My own Momma wouldn't have recognized me.
Six weeks ago I'd been dumped in Angel Pine, a place I'd never heard of and never been in, my straps taken from me, my life in ruins, brother in hospital waiting trial, my two best friends traitors. Six weeks in which I'd come to know Angel Pine like the back of my hand, getting to know the backroads, the forest, everything but the people who lived there, people I had no interest in getting to know and who probably had no interest in getting to know me. There was no point.... I wouldn't be staying.
Six weeks ago I'd stood watching Tenpenny being driven away, humiliations piled up on me. They'd taken my guns, taken my family, taken my friends, and then told me that I wasn't done being they errand boy. They wanted me to take out some motherfucker cop who had turned snitch on them, protected by the fucking FBI of all people. I wanted to tell Tenpenny to go fuck himself and take my chances with Pulaski.... but they still had me over a fucking barrel, Sweet was in hospital and Tenpenny had the stroke to put him on a Balla block in prison, where the best thing that could happen to Sweet would be getting killed.... and I didn't even want to think about the worst.
So I'd stood on the road outside Angel Pine with two choices. To bitch and moan and whine and cry about how unfair life was, or to be a man and try to find a way out of this fucked up situation I'd found myself in. Given the choice, I'd rather be a man, and so I put my grief and my fury behind me, and set about doing what I should have been doing all along - thinking.
I had a few advantages that Tenpenny hadn't taken away, because he didn't know about them, and they were all I had left. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone, and contacted the first.
"Cesar, it's me," I said when the phone was picked up, and I heard a long sigh of relief.
"Carl, you alright, holmes?" he asked,"Your sister's been worried, we heard about the shit that went down at Mulholland Intersection, it's all over the papers that the gangs in Los Santos are through, no more Grove Street, Ballas all but finished. Not good news for Aztecas, man, police paying us a lot of attention."
"Yeah, Los Santos is dangerous right now," I said, walking down the road to a construction site, peering at the sign saying where they based out of,"I'm out in the middle of... I don't know... Angel Pine, middle of Whetstone, wherever that is."
"I don't know Whetstone too well," Cesar said,"I got some family out near there, I think... but at least you ain't in jail, holmes. Shit's fucked up with your brother, ese."
"You be careful and look after Kendl," I told him,"I got shit I have to sort through out here, but I ain't done just yet, and neither is Grove Street. If I know you protecting Kendl, that's one less thing I have to worry about."
"Don't worry about me, man," Cesar said back, voice low and dangerous,"You worry about the man who tries to fuck with my woman."
"Good, good.... Cesar," I said, pausing.
"Yeah, holmes?" he asked.
".....thanks," I said, and hung up.
Tucking the phone into my pocket, I started walking, heading into Angel Pine and getting some odd looks from the few people out on the streets. I remembered what Tenpenny had said about Gang Colors, and thought about the green bandanna I was wearing, a source of pride in Los Santos but a target as well. Here in Angel Pine, this shitty little redneck shit-squirt in the middle of nowhere, it just a target.
I slipped it off my head and into my back pocket, continuing on down the streets, taking in the town.
It was a piece of shit.
The roads were cracked and broken, like they hadn't been resurfaced in years. The buildings all looked run down, some so old they were made of wood, but even the metal and stone broken, chipped, run down.... that was the whole town, run down. There was a mattress store, cafe and furniture store lined up bravely along the main road, like they was the heart of the town, the success stories - the big businesses, probably run by some potbellied 50 year old with bad credit and some single Mom who looked twenty years older than she was. Those were the "hometown" shops, but alongside them, looking slightly better in this decaying, depressing town were the two places I knew even a little shit-tip like this would have - a Cluckin' Bell and a gunshop.
My belly rumbled at the smell of fried chicken, but I ignored that for the moment, first things first, I had to get strapped back up.
The guy behind the counter looked surprised to see me, I wasn't local and I was black, two things he wasn't used to seeing in his little store. I walked towards the counter but he was already speaking.
"The safe is time-release and I'm loaded for bear," he warned,"If'n you think you can come in from the big city an-"
He shut up when I slid my hand up one strap of my undershirt and tapped my collar, staring at me, confused.
"But you're a nig-" he started, then shut up,"Hell, let me see y'card."
I opened up my wallet and took the Civil Defence Force card out, handing it to him and noticing that the money had been taken out of it - fucking Pulaski. Lucky for me I had a bill-roll tucked away in a hidden pocket in my pants - including the 10k Cesar had given me for our bet on the Super 8 - one of the little advantages that Tenpenny hadn't known about. It wouldn't last me long, but it would hopefully last me long enough to get back on my feet and start planning how to get Sweet clear of prison.
"Okay, sorry for the stuff about the safe," the dude behind the counter told me, putting out his hand,"Chuck."
"Carl," I said, shaking his hand, all the time thinking about how to strap up from him and take out the snitch without the FBI investigation tracing me back to him... and then he solved the problem for me.
"So," he asked, dropping his voice and leaning forward to whisper,"You here because of those Federales?"
I walked out of the gunshop an hour later armed not just with the pieces Chuck had up for sale, but with knowledge. He'd sold me body armor, silencers, a 9mm pistol, micro submachine gun and a sawn off shotgun, telling me that if anyone asked, I hadn't gotten them from him. In return I'd pointed to the security cameras running in the corner and told him that if anyone watched those, they wouldn't see me, and he'd nodded. Chuck was one fucked in the head conspiracy-minded redneck, but he knew the score, or at least thought he did.
He'd told me that "men in suits from down to the city" had been coming to Whetstone for years, basing themselves somewhere in the backwoods up in Mount Chiliad. Chuck was convinced they was doing experiments on the townfolk, running tests for the Government to do with mindcontrol, waterborne viruses and the like.
"Before they came, I never got colds in summer," Chuck had told me,"But these last five years, I've had TWO... yep."
The truth was that the FBI had some kind of witness protection safehouse up here, out in the middle of nowhere near a town where everyone knew everyone and strangers stood out, so mobsters or crooked cops couldn't drive up into town to find them. I wasn't about to tell Chuck that though, letting him think the CDF had "finally" listened to Chuck's warnings and sent me up to deal with the "Federales". He didn't know where exactly they were located, just somewhere deep in the woods up high in the backwoods of Mount Chiliad, but he did know a way I could scout out the area without drawing attention to myself as a stranger.
The Chiliad Challenge.
It seemed that Angel Pine got a lot of its cash each year from rich fucks or sports nuts from Los Santos coming up to Mount Chiliad and trying its steep bike courses as part of a race sponsored by Pro-LAPS. Races were held every weekend on three different courses, two of them on two different tracks on the Southern face of the mountain, and the third and most difficult along a backwoods road.... one that would let me ride through the area that the FBI were hiding they witness without making anyone suspicious.
The trouble was, to qualify for the third race, you had to win the first two.
And that's what I spent six weeks doing.
I didn't have a good start.
My first night in town, I'd spotted a place up for sale through a realtor right there in town, and considered trying to figure out a way to get in contact with Morty and have him buy it for me. It struck me as too complicated though, Morty was able to pull off the shit he did by knowing the system in Los Santos, and the system was so big and fucked that he could get away with it. In a small town like Angel Pine though, anyone buying a place was going to get immediate attention, so it had to be legit. Lucky for me then, that I had someone in town who could stand up as a front man for me. It didn't take much to convince Chuck to take the money - almost everything I had left - and buy the place, spinning a story about his Aunt dying, perhaps because I'd kind of sort of told him we were buying the place as a CDF Safehouse.
So I had a place to crash and recover during my first week of crashes, bashes, falls and outright losing as I practiced on the track by myself or raced on the weekend against white boys who spent all day training and working out in flash gyms and came here to race down this nasty, sheer fucking mountain for the hell of it. I deliberately made a point of not going out into the town during the day, getting Cluckin' Bell delivered and left at the door. There were no razors in the house and the corner store was always shut whenever I went out at night, and I didn't want to use it anyway, not wanting people to know me, wanting to be a stranger.
On the Saturday morning of my second weekend in Angel Pine, I woke up in the humid, damp gritty little house inside the humid, damp gritty little town where I almost always felt like I needed a shower, I got up and looked in the mirror and didn't recognize myself. My hair - always fast to grow - was growing out and was wild from sleeping in the bed, and I had a beard coming in... and I realized that I had a natural disguise growing. From that point, I worked my hair up almost like an afro and made a point of letting my beard grow, meaning that even if people did get to know me, they wouldn't be able to give an accurate description. Most of the people in this scabby, nasty, funky, inbred little town wouldn't be able to tell one black man from another, and recognizing me through a beard and thick hair? Never.
That day I headed up to Mount Chiliad feeling confident, my practice runs on Mount Chiliad had been getting better, and I knew I wasn't going to crash out this time.
So I walked my sorry ass home, a loser, no closer to figuring out where the fuck the FBI safehouse was, no closer to getting out of Angel Pine. I reached the house too tired to think about sneaking in so I wouldn't be seen and raise questions, and for a second stopped to look around at the scummy little town, wondering if maybe I was going to be stuck here forever.... and then I saw "it".
Oh hell no, I had to get the fuck out of here.
So I kept on practicing, getting to know Mount Chiliad like the back of my hand, spending whole days riding up and down, the people of the town talking now, but talking about me as "that dedicated colored fella from down to the city what wants to conquer Chiliad". Chiliad was the first thing I saw when I got up in the morning, and in the evening I'd stare down from the top over Angel Pine, over the backwoods of the forest, sometimes wondering where the FBI snitch was, sometimes thinking of nothing but the mountain itself. I'd become determined to beat it, like if I could beat Chiliad then I could beat Tenpenny, I could get on with my life, save Sweet, save Grove Street, get back at Smoke and Ryder.
And wouldn't you know it, it worked.
After six weeks, I'd conquered Mount Chiliad, worked my ass up and down that mountain more than I cared to remember, dropped every bit of fat off of my body, stripped down my entire body and soul to a core focus. In my ride through the "Cobra Run" I'd made a point of riding close to the edge, taking big jumps where I had to, all in an effort to get a view over the backwoods, and in doing that, I'd seen what I'd been looking for all this time - the FBI Safehouse. More to the point though, I'd put myself in the focused frame of mind I needed to be in, all of the anger and rage and grief I'd felt over my situation had been focused on conquering Chiliad. Now that I had, I needed a new focus, a new reason to keep going, and a way to take my mind off the fact I was just doing another fucking errand for Tenpenny.
It was time to kill.
I stood over the dead snitch, FBI agents lying dead all about the cabin. Chuck would be pissed when the FBI swarmed the town, for a paranoid conspiracy nut he'd never considered that killing a bunch of federal agents would bring MORE federal agents swarming in. I didn't care about that though, didn't care about him or Angel Pine or Mount Chiliad or the house I'd spent six weeks sleeping in but no time living in. I was done here, I'd done Tenpenny's dirty work for him and it was time to leave Angel Pine, hopefully for good. As I left the cabin, I swore under my breath that this was it, this was the last time I would EVER work for Tenpenny.
I was going to bring that motherfucker down if it was the last thing I did.