Part 2: Behind The Scenes - Introduction to Los Santos
When I woke up I was confused, for a minute I didn't know was I a kid waking up at home in Grove Street, or a man waking up for his late shift in Liberty City. Then it came back to me, Moms, Sweet, Brian, Tenpenny, everything.
I got out of the bed and down the stairs, grabbed some cereal - Moms still had my favorite brand, shit, make me feel even worse - and looked outside... only early evening, I hadn't even been back in Los Santos a full day yet. It was hot inside, what had woken me up, used to a different kind of heat in Liberty. I stepped out onto the stoop and saw the curtains twitch over at Sweet's, and then my cell ring, he'd been waiting to talk to me, going about it the only way Sweet knew how.
"Since you been away, shit has changed 'round here," he grunted, and I could hear the bitterness in his voice, accusing me without saying anything,"Grove Street Families ain't big no more."
"Now we so busy set tripping, Ballas and Vagos have taken over, so watch yo'self out there," Sweet warned, all Big Brother now, looking out for his little bro, when a few seconds ago it was the disapproving Dad. I didn't know what to make of him, how things were between us, and I was too hot and tired to really want to deal with it. Standing in the middle of the dead end of Grove Street, I looked at Sweet's house, then up to the little rundown place sitting beside the ramp of the overpass, and figured fuck it, when you wanted to forget all the shit going down, there was one place and one person you could always rely on, no matter what.
When we was kids, our Moms made it clear that we never, ever, fucking never touched drugs. That shit was drilled into us from an early age, it was a crackhead that killed our Pops, and drugs done all kinds of fucked up shit to her brothers and sisters. Somewhere out there we got an Aunt that used to whore herself out for crack, we ain't heard she dead yet and I can't believe she still got anything worth selling... till I think about how hard up some crack-using niggas can be. So we never touched crack, cocaine, H, opium, speed... none of that shit man, even if Brian or me had been tempted, Sweet would have kicked the shit out of us, he was even more against drugs than Moms. He'd seen drugs fuck up his homies, he wasn't down for that shit, wouldn't let no one sell on our block or ANY block. No sir, no drugs for the Johnson boys.
Marijuana, in case you wondering, ain't a drug.
I didn't smoke it much, but when I did, Ryder was always on hand with a supply. Nigga loved weed, smoked it all the time, claimed he was a fucking genius and came up with some pretty fucked up shit for us to try as kids. Fried his brain from smoking it too much, but too much of anything will fuck you up, that don't make it a drug. Eat too much fried chicken, you have a heart attack and die. Drink too much wine, yo' liver fail. Smoke too many cigarettes, yo' lungs give up on you. Ryder hit that fucking tolerance level though, where it seemed he exist in a state of being constantly stoned... why he wear sunglasses all the time, leaning laid back in his couch cracking wise and being an asshole.. man that's Ryder, a stoned asshole who makes fun of you.... I got much love for him.
After hugging him I realized he strapped, and asked him what for. Ryder straight into it, telling me that some pizza place be painting over our hit up, disrespecting Grove Street tags. I guess he'd been sitting back, working up the energy to go up and put up some massive, fucked up beautiful stoned tag on the pizza place's walls to teach the owner a lesson, and now here I am, able to drive him. For Ryder, that shit is destiny calling, the universe providing for his needs by providing me... well shit, why not, I'm always down, nothing wrong with tagging.
We stepped outside, it getting darker now, and Ryder told me to drive, show him how we do it on the East Coast.... motherfucker, he knows my driving is weak, always made fun of me for that shit. We got in and started driving, and I took a look in the rearview mirror and really saw myself for the first time since arriving back in Los Santos.... shit, my hair.
"Hey, Old Reece still run the barber shop?" I asked.
"Like a raggedy-assed motherfucker!" Ryder grinned, then suggested I should let HIM cut my hair... like fuck, I got much love for the nigga, don't mean I gonna let him anywhere near my head with a blade. Old Reece worked on my hair since I was a kid, no one in Liberty City knew my head like he does. I pulled up by the barbers, still open, Reece inside grinning when he saw me, recognizing me right away despite all the time away, remembering I was Beverly's boy. He settled me in to the chair and worked his magic, hands as steady as ever, a fucking artist with his blade.
I stepped out feeling pretty good, with a little more money I could have gone fancier, but a nice high fade looks good on me. I grinned over at Ryder, waiting to hear what he had to say, to admit that Old Reece still had it.
He took a hit on his weed, right out there in the open like he didn't give a fuck, then looked over at the Well Stacked Pizza Company, it's walls pristine, tags painted over so well you couldn't see where they'd been. I could see they point if this was "their" territory, but this was Grove Street Turf, and a Grove Street tag being painted over, we couldn't let that stand. Ryder told me to step on up inside and get something to eat for my skinny ass, telling me East Coast thinned me out. While I was inside eating, he'd work on the tag outside.
The minimum wage asshole handed over my meal looking bored, and I grabbed at some chips to eat as I turned to find a table, and Ryder..... well, shit... remember when I said that I was really good at this Gangsta shit?
Well Ryder, he ain't.
"Give up the money! This a raid!" he shouted, holding up his gun as the worker raised his hands... then squinted and said the worst thing you wanted to hear someone say when you robbing their place.
"Ryder! Not this again!"
"It ain't me, fool!" Ryder snapped, and I groaned.... shit, Ryder, what the fuck? I didn't know if I should say something or not, but he was fucking things up so badly, I told him he was crazy, and he did the worst thing he could and lowered his gun and turned to face me, calling me a Busta. Out the corner of my eye I saw the worker reaching under the counter, and Ryder not noticing, not reacting, and I realized shit was about to get a whole lot more fucked up.
We ran for the car, shotgun blast going off behind us, pizza store worker shouting they were no push-over, Ryder shouting at me to drive, motherfucker, drive! I hit the gas and we shot into the street, car horns blasting at us, pizza-man shaking his fist in the rearview mirror and suddenly I just started laughing, and Ryder started laughing too.... shit man, Ryder put your blood pressure up but then he always ended up making you laugh.
"So when you running off again?" he asked, and for some reason, before I even had a chance to think the words just came spilling out my mouth.
"I'm not, I'm thinkin' of staying. My family, the homies is here."
Shit, stupid, stupid! I couldn't afford to stick around, had to get back to Liberty City, away from Grove Street and Sweet and the shit my Moms wanted to keep me out of.
"We were always here, fool!" Ryder grunted, and I grinned, shaking my head.... shit Ryder, sometimes I think you ARE a genius.
We pulled back up outside his house and stepped out, hugging for a moment before Ryder looked towards Sweet's, and told me to go see him. For a second I thought he was going to say to sort out our shit and make peace, but then he reminded me he was Ryder, saying,"He's been yapping on about that graffiti, too."
I grinned and walked away, it was getting dark and I was still tired, despite the adrenalin rush from the pizza place. I'd see Sweet tomorrow, and sort out a way to get back some of the paper Tenpenny stole from me, and get the hell out of here and back to Liberty City.
Sweet and Smoke were fucking around on Smoke's hoop the next morning when I finally headed out to deal with him. Even though I'd grown up with him, I'd always been surprised at how quick Smoke was despite his size, a big, agile motherfucker.
"Look who's here, it's running man. What, you think you back on the set?" Sweet grunted, seeing me and the smile on his face from playing ball with Smoke disappearing in an instant. Again, I replied without thinking, saying I told him I was back, but he cut me right off,"Your word don't mean shit around here."
Smoke moved up towards us, smiling to see me, holding the ball and saying hello as Sweet moved straight on with business, telling me that it was time for us to hit up the hood and let everyone know I was back on the set, the Johnson brothers rolling together again.... shit, he wanted me back, how the fuck was I going to tell him I was leaving as soon as I had the paper?
But he didn't give me a chance to say no, tossing me a spraycan and telling me... shit, ordering me... to hit up our own set first.
He turned back to playing ball, grabbing it from Smoke and shooting for the hoop, and I just turned and walked away, figuring what the hell, spray over a couple of tags and make my bro happy. I didn't see Smoke take him aside as I moved towards Sweet's car, didn't see the big man whisper in his ear and point at me.
"Decided to hang with your brother, huh?" I muttered, but he surprised me with his answer.
"It's been... difficult," he said, then he was all hardass again, asking me if I wanted to drive. I didn't press him, just hopped into the car and started driving, hoping traffic wouldn't be bad, last thing I need is a fender bender with my brother in the car.
We pulled up only a little way down the street, a fucking Ballas tag right there on our turf, and Sweet hopped out to deal with it. Shit, if they be tagging this close to home, Grove Street Family fallen on harder times than I thought.
"There's another two Balla tags in the hood," he told me, pointing over the street to a block of houses, one with a Balla tag clear on one wall, blatant fucking disrespect,"You go get 'em and I'll keep the engine running."
I took care of the two tags, marking over them with "Grove Street 4 Life", the mark we'd put up everywhere back in the day, then slid back into the car with Sweet, who grinned at me, more at ease now, using me like a soldier, not a brother,"C'mon, let's cruise into Ballas territory."
We drove through Ganton to East Los Santos, pure Balla territory, dangerous place for any Grove Street Family to be, but especially the Johnson Boys.... but the balls of the move, man, they be talking about it all week, knowing that Grove Street ain't dead yet.... and I had to remind myself, I wasn't back, this shit was only temporary, I WAS going back to Liberty City.
"You hit this up here, and I'll go up and do another hood," Sweet told me as he pulled up to the curb. He pulled away as I moved to the tag on the wall and sprayed over it, then turned the corner into the alley where sweet had told me the next tag was.
Fucking Sweet set me up, but my adrenalin was pumping as I sprayed over the tag, the Ballas off to the side coughing and hacking and trying to get the paint out they eyes. This was a fucking test, I knew it, Sweet seeing if I still had what it took to be Grove Street.... and I did, but I didn't want to... but fuck, if I didn't I'd be dead and.... ahh fuck it!
I turned and moved away as the Ballas tried to clear their vision, thinking I got away with it, and then I heard a shout..... motherfucking 5.0.
I vaulted the fence, hearing the cop wheezing behind me, not used to chasing down gangstas, used to walking the streets and hitting fools with his nightstick, but not going into a footrace. I turned and stared at him, standing two fences away just staring at me, and I smiled and waved and ran, loving this shit, fucking gangsta life what I was made for. I hauled myself onto the roof of the furniture store in case the cop got his ass over the fence, and grinned when I saw some Balla fool had left a tag here too. I sprayed over it, then looked down as Sweet pulled up, a big grin on his face as he told me to get in.
"Shit nigga, you set me up!" I laughed.
"Get us back to the hood, CJ!" he shouted, but he was laughing too, and I floored it, jumping through the lights and looking back to see pissed off looking Ballas standing besides a pissed off looking cop.
The Johnson Boys, rolling again.
We pulled up in Grove Street and stepped out, and Sweet turned and looked at me, face stern again but I could see things were starting to look better between us.
"Like riding a bike, ain't it, boy?"
"Yeah, it all comes back."
"How you doing' on the feddy?"
"I'm kinda short, you know," I admitted,"C.R.A.S.H. took all my paper, man, left me with nothing but small change..."
I walked away feeling good, and that's when my phone rang.
"Carl, it's Officer Hernandez," said an unfamiliar voice, and for a second I had a crazy thought, that it was that motherfucker who wouldn't chase me over the fence.
"Officer Hernandez," he repeated, sounding pissed, and suddenly it came back to me - C.R.A.S.H.,"I work with Tenpenny and Pulaski."
"Oh, the bitch," I grinned, still feeling on a high from breaking ice with Sweet,"What the hell you want?"
"Hey, show me some respect, boy!" he snapped back, sounding REALLY pissed now.
"Go fuck yourself, you just they bitch," I laughed, knowing it was true. Pulaski was a vicious fuck, and Tenpenny a dangerous motherfucker, this bitch... he was just they bitch.
"You watch your tone, boy," Hernandez warned me, but he was just empty fronting, there was nothing behind it,"Now listen. I've got a message from Officer Tenpenny. Don't try and leave town, that would be a big mistake. You hear me? We're watching you."
So I wasn't leaving Los Santos anytime soon.... and the scariest part was.... I was glad.