I didn't get much sleep, all I could think about was Toreno, my mind going crazy, wrapping around the fact that he alive, that he a Government fucking Agent, that he wanted.... no, scratch that, that he HAD.... me working for him.
But more than anything, I was thinking about something he said in particular.
That's what I'd been thinking about, and that was what made me most scared of the shark-eyed bastard. Because if he wasn't a drug dealer, then that meant he sold drugs just because, he sold drugs as a means to an end - he didn't want money, he didn't want power, he just had things he needed to do and selling drugs was.... had been.... a way to get them done.
Once, when me and Brian was young, Moms told us about the Devil, explained him in a way that had stuck more than anything else we'd learnt in Sunday School. She told us that the Devil only cared about one thing - souls. That's all he wanted, all he cared about, and because that was the only thing he cared about, he was willing to do anything or offer anything or give anything to get it. Money, cars, women, power, anything - The Devil would give you your hearts desire and take away the only thing that meant a damn - your soul.
Toreno wasn't the Devil, but he might as well have been. He was a relentless asshole who would do what it took to get what he wanted done, no matter what the consequences. I knew now why I had been so scared of him, I'd known motherfuckers like that in the past, people who just didn't give a fuck about anything but what they wanted. Guys who wouldn't even blink before blowing your brains out, blowing they friends brains out, fucking killing they MOTHER if it got them what they wanted. You couldn't reason with them, couldn't work a deal, because if you was in-between them and what they wanted, they just put you out the way in the fastest way possible.
But the thing was, the Devil COULD offer you what you wanted, and that was one of the things that had been keeping me up - he had me working for him, he was dangerous, but he was also someone who could give me what I wanted.
So how did I get it without selling my soul? Could you outsmart the Devil?
My phone rang.
"Here," said Toreno's voice, not even a fucking hello,"Now. Don't screw around."
He hung up.
Time to find out if I could.
What the fuck he talking about?
"Break your heart, over and out," he said, and pushed a button on his radio setup, then turned his big plush looking chair around and just started talking, like it a foregone conclusion I was his fucking lapdog.
"Carl, I need you to do me a favor," he said, but I cut him off, figuring I needed to lay down some fucking ground rules of my own from the get go, make it clear I wasn't just going to jump when he say.
"Yeah, I'll do you a proper injury, man," I snapped, and a smile popped onto his face,"What you knowin' about my brother?"
"Relaaax," he laughed,"He's in prison up state, D Wing. Cell 13."
"...." I said, caught off-guard, he didn't even sound surprised at me changing the subject, in fact he seemed.... pleased?
"To the left I got a child killer, who wants to rip his throat out," he grinned up at me, folding his arms into his lap,"To the right of him I got a white supremacist, who wants to eat his heart, to be precise."
Okay, I took it back, this dead-eyed, yellow-toothed grinning freak WAS the Devil.
"Now don't worry," he said, running one hand through his hair,"Tenpenny and Pulaski are really... relatively benign."
Oh what the fuck he knew about Tenpenny and Pulaski? Benign? Didn't that mean they didn't cause no trouble? What the fuc-
"Unless of course you're a family member of Officer Pendelbury," he kept talking, and I realized... this motherfucker was showing off,"Whom they shot when he threatened to expose them. But.... you do know all about that, right?"
"Damn," I said at last, tired of standing there like a fucking moron,"Hey, man, how you know all this stuff, man.... and why don't you stop it!?!"
"You just don't understand, do you, kid," he said, raising an eyebrow. He sat staring at me for a moment, then sighed,"Look.... it's all white knights and heroes. We have to make decisions, kid. You know, I try to set bad people on other bad people, and sometimes.... I let good guys die."
I just stared at him, letting him get this off his chest - even the Devil needed someone to hear confession sometimes.
"He's your brother," he told me, going back to Sweet,"But to me.... he's just collateral. It's a very delicate decision."
He lifted his arms up, then lifted the left one up high.
"Over here, you got all the scumbags inside the country," he said, then lifted the right arm up,"And over her, you got all the scumbags outside the country. And me and my colleagues, we're the fucking pivot."
He sat there, little smirk on his face, waving his arms back and forth, fucking proud of himself, then suddenly he was off on another angle again, turning his chair around, saying,"Keep the Government in work. Which reminds me... I need you to head over HERE in the buggy outside."
He pointed to a map of the area, and I picked out the place he meant - El Castillo del Diablo? But he still hadn't answered my question, all his talk about being a pivot didn't explain why he couldn't get Sweet out of jail.
"Okay? okay," he said, when he saw I'd looked at the map,"Get there, you let off a flare. We got some precious cargo needs collecting."
"Hey, hold up!" I shouted, feeling like I was losing control of the conversation,"What about my brother? And all that shit you was talking about?"
"Don't worry, Sweet's just fine," he grinned, getting up out of his chair and turning me towards the verandah,"He gets touched, a prison guard goes home and finds that his wife and kids have been murdered. Everything's under control."
Okay hang on wait... that wasn't what I wanted, I wanted Sweet out. Protecting him from Tenpenny trying to get revenge was okay, that was good, but killing someone's famil-
"We'll talk later," he insisted, walking me out of the ranch, talking so much that I didn't have time to get a word in, walking along with him,"Now, come on, get outta here."
I stepped out onto the verandah and he closed the window behind me as I turned to say something, leaving me standing there feeling like an idiot. I stood there for a second, looked over at the buggy, looked over at him as he sat back down in his chair, turned and gave me a thumbs up then turned his back to me and switched his radio back on.
Okay, seriously, when I got back, we WERE going to talk properly about Sweet! Next time, for sure!
"Toreno?" I shouted, surprised to hear his voice yelling at me,"Where are you?"
"Miles away!" he shouted back, and I spotted a speaker set up on a pole by one of the shacks in this kind of creepy abandoned old miner's town or whatever it was,"No time for niceties, kid, choose a vehicle, grab the equipment I've provided, get to that drop zone, and wait for that package!"
"Equipment?" I asked, but the speaker wasn't making no more noise, Toreno was "gone". i walked up past the buggy towards the shack to check out the speaker, when I saw it. Oh, very funny Toreno... it was a fucking rocket launcher.... that motherfucker, was he giving me shit for shooting down his helicopter? Or what I thought had been his helicopter?
I grabbed the rocket, then jumped onto the Sanchez bike and took off up the dirt track, heading for the top of the old rock path where the drop zone was.
"That's our cargo arriving now!" Toreno shouted, making me jump even as I heard chopper rotors coming in from the distance.
"Jesus!" I yelled,"Will you stop doing that?"
"Yeah?" I asked, not sure what the problem was. Wasn't WE the Agency?
"Shoot 'em down!" Toreno shouted through the speaker,"Protect the cargo at all costs!"
Shoot them down!?! Shoot them fucking down? Whose fucking side was we on!?!!
"Carl!" he shouted,"Shoot them down and I'll get your brother out of prison!"
I looked up as black helicopters came sweeping in towards our copter, holding the launcher on my shoulder, then shook my head. Sweet was protected in prison, but he was still in prison... if I wanted him out, I had to do what Toreno said.
Okay.... I had to admit, that was pretty fun. Like killing Toreno over and over again. I could have done this all day.
I watched the helicopter fly away, too spooked by the copters and all the fires from they wrecks too drop Toreno's package. The pilot signaled to me, then flew away, passing over what looked like a giant junkyard in the middle of the desert, dropping something attached to a parachute out and then flying away. It was miles away.
"Thanks a lot, ASSHOLE!" I shouted, even though he was way too far gone to hear me, then headed for the Sanchez to head out that way. Except... well, this was the middle of nowhere, but blowing up helicopters with a rocket launcher still had a way of attracting attention..... 5-0 was coming.
Still, I had a plan to deal with that.
I didn't think they'd be following me anytime soon.
"OK!" Toreno's voice blasted out a speaker.... Jesus Christ! How many of these things he got set up around the desert?"Get the package back to Las Brujas."
"Where are you?" I yelled,"You givin' me the heebie jeebies, man!"
I was kind of fooling around, on an adrenalin rush from taking on the helicopters and the escape on the Sanchez, knowing I'd gotten Sweet out of prison with that shit, but what he said next calmed me right the fuck down.
"Carl," he said through the speakers,"I will ALWAYS be watching.... or listening.... or both."
I took the package - fucking heavy, but I didn't look inside - and dumped it in another of those abandoned old shack towns out in the middle of the desert, dumping it in a shed which rumbled its door shut behind me automatically, even though it looked like old wood and there wasn't no wires I could see running into it.
This time there was no speaker to blast out Toreno's words, but I wondered if what he said was true - that he was watching or listening all the time. I started hiking my way out the desert, my Sanchez out of fuel after traveling across miles of desert. It was past midnight and getting cold, and I was starting to wonder just how the fuck I was going to get ho-
"You out late there, boy," said a redneck sounding voice behind me, as a light came on,"With that dark skin there, you lucky I didn't run yo jigaboo ass down."
I grinned at him. Well.... guess I had my answer on how I was getting home.
The next day at the garage, I wasn't of much use to no one, pacing about, jumping at every sound, waiting for a phone call that never came. Every time the phone rang, I jumped for it, hoping it would be Toreno telling me Sweet was out, or Sweet himself, laughing at me to come pick him up.
Finally Cesar called me over and asked what was wrong, and since I couldn't tell him about Toreno I lied to him for the second time in three days, telling him I was hoping to hear from Michelle after the disaster of our picnic on the weekend.
"Hey Holmes, don't let it get you down man... unless you and here were... you know... serious?"
"I don't know what we was, man," I said, which was true,"At first all I wanted was to get my hand on those tits of hers, but she's a pretty cool lady an-"
"Yo CJ!" laughed Jethro, coming into the garage. He'd taken a long lunchbreak, leaving Dwaine to work on the cars we had in for work.
"Hey Jethro," I said,"How is it?"
"Yo dude," he said, looking around,"The garage is coming along nicely, man, and me and Dwaine really appreciate all you done for us...."
Dwaine gave us a thumbs up from behind a popped trunk.
"....but I had an idea," Jethro continued,"Something to pick up business even more than you guys already did with your Exporting."
"Yeah?" asked Cesar, surprised,"What you got in mind, holmes?"
"There used to be an unofficial street racing club in San Fierro," Jethro told us, lighting up a cigarette and taking a deep drag,"Those Mountain Cloud Boys shut it down because it went through Chinatown and the police were coming in too often, then they took it over and ran it out of town."
"Yeah, I know," I said, remembering that was how I met Woozie,"This club, it was unofficial as in illegal, right?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, dude," grinned Jethro,"But there's been talk recently about starting the Club back up, staying clear of Chinatown and the Mountain Cloud Boys - lots of real enthusiastic car guys are interested - guys who love cars and have lots of money, if you know what I mean."
"Get in with that crowd, we open up a whole new market, CJ," Cesar said, turning to look at me,"Work on their cars, provide them with new ones through Wang Cars at prices only WE can afford to sell at."
"I got the number of a guy to talk to if you want in, dude," Jethro said, handing me a card,"Your rep will get your foot in the door, after that... it's up to you."
"Thanks, Jethro," I said, slapping him on the shoulder,"I'm a think about it.... good work man, this shit's above and beyond."
He grinned, clearly pleased, then headed over to help Dwaine. I watched him go, thinking about how I didn't just have guys working for me, I had guys who WANTED to work for me, who wanted to see my business succeed, because they felt like it they business too. I had something special in this garage, and I didn't want to lose it.
As if on cue, my phone rang.
"Come to the ranch," Toreno said, right off the bat, straight to business,"Now."
"Michelle?" Cesar asked as I hung up.
"Nah," I said,"Ain't no nice set of tits on this one... I gotta go man, you got the fort?"
"You got it, man," Cesar said, and I slapped his shoulder and headed for the storage garage to grab a car, head on out to the Ranch. Toreno better have Sweet there, or news about when he was getting out. After the shit I did for him last night, I wasn't taking no for an answer.
"What's up now, Toreno?" I asked, stomping into the ranch as he sat with his feet up reading a book.
"This history," he chuckled, closing the book and turning to look at me,"It's all lies! It says Hitler killed himself and that we nuked Japan! And people believe this shit, Jeeesus."
I wasn't in the mood for his bullshit today, he was showing off again, trying to keep me off-balance, but I wasn't having none of it
"Hey man, what did you want?" I demanded,"Is you gonna free my brother?"
"No, not now," he snapped, dropping his feet and getting up out his chair, arms hanging at his side, chest puffed out as he walked towards me. a nasty grin on his face like he was almost daring me to take a swing at him,"And here's a little newsflash - I said that to get you to do something for me."
I felt like I should have been disappointed, should have been angry, but the truth was... I'd known, known it wouldn't be that easy, known Toreno wouldn't let Sweet out and lose the one thing he had keeping me on a leash. What upset me more was that this motherfucker was ENJOYING rubbing my nose in it.
"Man, you real fucked up," I said at last.
"But the shocker is," Toreno grinned,"We are gonna look after him, because I need him alive as much as you do."
"You know," chuckled Toreno, walking away to fix himself a drink,"After what you've done for me, it's like you're a pro now. I got double agents in Panama who want to put a price on your head. A Russian spy - a little, fat, Boris looking guy - he's asking for clearance to interrogate you, Russian style. Calipers on the genitals.... feels good, you'd like it."
"That ain't nothing cool, man!" I shouted - calipers on my NUTS!?!"Just leave me alone! You're bad news!"
"Don't worry about it," he laughed,"The Russians got bigger things to worry about than your genitals, believe me."
He sighed, like he was remembering good times... maybe he was, an asshole like Toreno probably fucking LOVED the Cold War.
"We tried hard to put a lid on it," he said, turning to look at me,"But that idiot Gorbachev.... with the little strawberry on his forehead.... he gave away the crown jewels! Still.... they got their, you know, their boy in the White House. That was nice...."
Fucking hell, I was in WAAAAY over my fucking head with this motherfucker.
"Listen," he said, picking up his drink but just holding it,"I need you to buy some property, ok? Shouldn't cost that much.... you offer them a dollar. If they give you a hard time, kill them."
Shit, his voice has gotten hard as he talked, he wasn't fucking around.
"I'm going to need you to start doing some REAL wet work here for me soon, OK?" he grunted,"Enough of this little girl bullshit. Now get out of here."
He slapped a set of keys into my hands and turned around, walking into the kitchen muttering under his breath, something about Russkies, reliving shit from the old days, the "good old days". I just stood with the keys in my hands, then shrugged and left the ranch. Motherfucker still had me over a barrel, but in a different way to Tenpenny. Yeah he was an asshole, yeah he was using me, yeah he was hanging Sweet over my head just like Tenpenny, but despite all that, I had this strange feeling that - for all he was a scary motherfucker - he was..... "better".... than Tenpenny
I had to hope he was right, because it wasn't just my life in his hands, it was Sweet's too, and that brand new life at the garage with Kendl and Cesar and even Jethro and Dwaine.... if I didn't play ball with him, for all that he was "better" than Tenpenny, he'd crush us all like bugs.
My fucking life.
The keys had been to a car sitting outside the ranch, with a map in the driver's seat circling the property that Toreno wanted me to buy. I drove out into the desert, realizing about halfway there that I was heading in the same direction that I picked up the package last night. I drove into the sunbaked deep part of the desert, thankful the day was drawing near an end as I got near my destination - that junkyard I'd seen the chopper over last night. Only now, as I got closer, I saw what it really was - what Toreno wanted me to buy.
A fucking airplane graveyard?
I walked into the old Air Control tower wondering what I'd find, and was surprised to find a redneck looking motherfucker - a BIG redneck looking motherfucker - sitting in overalls eating a bowl of cereal.
"You Mister John-sahn?" he asked.
"Yeah," I said, hiding my surprise,"I'm looking for the owner."
"That's me," he grunted, spitting on the floor - nice,"Whoop de sheeyit, huh? Mah Pa dumped all the fucking family money into this place, and it all he left me.... A bigass pile of sand and some broken Ay-ro-planes? Even had to sell mah pickup to pay for his funeral.... sheeyit. So, yer banker Mr. Reno said you had an offer tah make me, that right, boy?"
"Yeah," I said, sitting down beside him and putting on a big cheery grin,"But you know you gotta pay an Estate Tax if you sell this place, right? 60 cents on the dollar?"
I was pulling shit out my ass, but this big dumb redneck motherfucker wouldn't know that, and I could see his beady little eyes getting as wide as they could as this worked its way into his brain.
"FUCKING GUBMINT!" he yelled, banging the counter and sending cereal and milk spilling out. He grunted and lifted the bowl, then swept the spill back into the bowl with one hand and sucked what was left on his arm off with a loud slurping noise. It was all I could do to keep a straight face,"I shoulda known fucking Gubmint wanna squeeze mah tit on this."
"That's why I've come to make you a deal," I grinned,"80,000 dollars."
"80,000?" he asked, and his eyes were lighting up with greed, not thinking that this place was probably worth ten times that... just for the land alone. But then slowly it started to sink into his head what I said before,"Hang on, 60 cents on the dollar... that's like.... uhh... 40,000 dollars! All to the fucking GUBMINT!"
"See, this is where we in the Property Business like to pull what we call a "Creative Construction of Pricing," I said with a grin, enjoying myself, watching his confusion knit together on his face,"You pay 60 cents to the dollar on the purchase price.... so sell me the airstrip for $1, and I'll pay you $79,999 as an incentive fee to move out of here immediately."
He stared at me, going over the math in his head, so I figured I'd help him out.
"Uncle Sam gets two quarters and a dime," I said,"You get $79,999.40. Cash."
"Done!" he shouted, hearing the word cash with a lot of numbers in front of it, and threw his hand out to me. I shook it, grinning right back at him, thinking he had no idea what he was doing, but then neither did I.
What the fuck did Toreno want with an abandoned airstrip in the middle of the desert?
And what the hell was it going to have to do with me?