"Forget the Dirt Track, Carl Baby," Todd told me, wrapping his arm around my shoulder,"At least the official one.... reeeeal racers go unsanctioned, it's where the big money is."
"Todd-o's right, Carlster," nodded Sinclair, sipping his margarita,"Everyone who is everyone in Venturas Racing operates on the underground circuit - isn't that right, Brentmeister!"
"Sinclair, shut your fucking mouth," Brent said, sulking.
I'd taken my new "friends" and fans out to the Four Dragons, and the staff there - knowing who I was - gave us the VIP treatment straight away. A few hours and a shitload of liquor and imported beer later, Brent was down 20k, Todd was breaking even, Sinclair was up 200 bucks. And I was making connections.
"Would sir like to extend a further line of credit?" the dealer asked Brent, who was the "leader" of these rich, privileged assholes. Todd and Sinclair were okay if a little fucking white, Brent was a total and complete douche and all of them were enjoying having a pet nigger to pretend they was enlightened with - look at us, we're so comfortable with a black man, we have "street cred".
"No, sir would NOT like to extend a further line of credit," he growled,"Sir would like to race. Let's settle up and go to the Dirt Track, I want to race."
"Sir? I don't ra-" started the dealer.
"Not you, idiot," snapped Brent,"What do you say, Johnson? You had some good moves on that dirt bike, but you were a little reckless, think you've got what it takes to beat me?"
"Only one way to find out," I grinned,"But ain't the stadium shut?"
"I fucking run racing in this town," he snapped, rolling his eyes,"I own Venturas, it's my town. If I say the stadium opens, it opens. Let's go."
"Hell, why not?" I shrugged, and Todd and Sinclair high-fived and pulled out they cells, calling up friends to call friends to call friends till "everyone who was everyone" knew a special race was going to be run. Brent settled up his debts, writing up a check for 20k while I took aside Suzy who had taken the place of the Pit Boss to watch us play, telling him what was going on.
"A few of us run books and funnel the money through the casino," Suzie nodded,"I'll do my best to organize betting to go through us, and we can all make some money."
"I'll put $1000 on me," I said, handing off the money to him unseen.
"You think you can take these guys?" he asked,"That Brent's an asshole, but I've seen him ride, he's good."
I looked Brent over, half cut on drinking and whatever he'd been snorting the five times in the last two hours he'd gone off to the bathroom.
"Oh yeah," I said,"I can take him."
And that's how I found myself inside a closed stadium filled up with rich party people in Venturas just after midnight, racing a bunch of half drunk rich kids who'd decided to jump in on the action.
Easy fucking money.
Most of these assholes were at least half drunk, some more, and as I came up over the rise I had to twist my bike to avoid crashing into where a bunch of them has come of they bikes. I skidded through the dirt and had to throw myself clear, rolling along the dirt and bouncing to my feet as my bike slid across the dirt into the others. Everyone was getting up, laughing and shouting insults at each other as they grabbed they bikes... or any bike close to hand.
"Hey!" I shouted as one grabbed my bike up,"That's my bike!"
"What does it fucking matter?" laughed the asshole, then burped before taking off, leaving me behind with his shitty, dinged up blue dirtbike behind.
"Shit," I said, then jumped back on. It didn't matter, even if they were sober I could beat them, and a shitty bike wasn't going to change that. These assholes thought they was daredevils, thought they was taking this seriously, but they didn't really understand what it meant to put it all on the line, to HAVE to win, when losing just wasn't an option.
I had to admit feeling pretty good watching the asshole that stole my bike come in third, but even better when everyone else had crossed the finish line and I still hadn't seen Brent. Finally he came walking around the corner looking pissed off, and when Todd and Sinclair - who hadn't raced - rushed over to them he started shouting about how he was going to fire his mechanic because his engine had stalled just as he'd been "about to make his move".
"Besides!" he yelled at me suddenly, as if I'd said something,"Who cares about racing on a shitty dirt track anyway? The real racing happens on the roads - true street racing! You got the balls to try me on my roads, huh Johnson?"
"Name the time and place," I grinned.
"OH HO, BRENTMEISTER!" laughed Sinclair,"Carlster here doesn't punk out so easy, huh?"
"Oh shut the fuck up, Sinclair," he grunted, and I just grinned. If this asshole wanted to keep getting embarrassed, I was more than happy to let him. If Suzie has gotten his boys down here to take bets, I stood to earn a cool 25k for one night's work, not to mention the 20k he'd already blown at MY Casino. Fantastic.
"Sherman Dam, 7am!" Brent shouted at me,"Be there if you have the balls, I'll show you a REAL race on a REAL bike, cowboy!"
"Seven it is," I said back, already thinking that I was going to enjoy humiliating this rich kid frat boy asshole.... and make a lot of money and a name for myself in the process.
That morning, remembering what Brent had said about me being a cowboy, I made sure to rub it in just a little bit more and dress the part, figuring that would piss him off even more and fuck up his racing.
"Hey Breeeeent!" I laughed as I passed him, pulling into the lead, loving the surprised look on his face. That was the problem with these guys - technically they could handle they bikes fine, and they knew the territory like the back of they hands. The trouble was, they'd never been pushed before, never had to go all out, so what they thought was they best.... really wasn't.
And what they thought was good enough, wasn't enough to beat me.
"He's pretty good, huh Brent?" laughed Todd after the race.
"Good race, man," I said, putting my hand out to him. He just stared at it, then turned and glared at Todd.
"So he can race on roads, anyone can race on roads," he said at last, and Sinclair let out a long, theatrical groan,"But this is Venturas, we all know the best races don't happen on the road! Let's see how you handle the desert, cowboy."
Turns out I handled it just fine.
Everyone crowded around me to slap me on the shoulders and congratulate me after I crossed the finish line, but then everyone went quiet and turned to look over at Brent, who had just pulled up and was glaring at me, face turning pink. He was tall and probably good looking in a lawyer-type of way, and he obviously worked out even if his muscles didn't look like they'd ever been tested, but right now what he looked like was a kid about to throw a tantrum.
"Oh COOOOME ON, Brentmeister!" laughed Sinclair,"You have to admit, Johnson here beat you fair and squa-"
"SHUT UP!" he screamed at Sinclair, whose goofy half-grin slipped off of his face for the first time since I'd met him,"SHUT UP! I'LL CALL UP OLD MAN PARSONS AND HAVE YOU MOVED TO ACCOUNTS YOU PIECE OF SHIT! THIS. IS. MY. CITY!"
"Hey man, calm the fuck down," I said, frowning - enough was enough, baiting this dude was fun and profitable, but now he was going too fa-
"SHUT UP NIGGER!" he screamed, and everyone gasped, even though they'd probably made they share of jokes in boardrooms and nightclub bathrooms in they lives,"DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? DO YOU KNOW WHO MY FATHER IS?"
".....no," I said, and he seemed surprised for a second, and then an evil look crossed his face and he smiled as he told me.
"Brent. Parsons. Senior."
Everyone had gone quiet, and I sat staring at him, him staring at me, panting roughly, face red now, waiting to see how I reacted to the bombshell he'd just laid down.
"I.... I...." I started, unsure how to finish, and then finally got it out,"I... don't know who that is, man."
Everyone was quiet a second more, then someone snickered, and then someone chuckled, and then everyone was laughing, and it wasn't at me.... and Brent (Junior, I guess) knew it.
"SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!" he screamed,"SO YOU CAN RACE ON DIRT AND ON ROAD AND THE DESERT? SO THE FUCK WHAT, NIGGER? FUCKING NIGGER FUCK FUCK YOU I FUCKING OWN VENTURAS LET'S TAKE THIS SHIT TO THE FUCKING HIGHWAY, LAS VENTURAS RINGROAD, FUCK THE BIKES WE TAKE CARS LET'S SEE WHAT YOU FUCKING GOT?"
"You about done blowing a gasket?" I asked when he finished screaming, all his friends and people he knew staring at him like he pathetic, which made him feel pathetic, which made him act even more pathetic,"Yeah? Good, then let's race."
Las Venturas Ringroad? Shit, I grew up next to the fucking Los Santos Freeway, ain't no ringroad gonna give me pause.
And it didn't.
We cleared out after the race, in case the police came sniffing around, pulling into Las Venturas Airport's private runway off the main airport.
"To Carl Johnson!" said Sinclair, popping a champagne cork and pouring it around for everyone, he'd fucking brought champagne bottles in the trunk of his car, goddamn,"The Champion of Venturas!"
"THE CHAMPION OF VENTURAS!" they all yelled, raising glasses, all except for Brent Parsons Junior, who slapped the glass offered him away and charged at me, swinging wildly. I caught his wrist and jerked him off-balance so he tumbled over against the side of my car, and slapped him on the back of the head.
"What the fuck is wrong with you!?!" I shouted,"We just racing, for fuck's sake, it's for FUN! Fun and bragging rights, not fucking life and death!"
He turned around and drew himself up as tall as he could, smoothing his jacket down, checking his collar and patting down his hair, doing his best to get his composure back. Once he felt like he had, he spat on the ground in front of my feet, and the crowd went,"Oooooh."
"Oh spare us the Ghetto philosophy, Johnson," he said,"What next? An inspirational speech about how you grew up on the mean streets and had to choose between life and death? And you chose life and blah blah blah now you're a big success story. Fuck you, once a nigger always a nigger."
"You keep saying nigger like you expect me to go crazy on you," I said back, feeling cool in my "cowboy" get-up, and also thinking he was just too pathetic to bother with,"I race because I enjoy it, man, why the hell do you race? I'm sure everyone else here started up because it was fun, why you gotta turn it into something it ain't? It ain't all about you, no matter what you was told growing up."
He turned and looked around, and everyone was staring at him, enjoying his public humiliation. I didn't know who his Daddy was, but apparently he was a big enough deal that they'd all swallowed Brent's shit for a long time... and now here I was, some guy who didn't know his Daddy, didn't care, and was beating him at his own game. He looked around for support and didn't find any, and he looked at me, and he had that moment to make his choice. He could have laughed it off and congratulated me and joined in on the drinks, and let people rib him for a night before things went back to pretty much the way they always had.... or he could just keep pushing because he was too arrogant to accept he wasn't getting everything his own way.
He made his choice, and there was no going back.
"San Fierro to Venturas!" he shouted, and everyone groaned.
"What the fuck, man?" I said.
"Your town to my town, to decide who owns what," he shouted, desperate now,"Winner takes all, double or nothing! If you win then you own Venturas' roads, but if I win you leave and nev-"
"Fuck you," I said, surprising him into silence,"If I win then you just leave these poor assholes to race however the fuck whenever they want. If I lose, you get to keep running racing in Venturas the way you like and I won't get in the way."
"You're not running things here, man," I interrupted,"That's my deal, take it or leave it."
"...... we'll fly in my private jet," he said after a moment,"Pack heavy, you got a long trip back after I get done beating your black ass."
Jesus Christ, what an asshole.
The flight was one of the most awkward couple of hours in my life, everyone who was racing came along even though this was really down to me and Brent. We all just kind of sat staring at walls or floors, all except for Brent who just stared at me the entire time, looking like he wished public lynchings were still the in-thing. We touched down in Fierro and my first thought was to drive by the garage and check in on Cesar and Kendl, but Brent was eager to race, cars supplied from his Daddy's private garage at his Fierro house. I wondered if Brent Senior was one of the guys in Fierro's Underground Circuit who fucking loved me, and then Sinclair and Todd came walking up to me, arguing amongst themselves low under they breath.
"Hey Johnson... good luck," Todd said.
"Yeah.... sorry man," Sinclair said.
"Sorry?" I asked as I hopped into my Banshee, and Todd slapped him on the shoulder.
"Nothing man, nothing, just.... sorry, he's technically my Boss and..."
"Just shut up!" hissed Todd, and dragged him away. Shit, I wonder what that was all about.
I found out a few minutes later.
"AHHH SHIT!" I yelled, watching Brent zooming away towards Gant Bridge, Sinclair practically hanging out his the window of his Turismo yelling at me that he was sorry he was sorry but he couldn't lose his job he'd just brought a new place in Vice City for Summer and....
"Fuck this," I grunted, shifting into reverse and backing out of the mess, spinning the Banshee 180. I shifted into gear and hit the accelerator, hearing something tear off of the underside of the Banshee. I didn't care what - I'd been treating Brent like a joke figuring that if he beat me I'd just walk away from racing in Venturas... after all I had bigger fish to fry.
But now.... now I was determined to beat his ass.
"BREEENNT! FUUuucckkKKK youuuuuuuuuuu......" I screamed as I thundered past him, dumb motherfucker taking it conservative on the road because he thought I'd been dealt with, setting his boys on me the way he had. I had a flash of his face as I went by, pure shock on it, then he was in my rearview, his ride going over the median strip so he had to skid to a stop to avoid running into the other lane and oncoming traffic. Me? I was in the zone, zipping in and out between traffic, my whole world narrowed down and focused to getting to Venturas ahead of him and taking away every little piece of dignity he had left.
His city? No, fuck him.
Las Venturas was MY city now.
"Carl, where are you?" asked Kendl,"Jethro says he thought he saw you in a crash up at Gant Bridge? Are you OK?"
"It's cool," I said,"Listen, I'm still in Venturas, I was just back in Fierro but I couldn't get out to the garage, I'm sorry, I was trying to sort out..."
"Carl, relax," she laughed,"Remember how I said you never wanted to work for anything? Well now it seems like all you do IS work! I was just worried you were hurt."
"I'm fine," I grinned,"But listen, sis, I'm probably gonna be in Venturas for at least a couple of weeks, maybe more.... I'm working on a business deal with Woozie, and if it works out... we'll be set for life, all of us, you, me, Cesar, Sweet, everyone."
"Nothing too crazy?" I hope,"This isn't the 70s anymore, don't go trying to pull off something like Sweet did."
For a second I thought about that, thought about how he took the drug dealing Grove Street OG out and how he gathered around all the OGs telling them it was time they did something about getting drugs off of the street.... and what he did next. Then Kendl was talking, breaking off my memory.
"Carl? You are being careful, aren't you?"
"Course I am," I laughed, thinking about all that racing now, about how when Brent had gotten back he'd just gotten out of his car, walked up to me without saying a word, dropped his car keys between us and then just walked away without saying a word, just walked off down the street like a broken down old hobo,"Me and Woozie playing golf tomorrow, that's as exciting as it gets here!"
"Okay, good, maybe you can tell Cesar to calm down too," she said, sounding like she didn't believe a word I was saying,"I'm putting him on."
"Hey holmes," said Cesar,"You grabbed yourself a showgirl yet? OW! Hey come on Kendl! It was a joke!"
"No time for showgirls yet, homie," I laughed, enjoying hearing they voices again,"What up man? You been up to something?"
"Been working on that new wishlist, man," he said,"Ain't as quick without you around, but with some of Zero's gadgets and Jethro and Dwaine's help, we still got it done faster than anyone else could."
"Great work man," I said,"Keep things up on that end, and when me and Woozie get Venturas up and running, we're going to be on easy street."
"Ain't no shortage of work man," laughed Cesar,"I already got a new wishlist!"
"Well OK man," I said,"But keep in mind what Kendl said, play it safe."
"I'll play it as safe as you are out in Venturas man," laughed Cesar,"I promise."
"Just so we understand each other then," I said, laughing myself,"Hey man, it's good to talk to you and Kendl, I'm sorry I haven't seen you in a little bit."
"We'll all be back together soon enough, man," he said,"I gotta go, Zero's coming around, says he's got a new system to pinpoint cars even faster, something to do with satellites and shit man.... who knows what the fuck he's thinking, it's crazy what he can do."
We said our goodbyes and I hung up, walking over to the big window of my hotel suite, looking out over the Strip, lit up bright at night. Far down below me on the street, tourists and natives were moving from bar to casino to strip club, most of them all in the same buildings. So much action in this city, so much opportunity, and here I was, Carl Johnson from Grove Street, ready to tap into all of that.
But before I could get into the action.... I had a game of golf to play.
"Ha ha ha!" laughed Woozie, sliding his club back along his hip like he sliding a sword back in its sheath,"The glorious sound of a hole in one!"
Oh, so that's how they did things around here.
"Great shot, Boss," Suzie said as he brought the golf ball back up to Woozie.
"Not bad, Woozie," I said, playing along. Woozie was incredible, the way he'd overcome his blindness, but that didn't mean there still wasn't things he couldn't do.... so his boys just covered up for that and let him think he really was Superman.
As Suzie set the ball back up and took the cup back for me to take my shot, Woozie brought up what I knew this "golf game" had been all about - the Mafia goon we scared the shit out of when I first got to Venturas.
"So the Sindacco Family was behind the attempts to sabotage our venture," Woozie said, quietly, not making a big deal out of it - I had to admit one of my favorite things about him was just how fucking cool he was,"I wonder why it's only them, and not the others?"
"Probably ain't just them," I said as Woozie handed me the club,"Rule of the streets; don't snitch."
I knelt down to check out the lay of the floor. Setting up a Casino was busy work, Woozie rarely got time to leave his office, and besides which getting into the country club wasn't any easier for a Chinese millionaire than it would be for a black guy or a Jewish guy, no matter how much money they had. So he practiced putting here in his office, which was about the size of a fucking golf course anyway.
I ran my eye between the ball and the hole, but with only half of my mind on it. What I was really thinking was about what Kendl said to me on the phone, about Sweet and the shit he pulled, shit that made him a legend, that got him his place as Grove Street's leader, put him and Tenpenny against each other forever and bought my Momma's place when she was living on foodstamps and working two different jobs to keep me and Brian in school.
Thinking about the Heist.
"What we need..." I said quietly,"Is to hit the mafia casino. Yeah, go jack the place."
Woozie said nothing.
I was trying to hold my arms steady as I thought about what I was suggesting, and wondering if Woozie would go for it. This wasn't nothing like planning jobs with homies in Sweet's living room, this felt like a business meeting - like planning a hostile takeover.... what they said was true, the only difference between gangbangers and businesses was that society said gangbangers was wrong and businesses was right.
Finally Woozie spoke.
"Hitting a Casino isn't like gangbanging," he said, laughing a little, thinking I was joking,"It's a whole different league!"
"Yeah, you're right," I shrugged,"It'll take some planning... but I'm down."
"Bad luck," said Woozie, slapping me on the shoulder as I took a step towards Suzie, who just grinned and shrugged,"Listen... are you serious, Carl? I mean, REALLY serious?"
"I... I am, yeah," I said.
"Forget the movies, Carl," he said,"No one, and I mean NO ONE, has ever successfully pulled a Casino job in Las Venturas. When the Mob ran everything, plenty of people tried and they all ended up beaten, tortured and killed in the most horrible ways imaginable. When the corporations moved in, security went hi-tech and expensive, more is spent on security for Casinos in Venturas than some cities spend on infrastructure. It's not a matter of running in with a gun, you're gonna need a crew and some special equipment."
"I think the problem is people overthink this shit, man," I said, handing him the club back, forgetting about Suzie for a second,"But we're still talking man, early days yet. Let's start with the basics and work our way up.... it'll take some explosives. Always got to blow up shit to pull a heist."
Woozie grinned, and then his grin faded, and then it came back full force.
"We're really going to do this, aren't we?" he asked,"You're serious, we're going to take on a Mafia Casino?"
"They don't play by the rules, Woozie, so we punch them in the balls," I said, and he let out a loud laugh, letting out what I assumed was a ton of stress.
"This is crazy.... you know what? There's an open cast mine southwest of the city limits," he laughed,"They must have explosives... that's our starting point."
"I'll go peep it out," I said, and he laughed, "staring" at his golf club. As a member of the Triads he'd pulled some crazy shit in his life, and as a Grove Street OG so had I. But neither of us had ever done anything like this before, even what Sweet had done all those years ago was going to pale in comparison..... we was going to pull a heist on a Mafia Casino in Las Venturas.