I slowly stood up, pissed for letting my guard down and letting him get the drop on me. How long had he been here? Had he arrived after me or been hiding while me and Smoke ran around in the dark? Had he seen Sweet outside before coming in? Had he fucking killed Sweet?
"You killed Pulaski, and now this fat fuck - there's no stopping you!" grinned Tenpenny, big fake grin on his face and fake laugh in his voice. This wasn't the Tenpenny I'd seen on TV looking old and broken down, back in his uniform he looked like he was still on top of the world even if everything was falling down around him. And he had every reason to be confident; he WAS the one who had the gun pointed at me.
"Drop the gun," he said, the smile disappearing. I did as he said, but I had something to say while doing it - a promise.
He ignored my threat, he'd heard a million of them, but that didn't mean he didn't have his eyes open, turning to check corners.
"Where's your brother at, huh?" he asked, and I felt relief wash over me - whenever he'd come in, he hadn't seen Sweet and Sweet hadn't seen him. Now I just had to figure out a way to get out of his sights and take him out once and for all, put an end to all this bullshit that had been dragging the Johnson Family down for years.
"Why you just didn't shoot me in the back?" I asked, spotting the way his eyes were darting back and forth, not as confident as he was making out,"Feeling exposed, huh?"
He kicked the big sturdy looking case over towards me then raised the shotgun up again so it was aimed right at my chest again - even my body armor wasn't going to put a stop to a blast from this distance.
"C'mon, let's go!" he yelled, as each second passed he was getting shakier, he didn't know where Sweet was and it was fucking with his head - he'd expected to find Sweet here with me, or maybe just Sweet alone,"I ain't got time to fuck with you!"
Shrugging, I lifted up the case, but as I turned back towards the safe next to Smoke's body, I was talking, listening to the shotgun starting to shake in his hands - he was a fucking mess.
"So what it's like, Tenpenny, huh?" I asked,"All alone, nobody got your back? It sucks, huh?"
"Why you think I'm alone?" grinned Tenpenny, licking his lips but otherwise getting control of himself, enjoying a chance to gloat like he always had,"I got a couple of rookies outside.... but I gotta open their eyes slowly, you know - a little truth here, a little truth there...."
I didn't say anything, just packed the case with money from Smoke's safe, Smoke's body lying there next to the one thing he'd loved most of all, not even left with that in his death. I took the wad of cash from out his hand, surprised that he didn't have a death grip on it, and Tenpenny looked around again in case Sweet was creeping up on him, starting to get a little panicky again.
"A'ight, fuck it!" he said,"That's enough! Chuck it over, I've got a firetruck to catch!"
"Half the city is looking for cops to kill, Carl," Tenpenny said, not mentioning it was because of HIM that they was rioting,"And I ain't about to get dragged out of a patrol car and get beaten to death by some angry mob. Not tonight."
"What you catching, a plane?" I asked.
"Ding ding ding ding ding!" he shouted out, forgetting to be paranoid so he could gloat,"Good answer, Carl! I leave, sit on a beach drinking funny drinks with little umbrellas on them for a couple of weeks, then come back to the force. And they'll want me, Carl, oh they'll want me back. City went to shit without me running things, even if they know I wasn't always on the right side of the rules, they'll remember the streets were quiet when I was running them.... and I'll go right back into things, cut out the illegal shit for a few months, work on my rookies.... this time next year, Carl, things will be the same as they've always been, maybe better.... for me."
"You know," he said, all the way back to the old Tenpenny now, cocky and sure of himself,"You're gonna thank me one day, for opening your fucking eyes."
He grinned, lowering the shotgun slightly, then lifted it back up.
"Oh! I almost forgot, Carl!" he laughed, and then his face went dead.
I stood there staring at him, him waiting even now because he wanted to enjoy the moment, the chance to gloat and see the look in my eyes when I realized there was nothing I could do and that he had won. What he saw instead was my eyes growing wide as they stared PAST him at something coming at him fast.
"UH, SWEET!" I yelled, screaming out a warning to my brother coming at Tenpenny, Tenpenny's eyes growing wide as he turned, ready to pull the trigger and blast shells that would tear my brother's head from his shoulders.
Only Sweet wasn't there.
"Motherf-" yelled Tenpenny, turning and blasting where I HAD been, but I'd already grabbed my gun and dived behind the couch. Tenpenny grabbed the case of money and started backing out, shouting out that it wasn't over, and he was right, it wasn't over.
But I meant to end it now.
"FUCK FUCK FUCK!" shouted Tenpenny, running down the stairs into the Ballas Lounge, two surprised looking gangbangers standing amongst the corpses down there.
"What's going on?" one asked.
"Some Grove Street asshole tried to crash the pickup!" Tenpenny shouted, thinking quickly, keeping moving past them,"Smoke's in his Panic Room, but that asshole's still coming! Take him out, then talk to Smoke, he'll set up a new location for us!"
They nodded and grabbed out their pieces, Tenpenny sneering at their backs as he moved out of the lounge and down the stairs. He hadn't mentioned it was Carl Johnson, since that was just as likely to make the gangbangers shit their pants, and he knew they wouldn't stop him for long, but they WOULD hold him up long enough for Tenpenny to do what had to be done.
"Pulaski was right, I should have just shot him in the back of the fucking head," Tenpenny grunted as he carried the money down out of the now burning building,"My problem is, I'm too nice a guy."
Hector and Richie - representing the Vagos and Ballas respectively - shouldered their guns and exchanged looks in the dim light as the power went out.
"What the fuck going on, man?" Hector asked.
"I don't know, something to do with the riots," shrugged Richie,"This asshole coming or not? Gonna teach him no one fucks with our shi-"
The door was kicked open, and they grabbed at their gu-
I was in no mood for fucking around.
I moved down the stairs from the Ballas Lounge, frowning at the smell coming up strong. I knew that smell, and I knew the other signs as well. The Factory was burning, Tenpenny has set it alight as he left, leaving me trapping inside a burning deathtrap.
I moved through the doors, flames dancing everywhere, smoke flowing up and getting trapped on the ceiling, trapping heat as well and stealing all the air from the room. Down below through a grating that they used to watch they slaves making drugs from, I could see what was left of Smoke and Tenpenny's army running around in a panic, trying to put out flames so they could escape. They bothered me more than the flames, I could handle flames, it was people that was the problem.
But not for long.
It was a horrible way to die, but better than being burnt alive in the flames. I looked around for survivors and then, satisfied that I was the only one left alive, kicked down the door and moved past the flames. Fire licked and twisted and roared all around me, looking like chaos, but I remembered what I'd been taught, months ago now, old Cody teaching me to see the grace of flames and how to dance with the fire. While I moved down the stairs, the gangbangers I met up with were either screaming in panic or crazy with fear, but not me, I moved through the flames without a burn, putting down anyone who got in my way. It got them out of my way, but it was more than that, it was mercy.
The alternative to a bullet was far worse.
I picked myself up off of the ground, turning to stare back at the burning wreckage of the warehouse - Smoke's tomb.
"Well..... shiiiit," I managed, and then heard the sound of an engine turning over. I turned and saw a fire truck - about the only official vehicle left in Los Santos that could still travel through the streets without being attacked - with two slack-jawed asshole cops sitting in the front, watching the flames as Tenpenny - who must have been hauling himself up into the cab as I ran out of the explosion - turned the engine over and hit the accelerator, pulling away.
He was going to get away.
I grabbed for a piece but I had nothing left, the Mini-Gun I'd picked back up from the top floor burning slag inside the warehouse now, everything else dropped to give me speed.
"No no fuck no!" I shouted, seeing the truck leaving,"FUCK!"
And then I saw something that sent a chill down my spine.
"FUCK FUCK FUCKFUCKITYFUCKFUCK FUCK!" I shouted, jumping into the Feltzer sitting on the side of the road, what Tenpenny must have arrived in, Sweet's view blocked by the rookies in the fire truck, which was why he hadn't been in the Greenwood. He must have moved to a position with a better view, missing Tenpenny going in while he did it. Good luck, only now he was dangling off the end of the ladder of a fire truck being driven at speed through the streets of Santos.
"Hold on, Sweet!" I yelled,"I'M COMING!"
The way Tenpenny was driving, he must have known Sweet was hanging on to the back of the ladder, he was obviously trying to knock him clear, and every time it swung wildly to the left or the right I felt my heart leap up into my throat. As I pulled closer though, I heard Sweet yelling, he wasn't scared, he was too angry for that.
"SWEET! SWEET!" I shouted, trying to get his attention as we drove down through Vinewood past a bunch of drunken Vagos flinging Molotov cocktails about like crazy, the last dying gasps of the riot,"SWEET LISTEN TO ME! SWEEEEET!"
If he heard me, he ignored me.
"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?"
"LET GO, SWEET!" I yelled, getting the hood underneath him,"WE CAN-"
"I AIN'T LETTING HIM GET AWAY!" yelled Sweet back at me, struggling and kicking his feet to try and get up onto the ladder.
Because he can't let it go, Carl, but you can, and you should. Do you understand?"
The passenger side door to the cab opened and one of Tenpenny's rookies climbed out, looking terrified but determined. He dragged himself onto the ladder and slowly but surely started climbing up towards the top where Sweet was dangling, only sheer stubbornness keeping him up.
"SWEET! INCOMING!" I yelled,"LET GO!"
But he just kept on ignoring me.
"ARRGH! MY FINGERS!" shouted Sweet, and swung with his free hand at the cop's legs, making him jump back. He tried to swing his arm back up to get its grip again but kept falling short, barely hanging on by one arm, the speed of the truck and the strain on his muscles causing him to start slipping.... but he was so determined not to let Tenpenny get away that he kept on swinging his other arm up as the cop steadied himself up on the ladder, looking like he was trying not to puke.
"SWEET! SWEET! SWEEEEEET!" I screamed, the car right up underneath the truck, and finally he turned his head and looked at me, his brother.
"....he can't let it go, Carl...."
"Sweet," I said, looking him straight in the eye,"Please.... let it go."
He looked at me, turned to look back at the truck....
....and made his decision.
As midnight approached in Ganton, the silence that had fallen over the city was suddenly broken. The police has wrapped up the last of the rioters who hadn't finally driven themselves into exhaustion - the riot all but over - when the screech of tires split the air and residents of Grove Street looked up in surprise as the bridge that crossed over their street, hearing screaming and cursing and gunfire.
Silence returned for a few seconds, and then....
Tenpenny shook his head clear and blinked his eyes, looking down at the ladder and grinning when he saw that the dead body that had been hanging on for the last half hour had finally lost his grip. Fighting off a wave of dizziness, Tenpenny leaned back and let out a whoop, instantly regretting it as he felt his head throbbing painfully.
"I.... I won..." he managed to mutter,"I always win.... motherfuckers.... always underestimating.... I run this town.... I RUN THIS TOWN!"
"Assholes!" he shouted to nobody,"You never understood what I did!"
He crawled to his left then stopped, not sure where it was he was actually going.
"Fif.... fifty of me and this town would be okay," he coughed,"I took the trash out..... I DID!"
Footsteps caught his attention, and Tenpenny managed to turn his head, making a sickly grin when he saw who it was, and who was with him. He tried to say something, but his voice failed him, and he just remained where he was, clutching his belly, struggling to breathe, struggling just to stay upright.
I held my piece up, ready to finally blow this asshole's brains out, give him what he so richly deserved after all these years, everything he had done to me, my family, my friends, my hood, my city.
But most of all, what he'd done to Sweet.
"Puto!" spat Cesar at Tenpenny.
"Dirty son of a bitch," added Kendl.
Both had met me at the entrance to Grove Street, pointing out the fire truck to me, and we'd approached as Tenpenny had pulled himself clear of the wreck, shouting his delirious shit to nobody, happy with his favorite audience - himself.
"Dead man," I said, and prepared to pull the trigger..... when the man next to me stopped me.
My brother, Sweet Johnson.
"Sweet," I said, looking him straight in the eye,"Please.... let it go."
He looked at me, turned to look back at the truck....
....and made his decision.
Sweet had made his decision, he'd let his desire to be the one to end Tenpenny go, done something that Toreno hadn't thought he'd been able to do. Toreno was smart, but he didn't know my brother, and now that he was safe in the car beside me, I felt safe to do what had to be done.
Take Tenpenny out.
We'd chased him across the city, killing the cop on the back of the ladder, whose body had hung up on the ladder in the same spot where Sweet had been hanging. The other rookie had tried to climb out and I'd shot him off the side before he had a chance to do anything, and finally Tenpenny was all alone, run down like a dog by the Johnson Brothers.
Unfinished business, unpaid debts.
"I just wanna be sure it's over, man," I said quietly, tucking my gun into the back of my belt, taken from the stash I'd found in Tenpenny's own Feltzer,"That's all."
"It's cool," said Sweet, staring blankfaced down at the man who had been his nemesis for a decade and a half,"Don't need to put a bullet in him. He killed hisself in a traffic accident."
He turned to look at me, and what he said next, I didn't know if he was talking about Tenpenny.... or Brian.
"No one to blame."
Cesar and Kendl nodded, our family standing together looking down at Tenpenny's body, and....
Jesus.... where the fuck did he come from?
"I mean, far out, man," Truth said,"You know, I mean, you beat the system! I tried for thirty years to cross over, but you've maaaanaged it, man! I mean, man, you're an icon, man!"
"Oh," I said,"....thanks, man."
"I'm just glad it's finally over," Kendl said.
"What's up with Smoke?" asked Sweet, and I realized for the first time that I hadn't told him yet. Smoke was dead, gone up in... shit.... gone up in smoke.
"You know what's up with Smoke," was all I said,"He always saw things a little different than us."
"Smoke?" grunted Kendl,"Smoke was always on his own, always out for himself."
"That's the surest path to hell, man," Truth added quietly,"Well - that or fifteen microdots and an ounce of mescaline."
"Let's go get something to eat," Cesar said, taking Kendl's hand.
"Sounds good to me," said Sweet, and they all turned and headed back towards my house, the old house we'd all grown up in, raised by Moms who had brought us into the world, and whose death had brought me back to Santos.
But I stayed behind for a moment.... unfinished business.
All debts paid.
"-ur top story concerns the death of recently-cleared police officer Frank Tenpenny. His body was found in the aftermath of the recent riot set off by his acquittal. Coroners took several days to identify the body which had been mutilated and stripped by the homeless. More on the riot of the century! How do we keep it from happening again? Richard is on the streets with rescue workers."
"Uh, Lianne, I don't know if you've ever covered a riot.... <burp> ....but the scene here is amazing! Rescue workers are opening up a car with the jaws of life right here! It is SO cool! Hey! Shut up, bitch! I'm interviewing! You're ruining my report, SHUT UP! Hey, hey, rescue guy, come here, come here..... Richard Burns, WCTR News..... how's it going?"
"You dumbass, I'm trying to save this woman! Get out of here!"
"Ooooh! 'I'm trying to save this woman, step back!'. Yeah, well, see if I give you any beers from my news truck, you overpaid prick! Lianne..... this town is going to need some healing. Back to you... <burps>.... hey, why don't you use the jaws of life on your fat wife, dude? Ha ha ha...did you hear me rank him, that was rad!"
"I'm so glad you're OK, Richard."
"Hey baby, are we off the air? I looted some great stuff for our apartment! A fat bearskin rug, a new blender, a double ender, a-"
"Ahem... currently we have no more information. And in entertainment news, the comeback of the year! Disgraced drunkard Mad Dogg, who was recently saved from jumping to his death by his mystery assistant, is on top of the charts with a new album and a sell-out tour plan."
"Yes, people! The wait is over! Mad Dogg is back, on the top where I belong, baby! Number one! Now I wanna set the records straight at this point. I've been hearing all kinds of shit like I was drunk and I was on some drugs, and I had a breakdown and some shit. I was never in a hotel in Las Venturas. That's bullshit! They just hating on a playa, man, they've been hating on me since I was in baby shoes! I was in the studio, yeah! Took a little time off. I watched y'all rappers get out there try to do your thing, but now I'm ready to drop this dog shit on yo' whack-ass rappers. I got a new manager, his name is Carl Johnson, and we gonna take this rap game to a new level.... by storm.... for a second time! Yeah bitches, sign up right now to get in my ho roster! It's gon' be big. Yeah, takea number, ho, take a number!"
"I'm Lianne Forget, WCTR News. This is the end, and a new beginning."
Yeah, a new beginning, that sounded about right.
I switched off the radio and leaned back in the chair, thinking about all the shit that had gone down since I'd come back. My phone rang and I picked up, wondering who it was.
"Ehhhhhh..... ooooooh..... ahhhhhhh," moaned a female voice,"Ahhhhhh.... AHHHHH.... OOOOOOH!"
"Hello?" I asked.
"JES, CLAUDE! FASTER! HARDER, DEEPER!" the woman shouted, and now I knew who it was,"OH! jes, jes, jes, JES!"
"Catalina!" I yelled into the phone, not believing she'd deliberately call WHILE she was getting fucked,"You sick! Get help!"
"And.... ahhh! And joo, Carl," she moaned,"Joo are jealous!"
"I ain't the one calling up an-"
"I look joo up," she moaned,"I see joo ar.... shut up, Claude, joo talk too much, just keep fucking me! I see joo are living in joor mother's house, still on the street you grow up on.... joo are.... oooooooh... joo are a loser, Carl. Claude will take me places, joo will always be a loser, always living on joor little street, joo will never make anything of joorself.... I am living a life of adventure, joo are living in joor mother's house.... ALONE!..... oh oh jes God jes..... you are pathetic! Goodbye, Carl, forever!"
She hung up.
I put the phone down, looking around the house that had been my mother's, yeah, on the street that I had grown up on, it was true. Catalina was right about all that.
But she wasn't right about all of it.
"That was Catalina, huh?" asked Kendl, a big grin on her face.
"Damn, girl sounds nasty," said Sweet, grinning just as much.
"She's my cousin," sighed Cesar,"But yeah.... she's crazy."
The house was far from empty and I was far from alone. I was there with my family, Sweet and Kendl and Cesar, the four of us settling into post-riot Santos and territory under Grove Street's control that now covered almost all of the city, figuring out amongst ourselves how to handle running a city..... or at least, the other layer of Santos I mentioned so long ago, running a world that didn't and couldn't run under the "regular" rules. Tenpenny's death had left a power vacuum, and this time we meant to fill it and keep drugs and corruption from ever fucking over the people who could least afford it but always got targeted.
The only problem was, no one could agree on what to do next.
"We gotta keep shit tight," Sweet was saying,"Cuz a lot of people have got their eyes on us."
As if on cue, they all turned to look at me.
I'd noticed that alot recently, more and more they was looking to me when it came down to the final word, even Sweet. Every so often I thought about what Toreno had said to me, about living my own story. Mostly I'd been happy to let them talk, because I already had my own idea of what to do next, and-
The door burst open.
"Woah woah woah!" laughed Rosie, throwing his hands up and sniffing - even now he was clean again, his nose was all kinds of fucked up from years of abuse,"I come in peace with Mr. Dogg here.... who has an announcement!"
"My..." started Madd Dogg, then pulled up short and grinned,"I mean OUR first gold record!"
We all cheered as he held up the framed gold record, not his first but his first under his new management.
"And Oi've decided to get breast implants!" spoke up Maccer, excited.
"Shut up, will ya," sighed Kent Paul, shoving Maccer towards the kitchen.
"Anyway," I grinned, looking around at everyone, the house full of life for the first time since Moms had died,'What's next?"
"We should hit the casinos," grinned Kendl, surprising me since normally she was the one telling us not to slack off,"Roll some dice with Woozie."
"Nah!" spoke up Sweet,"We gotta take care of shit here first!"
"We're going on tour, man!" threw in Madd Dogg.
"Has anyone got a tissue?" asked Rosie, sniffing and holding his head back,"My nose is... it just won't stop running - anybody?"
"Yeah I have!" called out Maccer from the kitchen, waving a nasty ass crusty looking rag over his head,"Over here!"
"Uh.... I'll pass," muttered Rosie, clutching his nose.
Everyone was back to talking, the house full of life, the family back together and the friends we'd lost replaced with new ones who we'd never have thought would been possible. I stood watching them all shouting over each other and arguing with smiles on they faces, Madd Dogg and Cesar and Kendl and Kent Paul and Maccer and Rosie and Sweet.... even Truth was sleeping in one of the rooms upstairs. If Woozie had been here, the whole group would have been complete.... and maybe one day soon I'd open back up to Zero too. Meanwhile, Tenpenny was dead, Smoke was dead, Ryder was dead, the Ballas and the Vagos so fucked over they might as well have been dead, and Grove Street was King in Santos again.
Sweet noticed me walking away, stepping out the shouting, laughing group and calling out after me.
"Carl, where are you off to now?" he asked me, and I turned back and smiled at him. Let them argue and laugh and joke amongst themselves, at the end of the day, it always boiled down to the same thing, the most important thing.
I saw Sweet smiling as I stepped outside into the night, or early morning depending on how you looked at it. Even at close to 3 in the morning, Grove Street was moving, the street was alive again - all of Ganton was. The riot had let loose alot of built up tension and stress in the city, and the death of Tenpenny and rise of Grove Street Families was being seen as a good thing.... for now. I was sure at some point, some asshole would try to bring drugs back into the city and onto the set.
When they did, we'd be waiting for them.
My phone rang and I slipped it out of my pocket, wondering if it was Catalina again.
"Hey kid," said a quiet voice.
"Toreno?" I asked, surprised,"Didn't think I'd hear from you again."
"Ahhh, you're a player now, kid, high profile," he said,"No good as an Agent anymore, shame, you were good, damn good. So congratulations, all your enemies are dead and there you are, back on the same street you grew up on, wearing the same clothes you came back to Santos in."
I looked around, wondering if he was nearby to know what I was wearing, and then figuring that if he was.... I'd never know.
"Yeah, yeah I am," I said,"Back where it began."
Yeahyeahthat'sgreat," he mumbled,"Say Carl, you remember what I told you once about your life being a story?"
"Yeah I do," I said.
"So tell me, kid, are you living YOUR story?"
"I am, yeah," I said.
"Then that's all that matters," he said after a moment,"Have a good life, kid."
And that was that.
I put my phone back into my pocket, nodding at some homies hanging out on a corner shooting the shit. There was a party in Jeffrey's old place, and a family moving into Ryder's place - an old friend of mine and his sisters and their kids. I looked back at the house that had seemed so small and unimportant to me when I'd first returned to Santos, and that I now knew had always been the centre of my universe. Sweet had been right.... but I'd been right to, and it had taken us both too long to realize what the other was saying.
Catalina hadn't gotten it, and never would. I could go anywhere I wanted, do anything I wanted, anytime I wanted. There was a Casino in Venturas, a garage in San Fierro, a trucking business, a quarry, a car showroom and so much more - all out there for me anytime that I wanted. And that was the point, I could go to anyplace and do anything anytime I wanted.
Just because I could, though, didn't mean that I had to.
I'd told Sweet that the hood had never done anything for me, and it was true, but he'd been making the point back that the hood never WAS going to do anything for anyone unless those of us who managed to make a better life for ourselves did something to change things. That was why he'd been so angry at Madd Dogg all those years ago, because what he'd done hadn't helped anyone but himself.
So here I was, a millionaire multiple times over, a pilot and a racer and a businessman.... living in the hood.... and I couldn't have been happier, because this was where I belonged, this was where I was at home.