First thing I did was set up places to crash.
The assholes behind the desks didn't even blink when I gave them the name "Mr. J" and paid for a month in advance with cash. This was Venturas, people didn't come to this city to be above board, this place was built by the fucking mob, and even if the corporations was moving in and trying to make it family friendly, Venturas would always be Venturas.
This was a crazy town, neon lights everywhere, kitsch and tacky ornaments - everything had a theme. That was the thing though, when EVERYTHING was crazy, everything made sense. Giant circuses in the middle of restaurants, neon lights, a fucking Sphinx, a giant pyramid just sitting there in the middle of the city, a fairytale castle, giant cowboys and strippers waving from the sides of buildings.... fuck me, I bet The Truth loved this fucking place.
"Hey man, hook a brother up," I asked the doorman outside the hotel, slipping a fifty to him,"Where can I pick up threads? Fine threads?"
One thing I had noticed, they didn't blink when you peeled off Benjamins for them at the front desk, but they turned they nose up if you wasn't dressed "rich". Looking around the lobby I'd seen guys in suits that probably cost more than most of the cars that got driven around Grove Street, and if I was going to go to The Four Dragons Casino to meet Woozie I didn't want to embarrass him by looking like some out of town asshole tourist. Not that he'd be able to see anyway, but everyone around him would.... I think I saw in a movie or read somewhere once that Chinese dudes put a lot of stock into "face", about looking good and being seen as important. Not so different from black guys really... or white guys.... shit, anyone with a set of balls.
The doorman - an old black dude with white curly hair sprouting up from behind his ears under his cap, probably been in Venturas since it was built - told me about a place to go to fit in, and I drove the old Savannah I'd picked up (for some reason it just felt "right" to drive it into Venturas, weird) out there, a place called Victim with nice clothes but not so nice prices.
Still, as I walked on up to the Casino - a little more subdued than the older casinos, but still with a theme, an old Chinese look - I had to admit I felt GOOD in the clothes I was wearing, and GOOD to be in Venturas. The doors opened automatically and I stepped inside to a place that felt warm and inviting - later on Woozie would explain to me that they paid people ALOT of money to make sure people felt like that when they walked in. The doors closed behind me, and I took a moment to look the place over, feeling at home in my new clothes, feeling fucking pimp, and in a good way. I walked down the stairs, James Brown singing through speakers throughout the Casino about being ready for the Big Payback, and I couldn't help but think....
Damn it felt good to be a gangsta.
I walked up to the front desk - something I had to get used to in Venturas was the idea of Hotel Casinos, if you were going to stop gambling to sleep they wanted you to sleep right where the gambling was anyway - and told them I was supposed to be meeting Mr. Wu Zi Mu here, expecting they'd call up to his room or he'd be having a meal in the restaurant (eat, sleep and gamble all at the same place! They probably had hookers here as well so you could eat, sleep, gamble and fuck all at the same place) and got a surprise when she pointed me towards the "Managerial Offices" and told me Mr. Wu Zi Mu was expecting me.
Managerial...? Oh, oh shit... Woozie's business out here WAS the casino, his tong had him running the place? Holy shit, he really was a lucky son of a bitch, he must have been loving this.
Well OK... maybe not.
"Boss, CJ's here," said the guy who I guess had taken Guppy's place, and he put his phone away and walked in my direction, stepping around the guy working on wiring in the floor, extending his arm in my direction. I reached out and took his so we wouldn't get any problems.... I still had trouble believing he was blind.
"The mob trying to squeeze you?" I asked, surprised. I knew the mob was ruthless, but all over the news everyone was saying the Mafia was dying out and I didn't think they'd be able to fuck with the Triads... or want to even if they could.
"Yeah," nodded Woozie,"The Corporations are moving in and everybody's feeling the squeeze, I've had slot machines busted up, workmen being scared off..."
He walked away over to the little bar to the side of his office and began mixing together stuff for drinks, and I saw the eyes of his boy widen as much as they could. Shit, this could get messy.
"So, who's behind this?" I asked.
"Well, there are these three mob families operating here," he explained as he dropped ice into glasses,"Each of them has a stake in Caligula's Casino and some wacked-out lawyer's running it for them. It could be any one of them, or all of 'em."
"Can't you just give them a little something?" I asked, figuring they was just looking for a handout.
Fuck yes, Woozie, that's what I wanted to hear.
"In addition to the usual authorities that need bribing," he told me, lifting up a strange bottle I figured was filled with some kind of Chinese liquor, his voice raising, not exactly angry, just fucking determined - sometimes Sweet talked like that,"Each one would want a slice, and I'm not about to hand over all OUR profits to some wiseguy Italians!"
He poured the drink.
"Our profits?" I asked as he handed me the drink he thought he'd just successfully poured, no idea his boy had saved his carpet from an expensive cleaning bill.
"That's right, you heard me," grinned Woozie,"I want to offer you a share in our casino... in exchange for some help setting it up."
"How's that sound?" he asked,"....partner."
"Sound like we got a deal then!" I said, shaking my head and tapping my glass against his.... holy shit, a fucking casino? I'd make money like I'd never dreamed of.
We both took a drink, Woozie's boy standing a little off to the side like a waiter, the electrician with headphones on and music blasting into his ears so loud we could hear it from here, and I just enjoyed the moment. Damn, Woozie, a share in a fucking Casi-
"BOSS!" shouted a familiar voice, and I turned around and saw Suzie come running in, looking excited, sweating,"The boys found some thugs trying to smash one of the deliveries..... we caught one of them!"
"Get rid of him," Woozie said after a few seconds of silence, ice cold, reminding me that for all he was a nice guy and friendly and generous, he wasn't as high as he was in his Tong by being a pussy. If these mafia fucks knew what they was dealing with, maybe they wouldn't be so.... shit, I had an idea.
"Hey, wait," I told Suzie as he was turning to leave,"Hold up, hold up, come here."
I walked up beside him, putting my arm around his shoulder,"Whoever's behind this - we need to let them know that they're dealing with fully-fledged psychos... tie him to the front of the car, let him sweat it out a little.... and I'll be out there in a little while."
"OK CJ," he nodded, then grinned,"Nice to see you again, man."
"You too, dude, now go tie up that asshole," I laughed, and watched him head away before turning to Woozie, who looked.... pleased?
"See if we can make this guy squeal," I said, finishing my drink and setting down the empty glass. Woozie just smiled, lifting his own drink to his mouth.
Oh this was perfect.
"You know what?" I asked him as he wriggled about on the window,"I think we're gonna take a little drive."
"What are you, fucking STUPID?" he shouted, too dumb and arrogant to realize the situation he was in,"I'm not joking here - untie me, motherfucker!"
"No, I think I'm gonna leave you right where you are," I laughed, hopping into the car and starting up the engine, and seeing the first sign in his eyes that he was in serious trouble here. Fucking mafia, organized crime assholes got run out of Santos years ago, couldn't hold onto the streets from the gangs, couldn't step up to the white collar stuff like the white asshole "businessmen" were pulling in the 80s. They stuck to the East Coast and Venturas... and now they was going to lose Venturas too, to Corporations, to the Asian mafia... to me.
But they didn't let go easy.
"You got any idea in that pea brain head of yours WHO THE FUCK I AM!!?!" he screamed at me, this little peckerwood jumped up Italian asshole.
"No," I grinned,"But I think I'm going to find out."
"OH MOTHER MARY!" he screamed, tears and snot running down his face, a dark path growing on his crotch, piss smearing over the windshield and probably a nice brown package staining his underwear too,"I'VE HAD ENOUGH, OH GOD..."
I slowed the car and pulled over, a few people walking down the sidewalk giving us surprised looks and then just keeping on, going about they business. Alot like Liberty City, only sunnier.
"Thank you!" he sobbed, pathetic, all the fight and arrogance gone out of him, little jumped up mafia fuck brought down to earth,"Thank God! Thank God!"
He looked up at me, then around, and I saw his eyes harden as he realized he wasn't going to die in the next couple of second, realized just how pathetic I'd made him, humiliated by being broken and trying to draw on what was left of his arrogance to cover it up, hiding himself behind the "family", the gang that had made him feel like a big man when he was just a little asshole.
"Oh yeah?" I asked, interested,"Which family?"
"THE SINDACCO FAMILY, YA IDIOT!" he screamed at me, and then his eyes widened as he realized what he'd done.
"That's all I wanted to hear," I grinned,"Come on, let's get back to the casino."
He was just mumbling shit when I pulled up, from what I could pick up I think he was praying, and a Triad took the wheel and drove him inside as Suzie stepped up beside me.
"He made a mess," I said.
"We have people paid to clean up messes," Suzie said back calmly, then extended me his hand, which I shook,"Good to have you around again, CJ, things are always more exciting when you're here."
"Heh, about that," I said as the garage closed behind us and we walked towards the street as it grew darker,"Woozie offered me a piece of the Casino, real generous you know.... but I was driving that asshole around and I realized.... maybe a guy like me ain't so good to be involved in a Casino just starting up in Venturas? Woozie's Bosses putting a lot of faith in him having him run a fucking Casino, man, I wouldn't want to fuck that up for him just because he wants to be a friend."
"CJ.... don't be an idiot," Suzie said, surprising me. He laughed,"The Dai Dai Lo is a generous man, and he considers you a true friend... but he didn't raise to his position within the Tong by letting his heart rule his head. The Casino is still being set up, we still have problems to deal with, and you're a proven problem-solver. More to the point, you're getting a piece, that's all, and if anything, we can use you as a public face - the boy from the Ghetto who made good, used his skills at driving to get out of Santos, opened a garage in Fierro, made it a success and bought into a Casino in Venturas. You're the American Dream, CJ, if anything you should be making a point of getting your name known around. In fact, you should go check out the Dirtring Stadium, they run motorcycle races and exhibition performances on weekends. Go show them your skills, let the local racing circuits pick you up and show them how a true driver handles himself."
I took this all in, thinking it over. It made sense - all kinds of corporations and politicians and celebrities liked to throw up some "from the streets" success story to make it look like they cared, which usually meant they made a shitload more money off of people who thought they was "nice" and the poor "success story" got dumped as soon as he was yesterday's news. I didn't mind being that guy for Woozie, because he wouldn't fuck me over and we'd both make out from it okay. Shit, it worked both ways, my garage and Wang Cars would benefit from being associated with a Casino owner - plenty of high rollers coming through the Four Dragons would hear all about how we could provide them cars at good prices, or work on what they already had and make them better.
"OK, man, OK," I said at last, slapping Suzie on the shoulder,"Thanks man, and it's good to see you again too.... I'm sorry about Guppy, y'know...? I..."
"We all know what we're getting into," he shrugged,"He's gone on to a better place now, and can face his ancestors head held high and say he met his end with dignity."
"Yeah, unlike that motherfucker," I said, throwing my thumb over my shoulder,"Big man till he's facing death eye to eye, then he breaks down. If that's the best the mob's got..."
"It isn't, though," sighed Suzie,"Not by a long shot."
I'd crashed out at one of the hotel suites, eating room service and watching porno, then slept for a LOOOONG time. In the morning, I looked into Dirtring Stadium, finding out it ran alot like The Bloodbowl - professionals raced with amateurs, only betting was allowed out in the open, because this was Venturas, and everything was gambling. Everything.
What Suzie had said had made sense, and I wasn't going to turn down a chance to race AND make money, so I walked inside and headed for the registration desk, telling them I wanted to sign up.
"Driver's license," the bored looking asshole behind the desk said, and I showed it to him. He took a quick glance and then sighed,"You're not licensed by the State of San Andreas to operate a motorcycle. Next."
"Hey wait, what the fuck?" I demanded,"I ride bikes all the time! Have since I was a kid!"
"Not here you don't," he said, looking up at me with tired eyes,"All riders are required by law to be licensed to operator motorcycles."
"Well how the fuck do I do that?" I demanded,"Quick?"
"Turning Tricks Driving School," he sighed, handing me a brochure,"You'll be too late to take part in the Dirt Track Open, but we hold Kickstart Exhibitions on the hour, every hour until 4. Next!"
"Awww man c'mon now," I said,"Can't yo-"
"COME ON, MAN!" shouted the guy in line behind me, and then everyone else behind HIM joined in, and I threw up my arms and headed away, checking out the brochure, wondering just how hard it was to get certified to operate motorcycles.
Turns out, it wasn't too hard at all.
Even though I'd only been gone a couple of hours, I'd missed my chance to sign up for the Dirt Track Open, but true to his word, the registration clerk signed me up for the Kick Start Challenge. Looking through the brochure he'd given me after I signed up, I learnt it was an exhibition of skill. An obstacle course was set up, and you had to drive around through "points" set by shining different colored lights onto different sections of the course. Green points were worth one point, yellow points two and red points three. We were put into groups, each person took five minutes to race around, and the winners from each group then did the whole thing over again against each other. Once a winner was decided, he got to try to "hard course" and try to beat the score set by the last champion. It seemed pretty stupid and overcomplicated to me, but there was a nice little chunk of money up for grabs for the winner, and the crowds apparently really dug seeing drivers handle they bikes with skill. They was.... enthusiasts.... was the words.
Bike nerds was another.
Group by group, I beat them all - most of them were good drivers but too timid, taking it slow to make sure they got the point, so they ended up with technically perfect performances and low scores. I fucked up a few times, slid off the side of rails or got the wobbles after landing from a jump... but I got points, more than anyone else. Finally it came down to just me against time to see if I could beat the champion's score, and I rode around enjoying the crowd's "ooohs" and "aaahs". The buzzer sounded and I turned around to see my score.... shit, only 30... I was sure I'd done better than that, no way it was enough to beat the standing champion's scor-
The crowd went fucking wild.
THAT was it? 30 was enough to beat the record? Jesus, were all the drivers in Venturas a bunch of technical pussies? I thought risk-takers lived here?
The crowd was cheering and the announcer was excitedly telling everyone the new champion was Carl Johnson, and they began chanting my name. I pulled off my helmet and looked around, surprised, as the other drivers I'd just beaten rushed up and grabbed me, lifting me up on they shoulders and carrying me around.
"You're a hell of a driver, buddy!" one of them shouted.
"We should celebrate!" yelled another.
"Let's go to Caligula's!"
"No! Emerald Isle!" shouted another.
"Pirates in Men's Pants!" shouted another.
"HEY HEY!" I shouted, calming them all down,"I'm the Champion, I decide where we go.... let's go to The Four Dragons!"
There you go Woozie, I was already bringing in new customers to OUR Casino.