Rain was still coming down the next morning as I drove home, streets mostly empty, still a few police cars here and there and 5-0 walking the area, not wanting to give up and admit they lost me. Michelle had done a quick and dirty repair job and resprayed the car, then added a thin protective coat to keep it from running in the rain, and I'd been in my way.... but not before she'd given me a message.
"I dig you Carl, but I can't be involved in this shit," she said,"Drug dealers and cops I don't need, you keep playing with them they're going to come to my door one day, my garage."
"What you saying?" I asked her.
"Until you're done fucking with those drug dealers.... for better or worse," she'd said,"I don't want to see you again."
Shit, hell of a thing to dump on a man so early in the morning.
I dumped the Landstalker in the Wastelands and moved miserably through the rain, headed down the street towards my rental, feeling like shit. Everytime I seemed to take a step forward I had to take another step back. I stomped up the steps inside, peeling off my wet clothes, toweling myself off as best I could and then crashing onto the bed. I meant to sleep for at least a day.
About an hour later, my phone rang.
"Carl? CARL!" shouted Kendl into the phone, making me groan,"Have you called that Chinaman yet?"
"Huh... wha.... sis? Woozie? Wha?" I said back, eyes grainy, head fuzzy.
"Caaaarl!" she spiked into my head through the phone as I lay on my stomach weakly holding it to my ear,"He's a REAL businessman! He can make us REAL connections, not gangster shit! Do you want this garage to succe-"
"Alright alright, goddammit," I moaned into the phone,"I'll do it, just let a man sleep!"
"You going to call him," she asked,"Today?"
"I'll call him I'll call him," I shouted,"Jesus jus-"
"Call him now, Carl," she snapped at me,"Promise me!"
"Yeah yeah I wi-"
"PROMISE ME, CARL!"
"FUCK! I PROMISE OKAY!" I shouted, rolling over and sitting up,"I'LL FUCKING CALL HIM RIGHT NOW! I'LL BUY HIM FUCKING ROSES AND GIVE HIM A DOG!"
"Jesus, Carl," she said,"I was only asking."
She hung up and I sat in the bed clenching my fist. Sisters!
Fog was rolling in in the early evening as I rode up into Chinatown, looking out for Woozie's betting parlor.
I'd picked up the Comet from outside a Burger Shot, dressing up nice because I wanted to look good in front of Woozie - like a businessman, not some scrub off the street begging for a handout. Woozie ran his own betting parlor and by the looks of him he was pretty fucking successful at it, but he also liked racing and cars and I was opening my own garage - together we could make each other some money, but I'd make more from him than he'd make from me. Still, when I'd called him from the number on the card he'd given me from back when we was racing out in the middle of nowhere, he'd seemed pretty pleased to hear from me.
I stepped inside the Betting Parlor, and while it was fancier than most places - it was still just a betting parlor, with sad losers tossing they money away on horses, dogs and probably all kinds of sports.
But they'd just taken a be.... fuck it.
"Easy, man," I told the asshole behind the counter,"I'm here to see Woozie."
He looked at me carefully, then nodded,"Upstairs."
"Stupid ass motherfucker..." I grunted, walking towards the stairs.
At the foot of the stairs, an Asian dude stepped out in front of me, I think the same guy that had come to the garage with Woozie that time and picked out Jizzy and T-Bone for me.
"I'm Johnson," I told him, wondering just why the security for Woozie was so tough - none of these broke down unemployed bums was gonna try and rush the office, and surely anyone breaking in would be after the money behind the counter, not the dude in the office,"I'm here to see Woozie, I work with him."
"Yes, right this way," he nodded and stood aside, but then as I started to walk up the stairs he stopped me,"You know of the Boss's curse?"
He looked away, like he was embarrassed, then spoke the words quietly,"He's blind."
"BLIND!?!" I shouted, and he flinched like I'd hit him and I quickly dropped my voice,"But we was just racing cars last week!"
"Yes, I know," nodded the dude, bowing his head and pressing his hands together,"He is blessed with unbelievable good fortune, and the Triad that would do anything for him... we call him our Lucky Mole."
"A'ight," I said at last, looking up the stairs then back at the poor Asian dude looking so embarrassed in front of me,"I'll keep that in mind."
I walked into Woozie's office, those two fine ass Asian ladies stepping away from him as I entered, and my first thought was... goddamn, he didn't even get to SEE the fine pieces of ass hanging off of him all day long? What kind of cruel ass shit was that.
He just stared at me... or.... well, I guess he.... well his face was turned in my direction and.... fuck I don't know, how the fuck this shit work?
"Straight to the facts," he said, ignoring that I sounded weird, stepping straight towards me... was he really blind?"I can't use your help unless I'm open with you about who I am and what I do."
I stepped back a little, not really taking in what he was saying, too busy trying to see behind his glasses at his eyes. Mountain Boys? What was that? A Dance group?
"Nice to meet you," I said, playing along.
"Likewise," he smiled, then pointed right at a little couch,"Why don't you sit down."
I walked by a little confused, he didn't act blind, he pointed things out, he knew where I was standing, he couldn't be blind!
"As Dai Dai Lo of the Triad," he told me as I sat down, sitting himself on the couch across from me,"It is my responsibility to see that disputes are settled without... damaging important business."
"Where I come in at?" I asked, putting aside him being blind for the moment, interested in what he was talking about now. Triad? The guy downstairs mentioned that, what was it? I'd heard it somewhere before I was sure.
"We shall see," smiled Woozie,"I'm about to drop in on a local Triad that failed to show face at the last Tong meeting. Come with me, and you'll see how we Triads settle things without recourse to... unnecessary violence."
Oh shit.... Triads were a fucking GANG! They was Asian gangbangers? Only with nicer clothes and more money, haha oh shit, Kendl was wrong, Woozie wasn't a legitimate businessman, he a fucking gangbanger just like me! Only she was right too, because he was obviously a lot more successful with his "Mountain Cloud Boys" than I'd been with Grove Street.
We moved downstairs and out onto the street, Woozie waving off his boys as they moved to come with me. They exchanged worried looks, but they did what they was told, Woozie was in charge.
"We'll need a ride," he said as we stepped out into the fog,"Mine's getting some bodywork done to it."
"You should bring it into my garage," I grinned, wondering if the bodywork was due to him being blind... but then I'd raced him.... he couldn't just be lucky, that motherfucker by the stairs must have been pulling my leg,"Come on, my car is parked over here."
We hopped into the Comet, Woozie settling into the seat and stretching his legs.
"Nice Comet," he said as I started the engine, and I shook my head with a grin. Blind my ass! That must have been some Asian joke that brothers don't get or something.
The Blood Feather Triad have a storehouse around the block," he said as we started driving,"We shall see what excuses they have to offer."
"You're an outsider," Woozie said, as if that explained everything, then cocked his head and pointed to the sidewalk,"This is the place."
We pulled over and got out and I thought a bit about something Woozie had said.
"I been having some trouble with Vietnamese gangs recently," I said,"That got anything to do with this?"
"Yes I know," nodded Woozie,"The Vietnamese are trying to take control of the drug trade in Fierro from the Loco Syndicate. Your interest in the Syndicate coincided with theirs, though I suspect you have greatly differing outcomes in mind."
"Yeah, I figured the same," I said, then frowned as Woozie stepped out of the Comet and started walking forward, arm stretched out in front of him. Blind?
"Come on," he said, moving straight to the sidewalk,"It's this way."
"Hey, what the hell you doin'?" I asked, watching him crouched down running his hands over the ground in the fog, fucking crazy.
"Just, eerr, checking the, um, y'know," Woozie started, and for the first time since I'd met him he didn't look cool and in control, he looked embarassed,"Shut up, Carl.... THIS WAY!"
He turned around, face burning red and down towards the little Alleyway Cafe, but as we walked down, we heard screaming and shouts and saw people running back the other way towards us.
"Where they going?" I asked as they zoomed by us, looking freaked out, parting around Woozie who stood in place like a rock.
"Something isn't right here," Woozie said - NO SHIT!"We should be careful..."
He'd regained his cool, and I had to admit even with all these people running scared I felt like I was okay walking with him, that whatever it was, he was cool enough to handle. All I had to do was follow Woozie and everything would be okay.
"What's wrong?" I asked,"You lost? Need a hand?"
"No," he said, standing up and rubbing his nose,"I was just, you know, getting the feel of the place.... stick close!"
"What's got you spooked?" he asked, confused.
"....." I said. Yeah, this motherfucker was definitely blind.
Damn, Woozie was fast as a fucking snake pulling his piece on that cowardly piece of shit, and looking close now I could see his nose was all squashed up from running face-first into the wall. Maybe he got by on smelling or some shit, and had been knocked dizzy enough not to hear the flames until just now. He had his shit together now though.
"Enough!" he barked at the chickenshit,"What happened here?"
"Vietnamese surprised us, cut us all down," the chickenshit was practically crying, but then I heard the screech of tires behind me and he let out a moan,"Shit, here they come again!"
The garage door rumbled back down as the chickenshit motherfucker hid again, leaving us locked outside, trapped like fucking rats.
I picked an AK up off of the ground from where one of the Blood Feathers was laying, and Woozie slapped his hand onto my shoulder.
"Carl," he said, still cool,"This cannot go unpunished, the Triads must have vengeance!"
"We gotta survive," I said back,"Getting out this alley alive means we got out vengeance, follow me."
"Good work, Carl!" laughed Woozie, sniffing deeply and getting the smell of the car I'd just blown up, apparently he had his sense of smell back,"But be warned, the Vietnamese-"
"They be rolling deep," I finished,"I dealt with these motherfuckers just last night."
"Ahhh, of course," nodded Woozie,"I f... more are coming!"
A second after he said it I heard the growl of motorcycle engines - Woozie had good fucking ears - and I rolled to the side and braced myself for them as they turned the corner.
"Come on," I told Woozie, moving forward,"Keep behind me, who knows what the fuck they got waiting for us around that corner."
I turned the corner and got a good look at just what that was, a shitload of Vietnamese assholes behind cover, placed behind boxes and stalls and on roofs, all with guns pointing at us.
"Shit," I said,"Woozie, sta... WOOZIE!"
I grabbed him by the belt of his pants and hauled him back, bullets tearing up the ground where he'd been standing. He landed on his ass and I moved in front of him, opening fire on the nearest Vietnamese, then turning to ask if he was okay.... a something made a high whining sound and I felt wind pass directly in front of my face.
"Hell's sewers!" shouted Woozie, frowning at the noise,"That was a sniper bullet!"
I looked around but I couldn't see where the sniper was, and even now he must be taking another bead on me, ready to open fire and blow my brains out all over the ground. I had to keep my eye on the other Vietnamese blasting at us, my AK was empty and I had to grab a SMG off of the ground and I couldn't see where the fuck he wa-
"CJ! Take out that sniper!" shouted Woozie, and his hand flew up directly past my face, pointing a clear line... right to the motherfucker up on the roof.
"Gotcha," I grinned.
"EAT THIS HOT LEADEN SHIT!" screamed Woozie, moving up between two market stalls and opening fire wildly in the Vietnamese's direction.
Hot leaden shit?
While he was blasting though, they was all looking at him, he was they target, not me.
"Any more?" I asked when the last I could see fell and it went deadly quiet in the alley, the only sound distant traffic and even more distant sirens. Woozie stood up and cocked his head to the side, like he was listening for something, then he shook his head.
"Not yet," he said,"In the car, quick!"
"We got more company!" I shouted as we hopped into the Sentinel the Vietnamese had blocked up the alleyway with, seeing cars pulling to a stop across the entrance to the alleyway,"Hold on tight, Woozie!"
"You drive," Woozie grinned, lifting up his SMG,"I'll send them back to the sewers!"
"Drop me back at my betting shop, Carl," grinned Woozie, settling back,"We have done a good night's work today."
"All we did was kill a bunch of assholes," I said.
"Yes," smiled Woozie,"As I said, a good night's work."
We pulled up outside the betting parlor, and Woozie reached into his jacket pocket and handed me a roll of bills.
"A token of the Tong's appreciation for what you did today," he told me,"Carl, you saved my life today and did a great service to the Mountain Cloud Boys. If there is ever any favor you require of me, do not hesitate to call on me. My - and the Tong's - services are yours."
"Well... uhh.... cool, I guess," I said, not really sure what to say,"You uhh... live long and prosper?"
Woozie just laughed, hopping out of the Sentinel, lifting his arm up and walking straight towards his door, one of his Tong opening it for him and giving me a nod before shutting it.
Shit, I guess I'd just made my first business partnership.
I slept through the night and most of the morning, and headed down to the Garage just after noon to settle in, help out Dwaine and Jethro where I could, and wait to see if Toreno or T-Bone called with a job for me. Kendl and Cesar had the day off so I was running things in the garage, but Dwaine and Jethro really didn't need any help, so I was just going to stay out of they way as much as I could. I had bigger things on my mind - now I knew where the Loco Syndicate's Drug Factory was and who the main players were, I just needed to sort out a plan of attack to take them out.
But sometimes the past has a way of coming back and kicking you in the ass.
Oh fucking shit fuck shit shit shit.
"Tenpenny," I said, closing my eyes for a second,"Alright, man, I got it."
I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders and put on an air of not giving a shit, then walked into the lion's den.
"Hmmmm?" grunted Tenpenny, he'd been dozing in a chair, and Pulaski looked up from his newspaper and frowned at me.
"I wonder how your brother's sleeping," he asked, sneer on his face,"Curled up next to his shower daddy while you live comfortably on the outside?"
He'd keep.... that pig motherfucker would keep.
"Man, what you all want this time?" I asked, walking away from Pulaski.
"The Press onto y'all?" I asked, grin on my face. "Bleeding heart liberal" had to mean some journalist sticking his nose in.
"What the hell would you know about it, boy?" demanded Pulaski, slamming his paper down.
"Woah," said Tenpenny, a little laugh in his voice, which meant... whoever was bugging "them" was really bugging Pulaski,"Easy there, Eddie, let's not get ahead of ourselves."
"He doesn't know how the streets work," Pulaski spat, his face getting red,"That's he's supposed to report... what he's "supposed" to report."
"Yeah, anyway," said Tenpenny, putting a hand on Pulaski's arm as he walked up towards me, telling him without saying to relax, back down,"We need you to shut him up for us."
"And that stoolie!" shouted Pulaski, pushing past Tenpenny and getting up in my face,"Shut him up too!"
"Yeah," said Tenpenny, positioning himself so I had to turn to look at him, so Pulaski had to turn as well, so we both facing him and not each other.... because if we kept on eyeballing each other we was going to end up going toe to toe,"There's some reporter who's digging up dirt on Pulaski, we don't know who's talking, but we know that the reporter's meeting him today."
"Take care of him!" shouted Pulaski, slamming the newspaper into my hands, the picture of some poor white asshole next to an article circled, the article headed,"Corruption in LSPD?","I left a little surprise for you up in that construction yard, go and fucking get it, then get onto the next train to Santos, the reporter will be on it, going to meet his stoolie."
Pulaski pushed past me and out the door, muttering under his breath, taking a swing with his arm at Jethro who ducked back under his car to get clear. But Tenpenny took his time, sauntering out slowly, then turning to look up and down, taking in every little detail of the garage. Of MY garage.
I hated him, I really, really hated him.
"What was that all about du-" started Jethro when I left the office a few minutes later.
"Don't ask," I interrupted,"You didn't see them, and I'm in my office for the rest of the day, understand?"
"Yes sir," he said, seeing the look on my face. He went back to working on the car while I stepped outside into the sunshine, staring around at MY garage, feeling like it was dirty.... violated. No time to worry about that, though, I had to find this "surprise" in the wastelands and then get to Cranberry Station to catch The Brown Streak.
A fucking sniper rifle? Jesus, what'd they think I was, a fucking ninja assassin or some shit? I picked it up and looked through the scope, then settled down and broke it down into parts, slipping it into the bag that had been sitting under it and sliding it under my hoody. Standing up I made sure it didn't make a clear bulge, then started heading towards the station.
Shit shit shit! SHIT!
Time to improvise.
Man, I could not believe I was pulling this shit, chasing a train down the tracks from Fierro to Santos on a bike, sniper rifle tucked into my hoodie, ready to hunt down and kill some poor motherfucker for trying to do the RIGHT THING!
But what else could I do.... they had control over me as long as they had the power to fuck with Sweet.
I rode the bike up onto the platform and behind a pillar, grateful it was quiet, because there was no way I could go incognito if I'd been spotted. I couldn't believe I'd chased the fucking train ALL THE WAY to Santos... hell, couldn't believe I was back in Santos at all. I wondered how things were going, had the junkies started up on crime sprees yet? If Ryder had been meeting with the Loco Syndicate, it meant they must be running low on drugs to feed all the new customers they been making. Were the streets still quiet? Or was I going to be running into trouble?
I got off the bike and moved to a corner, pretending to be looking at a poster, really watching the reflections off the glass surface, looking for the guy from the picture in the article to step off the train... and there he was.
I waited a couple moments then moved on up out onto the street acting casual, passing the reporter standing by a taxi stand. So he was going to be rolling soon, which meant I had to find my own wheels to follow him.... luckily that had never been a problem for me in Santos.
As I kicked the shocked driver out his seat I saw the reporter looking at me wide-eyed as he drove by in the back of a cab. He hadn't made me, why would he have any reason to suspect me, but he was surprised to be seeing a carjacking out in the open like this. I made a point of turning the car around and heading in a different direction to him, taking a corner and quickly changing course once out of sight, wanting to get ahead of the direction the cab had been heading, let them pass and then tail from a distance. I wasn't thinking anymore, I was on auto-pilot, I had to be, what I was doing was... I couldn't think about it.
I pulled over on the side of the pier, moving without thinking, ignoring that I was back in Santos, ignoring what I was doing and why, just a complete robot. I reassembled the sniper rifle quickly, my eyes shifting from the rifle up to the reporter who was walking towards who I guessed had to be the stoolie. I didn't - I couldn't - think about the fact that at least one of them was a good guy, an innocent guy only trying to do right. All I could do was get out of the car, swing the rifle up and press my eye against the scope and....
I didn't stop to check they bodies, I knew they was dead. I didn't take another shot or waste my time, I just turned and slid into the SlamVan, turned it around and drove.
I drove out of Santos without stopping to look, without checking any of my old hangouts, without trying to get an idea of how things was on the street. I just drove, leaving Santos, moving from paved roads to dirt ones, cutting across fields, through grass, back to road, along the scenic coast route to Fierro, driving and driving with the radio off, not thinking, just doing.... and finally after driving for so long I started to think I was okay with it, with what I'd just done, that it wasn't nothing, I was okay, I was....
I pulled over to the side and rolled out onto the grass, vomit bursting out of my mouth as I puked and puked, heaving up my guts, panting, tears rolling out my eyes... from the vomiting, it had to be I.... I....
"OHHHHH SHIIIIIIT!" I moaned, on my knees in the grass next to a pool of my own puke, tears streaming down my face,"SHIIIT I CAN'T.... I CAN'T DO THIS NO MORE! I CAN'T FUCKING DO THIS!"
I staggered to my feet and fell backwards against the SlamVan, cars passing me on the road, faces staring but no one stopping, on one wanting no part of me. I wiped my mouth clean, tossing the napkin I'd found in the glovebox earlier away, hearing but not believing the big sobs coming from me. My whole body was shaking, I couldn't take it anymore, couldn't keep on like this, living this fucked up half-life where every time anything was going good, Tenpenny and Pulaski swooped back in on me and pulled my strings, making me dance they jig, all to save Sweet..... I couldn't take it anymore.
I pulled my phone out of my pocket, jamming at the numbers, fucking it up, having to try again to get it right, listening to the ring, begging the person on the other end to answer.
"Hello?" he said,"Carl?"
"Woozie," I said, sucking in a big lungful of air, trying to get myself under control,"I need you man.... I need your help."
He was quiet for a second, but finally he answered.
"Anything you want, Carl," he told me,"Anything."