the shotgun. Frank didn’t. He got up and walked over to her. He could see the pain in her eyes as she stared at her shattered leg. She looked up at him and held up a hand. She mouthed something like “No. Wait.” Then Frank pulled the trigger.
He gathered his M16 and entered the room where the ten Dons were waiting. They all got up. They pointed and shouted. Probably threats. Maybe bribes. Frank snapped the trigger back. The rifle rattled in his hands. Blood spattered his face. The bullets bit through all that fat and flesh, bloated from devouring the weak and helpless. And as that thought raced through his mind, the slaughter went on. But Frank couldn’t hear their screams, even as the M16 ate through clip after clip.
* * *
Terra had made her way through the horror scene The Punisher left in his path. She turned into the hall, leading to the room where the Dons were gathered. She stepped through the puddle of blood and brain and bits of skull that had once been Celia’s head. As she got closer, she could hear speaking. Mumbling at first, then it became clearer. The door was smashed. She could see The Punisher standing there in the doorway, his back to her. Short black hair. Tall. Muscled. Clad in a black heavy duty bullet proof vest. Blood was pooling around his feet. Antonio Gorlini and Arano Mazzato were the only two other still living souls in the room. Their hands were up. Terra continued in step by step. Then the vigilante fired. Terra’s heart jumped. Three rounds punched into Mazzato’s chest. He stumbled back and fell. Now Antonio was alone.
Terra took one more step. The Punisher switched targets. Terra found herself staring down the heated barrel of the M16.
“Wait!” Terra shouted, holding up her hands. “Here. Look.” She nodded to her right hand which held a folded black ID holder. The same one she’d taken from her purse earlier.
The Punisher kept the rifle trained on her and took the holder from her hand. He flipped it open. “Terra Wolf,” The Punisher said. “You’re F.B.I.”
“I’m undercover,” she said.
“You came in with Antonio,” The Punisher said. “You investigating him?”
“Sort of,” Terra said. “Not really.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I got a tip you’d be here,” Terra said. “I wanted to warn you.”
“This whole thing,” Terra said. “It was a setup.”
“Didn’t seem to help them much,” Punisher said.
“Look,” she said. “I left the service a year ago. Before coming here, I received a request in the mail. A personal request from an old friend. One last mission. Something only I could do.”
“And what’s that?”
“Officially the F.B.I. isn’t here,” Terra said. “They needed a retired agent to do what they needed done. Someone set you up Castle. Someone big. Someone willing to pay a grand prize of five million dollars.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
His eyes were fierce. Terra could see that he still didn’t believe a word, but he was still Frank Castle. He wouldn’t risk killing a federal agent. Not unless he was certain they deserved to die. By the look in his eyes, she could tell any word could be here last. She needed to do something desperate to convince him. It didn’t take long to think of something. No time at all. She’d had it in mind since before she even made the flight to Las Vegas.
“Whoever set you up wanted you to crash this party,” Terra said. “They knew you couldn’t resist. They wanted you to wipe out the whole commission. Then kill you.”
“Assassins,” she said. “That five million is a reward for an open contract. A letter was sent out detailing exactly how the hit was supposed to go down. They’d wait for you to kill off the commission. Then you’d be weak. Low on ammo and injured. Easy pickings.”
The Punisher’s face was stone. He gave nothing away. Terra lowered her arms.
“Keep’em up.” The Punisher said.
“We don’t have time,” Terra said. “If you won’t believe me, then I’m going to do something that will make you believe me.”
Terra walked past The Punisher. She swiped up a pistol from one of the dead bodyguards, checked the clip and chamber, and approached Antonio Gorlini. He smiled when he saw her. He looked relieved. His eyes were soft. Almost like the ones he had in his younger days before they were hardened by the crime and the drink and the drugs. Standing there with his short grey hair and chiseled good looks, he almost looked like the man he should’ve been. A better man. The man he wanted to be.
“I don’t know how you did it doll face,” he said. “But what do you say we get out of–“
Terra pressed the pistol against his forehead.
“Sorry Tony,” she said. Then she pulled the trigger. Antonio’s brains splattered all over the back wall and his body fell back.
Terra glanced over her shoulder.
“Believe me now?”
Punisher lowered his rifle.
“Good,” Terra said. “Now let’s get out of here before the help arrives.”
“Get the detonator from Antonio’s pocket,” The Punisher said.
“What?” Terra asked.
“Antonio ‘Nine Eyes’ Gorlini,” Punisher said. “A man renown for being cautious. He’d lost a lot of support during his war with the Mazzatos, but he didn’t know how much. Told me he planted a bomb in case he sensed betrayal from the commission. “
Terra thought a moment. “No,” she said. “I was never trained to handle bombs. You take care of it. I’ll stand watch.”
The Punisher didn’t move right away. He just stood staring at Terra, his face still offering nothing. Finally, he walked over and retrieved the detonator from Antonio’s suit pocket. He handed it to Terra. “Here,” he said. “Take this and go stand watch. I’ll get the bomb.”
Terra grabbed the detonator. “Alright,” she said.
The Punisher turned to look for the bomb. Terra felt her hands shaking. She walked out of the room, down the hall and back into the casino. She looked down and opened her hand where the detonator rested at the center of her palm. She stared for almost a minute. Finally, she closed her hand around it again and clicked the button.
* * *
Terra had known about the bomb, of course. She was the one who panted it under Antonio’s orders. It wasn’t clear how she would use it or if she would use it at all, especially because Antonio had held the detonator. But it all worked out. It worked out too well. At least it appeared that way, right up until Terra clicked the button and nothing happened.
Her heart skipped. She looked up. The Punisher was standing at the entrance where the casino met the meeting room hallway. He held the bomb in one hand and the M16 in the other, pointed right at her. The button on the bomb had turned from red to green. The device had received the signal to detonate, but the trigger had been disabled.
“It was a test,” Terra said. “You were testing me.”
The Punisher said nothing.
“I should have seen it,” Terra said. “I should’ve waited. Damn you Castle. I guess you saw right through me. Didn’t you?”
A staccatoed blast shot from the end of the M16. Terra jumped to the side and took cover behind a row of slot machines. The Punisher set the bomb down and walked forward. Bullets bit into the gambling machines, shooting them to pieces. Terra peaked around the corner, aimed her pistol and fired back. Two hits. One in the armor. One grazed his neck. The Punisher pressed a hand against the burning neck wound. Terra smiled. She’d surprised him. But she wasn’t surprised. Had conditions been slightly better, they would’ve been headshots.
The Punisher dove into cover behind a row of slot machines of his own. The shooting stopped. Everything went quiet. All Terra could hear was the sound of her own labored breath. Her heart was racing. Beating faster than she could count. The song playing over the speakers changed. Another Tony Gorlini. His version of The Good Life. Terra took a few controlled breaths and peaked around the slot machine standing at the end of the row. That’s when she heard something drop behind her. She quickly turned back to see a primed grenade sitting there. She tried to move away, but it was too late. The grenade ignited. Everything went dark.
* * *
Terra awoke a few seconds later, her back against the wall, though she didn’t know where. Her eyes were open, but everything was dark. They hurt. The shrapnel had likely mangled them to pieces. She could feel her own blood running down her body, soaking into her red dress. It was getting harder to breath. Everything hurt and she couldn’t feel her left arm. It might’ve been gone. She didn’t know.
The Punisher’s footsteps thudded across the floor. Terra couldn’t see him, but she knew he must have his M16 pointed in her direction.
“There aren’t any more assassins,” Terra said. “That was just a lie.”
“I know,” The Punisher said. “Who hired you?”
Terra forced a smile.
“I fell in love once,” she said. “With a handsome young boy. We went to school together. But I could never be in his life, not the way I wanted to be.”
Terra coughed. Blood. She could taste the bitter liquid as it welled in her mouth. She let it empty down her chin.
“But still,” she continued. “We were happy. We even had a kid. We kept it secret for a while. Secret from all the right people. Then the Mazzatos went to war with Antonio Gorlini and Don Mazzato found out about our relationship. He didn’t want us together. That’s when Antonio approached me. Told me he had to perfect way to kill Don Mazzato. So I accepted. I killed Don Mazzato. I ended the war between the families so my family could live in peace.”
“Then you are Lisa Faraj,” The Punisher said. “Thought you retired.”
“The job was perfect,” Terra said. “Nobody should’ve found out. But somebody did. The entire Mazzato family came crashing down on me. So I disappeared.”
“Then it’s over,” the Punisher said.
“Over?” Terra asked.
“Your lover. Mario Mazzato’s dead,” the Punisher said. “He’d planned to take over the commission. Planned to leak the information to me. I kill the commission. His assassin kills me. He takes control. I found out. Traced him back to the Mazzato estate. Told me everything. He gave Antonio the perfect way to kill Don Mazzato. He was the one who exposed the assassin who killed his father. He forced you into hiding. Planned for all this to happen. The end of the war. The commission meeting. There was never any five million dollars. He used you.”
Terra didn’t speak for a few seconds.
“I used to have this dream,” she said. “Ever since I was a little girl. A house by the beach. With me and Mario. Far away from all this. Our kids would grow up in peace. I promised myself. Whatever I did, whatever happened, that’s where we’d end up. I thought, me sitting here meant that dream was over. But… it’s been over for a while. Hasn’t it? Even before I got that letter in the mail.”
Terra sobbed. No tears came out.
“Look at me,” she said. “A woman who can’t even cry. I must be a real mess.”
The Punisher said nothing. Terra heard his booted footsteps bring him a little closer. She felt the warm muzzle of the M16 press against her head.
“I can’t see,” she said. “C-could you answer one question first?”
The Punisher said nothing.
“I guess I’ll be meeting Mario in hell,” she said. “Tell me, do I still look pretty?”
There was a short pause.
“Yeah,” the Punisher said.
Terra couldn’t help but let out a weak laugh. “Liar,” she said.
“You’re daughter’s safe,” the Punisher said. Then he pulled the trigger.
* * *
The M16 had barked out its last bullet. Police sirens could be heard in the distance, gradually getting louder. The Punisher exited the Devil’s Arms through the back. And the last song ended. The voice of Tony Gorlini singing its final verse.
Well, just wake up, kiss the good life goodbye.