This wasn't "my" Santos.
The Los Santos I grew up in was Ganton, the hood, the ghetto. Hobos pushing carts down streets, girls turned out, boys all growing up fast, most of them gangbangers, most of them dropping out of school. Drunken old men sleeping it off in doorways, single mothers working multiple jobs, houses falling apart, slum lords refusing to work on the places, everyone behind on they rent.
THIS Los Santos was the one they showed in the movies - Vinewood, Rodeo, Commerce - skyscrapers, movie stars, the old Chinese Theatre, glamour and wealth and success. And maybe, just maybe, it WAS my Santos after all.
Because I was rich.
My cut of the Caligula's heist was $20 million, a number I had trouble wrapping my head around as being real. Half of it went straight back into Four Dragons, for Woozie to invest on my behalf like he was going to do for Shèjing and Suzie. The janitor - whose name turned out to be Tito - took a bit of convincing that we was actually going to give him a cut as well on top of the 2 million I'd given him as a bonus.
"I don't have to live in the maintenance room no more?" he'd asked.
"Not unless you want to?" Woozie had told him.
"I don't want to live there no more," he'd said, looking very earnest, and Woozie had thrown his head back and laughed. After that was settled, it came down to what happened to the crew now that we was done. Tito was going to bring his family from Mexico into the Lone Star State and set up a restaurant there; Shèjing and Suzie would just go back to working for the Triad (only with a ton of they own money invested into the Casino now, not quite partners, but big investors) and Zero said he'd spread his out across a series of high interest off-shore accounts and continue living simply running his RC Business in Fierro and helping out at my garage whenever he was needed. Things was still a little forced between us, but we'd get over that in time - like I'd told him, all that money would help.
But for me, it was time to get out of Venturas. I dug on the Casino game, but I'd made myself a little too high profile, and with the head of a Mafia family out for my blood, it was time to make myself scarce. Besides, since taking Madd Dogg's mansion back I'd had an itch to come back to Santos, and with Tenpenny on the run there was nothing holding me back no more, my exile was over.
I'd left Santos cuffed in the back of a police cruiser with a bag over my head, dumped out in the wilderness with my whole life turned upside down. I came back flying my own private plane, with more money than I could ever hope to spend and just as much invested in a successful Casino I owned a partnership in. I owned my own garage, a quarry, was invested in a trucking firm, could take cash on demand from hotel valets, a bookie service run out of a Burger Shot and ran my own imported car showroom.
Life was good.
Kendl had already gotten things up and running by the time I got back into town, and the first thing she said when I walked into Madd Dogg's was that the house across the road was up for sale - buy it!
So I did.
Now I had my own place to stay just across the road from Madd Dogg, meaning I could keep an eye on him, make sure he didn't fall back into old habits. That didn't seem like a big problem, Kent Paul already had him excited talking about things they could do to put together new sounds, and Madd Dogg was fixing to get back to his old high - music. Even Maccer was helping out, he might have been obsessed with jacking off but he was crazy smart when it came to putting shit together, and Kendl had already set Rosie straight on what she expected from an accountant, and he'd learnt there were some things in this world scarier than Mafia goons, like my sister.
Another thing different now was lawyers. When I was growing up, it wasn't unusual for families to have lawyers, but they was usually court-appointed or ambulance chasers, sleazy fucks one step up from street criminals themselves. Now, the Johnson Family had two lawyers - a business lawyer who set things up nice and legal in terms of managing Madd Dogg, contracts, that type of thing, and a criminal lawyer who was being paid through the fucking teeth to get Sweet out of prison. I'd been to see him just the day before, walking through the tall glass corridors of a fancy building looking sharp in my suit, like I belonged, when only a few months earlier me and Smoke had been shooting it out with Russians just down the block.
The Criminal Lawyer - Kevin Holloway, a white name if ever I heard one - had taken one look at the case and said it was impossible. Then I'd mentioned all those businesses I ran or was involved in - including the Casino - and suddenly it had become "difficult".
"The Prosecution had a rock-solid case," he'd told me,"Multiple eyewitnesses, forensic evidence out the wazoo, Sweet never denied the charges and he has a long history of gang affiliation. However, you do have two things going for you. He's black, which would usually be against him except any retrial would be sure to include black jurors more likely to believe he was railroaded.... and their expert witness just got picked up himself after being on the run for murder."
"Oh yeah, who that?" I asked, and he blinked, surprised I hadn't know about the "expert" who had sat in the witness chair and testified to Sweet's place at the head of Grove Street.
I'd driven home with my head in a spin - I hadn't known that Tenpenny's testimony had been so central to putting Sweet away, and now with him disgraced and caught on the run, for a change I was going to use the system to help my brother.
But that was yesterday, and today with all moving back shit settled and having hugged Kendl (yeah and Cesar too) after seeing them off to the airport to fly first class back to Fierro, it was time to get down to business. The music business.
Things was going great, Paul, Madd Dogg and Maccer had finally gotten down to producing, and Madd Dogg was cutting some amazing shit in the booth while Paul worked his magic and Maccer.... showed his appreciation.
"Oh fuck, oh you manky mongrel!" shouted Paul as Maccer "finished" showing his appreciation.
"Oooh," Maccer moaned, looking like he could really give a shit about ANYTHING right now,"Sorry... geez...."
"You shouldn't be choking the gecko in the first place," complained Paul, turning back to his board, throwing a thumbs up to Madd Dogg who was completely lost in his own world, the high of rapping again,"Remember what happened at that gig in Hamburg?"
"That groupie luvved it!" grinned Maccer, zipping back up (Kendl had "cured" him of his other unfortunate habit of wondering about with his cock hanging out).
"That wasn't a groupie," sighed Paul, sounding like he was used to having to deal with shit like this,"That was a roadie!"
"But she had great tits!" insisted Maccer, grabbing Paul by the arm, and he'd finally had enough.
I just shook my head, little grin on my face. Maccer was a moron, but he was a talented fuck and him and Paul worked magic together... throw Madd Dogg into the mix and we had something special. It was funny, back when I'd been "managing" OG Loc, I'd dreamed of making my fortune in the rap game.... but now that I was actually managing someone with talent, I was already rich. This wasn't about making money (though I wouldn't say no to my cut), but actually MAKING something, doing something creative.... plus I owed Madd Dogg, even if I had saved his life and got his house back, I was partly responsible for fucking things up for him in the first place. But now look at him, back in his mansion, in the booth cutting amazing rhymes and-
The music cut.
"I can't be held responsible for dodgy gear, alright!" snapped Paul, wheeling his chair back to his board and checking connections, trying to figure out what the fuck was wrong with this (very) expensive equipment.
"C'mon, keep it together, man!" I spoke up, rolling my eyes towards Madd Dogg who only looked confused at the moment but could turn ugly any second. He might have been polite and even a little shy around me normally after all I'd done for him, but fuck with his music? He'd fucking go crazy,"We can't fuck with his flow."
"Finally!" said a voice suddenly over the speakers,"I thought I'd never get through to you."
Oh shit... I knew that voice.
"Toreno?" I asked,"Is that you?"
"What's happenin' here?" asked Paul, as he and Maccer looked around and I waited for a reply. When none came, I stepped forward and hit the switch that would normally put my voice through to Madd Dogg's booth.
"Toreno?" I asked.
"Listen," he said, launching right in like this wasn't fucking weird, him a ghost in my machine,"You gotta pull one last string for me, OK?"
"Hol... hold up one second, mate," Paul said, standing up and holding up a hand as Madd Dogg looked up at the speakers, looking a little mad now.
"Communists at the gate, Carl!" Toreno laughed, and now it was ME who'd had enough.
"I'm tired of this, Toreno," I told him, hitting the mic button, but as usual he ignored me, his voice echoing throughout the booth.
"I'm outside," he said,"Let's take a ride."
"Now I'm hearing things," whispered Maccer, as if it had only just occurred to him this wasn't the normal cause of events,"Fook me!"
Lowering my glasses and rubbing the bridge of my nose, I sighed and turned to a confused looking Paul.
"Hey, I gotta get out of here," I told him,"You got this?"
He nodded, rolling his eyes and settling back to his board. He'd been around too long and seen too much to be phased for long, and now the equipment was running like normal again and Madd Dogg was starting to bump back along to it, getting back into his flow.
"Hey, Dogg," I said, hitting the switch,"I gotta go hit a... marketing meeting, I'm gonna catch you later!"
He tossed up a hand to say goodbye but he was already wrapped back up in his rhymes.
"Right," nodded Paul, half his mind already back on the production,"Mind how you go, sunshine."
I walked out of the mansion and there he was, Mike Toreno leaning against the garage underneath the stone overhang, protected from those satellites of his and the spies who apparently were on his tail 24/7. Turning up like a bad fucking penny, acting like nothing had changed since I headed into Venturas, what the fuck did he want?
"Well," he grinned,"No invite to the housewarming, huh kid?"
"I knew you'd come anyway," I shrugged, and his grin just got wider.
"Yeah, well, that's not important right now," he said, as the clouds opened up and rain started coming down all of a sudden,"I'll bring you up to speed on the way, get in."
He drove us up Madd Dogg's long winding driveway, heater on to dry our clothes out.
"Nice not to be doing the driving, huh?" he grinned over at me.
"What do you want, Toreno?" I asked back, not wanting to play any games.
"Oh shush, shush," he chuckled,"We've got a LOOOONG drive ahead of us, let's listen to the radio."
Before I could say anything, he switched on WCTR.
"-ial of allegedly disgraced police officers Frank Tenpenny and Eddy Pulaski began yesterday. Although Mr. Pulaski was not at court personally, prosecutors maintain both are guilty of murder, racketeering, drug-running, and sexual offenses," Lianne Forget was saying, immediately catching my attention,"The Defense maintains the officers were "just doing their job"."
"Can't believe they caught that motherfucker," I said.
"I know, can you believe it," said Toreno,"I had him down in the office pool to last at least another week on the run.... oooh listen, black helicopters! People believe this shit?"
Forge was talking about denials by Government officials over "black helicopters" flying over the state, with one of those officials - sounding confused - asking,"Black helicopters? Huh. What black helicopters?"
"That clears that up," said Forge,"A Las Venturas institution, Caligula's, was forced to admit that it was recently robbed. It's the first major heist carried out on a Venturas Casino in thirty years. Government officials are not ruling out foul play. Meanwhile, no explanation has been forthcoming as to why the Sherman Dam stopped generating electricity for a few hours recently. One bystander blamed aliens, who drink electricity before deflowering virgins. I'm Lianne Forget, WCTR News. It's going to get worse. Trust me."
"Nice work, by the way," said Toreno, shutting off the radio as we drove off the main coastal road and onto the backroads,"You know you can never go to Liberty City again, at least while Salvatore is alive?"
"Man I don't know what you're tal-"
"Oh shush, shush," he chuckled again, then suddenly his face turned hard, and I remembered all over again how those dead eyes of his had scared me so much the first few times we'd met,"Carl, I want to tell you a story, and I want you listen, really listen, you understand?"
"Yeah, sure, whatever," I said.
He brought the car to a complete stop and turned those horrible eyes on me, and I felt a cold sweat running down my spine.
"I understand," I said,"Tell me this story, man."
He kept on staring for a few seconds, then suddenly he grinned and turned to look down the dirt road, rain coming down hard enough to obscure our view of pretty much everything.
"Once upon a time," he told me,"There was a kid from Ganton, just another nobody hood rat who wouldn't amount to anything. His father died when he was young, he fell in with a bad crowd, and then he caught the attention of a crooked police office who wanted to use him to make himself more money and get more power. But somehow the kid turned the tables on the cop, beat him at his own game and became a player, someone who succeeded where he should have failed... and he did it all for his family."
He sighed, then turned to look at me.
"Who am I talking about, Carl?"
"Yeah OK man, I get it," I said,"It's me, right?"
"No you fucking moron," he said, slapping the back of my head,"It's your brother!"
"Oh," I said, seeing it,"Yeah, how'd you kno.... nevermind, I don't wanna know how you know."
"Do you understand, Carl?" he asked me.
"I.... I don't know what you getting at, man," I said,"Speak plainly."
"This whole thing with Tenpenny, it's Sweet's story, Carl," he told me, looking right at me now, only for once his eyes didn't look like a shark's, they actually looked.... concerned?"You used to be a character in his story, but now you're living your own life, telling your own story.... only you're still in his fucking book. What the hell are you doing back in Santos, Carl? The things you've done? They things you CAN do? And all of it is centered around trying to get Sweet out of jail, and then what?"
"You saying I should leave my brother to rot?" I yelled, getting pissed now, who the hell did he think he was?
"No," he snapped back,"But Sweet isn't done with his story yet, and don't think for a second that Tenpenny being on trial is going to be the last of it. Their stories are linked, and so is yours.... but yours doesn't have to be, you could make a new life for your family, live in Fierro, Venturas.... hell, anywhere but Liberty City.... but Sweet won't go with you, Carl, and you know why?"
"No, but I'm sure you're going to tell me," I grunted, pissed at him.
"Because Sweet can't let it go," Toreno said, turning back to look out the windscreen, rain dying down now,"He could have taken you all out of Santos in 79, he SHOULD have, with Tenpenny out to get him, but he's proud and he's stubborn and he's a big fish in a small pond. If Sweet ever gets out, he'll stay in Santos till the day he dies, and it'll probably be him and Tenpenny strangling each other to death that does him in.... and if you stay, if you remain a character in HIS story, then you'll go down with him. Because he can't let it go, Carl, but you can, and you should. Do you understand?"
"I understand," I said, angry enough to not care about how scary and dangerous this asshole was. Right now he was just another condescending white asshole thinking he had a taken on a life he'd never understand,"I understand that to you, people are just pawns to push around, but Sweet's my brother, and I love him, so don't you ever fucking talk about him like that again, or I'll fucking kill you..... and you know I can do it."
"Oh I know, I know," he said, shrugging his shoulders as if to say he'd tried, so fuck it,"I know all about what you're capable of, Carl, more than you, I think..... come on, we're almost here, and now you're going to prove just what you can do."
He started the car up again and drove down the hill, and I realized we were on the other side of Easter Bay, near Fierro. Had we been driving that long?
"OK," I said, trying to maintain my anger but struggling, he'd just dropped it after all that shit he'd hit me with, and it looked like he was back to business again,"So what is it I can do?"
"Oh man, you shittin' me!" I said, eyes wide.
"Would I shit you, Carl?" he asked, grin wide on his face, then pointed out at the water where a boat sat on the rough waves,"There's a boat, all the gear you'll need is on board. I'll keep you briefed as you go."
I looked out across the water, seeing the naval base dimly in the far distance, I could feel that adrenalin rush, the desire to see how far I could push it, what I could get away with. Besides, despite blowing up at Toreno just now, the fact was he could fuck me over in ways far worse than anything Tenpenny could ever dream of doing. Worse than that, my family. Besides, hadn't he said he needed me to pull one LAST string. If I did this, was we quits? Shit, I'd be quits if I tried, for sure.
"I ain't coming back from this one, am I?" I said, and he laughed.
"Yes you are, don't be ridic--here take this earpiece," he muttered, trailing off as he popped an earpiece into my ear, then sat back and grinned that stupid shark grin of his.
He leaned over and opened my door, and I stepped out, still unsure, but before I could say anything he was driving away. so there I was, left standing in the rain in my expensive suit, only a day removed from thinking how great it was to be a rich businessman in charge of my own life. Here I was, across the bay from the San Fierro Naval Base, a crazy fucking Government Agent wanting me to steal a military jet off of an amphibious assault ship, and THEN blow up some spy ships for him.