Dwayne Forge stood peering through his rain-streaked living room window, looking past the darkened storm clouds to a brighter future hovering on the horizon. He had more options to consider now that The Triangle Club was back in his control. Something that made the rift between himself and his protégé, Playboy X, grow even wider. Niko had warned Dwayne about the threat from Playboy, but Dwayne had no intention to concede his rightful position in this city. He laid the foundation years ago for the empire to which Playboy has claimed ownership. Quietly fading to the back of the line was not an option for Dwayne. Now was the time to rebuild a stronger, more loyal army of soldiers capable of striking the deepest fear in the hearts of his enemies. He would do whatever he had to do to regain what he created, even if it meant taking out Playboy. Dwayne hoped it wouldn’t come to that but he knew he would do just about anything if cornered.
A faint tapping at the apartment door lured Dwayne away from his thoughts and back to his troubled reality. Checking his watch, 7:47AM was too early for anything good to come knocking. He found the Micro Uzi that Niko had given him yesterday and eased down the short hallway to his door. A second series of knocks and Dwayne wiped away small beads of sweat that had formed on his forehead. Dwayne cursed to himself and continued to the door. He checked that the ammunition clip was secured, tightened his chest against the genuine fear surging through his body and called out with a bold voice.
“Who is it?”
Initially the name was not familiar to Dwayne. He filtered through the mountain of names that he had been associated with through the years but came up empty. Spending fifteen years of his life in prison and dealing with the vices of living behind bars took its toll. Sometimes memories faded and slipped away while others stuck to Dwayne like superglue. The memories of how he had grown paranoid of those surrounding him the months leading up to being targeted by the LCPD and then finally arrested never went away. His fame and wealth had grown to near mythical levels which led to an outbreak of jealous haters. He lived the life of a King with all the trappings of a Prince. Dwayne propped himself up with everything that money could buy but all of it was gone in the blink of an eye.
The first few years of his incarceration, Dwayne stayed in contact with the outside world. Giving orders and directing his crew through a system of coded messages. After the realization of imprisonment had settled into his mind, the paranoia soon turned to desperation. Dwayne became despondent and openly spoke of ending his life. Alarmed by this development, prison officials placed Dwayne on suicide watch for most of his incarceration. Unable to keep his crew as one cohesive unit, Dwayne entrusted the leadership of The North Holland Hustlers and his business ventures to his protégé, Playboy X. The two communicate regularly during visitations at the prison. But Playboy soon began to operate independent of his mentor. Time between visits grew longer and longer until visitation day was as empty as Dwayne’s soul.
“Jermaine sent me over,” said Bobby after an awkward moment of silence.
Dwayne unlocked the door and opened it just enough to steal a peak. He recognized his friend immediately. Standing there he looked much the same as he did ten years ago, perhaps slightly more heavy. He laid the Micro Uzi aside and invited Bobby and his companions inside.
“Muchi, it’s been way too long. Sorry about the fire power at the door,” said Dwayne with a hearty, friendly laugh.
“That’s okay, a man’s gotta protect himself,” replied Bobby.
The two embraced as brothers would. Bobby introduced Maxwell and Pete and they all moved down the narrow hallway to the tiny, ill-furnished living room.
“We ran into a little trouble downstairs. Nothing big. Probably some of Clearance’s crew,” said Bobby as he sat on the mashed sofa.
“Yeah, to tell you the truth, I been keepin’ a low profile since Bohan,” said Dwayne.
“Everybody has, but Jermaine sent me over here to let you know personally that Firefly has your back. Anything you need, call us,” said Bobby, stretching his long legs out to be more comfortable. “Playboy is the leader of the Hustlers but he ain’t consolidated us all. He’s lettin’ Clearance operate a little business over in East Holland and he’s got his hands in the real estate business too.”
“Real estate?” Questioned Dwayne.
“Yeah. Word is, he’s real tight with this big time Arab developer. He even got a record label called X Spins. His most popular group is some cats from Northwood, calling themselves The Beat Boyz.”
Dwayne settled back in his chair taking in all the information that Bobby had to offer, opening up the world tremendously for Dwayne. Letting him know how the game had changed and who all the players were, sparked an enthusiastic interest from Dwayne. Even though the fast easy money was still made illegally, there were legitimate options to earn huge sums of money. Dwayne looked around his small apartment allowing himself to dream once again of brighter days. M.O.B. was a force that could stand and deliver whatever Dwayne needed. He was feeling more confident about his earning potential and his ability to regaining his empire, taking his rightful place back at the top. Dwayne’s chest swelled with pride this time instead of fear as he realized that he still had some respect on the street.
Dwayne rubbed an open hand across his face as to wipe away the pride that he was feeling. “Thanks Muchi, that’s real good to hear man. I wasn’t expecting all this.”
Dwayne glanced over at Pete. A fresh-faced young man who sported a tiny Emerald rivet in his left earlobe, sat patiently between two veteran gangsters. He couldn’t have been more than seventeen but Pete presented himself as someone much older. He listened to the discussion between Dwayne and Bobby closely and never interrupted. Qualities that Dwayne knew would make Pete a good soldier.
“You ready to be a part of something great young blood?”
Pete straightened up and answered. “Yes sir.”
“I like that,” replied Dwayne allowing a slight smile to spill onto his face. He tossed a fifty dollar bill on the coffee table. “Hey Maxwell, why don’t you and Pete go get some breakfast across the street. Muchi will meet you downstairs in a little bit.”
Pete stood after Maxwell, stretching out his hand to Dwayne. “Nice to have finally met you sir.”
Dwayne took a firm grip of Pete’s hand. “I think we can get along just fine young blood.”
Maxwell picked up the money and shook Dwayne’s hand, and then he and Pete left the apartment leaving Bobby and Dwayne alone.
* * *
Russell had made it back to his apartment in Schottler, showered and was sitting on the sofa as an episode of The Men’s Room played on the television set. He knew the incident earlier was not meant to kill him but to warn him that he could be killed in an instant anywhere in Liberty City. He leaned forward on the sofa, head bowed low, breathing slowly and heavily. The shower did little to settle his nerves. He felt the weight of the world pressing down on his soul. Ray Boccino will surely come knocking for more and now Dwayne Forge is ready to deal. Russell gazed over at the plain white envelope resting against a glass dish on the coffee table. BOHAN stood out like a beacon. He reached down and picked up the crumpled piece of paper near the envelope.
Russell smoothed the wrinkles out as best he could. Jermaine didn’t have the best handwriting but Russell knew the name was meant to be Dwayne Forge. The numbers were written slightly better but he would have to guess at the last digit of the phone number. It was either a one or a seven. Even turning his head sideways did not help to discern the number. He thought for a moment then placed the paper back on the coffee table. He would contact Dwayne after examining the contents of the envelope.
He picked up the envelope and moved over to the small wooded table near the window. This had become Russell’s favorite spot in the apartment. He pulled back the curtain to get a better look at the street below. It was still raining steadily and there were few people out meandering around the shops on Earp Street. Gawking at weary pedestrians had been his pastime for the past four days in Liberty City.
Russell turned his attention back to the envelope in front of him. He carefully broke the seal, lifted the flap, and removed a single sheet of folded paper. A photo of a slightly attractive woman appeared as he unfolded the paper. He recognized her right away as Elizabeta Torres, the undisputed drug queen of South Bohan. Russell carefully read through the passage beneath her photo. He had barely managed to secure one deal that almost costed him his life. Dwayne Forge has only agreed to talk and now the drug baroness of South Bohan has been tossed on his to-do list. It was almost too much for Russell to tolerate.
Elizabeta Torres, a.k.a. Liz, immigrated to Liberty City from Puerto Rico along with her parents when she was 14 years old. The year was 1991 and crack cocaine raged through the city destroying lives, families, and property as it swept from Broker to Bohan. Elizabeta and her parents found housing in a run-down tenement in South Bohan. Seeing opportunity in the desperation of the drug addicted community, young Liz used her contacts in Puerto Rico to start a lucrative drug dealing operation. Her parents worked long hours at menial jobs to make ends meet leaving Elizabeta alone to fend for herself. The apartment was empty all day and most nights giving Elizabeta the perfect location to operate her drug business. She had learned on the streets of her neighborhood in Puerto Rico how to build quickly and operate efficiently. Her reputation grew immensely and soon she was known throughout Bohan as a feared business woman, capable of swiftly dispatching her enemies at the least whiff of betrayal.
Russell tossed the paper onto the table, bordering on the verge of despair. He raked his fingers through his thick black hair leaving it crisscrossed and standing at odd angles. He pushed away from the table; standing abruptly the chair tumbled backwards and crashed onto the floor. Russell swung his clenched fists, striking at an unseen enemy; his eyes wild with anger. He had not agreed to get this deep inside the criminal world. He was supposed to make deals and bring in the money. Russell snatched his phone from his pocket and quickly dialed a number. One ring. Two rings. Three rings. Voicemail opened and Russell clicked off the line. You won’t answer b*tch, I’ll make you answer. Russell repeatedly called his contact without a single pick-up.
He finally laid the phone aside and collapsed back on the sofa. His head ached. His mind swirled with wild outrageous thoughts. He needed to calm down before the whole situation spun out of control. His freedom was on the line and most of all, Jimmy D.’s death had to be avenged. Russell exhaled a long frustrated sigh and drifted to sleep.
Vice City had been Russell’s safe haven for more than a year. The beautiful sun-drenched beaches spilled over with marvelous women ready and willing to throw caution to the wind and take a chance with life. Any other time Russell would have had the time of his life but he was too consumed with guilt and fear. The safety of his beach house provided some relief from the aggravations of reality but not from the inner turmoil that followed him from Liberty City. He was a wanted man on the run trying to hide in plain sight. When the doors were closed and the shades pulled, Russell could hide from a warrant but not from his demons. He was forced to flee his home after a drug deal went horribly wrong, leaving his best friend lying dead down a darkened alley in Schottler. The LCPD had issued a warrant for his arrest in connection with the shooting death of James D. Bataglia and for the distribution of a controlled substance. Believing that he had been framed and had caused his friend to be killed, Russell felt he had no other choice but to slip out of town in the middle of the night.
He had spoken to James hours before the deal was set to take place. James had expressed his concern about dealing with the Jamaicans but Russell convinced him that the deal would be the start of something big and most of all the money was too good to pass up. James reluctantly joined Russell at the lot behind the abandoned Burger Shot in Cerveza Heights and the two men drove to the meeting place on Cassidy Street.
The cold damp night air rushed through the open windows of the black Marbelle as Russell cut through the nearly deserted city streets. Neither man spoke. James leaned close to the door, letting the cold air rush past his face, almost making his eyes water. The hypnotic music of Fusion FM oozed from the car speakers as Russell gripped the steering wheel with both hands like it was going to fly away from him. He stared straight ahead as the city raced past. The Marbelle climbed the steep incline leading from the tunnel and stopped. James inhaled deeply, reaching over to turn off the radio. The alleyway was straight ahead. Russell crossed Cassidy Street and pulled into the gravel-covered lot next to some row houses. The headlights revealing three men standing in front of a Huntley Sport, painted the traditional Jamaican colors. Russell dimmed the lights and glanced over at his friend.
“Alright Jimmy D, you ready?”
“Yeah, let’s do this,” said James, struggling to convince himself more than Russell, that he was ready.
“Five minutes man and we’re gonna be laughin’ at Cluckin’ Bell and flirtin’’ with the girls from East Island City I promise you,” replied Russell, attempting to reassure his friend.
Russell reached and grabbed the bag from the back seat and the two men step out into the night, breath frosting from the cold air. Russell moved ahead of James, asserting his confidence. James stayed a few paces behind, making sure that they were not ambushed from the rear. Their eyes traced the fire escapes running along the back side of the row houses for any potential dangers. Russell eyed the three men standing near the Huntley Sport. The tallest one wore a yellow suit and green shoes. He stepped forward, pushing his fedora back away from his face.
“I be Olive Reckord. You be Russell Cobb no?” he asked in a heavy Jamaican accent.
“Yeah, and this is my associate Jimmy D,” replied Russell half turning to acknowledge his friend.
James stepped forward from the shadows and stood next to Russell. The tall Jamaican tilted his head sideways letting his eyes drift to meet James’. A wide curious grin lingered on Olive’s face longer than needed. Russell’s eyes darted from the tall Jamaican to his friend and back again. The two other Jamaicans moved away from their vehicle to be closer to their leader.
“Where’s Samuel?” asked Russell. “I’m supposed to meet with him tonight.”
Olive puffed on a thick cigar then tossed it to the ground. “Don’t worry about Sam, he be okay. You meet with me now. We can talk a little.” Taking the tip of his shinny green shoe, Olive stepped on the end of the cigar to fully extinguish the dying ember.
“Let me see the sh*t.”
“Not so fast Russell. I be Olive Reckord.”
Russell moved forward to assert his authority. “I didn’t come here to chit-chat now let me see the sh*t or the deal is off.”
Olive bellowed a tremendous laugh, throwing his head back in sadistic mockery of Russell’s feeble attempt to assert himself as a strong man. He looked past pretentiousness, allowing his gaze to linger on Jimmy D.
“Jimmy D, we could have had good times my breda,” said Olive. “But not tonight.”
Olive motioned for the inside of his long coat. Realizing the danger that they had stepped into, Russell alerted James to take cover as he dove behind a nearby garbage bin. A thunderous boom from a pump-action shotgun reverberated through the narrow alleyway. The impact of the shell tore open a gaping hole in James’ chest and sent him tumbling backwards to the ground. Russell called out to his friend as bright crimson blood collected around his body. There was nothing he could do to save James. He fired off a few rounds from his pistol to cover himself as he sprinted back to the car. Sirens filled the air as the black Marbelle darted across Cassidy Street and back through the tunnel to Cerveza Heights.
An insistent chime gently roused Russell from his slumber. He blinked, taking a moment to shake the cobwebs free. Another chime enticed Russell to reach for his phone. Feeling the stiffness pull at his back, he longed for the sanctuary of his beach house. A text from Jermaine flashed on the screen. His car would be ready for pick-up in the morning. Russell fell back on the sofa and tapped in Timmy’s number. He needed a friendly voice.
“You got me.”
Russell recognized the heavy snarl of a voice immediately and was glad to hear it.
“Timmy, how you doing man?”
“I can’t complain. The sun is shinin’, the women are beautiful and the Vice City PD ain’t harassin’ me.”
“Wish I could say the same.”
“What’s goin’ on?”
“Well I’m gettin’ in some deep sh*t up here that I don’t think I’m gonna be able to get out of so easy.”
“D*mnit Russi, I told you to just go back to Liberty and face the music. I know you was scared back then, but you didn’t kill Jimmy D.”
“I should’ve listened, because I killed somebody now.”
“They gotta prove it, don’t they?”
Russell didn’t answer. He knew the threat that whizzed past his head early this morning. He had no idea if anyone had seen him plant a 9Mm bullet inside Samuel Barkley’s head as he lie helpless in the shadows of the Broker Bridge in Hove Beach. The fear and despair that he suffered through down in Vice City for many months, had crept back into his life.
“Hey Russi, you still there?”
“Yeah, I’m here,” replied Russell. “I’m just feeling”…
“I know man,” said Timmy consolingly. “Try to get back down here.”
“There ain’t no way I can do that. I’m just gonna ask for more trouble.”
“H*ll Russell, sit tight I might can get up there soon. Try to keep it together.”
“I guess that’s all I can do,” said Russell flatly.
“Alright man. Take care of yourself.”
The line clicked off and Russell placed the phone on the coffee table, starring at the wrinkled piece of paper with Dwayne Forge’s number scribbled across it.