I had maybe five seconds to react, to figure out how to handle this, and in that five seconds my mind raced, fighting down panic and coming up with a game plan.
"Yeah, I was starting to miss you guys," I said, lifting my chin, putting a strut into my walk. Suddenly I wasn't Carl Johnson the Garage Owner, the Driver, the Pilot, the Covert Agent, Casino Business Partner. I was CJ, Grove Street OG fronting to 5-0 to cover up how scared I was.
How scared I wanted them to think I was.
"Now why don't I believe you?" asked Tenpenny sarcastically, going right along with it, thinking he had me pegged,"Get over here!"
All his career he been using people like me as tools, used to his power making them scared, used to getting his way - and the only one who had never been scared of him, never let him have his way was my brother. I'd always been scared of him, always let him push me around.
I wasn't scared of him no more.
I strutted my way over, Ghetto-Walk, like a rooster, sliding back into my role as an OG real easy, like an old pair of pants. Tenpenny didn't notice any difference, Pulaski was too busy trying to light the barbeque, and my mind was still racing. Find out what they want, find out how tight they grip on Sweet is now that Toreno involved, get information, remember what Truth told me once - knowledge was power.
"Now things have developed since the last time we met," Tenpenny said, leaning back in his chair, king of his little fucking world, a world that looked smaller to me every day,"Despite our best efforts the gig's nearly up."
"I'm sure you'll find some way to keep you badge," I shrugged, pretending like I didn't really care, too stupid to understand the wheelings and dealings above me. I remembered a time I honestly believed I wasn't smart enough, that Smoke and Sweet were the natural leaders, not me,"Your kind always do."
"You still don't get it, do you Carl?" sneered Tenpenny, looking disgusted with me, looking down on me like the Ghetto Rat he chased out of Los Santos, thinking I hadn't changed, just lucked or stole my way into a little paper,"This ain't about keeping some fucking badge!"
"Hey, listen to the man!" snapped Pulaski, pouring more lighter fluid onto the barbeque, throwing his own voice in on the chance we was forgetting he was there.
Tenpenny lifted himself up outta his chair and put his arm on my shoulder, turning me around, and I knew what was coming, and I just went on playing my part.
"We're all the same, Carl - you, me," he told me, walking me a couple of steps away from Pulaski like he was going to share something with me he didn't want Eddie to have. He was, all right, but I wasn't dumb enough not to know what it was,"We're all trying to pull ourselves out of the hole. Somebody steps on me, I gotta step on you."
"Where's Hernandez with that fucking meat?" yelled Pulaski, playing his part, him and Tenpenny like a fucking machine the way they worked together.
A few months ago I would have been taken right in, but now after dealing with fucks like Toreno and Mendez, it all seemed kind of... pathetic.
Still, I played my part, turning to look at Pulaski, and even throwing in a little ad-lib of my own, grinning at Tenpenny as I asked,"Getting a little edgy, fellas?"
"That give you any idea how edgy I am!?!" yelled Tenpenny as I made groaning noises and sucked in air.
Goddamn, they was losing it, losing it big time. I wondered if they could see it, see they whole world crumbling down. Tenpenny could, I think, Pulaski was probably too stupid to know it, but even Tenpenny still thought he could take back control, that he just needed to make the right moves.
And that meant me.
"Get up bitch!" he shouted, and I staggered up to my feet clutching my stomach as I stood crouched over, wheezing and trying to suck in air as Tenpenny walked around me giving me my instructions, treating me like I was still his errand boy.
"Now there's a ruined town out west of here, Aldea Malvada," he told me,"And there's some piece of shit DEA officer meeting with an FBI agent with a dossier."
He leaned in close to me as I stood up straight, making sure I was looking right into his eyes as he lowered his voice and told me exactly what he wanted.
I nodded and coughed, then staggered away clutching at my stomach, leaving behind Tenpenny and Pulaski thinking they'd put me in my place and set me loose like they trained dog, they own personal mercenary soldier.
And in a way, they was right, I was going to do exactly what they'd told me to.
ONE DEA Agent and ONE FBI Agent, huh Tenpenny? Shit, OK this was a problem, it looked like the whole fucking FBI was down there, probably thinking about the last time they had Federales trying to take out Tenpenny with that witness down in Whetstone. And Tenpenny was hoping for the same result as that time.
I took a deep breath, then settled myself, forcing myself calm. I remembered how I'd felt that time at Verdant Meadows when the Men In Black had shown up and I'd made the run straight through them onto the plane and blew it out of the sky. I had to be like that, had to be ice-cold, because if I did what Tenpenny wanted me to do.... I had to do what he wanted me to do, I NEEDED to do what he wanted me to do, for reasons all my own.
The helicopter had landed just before I got there, and now everyone's attention was on the two guys meeting and shaking hands, one holding a briefcase that I figured must hold the dossier.
"Sorry, man," I whispered, looking through my rifle scope,"I know you just trying to do right."
I pulled the trigger.
The place went crazy, men screaming,"SHOOTER! SHOOTER!" and "GUN! GUN!" and scrambling about trying to spot where I'd shot from while running for the briefcase the Agent had dropped. I found myself shaking my head almost in disgust, these guys were supposed to be highly trained and they was reacting like amateurs, no organization.
I picked them off, one after the other, and panic set in, and that spelt their death sentence as I fired, cleared the chamber, fired, cleared the chamber, again and again, till it was mechanical, till I was a machine that manufactured death.
I picked up the dossier and looked around, keeping my head down, thinking about satellites, getting paranoid... but hell, I'd just killed a dozen FBI Agents and one DEA Agent to save a couple of corrupt cops. I walked to the helicopter, pulling the evidence dossier out of the briefcase which I dropped aside, hopping into the helicopter. I looked at the other chopper and wondered if I'd have gone as far as chasing the Agent down if he'd made it to a copter and tried to get away. Hell, maybe I would have, and not because I was scared of Tenpenny, not because I did what he told me to. Those days were long behind me now. Tenpenny was a boogeyman that didn't scare me no more, a cheap horror movie monster that made me cry as a kid and now made me laugh because it was so pathetic.
As I fired up the chopper's rotors, I rubbed my belly where Tenpenny had punched me. He'd put everything behind it, but I'd been ready for it, tensing my abdominals, absorbing the blow, dropping down and faking like I'd been winded just like I'd faked my fronting so they'd think I was still just another gangster asshole from Santos.
I turned on the radio and Freebird was playing, and I started laughing, and I laughed and laughed and laughed. I actually really DID feel as Free as a Bird, flying through the air, feeling a weight I'd grown used to a long time ago falling free and clear. Since I'd arrived back in Santos, Tenpenny had me under his thumb, making me run errands for him, kill for him, help him strength the drug empire that was destroying Santos. I'd tried to get out from under him, tried to find someone with more stroke than him, more power. I'd thought Truth might be the guy, then Toreno, but they both had they own agendas, and either couldn't stop Tenpenny or didn't see any profit in it for them.
But now... now.....
Tenpenny had sent me to kill the Agents and get the evidence against him and Pulaski, to hold together his crumbling empire just a little longer. I'd done what he'd asked, but it hadn't set him free. I reached over and stroked the evidence dossier.
Tenpenny had just fucking gifted me exactly what I needed to destroy him completely and utterly and forever, and end his poison hold on me, my family and Los Santos.
Once and for all, I was going to take him down.