I stepped up to the door, nervous as hell, holding a bottle of wine in my hand and reached up and knocked. I heard footsteps and looked about, feeling out of place, a little freaked as the door opened up and she stood in the doorway, looking me up and down.
"Hey Carl, come in," said Kendl, and I quickly step inside as she shut the door behind me.
"Hey Carl," call Cesar from the kitchen, and I followed Kendl in, a nice little space opening up out into the living room. Cesar was moving about in the kitchen, cutting up vegetables I'd never heard off and throwing them into pots and pans, all kinds of weird but nice smells coming from them,"Good to see you again, holmes."
Kendl took the wine from me and told me to grab a seat, and I settled down into the couch, looking around the place... it was pretty nice, not bad at all, maybe a little small.
"You didn't bring Denise over, huh Carl?" asked Kendl,"I was hoping to meet her."
"Yeah, uhh.... Denise ain't really "that" type of girl.... y'know?"
"Mmmmhmmmm," say Kendl, eyes narrowed but a little smirk on her face, heading back into the kitchen to help Cesar,"Then what kind of girl is she?"
"She's uhh.... she's.... fun," I said at last.
"Hmmmmm," said Kendl, dishing up the meals and bringing them to the table, where I joined her as Cesar headed down the hall to the bedroom to change out of the clothes he'd been cooking in. It was a good spread, chicken panuchos; a chopped salad with corn, peppers, avocado, tomato, apple, beans, onion, and lettuce in some kind of vinegar; potatoes, mushrooms and steak; and a big pot of what Cesar tell me was called Tortilla Soup, which didn't make no sense to me.
"Where you learn to cook like this, Cesar?" I ask as we eating, Kendl pouring the wine I'd picked up from Roboi's, telling him to give me the best he had, which wasn't saying much.
"My Uncle teach me when I was growing up," say Cesar as he ate,"You can still grow your own vegetables or get most stuff cheap if you knew where to look, it's cheaper than buying shitty microwave meals or Cluckin' Bell... besides, my Uncle tell me all the best cooks are men, anyway."
"Haha, I heard that, one time Kendl tried to make us some cookies an..." I cut off, seeing Kendl shooting me a mean look, and I grin and shook my head and went back to my salad.
"How are things going for you, Carl?" Cesar ask,"Aztecas are all talking about you, man, about the way you took out those Vagos looking to bring drugs in from San Fierro."
"Aztecas don't roll with base slanging," put in Kendl,"Same as Grove Street... if Sweet could see that, maybe he would have less of a problem with me and Cesar."
"You know Sweet," I tell her,"Once he set his mind on something, that's it... it what made Grove Street base free in the first place, remember?"
"Yeah, I remember," she say back,"But he can't live on memories... he should look at hooking Grove Street up with the Aztecas, together they cou-"
"Baby, baby, let's not talk shop, eh?" smile Cesar, taking Kendl's hand,"We invited Carl over for a nice dinner, let you catch up with your brother, let me and him get to know each other better... we already making money together with our racing, be nice to be friends on top of that."
"About that," I say,"Money starting to dry up now that word is getting around about me... I rolled up to that Lowrider Meet you told me about and I could only find one guy willing to take me on, and he wouldn't bet no more than a C-Note."
"The price of fame, my man," nod Cesar, dishing out some of the soup into a bowl and handing it to Kendl, then one to me, then one to him,"You need to move on to greener pastures, and I got just the thing in mind."
"Yeah, what's that?" I asked, trying some of the soup and deciding I liked it.
"Going legit," he said, taking a big spoonful of soup, then grinning up at me and Kendl, both of us looking surprised,"....almost."
"Well shit, son, I don't know," say the big pot-bellied, handle-bar mustached cracker standing in front of me and Cesar the next day, staring us up and down. He was wearing cowboy boots, jeans that were WAY too tight on his fat ass, a cowboy shirt decked out in stars and stripes that his big ol' belly was trying its best to tear apart, and a great big white cowboy hat. We were standing in the parking lot of the Los Santos Forum, the big-ass stadium sitting behind the freeway on-ramp leading up to Ganton and Grove Street. All kinds of Los Santos' sports teams played here - The Dribblers, The Saints - but more importantly to us, they also held car racing here - legal car racing, not the shit me and Cesar got into. An 8-track was set up inside, people paid to get in, and they got to watch cars going round and round and round and round lap after lap after lap, and they lapped it up.
White people, who knows what the fuck they're thinking.
Every month, though, the racers opened up to amateurs coming in to try their best against professionals, which usually involved them spinning out of control on the first lap and looking like idiots while the pros did they thing. That was a good thing, though, because the racing might have been legitimate, but like most legitimate sports it attracted illegitimate betting. Sports books took bets on who would win races, and they always made a killing on the pro-am races because idiots would bet big on the long-odds of their idiot cousins or brothers or sons who had decided they could be the next Dale Earnhardt. That was Cesar's idea, he was going to be one of those idiots, and all I had to do was be the next Dale Earnhardt.... beat a bunch of pro-racers on their own home turf.
"You do much driving, son?" Mr. All American asked me,"We don't let just anybody get behind a wheel, they gotta be able to handle themselves for their own safety, let alone my drivers.... what you got?"
"I ain't got much finesse, but I can drive fast and keep driving," I say right back, not talking myself up like the second coming of God's gift to racing, being honest - a fast driver, and a guy who could keep driving, just not necessarily a great one.
"I keep my ear to the ground," he say back, still looking me and Cesar up and down, his accent thick, Southern, which made me instantly not like him for absolutely no good reason,"I heard about some black asshole fucking up the street races with his crazy driving, you know what I think?"
"I'm sure you going to tell us," I say, pissed off now and just wanting him to get to telling us to fuck off.
"I think.... these are some sore fucking losers bitching and moaning about getting beat clean, hahaha," he laugh, pulling off his hat and actually fucking slapping his knee with it,"Okay son, my interest is piqued, let's see what you can do?"
He reach out and shake both our hands, introducing himself to me as "Tex", meaning I guess he come from the Lone Star State.
But I was starting to like him anyway.
"Ladies and Gentlemen!" Tex yell over the microphone inside the forum, the stands rolled back to reveal the track we drive on. Usually the stands would be covering them with more behind, and thousands of people be cheering basketball players or hockey players or football players depending on the season. Today it was all about the racing though, and I looked around at thousands of people cheering and shouting and waving and pointing at the cars.... all of them white, every single last fucking one... Jesus, enough to send a shiver down my spine,"Welcome to the Los Santos Forum, and welcome to the Pro-Am 8-Track Invitational Racing!"
There was a big cheer from the crowd, and I felt a little overwhelmed, sitting in the spare race car they had set aside for amateurs, marked Number 5 and slapped all over with advertising stickers for Japanese companies for all the white trash to buy up while chanting USA, USA. I looked around and saw the car next to me, the driver staring at me, spitting tobacco juice out through a gap in his teeth, out the window onto the track between us.
"Don't fuck with Bobo, negra," he say, showing yellow teeth in a snarl,"I don't like amateurs, they get in my way and I run them down."
"Who the fuck is Bobo?" I say back, and he roll his eyes and stuck his hand out the window, pointing at the sticker that say "Bobo" slapped on the side and back of his car. Holy shit, his name was Bobo? What the fuck?
"...nally, our amateur taking on the big boys today, let's give it up for CARL JOHNSON!" shouted Tex, and I turned back and grinned as I heard all the people cheering for me, not knowing who the fuck I was but not caring. I stuck my arm out the car and waved, spotting Cesar moving through the crowd, meaning he'd placed the bet on me, two hundred dollars on me at odds of 100-1. If I won, $20,000 for us both, 10k each... we had to go for it all because this was a one off, we'd never get such good odds again. He'd have bet more, but that would raise interest in us and lower the odds or cause the bets to be voided... plus if we ended up with a bookie owing us too much money, they'd probably go apeshit and come after us rather than pay us. Better to make it look like a dumb-luck one-off and see the bookies eat the loss and move on.
Of course all this was based on one thing... I had to win.
Shit... not a good start.
Bobo clipped the 21 Car in front of him and the poor fool slipped back and rammed into a wall, the crowd letting out an even bigger cheer to see it. I swerved the car around it, causing me to fall further behind the other cars, and let out a little curse... this wasn't like street racing, we were in cramped conditions and had to race through them, we couldn't spread out or get around, it was go straight or stop. I was never going to win this way, hell, I'd probably come dead last. I needed some kind of break, some kind of.....
Yeah, that would do.
I grinned as I passed "Bobo" and the other cars that had wrecked up trying to all pass in the same small turn, crowd going batshit cheering at the wreckage... and I was reminded of a movie I went and saw as a kid, Christians being thrown to lions, chariot races crashing and Romans cheering. Sick shit, but they loved it.
But I couldn't think about that, all I had to concentrate on was keeping going, not getting distracted, passing the cars ahead of me, getting into the lead and holding it. $10,000 dollars depended on it.
Trouble was, these motherfuckers were professionals, they weaved and darted all over the road, keeping me from getting around them, holding me off. I started getting frustrated, trying to match skill with them and not even coming close, and I started to see red, wanting to just drive right up into the motherfuckers and.... holy shit, that was it... that was fucking it!
These motherfuckers were professionals, skilled fucking drivers handling their cars like the finely tuned machines they were. But that was their weak point, as well, because it meant they moved with finesse, kept they cars light on the track, moving back and forth, up and down, while I was just gunning straight forward and getting nowhere. But these cars were designed to absorb damage and keep going, and that meant if I rode right up on they ass while they were trying to slide all up and about on the track....
....then I'd be in first fucking place!
I got out the car and stood up on the roof, pumping my fist as the crowd cheered and wolf-whistled and Tex yelled over the mic that I'd done it, an amateur had won the Pro-Am Invitational for the first time ever!
And I'd just made a sweet 10k.
Stepping outside the forum after the crowds had left and the other drivers had finished bitching and moaning at Tex about me almost running them off the track, I found Cesar waiting for me. He threw a big grin my way and threw out his arm, and I grabbed it by the forearm, shaking it as he did the same to me.
"That bookie is going to be piiiisssssed, CJ!" he laughed,"But he'll pay up and eat the loss. I'll get you the cash tomorrow morning, okay?"
"Hey no worries man, shit I wish we could pull something like this more often."
"That's part of why it works, man," he reply,"Do it too often, people get wise.... hit them by surprise, leave it so they don't even know they been hustled. We... hey, be cool, here comes Tex."
I turned and saw Tex come walking up to us, a big grin on his face showing teeth too white to be natural.
"Well boys, you sure proved me wrong, I must say.... hell, I ain't seen driving like that in years, most drivers these days treat their cars like they're glass.... nice to see some real action in there, good damn work, my friend."
"Hey like I tell you, man," I grin,"I can drive fast and I keep driving no matter what, it's worked for me so far."
"Yeah, I say it worked out pretty well for you both today," he grin, looking over at Cesar,"I told you I keep my ear to the ground... you boys made some money today, I take it?"
"Hey man we-" started Cesar, but Tex just throw his head back and laugh.
"Haha, calm down boys, this is America! The land of opportunity! I got nothing against a couple of fellas making money entertaining my crowds, and that's what you did today, entertained my crowds. You ever go professional, I want you to come working for me, I can guarantee you a good starting wage and pole position you keep racing like that, Mr. Johnson."
"I appreciate that, Tex," I say,"I don't know that I'll ever get the chance to take you up on it, but I appreciate it."
"Hehe," giggled Tex,"Well hell, I've got a nice little bonus payment for you as well, given that you won, but there's something else I wanted to show you to, something I'm going to let you borrow, if you'd like, I think you'd get a kick out of it."
I turned and raised my eyebrows at Cesar, but he just shrugged, and together we followed Tex around the corner and saw....
"Denise Robinson speaking," said the voice on the other end of the line, and I grinned, digging on hearing her voice even if she tended to talk too much once she got started, talking about how she been with lots of men but she a one-man woman now.... how she want to open her own beauty shop.... how she had three babies but had to give them all away (that one made me pause for a minute)... how she love Ganton, blah blah blah all the time talking unless she was eating something or kissing me. But every time I heard her voice for the first time, I couldn't help but dig on it.
"Hey baby-girl," I say,"I'm outside, got a little surprise for you, why don't you come out and see?"
"Carl?" she giggle,"What you playing at? What surprise?"
"Come out and see," I grin,"I got a new toy from a Cowboy, just for you and me, come see."
"Okay," she giggle, and hung up, stepping out her door onto the stoop and seeing.... well.... seeing "it".
"Oh.... Carl.... it's so big," she say, staring up at me staring back down from the high seat.
"Dirty girl," I grin,"Think you can handle something this big?"
"Oh you have no idea, CJ," she laugh, and ran around to the passenger side, me opening the door and helping her up inside,"Where you get this?"
"A cowboy gave it to me on loan, baby, for legit," I laughed, powering the big Monster up and moving down the street, getting stares from people on the sidewalk or driving in cars that looked tiny compared to us,"Let me tool around in it for the night, gotta get it back to him tomorrow, but for now it's all ours.... don't it make you feel patriotic?"
"Oh hells yeah," she laughed, and popped her head out the window, hollaing,"USA! USA!" out it. I laughed back and hit the horn, playing the opening notes of "Hail to the Chief," through the horn, corny as all hell but goddamn if it didn't feel right. We passed an old man on the street and Denise lifted her top, showing him her titties and shouting out,"USA! USA!" He stared with wide eyes, then lifted up his cane like he was going to shake it at us, only instead of complaining, he yelled,"God bless America!"
I threw my head back and laughed long and loud, loving it, loving everything, loving life. This was fucking America in a nutshell, big, bright, loud and making everything else look tiny and insignificant by comparison.
I fucking LOVED America!
"Caaaarl," she said, turning to look at me with doe eyes and a crazy little smirk,"Take me home Carl, I got a present for you too!"
"I ain't even going to say anything," I said, turning the Monster around, grinning as I saw cars squealing to a stop or swinging wildly into other lanes to avoid us. I began driving back towards her place, Denise leaning over to my seat and whispering the dirtiest shit I ever heard into my ear. We pulled up outside her house and she stepped down out of the Monster, shaking her hips as she walked to the door, then turning to me and asking the question every nigga wants to hear,"You want some coffee?"
Oh HELL yes!
What happened next..... ain't none of your fucking business.
The next morning, I left Denise's and hopped up into the Monster, sitting outside untouched, no fucking gangsta dumb enough to try and strip a Grove Street OG's ride.... and no gangsta smart enough to know how to fucking go about stripping down a Monster in any case. I drove it back to the Forum, leaving it where Tex asked me to, getting into the Bravura I'd driven there yesterday before the race. I spotted my cell sitting on the passenger seat floor and shook my head for being stupid, I'd forgotten all about it, who knows if someone had been trying to get hold of m-
I picked up and flipped it open, and the first thing the person on the other end asked was where the fuck I'd been.
"Sweet? That you?" I asked,"Hey man, sorry, I was over at Denise's, we was.... busy, y'know?"
It was silent for a second, and then Sweet's whole attitude changed, from pissed off to laughing, pleased to hear I was getting some.
"So sorry man, but yeah I had other things on my mind," I explained,"What you need man? What's shaking?"
"Listen Carl," he say, serious again,"Some punk-ass, base-head fool has been slingin' to his Grove brothers."
"What? Who?" I asked, surprised. Surely no one was THAT fucking stupid that they'd pull this shit now that Grove Street was back on the way up and Sweet was starting to get taken seriously again by the Ballas.
"Check this out, he's been buying shit over in Glen Park," say Sweet, knowing I'd know exactly what that meant. Glen Park was Ballas turf, that meant this turncoat nigga was dealing with our sworn enemies to sell that poison to his own brothers,"He know the hood is talking, and he's hiding out with his new Balla friends."
He went quiet, and I didn't say anything either, thinking. Glen Park was Ballas turf, long term Ballas turf, had been for a long time. More to the point, the Ballas controlled most of the base coming into the streets, with the Vagos picking up the slack on their end. There was a lot of money to come from that shit, and where there was money, there was Tenpenny. He ran with the Ballas.... well, he used the Ballas for his own personal gain, but that didn't change the fact that he ran interference for them and kept the police from getting in they faces.... or other gangs getting in they faces. If this turncoat was hiding in Glen Park, he was pretty much fucking safe.
"Shit, man," I said at last,"How we gonna get to him?"
"It's time for you to announce your return, CJ!" Sweet said in reply, like that was the end of that problem,"You fuck up Glen Park, and that turncoat bitch-ass nigga's gonna lose nerve, and make a break for it."
"Okay... okay," I nodded, thinking now. Yeah, maybe if we did it fast and hard, me and Sweet busting into Glen Park, shooting shit up, scaring out the traitor and blasting on him, then peeling out.... maybe we could pull it off,"I'm gonna come pick you up."
"Hell, no," say Sweet, surprising me,"This is your gig, CJ. You need some stripes, you been moving Grove Street up, it's time you showed you ain't just an errand boy, you a fucking leader... you pull this off.... you my second, Carl."
He'd hung up, but I stayed on the line listening to the dial tone for a few moments before finally hanging up and putting the phone down. I wasn't so much thinking about going into the heart of Ballas territory alone, but about what he'd said about being his second. He was talking about moving me up on the same level as Smoke, above Ryder, being one of Grove Street's leaders.... and all I had to do was the impossible.
I sat in the parking lot at the Los Santos forum, the Monster seeming small now alongside the stadium, thinking about what Sweet wanted me to do.... and seeing no way to do it. Take out Tenpenny sending in police protection and MAYBE I could pull it off, but there was no way to do that, no way to.... oh... oh shit.
I sat in the Bravura with a huge fucking grin forming on my face, because suddenly I had a fucking idea, an idea that seemed fucking poetic, pure fucking justice for all the shit I'd been through.
I was going to put Tenpenny to work for Grove Street.