I woke up feeling like a new man, a free man.
CATALINA WAS GONE!
I'd barely wanted to believe it, but last night around midnight I'd sneaked up to her cabin to see and... yeah, she was gone. There was still a Buffalo sitting next to the cabin but the inside was empty, Catalina had taken everything with her, leaving only the crappy old furniture that had probably been there before she moved in. I left the empty cabin feeling a mix of different feelings, happy and relieved she gone, disappointed I wouldn't get to tap that no more and... yeah, okay, a little sad I wouldn't see her again. She had spark, she a crazy bitch but she had spark.
But this morning, just waking up knowing I wouldn't have to worry about getting a call out of the blue from her ever again, that I wouldn't be summoned up to the cabin and thrown into some ridiculous life or death situation where she was just as likely to blow my brains out any moment... I felt free.
I was getting out the shower when the phone rang and for a second I knew it was her, that everything else had just been a dream, but when I answered, it was Cesar.
"Hey Cesar, whassup?" I asked, wondering if his cousin had stopped by to rip into me and now he was calling back to tear me a new one.
"I just got word, holmes," he told me, voice low but not sounding pissed with me,"About the yay."
"The yay leaving San Fierro?" I asked.
"Right.. but they're using bikes, CJ," he warned me,"And they go cross country."
I grinned, with Catalina gone I felt on top of the world and able to handle anything.
"Let me worry about that, homie, I may have been tossed here by Tenpenny, but these hills are my hills now, I'm gonna see what I can dig up."
What I dug up was a bag full of drugs and $1100.
He'd had the paper in a bill-roll in his pocket and the drugs in a backpack he'd dropped when I dropped him. I slung the backpack over my shoulder and jumped onto the PCJ-600, gunning it out of there onto the backroads till I found a quiet place to count the cash. I set fire to the backpack and stayed (at a distance) to make sure it was all burned, useless, then buried what was left. Since Tenpenny was still selling the shit he'd gotten from the Russians I killed at Gray Imports, it was only a backpack worth of yay - enough to service a block for a month or so. But once they ran out it would be Patriots and Moonbeams and Ponys stacked up fill with this nasty shit, or they'd start bringing it in by boatload. I'd like to put a stop to it, but at the moment I was stuck, I couldn't exactly take down the druglords in San Fierro, and I couldn't get back into Santos at the moment, so I was doing what I could until I found the right opportunity to make my move against Tenpenny and Smoke.
That's when my phone rang.
"Hey, Carl, dude," Truth said after I picked up, sounding dopey and laidback... but he'd called me, which meant he had something in mind, and probably wasn't anywhere near as stoned as he was pretending,"Now... I... yeah.... I got that little mwah mwah you were after."
"..." I opened my mouth, but he cut me off.
"Be careful man, people are listening to us," he warned, then dropped to a whisper,"I got a little green village up in the hills, come and get it."
"..." I opened my mouth again, but again he cut me off.
"WHOA MAN!" he shouted, surprising me,"I DON'T KNOW YOU! I DON'T KNOW YOU! PRANK CALLER! PRANK CALLER!"
He hung up on me and I stood staring at the phone, hearing the dialtone even at arms length. I hadn't even said a word beyond,"Whattup."
But maybe this was that opportunity I'd been looking for. Truth had one over on Tenpenny, Tenpenny had one over on me. Now Truth had a shitload of grass for me to dump on some poor sucker who'd crossed Tenpenny, I had a bunch of money to pay Truth for what he was owed by Tenpenny, and maybe somewhere in the middle of all that, I could find a way to use Truth to get one over on Tenpenny.
Hell, now that Catalina was gone, it wasn't like I had anything else to do with my day.
I drove back to the place in Angel Pine and picked up the suitcase I'd been stashing all the cash I'd been picking up since arriving in Whetsone. There was better than 50k in there, probably more than what Tenpenny owed, but I figured Truth would happily take it all. And I'd happily give it to him, because he was the one man I knew who might give me that edge against Tenpenny.
I rode up to his farm in a Bravura from off the streets of Angel Pine, hauling the suitcase out and staring up at the old worn barn. Inside was the one dude in all of San Andreas I knew who could help me take down the toughest most corrupt nigga I'd ever met, he was my one chance to get my life and my brother back.
I looked at the shitty old van that looked like the only thing holding it together was the paint, shook my head and then looked back at him - crazy old hippy standing on his head.
"Thanks man," I told him,"Look, here go your paper."
"Ahhh, the karmic circle closes," he said, dropping down to his feet and standing up straight as I walked to the back of the "Mothership" to take a peek inside the back,"Alllll is as it should be.... back to the egg."
He started making an "ooommmm" noise as I poked my head in the back of the Mothership, but what I saw sure as shit didn't put me at peace with the Universe.
"Damn, man, there must be two tons of that stuff back there!" I shouted, not believing it.
I stood staring at him, wondering if anything was going to knock him out of his meditation shit so I could talk to him seriously about Tenpenny, but then something else did it for me.
"What the fuck's that noise?" he said, cocking his head like a dog. I did the same, listening and hearing it... just a fucking chopper, what was the problem? Low flying planes and copters were all over these counties.
"Sounds like a chopper," I said, and he let out a little sigh.
"Oh man, narcs!" he say, sounding tired, then pointed at me, though he still didn't sound angry,"You fucking rat!"
He rolled suddenly, dropping to his side faster than I thought an old dude like that could move.
"Dude, don't put that on me!" I shouted at him as he rolled along the floor to the side of his "Mothership","You're the one that deals with Tenpenny!"
I shook my head and walked to the door, looking out and spotting the chopper still off in the distance but getting closer by the second... well fuck me, it WAS a police chopper.
"Fuck," I said, then turned back to Truth figuring he had an escape tunnel or some shit stashed under there for something like this. But he caught me by surprise, sitting back up, holding something in his hands, something he tossed to me that I grabbed out of the air. I looked at it, knowing what it was but not believing it, I mean... seriously.... what?
A fucking flamethrower!?!
"Calm, brother," Truth told me, pulling his own flamethrower out from under the Mothership and getting to his feet,"Panic paves the way to bad karma."
We walked together to the barn doorway and Truth pointed out to the side, where his fields were covered from the view of the road by the farmhouse and the hill. A field filled with crops of weed.... more weed than I'd ever seen in my life.
"We gotta torch those fields," Truth told me,"I only hope Gaia can forgive us!"
"Oh shit," I said, shaking my head, and then me and the stoned out his mind old hippy took our flamethrowers and stepped out into the sunlight to burn down a giant field of marijuana.
I was starting to miss Catalina already.
We'd been burning for a couple of minutes straight, setting big thick clouds of smoke up into the air, whirling round in the air cause of the helicopter blades like a spiraling twisting smoke cloud of... smoooke..... I... woah....
"Assholes!" yelled Truth, then his voice went low and freaky,"Right-wing assholes!"
"Truth man, I.... I don't," I tried to explain to him as I watched the world breathing,"I don't feel too good..."
"It's a crying shame, ain't it!" Truth agreed, dropping his flamethrower and reaching into the sky like he trying to grab at something.
"No.. no," I moaned, sending flames waving over the weed, watching it go green to black and orange air light the sky,"I mean I think I'm gonna black out!"
"Oh man... maybe burning a giant field of weed without masks wasn't the best idea," Truth said,"CARL! FIGHT THE OCEAN AND YOU WILL DROWN, BROTHER!"
I was fucking drowning all right.
I squeezed my eyes shut and shook my head, and when I opened them things seemed okay for a second. I could hear - dimly, like from far away - the police in the copter shouting something, but louder and closer was The Truth, yelling that we'd load into the Mothership and book, I just needed to finish burning the crops.
"-o -et --r -ired -p!" I heard myself yelling from far away beneath the pounding rush of the ocean in my ears, and then everything came back in a rush, the whomp of the chopper blades, the crackling of the burning weed, the smell, the colors most of all, brighter and clearer than before,"I'll finish burnin' and I'll follow you!"
I let the flames eat the last of it, a crop that could have kept an entire army of hippies stoned out they fucking minds for a week, half of which me and Truth had inhaled ourselves. I stumbled up to the Mothership, Truth sitting in the driver's seat, looking up in the air at the copter, the cops still screaming something we couldn't understand at us... probably that more police were coming in cars, and they'd probably be here soon, a couple of minutes at least.
"We got a chopper on our tail," I told Truth, who was kind of staring at me bleary eyed, mouth hanging wide open,"We'll never shake 'em now."
"Hold on," he said,"I got a little something back here I was saving for a rainy day."
He tossed his thumb at the back of the Mothership, and I ran to the back and looked inside at the three tons of weed, the suitcase full of cash and......
It was a fucking rocket launcher.
"Where'd you get that?" I asked, dropping the flamethrower and tossing the launcher up onto my shoulder.
"Found it in a bail of Thai Sticks," he told me, and I couldn't tell if he was joking or not,"Shame really.... I was going to make it into a lamp."
Suddenly the Mothership jolted forward, gearbox making a nasty grinding noise as Truth started moving up the driveway to the hill leading into his farmland. The copter started moving to keep above him, and I looked at it, looked at the rocket launcher, back to the chopper, back to the launcher... and I grinned.
I stopped to look at the flaming wreck of the helicopter, the pilot and the cop had managed to crawl out of the wreckage and were lying on the ground screaming in pain, they'd broken something, and wouldn't be following us anytime soon.
"You or me, homies," I said, then turned to Truth, who had moved over to the passenger seat. I got in on the driver's side and shut the door, then looking over at him.... motherfucker was trembling?
"You better drive," he told me, reaching into his pocket and pulling out some papers and a little bag of grass,"I haven't driven in 15 years."
"You was doin' alright," I said, shifting gears and pushing the bottom-heavy Mothership up the hill, poor ol' thing groaning all the way.
"Yeah," Truth nodded, rolling the grass into the paper, shaking his head,"Then the fear hit me.... now I'm rolling a number to calm the waves!"
I pulled up to the main road and looked left and right. No police cars in sight yet, and better still it was getting dark now and a fog seemed to be rolling in.
"Where we going?" I asked.
"Tenpenny's mark is in San Fierro, I guess we go there," shrugged Truth, like he could give a shit,"Seems as good a place as any, San Fierro is friendly territory, man."
"You think I'm still gonna do that motherfucker's dirty work after he dropped the dime on us!?!" I shouted, but Truth just grinned.
"Karma, my friend," he said,"Don't run against the current, let it take you.... and besides, we can't stay here, too much heat now. My weed, those robberies you and that chica were pulling, your wetwork up at Whetstone... time for a fresh start, leave it all behind. Back to the egg."
"Shit," I said, his line about leaving it all behind hitting home with me,"I better call Cesar!"
I dialed the number as I pulled out onto the road and down the hill, hitting the lights as the dark crept in. I could feel something pulling at the corners of my vision, and figured the adrenalin from taking out the copter was wearing off and that weed was kicking back in. Cesar picked up, and I spoke quickly before the weed made me start spouting nonsense.
"Hey Cesar, no time to talk, man!" I shouted,"I'm on my way to San Fierro, OK, I'll meet you and Kendl at that garage I won at that races! Pick up my ZR, man, clear out the safehouse and your trailer, quickly man, shit going down.... holla at y'all later!"
I hung up and then suddenly started giggling, and had to hold it in. Holla at y'all later? What the fuck? I grinned and looked around at the inside of the Mothership for the first time as Truth put the finishing touches on his joint.
"What's with all the aluminum foil, man?" I asked.
"Protection from mind control, dude," he told me, all matter of fact,"Induction of images, sound or emotion using microwave radiation..... d'you know how many government satellites are watching any citizen at any moment? Twenty-three."
I kept on driving, while he lit up then turned to me.
"Do you know how many religious relics are kept at the Pentagon?"
"No I don't," I told him, frowning at the joint.
"Twenty-three," he told me, then nodded his head like he'd just hit me with some heavy shit,"You see a pattern emerging here, man?"
I squeezed my eyes shut as my vision twitched out again.
"Man," I complained to him,"I'm seeing patterns all over the place! Get that smoke outta my face!"
He rolled down the window and we drove quietly for a little bit, him getting high and me trying to clear the cobwebs out my head.
"Hey man, put some music on," he said,"Let's lighten the mood."
"You like K-Rose, huh?" I said,"That's about all we can get out here."
"Hell no!" he laughed,"That foil acts as a radio boost too, I can pick up stations from Australia!"
"Oh shit!" I said, a big grin crossing my face,"I been stuck with K-Rose for.... shit man, I gotta get on Radio Los Santos, goodbye Mary-Beth!"
I hit the radio on and old rock music started blasting out at me. I frowned and turned it down a little, then tried to switch the frequency... but it wouldn't move.
"Yo, what the fuck?" I shouted.
"Oh man, the tuner on this thing tends to drift," he told me, all matter of fact again,"I glued it to The Dust."
"The Dust? K-DST!?!" I shouted,"Ahhh man, fuck... you don't even get Radio X? What happened to the channels from Australia?"
"Oh I can get 'em all, man," he said, taking a drag on his joint,"I just don't."
"Shit," I said, shaking my head,"Shit."
So we drove on, Rod Stewart singing about young hearts being free tonight, Truth kinda grooving along, and I just drove on through the foggy night.
"Hey, this thing go any faster?" I asked him as we groaned our way up another hill, killing to make conversation of anything to make this trip go faster. I was still wasted, the only music on was rock, I had a hippy in the seat beside me and a ton of weed, stolen money and a rocket launcher in the back... this was not a trip I wanted to stretch out.
"Man," grunted Truth, taking a hit, and laid it out for me.
"Shit, I muttered,"Can you shoot?"
"The only thing I've shot is acid," shrugged Truth,"I heard about this dude who snorted it once.... thought his nose was a kangaroo and the moon was a dog! WHOOO!"
Oh man, this was going to be a looooong trip.
"Hear about that weed farm going up in smoke?" the DJ asked as a song ended, and I freaked out for a second, thinking he was talking about me,"Just wish I'd been in the neighborhood with a good pair of lungs."
"Ahhh man, all that poor weed," sighed Truth,"Hate to be the poor bastard who had to burn that."
"What the fuck?" I whispered to myself, turning to look at him... shit, he was fully baked by now.
"Jesus, we're screwed," I yelled as the Mothership actually started shaking as we went up a hill,"When'd you get this?"
"1967," said Truth, and a sloppy grin crossed his face as he remembered whatever fucked up shit he'd been up to that year.
"How'd you get around if you don't drive?" I asked him.
"I have an astral goat called 'Herbie'," he told me, and I couldn't tell if he was making fun or being serious,"She's faster than most, but gettin' old..."
"Yeah, whatever man," I sighed as we passed under a bridge,"You talkin' shit."
"Hey, you want a hit on this?" he asked, pushing the joint towards me,"A little Temple Charas in a cocktail with some Nepalese munga munga!"
"Put that thing out, man!" I shouted at him, smoke filling up the cabin and matching the smog outside,"I can't see."
"Hey.... mellow out, brother, it's good shit," he grinned.
"Put it out, motherfucker, I'm warning you!" I shouted.
"Woah! chill the fuck out!" he told me in that low fucked up way that reminded me so much of Ryder,"Firstly, you are a real buzz killer, amigo.... and secondly, I never made love to my mother."
I turned to look at him as he stared grumpily out the window, and then he added the line that made me lose it.
I cracked up laughing and he started to make slow little booming laughs that picked up pace, and soon we were both laughing like fucked up stoners at something fucking ridiculous.
"Man, you remind me of Ryder," I told him.
"Yeah?" he asked,"He a friend of yours?"
"He was," I said, my laughter calming now,"Till he hooked up with a rival gang, covered up a drive-by that killed my Mother, set-up my brother to take a fall along with another fat fuck I called friend... and together they flooding Santos with crack and heroin and killing the city."
He stared at me for a few seconds, taking it all in, and then finally he spoke.
"Wow, I sound like a real asshole."
That set us off again, and we both laughed like fucking idiots for a good long time as we drove through the fog, rock music pounding the interior of the Mothership, mixing with our laughter.
"Thirdly, man," he told me as we both calmed down,"We're in this together, so be cool."
"Sorry, man," I told him, wiping tears of laughter away from my eyes,"I just don't drive when I'm faded."
We sat in silence for a little bit as we drove, listening to the music. Most of it wasn't my thing, at least with K-Rose the shit they was singing about was roughly what real musicians rapped about, even if they were all wrong in they backing for the beat. But this stuff was... well alot of it didn't flow naturally or make any sense, like it was a bunch of white dudes who took some good ideas and threw 'em all together. Truth was grooving on it though, and I didn't want to break him from his good mood. We were getting closer to San Fierro now, and it was late at night and the fog was thick and my buzz was fading... and it was time to ask him about what I needed to know - how the fuck had he gotten one over on Tenpenny.
"Truth, dude, can I ask you something?" I said.
"Sure, man, seek The Truth and you shal... oh shit, man, Skynyrd!"
He sat forward and turned up the radio.
"I was wondering about Tenpen-"
"Listen, man," he told me, grinning ear to ear,"Just fucking listen to this!"
If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?
For I must be traveling on, now,
'Cause there's too many places I've got to see.
"Man, it's slow as shi-" I started, but he shh'ed me, shaking his head.
"Dude, just listen!"
But, if I stayed here with you, girl,
Things just couldn't be the same.
'Cause I'm as free as a bird now,
And this bird you can not change.
"What's the big de-" I started, and he slapped his old leathery hand over my mouth, holding up a finger and cocking his head towards the radio.
I didn't do anything, didn't slap his hand away, just kept driving, switching my eyes from the road to Truth, his hand over my mouth the whole time, bobbing his head to the beat of the song, and before I knew it I was beating along as well....
Lord knows, I can't change.
Lord help me, I can't chay-ae-ae-ae-ae-.
Lord, I can't change.
Won't you fly... high...free... bird........
The guitar solo kicked in and I found myself carried along, actually getting it, understanding what the fuck people saw in this shit.... it all meshed, it meshed fucking perfectly and me and Truth drove along, an old white hippy and a young black Gangsta, moving to the beat of a 1970s band as we drove through the fog towards San Fierro.
The song ended and Truth leaned back, his hands back at his side, and he grinned at me.
"That is music, my friend."
"That's one type of music, yeah, I just ain't never appreciated it before," I told him.
"That's life, CJ," he grinned,"Just waiting to be appreciated, like good weed, fine wine and a better woman.... or a beautiful city sitting like a jewel in the pit of San Andreas.... Carl Johnson, welcome to San Fierro."
"There she is, brother," he told me, and for a second I forgot all about Tenpenny, all about Sweet and Kendl and Cesar and Smoke and Catalina.... and I just drank it all in,"San Fierro: the City of Psychedelic Wonders!"
"Man," I said at last,"I can't believe I ain't been here before."
"There ain't a better place to escape the man, man," he told me, and I drove on up the hill into the city proper, staring around like a stupid tourist, taking in everything, the lights, the buildings, it was like Santos if people in authority had actually still cared about Santos - everything was clean, everything was glittering... I knew there would be ghettos, there would be dark places where nasty shit happened.... but somehow, it all just seemed so much... cleaner....
"OK, Mr. San Fierro," I asked, handing him the deed to the garage,"Where's the spot at?"
"It's in Doherty on the East Side of Fierro," he told me after looking over the deed,"Between Garcia and Easter Basin, drive on, Carl, I'll give directions."
So that's what I did.
We pulled up into the garage, sitting between a construction site empty at this time of night and the road, which had cars zipping along even at this hour. Across the road was the train station, and if you bent your neck the right way you could see the docks... and maybe, if it a fine day and you squinted, the world famous Gant Bridge.
"This is the place," Truth said as we both turned to get a proper look at the garage. I thought about Catalina, about how she always had to get the last word, and then Truth summed it up for me.