I knocked on Cesar's door and stood waiting for him to answer, and happened to look around in time to see someone ducking back between two houses across the street.
"Motherfucker!" I said, taking a step forward, sure it was whoever the fuck I'd spotted tailing me all over the city as far back as when I wasn't sleeping and thought it was just paranoia.
"Carl?" asked Cesar and I stopped; turning to see he'd opened the door behind me,"What's going on, holmes?"
"Oh, hey man," I said, slapping hands with him, grinning when we got our signals crossed, him trying to slap hands his way and me mine. I'd gotten so used to working with Cesar that I'd started thinking of him as another homie,"It's nothing man... well, actually it ain't, but it nothing you need to worry about."
"Someone giving you trouble?" he asked, stepping up beside me and looking down his street, quiet in the afternoon sun, people at work or school or sleeping to get out of the heat,"If it's anyone on my block I'll-"
"Nah man," I told him,"That fucker Tenpenny had someone following me, sneaking around like a shadow all over Santos, fucking aggravating but nothing to worry about."
"5.0, huh?" he grinned, slapping me on the shoulder,"Come on inside, I got your money, been waiting to give it to you."
I followed him inside, looking around at how neat the place was, wondering how much of that was Cesar and how much was Kendl.
"Kendl at work, huh?" I asked.
"Yeah, doing secretary work over at an accounting firm in Downtown," he said, moving into his bedroom to get the money. I stayed in the living room, not wanting to go into a bedroom he shared with my sister, and not wanting to disrespect him by walking in to watch him get the money out of wherever it was hidden,"I tell her I'm a man, I make good money, there's no reason for her to work, she just laughs and says it ain't about the money."
"Then what the hell is it about?" I asked, shaking my head and then grinning when he handed me the money.
"It's all there, count it, man," he said, but I shook my head.
"Nah, I know you a man of your word, Cesar."
"Have a drink?" he asked,"I got some beers, a little tequila, or just water or Sprunk if you don't want anything alcoholic."
"I'm good, man," I said,"I'd hang, but Sweet wants me back to his by dark, he's talking some heavy shit and wants all Grove leaders there."
"Everyone talking about the hit on Kane," nodded Cesar, getting himself a beer from the fridge,"Grove Street is getting back on top of shit in Santos, wish I could say the same about Aztecas, we're still trying to sort out who is gonna lead us since our main man went down. Some want me, some want others, not enough people want one person to say for certain."
"This shit has a way of sorting itself out," I said,"Look man I gotta go, I'm sorry, but we should hang again soon, you, me and Kendl, dinner the other day was nice."
"Yeah man," he grinned, walking with me to the door,"Bring Denise next time, or some girl that Kendl ain't gonna stare daggers at..... self-respect."
"Self-respect?" I asked, confused.
"Kendl working, man," he said, and I realized he was answering my question from before about why work if it wasn't for the money,"It gives her self-respect to know she CAN get a job and CAN make money for herself. I thought you'd know that, holmes, you were legit in Liberty City for five years, weren't you?"
"Yeah, well... there's legit and there's legit, y'know?" I grinned,"I had jobs, but they paid shit, they kept my head above water, but I had to look to doing "odd jobs" every so often to keep the bills paid."
"I hear you, man," he nodded, and we slapped hands again, getting it right this time,"It's a tough world, and we all gotta do what we can to make it."
I headed out, down the stoop and out to the road where my Bravura was waiting, hopping in and driving back to Grove.
"...ll gotta do what we can to make it," Cesar said, and Carl headed out, down the stoop and out to the road where his Bravura was waiting. He hopped in and drove away, back to Grove Street, leaving Cesar standing in the doorway holding a beer in one hand. After a moment, he stepped back inside and shut the door, sitting on his couch and pulling a phone out of his pocket and dialing a number.
"Yo, it's C," he said when the person on the other end answered,"He saw you again, pull back and don't let him see you again, we can't let him know we're following him till we're ready to make our move. Yeah... yeah, just do it, okay, we have to find out what he knows about that Green Sabre before we can know what to do about him when it all goes down. Don't. get. seen."
He hung up and put his phone away, taking a pull from his beer.
"We all do what we gotta do, Carl," he said again, sitting alone in his home.
It was just getting dark as I walked up into Sweet's house, wondering what he, Smoke and Ryder were coming up with, what big plan they'd come up with the reunite the families and make Grove Street top dog again.
"Ahem," I said, and Smoke jumped like I was his momma catching him watching dirty movies,"Wassup, y'all?"
"Wassup, playa," Smoke said back as we slapped hands, and Sweet told me to switch off the tv, he had something to say.
"Listen up fellas," he said, clapping his hands together and rubbing them, excited to be getting to it now that we were all there,"Like we were saying, no more base in the streets."
"Finally," I said, grinning, while Smoke just sat watching Sweet, listening for what he had to say next, while Ryder lay over on the couch holding his wet, impossible to read his eyes behind his sunglasses.
"Peep this," Sweet told us,"We're gonna unite the Families once more, because the Ballas have been pumping our guys full of base for too long while we argue amongst ourselves. So I made some calls, called in favors, made some threats, talked up how we took out Kane.... all the Families sets are gonna meet down at the Jefferson Motel."
He stood up, turning so that he was in the middle of the three of us, the closest friends he had, the inner circle of Grove Street.
"I say it's time we went down there and made it official," he told us, eyes fired up like they hadn't been in years, filled with the rage I hadn't seen since that time Momma forced him to come home and made me and Brian tell what the Grove Street OG had offered us... the fire in his eyes when he found out what was going on and set about doing something about - something that made Tenpenny his worst fucking enemy and put Grove Street on top of Santos - and now he was getting a chance to do it again,"Keep that shit off our streets!"
He stared at us each one by one, first me, then Ryder, then finally Smoke, who sat calmly in his seat, arm on the armrest, looking up at Smoke like fucking Buddha, solid as a fucking rock, face not giving nothing away while his mind would be working away a mile a minute behind it.
"I vote I'm our representative on this one," Sweet told Smoke, and finally the fat man moved, putting his hands on his knees and hauling his ass up out the seat to look Sweet clear in the eye.
"Hey," he said, then gave a little smile,"It's all good, if Sweet thinks he can handle it, I'm down with him, man."
And that was what I was talking about - fucking unity, and that was why Tenpenny could never beat us, because we were family, and together we'd always overcome.
I hopped into the driver's seat of Sweet's Greenwood and started her up, last light of the sun fading out as we started heading for the Jefferson Motel. Smoke was sitting serene beside me, Sweet was behind me with his face set but his eyes alive, and Ryder was just kind of sprawled in his seat, looking out the window before spotting something that could relieve his boredom.
"Say CJ, you gonna crash the car again?" he asked, smirk on his face.
"Fuck you, Ryder," I say back, turning onto the bridge, but with a grin, that nigga never got tired of pushing your buttons.
"Ryder, give CJ a break, man," spoke up Sweet, surprising me,"He's practically turned the Grove around by himself."
Well... shit, make a nigga blush, Sweet! I had to fight not to smile, feeling stupidly proud to hear my big brother sticking up for me, while Ryder was trying to front like he hadn't just been told by Sweet.
"Man, I was just telling a joke on the little nigga," he said, defensive.
"Everything you do is a joke, Ryder," I said back, a little harder than I meant to, and he took offence immediately, just like no one else ever did with him no matter what he said.
"That ain't true!" he shouted, leaning forward in his seat.
"Ryder... just chill the fuck out, man!" Smoke say from beside me, sounding a little pissed himself.
"Remember," said Sweet, the voice of reason,"We're reuniting the Families... so no bullshit.... stay cool."
"You know me, Sweet," front Ryder, chest puffed out, chin raise,"Cool as a Shaolin monk!"
"Especially you, Ryder," say Sweet, shaking his head.
"What you mean?" ask Ryder, not letting it go,"I resent your implication, and shit."
"sweet's just sayin' you a natural killer, baby," grinned Smoke, winking at me from the passenger seat as he crossed the tracks onto the road the Jefferson Motel was sitting on,"You gotta check yourself and stay cool."
"Yeah, well..." mutter Ryder, still offended,"Put it like this - I understand what he's trying to say, but I'm always cool, fool!"
"You get that one from Loc, Ryder?" I ask with a grin, and Smoke laugh before slapping my shoulder then turning back to Ryder, telling him we were all cool with him.
"We'll be there just in case, bro," I told Sweet as he reached for the door.
"Thanks, homie," he said,"But I'm down with these boys."
"Speaking of Loc, I ain't seen the nigga since the party," I said as we sat not looking at the other homies from different sets not looking at us,"They didn't really pick him up for parole violation, did they?"
"Haha, no," laughed Smoke,"The "Gangsta" been sitting on his couch watching soap operas and Sesame Street waiting to be picked up like a notorious criminal... even if Burger Shot reported him for parole violation, even if his Parole Officer reported that to 5.0, I doubt they'd pick him up, they got they mind on other shit, like my main man Carl here!"
"Nothing worse than a nigga who think he better than he is," say Ryder, looking out the window, and me and Smoke turn and look at each other, grinning.... and that's when the shit hit the fan.
"Oh shit!" I shouted, jumping out of the Greenwood, grabbing my Ak out, turning back to Smoke and Ryder who were staring at me, the helicopter, the other homies and hearing the sound of sirens, police rolling in deep, big numbers coming... not just police, S.W.A.T, the motherfucking professionals.
"Man, what you doin'?" Ryder shouted at me as I gripped the AK tighter and started to move towards the motel.
"Carl, get back in, man!" shouted Smoke, eyes wide as he moved into the driver's seat,"We outta here baby!"
I turned back to the car, surprised, out of there? But Sweet was inside?
"I ain't leavin' my brother, I ain't no buster!" I yelled at them, expecting them to be right beside me, Grove Street OGs.
"Man, it's every motherfucker for himself!" shouted Ryder, and I stood and watched, not believing it, as Smoke backed the Greenwood - my brother's Greenwood - back out of the Motel parking lot and tore off down the street as the sirens grew louder and louder and the S.W.A.T team landed, pieces raised at the other sets' homies.
My best friends had turned tail and run.
S.W.A.T vans came pulling in screeching tires, the S.W.A.T team members facing off with homies, everyone holding guns on everyone else screaming, S.W.A.T screaming for them to drop they pieces, homies yelling at them hell no.... and then someone twitched, maybe a homie, maybe a S.W.A.T, but someone's gun went off and suddenly they were ALL going off, a fucking war in the parking lot as I dropped to a crouch and rushed to the entrance to the motel and moving inside. Smoke and Ryder might have proved themselves busters when it mattered most, but not me, I'd never abandon my brother, never.
Inside it was muted, the guns outside sounding muffled, the sirens far away, but from deep inside the motel I could hear shooting and yelling and I knew that S.W.A.T was inside here as well. A ho came running down the stairs and past me, staring at me with wide eyes.
"Wrong way, honey!" she shouted,"They's crazy in there!"
"They's crazy out there, too," I told her back, and started towards the stairs. I stopped halfway, seeing a homie lying on his stomach beneath the second level balcony, and realized he'd jumped and done something, fucked up his legs or back, but he was still trying to crawl towards the exit, to get the fuck out of there.
"Shit, Sweet," I said, shaking my head and moved to the homie, seeing him suddenly stop moving, collapsing and not moving. I didn't know if he was alive or dead, but it didn't matter, I had to worry about Sweet. I moved towards the stairs as the ho peeked out the door and squealed to see what was going down. I moved up the stairs to the first landing and found another homie sitting against the wall, holding his guts in, sweating and moaning in pain.
"Where the OG's at?" I asked him,"I gotta get my brother, Sweet."
"They were meeting in the back of the motel someplace," he moaned, coughing up blood and letting out a long, low groan.... and then nothing. He was gone.
I shook my head and closed his eyes with my hand, then moved up the steps to the second level balcony, moving towards the corridor and.... came face to face with S.W.A.T for myself.
"Oh my God, oh my God!" squealed another ho, hiding in a room to the side of the hall as I rushed inside, leaning against the doorframe, peeking around to see if more S.W.A.T were coming,"What's going on!?! What's happening? I was just turning a trick and they come busting through the windows oh my God oh my God I-"
"Woman!" I whispered angry at her,"Do you WANT them to know we're here?"
"You.. you killed a bunch of them, they S.W.A.T!" she said, eyes wide.
"S.W.A.T just cops with better armor and guns," I told her, looking around the corner and figuring it was clear,"Come up against a well armed nigga and they ain't nothing special."
"You got shot, baby," she said, coming over closer to me, talking about the winging I got on one arm.
"It just a flesh wound," I said, bracing to get back out into the corridor... but then she put her hand on my shoulder and I stopped, turning to look back at her.
"Let me kiss it better," she said, and even in the situation we win, how could I say no to that.
I moved on down the corridor, leaving her behind but with her kiss still on my lips, my body kind of tingling the way it only does when you share a really good kiss. But all those thoughts faded as I got to the next set of stairs and found a group of homies barricaded down to hold off S.W.A.T down the corridor. I was about to join them when I saw a shadow above them and looked up, realizing more S.W.A.T were coming in through the skylight.
"Families!" I shouted,"Cops comin' in from behind!"
"Wha... what took me? WHAT TOOK ME!" I shouted, then stopped, a grin coming over my face at the same time Sweet did the same. We hugged, standing in a messed up overturned room inside a motel filled with dead bodies, dead homies, dead cops, but none of that mattered, the Johnson Brothers were still together.
"Where's Smoke and Ryder?" he asked, and saw the look that crossed my face,"Ahh shit, they're not..."
"Might be better if they was," I said, disgusted,"They shook on us!"
He looked surprised, then sad, then angry, all in the space of a second, then we heard a homie screaming and gunfire blasting from S.W.A.T, gone all trigger happy now from meeting resistance.
"Fuck it," Sweet grunted,"Let's get out of here! We'll go up to the roof!"
"Well..." I started.
"....shit," finished Sweet, and then we both rushed for cover, chopper spotlight sweeping towards us, S.W.A.T taking aim and firing, missing us but making it clear, they considered us fairly warned, now they intended to shoot first and ask questions later,"CJ, that chopper's all over us! Hit it!"
He rushed out across the spotlight beam and it moved to follow him, the S.W.A.T gunmen riding on the legs lifting they guns to fire, and it gave me the chance I needed, Sweet acting as bait as I rolled out from behind cover, AK pressed to my shoulder as I opened fire.
"Hoooly shit," I said, watching the helicopter fall,"I did that?"
"CJ! COME ON, NIGGA!" Sweet shouted, and I shook my head clear and ran after him, taking the fire exit down from the roof, the cops and S.W.A.T out the front dealing with what was left of the homies and reacting to the copter crashing.
We ran out onto the sidewalk, the streets deserted, no traffic, the whole area secured by the police. There'd be no jacking a car and making a run for freedom, we were hemmed in, no fucking way out - if we tried to run, another helicopter or a S.W.A.T in a van or a cop on a bike would run us down.
"Ah shit, what now?" said Sweet, turning to stare at me. For the first time in his life, he was all out of ideas.
"I.... I..." I started, then shrugged, I didn't know. But fuck it, if we were going down, we were going down together, the Johnson Brothers, keeping it real to the bitter fucking en-
A car skidded around the corner, and I couldn't believe my fucking eyes, Sweet's Greenwood, Smoke in the driver seat, Ryder sitting behind him. It pulled up in front of us and Ryder looked up at us like it was the most natural thing in the world.
"Looking for a ride, niggas?" he asked, cool as ice.
"GET IN!" shouted Smoke, not quite as cool, sweat running down his face.
We did as we were told.
Sirens were sounding closer and we all turned to look out the rear window, seeing 5.0 cruisers gunning towards us.
"HIT THE GAS!" I yelled at Smoke and he did, putting all his weight onto the accelerator and punching us away as the police followed, desperate not to let us escape.
"My fucking man!" shouted Sweet, slapping Smoke on the shoulder,"I shoulda known you wouldn't bitch out when the chips were down!"
"I fucking ran alright," shouted Smoke,"I punked out, I ran like a coward to save my own ass... I'm sorry Sweet, you have no idea how sorry I am!"
"Hey man, you came back, that all that matters," Sweet said, gripping Smoke's shoulder,"If you and Ryder had come in with Carl, we'd all be stuck on that sidewalk where you came back for us with no one to come to the rescue!"
"Maybe, maybe," he said back,"I shouldn't have left you like that though."
"Yeah well, let's book ourselves on Sally Jessie another day, huh?" shouted Ryder,"We got 5.0 on our tail!"
I lifted the AK up and looked back out the window at the cop cars getting closer, then checked my ammo, almost all gone, used up taking on an army of fucking S.W.A.T.
"I got a 'K here!" said Ryder proudly, lifting up his own AK and handing it to me.... and the fucking grime and rust came off in my hands.
"This fucking antique!?!" I shouted at Ryder, and he shrugged.
"Yeah, well... Emmet ain't the Pentagon!"
"You got it off Emmet? Shit..." I said, shaking my head, and then bullets were bouncing off the back of the Greenwood, cops close enough to fire now. Me and Sweet hammered at the rear window, already shattered in places and it flew out, bouncing along the road as I settled down in the back of the seat so as little of me was showing as possible, then began firing back at 5.0. The Greenwood bumped as Smoke drove us over the train tracks, two cop cars following right behind and a third..... got taken out by a train coming through full bore non-stop!
"Man they got smoked! Did you see that?" shouted Sweet.
"DAMN!" I yelled, not believing Smoke had just ridden across the path on an oncoming train,"That was close!"
"Man, it's getting intense," said Ryder, who had no fucking idea how intense it had been since leaving me alone at that Motel,"It's getting worse out here!"
Smoke twisted and drove us into an underground parking lot, the patrol cars swerving to follow us as I unloaded the ancient AK into the engine of the front car.
Cop cars were coming from everywhere now, left and right, spinning out of roads ahead of us and behind us. The streets were mostly deserted, whoever was running this operation had a lot of clout, a lot of power and influence, more than Tenpenny could possibly have... could he? They kept coming and I kept shooting, taking out tires and engines, Smoke driving well enough to keep ahead of them or between them or turning before we could get to them. We turned a corner and two cops on bikes came after us, driving too fast down the steep hill, a cop car turning the corner at the same time that they drove forward. They crashed together and the cops on the bikes went flying, the patrol car sent flying past us and falling onto its side, sliding down the hill. I stuck my head up through the smashed out rearview window and turned to look out ahead of us, shaking my head as the cop car exploded and rolled to a stop at the bottom of the hill, still, at least the cops wer-
"Holy shit! Look at that!" I cried,"That motherfucker trying to be Bruce Willis?"
"I wish I'd have stayed home and watched the fucking game!" shouted Smoke, the suddenly twisted the car to the side,"CARL! BEHIND US! BEHIND US! PUT UP YOUR WINDOWS!"
Put up our windows?
"Smoke! What the fuck are you doing!?!" shouted Sweet as I turned to blast at the cop cars on our tail, and I wondered what he was talking abo... AHHHH SHIT!
"Smoke, you're insane!" I shouted, wiping the soap from the carwash out my eyes. I couldn't believe he'd driven us through a fucking CARWASH!
"I like things clean," he called back, and I turned to Sweet and he looked at me, and we both started laughing. That was Smoke to a fucking T.
The cop car we'd just gotten off of our tail meant nothing though, more came barreling up after us from multiple directions, Smoke weaving and twisting, pedal to the metal trying to keep us ahead of the 5.0. A bike came skidding by and the asshole riding it jumped off, landing on the back of the car like the moron who tried earlier and got run over for his efforts, only this motherfucker actually managed to hold on.... kind of.
We pulled out of the alley, flaming cop cars following us out but not following as we turned, they cars useless now, cops inside shot dead or injured, and we were getting closer to Grove Street territory, to a place where we could maybe get out of the Greenwood and disappear into th-
"OH SHIT!" screamed Smoke,"Roadblock up ahead!"
"CJ! We got the ghetto bird up ahead!" Smoke warned as I tried to unjam the piece of shit old AK Ryder had given me, one of the cops who'd hit the front of the car sitting up looking confused and all kinds of fucked up, Smoke turning us into a deadend overlooking the freeway.... and a fucking chopper hovering at the end of it.
We'd reached the end of the line.
"This is the LSPD!" announced a tinny mechanical voice over the helicopter's loudspeaker,"Do not.... HEY! WHAT THE FUCK? TOO LOW! YOU'LL KILL US ALL!"
The fucking helicopter pilot had gotten too excited, moving in closer to us and getting too low to the ground, the updraft fucking with the copter this close to the ground, the pilot trying to push forward and up and only succeeding in pushing forward.
Smoke had panicked in the same way that the helicopter pilot had panicked, and our car had gone head to head in a game of chicken against the Ghetto Bird. My whole world went red for a second as the cop turned just in time to see the rotors coming for him, and then the helicopter was passing just overhead, shaking the whole Greenwood as Smoke jumped it forward down the alley towards the dead end, Sweet screaming at him to slow down, Smoke screaming back that the brakes were out, the brakes were ou-