"THIS WAY!" shouted the Balla,"We got the motherfucker!"
Their car sped around the corner after the Grove Street asshole that had just gunned down three of their friends. It was crazy, they were armed to the teeth and ready for trouble with the rioting going on, and he seemed to realize that after he'd opened fire, because he'd turn and run and they'd jumped into their ride to run him down. They came around the corner.... and pulled to a stop.
"What the fuuuuck..." whispered one of the Ballas, getting out of the car,"Is that shit rea-"
I'd ridden up to East Los Santos in the tank, even the rioters had stopped in they tracks to stare, wondering if I was the National Guard or just some nut with a tank. I'd hopped out on a street I knew was run by the Ballas, hopped out and turned the corner and opened fire on a group of them, made sure they'd seen me, then hoofed it back to the tank. And they'd followed, just like I'd planned.
The street was deadly quiet now, outside of the flames burning around the wreck of the car. In the distance I could hear the sounds of the ongoing riot, but here it was quiet. I'd just brought the biggest gun possible into this, no one could compete with me, and they was hunkering down to be quiet in case I turned the tank on them. Once I was gone, they'd come back out and go back to looting.
Except I wasn't going to let them.
"Send them in," I said into the radio on the tank, and got a confirmation back.
Cars drove up filled with Grove Street homies, who jumped out and took up positions on corners. They was all strapped, and once they were in place I knew this was another street taken back from the riots, and another street under the control of Grove Street Families and taken away from the Ballas.
"You got this?" I asked one of the homies, AK slapped casually over his shoulder.
"Yeah we'll keep everyone in line like you said," he replied,"No looting, no drugs, no open drunks, make the people living on these streets value us, remember who was there for them when the police and the army and the fucking City left them to burn."
"My nigga," I grinned, and he grinned back and gave a little "fuck you" salute.
"This just the start, huh?" he asked.
"Oh yeah," I said,"Grove Street got a long night ahead of it."
Finally, after hours of driving through a burning city that was like some nightmare version of the place I'd been raised in, leading convoys of Grove Street homies who moved in after me, blowing away Balla after Balla as they either ran or made a stupid attempt to open fire on my tank..... enough was enough.
Sirens was wailing but no police had come near me while I was on my rampage, they knew they was outgunned and besides, I was blasting on gangbangers, not civilians, not even the ones looting and rioting. Hell, they was probably rooting for me, I wondered how many cops was settling unfinished business they'd never have been able to get away with in "safe" times.
I returned the tank to Grove Street under the cover of darkness, exhausted and coughing from being locked up inside the confines of the Rhino for hours, but happy. Whole neighborhoods was under control, the rioting and looting stopped there at least - and Grove Street was on the rise.
"You're fucking crazy, you know that?" Sweet told me again after I'd ridden the tank into the old family garage and locked it down,"But I've been thinking about what you've been doing.... maybe we can use it?"
"Oh is that so?" I said, too tired to be diplomatic. I was soooo glad Sweet had come up with a use for me killing dozens and dozens of Ballas and taking back streets that hadn't been Grove Street's in a decade,"What's that?"
"Don't get uppity with me," Sweet hit back,"I appreciate what you're doing, but as long as Smoke's out there pumping drugs into the city, things are going to stay fucked up."
"So what's your plan?" I asked.
"Smoke's paranoid, but someone has to know where he is," Sweet said,"So we don't just stop at old Grove Street territory. We hit the Ballas EVERYWHERE, then we hit the Vagos, we fuck with them until we have ALL they turf, really put the pressure on, so they don't have anywhere to go. Once the pressure is on, someone will crack, give up Smoke's position.... then we have our reckoning."
"That's..... not bad, man," I admitted.
"Oh?" grinned Sweet,"Your old senile brother still got a few tricks up his sleeve, huh? Go get some sleep, nigga, I'll keep dialed in on our homies out there holding new territory, keep the whole place on lockdown. As long as this riot is going, it's the perfect cover for the tank, for hitting the other gangs... good work, CJ, good work."
It shouldn't have, but his praise made me feel good.
"...is grainy footage was captured by our newscameras as WE brought YOU the news live when no one else would. Reports out of Los Santos indicate that the tank - possibly piloted by an ex-army vigilante - has actually SECURED violent areas of the city and created "green zones" amidst the looting, murder and rape currently gripping the city. Police spokesmen have condemned the actions, but admitted privately they are stretched to the limit and unable t-"
"Fuck," said the Mayor, muting the television,"FUCK!"
"Dazzling repartee," muttered the Councilman in the room, an Asian widely considered a shoo-in to replace him when he retired, which he hadn't planned to do anytime soon. Now though, it was becoming more and more clear that the Mayor was going to be one of the (political) casualties of the riots.
"Nearly twenty years as Mayor and THIS is how I'm going to be remembered," the Mayor complained, pointing at the muted television which was showing aerial views of looting, muggings, police chases and that goddamn tank,"All because of that asshole Tenpenny."
"It didn't help that you said his acquittal was an outrage," muttered the councilman,"The media is already saying that you helped fan the flames of this ri-"
"Oh bullshit," muttered the Mayor,"There aren't any cameras in here and nobody is taking notes, and I'm still Mayor, so help me figure out what the hell I'm going to do."
"Nothing," said a new voice, and both men turned in surprise to see a man in a suit standing in the doorframe,"You do absolutely nothing."
"Who the hell are you?" demanded the Mayor,"Secu-"
"Relax," he said, handing his ID to the Mayor,"I've been sent to liaise between you and the Agency, form a strategy to deal with this situation."
"Thank God," sighed the Mayor,"I kept being told I'd have to sign over control to the Federal Government if I wanted any hel-"
"Oh I don't think that's necessary," smiled the man in the suit, settling in to the chair behind the desk - the Mayor's seat,"As I said, right now your best option really IS to do nothing.... hey look at that, thesonofabitchgotatank! Resourceful, ain't he!"
"He... you... what?" said the Mayor, normally renowned for his oratory,"Do nothing? That's madness, they'll crucify me in the Press!"
"They're already crucifying you," shrugged the Agent,"And what are your options? Ask for the National Guard to come in and they'll say you can't defend your own city. Send the police in force and you'll be accused of overreacting with police brutality. Do nothing, you'll be accused of not taking action."
"Well thank you to the Federal Government for sending me someone to tell me all the ways I'm fucked!" complained the Mayor,"You have ANY good news for me?"
"Yes," smiled the Agent,"This city is a pressure cooker, steam's been building for a long time and now it's been let loose. Put a cap on it now and it'll explode again, so let the riot run its course, let people cool down a little, THEN send in the troops. Don't do anything till everything has almost done itself, then take the credit.... you're a politician, you should know this!"
The Mayor looked at the Councilman, who looked back, and both shrugged..... it could work.
"OK, get outta here you crazy kids," muttered the Agent, putting his feet up on the desk and leaning back in the chair,"Get some sleep, then organize to go to some of the areas Tank-Guy cleared out for you with some police and walk around the streets and let the media film you being brave and showing how safe the city is."
"And you?" asked the Mayor.
"I'll watch this," said the Agent, pointing at the television which was showing a grainy shot of the tank blasting at a group of gangbangers in purple wielding AK-47s,"Best show I've seen since Lebanon."
The Mayor and Councilman shrugged again and left the odd Government Agent sitting in the Mayor's office watching the 24 hour news.
"OK, CJ, you crazy bastard," said Toreno,"I bought you some time, let's see what you do with it."
When I walked into Sweet's place in the morning, it was plain he had already been up for hours working. He was barking orders down the phone, a General organizing the movement of his troops, the Grove Street homies that I had brought out of the woodwork and that I had put into place in neighborhoods that I had cleared the Ballas out of. He wasn't taking the credit for it, but he was directing them like he had seen these neighborhoods personally. Still, if it had made him happy and kept his mind off of Tenpenny and Smoke, I wouldn't have minded, the trouble was that one of the things he had the homies doing was put pressure on the people on the street so he could try and find out where Smoke was (and Tenpenny wouldn't be far behind). I kept being haunted by Toreno's words, telling me that Tenpenny and Sweet would be the death of each other, and wishing I could figure out a way to get Sweet to drop it.
"We almost got control of the hood, man," Sweet said, like I didn't already know firsthand,"CJ, this is some serious shit."
"Hey, I know, man!" I told him as he turned back into the kitchen, waiting for the phone to ring again so he could give out more orders. I followed him, wanting to get through to him that I was out there working for the family, and that I'd never stopped.
Ahhh shit, what now?
"What?" snapped Sweet at me,"For yourself! Not for the family. Don't get shit confused, nigga."
Oh he did NOT just fucking say that to me.
He turned to walk away, and I'd just about had it with him - I was glad to have him back and I really HAD thought about some of the things he'd told me since he got out, and come to my own understanding of how he felt about things. But the fact was, he hadn't stopped giving me shit since he got out, even when he was complimenting me, half an hour later he'd hit me with some backhanded comment or call me out in front of other people as being a perpetrator.
"When you stop acting like you the man!" Sweet came back at me, the fucking picture of a kettle calling a pot a nigger,"You keep yapping on what you done did! Let me tell you what I done did! When Kendl needed shoes, I went out and got the money! When Moms needed an operation, I robbed people for the bread! While you were off in Liberty City thinking about your own shit! For five years, come on man! Now you do something, you want a fucking parade?
Goddammit Sweet..... I hated it when he had a point, even if he was wrong about how he got to it.
"That ain't fair, man..." I started, but then we was interrupted as Cesar came running into the house, looking excited. We'd sent a group of homies up to Madd Dogg's mansion to make sure Kendl was being looked after, and the last we'd heard Cesar was going to go drive by his old neighborhood.
"Man, I'm kinda busy right now," I said uneasily, not wanting to go off when someone could call any minute and tell Sweet where Smoke was. If he was to run off without me...."Family shit."
"I helped you guys, hombre," Cesar insisted, not willing to let it go this time,"It's time you helped me and my homies! My hood's screwed up too!"
In the corner of my eye, I saw Sweet stepping up from beside the phone, crossing his arms over his chest and watching us, interested.
"We got this shitty neighborhood on lockdown now," Cesar kept on going, either not noticing Sweet or not caring,"It's time to get my old gang back together, push out those yay-slanging punks, eh?"
Sweet was slowly nodding his head. Since he'd come to terms with Cesar and Kendl being together, he'd seemed to be impressed with our sister's choice of a man.
"I know," I told Cesar, desperate not to leave Sweet alone when that call could be coming in at any moment,"But I got a lot going on right here in my own hood, man.... and I made my Brother a promis-"
"All your brother wants you to do is pay back your debts, CJ," Sweet interrupted, surprising me. I turned to look at me and he raised his eyebrows, like he couldn't understand what the fuck the big deal was, and I figured that was it, there was no way to hang around without telling him I was worried about him getting himself killed going after Smoke and Tenpenny.... that would just drive a further wedge between us. And Cesar, I owed him, big time.
"Alright, I hear you," I told him, and he grinned,"I got your back - c'mon, let's roll."
"Orale!" laughed Cesar,"The Varrio's coming back!"
We walked outside together, me asking Cesar if he had a plan.
"We're going to meet three of my veterano's over at Unity Station," he said.
"Three, is that all?" I asked, surprised. I knew the Aztecas had been fucked up by drugs and the Vagos, but I figured he'd have more willing to back him up,"A'ight, I'm a get a couple of Family boys to come through too."
There were a bunch of homies hanging around outside on Grove Street, watching the distant smoke clouds in parts of the city we hadn't reached yet that were still suffering rioting. I wondered how many of them would be eager to leave the relatively safe Grove Street to drive into old Azteca territory and take on geared up Vagos.
In the end, I had to turn people away because they wouldn't all fit in the car.
We all piled into Sweet's Greenwood and pulled out onto the street, and Cesar spoke up nervously from the back seat.
"Hey, while we here, I, eerr.... I have a question to ask you," he managed to get out."
"Yeah? What?" I asked, my mind still half on Sweet.
"Well it's... it's personal," he mumbled, and I grinned.
"Come on, man, we're brothers, you and me," I laughed,"You can ask me anything."
"OK, here goes," said Cesar, and took a deep breath,"I want to ask Kendl the question."
That was it?
"What's the problem?" I asked, confused why he'd want to ask me if he could ask her something,"Call her, dude, here, use my phone."
"Noo, holmes!" Cesar insisted,"THE question!"
"What?" I asked, confused, eyes on the road looking out for ambushes or.... or.... oh shit, OH SHIT!
"OH SHIT!" I shouted,"You mean POP THE question?"
The two homies exchanged looks, but didn't say anything.
"Well," I said after a second,"I'm OK with that, you know, I appreciate you asking my permission and shit, but -"
"Nah," smiled Cesar,"I know you're cool. It's Sweet that is the problem, could you talk to him?"
Ahhh shit. Yeah, OK, I could see how THAT could be a problem. Sweet seemed to like Cesar OK now, but enough to give his blessing? Shit, I didn't know.
"Sure thing, Cesar," I said though,"I'll talk to him."
"Thank you, CJ," he said,"That means a lot to me."
We pulled into Unity Station.
Cesar introduced me to the three Aztecas, Gal, Hazer and Sunny. I introduced the homies back, and then Cesar pointed across the tracks to the old block of apartments across from the station.
"OK," he said,"We will have to work our way through this neighborhood to get to my house. If we stick together, those Vago pendejos won't stand a chance."
"Let's do this," I said, and together me and Cesar led a mixture of Aztecas and Grove Street Families into the heart of what was now Vagos territory.
"Ehhhhh, CJ's an Aztec Warrior!" laughed Hazer as he blasted our way through the courtyard between houses. He was a crazy motherfucker, carrying around a fucking sword and running down Vagos opening fire on him,"HASTA LA MUERTE!"
"HASTA LA MUERTE!" shouted the other Vagos and Cesar, and me the homie still alive shrugged at each other.
"Hasta La Muerte!" we said, and went back to the fighting.
We moved through the block of apartments into the alleyway, leaving behind a slaughter that had to have alerted the Vagos that we was coming. With any luck they were freaking out thinking the tank was coming, it was why I'd brought the Molotov cocktails, figuring the explosions and screams might freak out anyone listening from across the alley.
"That was the easy bit, eh?" grinned Cesar, slapping me on the shoulder,"Now we go into the viper's nest, this is where it gets tough."
Sunny moved to a pile of rubbish near the alleyway and started rooting around in it, and Cesar's grin got wider.
"Luckily we have a little surprise up our sleeves, eh, Sunny?"
Sunny grinned back, and then pulled out.... a fucking Rocket Launcher.
"Jesus," I said,"That's a rocket launcher man! We'll bring the National Guard down on us!"
Cesar actually laughed out loud.
"After that shit with you and your tank?" he asked,"Look around you, CJ, the whole city is a war zone!"
I had to admit he was right, I'd figured I'd gotten away with what I had because the riot was in full force and things had died down now.... but apart from where Grove Street had taken control, the city was still full on rioting, nobody cared, nobody else was doing anything.... I'd seen the fucking Mayor on television this morning in one of the neighborhoods that I had cleaned up claiming that things weren't as bad as the media was making out, there was "isolated pockets of rioting" but the police had it under control.
"OK," I said,"Let's do this."
I was surprised at how easy they went down, I thought for sure they would have been prepared for us after all the noise we'd made getting there, so much so that I was looking around for an ambush when I realized Cesar was running past me, calling out for Hazer.
Hazer was down and losing blood, but he was still alive. Gal was checking him out and started to say something when Cesar shouted out a warning - Vagos were coming over the walls, the ambush had arrived.
"Fuck," I said as we reached the end of the alley and I spotted Cesar's old home, Vagos standing on the street in front of it and up on the roof, armed to the teeth ready to defend their prize - living in Cesar's home, it must have been burning him up inside,"They got a flamethrower and.... SHIT! ROCKET!"
We darted aside as the Vagos on the roof lifted up a rocketlauncher, braced himself and blasted a rocket down the alley towards us.
"Don't worry about it, holmes," Cesar shouted,"Remember that rocket launcher we had? I had a boy sneak through here last night and set shit up for us ahead of time.... remember that time on the roof in Fierro? The Loco Syndicate meet?"
I grinned as I realized what he meant, and he reached into a pile of garbage and pulled out a sniper rifle, handing it off to me as we all took cover from the Vagos who thought they could hold us forever.
They wouldn't even last a minute.
"Alright," I said as we walked past the dead bodies back to the stoop of Cesar's house,"That's the last of them."
"How is Hazer?" Cesar asked.
"We need to get him to a hospital," said Gal, looking back to where Sunny was keeping an eye on the Azteca.
"Hey, I'll take him," I said, but Cesar just shook his head.
"CJ, you done more than enough," he said,"You should get back to Grove."
"Alright ese," I shrugged,"I'll see you after all this is settled down."
They started to walk away, but then something that had been bothering me made me speak up.
"Hey Cesar.... you and Kendl gonna live here when all this shit is settled down?"
"Live here?" asked Cesar,"Nah man, me and Kendl's home is in Fierro now. But this is where I grew up, and this is where my gang still lives.... I couldn't let some Vagos assholes disrespect my home, my friends and the place I was born."
"OK.... OK I understand," I said quietly,"Go on, get Hazer to hospital."
"Thank you, CJ," said Cesar, shaking my hand,"And good luck, my friend."
I went home in Sweet's Greenwood, satisfied when I looked in on him and found him asleep on the couch, a couple of homies taking calls from Grove Street Families all around they new neighborhoods, making sure everything was going OK. I left him sleeping and headed inside the old house to get some Z's myself, letting myself think that maybe Smoke and Tenpenny would see the writing on the wall and get the fuck out of town.
I woke up later that night with my phone ringing, and I picked it up wondering if it was good news or bad news.
"Hey yo, CJ," said a familiar sounding voice - it was one of the homies we'd sent up to East Flores to mind things there,"I was trying to get hold of Sweet but his line busy."
"Wassup?" I asked.
"I got word about the fat man," he said,"I think I might have the 411 on where to find him."
I sat up, wide awake now.
"I'm listening," I said.
It was near 1am when I left the house, thinking about what had to be done. My mind kept going over things other people had said - Sweet talking about his love for the hood; Toreno warning Sweet and Tenpenny would kill each other before this was all done; Cesar talking about respect and doing what had to be done; even things the fat man himself had told me, Smoke telling me I was a leader and that he was a visionary. And now I had to be a leader and decide what was for the best - I knew where Smoke was.
But did I tell Sweet?
I stood between his Greenwood and his house, staring at the lights on, listening to the ongoing sound of rioting throughout the city streets far in the distance - all of this Smoke and Tenpenny's fault, but would taking revenge on them fix things or make it worse? And how could Sweet ever trust me again if I went after them without at least telling him?
I stood there weighing up the pros and cons, trying to think of something that would help suit EVERYONE, and finally, I came to my final decision.