And as another month has passed with no contributions, I'm back! Again, this piece became longer than expected, just over 16 Word pages. I may be overdoing things a bit.
SA19: The Hills Have Ears – Part 2
“I swear I ain’t sh*ttin’ you about this. That Schrader dude – who’s gonna lynch me now I said his name, I guess – has got what it takes to get you outta your mess. I think under his wing, you and me could really get sh*t done together, as a team... that’s what you wanted us to do when we first met, right?”
“Right – but it seems a bit bigger than what I had in mind.”
“At least we won’t need to worry about sh*tty pay here, long as we do a competent job. We can settle all your debt in no time. 500 grand, was it?”
“Uhh, 600 right now. I sorta tried to take matters into my own hands at a casino, and---“
“Oh, for f*ck’s sake...”
The conversation from two days ago that eventually convinced Kevin to jump aboard was still clearly imprinted in Carl’s memory as he stood up there, on a cliff just a rock’s throw away from the Hilltop Farm, where the moment of truth was just minutes away. Watching the surroundings of the ranch in hopes of seeing the Balla and Rifa cars arrive, Carl still couldn’t help but shake that awful feeling of uncertainty – was Kevin to be trusted? Yes, he was on Tenpenny’s list, but Amadeus was too, and he had turned out alright, unless there was some major conspiracy in play that he was blissfully unaware of. Trusting his life in the hands of someone who could’ve been promised debt reductions in exchange for dead enemy gang members by the Ballas was possibly a costly mistake... so he had better hope his offer was superior to that.
Or maybe he was just overly paranoid. Wouldn’t be the first time.
“See anything yet?” The robber joined him on the lookout spot, zipping his Vago-colored jacket.
“Only rednecks and tourists so far... what you wearin’ that for anyway? It’s just a little windy.”
“I’m not very used to cold temperatures.”
“I bet you used to spend the prime years of your life by spoilin’ yourself at hot tubs and brothels.” Carl let out a chuckle, but was met with a serious expression in return.
“I’d rather not discuss that.”
Carl frowned. He was probably needlessly curious, but the way Kevin refused to tell him the slightest details about his past life seemed odd and overly cautious. He was open enough the first time – Carl still remembered the remark about a friend who, like him, was into Cok-O-Pops – but something about his attitude whenever his youth came up made it obvious that he was holding back a chunk of information.
“Ready to light sh*t up?” Sweet moved up next to Carl as well, smoking one last cigarette to keep his nerves calm.
“I’m not sure if I still understand the whole picture – but screw it, I’m in.” Kevin said.
“What about you, CJ? You ain’t even spoken to us last few days, didn’t show to that meeting we was supposed to have... I’m worried about your attitude, bro.”
Carl continued to look away from him, angry as all hell. Of course he wasn’t going to fall for that trap! The way he saw it, he felt sh*tty enough about himself as it was, that he didn’t need Sweet and all the others to scream at him all at once to hammer it home.
“I just needed to get my head straight.” he said emotionlessly.
“It better be straight right now then. Get down here, you two, and we’ll recap our plan. Mr. K especially oughta listen properly this time.”
Walking down the slope to a depression where Ryder, LB and Horse were playing cards on a tree trunk, Carl’s annoyance switched to a slight hint of amusement. As bad as their relationship was for a change, he definitely didn’t want to give Sweet a stroke by offering another name from the blacklist (or purple list?) – thus presenting Kevin as this mysterious freelancer working for the highest bidder, known only by the name Mr. K. It was corny, but it worked out – save for the high expectations placed on him by all the others.
“OK, game’s over. Let’s get this over with so we can get outta these clothes ASAP.” Sweet ordered, placing a map of the area over the trunk. Ryder and LB both let out an unintentional laugh.
“And I didn’t mean it like that, motherf*ckers! Now, we gonna spread out and surround everyone involved in the deal, so that means we strike from three directions. Horse, you mount a heavy assault from the main entry road.”
“And the rest of you will no doubt ride into action from someplace else?” Horse asked with a slight frown.
“We will, and I didn’t f*ckin’ make fun of your name on purpose.” Sweet snapped, still stressed out for whatever of the many reasons. “So when you’s sprayin’ the motherf*ckers with that LMG you nabbed, me an’ Ryder gonna emerge from the field side. CJ an’ LB, you got the woods.”
LB stepped up with a confident nod. “We got it a’ight. Now, K, unless somethin’... really weird happens, don’t start shootin’ ‘til we do. Else they attention’s gonna be on you, and the Rifa might send trouble your way.”
“Preferably, shoot ‘em once they take cover behind the buildings and out of our sight.” Horse said.
“Their guns don’t have the range to reach my position, do they? I’m kind of out in the open in my sniping position.”
“Of that we ain’t exactly certain... you wanna be safe, shoot the boys with the biggest toys first.” LB recommended.
As the moment of the deal drew closer, everyone put on their masks and gloves – almost making them look like a professional heist crew – as the five gangsters went their separate ways to get ready for the ambush, with Kevin reporting via earpiece as a SUV full of Rifa took the turn to the farm, being followed minutes later by the Ballas. Overall, there were at least ten gang members involved, and they had all been able to slip to the ranch without being spotted by any curious passing locals – if only they knew that wasn’t the only problem to be worried about.
“Damn, it’s muddy.” Carl snarled as his best outdoor shoes were being tainted on every step.
“Don’t sweat, ‘least you ain’t gotta lie down in that sh*t like your sharpshooter friend.” LB remarked, signaling him to stop once they were close enough to the targets.
“Tell me somethin’, LB, how’d you ever hook up wit’ these Europeans? I know you reach out a lot, and I don’t blame ya, but... just felt like askin’.” Carl said, wondering how things would be for him right now if he’d never taken up Ryder’s – and by extension LB’s – suggestion.
“Feelin’ regretful, ain’t ya? I get what you mean though, that big man’s money sure can look attractive to an outsider...” LB tried to crack a smile, but Carl didn’t respond to that. “But if ya want the whole story, it all began back at the beach.”
He cleared his throat. “I was at the right place at the right time when this white boy started showin’ off, bossin’ everyone around ‘cause he was some push-up master or some sh*t. I was havin’ none of that in our own damn turf, so I challenged him.”
“Didn’t think Amadeus rolled that way.”
“Not him, some sh*tty junior member clearly bored of recruitin’. Looked a lot like one of those people who make that ‘metal’ music, where you scream into the mic an’ sh*t.”
Carl rolled his eyes. “So how’d recruitment go?”
“We had a draw in our push-up contest, then we brawled a bit and still found no winner. Anyway, he told me he was impressed, said his people would have work for niggas like myself. No, he didn’t say that word. But y’know, even though it was sus as f*ck and I didn’t even know his name, I rolled wit’ it, ‘cause you know just how f*cked our set is. So then one thing led to another, and---“
“Hey, can y’all hear me back here?” Sweet’s voice startled both of them as it came out of nowhere through their earpieces.
“Oops. Yeah, loud an’ clear, homie.” LB replied, followed by everyone else announcing their lack of problems as well.
“Well, ‘bout time something went right. Initials only from here on, boys... and hide your accents too, best you can.”
“Sí, hermano!” Carl said without thinking much. Sweet would’ve filliped him if they were anywhere close to one another, he was sure of it.
Ignoring the comment to his best ability, Sweet kept things serious. “H, we ready whenever you are. Keep ‘em away from the cars.”
Horse didn’t need to be told how to strategize. Having got himself relatively close without being spotted, he almost dove out of the bushes lining the uphill roadway and confidently readied himself for his first burst. He fired just as some of the Rifa dropped the ongoing conversation to point at his direction, but by then it was too late to preserve the life of his first victim, a Balla, who fell to the ground with three bulletholes in his upper back. Horse continued to storm up the hill with the best crouch-run he managed, finding some refuge from the retaliatory hail of bullets from behind the SUV.
His position was so overwhelmed by a hail of bullets that he couldn’t poke his head out for the slightest moment, but luckily the backup cavalry was quick to equalize the situation. Sweet and Ryder, conditioning themselves for the first time ever to not shoot at anything dressed in yellow, added fuel to the fire by shooting into the crowd from behind a fallen log, managing to down one Rifa and wound another one, who was dragged to cover behind a tractor by his angered ally, who shot about half a clip of pistol ammo at the direction of this new enemy wave, though all the bullets harmlessly bounced off the log as Sweet and Ryder kept their heads low.
Just when the remainder of the Rifa and Ballas – now teamed up without thinking about it much – thought they had all the attackers in sight and ready to be taken out, another two popped up from the forest side, where LB and Carl used still standing trees as cover to take more unexpected jump-out shots at the enemies. It was again a Balla’s turn to bite the dust when LB was able to land multiple critical strikes at the gangbanger who had thought he was safe from all attackers – this forced the enemy to retreat even further, and their body language brilliantly showed that they were running out of viable cover. As much as Carl had doubted the requirement of having six people on the job, he was now thoroughly convinced that this method made the assault much easier and kept the situation under constant control as the hostiles were constantly on the defensive. And the best part was still to come...
In desperation, one of the Rifa ran all the way behind the garage on the far eastern side to catch his breath and reload. His heart pounded so hard it was bound to break through the chest at that rate – the attack that resulted in the death of one of his comrades that he had to witness from close up didn’t do good for his psyche at all, and he almost felt too weak to return to battle. It was at this moment that he needed to choose between running away and being executed as a deserter sooner or later, or sticking around to fight even though it only meant prolonging his suffering before an inevitable loss...
Kevin eliminated the pressure of choice, and ensured the Rifa would never feel anything ever again, as he blasted off the first of his high-caliber bullets that tore through the man’s head as if it was wet paper. Four were already down, and the other six weren’t looking too strong either.
“We tearin’ them apart, but everyone, keep your eyes on the prize! Anyone see their merchandise by now?” Sweet demanded via radio.
“Uhh, I’m thinking those pendejos might be keepin’ their dinero inside los coches.” Horse proposed.
“For f*ck’s sake, are y’all this simple? You don’t need to speak broken Spanish to sound like real Vagos!” Sweet raged with little concern towards maintaining the façade.
“Speak of the devil, I see one of ‘em hauling a case just now!” Carl took some potshots that way as he said it, but couldn’t line up a decent shot.
Kevin came up on the radio for a change. “I see him as well. Better get back to cover, C, ‘cause this is gonna hurt.”
The Rifa was probably thinking he could run into the barn for safety, but didn’t make it that far as he came up in the store robber’s crosshairs less than halfway through. A loud bang, and he fell over in a bloody mess, while the bullet ricocheted off a rock into the barn door.
“Well, that’s one potential insult that has been rendered moot.” Kevin said to himself.
“Jesus, that sh*t packed a punch! Where’d you get the gun?” Carl shouted in excitement.
“A friend of mine provided.”
“Sounds like the kinda guy I’d like to associate with.” Carl exchanged smirks with LB.
“If you don’t mind a journey a long way from home to meet up, I don’t see why not.”
Carl put that thought at the back of his head and proceeded with the shooting. Only a few more targets down, and they could start making a move to the case... or that’s how he felt before hearing a very audible engine noise of a large vehicle coming up the path into the farm. Sweet was able to see the source as he was making a charge at the yard – and did not like the sight at all.
“HORSE, TAKE COVER!” he screamed his lungs out as Horse ran to the side as fast as his feet could carry him, the additional Rifa SUV narrowly missing out on the chance to run him over, and a large number of drive-by shooters forcing him into hiding behind a cow-shed.
“I thought we was meant to stick to initials.” Ryder snarked.
“I f*cking panicked, OK?!” Sweet raged, barely making it to a temporary shelter behind an outhouse and finding relief in the fact the vehicle didn’t try to come at him, the occupants rather all scrambling out to join the combat.
“Now who are these clowns, and who the f*ck called ‘em here?” he demanded, reloading his rifle.
LB shrugged, having no time to celebrate his first kill of the morning as he downed a Balla that had daringly attempted to approach his and Carl’s spot. “Not the local rednecks, that’s fo’ sure. There any Rifa settlements near here?”
“Intel said there ain’t supposed to be any Rifa in this whole county!” Carl cried out.
“Yeah? Well, your intel sucks! K, can’t you even the odds?”
“Sure thing, S. I just think C should move a bit left, to be sure.”
“Your left, or my left?”
“Uh – towards where L’s standing!”
“Oh great, a sniper who ain’t got a grasp on directions...” Ryder said mockingly, only to find himself admiring Kevin’s next headshot on a Rifa moving in to flank Sweet a second later.
“Guys, case – and a money bag – are on the run!” LB notified, spotting one of the Rifa running from the case’s earlier resting spot to the garage. It was by definition a dead end, but it was far enough away from the crew (and out of Kevin’s sights) to provide a bit of safety. In spite of him and Carl firing away some rounds at the straggler, he was able to enter the building and lock the doors behind him.
“Don’t worry about it, we’ll get him soon enough!” Sweet shouted. Another clip went in his gun, and another Rifa fell trying a desperate charge at him – it was a good thing Sweet reacted first, because the enemy’s shotgun could’ve done something ugly if it ever went off.
“Can we get back to why these extra assholes got here?” Horse asked, adding himself back into the shootout as well, if not a little shaken.
“Why we askin’ each other, when we could find out by shakin’ down the pussy who’s got our loot?” Carl pointed out.
“Yeah, everyone try and clear a path to that garage! H, you can go ‘round the other way, that shouldn’t get ya blasted.” LB told.
Sweet shook his head in anger. “I just think someone’s playin’ foul here...”
While the rest of the Rifa were busy with the ground battle that they were critically losing, Ramon Alvarez had it comparatively easy. Sneaking around on the perilous cliffs to the spot where the loud bullets were coming from, this Rifa look-out was ready to turn the tide of the battle in most dramatic fashion, and if possible, even turn that big gun against the people it currently protected. In ways, this young man wasn’t actually that different from Carl – he too had all sorts of aspirations even outside of his gang, something he could afford to do since he had earned his stripes in numerous turf wars earlier – but loyalty to T-Bone Mendez still came first, and if he could get this done, he would climb up the rankings like never before and get to even make decisions for the gang’s future with the boss-man himself---
Only steps away from placing his gun at Kevin’s head and pulling the trigger, his hopes and dreams dissipated in one short moment he didn’t even have time to process when the ground blew up from beneath his feet, leaving the unconscious man to bleed out. Kevin paused his duties only briefly to make sure he was down and out, and that there was no additional movement in the nearby hills.
“Claymore mines. Don’t go sniping without them.” he muttered to himself, then got back to work.
By the time he was able to point the scope in the right direction, only four enemies remained – check that, three, as LB gunned his way through another Rifa to reach the barn and clear it just in case, only finding a quadbike and some of the usual farming tools amongst the haystacks however.
“Man, cows sound stressed as f*ck.” Horse noted, the mooing of the animals inside their shed intensifying with each bullet fired.
Kevin sounded disheartened by the fact. “Let’s get this over with quickly so we don’t have to abuse them more than we have to.”
“I was thinkin’ more that Horse could open the doors and start a stampede...” Sweet murmured.
“Pragmatist, aren’t you?” Kevin snorted with some disgust.
“Ethics aside, not gonna happen. I can’t get to the doors unless you drop the goons, and when that’s done, there ain’t none left to get cattle-crushed.”
“Meh, I don’t mind stickin’ to the traditional ways.” Ryder said as his bullets struck one of the Rifa in the stomach, causing him to fall over in massive pain.
“Oh look, Ryder got one for a change.” Carl mocked, following in LB’s tracks guns blazing to remove another threat from the equation.
“At least I don’t owe a dangerous crime boss a sh*t-ton of money.”
Kevin’s tone said it all; he was already bored of Ryder. “Is he always like that?”
“Only 99% of the time, K, but back to business. Can ya blow the head off the fool who ran into this place?” LB asked, walking into Kevin’s crosshairs to point at the correct building.
“These things can definitely pierce the wall, but I’ll need an exact location.”
“You see anythin’ through the boards? There seem to be gaps here an’ there...” Carl suggested, walking around the perimeter with hopes of finding a particularly big one to look through.
In the meantime, Horse took out the last enemy save for the hiding one with a quick pistol shot to the head, clearing the entire area for his friends to freely move around in. It was certainly a huge relief for Ryder and Sweet, who’d been confined to fairly small pockets of cover for some time now.
“That wasn’t so tough.” Ryder had the nerve to say.
“About time! Now let’s quit f*ckin’ around and crack that door open!” Sweet yelled.
“Bro, I ain’t so sure that’s the best- wait, the f*ck’s that noise? It better not be---“
As prepared as Sweet was for another heated argument, he certainly couldn’t dismiss Carl’s observation now that he also heard that unmistakeable sound of police sirens, most likely heading their way.
“I guess a local callin’ for help was long overdue...” LB said, shaking his head as Ryder also finally stumbled to the vicinity of his friends.
“When I think of it, K was snipin’ eses from across a road. Guess that means a lot of witnesses.” Horse contemplated.
“I see some red and blue lights in Dillimore’s direction. You guys might wanna bail out of there while they’re still on the way.” Kevin warned.
“Not without the reward!” Sweet said adamantly.
“K, get outta there, use the getaway car and hide! We’ll call you whenever we gonna meet up...” Carl told with haste as the crew gathered themselves around the double doors of the garage. He wondered if the Rifa inside had heard much of the ordeal, but as long as they gunned him down without casualties of their own, it wouldn’t make a difference...
Carl and the others probably should’ve heard the faint rattle from inside before prying the doors open, but in their defense, the ever-so-ominous sirens were difficult not to focus on, and they were in a rush anyway. As soon as the garage was open, two headlights lit up in their faces, borderline blinding anyone looking right at them before the last of the Rifa zoomed right out of the building on an ATV, never to be seen again unless action was taken quickly---
“NO!” Sweet’s reaction was just what was to be expected; most of the crew managed to take shots at the runner, but he was moving too downright fast and erratically to be tagged by any of the bullets.
“Could he have left---“ Carl suggested hopefully.
“No, the loot was secured to that thing.” Horse said with regret.
LB took off to the barn. “We ain’t done yet! I saw another one of those in here!”
“You heard L!” Sweet led the rest of the men to the same direction, Horse sprinting past all of them to yank the barn’s doors wide open and help LB pull the vehicle out.
“He went down the field path!” Ryder announced, scoping out the quadbike – an easy job due to it leaving behind a huge cloud of dust. All of the others were in enough rush to not call him out for stating the obvious just so he wouldn’t have any part in heavy duties.
“There ya go, we started it already.” Horse said, coming out of the barn with the vehicle at record speed.
“Thanks, homie. Carl, you drive – you’re the racer an’ all.”
Carl didn’t enjoy pressure at a time like this, but there was no point in arguing, and he was intent to prove Ryder properly wrong regarding his driving skills – if that was at all possible. “Right, the rest of you, scatter right now! They’re almost here...”
With Horse taking off into the forest and Ryder and LB also managing to get on the move after some pondering, Carl was able to focus on the thing he knew how to do – well, allegedly, since the last time he rode one of these things was on some county paths with Aldrin and Tony years ago. Dodging around the fallen tree, he found it quite easy to follow the target once the distracting siren noises faded out, partly thanks to the tire tracks and dust cloud being left behind.
The Rifa up ahead was still in a state of shock, speeding up until he was certainly out of the sniper’s range, but still aware of possible additional attack parties, which weren’t out of the question either with a professional attack like this that only left one survivor standing. Worrying about how to explain this to T-Bone was low on the priority order compared to reaching the nearest settlement and hiding out until someone came over to pick him up... but first he had better make sure he wouldn’t get lost, as this path was only taking him farther and farther from the presumed location of Dillimore, and into the deeper county regions. He should’ve just got onto the main road when he had the chance – assuming there was one to begin with. Narrowly dodging an old man walking on the side of the trail and forcing him to jump into a ditch, the Rifa soon arrived to a river, flowing adjacent to the route.
Carl, on the other hand, closed the distance rapidly – if all went well, they’d be right next to the target before he even noticed them. He bypassed the same old man as well, who must’ve thought there was an illegal race going and tried to pitifully put a stop to it by chucking a rock at them. Sweet took the painful hit to his side and yelled from pain, vowing to put that asshole in his place and teach him a lesson or two about mob law once the mission was accomplished.
Only trailing the other ATV by some dozen meters, Carl nodded to Sweet, who got his SMG ready. One good burst from a little closer than this, and the enemy would fall – but in a cruel twist of fate, the Rifa just casually decided to turn to the left and onto a much worse-maintained path before he got a clear shot. Not to mention, he caught the approaching brothers in the corner of his eye while making the turn, and put the pedal to the metal – metaphorically speaking – in even worse panic than before. Sweet fired, but nothing came out of it anymore now that the runner was out of position, and he was at a bigger risk of hitting his brother anyway, courtesy of a bump immediately in the beginning of the trail.
“Where you think we are, Sweet?”
“Does it matter? Hell, how the f*ck should I know? Eyes on the road!” Sweet shouted. He didn’t understand why the otherwise so successful brother of his needed to waste his time asking stupid questions at a time like this, as if he hadn’t screwed around enough recently. Was he nervous? Trying too hard to prove himself, and as a result struggling with focus? It sort of made sense if Horse’s report about the somewhat shaky drug stash job was anything to go by... was it time to temporarily retire Carl from important duties?
His – and Carl’s – thinking was interrupted when they ran over another bump, this time a sizable rock, that caused both to fly upwards on their seat. The landing was as painful as Sweet’s yelp suggested, and Carl almost crashed trying to steer the vehicle in the right direction. Sweet got back to the shooting business once he had a good grip on the ATV again, and took pride in forcing the Rifa even deeper into the woods where there was almost no trail to drive on to begin with, just plenty of trees to dodge. The target zig-zagged between them in desperation, bullets narrowly wheezing past his upper body with Sweet’s aggressive yelling making his duress only worse.
Up ahead, there was another trail, one that they were approaching more or less diagonally. The Rifa made the best beeline he could in the direction of that, but Sweet had something else in mind – a relatively clean path, only disturbed by small amounts of foliage, that would eventually lead to that same trail and act as a shortcut to get in front of the target...
“Carl, stick to the left! We can get him that way!” he informed.
Carl was uncertain of whether that would work, but had no interest in taking a stand against Sweet’s orders in his current state. Besides, if they were thinking about the same thing, the shortcut looked rather brilliant – there was a little jump at the end, but nothing he couldn’t manage---
CRASH. One moment was all it took before Carl, Sweet and the quadbike went tumbling all over the place in a muddled pile just when they were at their most certain of success. Carl let out an agonized scream as he landed right arm first, even if the foliage somewhat softened the fall – Sweet wasn’t much more fortunate as he landed almost on his face at an anthill. The realization that they actually had wrecked just like that didn’t find its way into Carl’s head until many long and painful moments later, by the time the Rifa’s ATV could only be heard faintly as it was bound to disappear from sight, with it also going their only chance to receive a reward...
“Just what the f*ck was that?” Sweet lashed out, plucking angry insects off his face before he got stung into non-working condition.
Carl said nothing, being busy on a lookout as soon as he was back on his feet. The ATV had rolled over at least once, but still looked driveable, the worst damage likely being internal. Shoving vegetation aside to locate the tire tracks and their ending point, he arrived at the conclusion that the culprit was an almost perfectly hidden, thick and rock-solid motherf*cker of a tree root.
A tree root that could’ve been avoided if he never took Sweet’s designated path – but arguing about that choice didn’t belong to this moment, or day, or universe cycle.
Carl did what he considered to be the wisest thing and backed off to check on the ATV while Sweet began shaking as soon as he too saw the cause of the crash – it had been a while since Carl last saw that kind of shaking, and it usually resulted in a devastating explosion of swear words.
This time, the ensuing tantrum started off somewhat mild, with Sweet lamenting their constant failures that were often down to something as silly as dumb luck – Carl could get behind that – but once he picked up the momentum, he started to do what he did best and kick away at the pine tree that had denied them the chance of their lives.
“YOU – USELESS – WOODEN – PIECE – OF – SH*T – JUST – HAD – TO – GROW – ON – OUR – WAY – LIKE – A – SELF – IMPORTANT – MOTHER – F*CKER!” He added a kick at every word he uttered, all the while having the kind of expression that made it clear anyone who pointed out motherf*cker was a compound word would be next on his list.
Although any self-respecting animal from slugs to grizzlies would’ve cleared out and kept their distance from an enraged Sweet, one squirrel decided to tempt fate, likely disturbed from all the banging going on outside its home. Climbing down to the lowest branch, it made some confused noise that was clear enough to attract Sweet’s attention.
“Chip-chip-chip what, dicksucker? Chip-chip-chip this!” he shouted. One accurately aimed bullet later, the lifeless rodent collapsed down into the ground, never to enjoy the taste of nuts again.
Still heavily breathing, Sweet stood over its body, a bit relieved now that he was able to channel his anger into shedding the blood of something disposable – that, Carl thought, was a sign that he’d soon calm down and become less awkward to be around. He himself cleaned up the crashed ATV a little and attempted to get it restarted – on the third try it finally budged, and although the engine noise sounded fainter and weaker than before, it could still be driven for the rest of their unflattering stay out in the country.
“Right... let’s get the f*ck outta here, regroup with the others. Follow the trail in case that asshole crashed too.” Sweet said upon hearing the engine start. Carl only gave him the traditional nod of agreement, and took off at a much reduced pace, neither of them exchanging words for what felt like hours as they made their way back to civilization, no trace of the Rifa runner anywhere along their route.
Carl was only able to get a cellphone signal once he arrived in Blueberry, a mostly unremarkable small town where the brothers non-verbally agreed to pick up something from the Well Stacked branch while calling the others to arrange a rendezvous. The first thing he saw while browsing his phone was that there had been a missed call from Kevin. Quickly taking it before Sweet accidentally saw his name on the screen, Carl was treated to something oddly ominous.
“Carl, I don’t know where you’ve gone, but don’t go ANYWHERE near Dillimore, don’t call Ryder or LB – maybe not Horse either, I’ll try to get a hold of him – and just come see me at a place called the ‘Hanky Panky Point’. Hell, you could also call your contact and drop off the drugs, or whatever, over there as well, kill two birds in one stone. Don’t bother calling me back, my battery’s about to fall dead.”
Carl made sure to forward the message to Sweet once they were back outside, enjoying their food on a secluded bench (a better choice than staying inside, anyway, as they were getting weird looks from the locals). He had a terribly bad feeling about what was happening, and that was a good enough reason to break the silence.
“Whaddya mean we shouldn’t call ‘em?” Sweet asked in borderline outrage.
“I really don’t know, but – but don’t worry, they probably just hidin’ and don’t need no noise to compromise ‘em right now, OK?”
“And what about Andy?” he continued, luckily buying into Carl’s weak assurances.
“I think I’m gonna give him a call, we need to at least tell him what happened and cancel the meet.” Carl’s response was apathetic.
“No, no, no, no, no. We gon’ meet him a’ight.” Sweet insisted.
“Bro, look, I really can’t let you kill him, we’d get f*cked in the ass---“
“Who said anything about killin’? I’m just gonna let him know exactly why it’s a good idea to reward us properly after a day’s work.”
Carl scowled. “That don’t exactly sound any better.”
“Excuse me, Carl? What was that? Should I remind you who your boss is?”
“I’m good...” he sighed.
“Now where’s that Hanky Panky Point anyway?”
“It’s this quiet hilltop next to Palomino Creek. I’ve been there before, it’s an excellent spot for – ahh, y’know what, let’s work out the details later.” Carl had a brief laugh while reminiscing his past experiences in the area, but Sweet barely acknowledged that, only caring about the upcoming rendezvous.
One call and a refilling meal later, they were on their way east, however Carl’s mind had not yet eased one bit, and in fact Sweet’s dangerously confident statements were only making things worse. What was he going to do if his brother’s actions broke his relations to Schrader’s gang? Would they only increase his debt out of spite if something happened? And last but not least importantly, he was in a rush to grill Kevin for information about Ryder and LB’s current situation before he’d drop dead from worry... Ryder may have been a dick who only became worse since Carl’s return, but the thought of permanently losing him still made his stomach turn from disgust whenever it surfaced.
Carl made two wrong turns along the way out of stress, and the brothers were forced to leave the quadbike in the bottom of the hill once it became evident the weakened engine couldn’t properly carry them up the slope – despite these minor tribulations, Sweet again remained silent throughout the journey, likely saving up his words for Andreas whenever he was due to arrive. So far, the only soul over the hill was Kevin, using a stick to draw shapes into the gravel out of boredom.
“Ah, hello, guys. I was on the fence about going out to look for you, but in this terrain it might well have been a poor choice.” he greeted, scrubbing away his drawing of some person along with the text underneath (Carl caught the word ‘dead’ – that better not have meant who he thought it was).
“To hell with formalities now. What the hell happened to our homies?” He let his temper get the better of him and even momentarily grabbed Kevin, who was quick to pry himself loose. All the while, Sweet stood behind his brother with his arms crossed, as if to validate his behavior.
“What now, man? You seriously thought I wouldn’t voluntarily tell you or something? Or did you just need a person not related to you to take out your anger on?”
“This whole mission’s gone down the sh*tter, so I think we all got our reasons to be pretty f*ckin’ pissed.” Sweet grunted.
“If that’s the case, I’m gonna need to ask you not to touch me, or throw anything at me, once I show what I’ve got over here. Just shoot squirrels down from trees or something, but leave the messenger alone at least.”
The statement was just as ominous as his earlier message, but the brothers agreed with one quick nod at one another. Kevin walked up to them with a video camera at hand.
“I know I should’ve done what you said and beelined out of there, but then you wouldn’t believe what I’ve got here.”
It was a bit hard to see the events unfold on the small screen, but once the device was rotated at a proper angle, the shocking truth was revealed all at once – in the middle were Ryder and LB, both unhappy and unmasked, as both were being handcuffed and searched by country cops, moments before being hauled into the back of a police SUV – all this happening just outside the farm’s entrance.
Sweet’s method of anger relief hadn’t changed, and he bluntly took his gun out, aiming a shot at the treetops, with no particular target in mind – or sight.
“What the f*ck? You just stood there filmin’ that sh*t and didn’t think to do something?” he yelled, technically not breaking the promise.
“Have you ever tried to have a stand-off with redneck officers? Trust me, even if I tried the negotiation route, those hillbillies would open fire as soon as they saw I wasn’t one of the locals that has bought them donuts and coffee in exchange for favors.”
“Either way, it wouldn’t have helped sh*t, bro.” Carl added sadly. “It’d take an army to break that sh*t up and barely get away with it.”
Sweet was still fuming. “So now what? Where’d they get taken, and what about Horse?”
“I’m getting to that, relax!” Kevin shouted. “The only cop station in this part of the county is at Dillimore, so that’ll be my reasonable guess. That’s why I said you shouldn’t venture to that town – I’d imagine the whole precinct is on a look-out for more masked fake Vagos.”
“We’d better ditch the disguises soon then.” Carl said, though that was mostly stating the obvious at this point.
“As for Horse, I never saw him being busted, but I’d exercise caution before I---“
“Hold on. Someone’s comin’.” Sweet interrupted, and taking a look down to the bottom of the hill, was able to deduce what was happening in an instant. “It’s him all right. Kept us waitin’, like a true white asshole.”
“Was it really necessary to bring race into the discussion?” Kevin asked with a frown as a black SUV that Carl had seen before began climbing up to their location.
“What’s that? Come complain to me when you got real issues to talk about, like systematic oppression, you f*ckin’ show-off. Now, I got bigger fish to fry.” He walked forth to meet Andreas and his entourage halfway.
Kevin turned towards Carl, making sure he was out of Sweet’s earshot. “The hell... is he always like this?”
“He’s opinionated, but he don’t normally bring that up. Guess this is just a whole new level of pissed.” Carl speculated.
“And how am I a show-off? If that’s all the thanks I’m going to get for covering your asses---“
“Seriously, I at least appreciate all the work you did back there. Ignore him, I think he’s trynna wind you up ‘cause misery loves company and sh*t.”
“I’ll tell you what his behavior’s like. It’s f*cking unreasonable. With all due respect to you, I think I’m not interested in associating with your brother any more than I already have.”
“I think that won’t be a problem. He’s probably gonna break all ties with Schrader if we don’t get paid now.”
“What do you mean we won’t get paid?” Kevin’s face turned pale in almost an instant. “You do have the loot, right? There was only one guy left holding on to it?”
“Actually... he got away.” Carl scratched his head awkwardly. “We did catch up to him, but terrain caught us by surprise. He took both the money and the case’s contents...”
“Man, sh*t! I really needed something to make things with the Ballas a bit less painful.”
“All ain’t lost yet... see if Sweet can sweet-talk ‘em into a settlement.” Carl said, not that he had much faith remembering how the biker mission turned out.
Andreas was all smiles when he exited the car and walked up to Sweet, but that faded in a blink of an eye as he noticed the gang leader was carrying nothing.
“So – what happened to the money? Drugs?” he asked in confusion.
“I’ll get to that soon, but first, we gotta make certain things clear.” an irritated Sweet told him.
“Then I’m all ears.” He kept a close eye on Sweet’s hands, unsure if he was trying to pull some kind of a trick, surprise attack even. “However, I thought we said there should’ve been six of you.”
“Would you believe that there really was? Problem is, our perfect plan went to hell when unexpected factors started to f*ck with it all of a sudden.”
“The Rifa had backup right down the road that joined in. We got distracted, delayed, and one guy barricaded himself in safety wit’ all the spoils.”
“Surely he couldn’t have escaped?” Andreas was in quite a bit of disbelief.
“Don’t call me Shirley. And we had to rush things when five-O was closin’ in. He took off, we chased him with that piece of sh*t you saw on the bottom of this hill, and he got lucky. By now, he’s either in San Fierro suckin’ up to T-Bone, or still rampagin’ through the woods thinkin’ he still got a tail.”
Andreas prompted him to continue if he had anything else to say, a thoughtful expression on his face as Sweet spoke. “And as the cherry on top, Ryder and LB are in jail by now. With all the sh*t that’s happened to us, mostly thanks to your faulty intel, I’d say we expect a compensation.”
The look on the German’s face – as well as his tone – changed to apologetic, which all three knew was a bad sign. “While the reports on the police dispatch do imply you did an excellent job clearing out a farm’s worth of gang members, we did kind of agree that the payment would be for bringing their merchandise to us.”
“You don’t feel even an ounce of responsibility that your sh*tty scoutin’ left us vulnerable?”
“Still obsessed with that, then? Let me re-iterate something – we never actually ruled out the Rifa’s presence in this county. All that we could be sure of was that there was no evidence so far that they would operate here – only Los Santos, and even that information was acquired partly thanks to Carl clearing out their smuggling crew.”
“I didn’t do it on my own, though.” Carl said, feeling flattered.
“Doesn’t take anything away from the achievement. Now, in spite of those defeated looks on your faces, I’d say this mission was still more successful than you’d think.”
“How?” Kevin asked, a glimmer of newly-found hope in his mind.
“The reason is the pieces of garment you’re wearing. Assuming none of them – or, rather, just the sole survivor – realized you’re actually not Vagos, he’ll be reporting on the incident to his bosses right now and making it clear what gang the attackers were representing.”
“Don’t think he figured anything out.” Carl guessed, glancing over to Sweet but receiving nothing from him, the man still struggling to come to terms with their failure.
“Then we just might be able to expect a three-way conflict soon enough.”
Impatiently walking back and forth for a short while, Sweet finally gathered the words he needed to say. “So even with your damn conflict provoked, you really ain’t gonna pay us a dime?”
Andreas took a long, deep sigh. “I don’t like repeating myself, but here goes: we didn't offer to pay you blood money for the dead hostiles. We offered money in exchange for what they were dealing on that farm, and since that’s gone with the escaped Rifa, our deal is off. The casualties and ruined relations certainly are an advantage for your gang, but it’s not what we said we’d additionally reward you for. Though,” he added a bit more positively, “as a thank you for continuing to work for our benefit, and possibly confirming a Rifa presence in Red County, I think our boss will agree to reducing Carl’s debt.”
“So that’s all? Y’all just pat CJ’s back and call it a day? F*ck. That. CJ, we done here. If we go now, we’ll be home by supper.”
“Home? But what about Ryder an’ LB?”
“What can we do? You know there ain’t no such thing as a successful prison break. That’s why we just sucked it up and lived wit’ it when Big Devil or OG Loc went to jail. I’d rather just crash on my couch and forget this day ever existed...”
Walking down the hill, Sweet didn’t notice Carl was no longer walking right behind him until he opened his mouth. “Bro. Not so fast.”
“What’d you say?” Sweet was confrontational as soon as those words escaped Carl’s lips.
“Nothing that you should interpret as hostile. I just – well, let’s make this straight, OK? I know exactly how you feel ‘bout me right now.” Carl said, perhaps being a bit judgmental but at least not condescending. “You think I’m turnin’ into a liability who’s more trouble than he’s worth. Well, guess what, maybe I am. That’s why I think I’ll move on to a different line of work for a while.”
“What is this?”
“No, I ain’t defecting to the Germans. All I’m sayin’ is, least I could do for Ryder and LB is scope out Dillimore, find out how much is bein’ pinned on them, how much these cops actually know... that sorta thing. Trust me, it’ll be an improvement if we left Grove Street at the hands of you, Smoke – maybe Horse – for a couple of days.”
“Yeah, right, Horse, I gotta phone up that nigga soon...” Sweet mumbled for a while. “So it’s just scoutin’ you after? None of the risky sh*t that’s gonna put you outta action?”
“Exactly. I think I’ll drop by Grove for any supplies I need, but after that, you don’t gotta see me in another few days.”
Sweet didn’t understand himself – why was he still questioning Carl if this was precisely what he had wanted? Indeed, it was probably for the better if he gave the other, often overlooked, lieutenants some opportunities to shine. Carl could do with some fresh air to set his head straight, anyway.
“OK, you do what you gotta do then.” he said with an approving tone, but not without climbing the hill again to have a final word with Andreas, who’d been conversing with Kevin all that time. “And you – I’m done with your whole crew from here on out. Don’t contact me ever again, got it? I was better off without your errands anyway.”
Andreas merely nodded. “I believe that decision will benefit both of us, yes.”
Angry that he didn’t get any reason to properly yell at him without looking stupid, Sweet went back to head for the quad. “CJ, if you don’t mind, I think I wanna headbutt the road in peace. You and K still got your getaway car, so---“
“Oy, one more thing!” Andreas called out, remembering his subject at the last minute. “If I understand your gang color thing correctly, it might not be a good idea to go home wearing that. We’ve got some substitute scrubs you can grab, free of charge. Honestly.” He added the final word upon seeing the suspicion on Sweet’s face.
He shrugged and took a look at the back of the car, rummaging through the pile with aggression. “There ain’t no green in here?” he muttered, Carl and Kevin also gathering to the scene.
“Neutrality never hurt anyone.” Andreas remarked.
“Bunch of motherf*ckers...” As Sweet threw on a gray hoody and similarly colored jeans, Carl could imagine that the Germans’ lack of consideration for gang culture was going to be another thing for him to be angry about on the return trip.
“You got any socks that don’t look like Swiss cheese for me to grab?” It was now Kevin’s turn to go through the pile, looking more interested than he should’ve been. Carl felt a sense of sadness when seeing this, knowing just how tight his budget had to have been to accommodate debts.
“Like I said, anything you want is yours. We’re not a charity though, so don’t expect regular deliveries like this – well, unless we put you through another job that involves disguises.”
“When you speak of new jobs, I hope there’ll be something soon? And that Carl’s still around?”
Carl had a light chuckle at his own expense. “Don’t think I have much choice on the matter. But yeah, anything comes up, you can give both of us a call. Just be advised, I’ll be in Dillimore the next week to see if I can do anything about my homies.”
“Quite the admirable attitude, Carl. And if you’re staying in this county, we’re going to double-check this region for Rifa activity that might need taking care of. Until then, so long.”
Carl waved the SUV goodbye as Andreas, together with those three quiet henchmen that he’d conditioned himself to ignore, headed back the way they came, with Kevin currently packing up all the clean clothes he’d collected.
“So – Dillimore, huh? Do you have a more detailed plan for that?” he asked, tying his bag neatly shut and lifting it over his shoulder.
“I dunno. What’s there to it, other than findin’ out more about Ryder an’ LB?”
“Such as, where are you going to live? I doubt you’d volunteer to just spend your nights out in the wilderness, right? And how are you going to avoid receiving attention? People out here might easily associate you with the two black guys who just got arrested.”
Carl appeared dejected. “Sh*t, man, this is why I always get in trouble to begin with. I just can’t seem to – see the whole damn picture.”
“Don’t worry, you’re in luck. I just wanted to see your reaction.” Kevin smirked and motioned him to come along for the walk to Palomino Creek, where his getaway car was still (hopefully) waiting. “I know a shack, not too far from the community, that should work for you. Far as I know, it’s laid dormant for years, but just in case we’d better scour it for any signs of life before we settle you in.”
“How do you know random little shacks like those?”
“I am a criminal, aren’t I? Trust me, when you’re hiding from the law, you start to remember the terrain in immense detail. Now going back to your identity – I’d think you could cosplay as a lawyer, to get close to your friends, or maybe even a country musician, that could win the place to your side in an instant---“
“I guess you’ve never heard me sing?”
“So that’s a ‘no’ then?” Kevin laughed perhaps a bit harder than he should’ve. “Going back to the lawyer idea, though, these clothes we just picked up don’t look half bad. We make a nice combination out of it, add a nice haircut and pair of glasses – presto, you’re ready for some good old-fashioned ambulance chasing!”
And so, as the two of them left this town behind in a light blue, sparkling clean Fortune that they would be allowed to keep for a few days to get around, a new chapter was about to open up in Carl’s life. A leap at the unknown, so to speak, taking a massive risk in the process – but then what wouldn’t he do to ensure the welfare of his close friends, particularly in a situation where he felt like the one responsible for their condition – even if, on the back of his mind, he still suspected foul play somewhere on the background of this mission.
To Be Continued.