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Three Worlds

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Okay. This was good.


I really enjoyed it.


Now, dialogue. I think you got a flair for it!


Intriguing little piece.


I liked Phil and Vic. I like how you give all of your characters distinct personalities and how they are flawed.


Keep it up!




EDIT: No cheese there, just some in my brain.

Edited by AEsob

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VC2: Target Practice

Monday, 10AM



Ken Rosenberg liked coffee a lot. In days like this, it was an excellent stress relief – not as great as cocaine of course, but due to his associates’ current dire need to find said product, he really had no excuse to go around smoking that stuff away. Sitting in his office, occasionally walking around in circles for exercise, he yet again felt like panicking because Tommy hadn’t showed himself for quite a while, and even downing three cups in a relatively short time-frame didn’t quench the panic attack like he was hoping.

Maybe a fourth one would do the trick? Ken scrambled over to the coffeemaker, desperately steering his mind towards friendlier and safer topics, like gardening. If he had taken that up instead of going to law school, maybe he wouldn’t have to live in constant fear of the mob? No criminals he knew of would reach out to bother a casual turnip farmer and more or less force him into a partnership with dangerous implications – unless they wanted to use his land for raising narcotics instead! He proceeded to lightly laugh while shaking his head, disappointed in his tendency for negative thinking yet again...

Wait, who the f*ck is that? Ken was lucky not to spill his precious beverage all over the place when he realized a human-like shape loomed over him just off to the side, in just about a perfect position to whack him in the head when he least expected it---
“Ken, don’t tell me you’re having another one of your paranoid phases.” Tommy said, looking just as disappointed as the lawyer did.
“Tommy! Oh god, Tommy, you know how it is – it’s not a phase, it’s been going on ever since that gunfire erupted in the deal...” The relieved Ken headed back to his seat all while blabbering in his usual style. “Seriously, what are we gonna do next? I mean, with all due respect, you’ve gotten sloppy, and those injuries might keep you out of the play for a while... we, we just don’t have time to waste! Please tell me you at least---“
Tommy shut him up by showing off his new Tinkle mobile phone. “It wasn’t cheap, but gets me around.”
“That’s great! Now get in contact with the Colonel so you won’t need to use my money for all these purchases, huh?” Ken tried to appear calm again with his light chuckles, but gave off a more insecure vibe yet again.
“Already did, we’re meeting on the yacht today. Nice and private, no partygoers all over.”
“And... what’d the doctor say?”
“That I could be doing a lot worse. Ribs will be sore for some time, so all I gotta do is avoid hard physical exercise. Oh, and he’ll send the bill your way in a few days.”
“Ain’t that just wonderful... but hey, if you’re gonna insist on avoiding public services, that’s all fine by me, as long as we start making some progress real soon.”
“You just find out all you can about Leo Teal when I’m gone. The poor bastard gave away so much information, only to let me live – we better take full advantage of that.”
“Indeed, uhm, this Teal fellow seems quite like a narcissistic type... all I’d like is some assurance that I won’t get killed poking around for your information!”
“I don’t think anyone will be lying in wait at the cop station to take out the first guy putting his hands on that cook’s file, so calm the hell down.”

Without another word, Tommy was out of the office again, leaving the door open to allow fresh air to flow inside – and before he was even a block away, Ken had already slammed it back shut, and poured himself another cup of paranoia relief.


Saturday, 16PM



“Turn left here, Vic. I wanna show you where Marty operates.”
“Do I necessarily need to see it?”
“He might have some work for good guys like you. What can I say, it helps to know the place in advance.”

As the Walton proceeded south down the road to the docks, Vic got a good glimpse at a trailer park comprising of at least a dozen mobile homes, randomly scattered and subparly maintained. For a criminal organization that was supposed to have a decent bit of control over southern Little Havana, they didn’t have much of a professional vibe to them at first glance.
“Interesting story about those fellas – you see the showroom up the road?” Phil asked. The answer was self-explanatory – the Sunshine Autos lot was impossible to miss, being the only building on the roadside beyond the trailer park, at least until the next intersection. Vic slowed up to take a good long look inside, where fast, luxurious and just plain sexy cars had been placed in the most visible locations possible, inviting passers-by to take a much closer and more personal look.
“That company used to exist on a small-time dealership up where Marty’s gang’s holed up just now – and the trailer park was on that grassland behind the current *burp* showroom.”
“So I guess you want me to ask, what caused the switch?” Vic said.
“Some football star bought the lot, decided he wanted to make it high-profile... and the spot of this new site was just perfect for him. Of course, he was gonna tolerate no white trash harassing his *burp* wealthy customers – so he got Marty evicted by force. Money talks, and all that.”
“Well, I wouldn’t want inbred extorters and – loan sharks, and what else – in my neighbor.” Vic stated, picking up the pace.
“Yeah, but Marty was there first, wasn’t he? Man, was he mad... swore a real vendetta against those entitled rich hags. Even *hic* threatened to disown Clyde ‘cause he moved his trailer immediately, with no resistance. Or was it Ernie? Ugh, they all look the same...”
“Hey, Phil. You’re ranting again.”
“Oh! That’s right! On to my good old home sweet home, I’ll give ya directions.” It was as if Phil had woken up from a dream, and after his next sip from the refilled flask, his speech began sounding a lot more coherent.

Monday, 10:30AM



When Tommy arrived at the familiar dock just on schedule, he could distinctly feel the environment was much more peaceful than ever before – no party music to be heard a distance away from the boat or the general feeling of being about to enter a highly crowded place, but only the ambience of the area, with few boats passing by every now and then and flocks of seagulls making their usual noise while sh*tting on unsuspecting pedestrians. Anyone else would’ve taken the moment to relax and appreciate the beauty of the world, but for Tommy, all this meant was he had a perfect time to rendezvous with a potential friend in privacy.

The seagulls did, however, manage to distract him just enough not to notice someone standing at the gate until he almost walked into the guy.
“Greetings! You must be, uhh, Vercetti was it? My name’s Riley – the Colonel told me to meet up with you and escort you over to the yacht.”
Oh great, just what I needed – more chefs. “Alright then, Riley, let’s get on the move.”
“Do you happen to have a taste for exotic game? I don’t want to come across as imposing, but boss was quite fond of the meal I made out of an anaconda.”
“Err, no thanks, I just ate.” Tommy said, going to great effort to suppress his stomach from growling right at that moment.
“That’s OK – anything else you’d like to entertain yourself with? Boss is busy with an important call at the moment, he’d like to extend his apologies as normally he never makes his guests wait, but this one came completely out of the blue...”
“You got any other guests right now?” Tommy asked, a certain descendant of Cortez in mind.
Riley looked dumbfounded. “Why would we? We arranged a private moment just for you.”
“Just checking, never mind that.”

Fortunately for Tommy, Cortez was done with his call well before he thought he’d be, and walked up to the top deck at the same time with Tommy and the bodyguard chef, looking particularly pleased with himself. The two of them shared usual formalities, Tommy refusing an exotic meal for the second time as he was directed to take a seat in one of the comfy lounge chairs Cortez kept around even outside of parties. A group of about five chefs, Riley included, congregated on the deck to keep an eye on things while still politely remaining outside hearing range.
“So, Mr. Vercetti, we’re back here with plenty of time on our hands to have a talk about – the incident.” Cortez said, somber tone noticeable in his voice.
“Of course. You didn’t mind me suggesting a meeting at this time, right?”
“I must admit, for a retired man I’m quite busy, and you should by all means consider yourself privileged to get any private time with me. Now, I don’t intend to disappoint you, but my men haven’t been able to get started with a thorough investigation yet.”
“Got any prime suspects? I’d like to hear some names.”
“A man at my standing doesn’t just go around pointing fingers at people – besides, if I was any more corruptible, old me would already have given you addresses of whoever I don’t like at this moment. That wouldn’t help your cause much, would it?” Cortez came off a bit scolding, and it maybe served Tommy right.
“Yeah, I understand...”
“Before we assign blame to the locals, I must instead ask you an important question: do you think there’s any possibility that enemies of yours from Liberty City followed you here and carried out the attack?”
“I dunno...” Tommy began fiddling a pen he found from the next table. “It was supposed to be a secret operation, at least that’s what my boss preached. And those rival families don’t have much time to send any good men that far from home just to screw it us, when they’ve got enough conflict at LC going on.”
“I’ll have to believe you about that then. I also hope you’ll believe me when I assure you that I haven’t spread the news of the deal to any unreliable parties.”
“But Colonel, it doesn’t matter. Even if you did, I won’t have any reason to blame you, you couldn’t have known---“
Cortez raised a hand, shutting him up. “Thomas, I’m glad our respect for each other as friends is mutual, but please, tone down the ass-kissing.”
“I’m not sucking up, it’s just---“
Tommy frowned. “When your life’s on the line, it’s kind of a natural reaction, ain’t it?”
“Of course, but it doesn’t lead us anywhere. I’m sure Mr. Forelli would appreciate a long but thought-out process over blindly charging after anything that might look like a clue.”
“Then I suppose you’ve never met him before.” Tommy retorted.
Cortez’s face widened into a smile. “That’s one way of looking at it. But now, amigo, your call earlier today about your own searches aroused my curiosity. Please, do describe your encounter with that Leo Teal character in as much detail as you can.”

Saturday, 17PM



“For f*ck’s sake, Phil, I know you’re drunk, but how can you still take an hour to find your old place?” Vic lamented when they finally drove up on what seemed to be the correct place, right at the southeastern corner of the harbor, where an alley led between two dilapitated buildings and around a corner into an open area that had crime scene markers all around it.
“Well, I can’t work sh*t when every damn building and *hic* block looks the same!”
“Whatever, man. This is it, right?”
“Damn sure! That’s where I used to keep my Perennial, man, that thing served me well. And that building on the left used to be my own shooting range. Place used to be packed with shooters tryin’ to beat my scores. Futile effort, I tell ya.”
“Sounds like something that made you a lot of money, why close it down?” Vic was out of the car by now to work his way past the ribbon, Phil following suite a lot slower.
“You know how it goes... cops found out about the place ‘cause some *burp* do-gooder of a snitch with no other purpose in life tipped them off – probably – and came askin’ for all these, uhh, permission forms and sh*t. You know what I mean?” He made writing gestures to drive his point home.
“And you had none?”
“I had some, it’s just they took their damn time and never showed an official green light. I swear, damn bureaucrats ain’t flexible in the slightest. All that matters is *hic* you write your name on – like – 461 different forms that all look the f*cking same and then hope the city council ain’t got their heads up their asses too deep when they make the decision ten months later... no, I ain’t kidding, I swear my sister delivered quicker than those.”
“I didn’t need that image in my head, man. Anyway, you mean it was pretty much an illegal range? Not that I’m gonna judge you or anything, but---”
“About as illegal as it gets. But whaddya know, I tend to care more for public demand than civil servants and their inhuman waiting times, you hear? Besides, Ammu-Nation ranges always used to have crazy-long queues. Maybe they still do...”

Vic kept nodding approvingly. He didn’t really need more of Phil’s stories, not right now at least, when his thoughts were drifting off towards Pete and his grueling fate – damn, he didn’t even get a proper chance to say goodbye, and even Lance hadn’t matured much despite the massacre. Around the corner was the sight that hit the nail on the head – three chalk outlines of human corpses, two of them belonging to the Forellis, the other to Pete, whose shape Vic was able to identify immediately.
“F*cking damn... that’s my brother’s final resting place right there.” he said, respectfully standing tall above the outlines.
“I *burp* couldn’t even imagine what losing a sibling must feel like. Ugh, you think this moment calls for a drink?”
“I think Pete deserves more respect than that, man. And I’m not drinking from your flask anyway.”

Several quiet moments passed, Vic recalling in his mind any positive memories he had of his brother, as if they would somehow cheer him up. One really f*cked up shade from the past was a conversation they once had about Pete and Lance’s dangerous lifestyle – Pete had half-jokingly asked Vic if he’d rather have him slowly waste away at home suffering from an incurable disease, or fall bravely in battle while being on top of his game. Back then, Vic actually picked the sudden death option in a heartbeat, but goddamn, this wasn’t “falling in battle”! It was a cowardly ambush, and Pete got shot without remorse before he could’ve even pulled out a gun, if he even carried one in the first place. Besides, never again having him around to occasionally hang out, chill, and recall the days when the brothers worried less about drugs and more about girls or cars... that was simply too much to swallow. Compared to this, Vic thought a disease – any disease, like asthma off the top of his head – would’ve been a blessing.

“So... you said we’d solve this, right? Find out what kinda scumbags were behind this?” Phil said after the two had been staring at the outlines for a good few minutes.
“It’d be the best favor I could ask for really.”
“Great, ‘cause something like this happening to my new best friend’s brother – on my old property – hurts to see like f*ck. You think there’s any bullets the cops forgot to pick up?”
Vic was left standing in place, a bit flabbergasted, all while Phil excitedly crouch-walked around the area, surveying it for evidence. “New best friend...?”
“Where do you think the shooters were?” Phil wondered after only a short search.
“Assuming the bodies ain’t been moved – it’s gotta be right there.” Vic said, pointing to a spot that stood out the most in the immediate surroundings: an open warehouse with several boxes stacked around in an irregular pattern, forming just the perfect cover for sneaky assassins.
“Huh, what goes around, comes around, I guess. That’s just where I used to store all my guns – didn’t know someone else still uses it after I cleared up.”
“We better scope it out then.”

Vic went forth first (being careful not to step over the outlines), his army pistol already loaded and Phil right behind him to give the appropriate shotgun treatment to anyone trying to jump them. Making swift movements to enter the warehouse, he met a relatively anti-climatic sight: apart from scattered trash, the area was about as empty as it could get. He also secured the nearest dark corner by first pointing his gun’s flashlight at it – though since the weak light was more or less swallowed by the blackness, he had to go take a closer look, but found nothing lurking in the shadows, just more of the same filth as before.
“Have schoolkids taken this place over or what? I mean, look at all the candy wrappers and *hic* soft drink cans. Makes me wanna settle back here, bring this place to its former glory...” Phil said in mild disgust, raising the cans off the floor and neatly arranging them over the tallest box stack.
“Mind concentrating on the matter at hand?”
“Anything can be evidence, Vic. Like what about that dirty footprint? Looks adult size to me.”
“Footprint? Hang on a sec...” Vic dropped everything he was doing (which wasn’t a lot) and crouched down to inspect the print while Phil now cleaned up the wrappers from around it.
“I ain’t no expert, but don’t that thing look like, uhh, something a cop or soldier would wear?” he muttered in passing.
“I think you’re right... it might just belong to some investigator.” Vic said in disappointment.
“Unless – hear me out – it was the DEA carrying off the attack!” The excitement returned to Phil’s voice once again.
“The DEA? Wouldn’t this kinda stuff be a bit below them? I mean, I don’t need you tellin’ me government agencies are bent, but that’s going a bit far.”
“Don’t you know they even exchange drugs for guns with the big players in town? Then they pretend they just seized a huge stash and get pay raises. People who do that would do anything long as there ain’t no risk of getting caught, I tell ya.”
Vic rolled his eyes. “Is that one of your conspiracy theories, or a tale of Jerry’s perhaps?”
“Jerry told me – and he knows his sh*t, ‘cause he’s got the connections. Damn, man, I didn’t think you’d be this reluctant to believe me.”

Vic just grunted in frustration, knowing better not to engage in an unnecessary argument when solving a triple murder was on the line. Phil probably realized the same, and sat down on the nearest box, looking a bit somber and trying to fire up a conversation again.
“You, uhh, ever eaten those EgoChaser bars?”
“Sure, the army even recommends them.” Vic said apathetically, soon finding out that apart from the single wet footprint, there was nothing convincing to be found. The least he could do was whip out his portable camera and snap a picture.
“What about that eCola stuff then?”
“No thanks, I’d rather keep my teeth in one piece.”
Phil cackled. “Son, lemme tell ya, I might consume boomshine like no one else and have teeth that look like a dig site, but they still do their job.”
“Boomshine? Don’t you mean moonshine?” It was no surprise that Phil had a few screws loose, but that was just a new low for him.
“No, no – definitely boomshine. It’s this *burp* revolutionary invention I made some years back. Real Nobel prize sh*t right there, so strong it turns any little bitch even from the Angels into a real man. Even the fumes get you so sh*t-faced you forget which way’s up. Hell, it helps me forget a load of things. Except my squad back in ‘Nam... their memory always lives on.”
“I wish Martinez was as loyal to his men as you.” Vic sighed, not wishing to go on about the “boomshine” any longer than he had to.
“Yeah, I still don’t get why he’d pick on you like he does – but we’ll find out eventually. By now, let’s just try and, y’know, lay low and avoid trouble.”
“Lay low? You must be talking to the wrong guy – I ain’t got no crazies gunning for my hide. Besides, I still got a gang of killers to find.”
“Good point! Man, I gotta get this damn straight... but uhh, anyway, before we leave, wanna resusciate my old days a bit and try some target practice?” Phil said, now pointing at that row of eCola cans he had laid in a pattern on a box.
“My aim’s just fine – and I’d rather not attract undue attention.”
“Come on now, there can never be such a thing as too much practice in a dangerous place like Vice City. And we’ll be long gone before anyone comes snooping, that’s for sure.”
Vic knew he had to stop giving in to people’s requests at some point, but this probably wouldn’t make his life much worse even if he said yes. “OK, but just for a bit. And only because you’ve got a point about this city.”
“Damn, they even got P’s & Q’s down there, makes me crave for something sweet for a change... ahem, I mean, go ahead. If you can, say, knock ‘em all down with one clip, I’ll owe you a drink.” Phil promised, earning a glare from Vic. “Just a beer, I mean – in case, y’know, boomshine ain’t your type of beverage...”

Monday, 10:45PM



“...and that’s when he told me to look up answers from you – or Gonzalez.”
Cortez harrumphed. “For someone ‘not involved in any way’, Teal seems to know about too many leads for his own good. I’d like to know how he has flown under the radar for this long.”
“Did Gonzalez know about the deal?” Tommy said.
“He has from the beginning – but let me paraphrase this by assuring you that I wouldn’t have let him in on this if I didn’t trust him completely.”
“I’m not pointing accusatory fingers, I’m rather thinking I could ask him some genuinely friendly questions.” Tommy did everything he could to not sound threatening to the non-present right hand man.
“Gonzalez? I’m afraid all he’s going to do is point those fingers all over the place, and potentially hinder your search. He can get rash if he needs to.” Cortez warned.
“I wouldn’t want to pass up on the chance though. Besides, if the worst happens and I never find the stolen money, I could always make that up by establishing a business relationship.”
“I admire your attitude and won’t stand on your way, but please, make no rushed decisions while you’re at it. I will take some time to put the pieces together, but when I do get results, they’ll be more reliable than anything you find from the streets.”
“Yeah, I understand. I got one more question about Gonzalez though.”
“I’m all ears.” Cortez said, taking a bite out of the snake on his plate.
“Well – Teal said something about him actually having a lot more contacts in the city’s underworld than you. Does that hold any water? He didn’t seem that excited to socialize just two days ago...”
“I definitely would like a chat with that man, possessing disproportionate amounts of unauthorized information.” Cortez prefaced, Tommy being glad he spent enough time in the prison library to not flinch at the sight of a bundle of big words. “But yes, it is more or less true. I do hold what people consider the best parties in town, but I mainly cater to the top tier only – you’d understand the reasoning if you saw what the crooks below them in the pecking order are like – in the meantime, Gonzalez prefers to reach out wherever he can. I don’t think there are any halfway profitable drug circles in town that he doesn’t associate with in some way...”
“Yeah, seems like a good way to get my foot between the door. Though I hear I might need your permission to actually get to him.” Tommy said with hopeful confidence.
“That permission will be granted as long as you promise something for me.” Cortez assured in the tone that made it clear that ‘something’ wouldn’t just be a little kiddie favor.

Tommy shrugged, having no way around that really. “Go on.”
“As excited as you seem about rushing to Gonzalez’s aid, there are also matters I personally need resolved. For instance, there is a courier working for me, about to arrive in town within a few days. He’s carrying some important technology I need delivered to my boat as subtly as possible.”
“Why would you trust me with a confidential job like this?” Tommy asked.
“The people in pursuit of him are smarter than they look or sound – I’ve had my share of scuffles with them before, and they’ve since done their homework, to the point where they know all of my men. You, however, are a brand new associate who only just set foot in this town – I doubt they’d ever know to expect you. I trust you’re able to complete the transaction smoothly and gain the chips without attracting undue attention.”
“I’m guessing it’s not a particularly tasty snack you’re after. Still, ain’t it a bit out of place that you’re pushing this much responsibility on me? All I’m here for is my merchandise, really.”
“I understand your concern, but I think you’ll find soon enough that here in Vice City, it’s difficult to gain a powerful man’s trust without some sort of a friendly favor.” Cortez explained as authoritatively as he could.
Tommy slowly nodded. “...I guess. But there’s one more thing I’d need settled first. That failed attack on Teal made me realize I’m a bit rusty after all that time inside, and might need a gun at the ready for future encounters. Any way you could get me one?”
“There’s an Ammu-Nation not too far from here – have a chat with Sammy behind the counter and I’m sure he can arrange you something. You’ve got some money to burn, right?”
“That’s nice and all, Colonel, except I’m a felon. I doubt even a conservative gun store would grant me sh*t without a permit.” Tommy stated in annoyance.
“That’s a good point. Maybe we’ll arrange a pick-up in some remote spot then.”
“Boss? It looks like your guest has arrived.” a chef intervened, it being the first time Tommy heard them speak since the conversation began.

In a bit of confusion, Tommy gazed over to the marina at the same time with Cortez to see a dark limousine scramble around trying to get itself parked. There wasn’t a whole lot of space in the area, and the ordeal was clearly taking some time.
“That was quick from him.” Cortez admitted.
“Wait, who? What’s going on?” Tommy demanded, feeling as though his meeting was about to be breached, something he’d had no reason to expect.
“My sincere apologies, Thomas, I should’ve noted the man I was on the phone with was on the way here for a business meeting. Err, did you by any chance meet Jason Gardner in the party?”
Tommy shrugged, having absolutely no clue who Cortez was referring to, and not recollecting the name being mentioned before. “Very interesting character, he is. He possesses so many great ideas, I have a feeling him and that Brighton will do great things to this city in the near future –even if the media has recently tried to taint him with all those unreasonable accusations about his past. I should introduce the two of you at some point.” the Colonel continued.
“When you say ‘at some point’ I don’t think you mean this very moment?”
“I’m afraid not, we’re in need of privacy just as any two honest businessmen would be. But indeed, my men will drop off a gun for you and I’ll let you know where to find it – it’s good you thought ahead about keeping yourself protected. Those agents don’t mess around with people they catch in the act.”
“Agents? Wait, what the---“
“Riley, can you escort Thomas again back to his bike? There’s probably no security risk, but I don’t take chances in this town...”
There wasn’t much of a choice for Tommy to make, and before he knew it, he’d already exchanged his goodbyes with Cortez and found himself walking the pier towards his bike, bypassing two sunglass-wearing men who determinantly marched in the opposing direction, and inadvertedly bumping shoulders with the taller one, presumably a bodyguard, who had bluntly refused to give him way. The man emitted a sharp hiss at him, something that Tommy assumed to be a threat, but didn’t think much more of it after he’d been dumped just outside the gates that promptly closed behind him.

Revving up his Freeway, he cursed his luck for all it was worth, before leaving the area.


Saturday, just where we left off...



“Damn, you’re a good shot, Vic. Uhh – not that I expected anything less, but y’know, the army taught you well.” was all Phil had to say after Vic had downed the three cans in five shots, having spent a good bit of time to calculate each of them.
“Not really the army, just all that drug empire sh*t I used to run with my brothers. But thanks anyway.”
“How about we kick it up a notch? Can you shoot one of these right outta my hand?” Phil asked, being completely serious too as he already grabbed a can and was about to get into a pose.
Vic rapidly shook his head and waved his hands around for added effect. “Whoa, I ain’t interested in taking foolish risks with your life. Please, let’s not throw it away like this just yet.”
“Damn, I seriously thought that was a good idea---“
“WHAT THE F*CK YOU DO HERE, YOU SCUM?” An unexpected yell surprised both of them just when Vic was about to unload his gun and call it a day – he instead ended up pointing it just outside the warehouse, where a short but obviously tempered Asian man was busy heaping abuse at them. After the initial shock, he lowered the pistol some, realizing the intruder was not just unarmed, but didn’t look like he was going to attack anyway.
“The hell? You know this guy, Phil?”
“I know enough that we better catch him right now. Quick!”

Phil was definitely right to say that, because in lack of a firearm, the man had pulled out a remote control device that caused the warehouse door to begin closing on them. Thanks to him announcing his presence, plus the slow speed of the door, both gunslingers were able to run out in time without being locked in however, and by rough calculation Phil could've fallen over twice in his fading drunkenness and still made it.

Vic dropped all pretence of having mercy or otherwise acting nice, loading a new clip into the gun in plain sight of the man, who took off running after his idea had failed. He was headed towards the safety of civilization in rapid manner, which Vic was having none of, as he unleashed several shots mainly aimed at his central mass, Phil sticking behind and deciding his friend was doing a good enough job on his own – besides, he hadn’t brought along a sufficiently ranged weapon anyway. Just before the Asian turned the corner, he finally collapsed – it was Vic’s last bullet that at last did the trick and struck him somewhere in the leg, impeding his process in one swift moment and leaving him screaming in agony. Before long, Vic had grabbed him by the shirt, and with the help of Phil, pulled the man back to the safety and tranquility of the abandoned area.

“Let go of me, you ni**er!” the man shouted at full volume while being restrained by a wall of Phil’s old shooting range building – he aimed a kick with his still healthy foot at the general direction of Vic’s nether regions, only to be blocked.
Vic let out an unintentional chuckle. “You really should watch your language, pal. I’m a pissed off soldier who used to be in the drug trade business.”
“Screw you! I tell you nothing!”
“I think he’s definitely from the Vice City Triads.” Phil said, doing his part by taking away the remote controller, just in case.
“I tell nothing! Go kill yourself!”
“Triads, huh? You know, me and the brothers used to be trade buddies with them.” Vic said in an interested tone, looking straight at Phil and ignoring the man’s temper tantrum. “Shame their standards have clearly slipped in more recent times.”
“If they slipped, they did that a long time ago. It’s these wide-eyed f*cks that kept trying to evict me for years, as if the docks were completely their property.”
“In that case, I apologize for associating with that scum.” Vic said formally, receiving enjoyment from the Triad losing his mind even further with each casual line of the conversation.
“You f*ck dogs in hell!”

“Alright, maybe it’s time we stopped messing around.” Vic grabbed hold of the Triad once again, nearly getting himself bitten by the gang member who fought about as hard as it was possible to do with severe pain from a gunshot. To pacify the diminutive threat, Phil shoved the barrel of his shotgun right up to the man’s head, squeezing it against the wall as well for good measure.
“Since your bosses have claimed this turf all for themselves, you oughta have a pretty good idea of what goes on in this area, right?” Vic started.
“Screw you! Screw you!” the Triad’s almost inaudible yells tried to interrupt the hearing.
“Such as what happened here to warrant a crime scene?” Phil went on.
“I tell nothing! My bosses kill me if I tell!”
“You do realize that you’re only drawing suspicion to your own boys by saying that?” Vic politely notified.
“Yeah, I’d *hic* watch your words if I was you, ‘cause if the situation calls for f*cking you guys’ sh*t up, I’mma do just that.” Phil said with notable pride.
“Stupid white drinker! I know you! You lose depot to us, then you come back and--- AUGH!”
“What the f*ck went on here? Start answering or I’ll bust your kneecaps.” Vic demanded, having smacked the Triad’s head on the rock-solid wall to shut him up.

“Ow! Crazy damn nigg--- alright, goddammit!” Vic’s raised fist kept him from quite finishing the slur. “I didn’t see sh*t, but my friend Zhou... no, he f*cking kill me if I---“
“We’ll worry about Zhou later. Now be a good boy.” the soldier said patronizingly.
The hostage sighed. “He saw from lookout, four people dealing. This is our turf, so he was gonna call backup. But then three men attacked. Killed almost all and took their stuff.”
“We already know that part. What did the men look like? Any distinguishing features?” Vic questioned.
“And where’d they go after that ordeal?” Phil followed up.
“Three looked like mobsters, one was---“
“The assailants, idiot!” The likely purposefully wrong answer earned the Triad a painful slap.
“How should we know? Zhou said a car escaped, they shot at car and gave up. Then they picked up stash and ran off through some alley.”
“We’re in here right now, so can you elaborate which alley it was?”
“I told you, I saw nothing, I was not there! Maybe that one!” the Triad shouted, pointing at the gap between the warehouse and another building next to it, which barely qualified as an alley and pointed to the open ocean, but could’ve been a plausible escape route, with buildings and containers providing cover from the eyes of the public.
“But you die if you go there.” he continued moments later.
Vic rolled his eyes.“Oh, what a surprise.”
“That’s counterfeit syndicate turf. They rip you to shreds! We have nice partnership. They hate scum who try harm us. Like you!”
“You know, you really instigated this whole thing. All we did was have some old-fashioned fun down here.” Phil said angrily, not seeming too worried about the warning.
“Nobody shoot in our turf! Nobody except us!” Another tantrum nearly caused him to pry himself out of Vic’s grip.

Another slap later, he was a bit more cooperative again, if not still hateful as ever – if a gaze could kill, he would’ve mutilated Vic and Phil several times over by this stage.
“Right, well it looks like we don’t have much more to gain from you. Let’s go have a chat with Zhou – you’ll know where to find him, don’t ya?” Vic said, some fake encouragement in his tone as he began to move his victim.
“F*ck you!” the Triad screamed, putting up the heaviest resistance so far. “I never sell Zhou out! NEVER!”
“Watch out, Vic, he’s got something in his pocket!” Phil yelled frantically, backing out rapidly as he spoke.
“DIE!” The blood-curdling scream combined with a live grenade that he pulled out was enough to drive Vic into the biggest adrenaline rush he’d had for some time – he too put all his focus on getting away from the suicidal maniac of a thug right now, which wasn’t easy because the Triad had clung on to him with all the strength he had, and it took a particularly mean straight punch to the face to get rid of him. Having covered a good few seconds worth of distance at his highest running speed, Vic dove to the floor and hoped for the best.

The explosion occurred just a fraction of a second before he could cover his ears, and losing his hearing to the noise was a gross understatement – that constant and ubiquitous ringing noise felt as though it was going to make his head explode, turn him insane if it didn’t come to an end soon–

“Hey, soldier. Wake up, I know you’re still there.” Phil’s voice sounded strange at first, strange and much farther away than it logically should’ve been–
“Vic. You didn’t get hit by any shrapnel, did you?” Now the world around Vic started to clear up as he opened his eyes for the first time since what had felt like a terrorist attack directed right at him and him only – gosh, that had been a melodramatic moment for him, one where he thought everything he’d done was in vain and he wouldn’t even have said proper goodbyes to Lance...
“Man, f*ck me. I’ve heard stories of what shellshock feels like, but to think it’s this bad...” he slurred out, being assisted to his feet by Phil.
“That was some Viet Cong sh*t right there. Taking one’s enemy with them if there’s no victory to be had – what a f*cking pussy, lemme tell ya.”
“So – is he – dead?” Vic asked, still leaning to the nearest wall and catching his breath. It felt as though there were so many things he almost had to re-learn on the spot before he could get back to functioning normally.
“See for yourself, make your judgement.” Phil said, spreading his arms to “offer” Vic the sight of a mess of blood and guts all over the place, exactly like what one would expect a human body to look like after such an explosion. The Triad’s teeth seemingly survived mostly intact, but he wasn’t going to be doing any talking without a functioning brain – speaking of which, some of the pink gooey matter had been caught up under Phil’s shoes, as Vic noticed when the gun runner raised one of his legs to stretch it out a little.

“Well, I guess that does it for today?” the mostly sobered up Phil asked when Vic had been examining the Triad’s remains for some time, speechlessly.
“Don’t think we’ll be able to reach that Zhou figure without a lead. And sure – I feel like laying down in the barracks for a whole day, man. If you could drop me off, that’d be great.”
“You’re gonna trust me to drive? I mean – of course. Man, it’s been a big day.”
“One more thing...” Vic said, finger up in the air as they were exiting the area. “What exactly was that ‘counterfeit syndicate’ sh*t all about?”
“Let’s not go there so you can get some sleep at night...” Phil said somberly.
Vic’s response was rightfully annoyed. “You’re only making me fear the unknown by doing that, Phil.”
“OK, how about I say they’re an odd bunch who pretty much share these docks with the Triads and make a living printing fake cash?”
“Do you think they got reason to come at us now?”
“We just killed the only patrolling Triad in the site – not like they got evidence we were here. And I don’t think they like to partake in gang wars the same way as the others.”
“Well, good – I really ain’t in the mood of fighting any more men now.” Vic mumbled, needing a bit of help getting past the ribbon.
“Heh, if you weren’t so exhausted with all these events, I’d tell you a fact about them that’ll blow your mind away like, uhh, a feather in the wind...”
“Real nice.” was all Vic had to say before almost stumbling to the seat of the Walton, where he proceeded to sit as comfortably as he could, not uttering another word for the entire rest of the day. He was looking for new experiences in Vice City, quite definitely, but this day’s supply was a lot more than he thought he could handle another time. Damn Martinez.

If only he’d known he’d have several days like this one in store for him too, with or without Martinez’s involvement.


The End.

Edited by Carbonox

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Okay, Carbonox--this entire story is a behemoth of text, and since I've been away for a while, I figured I'd give you some feed on the entire thing. Starting with your first chapter. I know this is finished now but I think you've had almost no feedback apart from a few comments on the story itself so let's go a little depth with things. I'm going to do this by bullet points because it's extremely long and it's too easy to get lost in the text somewhere--for me at least.


That was what he had had in mind ever since his mother was murdered in a cowardly drive-by shooting, in front of her own house.
  • You have a knack for exposition. This means you're giving away information instead of telling it, and it's something that everybody does, including myself. What does this line do? Wouldn't it hit your audience more to find out further down the line, through some sort of speech instead? This means that you are spending less time focusing on exposition and more on dialogue which ultimately pushes the story forward.


The shooters were allegedly aiming at her oldest son instead, though – and it made sense, considering he was the leader of the third largest gang in the city, and still a well-known figure in the criminal underworld despite the gang’s recent shortcomings. This did not change anything though – the shooters had left a permanent dent on his family.

What a frightening coincidence it was, that he had only just returned home after a five-year absence, when the shooting happened. He was immediately thrust in the middle of a vicious turf war, in which the various sets started developing hostilities, many of his old friends had perished over the years, and the surviving ones did not seem to take kindly to how he had left his gang behind for those five years. In the past few weeks, he had done what he could to clear up his image in the eyes of his comrades. And it had worked, although the gang still found it difficult to regain their lost territory or even settle their civil war.


This feels like pure exposition here. You aren't showing the audience anything. You're telling me a big dump of text which, while relevant to the story, just cuts any action within the scene dead. You could have cut down this entire paragraph into a single line very easily:


What a frightening coincidence; he'd come from one war, stepped into another, and barely made it out with any sort of respect from either.


You are explaining what has happened, but you don't dump it all at once, and it keeps the flow going. Now we know he was in a war, we know things didn't go to plan, and you can fit in more of this information further down the line.

But now he was taking a day off – something he had got used to back in Liberty City, but which seemed like an unknown concept in these hoods. There was always something to do, whether it was big or small, and there was the added risk of the enemy gangs attempting to launch an assault at any time.

He was sitting in his bedroom, on the second floor of a two-story house, staring at the photos in the walls, and reminiscing the old days, when the gang wars were no less violent, but he actually could enjoy himself better, with the large family and tons of friends around. Admittedly, not much was left of those days, and that thought could have made even a grown man shed a tear – including him.

His name was Carl Johnson, but his brother and other friends simply referred to him as CJ.

He was not a particularly large or intimidating man by any means – rather, he had lost a lot of weight during his time in Liberty City, and was now quite thin and unmuscular. His build didn’t tell the whole story though, as he was also a rather experienced gunman and could handle himself in sticky situations.




Before I go any further with feedback, I need to explain something. I have had this issue myself and I continue to wrestle with it. It's a mistake all of us make and continue to make. There is a clear difference between SHOWING and TELLING. It is the difference between and engaging story and a wad of text like an instruction manual. Showing us a story means you write the story without telling us what is happening, you let the audience experience it. Still confused? Lemme throw an example at you.

Let's say we've got CJ, right? Carl Johnson. Let's use a simple example. Imagine Carl is standing in the middle of Grove Street on a sunny day and there's a balla in front of him.

Now, here's two examples, one SHOWING, and one TELLING.



CJ punched the balla in the face.


Now, that's a solid sentence. Noun, verb. CJ punched. But it's bland--doesn't it look boring? There's no pazaaz. We just read a bare-bones explanation of what happened. Here's showing it now:




CJ balled his fist and smashed it across the balla's left cheek with a muffled, audible crack!


I didn't even use the word punch, but that sentence gave you an image didn't it? You saw the whack, you heard the crack. I just SHOWED you an event happening.


That is the core rule I'm trying to get across here, because a lot of your writing is pure telling, and pure exposition, which is completely fine when given in small doses, but your work is riddled with it. Take a look over your first chapter only and ask yourself "Am I showing or am I telling with this paragraph?" And then get back to me for some more feedback.

Edited by Ziggy455

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Mokrie Dela

Solid feedback ziggy

When you come back, your come back big, don't you?

As soon as I finish the book in reading (which I'm not enjoying) in going to read this. Great to see another good writers giving advice again; I know I'm underperforming on that front lately.

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Solid feedback ziggy

When you come back, your come back big, don't you?

As soon as I finish the book in reading (which I'm not enjoying) in going to read this. Great to see another good writers giving advice again; I know I'm underperforming on that front lately.


Solid feedback ziggy

When you come back, your come back big, don't you?

As soon as I finish the book in reading (which I'm not enjoying) in going to read this. Great to see another good writers giving advice again; I know I'm underperforming on that front lately.


I don't blame you! This thing is like an entire novel! I'll dig more into it when I've read the entire thing.

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Mokrie Dela


Solid feedback ziggy

When you come back, your come back big, don't you?

As soon as I finish the book in reading (which I'm not enjoying) in going to read this. Great to see another good writers giving advice again; I know I'm underperforming on that front lately.

Solid feedback ziggy

When you come back, your come back big, don't you?

As soon as I finish the book in reading (which I'm not enjoying) in going to read this. Great to see another good writers giving advice again; I know I'm underperforming on that front lately.

I don't blame you! This thing is like an entire novel! I'll dig more into it when I've read the entire thing.

Yeah but I was active when he posted chapter 1!

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Man, this was great.


I wish I was in a condition to offer any analysis, but i am not.

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OK, this was not originally the plan, but since the chapter would otherwise just get intimidatingly long, I've decided to utilize cutting things up into multiple parts more often. Like right here.


Oh, and also nice to see so many recent posts from a multitude of people that are not me. :D


SA16: Cracking Down - Part 1



It was like any morning in eastern Los Santos – the sun was shining, mockingbirds were singing and the Grove Street Families and Kilo Tray Ballas were shooting the sh*t out of each other. Normally that was considered part of everyday life and didn’t warrant much more than a short piece on the eleventh page of local newspapers, but there was something different about this – it wasn’t the usual amateurish face-off, but a clearly organized strike, orchestrated by Sweet Johnson, who’d sent a number of good men across the Los Santos River to claim a section of turf from Willowfield, right where the Families’ favorite Cluckin’ Bell joint stood. Sure, the attack was going to hurt the day’s revenue to the place, but after the tired, drugged and most importantly small defence force was eradicated, peace could resume in the area under some new command.

But like always, victory came at a prize, confirming that the world was indeed utterly stacked against them even in moments of success such as this one. The new rulers of the neighborhood could hardly begin securing the zone before a massive LSPD fleet rolled in, surrounding the immediate area of recent conflict and rounding up all green-wearing black folks in the area that hadn’t scrambled to a hiding spot quickly enough. Once they were gone, the Families were able to get back and send new reinforcements to watch over the new turf, but now without a good chunk of the original takeover crew – bad news for the sake of keeping hold of that place for longer than a few days.
“...and I swear that was no f*cking coincidence. The Balla bustas knew they was bein’ outgunned, so they rang up Tenpenny and got him to nail all those homies.” Sweet assured to Carl.

The brothers were once again on a man-date at Ten Green Bottles in order to discuss some more recent events regarding the gang. Despite some of Carl’s worst fears, Sweet hadn’t berated him for losing the race at all, let alone mentioned the whole event, rather placing focus on the good old Ballas now that they were back to commonplace conditions.
“At least I got good news too. Remember the last time we was in this joint?”
“Sure – we discussed topics of current interest, then got assaulted by the most ridiculous Balla pairing I ever seen.”
“Hey, we kicked their ass and defended the best hangout spot in the ‘hood.” Sweet corrected, sharing a rare smirk with the bartender while doing so. “And speakin’ of those topics, I uncovered new stuff since then that’s gonna help with our war effort.”
“I’m all ears.”
“Remember all that talk we had about the hooded pussy going around killin’ homies in the dead of the night? I think I finally got a fix on his location.”
“Hooded guy? He’s still out there? I mean, not to downplay the threat or anything, but he ain’t made his presence too known these last few weeks.”
“You think what you want, but someone snuck around at Tyrell’s backyard few nights back, and once he went to investigate, he didn’t come back.” Sweet’s tone was turning more ominous by each word. “Then, Bert said some guppies found his body in a ditch a few blocks down, all filled with cuts and a ‘GK’ sprayed on the wall above him. Y’know, stylized to appear as a threat.”
“And what made ‘em think it’s some creepy guy in a hood doing this sh*t, instead of just another Balla who got lucky? Like, did anyone see something out the ordinary?”
“First of all, it was white spray. None of our enemies wear that, and they’d be outta their mind not to represent, it’s part of the code. Second, Lil’ J was crashin’ on Tyrell’s couch and saw that weirdo definitely had a hood on, and looked neutral enough.”
“Well, why didn’t he---“
“He was piss-ass drunk.”
“Nevermind. OK, but ain’t white, like, a secondary color for the Ball-pushers? And hell, crack’s white too, so it could be---“
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I figured it was something like that too.” Sweet said somberly. “But anyway, to the good news. And the lead I been tryin’ to fill you in about. Remember what happened back when Chad and his niggas busted in?”
“We kicked they ass, that’s what you just said.” Carl answered with a smirk.
“No, no – remember that weird grandma who left just as the fightin’ started? Like, just days ago I realized I ain’t ever seen that f*ckin’ lady before. Something ain’t right, ‘cause why would someone like her hang out at our bar, and why do Ballas have so much respect for her they leave her alone?”
“Really?” Carl was almost laughing. “Where’s your all-round education and sh*t? You don't start sh*t with a black lady and live to tell your homies about it.”
“Oh yeah? How do we know she was black? Or even a lady at all? Had her face and body covered pretty well, huh? Almost for no reason?”
“Don’t those Middle Eastern chicks do that?”
“You gonna deny everything I have to say or what? Look, bro, way I see it, better scope things out pre-emptively than wait for that coward-ass nigga to cap someone else when I least expect. I’m gonna tail that old lady today and find answers – that’s it.”
“Guess that means you definitely ain’t coming along for what you got in store for me.”
“Hey, you got stripes to earn, bro.”
“I thought I already earned my stripes these last couple weeks?”
“You been workin’ for that Schrader more than us at that time. That sh*t don’t count.”

Carl understandably shuddered thinking about Schrader and the debt he’d accumulated, but fortunately Sweet didn’t notice.
“Anyway, don’t see why you’d complain anyway. All of us wanna see a crack warehouse taken down, right? ‘Specially when B Dup’s involved with it?” the elder brother remarked.
“Oh, yeah, sure, I ain’t complainin’. But uhh, I’m just a bit short on back-up. Apart from Ryder and Smoke, there ain’t much to choose from these days.”
“Just Ryder, I’m afraid. Smoke got food poisoning yesterday, that motherf*cker. I warned him that steak was expired, but y’know how he rolls... always so f*cking stubborn.”
“Wow, really? Sounds real convenient though, bein’ sick just when it’s time to land a hit on his favorite business...”
“The vomit at his kitchen says it’s the real deal. Anyway, if you ain’t complainin’, then at least quit worryin’, I got some people to back you up in there. I’d be crazy to send you and Ryder against a horde of the yay-pushers, it’d be suicide and it’d make no sense.”
“So who’s it gonna be? I doubt you can get Loc to join up ever since he---“
“Remember Horse? You ain’t seen him too often, I think, but he was with this plan in a heartbeat back when I told him.”
“Horse? You mean – that uhh, real tall guy, friend of yours when you grew up? Terrance – Singleton?” Carl asked with a touch of uncertainty, but was met with nods from Sweet as he went along.
“Yup. He’s been tryin’ to sort the slackers of the ‘hood out for a while now, but that ain’t going nowhere, so we made new arrangements. And then there’s Eddie, who said he and Rodney came to your aid at some dealer’s apartment to flush him out, and now he offering help again. You cool?”
“Sure, why not – how’s Rodney? Outta the hospital yet?”
“Just about. Oh, and when Billy heard of your discovery by some freak chance, he said he wants to join up as well.”
Carl almost jumped off his stool. “Hell no, Sweet! We had a deal – he’s yours problem ‘cause you’re the only one who wanted him. And that brat ain’t even potty-trained yet.”
“Bro, I didn’t say I was gonna let him in. Boy’s in over his head, and though I’d love to see him learn some things the hard way...” Sweet’s words only caused Carl to tense up further. “...this is too important to fail, so he’s stayin’ home.”
“Oh. Yeah, OK. Thank the motherf*ckin’ Almighty.”

“Hey, another thing – before you get on your way.” Sweet said when Carl was done with his drink, and was just about to leave. “Kane actually got in touch for the first time in forever. Nigga was real pissed about not just Willowfield, but some pusher called Steve bein’ murdered, and his partner and some established Balla client arrested as prime suspects.”
“Well, he deserves some shortcomings every once in a while. But why’d a Front Yard OG care for the Trays losin’ turf so much? Or are they more organized than I remember?”
“Didn’t I tell you some time after you came back about how they operate now?”
“Beats me. All you said was our sets was beefin’ like no other.”
“Ah, well...” Sweet downed the rest of his Logger, looking bitter. “The Ballas decided some time ago they was having none of that sh*t, that they’d get tighter and overwhelm us that way. So they started a coalition where each set would nominate an OG to rep ‘emselves in negotiations – and the gang as a whole would rotate in a new leader every year, keep things equal between ‘em all that way. Guess who won the inaugural vote.”
“If it ain’t the meanest son of a bitch in Front Yard history.” Carl said, definitely now understanding the reason behind Sweet’s grumpy mood.
“So uhh...” Carl continued some quiet moments later. “You see us doin’ something like that in the future, if we ever reunite the Families?”
“Well, I ain’t seen no convincing proof that it’s gonna work the same for us. Like, at the very least, some Seville OG’s should step down so we can negotiate in the first place. You remember that tattoo-face who always goes to the 8-Track races? What’s his name, Cayden?”
“I thought it was Jayden.” Carl corrected.
“Well, never-f*cking-mind. That guy ain’t welcome to any votes that affect our set’s future, that’s for sure. And then – there was Raymond.” Carl tried raising a finger in protest. “I know that nigga put a cap on two dealer-pimps, won us a turf and beat cousin Al’s record at the arcade, but that all was a lifetime ago. Now he just slacks off, smokes dope, acts paranoid, you know the drill. End of story.”
“Surprised you’d bring him up again.”
“Hey, I was making a point there, and the record bein’ shattered serves the deserter right.”
Carl cackled a bit, even if Sweet’s comment was in a way more depressing than outright unintentionally funny. “A’ight then... best that I get moving. Will be easier to focus on gang business after a job well done, right?”
“Happy fightin’, bro. Don’t accept second place this time.”

30 minutes later:

“Y’all ready for this?” Carl asked with a slightly cracking voice, checking his gun yet again as the van containing a more unusual party closed in on the drug stash behind the Unity Station.
“You asked that about thrice before.” Eddie complained from the driver’s seat.
“Yeah, sorry about that. I ain’t led an important attack for a good while, really.”
Ryder spread his arms. “Ain’t that a relief! I still don’t get why Sweet couldn’t trust me with this. I mean, I got five whole years of experience over you, mo’f*cker.”
Carl was going to start yelling at him for talking the same sh*t over and over again, but the man sitting opposite him beat him to it. “I remember a bunch of your antics these past years, y’know, Ryder. Don’t think you want me to revise...”
“F*ck off with your sh*t, Horse. First of all, I used to take crack as an example, ‘cause how would those young idiots ever learn otherwise?”
The elder gang member shook his head in disappointment. “You treat drugs like they’re a game. You think you’re immortal ‘cause you done all sorts of sh*t so long, but you don’t fool me. I seen the signs for years now – you grown into one lazy motherf*cka who goes against our core values and rides on his OG status!”
“Core values? What f*ckin’ so-called intellectual sh*t we got here?”
“Hell, we even lost eastern Idlewood to your incompetency! We was lucky to get your high ass outta there alive when the Ballas took over!” Horse went on.
“Homies, cut that out already! We got work to do!” Carl yelled out of necessity as the exchange went on and Ryder’s “arguments” were turning into the same kind of petty sh*t he said a lot in their one-on-one conversations.
“That’s right. See? That’s how a leader acts, breaks up useless fights and keeps us focused on the mission. Got a plan for the assault, CJ?” Horse asked, completely disregarding Ryder’s gestures that suggested he still wanted a final word in.
“Not really, other than the usual ‘go in guns blazing’ sh*t. I mean, the location ain’t ideal for a sneak attack, and they ain’t gonna let us in unless we’re B Dup.”
“Great! Leadin’ busta ain’t got a plan! This is going so great!” announced Ryder.
“I ain’t gonna descend to that childish level, boss, but I got my doubts about this too.” Eddie said, eyes fixated on Carl through the mirror.
“You woke up on the wrong foot or what? Now c’mon, look, guys. We’ve done this countless times before and lived to tell the tale. Scouts say they only got few guards in there, means we might even outnumber ‘em. It ain’t as bad as it could be.”
“So what’s it gonna be? Do I gotta plow through the door?” Eddie asked excitedly.
Carl smiled in a sadistic way. “That’s what we brought the battering ram for. We’ll get that thing fitted on this little alleyway just near the target...”

Sweet, meanwhile, wasn’t exactly as busy as Carl, for he had been informed by a regular that the grandma had some sort of a strict routine, and would typically arrive at the bar around dusk on weekdays. He was going to stick around all day if it meant not missing the opportunity, so he made himself comfortable and did whatever he could to pass time. Drinking excessively would only hamper his coordination, thus he brought out his pocket change and headed to the arcade machines to wipe Jayden’s record off the top of the sheet – little did he know the rumors about the difficulty level of Space Monkey were extraordinarily accurate.

Eddie, on the other hand, had the time of his life smashing right through the garage door like it was made of wet paper. Charging out of the back with an AK-47 in hand – a rarity for the Families even at these improved times – Carl put his insecurity aside even though this was the most uncertain and frightening part, rushing head-on into combat without knowing where exactly the enemies were positioned. He took no chances, sweeping his side of the room targeting any human-looking shapes in particular, while Ryder cleared the other side, Horse tossing a smoke grenade into the middle of the mess just to be sure.
“Found anyone? Can I come out yet?” Eddie yelled, having ducked as far down on his seat as a two-meter tall guy physically could.
“Well, I definitely got one – don’t look like no Balla though...” said Carl, noting one fallen body right where he’d just almost blindly fired, and heading closer while keeping his eyes open for anyone hiding behind the numerous boxes in the room – not to mention possible reinforcements from the wide-open doorway right in front of him.
“What’s that then, a Vago?” Horse asked, joining Carl to inspect the body. Eddie interpreted the lack of any further shooting as a sign of the coast being clear, and hopped out of the transport.
“Just an addict.” a disgusted Carl said after one good look.
“Something ain’t right, why’s this guy here?”
Carl shrugged, standing back up. “Broke in for his daily dose? F*ck if I know.”
“Then why ain’t he been found and shot by them?” Horse insisted.
“Could it be we showed at a perfect time? When they got no one guarding this joint?” Eddie suggested with hopefulness in his tone.
Horse shook his head immediately. “That’d be a move too stupid for the Ballas to make, ever since they organized themselves, that’s fo’ sure. CJ, cover me, let’s secure the rest of the place.”
“That’s the plan. Ryder – you stay here and watch our back. And Eddie – well, you watch Ryder.”
“The f*ck, busta?”

Trying to show a good example to Eddie at least, Carl didn’t dignify Ryder’s whining with a response, and went on his way without speaking another word. Ahead of him, Horse came face to face with a Balla sentry that had taken his time showing up, and fortunately had no gun in hand yet before taking a bullet to the face. Taking him out meant the hallway leading to another, similar-looking room was more or less secure, though just to be sure, Carl and Horse kicked open the two toilet doors about midway through. No unlucky soul was relieving themselves inside, but judging by the smell, someone had most definitely been in not long ago for a number two.

“Grove Street OG’s in the house!” Horse announced before a daring charge into the other room, throwing more smoke while Carl let his AK sing the song of death to whoever was unlucky enough to be hit. That included two people this time, who also seemingly accounted for the only remaining signs of life left in the building: only one of them being a Balla guard while the other was yet another junkie caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Carl wasn’t going to let his morals get in the way – he was doing a favor for society, after all, by taking one drug buyer off the market the hard way – but just why was he not dead long before this, being in plain sight inside a room with multiple guards?

“Definitely dead.” Horse muttered, having checked the body of the Balla after the smoke dissipated.
“That’s good an’ all, but let’s finish the job real quick. I got a bad feeling about this place...”
“I hear you, man. I’ll set charges in here, you go check on Ryder and I’ll follow ya with some more explosives.”
“You don’t want me to cover ya? They could burst in through that side door any moment.” Carl warned with some worry in his voice.
Horse took just one almost bored look at the door, before he began pushing a particularly heavy crate in front of it. He neither asked for help nor needed it, being done with the ordeal within mere seconds. “Not now they won’t.”
“That’s one way to get sh*t done, I guess... Make it a big-ass blast, homie.”
“Damn straight. Ever since I lost my lil’ brother to crack, I been waitin’ to give the dealers a taste of they own sh*t. Say, Sweet’s real lucky to still have you – you fought a good fight ever since you came back, or so the stories say.”
“I been through a lot fo’ sure, dunno how I’m still breathin’ though...” Carl admitted, words drifting off a bit before he remembered he had obligations elsewhere, and made a beeline for Ryder’s location.

Things got a little bit complicated, however, when he arrived to the sight of Ryder and Eddie disarmed and surrounded by a horde of Ballas – Carl counted at least fifteen – holding the best weapons money could buy on the black market, M249’s and SPAS-15’s included. Even with a few of them looking like the equipment was too much for them to handle, he wasn’t going to try and take advantage, particularly now that he’d been noticed and had a number of guns turned in his direction. To make matters worse, he almost immediately recognized the presumed leader of the group, still wearing that tribal shirt – along with the dimwitted best friend of his sticking by his side once again.
“Carl, my good old sparring buddy! Nice to see you again – I was already pondering where you might’ve wandered. I didn’t wish to start the party without you.” Chad said, right eye fixated right at the Families OG, with the left one now covered by an eyepatch.
“Put that peashooter away, pal, or we gon’ go shooty shooty bang bang on the bustas you brought on the gig!” Bruce added, hardly being able to resist jumping in place due to presumed excitement.


To Be Continued...

Edited by Carbonox

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Mokrie Dela

Man, this was great.


I wish I was in a condition to offer any analysis, but i am not.

You should give it a go. I'm so far behind with this and a couple of others, I'm not going to do any teardowns until I catch up.


The amount of work carbonix and athende have done in their stories deserves more attention than its getting. I've got a long way to get there :(

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Man, this was great.


I wish I was in a condition to offer any analysis, but i am not.

You should give it a go. I'm so far behind with this and a couple of others, I'm not going to do any teardowns until I catch up.


The amount of work carbonix and athende have done in their stories deserves more attention than its getting. I've got a long way to get there :(


Well, I guess I can't really force people to read this stuff, but if it helps your mind, I do know I have multiple regular readers, they're just not public about it. ;)

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Mokrie Dela

That's great. Don't worry; I'm not reading under duress. It's just trying to find the time to go in depth with feedback; I can read the chapter in fifteen mins maybe, and can easily say 'it's good but could be better' but A) that doesn't help you grow, and B) your hard work here deserves more.

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Why'd it take almost a month again? I have no real excuse, but anyway, on to the second part!


SA17: Cracking Down – Part 2



Sweet futilely spent multiple hours with the arcade, followed by a couple of more pleasant pool games before the target finally showed up, right on the hour like clockwork. “She” communicated with the barmaid quietly enough to leave her gender unconfirmed for now – looking for a chance to gain some insight, Sweet ordered one last beer and sat down on the nearest empty table. Somehow he made the drink last for all thirty minutes that the lady took downing her own while watching some British soap opera from the TV – something that would never fly for a self-respecting gangster, but maybe that was just part of the covert operation.

Sweet left the bar shortly after the grandma did, finding her cycling away at low speed to the direction of the train tracks. Getting into his Greenwood, he couldn’t recall another shadowing mission this slow-paced from anytime in the past – if the target was going home now, it had better not be too far away, as the idea of hunting down a killer he knew nothing about in the darkness of the night wasn’t an attractive concept, not even for a leader that was supposed to fear nothing. Whether he liked it or not, risks had to be acknowledged, and in foreign turf in particular, he could turn from predator to prey almost at any time.
He sighed, occasionally checking his surroundings as soon as he got over the tracks and out of the safe zone. “Good thing this f*ckin’ car at least got repainted.”

“Just what the hell is goin’ on here?” Carl had lowered his gun at the sight of the overwhelming crowd of enemies, but forgot to feel fear for the time being as there were so many questions surrounding the unexpected situation.
“There’s a horde of Ballas in a Balla warehouse, and you’re surprised, busta?” Ryder barked.
Chad smiled widely. “Your friend puts it quite well, Carl. We are just doing our job.”
“You know that pseudo-intellectual douchebag?” Ryder asked in continued outrage.
“Whoa! I didn’t realize some of the Families have learned long words too. Welcome to the club, whatever your name is.” Chad said and gave Ryder a sarcastic bow.
“Shocked to see us, huh, Big Shot?” Bruce demanded, waving his light machine gun kind of dangerously in front of the ambushed Families. Carl had to condition himself into remembering that the relatively nice racer he met that had the same name had no association with this prick, whom Sweet should’ve just finished off back at the bar.
“Actually I’m surprised Chad’s still standin’ – and conveniently pretends like he didn’t have that little mental breakdown last time we met.”
Bruce pointed his gun at Carl’s head, acting like he’d uttered the worst offense ever. “Shut yo’ trap, you lil’ c*ntflap!”
“Alright, calm down again. And Carl, my boy, if you knew what those white people at the hospital were capable of, you wouldn’t share your brother’s resentment of the outside world. You’ve really made me miss having my depth perception around, though – and that’s the main reason for my desire to exact retribution right here.”
“Eye for an eye, nigga! Which one should I take?” Bruce laughed maniacally, pointing the M249 back and forth across Carl’s face.
“Let’s just take both!” some other, unknown figure shouted.
“Silence!” Chad fired his own gun in the air, now visibly annoyed with his men. “What is with all of you and your senseless lust for blood? We have the brother of Grove Street’s leader by the balls over here, and none of you show any interest in getting answers out of him?”

Everyone fell dead silent, either feeling bad for letting their emotions get the better of them, or just resenting Chad for bossing them around excessively. “Right then. Carl, I have never seen the two of my men accompanying me and Bruce to Ten Green Bottles since our little brawl. What have you done to them, and where are they?”
“Never seen ‘em? Guess you ain’t got good enough peripheral vision.”
Ryder laughed; Eddie spread his arms while Chad and the other Ballas were taken aback a bit, though Ryder was quickly shut down by the nearest goon pushing a heavy shotgun’s barrel up against him.
“What’s peri-phe-ral vision?” Eddie asked, looking around the room in confusion.
“Shut the hell up!” Another shot in the air by Chad gave him a turn to speak. “I think you’re missing the point here just a little bit, Carl Johnson.” He spoke with the kind of aggression that caused spit to fly into Carl’s face. “I’m not asking nicely – I’m telling you to answer my questions properly, and you know there’s lots of bullets with your name on them in those guns for you to take if you refuse.”
“...No, really, it’s you missin’ the point. Why the f*ck should I bother answerin’ if these monkeys is gonna kill us all anyway when we done? And by the way, I got a shower back home too.”
“That’s racist!” a Balla cried out in anger.
“Well then, why won’t we see how you deal with different pressure? Ever since I found out I was going to live, one of my biggest dreams has been introducing you to the same type of pain as me. Question is, should I dig your eye out with a fork? Spoon? Or a broken bottle, like the one you used?” Chad told, indifferent to Carl having called his bluff.
“Do your worst.” Carl said bluntly, keeping his fear mostly hidden from the enemy. C’mon, Horse, you oughta heard this sh*t go down... do somethin’, anything to end this before it starts.

Chad smirked victoriously at the statement. “Winston, go get me some tools. The rest of you – be ready to open fire on our informant’s friends if he tries fighting back.”
“You a real agent movie villain, huh?” Carl asked with contempt, the Ballas flawlessly complying with their given orders.
“Except you’re no agent with a trick up your sleeve. You could always just give in and obediently answer me if eye-gouging starts to sound unpleasant.”
“Don’t think so.”
“Hey, uhh, if we all basically knockin’ on death’s door, how about we make some last minute confessions to each other?” Eddie made an out-of-the-blue suggestion.
Ryder sneered. “Man, I ain’t gonna confess sh*t!”
“Well, I am! I enjoyed the sh*t outta Gangstas in Mars, and even wrote a short fanfiction on it! I, uhh, know I shoulda used the time for spyin’, but my idea was just too good, and---“
“Hey, ho, wait a sec! What’s so damn weird about likin’ that piece?” Bruce interrupted.
Eddie shrugged in confusion. “Whaddya mean? All those critics an’ sh*t tore it down, said it was a real dog turd of a cash cow film.”
“Critics don’t matter sh*t!” another Balla shouted.
“Buncha white people trynna bring us all down!”
“That thing’s the motherf*ckin’ sh*t! Nigga, I love to watch that when high.”
“Yeah, me too!” Eddie said in excitement, forgetting about the gangs’ rivalry just this once. “Well – except for the ‘high’ part and all that.” he added immediately, making eye contact with Carl and nodding like crazy, even though his boss wasn’t exactly concerned about his drug use at this particular moment.
“Heh. Grove pussies don’t wanna do no drugs.” The Ballas’ tone switched back to a mocking one.
“They so weak they’d manage to die from one dose of reefer!”
“Yes, looks like you’re having great fun tormenting our victims. Just what’s taking Winston so long?” Chad asked impatiently.

The fire alarm started blaring. The immediate reaction of most Ballas was to cover their ears, one of them dropping his gun so awkwardly as he did it that it went off, a lone bullet flying between Bruce’s legs – the reaction of the young Balla was to point his gun at the culprit in panic, Chad along with only a few of his men keeping the Families at bay.
“Did they have a fourth member?” he questioned, with a touch of anger at his voice.
“I dunno...” Lots of unclear mumbling followed from the crowd, mostly inaudible from underneath the alarm.
“Uhh, boss, looks like it ain’t no prank.” a Balla, somewhat high based on his voice, said after taking a look through the corridor and noticing something that put Chad on high alert as well – large, gigantic even, flames burning down the other half of the warehouse and destroying part of the gang’s income as they spoke.
At the same time, Winston barged in from another side door that Carl had forgotten to clear. “Sorry I took so long, here’s the---“
“Not now! And what are the rest of you waiting for? Go do something about that fire before it spreads, and save whatever you can!” Chad shouted, eventually leaving just five Ballas in total to guard their hostages.
“If it’s who I think it is, he’s about to be in enormous trouble...” he mumbled in frustration, though Carl, Ryder and Eddie kept straight faces on and pretended they knew nothing about how the burning was initiated.

Get more water in here already, you lazy-asses!
Don’t boss me around like that, prick!
“Get that sh*t DONE!” Chad yelled his lungs out in disbelief, though the Families only found light amusement in the Ballas’ unorganized ramblings.
“No chucklin’ back there, green boys!” Bruce said smugly.
“Oh, indeed. If this place does go down the sh*tter, the same is about to happen to you three in due time. I have a special friend who’s been waiting for a face-to-face encounter with you almost as much as I have, and I won’t hesitate to bring you to him.” Chad asserted smugly.
Winston, who had been worriedly looking across the hallway at the flames for some time, began to take steps that way. “Ya think I should go help the homies just in case---“

The air exploded. Winston made a clumsy jump to dodge to the side as soon as he saw one of his comrades fly down the hall as if shot out of a cannon, though gravity brought him to ground level soon enough before reaching the other end of the warehouse – the panic didn’t end there however as the other Ballas began scrambling around in utter confusion, Chad being the only one to maintain his composure to some extent. Ryder wasted no time in knocking a shocked Balla down to run behind the van for cover – Eddie and Carl followed, the latter snagging the same gangster’s shotgun while barely dodging Chad’s machine gun fire.

“You think a lone shotgun is enough to protect you, huh?” Chad shouted with anger.
“You think the fire and explosion should prompt you to f*ck off an’ forget about your plans?” Carl responded, firing a blind shot after getting in position.
“I call your bluff, Carl. Who’s to say the explosion wasn’t a well-controlled one that only aimed to kill as many of my men as possible, and force the rest of us to flee for our lives?”
“I might wanna chime in and say you’s really overworking that sharp brain of yours.”

Horse’s appearance in the broken doorway that the van had bashed through earlier was quite a shock for Chad, even with his prior suspicions. The tall GSF member suddenly had a whole party of Ballas at gunpoint, most of them only now gathering themselves.
“Ain’t it nice how help always arrives just as we need it most?” Carl asked his friends.
“Horse? That wasn’t a face I expected to see. If this is your doing, well, you’re moving up on our list extremely fast right now.” Chad threatened with clenched teeth.
“Son, a spot on your ‘list’ ain’t nothin’ but an honor for a nigga like myself. You and your crew been f*cking the streets up long enough.”
“Interesting observation. Do you think your gang’s any better?” Chad said with a mysterious smirk before his face shifted back to anger. “Get off your high horse – and yes, I know that’s your nickname, and it was no intentional joke – and take a look around yourself. Situations like the one in 1985 when your good friends Sweet and Smoke put a pizza joint cashier into a coma for resisting their armed robbery really take away your credibility as moral authorities.”
Ryder scratched his head. “Damn, did this guy do his homework or what?”
“I’d love to out-argue your pseudo-intellectual ass to the ground, but I ain’t here for that. All I say is, at least we got some principles...” Horse said, tone gradually switching to the sad side.
“Pseudo-intellectual? Why does everyone call me that?”
“Well, you gotta admit even yourself, you a bit of an oddball among us.” Horse’s observation wound up getting him weird looks from Ballas and Families alike. “As in, gangstas in general.”
Chad harrumphed. “Either way, in case those of you behind the van are getting any funny ideas, the arrival of the – cavalry – changes nothing. I don’t intend to let any of you leave here alive and free at once.”
“You better.” Horse raised one of his hands up so everyone could clearly see the detonator he was holding. “Unless you wanna be the next to blow up.”
Chad’s laugh was malicious, but it was clear his voice was beginning to crack. “You wouldn’t dare – who’s to say you would survive the explosion any better?”
“Maybe we’s out of range right now – but you ain’t.”
“What’s to stop you from usin’ that thing anyway if you ran off with the little homies?” Winston asked, finally getting on his feet.
“Who that lil’ bitch callin’ a little homie?” Ryder was about to get up, just about being restrained by Carl and Eddie on either side.
“Whatever choice you make, boy, you better make fast – unless you enjoy heat.” Horse told Chad, who had begun to notice fire spreading down the corridor at rapid speed.

Sweet’s process was finally getting somewhere. He had to follow the cycling old lady for at least an hour before her journey came to an end at a complex of small detached houses in the middle of Jefferson. It wasn’t the most dangerous place around, but not the kind where one would want to get caught wearing green in the late hours either. For about the first time, Sweet happened to get held up by traffic in the region just enough to lose sight of the lady as she pulled up to one of the many identical-looking driveways. Taking a good peek at each one, he caught no movement in any of the yards, much to his chagrin – but having got this far, he wasn’t planning on calling it a day without even the slightest result.

At the end of the street, he turned around and drove by those all-too-identical houses once more, now on their side of the road, looking for signs of someone’s recent arrival – or even clues that would point to an elderly resident, just in case it was an all-out undercover operation going on. Flowers were a rare sight on the front porches, not being a popular choice for the young males that tended to inhabit this area, and some houses could be checked off the list by the very fact there was no backyard or garage to ride the bike into. Still, with plenty of decent candidates still remaining after he’d completed his second pass, it felt like a game of Russian roulette. One wrong guess and he was getting a random Balla’s gun to his face, with the law likely against him as well for trespassing or attempted burglary – if he lived long enough to see action taken.

Turning around again to do one more pass-through, swearing that would be the last time before someone got suspicious, Sweet was startled by one of the middle houses’ lights turning on just as he passed by. Seeing no figures in the window that gave him a clear view to the living room, he decided it was safe enough to park the car by the sidewalk and go take a hopeful look. The house looked like a good choice as the lawn was well managed, the flowers he’d been scoping out were placed all around the yard and there was a garage right at the end of the sidewalk, where a bike could’ve comfortably slipped.

Sweet took a moment to double-remind himself that despite the target looking and living like a harmless grandmother, he was dealing with someone that had probably at least four kills to his name (it was getting harder and harder to keep track) and could’ve noticed the Greenwood following him around. Knowing it was always possible for him not to come back from this journey, he did the sensible thing by leaving Carl a voicemail. Disappearing on a vague search with no trace was never a good idea.
“CJ, I might have a lead on the killer. 37 Springfield Ave, go check that sh*t out if you don’t see me at home...”

Sweet crossed the road, heartrate going up like crazy and sweat rolling down his forehead as he approached the door. He’d contemplated on sneaking around the back, but it wasn’t yet dark enough to make it through the yard unnoticed, and looking like a robber would likely be a very bad idea. Just one vigilant neighbor spotting him would be enough for all hell to break loose – no, he needed to act like he belonged here, knock on that front door like a good citizen, but simultaneously be ready for anything the killer might throw at him.

The waiting time after the knock was the worst part, especially after he began to hear the footsteps approaching from the other side. Sweet wasn’t completely sure of what to expect upon coming face to face with the resident, but in his mind he’d already drawn up the image of a slightly above average-built black male, maybe with a tattoo or two – and serious brain damage for daring to take the fight to the Families in such a cowardly manner.

What waited for him behind the door was an almost unexpected relief, except from a strict mission completionist standpoint.
“Oh, my! Never thought I’d see you here, Sean.”
“Uh – have we, like, met before?” Sweet asked awkwardly, scratching his head. This certainly was a black lady, the wrinkles on her face and the eyes’ shape were too natural to be the product of any mask, and the clearly frail bearing just added to the authenticity.
The woman had a laugh. “Oh, you young folks always goin’ places so much, you tend to forget the simplest things... of course I know you. Beverly’s boy, that’s what you is. I used to drop by every now and then, have a lovely lil’ chat... you was already all grown and busy with those ‘homies’ of yours.”
“No, wait a sec. You’re Monique, right?”
Another light chuckle followed. “Splendid – I knew you had it in ya. Please, come on in so we can catch up.”
“Uhh, wait.” Sweet applied minor resistance to the old lady pulling him inside. “I’d love to stay and chat too, but uhh, I was lookin’ for someone else and got the wrong house---“
“Nonsense. Fate clearly brought you here, and you – if anyone – is in desperate need of somethin’ to eat.” That having been said, Monique pulled him a lot harder past the threshold, and Sweet was treated to a sight of a house that was clearly too well-kept to have any chance in hell of being a serial killer’s hangout.

While Sweet was getting in touch with his polite side for a change, Carl’s situation was sticky in a highly different way, waiting behind the GSF’s van for a resolution to Chad and Horse’s stand-off. The smell of smoke was becoming more prominent in the air by the second, everyone but Horse showing distress at the fact – even Chad had to value his survival more than his pride, right.
“Alright then, Terrance – you win this round. Take your crew and make yourselves scarce.” he said, barely keeping a straight face as his remaining henchmen began to gather themselves, all with their heads down to lament the loss.
“You guys get in, I’ll hold ‘em at bay.” Horse said, sweeping his aim around the room as everyone other than Chad willingly lowered their weapons.
Eddie put his hands up in celebration. “Finally! I been itchin’ for steak for a long time now.”
Chad scowled. “Horse meat, I hope.”

Not more than three seconds later, he was forced to dive for his life as yet another explosion took the whole bunch of gangbangers by surprise, this one coming from above and bringing down a solid bit of the ceiling with it, which fell right on top of the spot where Chad had been standing a mere moment ago.
“Bad move, Sparkle-Pony!” Winston yelled, not wasting any time to pick up his gun and lay waste at the Families’ direction. Horse just about made it behind the van on time – but the plan for a peaceful exit went out of the window.
“Where’d you come up with that?” another Balla soldier asked in surprise, having re-armed himself as well.
“Doesn’t matter now. Spread out, flank the bastards!” Chad barked.
“Umm, boss – fire’s spreadin’ too as you speak. Kinda too fast for my liking.” a frightened Bruce commented, instead of following the order immediately.
“I WANT OUTTA HERE!” Winston quickly went to full panic mode when more debris fell from the ceiling, and rushed in the van’s direction like some headless chicken, ignoring Chad’s not-so-polite “requests” to do as he said.

“The hell’d you do, Horse? We had ‘em by the ballsacks, why you detonated another bomb anyway?” Carl asked in disgust, something Ryder and Eddie agreed with as well.
“Wasn’t my fault, CJ! I had no idea the fire would spread upstairs so fast!”
“Wait, there was a second floor?”
“Found a hidden ladder leadin’ up to some labs above. I set my other charge in there when I saw you was in a situation.”
“Well, heat rises. There’s your science lesson for the day – now someone figure out how to get us outta here in one piece!”
“Dunno about you two, but I’m startin’ to like Eddie’s idea of final confessions...” Ryder said in a tone that reeked of defeat – but before they could hear what he had to say, the van started up right next to them, and before either Carl or Horse had the chance to stop the thieving Winston, he had found reverse gear and backed it right out of the building through the same hole Eddie blasted through previously.

Well, almost. As luck would have it, Winston was a bit inaccurate in his movement, and took out additional parts of the wall next to the already big enough hole, which was good enough to bring down a weakened support beam and cause the entrance to cave in on anyone thinking about escaping via the same route. Not only that, but the loss of their temporary cover made the quartet feel quite defenseless.
“I’m startin’ to like that concept too now, Ryder...” Carl remarked before all four were forced to dive for cover as Chad, Bruce and their surviving soldiers began shooting once again, though by now the smoke was starting to fill up the room and obscure their vision.
“Motherf*cker just stole a bunch of our supplies!” Ryder shouted.
Chad took a few shots at the location of his voice, though they were absorbed by a box of drugs. “He acted cowardly and against orders, but the Ballas thank you for the donation nonetheless.”
“How about you give us a blood donation in return? Real big one, that is!” Carl shouted, in turn taking a shot in Chad’s direction. It was a bit rash, with him essentially blind-firing a shotgun, but it got the purple-wearing figure to back off.
“Uhh, Chad? I feel like my skin’s ‘bout to melt here!” Bruce complained while exchanging shots with Horse.
“Alright! If you whiners feel like a little puff of smoke is too much of a deterrent to capture a mostly defenseless enemy squad, then by all means, retreat to the underground passage! Just don’t expect many kind words from Kane...”
“Underground passage! That could be a way outta this mess, right?” Eddie asked hopefully from Ryder, now swaying his arms around to keep the thickening smoke out of his face.
“Sh’yeah, it’d do just fine if we didn’t need to share with the Ballas.”
“I’ll deal with ‘em. Watch this nigga’s finesse in clearin’ up a path.”

Carl wasn’t expecting big results, and promptly had to admit his surprise when he saw Eddie sneaking around like a ninja, keeping himself low for maximum visibility, and actually taking an escaping Balla by surprise just before he was about to leap into the now open hatch that looked quite like a sewer manhole. He managed to choke the Balla all the way to unconsciousness without much noise, save for the point where his gun fell to the ground with a thud. Dismissing that little detail, he scoped around for his next victim – only to come face-to-face with another young fellow in purple.
“Peekaboo!” Bruce said, suppressing a giggle as he now had an unarmed Eddie at gunpoint.
“Oh, f*ck... at least tell me you read my fanfiction?”
“No can do, Grave Street scum.”

The gunshot seemed extraordinarily loud, likely because Carl was well aware that it was not the survivable kind, Eddie’s ragdoll-like collapsing corpse serving as confirmation. As soon as he had processed what just went on, both he and Horse charged into Bruce’s direction, while he gave one last wave to his rivals and jumped down into the hatch, managing to close it behind him just before Carl would’ve been in position to kick the cover out of his reach.
“You’re just delaying your fate, scum!” Horse yelled down into the passage before jerking the cover out of its place again – and being forced to back off as a burst of bullets came flying straight up.
“I got more where that came from if you try followin’ me!” Bruce taunted.
“Please tell me you got pineapples, ‘cause I’d love to drop one as a parting gift.” Carl said with a massively furious tone, only for Horse to sadly shake his head.
“I heard that! And I’m done toyin’ with you bitch-asses. So long, Johnson, see ya in Ferguson!”

“At least they ain’t got any defects in the agitation department.” Carl muttered with a sigh as Bruce’s running steps on some sort of a wet surface began to distance themselves from him.
Horse took up the most authoritative voice he had – quite a convincing one, Carl had to admit. “OK, enough with this f*cking around sh*t! Just look where it got Eddie. The Ballas ain’t gonna let us use that corridor without a fight, and we ain’t prepared for sh*t like that. Besides our work’s mostly done now, so I’m gonna make us an exit in the old-fashioned way before we get in trouble with 5-0. Lend me the shotty, CJ.”
“But – what about Eddie? This ain’t no final restin’ place for a fine nigga like him.” Ryder complained from near a mainly intact drug crate.
“Then carry him outside instead of admirin’ that junk!” Horse shouted, and with the automatic shotgun now in hand, began blasting a hole into the weakened wall.

His decisive approach seemed to work, as even Ryder got off his usually lazy ass to do as told. It didn’t help Carl’s self-confidence much as he thought of himself as a plain incompetent leader, based on the experiences throughout the mission. Was this gang business his true calling after all, or was he just trying to fill boots much too large for him – was his destiny to stay down in the lower ranks and get ordered around? Questions bombarded him repeatedly, but he only found himself finding an answer to one – whether or not this was the right time to assess his standing, midway through the escape from a collapsing building where the smoke felt like it was burning his lungs out by the second. And the answer was a definite no.

“Things is confusing here, so let’s all rendezvous at that dark alley overlookin’ part of the sewer canal.” Horse ordered, having made the biggest hole he possibly could on the north wall, fortunately leading onto a mainly empty sidewalk now that the explosions had definitely scattered bystanders away from the scene. The hole was almost too small for a grown man to fit through, thus the process of escaping was slow – first out was Ryder, who then pulled the late Eddie through as well with Horse assisting from the other side. The elder gang member gathered all the leftover equipment – mainly guns – that he could find before crouch-walking, just to be safe, through and into fresh air, a much-needed relief after breathing a lot of the smoke.

Carl was about to leave the place last, having also collected a few guns to compensate for the loss of the van. With the mission almost over, as Horse had put it, he had no reason to expect any further complications – which was exactly why it caught him off guard so much when he suddenly felt an elbow wrap around his neck, only moments before he was about to climb out. Any immediate attempts to shout at the homies for assistance were suppressed by the grabber shoving a fist into his mouth, while dragging him backwards.
“Oh no, you don’t, CJ... we’re not done yet.” Chad’s voice muttered into his ear, something he could almost see coming since he was attacked.

“So how’d you get to know Moms anyway?” Sweet asked, mouth almost full of meatloaf that was allegedly a nicer alternative to what Carl was having.
“We used to work for the same cleaning company. A minor age difference never bothered us one bit, and it wasn’t like we kept up much with our old friends, so I guess we turned to each other kinda naturally...” Monique explained while preparing even more food for her guest, the tone of the voice indicating she’d been feeling lonely for a fairly long time.
“Was you two friends all the way until – uhh – the event this year? I don’t think I remember seein’ you around for ten or so years.”
The elderly lady became noticably more aggressive in her work. “We lost contact long before that – and no, it had nothin’ to do with our personal relations. It was all thanks to groups of young men who felt the need to declare certain ‘hoods their turf. And as that went on, the two of us got caught on different sides of the border.”
Sweet got a brief stinging feeling in his heart, probably a deserved one. “I – uh – I’m sorry? You ain’t angry with me, right?”
“No, Sean, this ain’t anger. I know you too well you’s a good kid who just didn’t have a choice. You and Carl and all your siblings and friends... except maybe Lance, but I digress. Look, I ain’t angry, I’m just confused – what’s the point of all this? What is it that makes you and the others vandalize public walls with graffiti, or have pointless shootouts that only get young, talented boys dead or arrested? Why? Why won’t y’all just quit dividin’ one another by gang color and team up to make this sh*thole part of town better for everyone?”
“Drugs.” Sweet had been debating on how to present that answer for a moment, and it didn’t come across quite as he hoped. “I mean, not like we fightin’ over dealing space or anythin’ – we, the Families kinda want ‘em off our streets.”
Monique shook her head determinedly while he spoke. “You might have the moral ground over there, Sean, but you’re fightin’ a losing battle, no way around it.”
“Whaddya mean? I’ve cleaned out dealers left and right---“
“Sure you may have, but the damage has been done! It’s like what this one friend from Michigan used to say: ain’t no use cryin’ once the milk’s already been spilled. I hate crack as much as you and your friends do, Sean, but it ain’t goin’ away – not if you slaughter the entire dealer population, not if your Families take control of every block from the docks to Las Colinas – only way you can defeat crack is with some stronger and meaner product.”
“You seem to know your way around our business better than I thought.” Sweet said in surprise, as another plate was served in front of him as soon as he was done with the last.
“I’m not stupid, boy. I follow my media closely.”
“The Ballas don’t bother you or anythin’, right?”
“Why should they? All I ever hear from ‘em is compliments on my cookin’.”
“Mm. Yeah, I can get behind that.” Sweet said, focusing more on his food again – and taking a good, long, hard look at how his personal war had gone from a more neutral standpoint, even if he usually didn’t take kindly to being challenged. He thought back to all the dealers taken out by either him or the others – going all the way back to his very first victim – and how their deaths had given him a moment of satisfaction and probably disturbed the drug flow in a very limited area for a day or two... but if anything, the Balla turfs were only continuing to fill up with product in spite of that. Mason Alley used to be one of the few major crack den concentrations in the whole town, but now it felt like every neighborhood had a number of such places – even Families turf wasn’t entirely safe despite his men’s recently improved efficiency in weeding out dealers. But then there was the other side to the coin...

“I can’t just give it up.” he said in low spirits. “I mean, even if I quit fightin’ the dealers, the Ballas will never call a truce, this sh*t’s too far gone.”
“All that sounds just like what your cousin always told me he was afraid of. Didn’t you ever consider Aldrin’s advice on how to do your thing?”
That was exactly why Sweet hated being called out so much. “I didn’t have a lotta choices back then either. I worked wit’ what I had.”
“What became of him anyway? He was always such a well-mannered gentleman.”
“Cousin Al? He – uhh – well, he didn’t make it. Streets is tough on young boys.”
“Oh...” Monique became clearly upset, prompting Sweet to think twice about whether lying to save face was worth it in this situation. Oh well, if the milk’s spilled, better quit whinin’. Wait, how’d that go again...
“Yeah, it ain’t a nice story. But erm, I appreciate the hospitality, but gotta bail, I had a meeting and the other guy won’t be happy...” Sweet stated, noting it was getting dark – he was already rising up when the grandma immediately walked to him and firmly sat him down again.
“First, you must eat.”
“I already ate two plates, I’m full---“
“Blah! You’re too thin, Sean, just look at yourself! I remember Melvin and Terrance always had better eating habits, that’s why they’d outgrow you. Today you eat a proper meal, get that strength you gotta have these days.”
Yeah, I agree ‘bout Horse, but that damn Smoke’s lucky to not need a wheelchair...
“You not havin’ any yourself?”
“I already had a drink – it’s all I need for the evening. And I’m personally starting to get a bit tired of meatloaf myself...”

Carl knew he was going to be in a mess of trouble if he got dragged down the hatch, which seemed like Chad’s intention – thus he used all his strength to pry himself loose from his grip, finally succeeding when he backed up to a wall and began squeezing Chad against it, while elbowing him in the stomach multiple times. The Balla let out a wince of pain as Carl made some distance from him before turning around. Fitting through the hole would simply take too much time and allow him to catch up again – no, he had to fight off the man, just like in the bar.
“You’re slipping, Carl. If your peripheral vision was up-to-date, you could’ve seen me coming a lot more effectively.” Chad mocked.
“I thought a smart-ass nigga would be above cheap-ass insults like that. Or better yet, you shoulda known better to f*cking run when the house’s about to burn down.” he said with a frown.
“And I know that if I return to Kane with nothing, the mission will be a failure and I’ll be on the receiving end of a punishment. Taking you with me is easily the best way to avert that fate.”
Carl prepared himself for Chad’s charging attack just on time, dodging out of the way, though the Balla followed up with more attempts to knock him out – Carl held him off by grabbing his hands and trying to wrestle him to a wall again. On the way, Chad stepped over the body of an addict that Carl had shot a while ago.
“How’d you pushers let those druggies in and not even do a thing about it?” Carl laughed.
“It’s called killing two birds in one stone. They were dangerous men, ones that would stab a dealer for a mere gram of product – we decided to bring them in for a little tour at our facility, and waste a chunk of your bullets and maybe concentration once you’d show up.”
“So, you spied on me, huh?” Carl asked, aiming a kick at Chad’s lower body that he blocked with his own foot – other than that, their fight was in a bit of a stalemate.
“Not like there’s anything wrong with it.”
“And what of the Balla guards stationed in here? They meant to be bullet sponges too?”
Chad frowned. “Alas, something like that. In my defence, the average Balla is so, shall I say, intellectually challenged – as you saw a few moments ago – that sending a few on what amounts to a suicide mission is no big loss if it means ambushing your crew.”
Carl responded with an immediate laugh. “You reap what you sow, nigga. If your choice’s to join the Ballas, don’t cry when they ain’t blessed with a brain like yours.”

It was like Chad was struck with newfound strength as he broke the grip and landed a quick punch in Carl’s stomach, one that could’ve immobilized him if not for his binge training sessions at the Ganton Gym. The second punch was then successfully blocked, and the two began walking in circles around each other, even forgetting about the increasing lung pain from the smoke.
“Don’t talk about things you don’t understand!” Chad said impatiently. “The Ballas were the only people who had my back at the lowest point of my life, and for that, I’m more than glad to offer them my services.”
“Lowest point? What could that be? The day you met Bruce, I think.” Carl mocked.
“I’ll only tolerate so much trash-talking about my personal friends, and you’ve just crossed the line, you bitchy piece of sh*t.”
Dodging more of Chad’s punches, Carl wasn’t letting up. “Tell me somethin’, is you a real Balla anyway? You might be black and wear purple, but it takes more than that, don’t it?”
“Why don’t you ask the Vago I put in the hospital in my initiation test?”
“Ebonics, motherf*cker, do you speak it?”
Chad laughed at his face. “Since when has speaking your incoherent ‘language’ been a prerequisite to join up? And allow me to present another counter-question while we’re at it – high school diploma, motherf*cker, do you have it?”
Carl went red from a combination of anger and embarrassment, something that didn’t go unnoticed even if some of the color came from the fire burning away the foundation not too far from them. Chad had another laugh at his expense. “Yes, just like back in school, I did my homework all right. Between you, Sweet and Brian, you boys have a long and impressive list of school drop-outs, don’t you? Of course, sadly one of them was for premature lifelessness reasons, but still, doesn’t that reflect to your later lack of success as an organization? If you’d only learned how to manage money...”
What? If Chad hadn’t crossed the line before, he sure did it now.
“Burn in hell.” Carl hissed, shoving Chad’s next punch to the side and aggressively backhanding him right in the face, showing even some surprise that he actually made the hit connect. As Chad fell down to the floor, dazed from the impact, Carl continued to land hits wherever he could – he swore he’d break the man, rip out his other eye too, smash every bone in his body, make him feel the pain he so utterly deserved for his insolence...

Another explosion up above brought him to his senses and reminded him there was no time for that where he was standing. Carl was lucky to look up when he did, because even through the smoke, he was able to spot a support beam about to crumble and likely fall uncomfortably near where he was standing – and there was the wall of fire too, continuing to eat away at the building’s foundations and threatening to surround him. As the beam came down, Carl had already rushed away and left Chad behind – a slow death in the oven-like conditions served him just fine, even if it wasn’t as personal.

He spat in the direction in which he left Chad, spat as far as he could to add fuel to the fire, and ran like hell to the custom-made exit that was still luckily standing. Forcing himself through the narrow space in record time, Carl felt as though he had just entered heaven as he breathed in clear air for a welcome change, was able to see again (though all the lights around him felt almost too bright for now) and wasn’t being heated up from all directions like a sausage in a grill. Speaking of that, it almost left him hungry...

“So, how’s things?” he asked Horse and Ryder, who had been waiting in the agreed spot, much to his pleasure. He was just about on time as the first responders arrived only moments before he slipped into the alley.
Ryder predictably scowled. “What the hell took you? Found porn mags you just couldn’t leave alone?”
“Yeah, look who’s talkin’, the nigga who can’t even get laid for free. No, my old pal Chad just wanted to heat things up before we’d say our goodbyes.”
“Did you kill him?” Horse asked.
“I motherf*ckin’ hope so. Anyway, now what? We need a ride if we gonna get all this sh*t home...”
“It’s set up. Tarnell and Troy’ll be here in no time.”
“OK, well they can drop me off at Cluckin’ Bell or somethin’. Or wait, make it Well Stacked. I ain’t in the mood for any fried chicken after that experience...” Carl took a seat, all the exhaustion getting to him now that the adrenaline wore off.

It was already nearly pitch dark when Carl got back to Grove Street again, stomach full and stress levels back to normal. As much as he wanted to just tuck into bed and take a rest he thoroughly deserved, he felt it would be inappropriate not to first report his experiences to Sweet, whose home currently had the lights on.
“You here, bro?” Carl asked, opening the door that wasn’t locked after no one answered his knocks.
“Right here – in the living room...” a faint voice uttered, the tone indicating that something was badly wrong. Carl rushed to where it came from, finding Sweet lying on his couch, holding his stomach in clear pain while watching some late night horror film from the TV.
“What’s the matter, Sweet? You ain’t been shot, have you?” Carl shouted in distress.
“Hold your horses, CJ, I just ate too much.” Sweet groaned.
“You aspiring to have a body like Smoke’s?”
“Quit your bullsh*t already, bro! All you gotta know is, that lead to the serial killer was as much a dead end as you’d think. But don’t you think I’ve given up on the hunt yet... *cough* This was only a minor f*ckin’ setback.”
“Then what did you find that got you in pain? Burger Shot, King Knuts...?”
“You still remember Monique?” Sweet asked, turning the TV off as a screaming scene really disturbed the conversation.
Carl rolled his eyes. “Moms’ friend who used to think our gang business was some roleplay?”
“Well, you got quicker memory than me then. Yeah, she kinda was that old lady from the bar. Filled me in on how turf wars suck ass, yadda yadda yadda, and filled me up too.”
“Well, you take a rest.” Carl said, now with a faint laugh, about to exit when he remembered he had his own stories to share. “Oh, by the way, I met Chad and Bruce back there too.”
“I know, Horse explained some sh*t. Eddie got blasted, apparently...” Carl nodded sadly as Sweet mentioned it. “Any – uhh – hints they dropped, though?”
“On the spree killa? No.”
“The Balla supporter list, then?”
“Absolutely f*ck all. And don’t call it that, what happened to due process and sh*t?” Carl said with a hint of truth in the statement, though Sweet predictably dismissed it as a joke.
“Those folks can prove their innocence once we track ‘em down. But fine, get goin’, and lock the door. I ain’t gonna let guests in ‘till I can walk normally again...”

Meanwhile at 39 Springfield Ave, Jefferson...

“Well, what?”
“How about – how’d it go today?” a man with a gruff voice asked.
“I think I gotta look for alternative ideas from here on in. I’m pretty sure Sweet saw something was wrong about me – why else would he tail me all the way over here?” the other one said, coffee cup shaking in his hands as he spoke.
A frown quickly found its way to the friend’s face. “He didn’t confront you, did he?”
“No, he just... never showed up. But I kept the curtains closed in case he’d spy around and try to see my face, and had a gun at the ready – since you know I would take him if he tried anything – but nothing happened, so I then spied around and saw him leave the house next door instead, which I think means he’s either not too bright or just didn’t know where I went, since all the houses look the same and---“
“OK, enough. You really need to work on explaining things in less words than that.”
“You’re asking for a lot.” the house owner muttered.
“It’s just a matter of convenience. Anyway, you considered moving?”
“Only if they come back lurking again. Would hate to exchange this place for anything else – what with Monique always cookin’ up for me as a reward for looking after my ‘sick grandma’.”
“Just be careful with them from now on. Also, as much I appreciate your spying efforts, maybe it’s time we acknowledged the risks and called it quits. Besides, the killings are more your forte.”
He flashed an evil smile. “Oh, yes. Still plenty of marks to leave around town...”
“And I bet you wouldn’t miss sitting at that dirty bar in disguise and watching The Old and the Bored all the time just to maintain that façade.” his friend added jokingly.
“I guess I wouldn’t...” the killer said with a sigh. “Except I sorta began to enjoy that show.”


The End.

Edited by Carbonox

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SA18: The Hills Have Ears – Part 1



Carl woke up to a panic attack. Realistic nightmares that represented current issues in his life were nothing new to him by this point, but the way they took his dream-self by complete surprise each time still frightened him just as badly as ever. Still a bit shaken up, Carl took the next few minutes re-assuring himself that Felix Schrader was not a cannibal that was going to gnaw on his nether regions while he was still fully conscious as punishment for failing to pay his debts – but only a shady businessman who could make him disappear with no one batting an eye.

Although Carl hadn’t just sat at home and been useless for the last couple of days, he felt that maybe, just maybe he’d been too negletful in trying to work his way out of the mess... but what were his options really? Working under the Families’ banner was mostly just a matter of earning respect, which couldn’t be cashed in anywhere as far as he knew, and running Schrader’s errands hadn’t opened a whole lot of doors for him like he’d hoped. It was a shame he had to think that, but having someone like Chad on his side could really have helped with the brainwork. Until then, Carl was going to have to work on his own, and intended to take a little morning walk around his turf to help his mind focus.

What he found outside, however, was a congregation once again. Carl knew that the cul-de-sac was generally a great place for those, but what were the odds that from time to time again, it’d be some of his closest friends that were meeting up right there? This time, apart from Sweet and Smoke – both of whom were in condition to walk around again, albeit the latter holding a barf bag for emergency situations – he recognized a bulk of even more faces, though.
“You know the drill, Horse. Show the kid some places, get him acquainted and sh*t. You two, well, tag along in case Ball-pushers get any ideas.” Sweet ordered.
“Wohoo! Let’s roll, ni**ers!” Billy shouted, hardly bothering to contain his excitement.
Horse gave him a firm fillip right away, beating Sweet to it. “Rule number one, you ain’t callin’ us that word. You better make it real big on our ranks before you even consider that again.”
“I see the standards of new recruits have gone up, as usual.” Carl said to get the crowd’s attention.
All of the six official members – including Ryder, who’d been obscured behind Smoke’s back – gave him the usual greetings, while Billy winced a bit as soon as he realized who was present. Good, Carl thought, ‘least he knows to fear someone in this crew.
“So what y’all on about here?”
“Billy’s about to see places with a buncha big homies.” Sweet announced.
“And maybe, just maybe, aid us in robbin’ a store when night falls.” Horse continued.
“Want me to be there and bail y’all out when he screws up?” Carl asked, earning laughs from mostly everyone, Billy just going red and choosing not to retort that.
“Pot, meet kettle.” Ryder said subtly.
Sweet went from amused to angry within seconds. “Now, Ryder, you don’t start your sh*t flingin’ again! And that’s an order!”
“I guess it’s a good time for me, Bert an’ Warren to get on the move then!” Horse proclaimed, gesturing everyone into the Glendale that had been parked nearby.

“So what’s on our agenda today?” Carl asked once the others had made their way out of sight, turning attention away from the sh*tstorm about to commence.
Sweet smirked. “What’s on the agenda, you say? Reunitin’ the Families, expandin’ our turf, findin’ me a new girlfriend... all kinds of sh*t really. There ain’t such a thing as a non-busy day anymore.”
“Say, what happened to the Seville girl anyway? I ain’t seen her since – well, back when I had to save y’all’s asses.”
“Couldn’t handle the set war, so we called it quits.” Sweet said, now a little somber.
“Well, you won’t have trouble with the search for new pussy, that’s fo’ sure. You’s like the playboy of the hood, you must have ten kids by now.” Carl said with a wink. Sweet, sadly, looked more offended than amused.
“All of ‘em with a different lady, too.” Smoke continued.
“Man, what’s it with y’all and... ugh, forget it. Let’s move to the good stuff. Believe it or not, CJ, I finally broke the hostages in purple that we stashed up ages ago.”
“What’d they have for ya?”
“Well, nothin’ much about any future events of course ‘cause they wasn’t there to plan any of that, but they say Kane’s had talks with some Latino gang boss from San Fierro for a long time now. And I believe the name matches someone you an’ Ryder had a run-in with...” Sweet explained.
“T-Bone Mendez.” Carl and Ryder said in unison right away. It wasn’t pleasant news, but at least they weren’t unaware of the potential danger.
“T-Bone ain’t the kinda motherf*cker you should go pissin’ off.” Smoke said shaking his head.
“He pissed us off first, though.” Ryder retorted with a sneer.
“Won’t make a difference to that ese.” Smoke insisted.

Midway through their conversation, a lot of things went on within a short amount of time.

Sweet took a call from Horse that he didn’t expect to get this soon after they’d embarked; meanwhile, John Carlson, who had just emerged from his modest little hovel, saw fit to loudly greet the four OG’s as if to remind them he still existed.
“Sweet, be careful back there. We just saw some---“ Horse told frantically.
Howdy, friends and neighbors! I was just wondering if any of you have spare berries I could put in my pie!” John’s voice towered over whatever warning was being issued.
“...I think they’re on their way to Grove Street...”
“Hold your horses, Horse, I can’t hear a f*cking thing, I’ll call you right back... YO, CAN YOU F*CKIN’ TONE IT DOWN BACK THERE?!”
“How else are you supposed to hear me though?” John asked, volume in sustainable levels at last now that he got closer to the group.
“I didn’t need to hear ya, ‘cause I was on the damn phone!” Sweet raged.
“Huh.” John said, giving him an offended shrug before walking right back where he came from. “I guess you’re having a bad day then.”
“What was the call about, anyway?” Carl asked the still growling Sweet, who stomped the pavement to channel his anger someplace other than his homies’ faces.
“Horse tried warnin’ us about some threat on the way. Ryder, get us some guns ready.”
“The threat ain’t possibly that thing?” Ryder asked, pointing at a large, dark shape that just arrived to the street behind Sweet.

It was definitely not the usual kind of transport seen on Grove Street – usually limousines only showed up in the Vinewood Boulevard region. Now, if the quartet was lucky, this vehicle contained some rich playboy or socialite that had gotten lost big time and was just begging to get robbed---
“Get in before it’s too late!” Andreas Richter shouted from the open window, just as the limo came to a stop next to the gangsters.
“Sh*t, CJ, what’d you get us into now?” Ryder whined.
“I don’t---“ Carl had no words for the current situation.
“JOHN! Call up the homies! We in deep sh*t!” Sweet screamed at his neighbor while he was still within hearing distance.
“You didn’t see or remember anything!” Andreas told John after he had turned around; the man only shrugged and continued on his way to his house.
“You four coming or what?” An unknown man, in gray like all the others inside, opened the door to let the Families inside. None of them having a gun in hand at the moment, and Andreas and his colleague having theirs clearly visible, it was probably best to do as they said, even though the Germans were more occupied scouting the outer perimeter of the area for some reason.

The four entered the car one by one, Andreas’ fellow high-ranking lieutenant Amadeus doing a quick personal search for everyone and even going as far as poking his head into Smoke’s bag – the bulky OG undoubtedly having hoped that it wasn’t completely empty at that moment.
“What’s the meaning of this?” Sweet demanded to know once all four had been sat down in the comfortable but ominous back area and the car was moving again.
Andreas looked confused, as did Amadeus, who remained with his partner while the unknown man went back to the front to sit next to the driver. “You mean Carl didn’t tell you?”
“I didn’t expect sh*t to go down like this!” Carl said as soon as the accusatory faces of his friends intensely turned to stare at him. He could feel the secrecy of his dumb decision beginning to fade.
“What are you talking about?” Andreas asked with only further confusion.
Sweet stood up, only to hit his head on the ceiling and embarrassedly descend back to his seat – but his anger remained. “How about the fact you just motherf*ckin’ kidnapped our asses? Is this how you respond to me when I say I ain’t interested in more of your work?”
“Oh dear. Amadeus, do you want to explain the situation, or should I?”
“No, wait. I – uhh – I must probably spill the beans myself.” Carl said quickly, much to the pleasure of Amadeus, who didn’t look like he was in the mood for long talks.
Andreas shrugged. “Whatever then, go ahead.”
Carl took what felt like the longest breath in his life, almost hoping to choke on it so he wouldn’t have to face his friends’ reaction. “I sorta borrowed money from Schrader so I could bet on myself in the race and help make us rich. But I swear, I had a real good, calculated plan to win, and it was no one but Hilary King who screwed it up, but anyway now I’m in debt and---“ He turned to Andreas after remembering they were stuck at the back of a limo. “Man, f*ck, whatever you got in store for me, you better not hurt my homies ‘cause they ain’t got nothin’ to do with this.”

Sweet, Ryder and Smoke had their eyes wide open from shock; Andreas, on the other hand, went from puzzled to amused as Carl went on, before finally erupting in uncontrolled laughter – Amadeus next to him chuckling a few times and shaking his head.
“You can’t be serious, can you? Oh god – you think we came here to kidnap your entire posse for that? Oh, for Christ’s sake, for a moment I thought you really were up to speed.”
“What the f*ck? CJ went out of his ways to borrow money? I thought you got raised better than that!” Sweet yelled in disbelief.
“See, I told ya! I’d never do somethin’ like this!” Ryder added.
“Guys, it ain’t no big deal, it’s my personal problem only---“
“Let’s all calm down here and tackle one issue at a time.” Andreas said – but as this had no effect on the shouting and the blaming, he and Amadeus had to pull out guns.
“This is still not a kidnapping, but we don’t tolerate sh*t like this in the company car. Now, you listen and fix your broken relationships at some other time.”
“Well, f*cking speak then!” a bitter Sweet said, crossing his arms.
“We admit that the way we picked you up wasn’t very tactful – but it was necessary as we spotted some threats in the immediate area.” A loud rattling noise began to accompany Andreas’ explanation, which his friend quickly caught on to.
“Look to the right if you don’t believe us.” Amadeus grunted.

Sweet was unlikely to drop his attitude no matter what, but at the very least he felt great relief when he realized he was looking at a band of angry Angels of Death members closing in on Grove Street from the safety of being behind dark tinted windows.
Andreas smiled as he saw the relief in the others’ faces too. “You would rather be here than out in the open, unarmed, and blissfully unaware of the approaching threat now, wouldn’t you?”
“Well, point taken. But it woulda been polite to say that immediately.” Smoke mumbled.
Andreas shrugged casually. “My mistake. Now, let’s move on, leave the Angels to their fruitless search, and proceed to point two. Carl, I admire both your honesty and the way you take responsibility for your own actions. But you need to learn to pay attention to detail, because if you did, you’d know you have two whole months to pay.”
“Don’t think it changes things much...” Carl said, concealing his face to his best ability.
“Good race you had there, though. I saw it on TV.” Amadeus told, prompting Carl to raise his head a little bit to establish eye contact. “Makes me think your driving talents could earn us the money back in no time.”
If I could get my confidence back, he thought, taking a deep sigh.
“So, from the way you speak, it seems you had more reasons to show up than just save our asses, huh? You better not force us to do more of your dirty work, ‘cause I ain’t interested.” Sweet said to Andreas in the meantime.
“Oh, we do have work for you. It’s optional if you want to participate or not, but at the very least, come receive the briefing from the mansion. It might interest you more than you think.”
“Mansion, huh?” Carl asked in surprise.

Mansion almost felt like too small a word to describe the eventual destination, the three-floored colossus of a building that towered over all the others in its vicinity, with the garden also complimenting this appearance with a fountain, neatly arranged flowerbeds and what appeared to be a tennis court a bit further ahead. Carl didn’t know if he was supposed to still be rooting for Schrader, but he still got a smug smile on his face thinking about this behemoth completely trumping Chesterfield’s smaller-scale estate.
“We goin’ inside?” he asked once the limo was parked on the driveway and Amadeus went ahead to open up the doors to the estate.
“Unless you’d rather we fetch a lunch basket and hold a damn picnic on the boss’s wasp-infested lawn, yes.”
“Hey, we don’t normally get permission to enter places like this. Just checkin’.”
“Sh’yeah, except most of the time we don’t need that.” Ryder added with a laugh that was quickly suppressed by Sweet hitting him. If that wasn’t enough, he nearly jumped when a massive German Shepherd poked its head around the corner of the mansion and immediately began to viciously bark at the group – Ryder and Carl were already backing up towards the limo again when they noticed it wasn’t roaming free, but on a barely noticeable leash held by a guard, who frankly didn’t look any more happy to see the guests than the dog.
“Cutter, shut up. Don’t you see they came with us?” Amadeus said in an annoyed tone.
“And have you properly had them checked?” the guard asked, his dog continuing to violently pull on the leash, just ready to tear at the flesh of whichever perceived intruder was first to be caught.
Andreas beat Amadeus to the response. “Being higher up in the ranks than you, I think we’re competent enough to know to do that. OK, come on in, and excuse me about that encounter.”
“By the way, CJ...” Sweet whispered in his ear ominously as they stepped over the threshold and through a metal detector, “I’ll deal with you soon as we done talkin’ with your friend.” Carl chose not to respond, but was bothered by the fact he was able to hear Sweet whispering something to Smoke as well right afterwards, and something told him he was the subject of that less-than-positive discussion.

“Welcome to my home – please, make yourself comfortable.” Schrader said formally once they had been escorted straight to the living room. Carl felt a sense of relief that he wasn’t acting at all pompous or condescending like he had (irrationally?) feared – rather, the well-dressed mansion owner took his time shaking everyone’s hands before directing them to the most comfortable couch in the room, facing a screen likely about to be used for presentation purposes. Judging by Sweet’s body language, he had possibly found just an ounce of respect for their employer despite the disparity in their living conditions.
“Seriously, I’m glad all four of you could make it. Not just for socializing reasons, but because we’ll need all the manpower we can possibly have.”
“Not like we had much choice.” Smoke grunted.
“And whatever job you got lined for us, it better be impressive ‘cause I don’t see why we should continue goin’ around pissin’ people off for your sake.” Sweet added.
Schrader walked over to a position straight in front of the couch and looked him in the eyes. “I think you’ll be interested all right, since this involves your old pals, the Ballas.”
“I thought you didn’t give two f*cks about ‘em? Or intended to send us after ‘em in the first place?” Carl pointed out.
“Whoa, shut up, CJ. You don’t happen to know somethin’ about them that we don’t?!”
“To answer your brother’s point, it’s true that I shouldn’t be sponsoring your wars against them, but we have an unexpected situation in our hands that might force us to take action.”
Sweet was urgent to speak up. “You’re startin’ to confuse the sh*t outta me. Just explain one thing at a time here.”
“Very well. Andreas, get the slideshow started. Amadeus – well, get ready to speak when your turn comes up.” Schrader told.
“Umm, I see we got guests here – anyone want a drink?” a young maid asked with a sweet but shy voice, having appeared in a doorway without anyone noticing.
All the others declined politely, but Carl raised a finger. “I could do with a Sprunk... if ya got any.”
“Sure, just hang on.”
“Nice, CJ. Felt like accumulatin’ more debt just to spite us?” Sweet said in his accusatory tone.
“Drinks are on the house, don’t get silly now.” Schrader corrected, with a faint laugh.
“I’ll need it for stress relief, anyway...” Carl quietly explained.

The screen lit up to interrupt the heating conversation, displaying a turquoise skull – a foreign icon for Carl, most definitely.
“If we’re going to discuss this job, it’s best to start by elaborating on the background.” Schrader said, moving out of the way so everyone could see the screen without obstruction.
Sweet snorted. “Didn’t know your underground mob, or whatever you call it, needs a logo.”
“Actually, it belongs to a joint force of San Fierro-based gangs known as the Loco Syndicate. Our knowledge of them is sort of limited, but what we do know is that their influence is spreading to Los Santos, and something needs to be done about it unless we want a bulk of new problems for us to worry about.”
“What they got to do with the Ballas?” Carl asked out loud, the others also thinking the same.
“Thanks to Amadeus’s exceptional spying work, we’ve learned that the syndicate is pursuing a partnership with those Ballas. If I’ve understood correctly, T-Bone Mendez, whose charming face you see here, is interested in buying a portion of the drugs manufactured here to then be distributed in San Fierro.” The slide changed to show the grumpy-looking Hispanic man in a photo likely taken without his knowledge.
Sweet’s face shifted to a smug smile. “Y’all got anything new to us? We kinda know all this sh*t, and we needed no fancy spyin’ either.”
Amadeus was definitely provoked judging by his tone. “And how about the Vagos? I doubt your self-righteous ass has dug up that much on them, ‘cause you’ve been busy acting pompous!”
Sweet stood up in an instant. “What was your name again? I swear I heard it before somewhere, and I think it had somethin’ to do with bad sh*t!”
“You don’t bring up my past like that!” Amadeus retorted, clearly ready for a fight. Carl found this worrying, primarily because the heavily-built German was likely to deck Sweet in one punch.
“One – err – Sprunk for the white tank top?” the maid’s silent voice spoke from the doorway once again, a bottle full of refreshment in hand.
“I believe that’s the call to break this up. Gentlemen, I understand we all can get on each other’s nerves sometimes, but I’m afraid we can’t carry on with our mutually beneficial plan if you can’t at least stay off each other’s throats in this peaceful environment.” Schrader kept a firm eye on Sweet in particular, who stood down mostly due to peer pressure, as Carl had his bottle delivered to him not long before the maid almost ran away from the scene. But as she did, Sweet found a reason to hop up yet again, with new ideas in mind...

“Balla associate! You was on the Balla associates list! CJ, why didn’t you tell me?” he yelled, finger pointed at Amadeus once again.
“I didn’t remember his full name!” Carl lied. It was a bit shallow, but at least no one blatantly saw through it.
“What’s going on this time?” Andreas was flabbergasted to say the least.
“What’s a Balla associate list, who crafted it up, why am I on it, and how’s one in your possession?”
“Man, that’s just some Tenpenny bullsh*t you take too seriously, bro. Like, I think that’s just a list of f*ckin’ targets he wants us to take care of so he an’ the Pulaski bitch can sleep easy at night.” Carl spoke up, feeling like he should’ve told that ages ago.
“Then how’s this clown gonna prove he don’t roll with the Ballas? His boss ain’t been too keen on fightin’ them, ain’t he?” Sweet insisted, even though he was fighting a losing battle.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. So because I don’t fight for turf with your enemies – and why should I, given we don’t fight for pieces of the same pie – that means my left hand man, out of all people in the city, is in league with them based on some arbitrary list by a bent C.R.A.S.H. officer?” Schrader cleared things up.
“Well – no, but...” Sweet was running out of responses.
“Well, donner-f*cking-wetter. I never thought cops were keeping an eye on my occasional meetings with their OG’s, but to keep things clear, I’ve got myself into their friend circle just so we can stay a step ahead of them and their allies with my intel. That’s exactly how we were able to set this job up, but now thanks to you sidetracking this goddamn conversation, I’m not even able to show you all the sh*t I’ve found out!”

In a rare event, likely relating to Smoke and Ryder not having said a word in his support as they hardly even knew what was going on, Sweet relented and took a seat once again.
“OK, Tenpenny mighta f*cked up suspectin’ you, and he mighta done that on purpose... but I just really gotta know what f*ckin’ snake is supplyin’ guns to those pushers.” he said with his head down.
Schrader looked surprised. “Guns? Can’t say I know much about the details, but it might sound like the handiwork of the Russian mob. Another hated enemy of ours, that bunch.”
“We can always investigate that.” Amadeus said with a shrug. “Not for that asshole’s sake, but to make sure they aren’t all collaborating behind our backs.”
“Perhaps we’ll do that, strictly at another time. Right now though, can we orientate our guests on what’s about to go down at last?”

The slide finally changed again, this time showing a cliff somewhere out in Red County, housing a mostly ordinary farm way above the adjacent roads.
“This is the Carter Ranch. Or Hilltop Farm, as most affectionately call it. It’s a location of great importance in the near future, because as my agent over in Dillimore says, this is where the Ballas and Rifa will undergo a deal this weekend – just to get to know each other a little better.” Schrader began.
“Why choose a populated farm for that sh*t when county’s full of empty space?” Carl asked, the others sharing his confusion.
Andreas smirked. “I knew someone would ask that. Thing is, it’s geographically one of the best places they could think of. If things get sticky, it’s real hard to escape... high drop on one side, badly kept paths on the other. They wanted it this way because from what we’ve heard, they don’t really have an awful lot of trust for one another... so I guess they figured if the location’s unsuitable for screwing the other party over and getting away with it, it’s perfect for them.”
“And when all that is taking place, the ranch head and all his family are busy at the annual Blueberry market. The ranch hands already got bribed, not that they had much choice, so there won’t be anyone bothering them.” Amadeus said.
“Except you guys...”
“...in a six-man crew.”
“Eh, we can make it happen by ourselves, right Smoke?” Sweet asked self-assuredly.
Schrader shook his head very firmly. “No, you can’t. When they said six-man crew, they meant a minimum of six. That’s how much it’ll take to cover all the possible escape routes while also launching a strong enough assault to take all parties involved down.”
“And that’s with a sniper on a hill across the road to provide covering fire.” Amadeus added.
“Any of you niggas know how to snipe?” Ryder asked, expecting Sweet at the very least to know his way around such things – but one by one, all shook their heads in response.
“I’m sure you’ve got qualified friends to help out, right? You’ll only need two anyway – and no need to mention me or my men as the employers, as you probably know...”
“Make it three. I got a medical condition.” Smoke said, pointing at his barf bag in case anyone hadn’t paid sufficient attention yet.
“Well, LB can help us at least! Y’all know LB, right?”
“Lamar has been good to us, yes. Though I wish you followed his example more and didn’t draw attention to yourself like a madman.” Schrader asserted.

“Sooooo... anythin’ else then?” Carl asked awkwardly when no one else had said a word.
“I can give Horse a call when he no longer busy. CJ, you phone up Cesar, he shouldn’t mind bustin’ some more Rifa heads.” Sweet ordered. Oh yeah, there was that little matter to be resolved as well... if Carl could get Cesar to at least talk to him, it’d be a great start.
“I’m glad you’re quickly coming up with options. I’d be happy to lend Amadeus to do the sharpshooting part, but you know how it is – I can’t take short-sighted risks for as long as he continues to associate with the enemy. Anyway, you know the drill – take whatever they’re dealing in, bring them to Andreas, and he’ll pay each and every one of you equally. The money involved in the trade is yours if you can grab it. Oh, and don’t worry if it’s drugs – the people I sell them to don’t really hang around in your area...”
“Fair enough.” Sweet stated bluntly.
“Just one thing, did the Vagos have somethin’ to do with this or what?” Carl’s question went on to light up the atmosphere once again.
“Damn, should’ve known we forgot something. We never have a perfect presentation, do we?” Andreas asked in almost serious disappointment.
“Guess so. Yeah, that was kinda a crucial part... because obviously, your crew will go in there as Vagos. With ski masks probably, so no one will notice your skin colors don’t match with a typical Vago ese, but that won’t pose a problem...” Amadeus’s monologue only went on for so long until he had to acknowledge the fact two of the GSF members had stood up to express opposition.
“That’s where I draw the line! We don’t wear f*ckin’ enemy colors!” Sweet yelled the loudest.
“Y’all got no clue what Grove 4 Life means, do ya?” Ryder echoed.
“Bro, it’s gotta be a covert op, how else we meant to get away with it?” Carl’s counter-argument only resulted in a shouting match, which was only settled by Schrader turning his radio to maximum volume. The opera music that likely blared all across the Vinewood Hills not only made the situation uncomfortable, but prevented anyone from hearing even their own thoughts.

When things calmed down again, Andreas stepped up in front of the screen. “Would you rather have both the Ballas and Rifa blame you for attacking them and be all over your asses...”
“...or three of your enemies all at each other’s throats, making your job easier from here on?” Amadeus offered.
“The Vagos’ friendship with the Ballas has rapidly advanced lately, and you might want to do something about it before your gang’s surrounded by unified enemies.” Schrader continued as Andreas went through slides until he found the one he was looking for: a gang territory map (surprisingly accurate, Carl had to say) showing Grove Street in a less-than-favorable position in case Sweet needed a reminder.
He scratched his head. “You ain’t leavin’ us much choice, huh?”
“I think there’s more than an adequate amount of choices here.” Schrader said. “All you need to do is swallow your pride really, but if that doesn’t work out, we’ll have to make do without you.”
“Hmph... how much will it be?”
“You’ll do anything for the right price after all, eh?” Andreas suggested with a smirk that was wiped out as soon as Sweet displayed his displeasure with his angriest frown. “Jokes aside, this is important enough that I’m thinking a six-figure sum to be split between your crew.” he said, Schrader’s nod indicating approval of the idea.
“A’ight, so we done now? Can we go?” Sweet asked, Carl knowing exactly what he thought – that he didn’t want his best men to be exposed to this environment too much and get spoiled by it...
“You can. But I wouldn’t recommend going back home until you’re certain the bikers have left...”
“Well, drop us off at Temple’s rec center then. I’ll call up LB too.”
“I gotta use the toilet.” Smoke said with his hand up.
“Andreas will guide you. And once again, really pleased to get to meet all of you. I’ll be in touch with the remaining details.” Schrader said, going through the handshake routine once more – Carl thought it was beginning to feel forced already, but rolled with it anyway.

Either Schrader had telepathic abilities or someone had pressed a button, because an additional guard had showed up to escort the group to the mansion’s exit – Sweet and Ryder made a determined beeline that way, but Carl felt a hand grab his shoulder before he could join them.
“Your friend looks like he’ll spend a while in the restroom. In the meantime, you might be interested in this...” Schrader offered him an open newspaper with an all-too-familiar picture of a man from his very recent past at the top of the article.


In lieu of incriminating evidence, Chad Myers, 27, of East Los Santos has been released from police custody.
Mr. Myers was arrested after responding officers found him loitering outside the burning Verdant Bluffs warehouse with minor injuries, but denied all allegations of being responsible for the attack that is being investigated as domestic terrorism.
In his testimony, Myers staunchly claimed that he was passing by when he saw members of the Grove Street Families gang enter the warehouse and attack the group of people inside, prompting him to intervene only to be overpowered and beaten, barely escaping the premises alive after the gang members set multiple bombs inside.
Officer Frank Tenpenny of the C.R.A.S.H. unit has also come out in support of Myers while heavily criticizing the actions of fellow policemen he deems rash and reckless.
- They only arrested him because he was a young black male at the crime scene, that’s it. I’ve met this kid before several times, and you couldn’t find a more talented, compassionate philantrophist of a young man from the whole community. Just look at everything he’s gone through trying to make things better – from having his eye slashed off by one of those cowardly hoodlums to getting beaten and burned when trying to save lives. And then the people show how grateful they are by treating him like a terrorist because he got caught up in someone else’s mess. Shame on you, Los Santos.

There was more to the article, but Carl was too angry to go through any further. Angrily tossing the paper over to the nearest table, he accidentally dropped his emptied Sprunk bottle as well and bent down to pick it up, muttering all the insults he knew at Tenpenny and Chad.
“How’d you do that?”
“Whuh?” Carl was as confused as Amadeus when he stood back up.
“Your neck, how are you able to bend it that far down?”
“I – uhh – I ain’t got no clue. Elastic bones or some sh*t?”
“I only go this far.” Amadeus said, doing a bow that looked like one of those that was common in Japanese culture, if Carl’s TV shows were to be trusted. “You haven’t gone to any of that yoga bullsh*t, have you?”
“Heard of it, but no. Hey, when you’d run with Ballas, did you ever meet---“
“I did try it, once. It was meant to be both spiritually and physically enhancing. Turned out to be a massive sh*tshow that people like us should never get involved in. The best part was at the end, when I twisted up the self-righteous instructor and pushed him down a f*cking cliff.”
“That’s – great?” Carl said, hesitantly giving him a thumb up.
“It wasn’t part of the schedule, but made the day for me. Now what were you on about?” Amadeus asked, grabbing the paper for himself to skim through the comics.
“Chad – uhh, Myers was it? You ever met him?”
“Is that even a question?” Amadeus let out a gruff laugh, which came across maybe a bit forced. “Whenever there’s a meeting with the boys that might matter, that douchebag is always there, trying to dominate the conversation. He uses so many four-syllable words probably to compensate for his homies’ lack of linguistic talent. And by the way, I learned ‘linguistic’ from him.”
Carl sighed. “That’s definitely the Chad I know...”
“You’ve got some history then?”
“Guess you could put it like that. Anyway, any chance you could keep an eye on the one-eyed lil’ professor whenever you can?”
“I already do, he looks like someone about to make his way up the ranks in a hurry.”
“As if I ain’t got enough problems...” Carl let out another disgruntled sigh.

After Smoke was done with approximately the longest dump ever, the limousine ride out of the hills and back down amongst the less privileged was a quiet one. With Sweet having a multitude of reasons to be pissed off, Carl had no intention to initiate a conversation of any kind.
“Not everyone gets to be taken to the rec center by limo, huh?” Ryder asked when they came to a stop at last.
“Don’t get used to it.” Sweet growled, being the first to crawl out.
“You comin’ or what, CJ?” he added when his brother hadn’t made a move yet.
“Think I’ll drop by Cesar’s in person, let him know how sh*t’s goin’.” Another lie was necessary to avoid the company of homies that had become too resentful of him for his tastes.
“Sure you will. Don’t be a stranger, bro... we’ll be seein’ you around.”

The vehicle took a turn to the main street leading south.
“El Corona it is, then?” Andreas clarified.
“Y’all know your sh*t way better than you should. Anyway, just drop me somewhere ‘round here. I’ll be good.”
“Shame, we could’ve had a nice discussion on the way. You heard the call, Henry, stop the car.”
They were somewhere between the Market and Verona Beach areas, not far from Roboi’s either – a neutral enough zone for Carl’s liking. He took quick steps away from the Stretch after stepping out and blended in with the crowd, not that any of the busy people around him cared much about the limo or the passenger emerging from it.

He located the nearest alleyway that looked remote enough for his purposes and dialed the number. To think Cesar hadn’t spoken to him since the damned race practice day... that was going to change soon enough.
“Hey, CJ.” Cesar’s tired voice answered the call.
“Hey, Ces. Kendl a’ight?”
“Same as always. And I know you didn’t call just ‘cause of that.”
“Fair enough, my cover’s blown, whatever. Look, man, we can’t keep this up no more, it’s gettin’ childish. I f*cked up and I’ll take the blame for that---“
“Damn right you did. You’re lucky I ain’t told Kendl yet – she doesn’t need no more reasons to worry about your ass.” Cesar said, as spitefully as Carl had feared.
“She might learn soon enough. Sweet knows, and so do Ryder and Smoke.”
“And now you’re gonna ask for help payin’ that up?”
“Not like I got much of a choice. You at least gonna listen through the plan?”
Carl interpreted Cesar’s sigh as a yes, and explained the upcoming mission in detail. He knew that being employed by Schrader was a big red flag for the Azteca, but he couldn’t just leave him to find out about it himself once it was too late to back down...

“No way, man. You seriously gone too deep now.” Cesar said, not a hint of approval in his voice.
“C’mon, whatever happened to the backin’ you up every step of the way bullsh*t? I mean, you know I’d help you anytime if your car got impounded by cops or somethin’---”
“I talked about winning the race, not dealing with the consequence of your stupid f*cking risk! You think I wanna take my chances with any more of T-Bone’s men and run around with the German pendejos too? I got my limits, CJ, and this sh*t’s way beyond that. I hope you understand.”
“Man, f*ck...”
“And you’d think I still park my car on the street after the last incident? It won’t get impounded.”
“So – you won’t even think about this, then.”
“For the last time, no. I know when to pick my fights, and you know I could take your Balla dope dealers at any time, but I can’t go around poking the most dangerous f*cking bears in the state...”

Cesar hanging up on him after getting the final word in was expected, but still hurt like hell. So this was how it felt to be ostracized by nearly everyone around him for one sh*tty decision – and the crew was still not big enough to get the job done. If LB and Horse were to join in, they could hold their own, but Carl didn’t have the heart to ask any other homies to step up and put their lives in imminent danger just for his sake.
“F*ck my life.” He kicked a beer can in his feet as far as he could, and watched it bounce off the back wall of an apartment building with a mild bang.

Was there anyone on the planet he could trust to have his back even at the darkest moments?

Someone with a mutual hatred for the Ballas probably? Wait, hang on a sec...

Someone who would also have a need for Schrader’s money?

Someone who could relate to his situation better than anyone?

Kevin Williamson may have been past his prime and aged faster than a sh*tty video game, but giving the man a call and agreeing to meet up at his nearby place was the most satisfying choice Carl had made in recent memory.



To Be Continued.

Edited by Carbonox

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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.”
“Unexpected factors?”
“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.

Edited by Carbonox

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VC3: Partners in Crime



”Mr. Vercetti?”
A knock and the sugary voice of the receptionist broke the silence that Tommy had been enjoying for a while, lying on his bed and allowing the ribs to heal for as long as no new information surfaced. Minutes, hours, he wasn’t exactly certain how long he’d been resting there.
“Yeah?” He raised his head to get a better look.
“Do you have a friend named Riley Jackson?”
Tommy was glad the name just about rang a bell before he could mutter a negative response. “Yes – why?”
“Well, he just dropped by at the lounge and said he wanted to send you a letter, along with this map that should help with any parking problems you may face.” She walked into the room and up to him to personally hand over the objects; despite his aching chest arguing otherwise, Tommy was quick to sit up.
“You can let him in if you want.” he stammered, examining the map with curiosity.
“He only dropped by to bring you these, then left in a hurry.”
“Huh. Alright.” Tommy gave her a look that implied he could use some privacy before looking closer into the matter.

Hello, friend! I know you’ve settled well into this town already, but I thought I’d get some details out of the way since you asked for them.

First of all, I hope you find the map useful. Personally, I always recommend parking it on the bottom floor – much less tedious to get back down that way.

Unlike in Idaho, the standards of the people around here are piss-poor. They often love to leave their trash lying around, even shove it under cars sometimes to avoid littering charges. Don’t be one of those guys.

Since you like chips so much, I suggest grabbing some from the corner store at 31 Ocean Beach Avenue – big sale coming up. The French guy who works there can be quite a character, but try not to let him piss you off. Just be really careful of the back alley, I once had a friend robbed in broad daylight at 2pm when he tried taking a shortcut over there. This city truly is a treacherous cesspit of petty crime, no matter what district you’re in.

Once you get to it, though, remember to bring some for me as well. We could also check out a bowling alley, a movie theater or something that evening – sure, it’s a bit mundane compared to the hyper-rich around here who can relax on a yacht whenever they please, but let’s at least be happy that some of the entertainment around here is affordable for us less fortunate folks too.

Yours truly, Riley J.

Tommy had to laugh. It was all clear in his mind that Cortez had instructed Riley to “keep things subtle” and the subordinate had followed the suggestion to the letter, resulting in something that looked like it was taken right out of a conversation between two secret agents, except it would be significantly easy to deduce for any unwelcome parties if it ended up in the wrong hands. The parking map was trickier, and didn’t seem to guide him anywhere in particular until he noticed that one of the locations, a multi-story garage a couple of blocks over, had been marked with a slightly different color from the rest – teal instead of plain blue.

Yellow Idaho, first floor of that lot, and there’s a gun underneath. Tommy burned the first part of the riddle in his brain as he went on his way, keeping the letter folded up in his pocket – not like there was any safer place to store such an important thing.

Taking note of the Collars & Cuffs clothes store just across an alley in case he needed to remember the location of this garage in the future, Tommy walked in, finding the lot to be much less busy than he expected – all the more reason to stash something here.

The Idaho was not difficult to find, its bright color standing out somewhat next to some plain-colored poorer people’s cars, but Tommy found himself waiting for an eternity and a half for a nearby morbidly fat tourist family to get out of their minivan and leave the garage already. He pretended to be the owner of the Idaho who’d lost his keys, praying that no one else would show up to disturb his privacy once the family was gone. He heard some sports car enter the garage, but it presumably chose a different area to park in, not showing up from either side.

His ribs once again disagreed with him as he reached underneath the car in search of the gun once all the whales had waddled to whatever restaurant was nearest. Tommy really had to bite his tooth trying to find something more significant than little pebbles without even a flashlight to aid him – and as if dictated by destiny, as soon as he felt the ever-so-familiar metal belonging to a gun’s handle for the first time in years, he heard that someone had walked right to where he was, most likely on purpose.
“Find anything yet?” The voice didn’t sound like it would belong to that familyman.
“I don’t need any help.” Tommy snarled.
“I thought you might. The Colonel doesn’t make his stashed guns easy to grab.”

Tommy nearly sprang up from his position, hitting his head on the next car in the process, to get a good look at the man who knew more than he should have. He already expected to see a weapon pointing at his head and yet another one of the city’s crooks taking advantage of his lack of foresight – but when he realized the dark-skinned man in a well-kept white suit was unarmed and showed no additional signs of aggression either, he could pull out the hidden pistol without worry.
“No one in the organization said I’d be receiving backup.” he said dismissively.
“Yes, I’m sure you can do whatever they throw at you without help just fine, but it may not always be wise. In a town like this, you gotta have someone who’s got your back.” There was a hint of eagerness in the stranger’s voice as Tommy stood up, examining his new Glock 17.
“My back’s just fine, brother...”
“Maybe now, but what if you get in trouble with the wrong kind eventually? Trust me, I’ve met Cortez as well and he’s the real deal, but out there you can’t really rely on him all the time.”
“I’m not planning to.” Tommy corrected.
“You really are hard to convince, aren’t you?”
“I just don’t see why I’d trust someone I still know nothing about.”

The stranger crossed his arms, obviously excited now that he’d get to the introductory bit. “Friend, the man you’re looking at is the only survivor of that drug deal gone horribly wrong, apart from you and whoever was driving you.”
“Come again?” Tommy tilted his head with suspicion.
“Exactly! That brings me to my real point... I’m sure this town’s full of potential people who could make your life easier, but with me you’d be assured there will be no sidetracking, no foreign agendas you don’t care about. I’m after the exact same stolen merchandise as you, Tommy, and I won’t rest until I find a proper lead.”
“How nice of you to address me by my name, without introducing yourself yet.”
“I was just getting to that. The name’s Lance.” He offered a hand, but Tommy left it unshaken for now.
“I think it’s odd that you’d seek me out like this, Lance. You had no prior idea what I’m like – you’re taking quite a risk here.”
“It’s a risk I’m willing to take. My brother is dead, and everyone in this craphole of a city is a suspect. Everyone except the two of us.”
“Even the Colonel?”
“He knows more about the deal than anybody – I’d say he’s in a prime position on the list.”
Tommy crossed his arms. “Are you saying I should disregard his investigations then, because he might be misleading me all along?”
“I’m saying to take it with a grain of salt.” Lance said. “At least until we can confirm he’s not the culprit.”
“And how do you know I’m not the mastermind behind the attack?”
“Simple. They were shooting at you too. It’s not exactly easy to stage a situation like that...”
“Fair enough. Apart from the Colonel, you got any other leads?”
“It’s still early, but little birds told me you’ve had a run-in with Leo Teal already, and that he’s not gonna be of assistance.”
“What the – Lance, I think you know your sh*t a little too well.” Tommy’s voice started to have a threatening tone to it.
“Kent Paul still hasn’t dropped dead with all the intel he’s carrying, so I think I’m good.”

A moment of silence followed. Tommy still wasn’t convinced that there was anything vouching for his new partner candidate’s trustworthiness except for his own word, and he had this awful gut feeling that Lance had, in some way, stalked him in the near past. If they were going to become a team where both could trust the other to have their back at any given moment, why would he wait this long to make his grand entrance? Tommy’s smug side would’ve had him believe Lance was simply scared, or at least intimidated by him – and that wouldn’t help his cause at all, as what would a scared man be good for on his quest? Either way, there was only one way to find out if he had his way with more than just fancy talking...

“Lance.” Tommy said assertively. “The reason the Colonel had me pick up this gun was because I’m about to do him a favor that just might involve putting it into good use. Why don’t you show up tomorrow alongside me and show me what you’ve got?”
“Sure. No problem.” Lance’s voice was emotionless.
“Is there really?”
“Well, not from my side. The Colonel didn’t seem too excited about the idea of us hooking up though. Keep this between you and me, but I think he might be---“
“Trying to cover up his guilt? Lance, we’ve gone through your theory already – I’m well aware of it, now quit shoving it into my face.”
“I was gonna say, maybe he suspects us as well, and is afraid one might try to kill the other if it means leaving no living witnesses from that scene.”
“Anyway, I like how nothing that goes between you and Cortez remains very private.” Tommy said with a smirk.
“It’s better than having any uncomfortable secrets between us, ain’t it?”
“Just don’t expect me to return the favor on that front. Now as for that mission---“
“I could drive you back to your hotel while you explain along the way?” Lance extended his hand to point out his white Infernus that, like the Idaho, stuck out from the middle of the other cars, but for slightly different reasons.
“Sure.” Tommy said, double-reminding himself that Lance would have a gun on his forehead if he ever deviated too far from the intended route, especially under the guise of taking a shortcut.
“By the way, you saw the Colonel’s daughter at any point? Great pair of boobs on her.” Lance told unexpectedly once he’d started the car.
“Interesting. I think you might make a good shooter indeed.” Tommy snarked.
“How so?”
“Because your eyesight’s clearly damn perfect.”

Tommy didn’t keep himself busy with anything in particular after Lance had dropped him off, all the way until noon the following day, a whole two hours before the meeting was supposed to be on. Within that timeframe, the only notable event was a frantic phonecall from Ken for a change – the lawyer was fretting in his usual style, but this time for good reason, as there were now Forelli goons shadowing him outside his office building all day (‘allegedly, as a good lawyer would say’, Tommy pointed out – for some reason Ken hated the joke). Tommy didn’t think they’d actually have a reason to do anything beyond that, but made a mental note to watch his back a little more attentively from now on. Maybe, with enough luck, he’d notice if he had a tail beside the one he just met.

His rendezvous with Lance took place in the Pole Position strip club of all places, just a short bike ride away. Leaving the Freeway at the hands of some underpaid valet to get it to a safer location than its previous owner had chosen, Tommy had no difficulty finding Lance inside the rather crowded place – even in the middle of all the red lights, he and his white suit stood out like a sore thumb.
“I didn’t know you had much time for this stuff.” he snarked, startling his new ‘partner’ who had been busy admiring some girl in a cowboy hat, on the main stage.
“There’s only so much research I can do on the streets... and tell me, ain’t it a bit of a waste of time if you come to Vice City only to never go out there and see what it’s got to offer?”
“It could be. Either way, you better be ready for whatever happens... I’m not looking to babysit anyone for as long as I stay here.”
“Hey baby, you up for a private dance?” Tommy turned away from Lance to see another one of the strippers talking to him – an inevitable state of affairs, he figured.
“Not right now, I’m busy.”
“Oh...” The girl was clearly disappointed, but wiped that expression off her face quickly to go propose the idea for someone else.
“Lance, you know what the problem is with all these public places?” Tommy asked, his friend’s eyes focused on the girl’s ass as she walked away.
“Too many ears? Just be cool, man, all those people are just as occupied with their stuff as we’re with ours.”
“And what’s to say someone wouldn’t be here specifically to spy on us? Like that biker on the table, or the cab driver near him? Even that stripper who just approached me might be after information. We gotta be more aware than this.”
“What are the options?” Lance said dismissively. “Going to your hotel room? That’d be just too blatant, someone would notice a pattern sooner or later. And the less people know where you live, the better.”
“Besides,” he went on before Tommy could say anything, “I really doubt anyone knows about our alliance, or doesn’t care about it enough to send people looking out for us.” His voice turned into a whisper. “If my speculations are correct, the party who did this is big enough that they think they got away with it, scot-free. No need to worry about anyone getting back at them.”
“You had better be damn right, because otherwise that line of thinking might get us killed, Lance.” Tommy said, feeling honestly disappointed. A man like Lance should know better about how the thought process of professional criminals really worked...
“By the way, goin’ back to the more casual sh*t... you really shouldn’t dismiss the private dances around here. I’ve been to places a lot worse than this...” Lance winked as he spoke.
“I’ll think of it when I don’t have imminent assignments on the schedule.”

Lance obviously disagreed, as by the time Tommy got himself a drink, he had snuck off into the back with another one of the Western-themed strippers. Just as Tommy remembered from his youth, a healthy bit of adult entertainment made time fly like a hummingbird, and perhaps so it was for Lance as well, who still hadn’t come back by half past one. Tommy swore he’d drag the bastard out of that area by force if he took even five minutes longer, regardless of what the security would think. Perhaps Lance did eventually check the clock and realize he was running late, as he then emerged back into sight just as Tommy’s patience was about to run bone-dry, sweating and walking awkwardly. Tommy needed no words to express his disapproval.

“OK, OK, right, the meeting. We’ll take the car.” Lance said with haste, leading him out of the club.
“Great, nothing like charging my parking bill up the ass in the meantime.”
“I know sh*t like that sucks ass, but honestly, if you drive that chopper bike like I think you do – we’re better off using something that exposes us a little less, if things really get as sticky as you make it out to be.”
“I thought you cared about your wheels a bit more than that.”
“At least I’m putting it to good use! Nothing like the posh playboys you’d meet on Starfish Island. A few dents and bullet holes at least prove this ride has been to places!”
“And gain the attention of cops, I presume?”
“Meh, my lawyer should be able to bail me out if that’s ever the case.”
“I wouldn’t be so reliant, but you do things your way then.” Tommy acknowledged.
“Do you have a lawyer? It’s kind of a good idea in this city.”
“No respect for my privacy then? I’m still not sure if I can trust you.”
“You have it your way then.” Lance said, frowning. “But that does sound like you have one, whose identity you’re tryin’ to protect.”

The alley that served as their destination was another one of those that stretched for a long distance between two busy roads, right behind the corner store mentioned in the letter along with multitudes of other businesses, and most importantly well out of sight of cops despite being right about in the heart of a high-value part of town. If Tommy had been superstitious, he would’ve seen this as a bad omen, but rather he thought of this as an opportunity for redemption. He had backup this time, and he doubted the courier would pose as much threat as Leo Teal if he ever became aggressive – this anticipation proved true when he saw him for the first time.

Either the man was just proud of his heritage, or he was of the dangerously flamboyant variety: between the beret, red sunglasses, curvy moustache and purple jacket with a black and white shirt underneath, he stood out like a sore thumb, and perhaps it was better for everyone that he kept a low profile during the meet-up.
Tommy walked up to him ahead of Lance. “Excuse me, you Cortez’s courier?”
“’Uh?” The man seemed unamused. “’E said there would only be one of you.”
“Plans changed. Besides, this ain’t the kinda town where it’s wise to walk into deals alone.”
“I, for one, ‘ave ‘ad enough changes of plans for ze day.” the Frenchman lamented. “Just ‘ow is this greasy alley supposed to be safer than the mall a rock’s throw away?”
“I don’t know, and decisions Cortez made without my knowledge aren’t my concern right now. Just hand over the damn chips and I can get them to his boat.”
The courier was unimpressed. “I am not very fond of the way you try to intimidate me. For all I know, you might well be one of them.”
“What ‘them’?” Lance demanded.
“You seriously can’t claim you don’t know! Bloodthirsty GIGN agents, ‘ot on my tail ever since I acquired these! And now I don’t know if you’re... well, at least you’re definitely not French, but...”
Tommy’s patience waned. “Listen, prick, if you can’t put your trust in us, I’d suggest you just take them to Cortez yourself and be done with it.”
“Now you don’t understand... if they catch me on the boat, it’ll confirm their suspicions that I’m in league with their sworn enemy, and I’m guaranteed to take a bullet to the face as soon as I leave! But for now, I’m just an independent thief they shouldn’t use lethal force on.”
“And what about us?” Tommy asked with a scowl.
“As long as they don’t catch us in the act, they’ll never know! Sure, some of them might be spying on Cortez, but it’s not like they’ll stop you and search your bodies. No authorization, you know.”
Tommy started pacing back and forth impatiently. “Alright, I think you’ve prepped us for the task ahead long enough. I’ll be careful with the merchandise as long as you let us get on our way.”
“Oui, absolutely right, I just – I’ll just give the Colonel a really quick call, OK? Clear things up a bit, because I just can’t risk things here...”
“Sure.” Lance said with a good bit of sarcasm, but also contempt. “We got no problem with assholes holding us up, right?”

He turned to nod at Tommy, but saw something unwanted in the corner of his eye as he did. Tommy evidently saw the same, because he immediately stopped walking and tensed up. Figures dressed in dark protective clothing, gathering to the scene from multiple directions behind the courier couldn’t possibly mean anything good.
“Ah, the Colonel! Pierre ‘ere, glad you could pick up so soon. I’m in a bit of a situation over ‘ere – no, nothing serious, just something that requires clearing up...”
“Frenchie?” Lance asked angrily. “Pierre, whatever? Are these friends of yours?”
“’Old up, friend, apparently there’s more commotion going on. Look, les amis, I don’t understand what--- oh, merde.”
Lance chuckled nervously. “I know enough French to say that’s a good way to put it.”
“GIGN operatives...” the courier gasped.
“Well, they’ve got some nerve.” Tommy muttered, seeing that some were carrying assault rifles.
“You American idiots! You led zem right to our location! I knew I shouldn’t ‘ave trusted you!” Pierre shouted, not waiting around for a response as he took off running in the safest direction he could find.
“What the- oh, no you don’t!” Lance sprinted after him as soon as he realized what was going on; Tommy refrained from following as his chest was starting to ache again, and that kind of physical exertion was unlikely to do him any good.

Pierre ran towards one specific passage with determination, but the agents had seemingly predicted this as it was also the most closely secured one – as he noticed this, he hesitated for just a moment to decide on a new direction to run, and that was enough for Lance to latch on to his legs as several agents raised their guns---

The courier came down surprisingly easily even though Lance hadn’t even properly pulled him yet, but the ugly truth came out once he saw that the man was already non-responsive – a distinctive hole in the side of his head told everything he needed to know. He’d somehow missed the noise of the shot in the heat of the action, but now that wasn’t the biggest concern.

“Both of you imperialist American pigs, freeze!” a soldier demanded, gun now pointed at Lance climbing up to his feet over the courier’s body.
“Zat is propertay of le government Francais! ‘And eet over!” continued another. Lance gazed at the briefcase that the dead man’s hand was still grasping onto, wondering if the contents were worth risking their lives, even for Cortez’s sake...

Bang. Bang. If the agents were willing to use deadly force on their good old thieving friend, Tommy had every reason to believe they would do the same to unknown accomplices, and acted pre-emptively to bring them down. They weren’t probably dead from just one pistol shot each, but incapacitated enough that Lance could pry the case off that cold hand in peace. Tommy jogged to his location, regretting it the moment he started as the stinging sensation came back.
“That’s one way to hone your shooting skills, eh Tommy?”
The mobster shrugged. “Pointing and firing at stationary targets is easy enough. It’s not something you just forget, not even after a jail spell.”
“So how do you think Cortez’ll react when he finds out his friend’s---“
“Worry about that later.” Tommy said, noticing that even more agents were starting to flood in from more directions now, including the passage that led to their car. “We better move.”
“And where exactly?” Lance inquired. The agents were approaching with extreme caution, not wanting to take needless risks or they’d end up like the previous two.
Tommy pointed at one of the lanes, opposite the road they’d arrived from. “That courier seemed really interested in that direction. If we’re lucky, he’s got an escape vehicle lined up.”
“That’s better than asking you to run in your current condition, I suppose.”
“I didn’t need reminders. Now, allow me to carry the chips and watch my back.”

Lance stared at Tommy, uncertain if he should trust him not to leave him hung out to dry – but there was no time for pondering as the GIGN closed in ever so slowly. As he handed over the briefcase, Tommy immediately got moving, with the fastest walking steps he could possibly take, one hand clutching onto the briefcase and the other carefully aiming the gun up ahead, ready to fire if he saw anything that looked like the French SWAT’s uniforms. Lance took his first shots of the day (excluding what he had at the strip club, of course) to try and scare the agents, keep them at bay... one of them, likely a rookie, did back off in fear, but the leader of the squad was only agitated by this and fired back. He was a bit more accurate with the assault rifle than what Lance was comfortable with, so he picked up his speed as well.

“I knew it!” Tommy chanted triumphantly, Lance almost firing an unwanted shot as he became startled.
“What’s up now?”
“Exactly as I thought, the French guy had a little form of transport stashed over here.” Lance took cover behind the corner of the building as he re-emerged into the street, and spotted a plain-colored but evidently fast sport bike that Tommy was pointing at.
“That motherf*cker! I bet he was gonna rip us off and make a break for it with that thing!”
Tommy sat on the bike and revved it up. “Are you gonna spend all this time cursing a dead man, or be thankful that he left us a means of escape?”
“Good point. Make some room for me too...” Lance took the most comfortable position he could behind Tommy, just as he began to see the first few chasers pop into view. “And floor it!

Lance and at least two GIGN troops exchanged fire as Tommy pulled a short wheelie before zooming into the street, holding on to the briefcase for all it was worth. Civilians in cars and on the sidewalk alike panicked, as usual, about the sight of urban warfare right in the middle of them, which made Tommy’s work a bit more difficult – not that it mattered, as they were out of range within seconds. Weaving through disarranged traffic, both knew right then that no one would have what it took to catch them on speed alone.

Later that evening...

At sunset, Vice City became a considerably different place. Only for the better if glory-seekers were concerned, as that was when all the neon lights began flooding Ocean Drive and other similar locations – but people with experience knew all too well that where the lights ended, misery began, especially for gullible fellows traveling alone.

The lack of the shiny beams and protective crowds wasn’t a problem for two men who were willing to put a merciless bullet in the head of anyone trying their luck with them. Fortunately for the city’s lowlives’ sake, the only person they encountered in the Marina was a drunkard too busy vomiting into the ocean to bat an eye. The big boat standing out among the rest was all lit up and appeared to have some life going on aboard, even though it wasn’t quite comparable to the usual parties.

“So my money will be well spent, right?” Cortez asked his current guest, shooing off his chefs that were frantically trying to tell him something.
“I don’t think you could invest it any better!” Avery Carrington chanted like a salesman. “There aren’t many places in this world more suited to gentlemen like yourself than Shady Acres.”
“I just hope your workers are more competent than whoever built my current residence. The plumbing issues are simply unbearable at times.”
“Speaking of plumbing, I’m sorry to inconvenience you, but I think I may need to take a quick leak. There’s a bathroom on this boat, right?” Avery said, already jumping up and down a bit nervously.
“I’m not going to make my guests empty their load into the ocean. Norman looks the least busy at the moment,” Cortez said and snapped his fingers to get the chef’s attention, “so he may guide you.”
“Of course.” the assigned chef said with a brief salute.
“Oh, and hello, Vercetti.” Avery greeted along the way, taking Tommy by a bit of a surprise – he resorted to a brief wave of the hand at the business mogul before he disappeared down the stairs.
“You know that guy?” Lance whispered.
“I’ve seen him once – didn’t think he even cared much about my presence. We’ll see where this goes.”

By the time Avery was gone, the attention was on Tommy and Lance proper once more. The chefs got back to expressing their displeasure to Cortez, now louder than before.
“Boss, we tried to stop them, but they just forced their way in---“
“Just give us permission and we’ll toss them overboard!”
“Enough.” Cortez raised a hand at them once more, before focusing on his guests. “Thomas, I hope this unexpected violation of privacy came for good reason.”
“We’ve got your chips.” Tommy mouthed off, handing over the briefcase while barely resisting the urge to call out Gardner for doing the exact same previously. “And we really weren’t in the mood to be turned away a second time in a row with foreign gunmen hot on our tail.”
“Turned away a second time?”
“You weren’t here when we showed up at daylight.” Lance spoke up now. “All that was here was some overzealous guard who’d had a really sh*t day or something, since he decided to take that out on us.”
“I – my, this is awkward – I was attending a meeting somewhere else and should’ve remembered to tell you... you didn’t do anything irrevocable at least, did you?”
Lance shrugged. “He’ll get over the international hand signals in a few days, I think.”
“And it’s not like I hit him with full force or anything. I’m more merciful than his screams and insults would imply.” Tommy added.

“So if that thing’s cleared up – why are they working together? Did you tell them to?” one chef asked another.
“No, I only sent Tommy the briefing! I thought you had something to do with it.”
“Speaking of the briefing,” Tommy interrupted, “the idea was clever, but the execution less than subtle. You need to work on that, Jackson.”
“Little.” Riley said.
“What do you mean ‘little’? If anything, it takes a lot of work to write up a message that a rival agent couldn’t decipher in five minutes.”
“No, my last name is actually Little. See? I knew you only knew me on a first name basis, so what I did was change up the additional details to ensure the letter would never be traced back to me!”
“Wouldn’t do you much good if the enemy knew Cortez was involved. I doubt there are other Rileys associated with him.” Tommy argued.
“Fine, fine, prove a point all you want. But the most important question remains: how did you two find each other, and whose fault was it?”
“I would like to know as well – for security reasons.” Cortez added, setting the briefcase aside now that he had reviewed its contents.
Lance stepped up. “First of all, it’s nobody’s ‘fault’, Riley, or whatever your name was. Secondly, it’s not even a bad thing, which you’re making it out to be. In a f*cked up city like this, the concept of two guys on a similar mission covering each other’s backs shouldn’t come as a surprise, let alone be condemned by people with no idea of how it is to be us right now.”
“Well, that was a speech if I ever saw one.” Tommy said.
Lance nodded. “It’s a useful skill to have in this job.”

“Very well then.” Cortez put his hands behind his back and started thoughtfully walking in circles, henchmen moving out of the way when necessary. “I’m not going to spend energy trying to argue that, so let me just give you youngsters some advice. This team-up clearly gives you confidence, but don’t let it become false confidence. Even as an armed pair, you’re greatly outnumbered and outgunned by every halfway relevant faction in this town – though I guess it should be considered remarkable that you survived the evident GIGN attack and evaded them throughout the day.”
“Yeah, we forgot to mention that Pierre wasn’t so lucky. He’s sleeping with the fishes – or, well, worms to be precise.” Tommy said.
“That is a tragedy, and I wish you’d use more respectful language regarding it.” Cortez said blamingly, though Tommy felt little regret.
“In any case, now that his merchandise is safe and sound here, I trust you’ll refer me – us – to Gonzalez as you promised?”
Cortez’s voice sounded a tad tired. “You truly have the memory span of an elephant, Thomas. I am a man of my word though, so you will hear from him soon enough. Just be ready to come back here if anything previously unknown comes up or if I contact you... alright?”
“Yeah, I can work that out.”
“One last thing though!” Lance called out again, his tone now more aggressive. “Why exactly were you intending on keeping us separate again? What security reasons were behind all that?”

A toilet was flushed and a tap turned on below them; on the deck, Tommy was about to punch Lance for his sudden outburst, but Cortez showed a lot more calmness.
“I believe those sounds indicate that that is a question for another day. I’m terribly sorry for both of you that we cannot go on, but again the scheduled meeting has to take priority over the sudden, rash one. Esteban, if you would be so kind as to escort them...”
“Oh, and don’t you worry about us. We might look like we’d go out of our ways to look for fights, but we were brought up better than that. It’s why we’re still alive.” Lance added, the chef he recognized as the one most often assigned to give him instructions now stepping up from the crowd to do his job.
“I know. Just make sure if you do ever need to rough someone up, that it’s not someone on my payroll again – I hate to pay unnecessary hospital bills when things could be settled more nicely by just walking away.”

“So, what do you think?” Lance asked, both now sitting on a bench by the beach, which was just as deserted as any unlit part of town at this time of day.
“He seemed a bit pompous today,” Tommy observed, “but that could go down to us interrupting his housing arrangement.”
“Did anything about him scream guilty to you?”
“Not really – why, were you specifically baiting him for clues?”
“Yeah, sort of. Come on though, even you should notice he kept avoiding that one question. Now I know you hate to hear that over and over again, but something about it is fishy.”
“I liked the more innocuous theory better.” Tommy growled. “The one about him only keeping us apart so we wouldn’t kill each other.”
“Suit yourself then. Hey, why didn’t you ask him about the investigation progress?”
“Because in all that commotion, I could hardly pick a moment to bring it up, and he didn’t look like he had anything new to offer anyway. Then, before we knew it, we had that prick of a chef shooing us off.”
“That really wasn’t too nice of him.” Lance said, shaking his head. The conversation came to a brief halt as they watched the same drunkard they’d seen before now staggering past them.

“So – shame about your car.” Tommy said.
“No worries, insurance will take care of that if the French fries did as much as lay a finger on it. Just to be sure, you wanna give me a ride to where we left it, see if it’s still in one piece?”
“Wouldn’t that be one of the rash things the Colonel specifically won’t want us to do? It’s not like the agents would just give up their search and go home when night falls.”
“You got any clothes beside that Hawaiian shirt?” Lance asked.
“I got a suit for Cortez’s party on my first day here.”
“Good enough. I say we both grab a fresh set of clothes and your chopper bike. Then put on some helmets, and we can cruise right past their bloody noses...”
“...and they’ll be none the wiser. I suppose that could work – but that reminds me of something real nasty.” Tommy said, suddenly feeling agitated as all hell.
“What’s wrong?”
“My damn bike has been sitting in the strip club’s paid parking space all day long.”


The End.

Edited by Carbonox

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Yay, first chapter to a story posted altogether in this section in 2017! Do I win anything?


VC4: Trailer Trash Trials



As some wise frog once said, it wasn’t easy being green.

With past events – recent and distant alike – in mind, Vic felt like rephrasing that as “it’s not easy being a Vance”.

The biggest obstacle on his path right this very second was the difficulty of settling back to his normal life within the military’s ranks. A headache continued to plague him, courtesy of the Triad suicide bomber, and his superiors were understandably of low opinion of a soldier incurring an injury during free time that hindered his ability to do his job – particularly due to being forced to play it off as something incurred after a night of heavy partying. Thus, now he was stuck sorting endless papers in the offices and dying of boredom, but maybe he deserved it for being so gullible with Martinez...

A figure walking the corridor stopped at the doorway of the room Vic was working in – he paused for a moment to have a look, hoping it wasn’t a supervisor about to yell at him for concentrating poorly.

“So this is what they made you do, eh Victor?”
“George?” Vic said almost in disbelief, now face to face with the man that was arguably the closest thing he had to a friend within the base’s walls. He was one of the shortest and most harmless-looking soldiers in the entire city, but knew how to make his presence known like no one else.
“In the flesh. I knew the bosses were uptight, but damn, you really drew the short end of the stick. At least Trevor got to clean out reserve guns – sure, it gets tedious after a hundred or two, but you know how much he loves them...”
“Hey, if you bothered to come all the way here, why not offer a hand?”
George was taken aback. “I’d – rather not interfere with the progress, I’d only mess things up.”
“Fine.” Vic said, rolling his eyes as he grabbed a snack bar from his backpack that was lying a bit hazardously next to his chair. “But at the very least I’m taking a pause. Especially if you got something else to say...”
“Well, I was only supposed to bring you this from Martinez.” George showed him an envelope, but pulled it away before Vic could grab hold of it. “But first, have you seen Trevor or Edward recently? My searches have been fruitless.”
“No, I’ve been stuck doing this sh*t all day long now. Didn’t get much time to check up on them back at the barracks.”
“Ain’t that a bitch. You haven’t even hit the gym?”
“Schedule’s tight, no chance.”
“Damn it... Maybe they’ll be at tonight’s lecture, though. You’re coming for that at least, right?”
“I doubt it. What’s it about anyway?” Vic inquired, his gaze still fully focused on the envelope.
“Pretty much anything an ambitious soldier needs to know. Survival skills in a hostile environment, close quarters combat, that kinda stuff.” George said, newfound excitement in his voice. “They brought in some private military veteran to talk about that.”
“Private military? Since when have they been tolerated ‘round these parts?”
“Ever since they couldn’t find anyone equally qualified, I guess. Seriously, this guy – Michael Masters was his name – knows his sh*t in a way none of our men do, with all due respect.”
“Catchy. But again, the bosses would like to keep me on a really tight leash, so you may be on your own for that. In the meantime, that message...?”

George looked around with confusion, before noticing the item in question was still in his hand.
“Oh yeah... Wouldn’t want to get in unnecessary trouble for withholding it on purpose, huh?” he laughed nervously, handing it over.
“The only one you’d have to worry about is me and my right hook.” Vic said dryly.
“I’ll make a mental note to avoid being on the receiving end of that. But anyway, care to discuss one more point before I allow you to get back to work?”
“Sure – and no need to make it quick.”
“I see.” George scratched his badly shaved beard, looking more thoughtful than ever. “What exactly is it that goes on between you and Martinez?”
“Come again? Aren’t things like this supposed to be private?” Vic asked confrontationally.
“No need to take offense, it’s just – well, it’s no state secret you two have had your fair share of meetings lately.”
“If you need to know, I’m discussing my future career aspirations.” Vic lied with eloquence.
“Really?” George wasn’t buying any of it. “I didn’t think he would be a very qualified person for that sorta counseling – as I bet you’d know, having seen him so often.”
“He’s not, it’s just strictly unofficial business going on between us. Don’t worry about that, but rather my physical fitness if I get stuck doing this sh*t full-time.”

George’s expression continued to be most doubtful; Vic prayed that it was not because he suspected anything absolutely criminal, but just something like him having the privilege of getting to watch porn in Martinez’s office whenever he found time. Sometimes he even wished that was the case for as long as no barnyard animals appeared in the clips.

“Then that’s the way it is. Take care now, Victor, and make sure that if you catch a glimpse of those two lameheads, you let them know I’m looking for them. I’ve got important things for them to tell.”
Vic shrugged. “What kinda things? I could be your messenger while I’m at it.”
“It’s kinda inside stuff. Hard to explain very quickly. Anyway, gotta run – shooting range awaits!”

Vic shook his head. As well as he normally fitted into George’s friend circle – having a six-letter name helped not to stand out – sometimes he still felt like an outsider, all because he had arrived at the base much later than them and wasn’t familiar with everything they did or had done together. All that exclusion made him almost want to stop putting up with them and find new friends instead, but as much as he hated to admit it, they were – half the time, at least – some of the most mature people on the base: the exact kind of company he was in need of. Most of the soldiers at his barracks were more like juvenile Lances, the kind that would both become bored to death if a serious conversation went on for more than two seconds, and find some of the dumbest possible ways to bring trouble upon themselves and anyone around them.

Ah well, on to the letter. Vic dreaded opening it, but if he didn’t, Martinez would find a way to ruin his career and life by extension out of spite. He knew that all too well...

Vic, I’ve assigned you another off-day next Friday, as I hear that headache hasn’t been letting up. I hope you use that time wisely to see that lonely friend of yours. You have my blessing to grab my bike again.

- Sgt. Martinez (and really, you don’t need to salute me!)

“Really, Jerry?” Vic asked aloud. “Lonely friend. If he’s so lonely, why don’t you ever keep him company, you prick?”

Vic didn’t see George or the others at all before Friday morning, when he changed to his civilian outfit and left the base behind once again on the Streetfighter; a relief as that meant no uncomfortable questions about Martinez’s secretive message. By now, he knew the approximate route to Phil’s place and also made sure to take it as quickly as possible, because a difficult-to-describe feeling of dread kept sneaking its way into his brain as he passed through the gang-infested zones – almost as though his deeper instincts were warning him of a great danger, particularly when passing by large groups of Haitian and Cuban gangsters alike. Either word had gotten out already that a military man had wreaked havoc in the area and they were on a lookout for anyone fitting the profile, or they were just casing him as a victim of bike theft. Vic certainly wasn’t taking chances either way, and shamelessly ran red lights for the entire distance.

“So – anyone home?” he called out, parking the Streetfighter right in the middle of Phil’s yard. He still disliked the place as much as he did last time – it hadn’t been cleaned up at all since then, the signs were ominous as ever regardless of his new friendship with the owner, and speaking of him, Phil probably did this on purpose every time. He was nowhere to be seen or heard, but would probably emerge whenever a guest least expected it, just to give a heart attack to any of those who were in the depot without permission.

“Whuh? Who’s there?” Phil asked, sh*t-faced as ever, disproving Vic’s theory on the spot as he stumbled out of his trailer and nearly tripped on the threshold. He had no gun on him, just a bottle of the thing he called boomshine – things were better that way.
“Your friend, Vic. You wanted to see me, right?” Vic said. If Phil didn’t recognize him at all because of a clothes change, he’d haul the drunkard’s ass to a rehab clinic that very second.
“Victor *hic* Vance? Oh, for sure I did, but – it was supposed to be on Friday, right?”
“This is Friday, you moron.”
Phil scratched his head. “Really? Huh... then where’d Thursday go?”
“Knock it off. Our last antics already got me in trouble back at base, and I’m really not up to wasting this day away ‘cause you can’t even give me basic instructions.”
“Actually, Vic...” Phil raised a finger, holding on to a beam for support. “I don’t need to, since *hic* it’s not me that needs help.”
“Not you? Then who, your neighbor?”
“My brother-in-law – *hic* Marty J. Williams.” he said hoarsely.
“Marty? Not the trailer park hillbilly---“ Vic wanted to add wifebeater trash, but that was a harsh verdict on someone he’d only seen in pictures.

Phil simultaneously shook his head and hand, looking incoherent as ever. “I had no choice! Well, if you wanna get technical, then maybe I did, but it’s too late to change things now.”
“Alright, fill me in...” Vic said, standing before him with his arms crossed.
“He just dropped by the other day to make sure I was doing *hic* OK, and I was really drunk – like, unusually drunk, to be clear – and may have mentioned you when I told him how my day went.”
“OK, well, I’m gonna pass on that one. I only ever signed up for this to help you survive through everyday life, not run errands for every crook on the mainland.”
“Please, Vic, consider!” Phil begged. “Marty was really clear that he needs *hic* guys like you. There ain’t many around that will throw themselves into crazy adventures like the one we had.”
“And how are you gonna assure me that he and his boys won’t just shoot me on sight?”
“Marty ain’t like that. No, really, Louise says he’s really grown as a person since they first met. Just recently he’s been ‘dignifying’ his interests a lot, and that includes contacts too.”
“Diversifying?” Vic corrected.
“Yeah, don’t ask me what that means.” Phil said with a chuckle. “But I told you about the Cabrones and how they do *hic* favors for him, right? He won’t discriminate or anything – and would you know, he also said he just wants you to try it out, working under his wing, I mean, and decide yourself if you like it or not.”
“So absolutely no ulterior motives?”
“No, no, no. Who knows, you and Marty could become best friends, you could even open up his mind some more. Wanna go right now?”
“I’m already ‘best friends’ with someone who has an awfully similar name, and look where it got me.” Vic muttered angrily. “But the quicker we get done with it, the better, I suppose.”
“Great! We taking the *hic* Walton. You get the honor to drive.”
“Maybe I should indeed.”
“I could easily do so myself *hic* but the cops never seem to agree.” Phil complained, stumbling over to the truck to open its doors, and after much pondering and weighing the options he had, leaving the boomshine behind.

Trailer Park, Southern Little Havana

If Phil wasn’t with him, Vic would’ve turned his back in an instant to the unwelcoming sight that was Marty’s humble abode. Pickup trucks, uncollected trash and Confederate flags littered the trailer park no matter where he looked, and the agitated barking of a large dog was clearly audible as he pulled up to the front of the most important-looking trailer.

“Don’t worry about that, it’s just something they play on a loop to scare off trespassers. You can notice it if you listen long enough.” Phil assured.
“For some reason, dogs aren’t even my biggest worry right now. You mind knocking on the door?”
“Come on, man... I knew you’d say that, but Marty’s always told me he likes guys who ain’t afraid to present themselves to him, in his turf. Go on, I’ll just – keep watch back here.”
“This all smells real fishy...” Vic muttered, removing his seatbelt and getting out of the car while trying to spend as long as possible doing it.

Heading to Marty’s doorstep, Vic had the ever lingering feeling that he was being watched from multiple directions. There wasn’t a soul to be seen anywhere nearby, but all signs pointed to the possibility that several pairs of eyes were scoping him out from behind the conspicuously closed curtains of the neighboring trailers. He gave the door a long, hard series of knocks, knowing he’d certainly been detected already, and trying to suspiciously sneak around in these guys’ territory was a great way to disappear without a trace.

Thinking of all sorts of convincing phrases to say to give off the best possible first impression, Vic was equally as surprised as the woman who opened the door of the trailer for him when their eyes first met. He swore this had to be Phil’s sister, but had no idea what to say to her if she was alone – was it safe to discuss Marty’s undoubtedly illegal business without him present, and with someone who looked innocent enough to have nothing to do with it?

“Uh – hi.” Vic said, realizing seconds later that it wasn’t really the conversation starter he’d been aiming for.
“Who are you?” the woman asked. She didn’t seem that hateful – just a bit quiet, maybe even afraid for some reason.
“The name’s Victor Vance. I’m looking for---“
“All you’re gonna find out here is trouble, Victor. Especially if Marty finds you.” she said apathetically.
“I don’t think that’ll be a problem. He’s who I came here to meet, and---“

What the f*ck, Louise?” A new voice spoke over him, belonging to an almost bald, thick-mustached man who had emerged from around the corner, oil stains on his checkered overshirt. “I thought I made it clear you’re not supposed to bring in any of your damn guy friends?!”
“He’s not my friend, Marty, I don’t even know him!” Louise defended herself.
“That makes it a whole load f*cking better, doesn’t it?” he screamed and spat to the ground in anger.

If this is Marty, Vic thought as the scene unfolded, then we’re off to a f*cking wonderful start. Apart from the fact he had a bully’s voice and stumbled like he’d been drinking, Vic’s theory of him being a domestic abuser didn’t sound far off at all. He took the moment to check on Phil, and saw that the damn slacker had picked up a comic book now, not paying any attention at all to the ordeal going on mere feet away from him.

“Now, boy, you get gone.” Marty ordered all of a sudden midway through the couple’s shouting match, instantly bringing his voice down to a deeper level.
“He said something about wanting to meet you!” Louise shouted before Vic could even make an effort to turn around.
Marty almost exploded. “Didn’t I just tell you to shut up? Get the f*ck back inside and cook something already! Is a shouting match all I’m gonna get for fixing the truck all day?”
“You know what---“ Louise was undoubtedly going to say something nasty, but a deadly stare from Marty stopped that plan on its tracks, and she retreated further back into the trailer.
“Exactly. Now what about you, boy? What do you want?”
“Work – apparently.” Vic said.
Marty scoffed. “I ain’t hiring.”
“Yeah? Well, Phil Cassidy said otherwise.” Vic snapped. He could notice Louise almost sneaking back into view as soon as the words escaped his mouth.
“Phil? Phil f*cking Cassidy? You a friend of his?” Marty demanded.
“Of course – he’s right there, if you wanna ask him.”

Pointing at the Walton, Vic was more than satisfied to see Marty’s mouth spread wide open from shock – right before he let out a massive laugh, nearly bending over backwards. For some reason, Louise only made a nearly inaudible sigh in the background; Vic would’ve thought she’d be happier to see her brother considering daily life with Marty had to be toxic.

“You got some balls, boy, you know that? I like it... not everyone comes here acting as confident as you. And that’s precisely why they ain’t getting hired.”
“I thought you just said there’s no work.” Vic pointed out.
“Forget about that – uh, slip-up and get to the important bits. I’m Marty Jay Williams, leader of the Trailer Park Mafia. You?”
“Victor Vance, or Vic for short.” He noticed that Marty made no effort to shake his hand.
“I see...” Marty thoroughly inspected him from head to toe, something that made him feel uncomfortable even if there was no touching.
“The military’s taught you well then, huh?” he finally asked as Phil was making his way to the scene for the first time. “Real intimidating stature – that’s gonna help if you’re working under me. And here comes the reference, right on time!”
“Nice seeing you too, Marty. I – uhh – heard shouting from here, was everything okay?” Phil asked awkwardly. Vic asked him in his mind why he had taken so long to show up if that was the case.
“There’s nothing to worry about. Louise just couldn’t hear me over the vacuum cleaner, ain’t that right, snooky wookums?” Marty asked with a creepy wink.

Vic cringed. It was one thing to completely change his behavior with his wife while Phil was around, and another to go so far out of character while doing it that it should give away his true nature to any man in the world – besides Phil, of course. Just as he thought it couldn’t get any worse, Louise let out a happy “yes” and got back to her housework as if nothing bad had happened between the couple all day.

“Good to hear. So how’s business?” Phil asked, oblivious as all hell.
“I actually thought I’d go out and show your man how I run things around here. I tell ya, boy, if you’re half as good as Phil here says, we’re gonna have one beautiful partnership.”
“I can hardly wait.” Vic said, rolling his eyes.
“Anything you want me to do? I could come along too!” Phil suggested.
“No, I’ve been thinking I want to do this trial run just together with your boy. Get well acquainted without any distractions, and all that. You could help me by checking out my office down the street though. I’ve heard some gang of undesirables have been seen nearby, as if to survey a target for an attack.” Marty said, pointing somewhere to the south.
“I thought I could just stay here, see what Louise is up to?”
“We all would prefer that, but right now Hank and the other boys need all the help they can get, and my wife’s extremely busy inside. There’ll be time for socializing later.”

Marty was convincing enough that Phil had nothing to say in objection – just the way the redneck intended, no doubt. Vic wondered if anyone was ever going to call him out on that, and how long he could watch from the side before doing it himself.
“Now then, let’s the two of us get moving. You can drive, Vince.”
“It’s Vic.”
“Whatever... I’ve been thinking, first off we should drop by at the Café Under the Tree over at Little Haiti.” Marty said, presenting his vehicle, a Bobcat that absolutely looked like it needed his constant maintenance to remain the least bit driveable. “You know the place, right?”

Truthfully, Vic did not, but the instructions on how to get there were simple enough to follow. On the way, Marty insisted they discuss his business as that was the whole reason for them getting together – it only solidified Vic’s low opinion of the man as his “looking after people who look after him” sounded an awful lot like a politically correct description of a protection racket.

“This is the place.” Marty pointed out eventually, motioning for Vic to stop at the side of the road. The joint looked nice enough from the outside – the small café had been neatly tucked between the bridge to Leaf Links and the adjacent road, and was so clean and well-kept that it stood out from amongst the surrounding buildings. At the same time, Marty’s mannerisms made Vic feel like he was about to bring the idyllic site down for negligible pay.

“I guess we ain’t here to pick up a coffee?” Vic asked eventually.
“No, we are not. Before we make any moves whatsoever, answer me this – do you know anything about the Sunshine Crew?”
“That a local music group?”
Marty laughed maliciously. “You’re even less experienced than I thought. I could lecture you all day, but for now, you only need to know two things. First, they’re scum.”
“They’re scum.” Vic repeated with a hint of sarcasm that Marty did not catch.
“Second, they’re incredibly resistant scum. I dunno what kinda voodoo they’re practicing in the depths of their turf, but sometimes they act like they’re impervious to pain. Rule of thumb, to get those dumb sh*ts off your back, either blow their brains out or crush their limbs. My men prefer the former; that’s how to make sure they don’t come back to haunt us.”
“So what about them? Is this their hangout spot or something?”
“Do I need to explain everything?” Marty asked, visibly frustrated. “All you have to know is I’m involved in a bunch of disagreements over turf with them, and they’re profiting off that little pit stop a bit more than I’d like.”
“Is it a front for their operations?”
“Actually, it only pays them protection money, but close enough. Get in there and show the owner some reasons to start directing those payments to a very pissed entrepreneur from the trailer park in their stead.”
“There’s a bat on the bed if you’d like a little more smashing power.” Marty said dismissively.
“What’s in it for me?” Vic shouted, having none of this crap from a man he’d known for an hour.
“Oh, a real demanding type we got here, don’t we?” Marty’s expression changed to a sinister smile, instead of a blind rage that Vic had expected based on past events.
“Call me whatever you want, but you better start motivating me a lot better unless you wanna drive back home yourself, without me.”

Marty shook his head. “You know, pal, I’m not the small-time, thinking-too-high-of-himself kinda guy. Me and my connections are known throughout this part of town for being able to get sh*t done.”
“Your threats don’t scare me.” Vic said bluntly.
“What threats? You misunderstand me. What I’m trying to say is, I’ll throw you a juicy bone: if you play ball and serve my business well, we’ll see to it that your effort to hunt down your brother’s killer is well funded.”
“God, did Phil tell you everything?”
“Only the basics, really. Though if you two really only met once, I suppose that was everything he knew...”
“Great. OK, I’ll see what I can do, but you better keep quiet about this. I don’t want my legit career to get any more endangered than it already is.”
“If that’s it, then why not endanger the Sunshine people’s business over there next? Remember, you see any jumpin’ in to defend the site, you sik ‘em.”
“You’re not coming?”
“Why would I employ a dog, then bark myself?”

Even with disappointed thoughts racing through his head as he let yet another asshole boss him around, Vic decided to humor him just this once – it must’ve taken him weeks to come up with that one sharp sentence, and who knew how angry he could get if it didn’t have the desired effect? This is just one go at it, he repeated in his thoughts, I’ll just do this for Phil and then get back to base, forget about this freak, and let Martinez know my time as the man who couldn’t say NO is over.

“Hello, sir, what would you like?” the Haitian behind the counter said in a friendly voice. Vic had a quick look around the café: no customers were present, just as he liked. Witnesses were about the last thing he wanted from this day.
“How about a warm cup full of protection money for Marty Jay Williams?” Vic asked, avoiding looking the man in the eyes just so he wouldn’t feel too sh*tty about what was happening. He openly waved around the bat that he’d been keeping hidden behind his back for added effect.
The vendor gasped. “No – please – the Sunshine Crew are already sucking me dry. There’s just no way I can---“
“Then you simply cut ‘em off from your life. Don’t make this too difficult now...”

Even though the frightened man was not going to, it was not a decision he’d get to make completely by himself. This was made all too clear when two Haitian gangsters in matching blue clothes showed up at the doorstep, both armed with bats, one of them spiked. The guy holding the latter looked like the leader of the pair, being older, taller, filled with gang tattoos and frankly, more intimidating.

“Either my eyes or ears gotta be failin’ me. There’s no way we got a Dominican bitch trynna threaten one of our stores in the name of the rednecks!” the spiked bat wielder said.
“Time to make an example outta him!” the other shouted, spitting at Vic’s feet.

Vic gripped his own bat more tightly, staring in the eyes of his attackers – he would never have expected to put Marty’s lesson into practice this soon, but these punks just left him no choice. An additional problem was that his military training never really gave any guidelines for fighting multiple opponents, just made it clear that he should never find himself in such a situation in the first place.

It was improvisation time. The men approached him at the same time, trying to force him into a corner. Rather than take an inevitable hit, Vic snatched a coffee cup from the counter next to him, and pretended to throw it into the face of the guy in the left, only to suddenly land a hit on the right one instead, then following up with a clean swing at the upper body of the original target. He stepped over the stunned and fallen Haitian, blocking a swing from the spiked bat coming from the right as he did, and soon found out about their damage resilience the hard way as the shorter man rose from the ground with little effort, and with hardly any change except more aggression.

Vic ducked to dodge the next attack from the spiked bat, which knocked the cash register off the counter, causing the shopkeeper to flee in terror into the toilet. More and more blows were exchanged afterwards as Vic blocked about half of them and swiftly moved out of the way of the other half. The frustrated Haitians ended up smashing up the café even worse than Vic would have if it ever came to that, but didn’t even care in their adrenaline-fueled rampage.

Playtime had to end eventually, and the chance arose when the more aggressive one of the duo smashed up a flowerpot in a corner in another failed hit, getting his bat’s spikes stuck on the wall. Vic side-stepped away, also dodging a vertical attack from the younger Haitian, who was now left between Vic and his friend as a meat shield of sorts. Vic didn’t wait for either to regain their composure before audibly smashing the man’s skull open with the best horizontal swing he’d thrown so far – the Haitian collapsing like an utter ragdoll was a sign of certain, permanent victory this time around.

“Emmanuel!” the older gang member yelled in more despair than Vic would’ve thought he was capable of.
“Now it’s one on one – fair enough if you ask me.”
“You have no idea what you’ve done!” The Haitian lunged towards him so fast that Vic only barely averted danger.
“The Sunshine Crew will not forget!” he shouted, voice on the verge of breaking any second.
“I think you might.”

One bang, and the second Haitian went limp, a gunshot wound right at his back speaking more than a thousand words about his fate.

“That looked pretty close.” Marty said nonchalantly, holstering his pistol as he placed his foot over the gang member’s body as if to declare victory.
Vic took a few long, deep breaths as well as a seat in the nearest booth now that the adrenaline was starting to wither, and his feet were feeling like spaghetti – understandable with all the exercise he’d just done.

That, and he was angry as f*ck. “How did it take you so long? You were right there the whole time!”
“It was your trial, wasn’t it? Besides, you did pretty well by yourself.”
Before Vic could think of some kind of a comeback, Marty went to the counter, knocking heavily on it. “Anyone still home? The fight’s over, time to talk business!”
The shopkeeper took his time getting out of the toilet, knowing all too well what was coming up. “Marty Jay Williams, right? Err, we can settle this peacefully, right?”
“I ain’t got no interest in hurting future partners, pal. Now Vic, this is the boring part where I make us some money, so you can wait in the truck if you want.” Marty said.
Vic rolled his eyes. “On it. You might wanna put a whole bunch of guards here though – I got a feeling those Sunshine boys won’t like it when their turf gets invaded.”
“Whoa there, pal! I hired an enforcer, not a tactician. I’ll decide what I do with my stores!”
“Whatever, you do what you want then.”

He went to sit on the driver’s seat, knowing Marty wouldn’t be bothered to take the wheel when heading back home either. Vic only got to enjoy listening to some V-Rock and fiddle his locker key out of boredom for a few minutes before his employer made his way back outside, now probably rich enough to tune up his truck for show-off purposes.

“Got a good deal?”
“Better than any other stores I’ve taken recently.” Marty said vigorously. “You know, you’ve been a good wingman today. Maybe I’ll have more jobs in line for you.”
“OK.” Vic said, not commenting on the sudden mood swing. “Time to go back home?”
“Just follow this street first, towards the print works. I wanna show you where the Sunshines’ most feared thugs reside.”

As he rounded the corner past the café, Vic was treated to a hopeless sight of dozens upon dozens of run down, barely inhabitable houses that looked like they were taken straight out of a third world country. Even though he had no positive thoughts to spare for the thugs he’d just fought, he wondered how many of those most feared gang members, whom Marty was presenting to him like animals in a zoo, could’ve led an honest life had they been dealt a different hand from the get-go. Even Haiti itself had to be nicer than this part of town.

“Interesting... hold on, Vic, pull over, pull over.” Marty said in a rush, having inspected the houses with more precision than Vic thought was necessary. He followed the order regardless, clumsily parking the truck halfway on the street and halfway on someone’s front yard, having really no choice in lack of a sidewalk.
“Now, Vic, how’d you find your first experience with the Sunshines?”
“Pretty decent. Just left me wondering if they’re this crazy when not protecting their assets.”
“I think you might find them to be exactly that. But you don’t fear them, right?”
Vic frowned. “Doubt it. Long as I ain’t expected to fight off another pair without a gun.”
“Good enough. Now look – that green house directly to our left, that’s the residence of Jacques J. One of their and, dare I say, the whole mainland Vice City’s most infamous enforcers. The kind that make weaker men sh*t themselves by just approaching them. Now, it looks like he’s thrown a party of some kind, ‘cause I can see a balloon still hanging on his porch. If you can call that a porch, of course...”
“Pot, meet kettle.” Vic said quietly.
“At least I chose to voluntarily live in a trailer! Besides, mine is more than comfy enough as it is... extra space would just spoil me anyway, make me forget my roots.”
“OK, so you wanna pay Jacques a visit or what? Why are we here?”
“Don’t you get it? This is an impromptu test for you. Plenty can say they ain’t scared of the Sunshines, but will back out soon as someone calls them out on their bullsh*t. Right now, I wanna see you show your fearlessness, and your accuracy, as you pop that balloon right out from underneath the big bad hood’s nose.”
“There any bonus points if I also pop the house owner’s head?” Vic asked.

Marty laughed like he had just heard a good joke. “I already like you more than I ever thought I would! But no, let’s focus on material damage on this run. Once we officially declare a war, Jacques and all his buddies are gonna be free game, though. Now take that shot.”

Vic rolled down the window, taking more time to aim than he really needed, for a good impression’s sake. The shot itself wasn’t anything special, but it made Marty tap his back with pride when it scattered red rubber all around the spot where the balloon once hung. The mission, if he could even call it that, was successful – not that he expected anything less.

“Solid as always! Now let’s head back to the trailer – just watch out for the Sunshines’ cars on the way. They’re easy to tell apart, they always drive these dark red, almost sh*t-brown lowriders...”
“What, like that one?” Vic asked, spotting a Voodoo pulling out of one yard up ahead in what looked like a rush.
“Oh, f*ck. They don’t look too happy – whoop ‘er ‘round.”
What?” Vic stared at him in confusion as a hand peeked out from the open driver’s side window, holding a sub-machine gun.
Turn around!

Making a mental note to himself to purchase an English-Southern-English dictionary next time he turned up at a bookstore, Vic followed the order, the trails of the first few bullets fired at them visible on the side. To his surprise, Marty wasn’t dawdling this time and had already drawn his pistol once more to answer to the Haitians’ gunfire.

“That was quick of them, wasn’t it?” he asked.
“Bit busy here!” Vic yelled, barely keeping the truck on the road as the Voodoo rear-ended him with a bang.
“I don’t see Jacques in there. Then again, he’s more of an intimidate the enemies when they’re caught type of guy.”
Vic made a sharp turn to a side alley, causing a young couple to fling themselves against the nearby building’s wall. “Just making sure that won’t happen, don’t mind me!”

With the Voodoo breathing down hard on his neck, Vic somehow found a way out of the alleys and was just about to turn for the junkyard, when another similar car, this time a black one, emerged from the side, nearly T-boning him. Marty’s inadequate shooting didn’t help things either, and Vic let his frustration be known.

“These punks are organized, Marty! It would’ve been nice to know!”
“It’s weird, right? I knew we’d have some sorta tail after smashing sh*t up at that café, but for them to strike this quickly? It’s unheard of.”
“You knew we had a tail?” Vic demanded, making his way up another side path that led him across a stable-looking, but hardly wide enough red bridge across the water.
“Consider this an exercise in spacial awareness! I can’t always be there to spot threats for you.” Marty argued, before raising his fist in triumph as the initial pursuers in the red car failed to navigate the bridge and fell through a gap.

Vic didn’t dignify that with a response, and searched for an opening between the buildings to get back to the streets as the black Voodoo caught up once more, trying to ram him into the drink, something he was able to hold off by suddenly braking and cutting hard to the left, which got him on the other side of the chaser. As he spotted a traffic congestion further to the left, he made another sharp turn in quick succession, running over some debris lying all over the path and launching the Bobcat slightly in the air.

“Careful where you’re going, this thing don’t come with airbags.” Marty said.
“And that car behind us ain’t coming in peace! You got a plan, or am I leadin’ it to the park for your guys to shoot at?”

The question was more than likely to spark outrage from Marty’s side, but Vic never had to hear any of it as they witnessed the amazing sight of the Voodoo plowing over the same pile of debris and fly up even higher, awkwardly landing on its left side, from where things could only get worse for the occupants. When it finally rolled upside down, there was time for both to catch their breath and even share a laugh at the Haitians’ expense. Regardless, it was best to drive away from the scene quickly before anyone crawled out of the wreck and still had bullets in their gun.

“Well shoot my dog and call me Sally! You calculated all of that, didn’t you?” Marty asked with genuine impression, patting Vic’s back a bit more violently than necessary.
“I wish I did – and I didn’t know you had a dog, Sally.”
“For God’s sake, do I need to explain everything to you?”
Vic shook his head. “Relax, I know that wasn’t a literal saying. Just thought I’d crack a joke...”
“Be careful now, pal. You did well for yourself, I’ll give you that, but I don’t like jokers.” Marty warned.
“F*ck it, whatever. I get it when my commentary’s not welcome.”
“Good. Now drop me off – there better be food on the plate ready for my arrival.”
Vic’s rage got the better of him just as he thought he was done calling Marty out on something every two minutes. “And what if there’s not? Fine, put me through whatever hoops you have, but how about cutting your damn wife some slack?”

Marty had the gall to look surprised about the topic being brought up. “Simmer down right there, pal. I hired an enforcer, not a moral guardian.” he said, taking a nice and comfortable posture on the seat as if to remind who was boss. “My personal life is especially none of your damn business. Whatever happened to those good old-fashioned henchmen who only took my damn money and shut up about other people’s matters?”
“Really though, what exactly is the point of you guys having such a miserable marriage? Neither of you seems to have too much fun with it...” Vic insisted.
“You’ve only seen us once and think you’re some sort of an expert? I – ugh, you know what, Vic? When – if – you get yourself a wife, it won’t be long before you realize just how important it is to keep her in control. You have my word on that.”
Vic banged the horn as a reckless Sabre driver cut him off, just as he was angry enough as it was. “Because to hell with mutual happiness and good times, right? All for the sake of some outdated hierarchy bullsh*t – or maybe just a bit of power hunger?”
Marty let out a chuckle. “Maybe you’ll get lucky and that utopia of yours will become reality, but I wouldn’t count on it. Not in this world. I certainly wasn’t lucky – I swear that dumb bitch needs to be saved from herself all the time. Is it my fault if that gradually pisses me off?”
“If she’s a dumb bitch, why’d you even bother in the first place?”
“No one else was willing to bear the next generation of Williamses, to control these streets long after I’ve taken my last breath.” Marty said nonchalantly.
“I’ll take your word for it.” Vic mocked.
“Good. Now, this is where all these arguments end. You will keep your mouth shut the rest of the way and quit bothering me about things you have no control over, or you can kiss the future of this partnership goodbye.”

Vic didn’t understand himself sometimes. There was nothing – nothing! – he even double-checked his memory banks – forcing him to continue putting up with Marty, or just keep that option open, and he still rolled with it, now a couple thousand bucks richer and waiting for his next call. Sure, the honestly far too gullible Phil was going to be ecstatic about the two working together, but Vic was having some serious moral issues accepting money from – hell, helping a domestic abuser like that.

Come to think of it, was he being a hypocrite now? The protection racket Marty ran didn’t bother him nearly as much as his conduct with his spouse... but Vic was a career criminal, so that kind of action was all familiar and necessary for survival, it was the abuse of the weak that was taking things too far... and the café’s keeper wasn’t weak? Well, yes, he was, but there was hardly any personal connection – no, just no.

There were too many moral dilemmas hanging in the air for him to handle. All he hoped was that he could now get his mind off Marty for a good few days and focus on the nicer things in life. Such as the honest – if not a little sh*tty – living that awaited him behind the good old Fort Baxter’s walls.

“George.” Vic said blandly, finding his buddy all by himself in the barracks, kneeling next to his bed.
“Victor! Oh God, you nearly gave me a stroke. It’s all good, boys, no Sarge in sight!” George yelled towards the locker room, pulling himself up.
“What do you mean? You guys hiding for some reason?” Vic quizzed, taking a seat on his own bed just as two other, taller shapes emerged from the direction George had spoken at.
“Just Peppah. He decided it’s this house’s turn to go clean the toilets. Only we managed to go unnoticed.” said Trevor, the group’s senior member who also tended to have the most colorful personality, and whose beard was rapidly growing once again.
“Surprising really, that no one snitched on us.” George wondered.
“Nah, everyone here knows snitches end up in ditches.” the baby-faced Edward said.
“Especially that asskisser Tyler. Some just never learn.” Trevor reminded with the others sharing their opinions as well, with the snowball rolling into an absolute non-stop conversation, in the middle of which Vic could hardly even hear his own thoughts.

“Right, guys, it’s been a blast but I really need some rest, OK?” he spoke over the three of them, who only then realized he hadn’t been able to say anything for quite a while.
“Oi, Victor, there’s still unfinished business before we can let you into the dream world. We didn’t see you at the lecture.” George pointed out.
“Yeah, you did not.”
George made a blatantly fake sad face. “So that’s it? No questions, no interest whatsoever?”
Vic sighed loudly. “Alright, how was the combat master?”
“Stately.” Edward said.
“Radical!” Trevor followed.
“Magnificent even. Seriously, that guy taught us more in two hours than anyone on this damned base could in two years. I’m starting to think private armies are more my thing if they produce badasses like that.” George explained, finding it difficult to remain calm as he was constantly trying to make half-assed hand gestures to show his excitement.
“Be careful what you wish for. I don’t think he became that way through a very comfortable lifestyle.” Vic said with a fully serious tone.
“No sh*t. I don’t think Mr. Masters wears that eyepatch just for cosmetic purposes.” Edward said, sounding just as impressed as his mates.
George sat on his own bed as well. “I know what you’re saying, Victor, I just – seek some more excitement for this bland life I lead within these walls. That guy really looks like someone who could provide.”
“And I’ll repeat myself: be careful what you wish for. It’s not necessarily that pretty out there, even if---“
“Just a gigantic shame Masters didn’t demonstrate that suplex move on a human target. Like that righteous asshole Steven – or even Brayden! He always thinks too highly of himself.” Trevor bemoaned.
“You know what he said, it’s a gigantic security risk even if there’s a soft mat underneath. That sh*t shatters skulls.” Edward reminded.
“Is there a problem with Brayden’s skull getting shattered?” Trevor asked.
“Morally? No, but this place sadly has rules in place to protect the weak who keep endangering themselves by pissing off the wrong people.” George said regrettably.

Soon enough, all three were once again talking all over themselves about anything that came to mind, never staying on one subject and constantly going off on a tangent. By the time they started discussing Pt. Places’ wife and Vic was borderline asleep, George came to an awful realization.

“Aw, sh*t, man. We did it again, didn’t we?” he asked.
“Hey, don’t mind me. Just one question – were you praying when I came in?” Vic mumbled.
“Praying? Oh, sure. I need all the help I can get in this hellish place.” George replied.
“Weird – I didn’t know you had such a thing as a quiet voice.” Vic said, drifting off.
“Oh, f*ck you.”

The End.

Edited by Carbonox

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Right-o, time to finally show some love for the third of the settings. Hopefully this won't f*ck all the dynamics up completely lol.



LC0: Another Day in the Office



It was just one average fall day among others in Liberty City. Slight but constant wind, minor humidity and clouds covering the sun almost all the time were an unfortunate but nonetheless accepted norm in this city. The weather was depressing, but it had to be accepted as part of the everyday life if one wanted to settle in this part of the country – along with some even more grim factors, such as the skyrocketing crime rates throughout a number of boroughs.

The smart people of the worst city in America knew better than to meddle in the affairs of well-connected maniacs, and that was precisely why the three shady men in clean black suits strolling along a sidewalk in western Portland were able to do so with no interference. The most fearful switched to the other side of the street to keep out of their way, and cars let them pass without a problem whenever they came to a crossing.

Just as Toni Cipriani liked.

“This is the spot right here, Toni.” Aldo Bassani – a Leone capo leading the group – stopped him, pointing to the dead-end L-shaped alleyway that had been closed off from the public with a sturdy metal gate.
“It damned better be. I’m not sure whether to trust the intel on this one.”
“When was the last time Lil’ Fattie has lied to us again?” Aldo asked.
“Exactly.” Rocco said, having seen Toni’s puzzled expression. “He knows what’s at stake if he tries pulling a fast one on us.”
“Even if he’s telling us the truth, there’s still the small matter of getting past this obstacle.” Toni said, peering through the gate as he did. It was almost too quiet and empty in the back street that the Sindaccos were supposed to be guarding for all its worth.
“That thing won’t hold us for long. Care to give me a little boost, Aldo?” Rocco requested.
“No problem, brother. Just watch your back while you open the gate.”

Toni remained on guard as Aldo carried his brother on his shoulders to help him to the other side. He trembled a bit under the weight, but the younger Bassani was able to scale the wall with minimal effort, relieving Aldo of the pressure within seconds.

“Reminds you of our apple-stealing days, don’t it?” Rocco said once his feet were back on solid ground again.
The capo had a poignant, nostalgic look on his face. “Oh, the humble beginnings of a great career. How are the streets looking, Toni?”
“Emptier than Vincenzo’s head. You getting the gate open soon?”
“Don’t rush me! Both of you know I don’t work well under pressure... oh, wow. There’s not even any security mechanisms in here. Stupid Sindaccos made this all too easy.” Rocco said with mild amusement, moving the gate out of the way with a mere push of a button.
“Don’t make fun of them just yet.” Aldo said, stealing the words right out of Toni’s mouth.

Going in deeper, the alley widened a lot, looking almost abandoned as some boxes were haphazardly lying here and there in the middle of the wide area, though at least most dumpsters still stood next to the buildings’ walls where they belonged. The five lockups scattered all around the perimeter, however, were of the Leone mobsters’ primary interest.

“Anyone know which of these is the right one again?” Toni asked gruffly.
“Quoting Lil’ Fattie, they’re keeping the armored van in a lockup at this spot. Apparently he couldn’t be f*cked to research more closely than that.” Rocco said with disappointment.
“All is not lost yet. We just need to keep our voices down and pick our poison carefully. One wrong move, and we may get torn to shreds by angry gunmen before we know it.” Aldo said, eyes darting across the whole yard making sure there were no weapons pointed their way from the windows as he spoke.
“Do you think he is guarding this place as well?” Rocco asked.
“If so, we’re blasting him to bits with everyone else. It’s not rocket science.” Toni said with a voice devoid of fear.
“I’d be more careful if I was you. People who take out two made men aren’t to be taken lightly.” Aldo warned, just as Rocco was starting to strut straight forward.
“When you’re done telling scary bedtime stories, watch my back, ladies. I have a good feeling that garage is the right one.”
“Wait, why?”
“It’s straight ahead of the entryway! Those trucks turn like battleships, so I don’t see why they’d complicate things.”
“Well, I’ve heard worse logic in the past...” Aldo admitted with a shrug.

Toni and Aldo had their guns at the ready and pointed at the shutter while Rocco spent numerous agonizing seconds prying it open – but the tenseness disappeared just as quickly when the contents of the lockup were revealed, only featuring armed mobsters on the pages of the stacks of comic books at best.

“Damn, it’s like a second hand bookstore in here!” Rocco said, going through the comics a little too intensively for the others’ tastes.
“Brother, focus!” Aldo hissed, before turning his attention to Toni, who now scoped out the next most probable garage to open. “So anyway, how are you feeling about this?”
“Honestly?” Toni laughed mildly. “It’s pathetic. Stealing the Sindaccos’ take from a bank job may be productive, but this is no way to earn respect. We look like scavengers doing this.”
“I hear you, but our track record with doing it ourselves ain’t the best one around...”
“Hey, it was Rocco who triggered the dye pack.” Toni said, picking the perfect moment to say it too as the plaintiff joined them at that very moment.
“Aldo, I thought you promised to never bring that up again!” Rocco whined, the other two shushing at him immediately.
“It was this naughty son of a bitch who did it, not me.” Aldo said jokingly, before getting back to business. “Anyway, Toni, do you think you could find more success in the search?”
He shrugged. “I’ll try.”

To Toni’s surprise, just as he was heading to open the farthest away shutter, something as innocent as a puddle on the pavement wound up affecting his decision. As he stepped into it and briefly looked down at his shoes, shaking off a bit of the moisture, he spotted some distinguished tire tracks – left by really big tires, too – that hadn’t quite yet completely vanished, and led to the lockup just about in front of his nose.

“Whoa. Change of plans, guys.” he said, showing the evidence to the other two once they caught up to him.
Aldo was quick to come forward. “Good observation. Do you mind if I take on the opening duties? I’ll remember to credit you for finding the take, I promise.”
“Whatever. Not like I get someone offering to do heavy liftings for me everyday.”

The trio could already smell the money in the air before Aldo was done with the lifting. It was taking a toll on his aching back, but the sight of the bottom part of a dark blue Gruppe Sechs van on the other side gave him the will to go on. Rocco was jumping up and down as soon as he spotted it – but Toni had no time to join the celebrations as he saw something else down there as well: a pair of legs, facing the door as if the person inside was waiting for this...

“ALDO, LOOK OUT!” Toni screamed, but far, far too late as Aldo just shoved the now open shutter up into the ceiling at that same moment, coming face to face with the man he least wanted to see, a big grin already on his face.
“Christ, it’s McLaggen!” Aldo didn’t even have a gun out when he truly needed it – and reaching for it was futile as the gunman opened fire at his upper body, tearing his internal organs apart right before Toni and Rocco’s eyes. Without even the slightest bit of resistance left in him, he slumped backwards, head cracking open as he hit the pavement.

“That was my brother, you f*cking maniac!” Rocco shrieked in panic.
“Yes... quite heartbreaking, ain’t it? Come here, let me end the suffering...” the blonde thug said, now flanked by a group of Sindaccos that had been alarmed by the gunfire.
Rocco pointed his sub-machine gun at him, unaware or just ignorant of the looming danger. “Like hell!”
“Rocco, get down!” Toni yelled, pulling him to safety behind a storage unit near an Italian restaurant’s open back door as the Sindaccos and their distinguished ally all took their best shots at them – one of McLaggen’s bullets just barely tagged Rocco’s ankle before he was fully in cover.

“What the hell did you do, Toni? You denied my vengeance!” he shouted miserably.
“There’s too many of them for us... and you need medical attention.” Toni said, peeking out of cover and counting at least five heavily armed gunmen.
“Because of you, asshole!”
“Would you rather be in need of an autopsy? Look, Rocco, I know this is terrible for you, but we’re in no position to take them right now! I promise, sooner or later we’ll get McLaggen for this...”

10 days later...

Toni had lost count ages ago of how many days had passed since that last assignment. From the sudden and violent end to one of the few nice capos in the whole organization to his daring escape with Rocco through the restaurant and all the way to a hospital, not forgetting about coming face to face with the Sindaccos’ new attack dog either – it was a long list of things to process, but at least there was plenty of time too, as nobody had yet given him a call to usher him back to work. Vincenzo had to be really busy at the time, as otherwise he would’ve chewed Toni out already over the phone and threatened to report his unproductivity to the Don. Any genuine regard for Aldo or his family wasn’t going to cross that man's mind for a second, but he was going to conjure up some fake emotions to get a slight bit more on Mr. Leone’s good side. That Toni could be absolutely certain of.

Though there was little he could do to topple Vincenzo’s position as the asshole capo in the mob, at least Toni had his way of spiting him by simply beginning to slowly tolerate his “home sweet home” better and better. This minimalistic gift from “Daddy Vincenzo” was obviously intended to keep him down and crudely remind him of his current place, but at least the sh*thole was beginning to look more like a sh*thole with potential. There was a nice view to the street so that he could observe the lower ranking henchmen’s business, and just having a garage to hold his current personal transport was quite a luxury in this part of town.

The main pet peeve of the place had nothing to do with Vincenzo, but rather the big painting of a stern old lady looking down on her son, which Toni was supposed to keep in the most visible spot of the house or else he’d face complaints from his so-called friends about having no respect for his family. Ma Cipriani sometimes felt like a female Vincenzo that he just couldn’t tune out no matter how hard he wanted to.

But out of all the things on his mind, the most troubling right now had to be Joseph McLaggen. As Toni sat down on the couch and surfed the channels until he found a mildly interesting, if not obscure street race going down on the other side of the country, he again asked himself the question he’d always failed to find an answer for: what on earth was his deal supposed to be? An Italian he was not, which he could tell a mile away even without hearing his voice, and he didn’t even represent the Sindaccos when it came to clothing. He’d only seen the man once before the fateful day, and that was another battle situation where there was no time to exchange news. Even Lil’ Fattie, who was regarded as the best informant in the whole of Portland, had nothing on his background. The blonde had just appeared at some point, and fought with the Sindaccos for a number of calendar years. Of course it was nothing new that a mob would use thugs from smaller gangs as extra muscle when needed, but McLaggen didn’t even seem to fit any other gang in the entire city... and they must’ve had a lot more trust in him than an average Diablo or Balla, considering his placement as a safeguard for their money van.

The door creaked open while he was still engulfed in thought. Toni was so spooked he almost fell forward on his face; he was certain he had locked it last time, and no one had any business walking in without knocking first anyway.

“You’re home, right Toni?” said the sharp voice of an Italian gentleman slightly older than him, just as the house’s owner popped out from behind the corner, gun drawn.
The gun came down just as quickly as it had been raised. “Luigi? For f*ck’s sake, man, I thought your manners were better than this!”
“Look, sorry if I forgot some crucial part of the etiquette.” Luigi Goterelli said, pulling the door shut behind him. “I’m a little bit on edge right now.”
“On edge? What for?”
“It’s my Ma again. Same old story really. Finally snapped and decided I ain’t welcome to stay at her place anymore. I know it’s a lot to ask for, but – ‘cause you’re the one guy in here who can relate to my life better than anyone, you mind if I crash at this place for tonight?”
“Oh. Yeah, that could be good. I don’t have heaps of space, but you can sleep on the couch.” Toni offered.
Luigi gratefully shook his hand, moving to the living room. “Absolutely, absolutely. No rush though – as you know, I’m a bit nocturnal. Side effect of the things I do for work...”
“So what was it that made your Ma so angry?”
“In a bit. Is that a VCRC race going on? Who do you cheer for?” he asked, noticing the TV screen.
“No one really, I don’t know those drivers. But I know for a fact I’d cheer against him if Dan Sucho was involved.”
“What a prick, huh?” Luigi said apathetically. “You know, those two cars I’ve never seen before – the Elegy and ZR, I mean. Those must be some good newcomers in there.”
“I guess.” Toni said, coming back from a quick step to the kitchen, with a beer in hand for both of them.
“Oh, nice, nothing like a cold drink for this time of day. You sure know what strings to pull – no less than five minutes ago, I was still feeling like I could kill someone for looking at me wrong. Now, I’d just punch them in the face, but leave them to see another day, one experience wiser.”

Toni twisted his can open, joining Luigi on the couch. “So you mind telling me what was it that pushed your mother over the line?”
“I think it’s just the disappointment over the way I ain’t found a woman or made grandkids for her yet.” Luigi said raspily. “At least, it seemed to be the topic she sulked over most. She just won’t understand the way I lead my life though – you know, all of you Leones know that I could have any bitch I ever wanted, if I had the slightest touch of interest in a long-term relationship. That’d interfere too much with my line of work though, so gotta make sacrifices.”
“Family is the worst sometimes. Good luck convincing my Ma that finding a woman is easily the least of my problems at this stage.”
“I hear you, man. And you know, looking at boss and Maria doesn’t give a very rosy impression of what it’s like.” Luigi said, followed by a long gulp.
“Or realistic, to be honest. She’s a damn gold digger.”
“So are a lot of other people in Portland. I’d discuss this all night, but there’s more important topics to get out of the way first.”
“Go on.” Toni said uncertainly.

“Don’t take this as an invasion of privacy, but word’s out you ain’t done so much as leave St. Marks once for the last week. I realize that what happened to Aldo was shocking and everything, and all of us are still incredulous about it, but that ain’t a way to---“
Toni shook his head. “I’m not sulking. I just don’t feel like I have a place to go now my party leader is gone, and his bro’s still recovering.”
“Well, uhh – yeah, I obviously knew that, a man like you doesn’t spend this long mourning---“
“Though I admit, Rocco will probably kill me when he gets out of hospital and finds out I’ve made no progress. Not that I could help it, of course.”
“Progress in what?” the pimp asked, noticing his drink had run out.
“Finding McLaggen and letting him know what the likes of us think of the likes of him.”
“Sounds like a chore that’s not really suited for just one man. You know, if you’d like to get back to work and avoid Vincenzo, why not give a certain other Joey a call?”
“For real?” Toni had never before thought of that.
“Why would I tell you lies? His car boosting operation is bigger than you’d think, you know. It just hasn’t been the same ever since his key man – Charlie or something – upped and left, and even though driving probably ain’t among your primary interests...”
“...I could still contribute according to my abilities? Maybe, but not at the expense of the war effort. We need to find a way to end things before any more of us fall.”
“If you want peace, prepare for war?” Luigi asked thoughtfully. “Well, on that front, I still maintain that if we took over their bar over at Red Light, we could easily drive them to lose their business in this part of town and push them all the way to Staunton.”
“You still keeping your hopes up that you’ll be promoted to club manager one day?”
“Why not? It’s below me to be stuck selling girls on the street like a cheapskate all my life. Sometimes I consider getting into the protection racket business instead, but that’d just be a waste for as long as we ain’t allowed to touch the Hunters' laundromat.”
“Yeah, they’re always doing well.” Toni admitted. “But I just suppose the Don’s word is law in this case. You know the drill, Maria always goes there, knows those people, doesn’t want them to get involved in our sh*t... it’s madness.”
“At least the Hunters are decent contributors to the community.” Luigi said just as the hard-charging Sabre Turbo flat out took someone else out of the race.
“Don’t they have a son working in the security business? Aaron, or something?”
“Corey. In the Staunton division of Gruppe Sechs, if memory serves.” Luigi recalled.
“At least it was in the ballpark.” Toni said with a hint of frustration. “You think he could turn a blind eye to us if we ever needed to relieve some big corporation of excess funds?”
“Maybe he could. Try convincing his dozens of workmates to do the same, though.”

The buddies continued enjoying a good time throughout the evening, grabbing more beers and speculating on why one competitor in the race was sabotaged out of a win by a crane – Luigi even managed to solve the final troublemaker of a word in Toni’s incomplete crossword puzzle. He didn’t even remember the last time he’d been able to chill like this, but considering how nice it felt, maybe it called for change in his general life habits. The problems he had were, after all, a little big for one man to take care of by himself.

“Hey, time to switch channels, Antonio. News are coming on, and I like to stay up-to-date.” Luigi said out of the blue, while some fisticuffs were going on post-race.
“Right in the middle of the best part, of course.” Toni said, but indulged him regardless.

Breaking news. Legislations have been passed to re-introduce death penalty via lethal injection to the State of Liberty.” the LCN anchor stated, the ticker below also supporting the claim that sounded so outrageous, it may well have been an April Fools’ joke.
“That just might complicate things.” Luigi said, deep worry noticeable from beneath the joking exterior.
“Wonder if it’s about time to start calling in favors. A few stings on Sindaccos might just put them outta the game permanently this time.” Toni added while some politicians he only knew by name were being interviewed about it.
In Liberty City, the news were also received positively among the city council. Mayor Roger C. Hole supports the statute, commenting that death penalty is ‘ultimately the only working method to discourage the youth from taking the wrong path in life’ and that ‘there are many completely unrehabilitable future recidivists locked up in prisons statewide awaiting a new chance that they should not be entitled for’...
“I mean, he has a point, but for as long as he’s not in our pocket, there’s plenty of reasons to worry.” Toni commented, grabbing yet another beer to help swallow the truth.
Commissioner Gregory Savage has reacted with equal support,” the report continued as a picture of a thickly moustached, slightly fat man popped up on the screen, “having noted that many of those serving time in the Liberty State Correctional Facility are ‘beyond salvation’, speaking from experience after lengthy interactions with several of them. According to Savage, ‘the first to take the needle should, without contest, be David Devlin’, a Diablo street gang associate who has been tried for over 20 murders, although has only been deemed guilty for one: the cold-blooded murder of former accomplice Juan Ramirez, his last victim before being caught by Savage.

“Doctor Devil...” Luigi snarled hatefully at the archived video feed of the trial of a dark-haired young man, who stood up straight the whole time despite almost the entire courthouse watching him with glances of reproof.
“He got three of our own, right?” Toni asked, uncertain about the details of one of the many incidents taking place during his stay out of town.
“It was the worst act of butchery I’ve ever known.” Luigi spoke with a low voice. “And I’m speaking as someone who’s still perfectly aware of the Harwood incident 15 years ago.”
“Do you think the Harwood guy is still in confinement? He ran with the Forellis, right?”
“He has to be dead already. He was just an impressionable kid that wouldn’t last a minute without having the element of surprise, and we all know that ain’t the case with prison fights.”
Toni scratched his head. “If you say so. Do we have any of our guys at immediate risk? Savage has been kinda aggressive with our operations recently.”
“There shouldn’t be any definite incriminating proof on our men at this point. 8-Ball’s still inside, but I think that was for something other than his explosive antics, and he should be running free again in no time.”
“We better get him back soon enough. He’s a downright guru when it comes to bombs.”
“Important assets in our job, those things.” Luigi said, accompanied by a faint laugh for a change.

More news reports followed after the main subject had taken up the majority of the airtime, but Toni and Luigi no longer found anything that directly affected their lives, save for maybe the Cocks' hard-fought victory in a pre-season match against the Beavers. Over the evening, with the progression of time came fatigue, which wasn’t going to get any better no matter how many more drinks were taken.

“Think I’m going to bed.” Toni said with a yawn. “Don’t keep me awake all night, now.”
“Mind if I grab and warm up any food, if you got some in the fridge?”
“Yeah, whatever. There’s probably some leftovers from yesterday in there, if the sensitive diva of a stomach of yours won’t mind.”
Luigi laughed more openly. “I’m used to more adequate VIP treatment, but I’ll forgive you long as you don’t surprise me with the sight of some unlucky mobster in there.”
“I can dream, but that won’t be the case yet. Johnny and Fabio Sindacco are gonna be my special guests eventually, though.”
“What about McLaggen?”
“He’ll fit better in Rocco’s freezer.” Toni said, stuffing himself into the cramped toilet next to brush his alarmingly yellow teeth. While complimenting this place in his thoughts earlier, he’d unfortunately forgotten about this little closet that made him feel like a sardine.

Toni fell asleep listening to Luigi cackling at some sitcom, almost being able to predict whenever he’d crack up next, and imagining how the concept of working with Joey was going to turn out – going even as far as being able to get his mind off the stressfully fruitless revenge plans.

Now, if only his driving skill was up to par in the same vein as Luigi’s ability to annoy him with that laughing.


The End.

Edited by Carbonox

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LC1: Family is the Worst



The call came like lightning from a clear sky. At first, Toni mistook it for a horribly mistimed alarm clock, feeling so exhausted upon waking up from his deep dreams that he couldn’t even keep his eyes open properly – and then there was the matter of his phone being a good few steps away from the bed. The ringtone wouldn’t give up and was only going to get louder the longer he took, so his only choice was to drag himself up even when every cell in his body was in robust opposition.

Toni slipped on his scattered clothes and came crashing on the floor with a hard thud, vocally cursing his luck and disregarding Luigi’s noise complaints from beyond the door as he snatched the phone and dragged himself back to bed. Some sunlight was beaming into the room through the blinds, but it didn’t matter as his natural time to wake up was still in the distant horizon.

“Who is it?” he asked grimly.
“Toni! Is this how you respond to your Ma now? All rude and obnoxious, just like the people you call you friends?” the old woman’s voice scolded him, as ever.
“Ma? Oh sh*t, I’m – really sorry, been sleeping badly and I---“
“So this is how you do it now? Complain about your petty little issues to your aging mother? I thought I raised you better than this, Antonio! I had it far more difficult than you when I was young, but do you see me whining about little things to someone less fortunate than me?!”
“No, Ma, it’s nothing like – look, if you need help with anything, I’ll be right over.” Toni swore, feeling more energized all of a sudden, not that he was likely to stay that way.
“Do you think I’m nothing more than a weak old lady who needs your help all the time to survive?”
“Of course not, but this call seemed urgent.” Toni argued.
“Every call from me is urgent, I’m your mother for God’s sake!” she shouted. “Now listen carefully. I have a real problem, and because you put me through great shame by allowing Aldo to die, it’s only right that you urgently help me out.”
“Are you at the restaurant? I’ll be over soon...”
“That’d be right over and nothing less if I wasn’t busy right now! I need to visit the bank, the repair shop and the mall, and you know how long those incompetent retail workers always take to handle my things---“
“But you’ll be back by evening, right?” Toni insisted.
“It’s you who needs to worry about showing up. Fail to come over by midnight, and you can consider yourself written out of my will...” Ma said without a hint of a joking tone in her speech, not that there ever was one.
“I – sure, I understand.”

Moments after, Toni threw himself onto the bed, so angry that he struggled to catch any sleep again regardless of fatigue.

The following morning – or rather midday, after further evaluation – wasn’t any more rosy. Toni was denied a chance to relieve himself of some uncomfortable pressure by a locked bathroom door, and had to hop-dance throughout the apartment as if it was club night for five solid minutes, waiting for Luigi to take a nearly everlasting dump (and finish reading the comic book as well – the occasional sound of flapping pages gave that one away).

When his turn finally came, he didn’t even say hi to his temporary roommate, rushing inside and immediately feeling like he could suffocate on the smell that had taken over the tiny little bathroom. Squirting out the remains of yesterday's beers took him ages, but was made a little more bearable by inserting a clothespin on the nose. The long session gave him an opportunity to think about life’s deepest questions, such as why the stench of his own fecal matter never bothered him in the same way as that of others.

“Guess you’re in no rush to go see Joey?” Luigi asked minutes later, when Toni finally came stumbling out and headed to fix himself some breakfast.
“Gib be a bweak. Can’d go anywhewe widh an empdy sdobach.”
“Suit yourself. I could do with an apology for waking me up prematurely, though...”
“Dhad’s endirely on by Ba. Fabily weally is dhe wowsd.” Toni said, aggressively slamming an egg on the table’s corner and having some of the yolk drip onto the floor.
Luigi nodded in agreement. “You gonna wear that new trinket when you head outside?”

Toni foolishly stared at him for ages, not understanding what the fuss was about this time, until he started to pay attention to the pain on his nose that he’d become used to and forgotten by now. He removed the clothespin and nonchalantly tossed it right over to Luigi, who made a decent mid-air catch.

“Sorry, I ain’t one for wearing anything too fancy. You can keep it – it suits you better, anyway.”
Luigi spun the object in his hand. “Let me guess, you’d like me to seal my mouth with it because my cunning wits are too much for you to handle?”
“If that delusion helps you sleep at night, I won’t stand on its way.” Toni stated.
“Alright then! By the way, I know this goes without saying, but if you somehow manage to run into Vincenzo out there, just ignore any agitating crap he has to say to you. He sure likes to f*ck with people’s heads when they step outta line...”



“...trashed my priced Banshee out of plain spite, never called me since then – this guy’s on a f*cking child’s level, Joey, for crying out loud!”
Yeah, Vinnie, that’s just how it went. Keep on believing. Toni sat idle on a chair in Joey’s office, scrolling through his girl calendar, with no intention of participating in the heated discussion (where all of the heat was coming from Vincenzo and him only). If he’d just been able to sleep uninterrupted, he could’ve been at the scene sooner and averted all this mess – Toni wasn’t fully certain, but he felt that this was what the ‘butterfly effect’ stood for.

“Look, I really don’t have anythin’ else to say on the matter. You got your opinion, I got mine. Now get back to whatever you’re up to and don’t f*ckin’ try to have a say in mine.” Joey said, spinning a wrench in his hand that he sadly wasn’t going to use anytime soon to bludgeon sense into Vincenzo’s head.
“You know, maybe you’re right.” Vincenzo said, gaze shifting between Joey and Toni. “You two do deserve each other. What business do I have getting between you anyway? I’m only the man who’s worked his ass off for Mr. Leone every day of the week without rest – why bother wasting any of that time to associate with an ungrateful prick and a disappointment in the family?”
“What’d you just say to me?” Joey demanded, going red with anger in an instant.
“I didn’t say anything that the boss would disagree with, that’s for sure.”
Joey gritted his teeth. “Get the f*ck out of my establishment, and don’t ever come back.”
“I was going to on my own terms, thank you very much.” Vincenzo said provocatively. “And you, Toni, I’ll be seeing you around soon enough. Might just not be with very good news to tell.”
Toni’s curiosity was woken just enough for him to open his mouth. “What’s on your mind?”
“That ‘sh*thole’, as you’d call it, that you call home. Do you know how much money I burned on that damn thing just to make you comfortable in this city?” His voice was steadily rising once more. “Since you’re just currently freeloading on everyone else’s expense, I’m thinking of putting that accommodation to better use and house some more grateful and promising men in your place. Whether they’ll let you stick around in exchange for working full-time as their maid, I won’t know.”
“I’d love to see you try and kick me out.” Toni snarled, feeling more happy on the inside than he should have about the verbal fisticuffs.
“I know you look like a monkey, but I didn’t know you got the brain capacity of one, too. Never read the small print? I own the property and I may kick anyone out for any reason! You should be glad I’m as mature as this, not having spited you yet!”
“Mature enough to call people names, that’s for sure. Goodbye Lucky – I’ll stick to worrying about real things, thank you very much.”
“I’d prepare to pay up if I was you. It’s the wisest long term solution, unless you’ve got enough humility in you to crawl to my door and ask to be let back to work, you little sh*t.” Vincenzo said to conclude the meeting, and walked out willfully ignorant of Toni’s extended middle finger.

“I woulda hit him if he wasn’t made, you know.” Joey told him, setting the wrench down on the table not one second after the door slammed shut.
“And I would’ve condoned it. You think he has any sorta case with the apartment thing?”
“Not sure. I don’t think he’d send henchmen to throw you out, that might cause a bit too much drama. We’re in no position to alienate any of our own.”
“I wouldn’t defect to the Sindaccos no matter what, but I know what you mean. It’s pretty sh*tty to have men like him at the head of the war effort.”
“I’ll tell you what, I love my father to death, but sometimes I question his ability to appoint good men in high positions. It’s bad enough we gotta deal with Romano for an underboss, and then we get even worse capos, like Vinnie, walking all over us on their pathetic power trips.”
Toni raised his eyebrows, prompting Joey to go on. “Not talkin’ sh*t about Aldo though, he was one of the good ones. Sucks to lose him knowin’ some kinda sh*thead will probably take his spot.”
“Don’t you ever feel that you could’ve taken the place of one of those made men if you made different life choices?” Toni asked.
“I could say the same about you, knowin’ how well your career was goin’ before you went for that foolish hit and brought all sorts of heat down onto yourself. And that’s exactly why neither of us is very qualified to criticize the other’s life choices, don’t ya think?”
“I’m not gonna escalate things here.” Toni admitted. “I came looking for work, that’s it.”
“And work you will find.” Joey said, taking a nice and comfortable seat from his favorite office chair. “Question is, what exactly are you looking for?”

Toni shrugged. “I’m confused, I thought there was only one kind really.”
Joey responded with a bit of forced laughter. “You wish. I’ve been drowning in all sorts of troubles these past few weeks, right after my most trusted wingman upped and left.”
“Let’s hear it then.”
“I’ve got a band of lousy dock workers who fancy themselves real dominant, far behind on their payment on a van, threatenin’ to burn my place down if I try to repossess the thing, typical sh*t really. Then, get this, there’s a wannabe street vigilante f*ckin’ sh*t up at Newport, thinkin’ he’s Gordon f*cking Moorehead or something. Now I don’t give a sh*t what he does in there ‘cause it’ll only hurt the other two families, but he owes me a big penny for the car he’s patrollin’ the streets with. He must be loaded with cash since he’s got a good bit of other equipment too, so no excuse for not checking in with me yet.”
“Unless he’s also indebted to the people he got that other stuff from.”
“Doesn’t matter; my debts come first. Anyway, I’m also preparing the armored car project so you soldiers can have something sturdy to pop Sindacco heads out of, but high quality parts are in short supply. I could use the help of someone as crazy as you in grabbing that sh*t.”
“Now that’s a project I can happily get behind.” Toni said, cracking a genuine smile for the first time.
“Wait up, there’s more. Dealers from some new gang are pushing a new drug, something called SPANK, on these streets. For as long as the Leones aren’t benefiting from it, those punks aren’t welcome, and I trust you know how to make them get the message.”
“I wouldn’t be a mobster if I didn’t.”
“Splendid. Also, even though Savage’s purged out a lot of trustworthy boys in blue by now, there’s still a few that we could do our own deals with to keep our backs covered – but that’s for later, when I actually get in proper contact. In the meantime, there’s one more repossession job I got, but it’s a little dodgy. Some Diablo from Hepburn Heights should’ve paid his bills already, but he ain’t reported in for days. His pimped out car’s been sitting pretty on the same parking lot ever since our last communication, and I’d like to claim it back, but I can’t promise you it ain’t some sort of trap.”
Toni frowned at him. “You kinda gotta expect that if you do business with the Diablos.”
“Hey, money is money no matter where it comes from. I doubt you’d refuse if Johnny Sindacco threw a million bucks at you.” Joey said defensively.
“Getting free money out of a sworn enemy’s pocket is a bit different from selling our goods to them.”
“Whatever, I’ll make a mental note of that in the future. In the meantime, you gonna pick your poison?”
Toni didn’t take a long time to think. “Much as I feel like shooting someone right now, there’s something important coming up later today, so I can’t take all day. Sign me up for that Diablo repossession, it’s about time we stood up to them.”
“No problemo. A convertible Stallion it is – I think they painted it orange – and I’ll show the exact spot on the map in just a sec, but first I gotta know, how’s your driving again?”

For no reason in particular, Toni had a flashback of his very first day back in town, which seemed like it had been forever ago.

Still unused to the handling of the Kuruma, Toni clipped a streetlight and almost ran head-on into a van he hadn’t expected to get anywhere near that quickly.
“Jesus, Toni, you drive like a bitch!” Vincenzo screamed, covering his head on the backseat.
Ignoring his rant, Toni drove for a moment in the wrong lane before remembering that this route wouldn’t get him anywhere near the Atlantic Quays, and spun the car around so suddenly that an ice cream truck was forced to dodge and almost plunged down the subway staircase.

“I’ve been making improvements.” he was able to say without lying.


Toni took Joey by complete surprise upon coming back about two hours later, the car looking like it had been brought through a compactor, and its driver having so much dirt on him that he made the mechanic’s oil-stained clothes look tidy. Toni’s Leone suit was drenched in blood that he’d tried to clean off only to make things worse, and something white had been smeared on his face; Joey almost expected to find a knife sticking to his back when he climbed out of what once used to be a Stallion and would’ve now passed as a Manana.

“Any complications then?” Joey asked out of sheer curiosity.
“The whole thing was an ambush.” Toni started, coughing as he sat in Joey’s chair despite the nonverbal protest from the mechanic. “The only reason I’m not ripping you a new one right now is unlike Vinnie, you warned me ahead of time.”
“I don’t need to be told what a great employer I am. Your story, though, please – I’m really dying to know how all that managed to happen.”
Toni grabbed a beer that Joey offered from the fridge. “First some backstory. I guess you weren’t informed of it, but your customer was pimping something other than cars too, and was caught and sent up the river for it just days ago.”
“Hm, I guess that’s a decent reason to not answer my calls...”
“But in any case, his friends must’ve known it was gonna be repossessed eventually, because they were staking out the car. Fighting off three Diablos takes a toll on you – particularly when they fought like Devlin had taught them a few tricks.” Toni explained, pointing at the blood stains.
“And, uhh, the state of the ride?”
“It was stuck in gear, and by the time I’d fixed the issue, more of the Diablos had showed up. What can I say – there’s only so much I could do to protect it from damage. A rear wheel popping didn’t help things much either.”
Joey stared at the Stallion with a bit of despair, having fat chance of being able to re-sell it in the near future. “That does it then, I guess – but what the hell’s the white stuff?”
“Oh.” Toni wiped the last of it away, having not paid attention to it for a while. “It’s a long story, but there’s this ice cream driver who must’ve recognized me and still held a grudge. Joke’s on him though, vanilla’s among my favorite flavors.”

Joey was clearly preparing to say something, but chickened out continuously as he kept pacing back and forth, scoping out the car to estimate the severity of the damage, not that its condition left much up for interpretation at all.

“Well... I’ll be constructive.” he said at last, after Toni was done with his beer. “You ain’t no slouch for overcomin’ all that adversity, it’s just that my last wingman would always come back to me with even wilder stories, some of them confirmed by the news later, and yet still kept the wheels somewhat close to mint condition.”
“Except I didn’t turn up at a Pay’n Spray right after the chase to patch up the worst damages.” a sour Toni protested.
“I don’t think it works that way... and I goddamn said I was gonna be constructive, so don’t complain to me or nothin’. Though for now, I could mainly do with your help indoors.”
“I got a few hours still to burn, so shoot.”
Joey pointed to the side. “There’s some papers over there, in them shelves... I never could give enough f*cks to arrange them, even though it’s probably gonna make my job easier. You get to it, and I’ll be forever grateful and sh*t.”

Toni was going to insert some kind of a comment about getting even worse duties than with Vincenzo, but just this once he didn’t mind a calm sitting down job right after going to hell and back with the Stallion. It wasn’t like he wasn’t going to take a reasonable bit of money off Joey’s hands by doing this, anyway.

Although the ‘calm’ part was disputed as soon as Joey began to fix the car, swearing profusely every two seconds while at it.

By the time the less action-packed part of the day was done, Toni had enough time to drop at home as the sun began setting (managing not to knock his Sentinel around on the way) and grab himself some nice, clean clothes so Ma would at least have one less reason to complain. All he wished was that he could un-see the sight of a naked Luigi taking up the couch and viewing a women’s long jump competition – at least his new roommate had made himself somewhat useful too by filling up the fridge while he was gone. All that left a lot to be desired was his taste of food; Toni wasn’t very excited about having to eat meatballs all week to beat the expiration dates of all the boxes.

Momma’s Restaurant was closed and devoid of outsiders when he arrived. The parking lot was as difficult to navigate as ever before, and the already completely spotless tables and a setting more festive than it needed to be set a mood that complimented the miserably perfectionist attitude of the establishment’s owner. Toni imagined she’d stir up a sh*tstorm if she were to notice his footprints that littered the otherwise pristine exterior floor.

“Oh, so the alleged son finally shows up.” the familiar voice uttered before Toni even saw her, startling him briefly.
“I thought my timing was just about what we agreed on?” he asked, facing the woman for a change rather than shouting up at a window. She was even more frail-looking than he recalled, certainly more than in his painting, but made up for it with a never-yielding nature.
“I’ve spent all too long waiting for you, worried that you’ll never show up, bringing me shame yet again.”
“Well, here I am, ready to do whatever you’d like me to do.” Toni said, getting tired of the time-wasting belittlements.
“You’re even more thin than I remember. You’ll never be fit to take the fight to the damned Sindaccos if you don’t eat, Toni! Which brings me to that problem I have...”

Toni was prepared to assassinate Giovanni Casa if it came to that, but instead, Ma presented to him a gigantic casserole dish of meatloaf. “The other day, I overheard the Casanovas saying that my cooking has become worse. I’m not going to let such foolish rumors become fact when I’ve got a reputation to uphold, so you’ll get the honor of being my judge.”
“Your judge?” Toni repeated.
“I need you to eat all these meals I’ve prepared specially for you, and find out just what’s wrong with the taste.” Ma explained with a fully serious tone. “That way, next time those snobheads grace this restaurant with their presence, they’ll be in for a surprise that’ll change their minds for good – and for once I’m not talking about poison in the meal.”
Toni’s disgruntled groan did not go unnoticed. “What now? Do I need to bring a mirror to prove how malnourished you are?”
“Actually...” Toni was already feeling weird and out of his comfort zone by speaking up against her. “I was expecting something a bit more urgent, like a matter of life and death.”
His mother was taken aback for the shortest time, before reverting back to her abusive self in a heartbeat. “Of course I have problems like that as well. It’s just too bad I have no real men in the family anymore to take care of them.”
“I’m only good for testing out your meatloaf?” Toni summed up. “I mean, that’s better than nothing, but your call made me expect bigger things.”
“My reputation’s a trivial worry for you? Quit being stupid and embarrassing me once more, and eat the damn food.

Toni would’ve liked to exchange this very moment for another action-packed repossession – not only was the amount of food so excessive that it was going to make him gain fat in no time, but meatloaf had to be among his least favorites of all time. Couldn’t Ma have tried to impress her friends with chicken and rice, like normal people?

About an eternity later, following a subpar meal and apparently subpar review due to Ma launching another tirade of what a bad son he was (Oh, I’m terribly sorry for not being a qualified food critic to satisfy your needs, he thought), Toni hit the illuminated streets to make his way home straight away, feeling like he could consume nothing anymore without vomiting all of it immediately. Thus, all he was going to do was chill out for the rest of the evening, much like last time, only without any more tension now that Luigi had settled in and made himself at home. The rest of St. Marks seemed pretty quiet at this time, suggesting that everyone else had the same kind of pastime in mind as he did – only they weren’t being held back by toxic people they couldn’t say “no” to.

But in spite of his earlier underestimations, there was one more trial to go through first.

“Toni, you know this chump?” Luigi’s serious tone was a surprise to him, but an even bigger revelation was that there was now yet another man standing around in the living room like some bodyguard. He was definitely a Leone mobster, but of the younger variety, lacking any facial hair and looking more like a schoolyard bully than an actual criminal. His basic expression made it appear he was constantly on edge and just waiting to pick a fight with someone looking at him wrong.

“How’d this motherf*cker get in here?” Toni asked, deliberately directing the question at Luigi.
“I walked. Helps to have a key as well.” The intruder’s voice was just as pretentious and condescending as his appearance suggested.
Toni took a threatening step towards him. “Who gave you that?”
“And why are you still here? I told you someone else f*cking occupies this place already!” Luigi shouted.
“The name’s Loris, thanks a lot for politely asking. And I’m just here to scope out my future quarters that Vincenzo was kind enough to offer.”
“Vin--- oh, no f*cking way.” Toni said, approaching the junior member with an extended finger. “You go right back to him and let him know---“
Loris was only amused by his antics. “Go ahead! Land a good punch and get evicted even quicker!” he yelled back at Toni, spit flying out of the mouth.
“Times sure have changed, ain’t they? People used to have respect for their elders.” Luigi said, standing on Toni’s side and subtly forcing Loris to back towards the door.
“Of course I respect them!” he screeched. “Just not washed up phonies like him.”
“Out of all people who’ve treated me like garbage since I came back, you just might be the most insignificant.” Toni whispered in his most intimidating voice. “Now slither back into whatever hole you crawled from, or you’ll find out the hard way that contracts don’t hold me back when I really become angry.”
“A – a hundred thousand bucks.” Loris said with a dorky smile, holding on to the last remnants of his composure as he did.
“Excuse me?” both older men asked simultaneously.
“A hundred thousand – t-that’s how much Vinnie wants you to pay him, for all of his time you’ve wasted, and all the misery you’ve caused. O-otherwise I get this apartment.”

Luigi burst out laughing; what he just heard felt like the funniest joke in the world all the way until he noticed Toni hadn’t joined him. He paused before Toni even got the idea of telling him off.

“Do I look like someone who’ll pay up to some narcissist trying to assert control?” Toni demanded, remaining calm somehow.
Loris looked like he was measuring him. “Honestly, you look like someone who’s gonna complain to the Don right away because your boss is being nasty to you.”
“Kid, you done hurling insults yet? Or are you gonna push your luck?” Luigi intervened.
The juvenile Leone made a face. “I know you lame-asses won’t do anything to me. All talk and no action, both of you! But I guess I’ll be on my way anyway, I’ve seen enough by now.”
“Yeah, run back to Vinnie and blow him some more, maybe he’ll reward you with a sleek new car as well.” Toni delivered.
“F*ck you! At least I know how to make friends in high places!” Loris yelled with that painful shrieking sound again, and stomped right out about as theatrically as was possible.

“Well, that was... an experience.” Luigi said right after the noises of him speeding down the stairs dissipated. “Was he actually serious about the demands? What are you gonna do now?”
Toni headed to the kitchen, gathering his breath. “I’m gonna grab a drink and share some thoughts that have cropped up recently. You’re a good listener, right?”
“As good as that kid was at talking big.”
“That makes me glad.” Toni said laconically, switching the TV off with an aggressive flick of the remote as Luigi took a seat from a soft stool.

“First of all... today’s interactions with Ma just reaffirmed my statement that family is the worst.”
“You got that right.” Luigi said, thumbing up the assertion.
“But now that this – this – miserable rookie came along, I’m convinced that it’s true in a bit of a different sense.”
“Our crime family is the worst?” Luigi observed.
“Precisely.” Toni said right after a long gulp. “I really thought I’d ended that Vincenzo saga weeks ago, but he just can’t seem to let go. And the way I see it, I can’t be making any moves on our rivals unless I take care of adversity within my own gang first.”
“No ass-kissing is gonna be involved, right?”
“F*cking A. Now I don’t give a f*ck about what the kid had to say – there’s an easy and a hard way around this, and it makes no sense not to give the easy one a shot first. The less work I put into settling Vinnie’s bullsh*t, the better.”
“You’ll ask Mr. Leone to settle this?”
“Yes. It’s a f*cking one and five zeroes – far outta my league these days. If he’s sensible, he’ll put Lucky in his place and grant me the peace of mind I need at this time.” Toni said, slamming his fist on the table to show how much he meant business.
“And the hard way? You considered getting a new place?”
“New places cost money – again, money I don’t have. All I could get is some sh*thole from Hepburn Heights without running water and with the added risk of getting stabbed at any time of day. Going back to Ma’s and tolerating her 24/7 won’t be a sensible choice either.”
“Then... what else is there?”

Toni finished his beer before giving him his most determined look yet. “We’ve got a score to take.”


To Be Continued.

Edited by Carbonox

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Mokrie Dela

I've only had time to scan these, and not dedicated the large chunk of time to read and catch up, then critique but keep up the good work.

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This took plain too long, no way around it. Also, it'll be kinda dialogue-heavy, but I suppose it's been the norm with previous ones too.


LC2: The Third Wheel



Straight to the east of the St. Marks district, surrounded by undeveloped hilly landmass stood Salvatore Leone’s mansion, offering a fantastic view to the lighthouse island, ocean and the distant mainland alike. That alone was enough to make it one of the most sought after residences in this section of town, so perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised anyone that it was currently under strict ownership of a mob leader, known for dealing with unwanted trespassers with extreme prejudice.

One man who had no time to admire the sights was Toni Cipriani. Once a promising member of the mob, a potential future underboss and a thorn in the sides of rival gangs, now reduced to a full-time punching bag to the new made men, who struggled to regain his former reputation, he definitely had much to complain about to the Don, regardless of the lingering feeling of uncertainty. The busy matters that went on between Salvatore and some politicians were no joke and it would be suicidal to get in the way, but who else was going to have the power to curb his unsustainable situation?

Walking between the pylons that restricted vehicle access to the patio, Toni bypassed a group of mobsters he only knew by face, all of them whispering something to one another at the sight of him – likely nothing good, but he wasn’t going to confront a group where all members were probably still ranked higher than him.

“How much more uninformed could you be?” Salvatore raged at the landline phone in his office. “I’m not canceling the meeting with Massimo – do you even have any idea how important he is? No, you’re not fired, what kind of a bad boss do you take me for? You just need to get a damn grip, you’re young enough to pass as my goddamned son, yet you’re the senile one here! Get things in proper order, then get back to me!” He slammed the phone down hard as if that made his problems go away.

“So, Toni, what brings you here?” Salvatore gestured for him to sit down, rediscovering his calmness in an instant.
“Something that’s hurting our uniformity. I understand you’ve got a lot to handle in here, but---“
“When I’m not busy with a meeting, I’m busy arranging them. That is true. However, you had me at uniformity, so talk.”
Toni took a while to structure his speech; he should’ve practiced it a bit beforehand at least. “I haven’t gotten along with Vincenzo like I’d hoped over the past month, and our problems just went through the ceiling when he’s started to demand outrageous sums from me, or I’m going to be evicted.”
“You don’t want me to pay your rent, do you?” Salvatore asked, perhaps not fully seriously.
“As much of an honor that would be, I’ll be OK with just calling quits on this whole bullsh*t. None of his petty squabbling is doing the family any good, and this is just about the final straw.”

Salvatore stood up, turning his back to Toni to look out of the window. “Funny, Vincenzo also approached me the other day about you. He had lots to say about your, and I quote, ‘disregard for rules and hierarchy’, ‘lack of focus on the matters at hand’ and the part that’s not very open for interpretation: the crushing of his prized car at the conclusion of your partnership.”
“So, whose story is more plausible?” Toni questioned.
Salvatore rolled his eyes. “F*ck if I care. This is like high school drama all over again, except it seems to not be a girl you’re fighting for. If any of this is true, all I can say is I expected better.”
“I really tried, though. I tried to get along with him, from the moment you called me out on my hasty judgment. But either the damage had been already done, or he just hated me from the start regardless, ‘cause nothing was ever good enough for him.”
“Something tells me I should’ve invited you here long ago to share some wisdom and warn that he may indeed be toxic and vengeful to those he doesn’t like, before you took that Banshee to its final ride.” Salvatore said, his voice rife with disappointment, but whether that was for himself or Toni was up for interpretation.
“I’m gonna say, I got a bit carried away by the thrill of the moment there---“
“Well, honestly, we’ve got no shortage of drug cars in this town, but it was the symbolism about that move that bothered me. You really went out of your way to damage the family’s income just to deal revenge on one of us?”
“Yeah, it wasn’t very smart of me.” Toni said, really running out of phrases to keep the Don happy if the one incident kept being brought up.
“And I can trust that you won’t do anything of that caliber again, capiche? Now, on to your impending housing problem, or so I understand...”

Toni leaned forward; it was finally time for the good stuff.

“What do you propose I do without it coming across as blatant favoritism?” Salvatore inquired, resulting in imminent disappointment from Toni’s side. “After all the time he spent earning my trust, I don’t think it’d bode well for Vincenzo to find out I betrayed his by voiding a legal contract. Yes, I’ve seen what it entails.”
Toni recalled the time when he hastily signed the document regarding the apartment, thinking he had no choice in the matter but also didn’t suspect Vincenzo of any wrongdoing. His apathy at that time only contributed to the now growing rage.
“Then what choices do I have?” he asked in desperation.
“Antonio, relax, please. I’m not done yet. Your mother, as you know, is a fine woman with a great business, but she too is becoming affected by the curse that we call aging. Her only son being there to help with the restaurant would mean the world to her...”
Toni forced himself not to groan. “Actually, from my recent interactions with her, I could tell that she’d be most proud of an independent son.” he managed to say in response to what sounded like an advertisement speech.
“Really? I could’ve sworn...” Salvatore eyed him as if to detect signs of him lying. “Oh well, you probably do know her better than me. Doesn’t sound like a typical parent in this demographic, though. It’s like a Don that would be most proud of a son who chooses a life in the car fixing industry.”
“Yeah, it’s – an anomaly all right.” Toni said, trying to sound calm.
“I hope you won’t repeat your question about other choices anytime soon.” Salvatore told, seeing right through his façade this time. “You have to understand, at this point of time, that I really like you, think you have a good future no matter what my men are saying out there, and I hate to see you in such a precarious position. So don’t think for a moment that I’m at a loss of options because I would be trying to spite you over that crushing incident, which we can happily put behind us as far as I’m concerned.”
“That’s alright.” Toni’s voice came out annoyingly quiet and insignificant, making him feel like a schoolboy in the principal’s office right after a scolding.
“But having been in this business for years, I know that the best course of action regarding your situation is to settle it with minimal intervention from my part. Vincenzo likes to act like a young child – a child who’ll never be able to get over his rivalry with the neighbor’s boy if all their fights are broken up by ignorant adults before they can truly end.”
“You’re not saying I should meet him in the ring and settle our differences that way? I’ll sign right up if that’s the case.”
“Don’t be stupid. I was considering something different – do you foresee any possibilities of making enough money in the near future?”
“I might. If the Sindaccos could do it, why not me?” Toni said with a shrug.
“That’s excellent. If you’re able to raise the sum he’s demanding, I recommend you do pay him off and cut all contact afterwards. If he still tries something after that, he’ll be in major trouble with me.”
Toni felt like his trust in Salvatore was returning at once, manifesting itself with a smile on his face that tried not to be too malicious. “I’ll roll with that. I wasn’t planning on giving up my place to his new spoiled brat of a protégé anyway, if you know what I mean.”
“I know exactly who you’re talking about, and it worries me that he fully represents the state of the next generation of wiseguys.” Salvatore conveyed, scratching his walrus-like moustache.
“Yeah.” Toni stood up, feeling he had nothing to add. “I’d have plenty to say about that prick, but I guess I should be on my way to find recruits.”
Salvatore leaned forward again. “Just promise me one thing... Don’t let Rocco become anything like him. He’s a good kid with a much better upbringing, that’s for sure, but such a traumatic event is bound to affect his personality. He might even grow reckless, and that’s not something I or his parents can stop.”
“But I can – how, exactly?”
“You’re closer to his level, thus he’ll be more compelled to listen to you. Also, dare I say, he considers you a bit of a role model.” Salvatore explained. “Finally, I suspect you only brought up the question so you could hear a bit of compliments from me.”
“I won’t incriminate myself any further then. Got any recommendations for my crew?”
“Look for lone wolves, wherever you can find them. The risks are at an all-time high nowadays, and I wouldn’t be comfortable putting a large number of my eggs in one basket.”
“I’ll see what I can dig up.” Toni stood up to leave after Salvatore’s nod implied there was nothing more to discuss.
“Come see me again once I give you the call...” Salvatore said to his back.

Toni wasn’t as let down as he thought he would be. In fact, he had a hard time trying to disguise his excitement over the fact he was going to get a piece of some real action for once, while explaining the details of the encounter to Luigi. The reason for raising the money still sucked, but he wouldn’t be thinking about Vincenzo’s face or even more enraging voice while holding up a fearful store attendant – or even a banker – wait, screw that, he needed to be more subtle or he’d find himself surrounded by impassable roadblocks of cherry tops everywhere. Regardless, it would place the Leones back on the map and Luigi would make some starting money for the eventual business of his dreams, so he was easily won over for the official crew.

“...although I do wonder how I’ll manage to keep a serious face all the time. It’s quite a happy place, that club I’m envisioning, after all.”
“Just envision the inevitable situation where people start messing with your girls, and you’ll start having a tough time cracking a smile of any sort.” Toni said tiredly, leading the way into the shabby apartment complex.
Luigi was taken aback. “That’s a real mood swinger for sure. Since I’ll be mostly busy, could I count on you to take care of the scum that would do such a thing?”
“Ain’t that a job for hired muscle at the very bottom of the barrel? Now, focus on the matter at hand or your ideas won’t ever see the light of day, capiche?”
“A’ight, a’ight, you don’t need to capiche me to---“
“Wait up, what the f*ck?” Toni saw that the door to his place was just the slighest bit ajar. “Did you forget to lock it?”
“I thought you were the last to leave in the morning. Remember that fuss about the missing toothbrush?”
An enraged Toni raised his hand. “Shut the hell up. If we got another troublemaker on our hands that Vinnie’s offered my safehouse to, it’s about time to let sheer force do the talking.”

Toni snuck inside, finding the lights on in the living room; he moved to the kitchen to avoid being jumped from the conspicuously slightly open door of the bedroom. From there, he was able to locate the invader of the day, sitting on the couch with a beer in hand and a hockey game playing on TV as if it were his own home.

“Before you break any of my bones, care to hear my side of the story?” said the Leone mobster whose clean-cut suit didn’t lie about his loyalties.
Toni contained his astonishment. “Mickey Hamfists.”
“That’s my name. You’ve got really good reception here, I must say. No more of the ‘missing a crucial play when the TV randomly goes apesh*t’ crap that always goes on where I live.”
“Does this look like a sports bar to you?” Toni asked angrily, not minding the fact he was talking to one of the family’s deadliest assassins. “Or a public place altogether?”
Mickey finally had the courtesy to face them. “Little birds told me you spend most of your time home nowadays. I came here to find this apartment empty, so why not make myself at home knowing you’ll be back soon enough?”
“I love how everyone suddenly cares for my personal life like never before.” Toni snarked.
“Hey, you’ve got potential and everyone knows it better than you’d think. I came to make you an offer – both of you, if you’re up to it.”
“We’ve got our hands full with a project of our own, thank you very much.” Toni said dismissively.
Mickey stood up, insistently shaking his head. “I’m not leaving until I’ve had my voice heard, not with all the effort I saw to reach you. Rather than f*ck around with Joey and his hundred and one untrustworthy customers, you could put your talents to better use and help me with some higher grade liabilities.”
“You’d like to go and off Paulie Sindacco with us?”
“If Sal had given me permission, I would already have gone for it.” Mickey said, frowning. “But the bare minimum we can do is land a hit on one of their made men. Can’t let the departure of one of ours go unpunished.”
Toni sighed, knowing all too well the offer was too interesting to skip. “Anyone in mind?”
“Silvio Primanti is a known creep, sex addict, all that stuff, and most importantly a supervisor to the Sindaccos’ clubs in Red Light. Taking him out should not just greatly weaken the ring, but relieve JD O’Toole of a pair of watchful eyes at his back.”
“He’ll either be relieved, or badly saddened with the loss of someone he can relate to.”
“He won’t be, Primanti is too much of a dick.”

Walking past Mickey to go look out the window, Toni made himself look quite a bit more thoughtful than he really was – truthfully he already knew the answer to what he was going to ask.
“Will that hit add a six-figure sum to my bank account?”
“Six figures?” Mickey was lucky not to gag as he burst into sudden laughter. “Are you crazy?”
“Anything less won’t do it for a payment that I’m concerned with right now. I won’t say no to your proposal, but raising that money comes first, or I soon won’t have a couch for you to rest your ass on. Or any living quarters for that matter.”
“He’s not joking.” Luigi added when Mickey looked straight at him with a puzzled expression.
“That’s...” Mickey scratched his chin. “That’s not gonna be very nice then.”
“You know what would be nice? A bit of inspiration for which place to strike.” Toni nonchalantly told him.
“Strike? You’re gonna solve your problems with a handful of domestic terrorism then?”
“ROB!” Toni’s fed-up scream brought silence into his and the neighbors’ apartments in one fell swoop.
“Uhh – maybe our discussion points are getting a bit sensitive. You guys mind if we go outside for a drive, talk things through over there?” Luigi asked, his voice down.
“I’m down with that.” Mickey said, recovering from the shock. “There’s room for me as well in your automobile, right?”
“In the trunk.” Toni replied.
“Then it’s a deal.” Mickey put his arms around both men’s shoulders and guided them right out the door, Toni only barely managing to flick the light switch before the momentum carried him out of reach.

Mickey had somehow claimed a place on the front seat, demoting Luigi by the time they were emerging from the depressing alley into the streets that were bathing in sunlight for a change, giving the concrete jungle an almost beautiful look, though Toni was highly bothered by said light almost blinding him even with the sunscreen on.

“Drop by Punk Noodles in Chinatown, Toni. It’s about time we got ourselves something nutritious.” Mickey said in a tone that was probably more bossy than he realized.
Toni frowned. “Oh, so now we’re gonna get something to eat? Never had the idea to ask us if we’re up to it before dragging us to the car?”
“Just do what I say and you’ll see. You want a location to rob for 100 grand, huh?”
“Sure, but the take will need to be at least twice as big. Gotta pay off the minions too.”
“Now I’m just a minion?” Luigi harrumphed, pretending to take offense in the most melodramatic way.
“Alright, so Goterelli’s in your crew – that’s better than nothing, I guess – but do you have any plans beyond that?” Mickey asked skeptically.
Toni shook his head. “Loose, disconnected ideas at best. I don’t think it can really be anything smaller than a jewelry store if we intend to walk out with that much?”
“That’s the way it is. I’d love to rid some shady Sindacco club of their ill-gotten gains, but even if we broke through their high security vaults, there wouldn’t be much for us to grab. They’re just f*ckin’ decoys, the big cash is safe and sound somewhere they’ve never told JD about.” Mickey banged his fist into the door in frustration.
“I don’t care who I’m taking from as long as I meet the quota. In the meantime, we all know you’ve got connections, so how about you hook me up with candidates for the crew?”
“Why get to that when we don’t even have a location cased out? In the meantime”, he continued, annoyingly mimicking Toni, “what sorta meals do you want?”

With takeaway boxes in hand, the party parked on the side of the street just behind the diner to eat, despite Toni’s anxiety over the fact they were almost right in the heart of Triad territory – any gang member walking by would recognize them from the suits without fail as long as they had functioning eyes. For some reason Mickey insisted that this was a perfect spot, but this didn’t stop Toni and Luigi from checking if there were any men in dark blue approaching from any direction, particularly the barricaded alley to their right.

“You won’t be above breaking into a well armored bank vault, will you?” Mickey asked, mouth full of food.
“Like the one right in front of us? Come the f*ck on, there’s too many problems to list.”
“You wanted a score? That’s a score right there, with one of the best risk/reward factors in town. Or would you rather go plundering LibCryo?”
“The sperm bank? What business have I got there?”
“Hey, from what I’ve heard, it’s a rapidly growing industry. LibCryo’s even made it into BAWSAQ.” Luigi chimed in.
“And they advertise on the radio, with lots of different slogans.” Mickey continued.
“Perhaps we should just focus on---“ Toni tried to interrupt.
“My favorite is ‘You pleasure it, we treasure it’.” Luigi said.
“OK, you seriously need to learn to know when you’re straying into the ‘too much information’ zone.” Toni slated him, suddenly not feeling very hungry anymore.

Those in need of a wallet refill came and went from the ATM’s on the bank’s front side, shoppers with large bags on both hands left the alleyway, and a delivery boy who looked to be in a big rush sped away from the diner as fast as the scooter let him – all of these people going on about their daily lives were blissfully unaware that these men had some nasty plans in mind, possibly regarding their own savings in the building that was supposed to be the most secure in the district.

“So let’s go through this step by step. What factors do you think stand on our way the most, for this score right here?” Mickey asked.
“For one, the alley’s barricaded, so we lose one direction we could’ve escaped to. It also makes it easier for the cops to block off the area.”
“That pretty much leaves out a traditional blatant attack, indeed. It doesn’t mean we should just discount this target right away, though.”
“Well, if the vault’s as well protected as Sonny Forelli, what’s the damn point?”
“We should take a look around. Come on, it won’t be a long way to walk around the building.” Mickey ushered, unbuckling his seatbelts.
“I’m not done yet!” Luigi shouted, frantically trying to speed up his masticating.
“You don’t need to, we can make it just fine ourselves. I’ve been dying for some one-on-one time with Cipriani, anyway.”
“No better way to spend your day. You know the drill, just watch the car and shoot any would-be thieves in the back of the head. If sh*t gets messy, you know who to call.” Toni said.
“JD?” Luigi asked with a smirk.
“At your own risk.” Toni said, closing his door.

Following the wall of the building the bank was a part of, Mickey led him past numerous small-time businesses whose names Toni couldn’t read, into an insignificant-looking minor alley just off the pedestrian streets, where a presumed Triad graffiti was the only thing decorating the walls, and randomly placed cardboard boxes and cigarette stumps littered the ground. A peek around the next turn revealed that this alley hadn’t quite been forgotten about so badly by city developers that it would’ve been unbarricaded – no cars were going to get here either, but the street was only a stone’s throw away for someone with a really weak arm.

“Do you smoke?” Mickey asked, bringing out his own pack of Debonaires.
“Nah. Can’t even stand the smell.”
“Well, lean on the wall next to me, and try to survive.”
“I doubt this is a regular smoke break...” Toni mumbled.
“You’re right. See that, just between us...” Mickey ran his finger along the concrete wall. “It’s barely visible, but there’s a crack developing at this spot. A major structural weakness for something that’s expected to be ultra-secure.”
“What’s on the other side though? I wouldn’t like to end up in just a poker room at the back of a laundromat--- and wait, how’d you find this so quickly? You been scoping this area out before?”
“You caught me.” Mickey admitted. “What happened was, when you were still out of town, a few of our guys and I were already staking this bank out for robbery, and I ended up familiarizing myself with the perimeter a lot. The whole idea then went to sh*t when both Samuele and Carmine got caught up in a sting – separate offense though, no one ever found out about this plan.”
Toni grinned. “Which you’d just love to put into action now, with me.”
“What would be better? And to get back to your first question, I’ve knocked on this wall countless times and have never been told to get f*cked from the other side. It’s a good enough clue,” Mickey took a pause to inhale and puff, “but just to be sure, we’ll need to have a look at the blueprints of the whole building.”
“No easy task, I presume. Any other prep work?”
“We’ll of course need high quality getaway cars and that aforementioned crew...” Mickey thoughtfully stared at the opposite wall before turning to Toni again. “Can I just get your word that you’ll help out with the Sindacco hit if I hook you up with some good people?”
“Fair enough. Just that one, then we’ll negotiate separately for any other jobs.”
“Pleasure doing business with you. Let’s get back to the car – no unwanted ears in there.”

“Was your conversation fruitful?” Luigi asked immediately when the Sentinel’s doors opened again. Nothing had changed about the setting since they had left, including the fact he still wasn’t done with the food. Toni had the feeling that he wasn’t the biggest fan of noodles out there.
“You could call it that. We’ve got a plan that we’d like to put up on a board.” Mickey said confidently.
“Before you tell me, I actually invented one by myself. Why not toss sleeping gas into the air duct and walk in with exterminator uniforms – you know, to justify our presence – and empty the vault with practically no resistance, and no one to sound the alarm?”

Toni and Mickey looked at each other for the longest time before turning back to Luigi.

“Holy sh*t, that’s actually not bad.” Toni began.
“No, but it does have a drawback. Only the government possesses any sort of sleeping gas, and nabbing some for ourselves would be a heist in itself that doesn’t pay jack sh*t. Unless it’s being driven in the same van with a large wad of cash... but no, we’d never find something like that out, no matter how much resources we throw at spying.”
“I take it you’ve got something different in mind then?” Luigi asked.
Mickey cleared his throat. “By my calculations, since I’ve got a lot of other things to do and would rather hang back and take a smaller piece of the pie for Antonio’s sake, you’ll need an extra gunman or two, perhaps an explosives expert, and a getaway driver unless one of you wants to be it yourself. Maybe make it two of those as well if the load’s too big to be carried in one car.”
“You’ll definitely need to find us an explosive nerd. 8-Ball won’t get out before the deadline.” Toni was quick to say.
“Even if he did, it wouldn’t do you any good. Remember his arrest? One of Liberty’s finest ‘accidentally’ (Mickey made some blatant quotation marks with his hands) poured boiling fat onto his hands when trying to restrain the poor fool.”
Toni almost swerved to the wrong lane as he shuddered with disgust. “What the f*ck? I definitely missed that part.”
Luigi looked downbeat as well. “It was a pretty ugly thing to hear about for sure. I looked it up, it appears he was actually arrested for illegal gun possessions, but rumor has it that the LCPD had an idea of what his business entailed, and wanted to stop him from ever building bombs again once he were to walk free.”
“I doubt it’s gonna stop him permanently, thank f*ck. Though he might’ve lost some of the delicacy in his work.” Mickey said.

Having lost some more of his trust in the local law enforcement, Toni moved back on to the main subject. “So, the plan then? You said something about a bunch of blueprints?”
“One of you is gonna need to sneak over to the city planning department and snap a picture of them. Not steal them, or it’ll be noticed before the operative in question is back at home.”
“Operative? You make this look like some military scheme.”
“Don’t latch on to single words. Though if you must know, I used it because a good bit of subtle professionalism never hurts in this line of work. Now, the getaway cars – we’ll need something fast and hard for them to stop, as well as a route that guarantees a clean getaway. The Callahan Bridge or any of the upstate roads are out of the question, they’re too easy to block off.”
“Should we also disable the alarms? Every little thing helps.” Luigi proposed.
“It might require an extra operative and take up too much work for too little gain. People will notice the break-in as soon as we blow up the wall, so short of bribing everyone within range, there’s nothing that’s gonna stop or even remotely slow down the charge of the boys in blue.”
“That’s assuming that explosives on that weak wall are the answer. We’ll need the schematics before making the final decision.”
“Correct, so I suppose I’ll hold off on deciding who’ll be in the crew until then. In the meantime, you two should split duties. One goes to – I dunno – sweep floors under a fake name to get close to the blueprints, and the other nabs the cars with Joey. Some armor layers, bulletproof tires and stronger suspension won’t hurt, to name a few things we’ll need.”
“Driving might still not be my strong suit, but I’ll take it. Can’t do any worse than last time.” Toni said quickly.
“You’ll sacrifice my pride and dignity then?” Luigi looked offended for a second. “Nah, maybe it’s the way to go – I’m a lousy driver, which is why you don’t see me behind that wheel.”
Mickey nodded to him. “It’s settled. I’ll have the boys forge you a new identity soon enough – you just make sure that you smuggle a camera into the cleaning cart and keep a close eye on the surroundings.”
“Will it be that simple? They’ll just throw the job at me on sight?”
“If you kiss enough ass in the interview, definitely. You know, just say the my life goal has always been to clean behind everyone in this company drivel and you’re hired on the spot.” Toni proposed.
“Hey now, maybe be a little less in-your-face about it. That one sounds borderline sarcastic.” Mickey warned.
“That’s implying the narcissistic higher-up f*ckwads have an idea what sarcasm is. To them, it’s just positive reinforcement that they expect from everyone they meet.” Toni said, perhaps a bit bitterly but fully meaning everything.
Mickey snickered. “I still stand behind my words, but a-f*cking-men to that.”

Toni was only one turn away from his home, when he abruptly laid on the brakes. Luigi’s finished food went flying over the seat and into Mickey’s lap, introducing the other two to some colorful, exotic curse words.

“What now?” Mickey snarled when the initial shock was over, chucking the box back to where it belonged.
“Should we really be using my place as the planning center? The walls have ears when you live in a complex like that.” Toni said, numerous cars honking at him and the driver of a black Stallion shaking his fist through an open window.
“No matter how you look at it, mine’s no better.” Mickey said regretfully. “In fact, I have this neighbor who, I swear, could hear a bee sneezing in my kitchen and scream about it for ten---“
“You’ve got major problems if you’ve got bees flying around in your quarters. Also, how about Joey’s garage? Or your Ma’s? Not mine though, she’s still mad enough not to be answering my calls. Or maybe she’s had a heart attack... I might need to check up eventually.” Luigi pondered.
“Joey gets too many visitors, we’d be exposed far too easily – and Ma certainly wouldn’t snitch, but would demand a cut for hosting us. An excessively big cut, to be clear.”
“Looks like you’re outta luck then, Toni.” Luigi said, trying to sound sympathetic.
“Unless...” Toni scratched his chin, still ignoring the cars behind them even though the Stallion was beginning to ram his rear end. “8-Ball’s shack up in Harwood is all empty at this point of time, ain’t it?”
“No, I hear lots of vacationers are going there this time of the year.” Mickey said, only retaining his deadpan expression until Toni had turned to look at him. “Of course not, knucklehead! But whether cops still check it out for further illegal activity, that I truly don’t know.”
“If someone’s using the bomb shop for their own purposes, it’s time for us to convince them otherwise, then.” Toni floored it right as he was finished, almost giving Luigi a heart attack. He proceeded to swerve around traffic and run red lights to make up for previously lost time, the road rager in the Stallion closely following him and repeating all of his moves, screaming at him to come back – only Mickey paid any sort of attention, though.
“I was saying it could be a popular spot for drug deals, lynchings, what have you...”
“Those lowlifes will need a change of scenery then. We’ll set up shop there, keep it occupied 24/7, maybe even store getaway cars if he’s got extra garage space...” Toni listed, enthusiasm growing in his speech.
“Who’s gonna keep it occupied?” Luigi asked as Mickey took some potshots at the Stallion driver, who made a hasty turn to a different road just a few intersections before the bomb shop, bouncing off the wall surrounding the gas station and locking up one of his tires.
“The one who doesn’t have a permanent home at this very moment. Also, Mickey, just because I’m breaking a few rules doesn’t mean you should draw extra attention to us.”
“You’d kick me off your spacious couch and make me live in there?” Luigi complained.
“Where’s the problem? 8-Ball’s got a TV and all, you could watch any porn clips all you want and no one will be there to judge you. Except maybe the Capital Autos people, but... they’re too scared of us to do anything. Hell, maybe we should extort them once we find some free time.”
“It’s a nice proposition.” Mickey said, a mischievous smile on his face.
“And I’ll let you come back as soon as the job’s done. This is just a temporary setting, I promise.” Toni added, a bit afraid of starting any bad blood – Luigi did have a habit of pretending to take more offense about things than he really did, but this case seemed more serious.

8-Ball’s yard was in the same kind of sad state as one would expect from anything that had been abandoned for some time: only the miscellaneous debris remained as any personal belongings that could be used against him had probably been carried off long ago by detectives. It truly was a strange case of city design – or lack of it – that something this barren could exist so close to the thriving car dealership.

“Hey, if he doesn’t get out after all or goes out of business, wouldn’t this be a good spot for a club?” Mickey joked at Luigi. “You could dispose of unwanted people quietly over at the crusher, and trains could bring tired dock workers straight over here.” He pointed at the even longer abandoned train tunnel behind the perimeter fence, earning a punch to the shoulder once Luigi saw what was being referred to.
“F*ck with my delicate hopes and dreams some more, and you’ll get to explore my planned aquarium from the inside.” he groaned disapprovingly.
“Shut your mouths and bring out the guns.” Toni said. “The lights are on – there might be someone inside.”

Although he could’ve opted for a more cinematic way of barging inside, the door turned out to be unlocked – trusting his instinct that there was no guard with a gun at the ready on the other side in the case of unwelcome guests, he yanked it open and pressed his way forward through the first room, pointed his gun at the next only to find it empty, and turned around for the third and final one just in time to come face to face with the “intruder”, whom he luckily recognized before letting the lead do the talking: there was after all no mistaking this baby-faced, heavily overweight fellow who seemed to have more eyes than a spider for anyone else.

“Practicing for a Sindacco raid, Toni?” Lil’ Fattie asked, nearly unfazed by the gun that had been directed at his chubby face for the briefest moment.
“Umm... not quite.” Toni was at a bit of a loss for words.
“’Cause you know, there would be plenty of drug operations still in need of disrupting, but none of you seem to have taken the initiative.”
“The firepower differential might still be just a bit skewed in their favor.” Toni blurted out, his allies now joining him after the lack of gunshots indicated an all clear situation.
“It’ll only grow if you don’t kill off their business, you know.” the informant reminded.
“Oh, great... this guy.” Mickey said as soon as he’d peeked around the corner to see who Toni was talking to.
“How are you in here out of all places? Without a car, no less?” Luigi wanted to know.
“Just because I look like a – miserable meatball, or whatever you people are gonna insult me with next, doesn’t mean I couldn’t take a damn walk from time to time!” Lil’ Fattie screamed with an all-red face, something that Mickey considered the best kind of fun anytime it happened.
“Maybe Luigi was more puzzled about what you’re doing here.” Toni said before anything escalated.
“Nothing much.” Lil’ Fattie took a deep breath and sat down. “Only looking to see if there’s any clues of Norman Vitale using this location to hide his drugs.”
Mickey was the most astonished. “That goon who looks like a chimp? What the f*ck for? Right on our backyard?”
“If you looked things up more, you’d know he was real close with some of the Harwood Butcher’s victims. Only makes sense that he’d come here to the site of death for me. Maybe he thinks of it as a pilgrimage of some sort – and the subtlety of the location helps too.” Lil’ Fattie had to rest again, having trouble with long speeches as usual.
“Well, you better hope you’re finished with the investigation. We’re here to – clean up, for the eventual return of our friend.” Toni lied.
“I’ve found this.” His obese ally showed him an oddly large keychain, shaped like a hand making a sign-of-the-horns gesture, that looked like something could be stored inside. “And a voucher for Bolt Burger! Don’t know if this is 8-Ball’s or Norman’s, but... still, you guys are gonna be nice enough to let me have it, right?”
“I dunno, burgers just might shorten your lifespan even more than messing around in a crazy racketeer’s drug stash. Why don’t we keep it for now,” Mickey said, snatching the voucher right from between the sausage-like fingers, “and hand it back over as a reward when you’ve got something on an even bigger target than Vitale.”
“Sounds good to me. Although if my math’s correct, it’s set to expire in two months.” Toni pointed out, reading the card over his shoulder.
“It’s – uhh – not a problem. Anyone in particular you’re after?” Lil’ Fattie asked nervously.
“It might not be smart to go for Forelli targets while they’re weakening the Sindaccos across the river as we speak.” Toni said, the other two nodding in agreement. “So, look up any Sindacco made men besides Primanti. We might have that creep figured out already.”

Lil’ Fattie made his way outside, still a bit depressed over the voucher, but with the trust of all three mobsters strongly behind him. Toni even made a mental note to himself to look forward to hearing from him sooner than he would expect. Beneath that exterior sure was a well-motivated worker if he’d ever seen one...

“So, pretty nice digs, huh?” Mickey said, the three of them now paying proper attention to the house for the first time. It may have been a minimalistic place, but it felt like home, and almost everything save for the occasional fallen flowerpot was still intact, like it had been left uninhabited just the other day. All the dust, however, needed vacuuming as soon as possible – it was really starting to irritate Toni’s throat, just standing around in the living room.
“The TV works, so that’s a plus.” Luigi said. “Though it’s just not got the picture quality that Toni has...”
“Look on the bright side! It gives every program you watch that mysterious sort of feeling. Like film noir, you’re familiar with that sh*t, right?” Mickey insisted.
“You’re gonna need more than film noir to sell this idea to me. What about the tap water?”
“Can’t be worse than the state of the local seawater.”
Toni’s massive sneeze caught the attention of the two again. “While you two are getting acquainted with this house, why don’t you clean up a little and find a place to set up the planning board? Away from the windows, if at all possible.”
“Where are you going? It’s obviously a three-man job.” Mickey said as Toni was pacing straight towards the door.
“Uhh – good f*cking question, I suppose. Just leave any exterior work for me though, I can’t handle this air for much longer.”
“I don’t wanna sound like a lazy f*cker, but we should be moderate with the clean-up.” Luigi chimed in. “It’ll be bad for our secrecy if someone notices a clear difference.”
Mickey grinned at the statement. “There’s two sides to that coin; you’ll need to be moderate with your TV time unless you can conceal the light. Now, L, you go vacuuming and I’ll deal with the robbery data. Toni, I’d make you clean up the outside and work your finger to the bone, but that’s out of the question if we indeed want to keep up a semi-abandoned look. Just check if there’s anything of value out there that Lil’ Fattie overlooked, and go on your merry way – I’ll find my way back home all right myself.”

Averting experience the splendor of heavy physical duty for very little and meaningless gain was like winning the lottery, as Toni simply skimmed over the junk pile finding nothing of more interest than a half-empty Munky Juice can that may have been loaded with something other than its original content, and a little duffel bag under a seat of a wrecked school bus, containing exactly $18.25 that would be contributed for the heist budget if necessary.

Ah yes, the heist. Having a coherent plan for it as well as the lack of Luigi’s well-meaning, but obnoxious, presence on his couch meant he was going to be able to retain peace of mind throughout the evening and night alike.

As long as Ma wouldn’t call once again.


The End.

Edited by Carbonox

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SA20: Rural Rivalry



Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. Would you look at that suit?
What’s that boy doin’ prancin’ like that around here?
My momma always said, don’t trust folk who dress like that. She got to kiss her cows goodbye when one came to town, so I should know.

Every passing comment or mere impressed glance from the local hicks put a wider and wider smile on Carl’s face. None of the reactions to his presence in Dillimore were particularly positive, but more importantly his disguise was doing their intended job – while he still didn’t belong in this environment, people’s suspicions were a lot more limited and he certainly wasn’t seen as a petty criminal casing a target that was in need of a citizen’s arrest. Gone were his unkempt hair and beard courtesy of the local barber, while in came the nicest possible outfit from Schrader’s surplus clothing pile, coupled with Kevin’s Fortune that he had driven to town and a pair of nerdy glasses.

As he enjoyed the quiet respect being spared his way for a change, a certain other lingering feeling found its way to Carl’s head – no, something more significant than the discomfort that came with the rigid clothes. What would life be like if he had studied hard in his youth and made it to law school?

No, seriously, it was the kind of crazy mind game he liked to think about at this point of time. He could’ve made a fortune out of people smart enough not to try and represent themselves in court, and his family – and maybe more people around them – would be able to bathe in money and leave their problems in the ‘hood far behind. Not to mention, it wasn’t like he’d get bored of the impressed looks whenever he walked the streets anytime soon.

But who was he kidding – he knew plenty of reasons why that wasn’t happening. Out on the streets, a book’s good for nothin’ but covering your head, and it ain’t even too good with that, Sweet always used to say when the subject of education was a more topical issue, and even without that attitude spreading to Carl, good grades weren’t going to be some guarantee of a successful career. Even if they were, any attempt to reach them would stop at a brick wall that was his utter lack of interest. The endless assignments that took a toll on his personal life (which the school board must’ve been trying to eliminate for all it was worth to force him and all his peers to devote their entire existence to studying) certainly were what did it for him. As sad as it was to admit, he would’ve needed a work ethic like Chad’s to pull through that nonsense. Having met Chad, he didn’t want to know what kind of a douchebag it would’ve made him.

Life as a criminal was so much easier. Perhaps jumping to it straight away was short-sighted and stupid, and it didn’t always bring bread to the table as recent weeks had proven, but he was having fun whenever cash wasn’t slipping away through his fingers, and that was the main thing, right?

As important as his lawyer assignment was, a little obstacle by the name of anxiety stood hard on Carl’s path. He was abundantly of the opinion that he needed a beer or two to gain the courage necessary to step into the hornet’s nest, where there was no guarantee that the disguise would work flawlessly or that he wouldn’t get stung.

The bar, known as the Welcome Pump, stood at the far northern point of Dillimore and appeared to be the only hang-out spot available here, just driving home the point of how different this was from living in the city. The first time Carl had seen it, at least a dozen chopper bikes were all neatly parked outside – he was not going to deal with their riders and their alcohol-fueled aggression, so for a bit of time he pretended to be lost and further explored the town. On the east side was some kind of a nice, quiet neighborhood where he only felt like disturbing the peace by walking through – with the rest of the town being mainly bland warehouses and stores, there was nothing that he could’ve pretended to be highly interested in and spend a handful of time observing.

The bikers made their departure very well-known with the noise that reached out to Carl several blocks away; the coast all clear, he closed in on the bar once more, being mindful of such small-town wonders as a tractor towing another tractor as he made his final street crossing.

Carl felt more welcome in the bar than he did anywhere outside; the atmosphere was relaxed, like the patrons came here not to pick fights and get themselves sh*t-faced, but to just chill out for the day and share whatever stories they had to tell. Some broken bottles did lie all over the floor that Carl was forced to dodge, but if the ambience was anything to go by, the gang of bikers had taken any previous unrest in this place with them.

“One Patriot.” Carl said to the apathetic barman, who was happy enough to have his cleaning duties interrupted by something mildly more interesting.
“Coming right up, sir.”

The very first sip of the cold beverage made Carl’s taste buds feel like dancing out of utter joy; the brain would be set to catch up with a wider mixture of reactions later. Being in a strange location with no friends in sight still ruined the satisfaction somewhat – it was going to be real awkward to just sit at the counter quietly and unclimatically leave once the Patriot was finished. Sneaking quick looks to the rest of the patrons between drinks, Carl only just now noticed no one was actually speaking at all; for a place where at least a third of the tables were occupied, it sure tried its hardest to act like a ghost town.

While the largest demographic by a long shot was the same old hicks, one other figure stood out; and to them, Carl was evidently doing the same. Sitting at the farthest part of the bar was an unexpectedly pretty young cowgirl, shooting interested if not a bit tempting looks right at him. Carl got some sort of chills from the whole subtle encounter that he hadn’t felt for seemingly the longest time – not only that, but sneaking up on him was an urge to suddenly do something stupid and weird to make an impression.

Seeing his own reflection from the drink, Carl quickly took off his glasses, having noticed that as smart as they made him look, they equally dragged him down on the attractiveness scale. The girl smirked as they made eye contact again; Carl took it as a good sign, but couldn’t wrap his head around the question of why it had to be so tough to stand up and go chit-chat about something. Never mind whether he even had proper time for this – Ryder and LB’s voices were almost screaming at his head to come help them out ASAP, and yet the only thing he could coherently think about was the need to find out who she was...

“Frankly, you’ve got fat chance, mate.”

The sound of a masculine voice up close to his ear made him stupidly jitter. Carl turned around to see a man of a very odd appearance for this place looking back at him – how he hadn’t noticed this person before was hard to justify as that was how badly he fitted in. Long pitch-black hair with a red dyed streak extended as far as below his shoulder level, there were traces of make-up in his dark eyes, piercings in both ears, and a massive tattoo depicting some sort of a beast took up his entire left arm. With the clean-cut shirt he was wearing to contrast all of the rest, he was like the edgy youngster of the family that had been forced to put on something nice for a wedding, and went with the bare minimum.

“You’re not lost, are you? There’s no AC/DC concerts anywhere near here.” Carl confronted him, almost forcing the “ain’t” to not come out – influential company or not, he had to sound professional at all times in this suit.
“You know just what I’m here for. And I’m telling you to forget about it, ‘cause it’s me she’s into.”
“You? I’d laugh if that wasn’t the most pathetic sh*t I’ve heard all my---“

The rival suitor leaned heavily on Carl’s head, extending a wave at the girl’s direction – and she proceeded to wave back with amusement. Carl felt convinced that the world was going to sh*t if men like him were able to land dates whenever they wanted.

He shoved the arm off with considerable force, facing the freak once more. “Touch me again, and you won’t know what hit you.”
“Nothing personal in it, CJ, and you should know it. I’m just taking out my frustrations on the time when you stood me up.” he casually responded.

WHAT THE F*CK HOW DOES HE KNOW? And stop blowing my damn cover!

“Uhh... why don’t you sit down.” Carl said with a calm and collected voice, even as he was raging to the point of fuming deep inside.
“It’s what I was gonna do anyway. Can’t resist the products of this place for much longer now. Bartender, one Logger over here!” the man called out. “Besides... this is as good a time as any to have a talk.”
“That’s alright, start talking then.”
“Man, you’re being moody. I was given the impression you were more laid back.”
Carl shrugged. He had no idea how to proceed in a conversation like this.
“Yup... hard to believe this is the first time we’ve ever met. I guess second time’s the charm in our case.” Daniel said, spinning his fingers.

That made it a bit easier on him, though a question lingered in Carl’s brain about whether this man had badly mistaken him for someone else. There was the distinct possibility as well that he’d met or at least seen this person before, but couldn’t make a solid connection to any recent context. Worst of all, if there was a misunderstanding, he had better subtly make it clear before any details were shared, and maybe they could both peacefully back out of the situation.

“Best to introduce myself properly, then. Carl Johnson.” Carl extended his hand.
“Daniel Daedalus, not that you wouldn’t know by now.” The other man’s shake was firm and dominant. “Not that I mind, of course – I like saying my own name a lot.”
“Daedalus?” Carl scoffed.
“You can’t claim you didn’t--- oh, unless you thought it was just a pseudonym I use in order to sound cool. Which is a complete and utter lie.” Daniel’s voice was overly defensive.
“So how’d you know who to come talking to?” Carl asked, staying ambiguous.
“Are you kidding me? I thought you were supposed to be the senior member. It’s like a crime against fashion if our kind didn’t do their best to look formal in a public setting... though I think you overdid it a little. We’re not going to prom or anything.”
“Thanks, I really needed a review of my attire at a time like this.” Carl drank almost all of his remaining beer in one long gulp. “But with that out of the way, what’s our assignment gonna be again?”
“Something really smells fishy about this.” Daniel said quietly.
“I’m not gonna follow that up with any punchline if that’s what you---“
“And where’s my damn drink, I’m thirsty?!” The sudden outburst was luckily expressed to the bartender, who lazily took a look to Daniel’s general direction.
“There was a problem with the faucets, be more f*cking patient.” said the angry tender.

Daniel only picked no further fight with the sole present employee when his “fishy stuff” was yet to be uncovered. Carl really wanted to invent a quick excuse to slip out of the bar, but where could he have gone from there, with the Fortune parked blocks away and with work still to do in this very town?

“Right. Right.” The power of the Logger made Daniel calm down some for starters, but he was still unnervingly shaking; never a good sign if Carl’s former experiences were an indication.
“I’m gonna ask you a single question. A really f*cking beginner level one. I expect you to take the damn thing seriously, and answer it to your absolute best ability.”
“Come at me then. I’m not as dumb as you think, mind you.” Carl said confidently.
Daniel was blunt in his questioning. “What kind of a man would put ketchup on a sauerkraut?”
“What?” Carl asked instinctively.
“I f*cking knew it.” Daniel’s expression faded into a scowl right away.
“Knew what? I ain’t even---“
“You’re an impostor.” Daniel whispered. “I don’t know what you’ve done to the real CJ, but I guess we’ll find out soon enough, you little espionaging piece of sh*t... Now show some respect for the innocent people around you and move your ass outside so I can give you a proper spy’s treatment.”

The tattooed arm closed in for a grapple; Carl, with the help of his fighting experience, saw this coming in advance and snatched it in his own firm grip first, standing up to ensure a better chance of holding his ground.

“Motherf*cker, stay back.” he hissed. He wouldn’t tell the man twice.
“You think you can talk your way outta this?” Daniel said, his voice also down. In a fit of rage, he tried to land a devastating punch with his free fist, but Carl somehow caught that as well, putting them in a bit of a stalemate.
“You think I wouldn’t kick your ass to the next solar system?” Carl retorted.
“The time for playing dumb is over, spy.” Daniel pried his left hand loose and got a grip on Carl’s collar, amid resistance. “The reward for would-be infiltrators is death.”
“Enough with the false accusations...” Carl warned. The two of them were now circling each other on the open floor, just waiting for the right window to pounce and land the first hit. All the eyes in the establishment were on this impending brawl of the two strangers now, and depending on how much of their discussion they overheard, it could’ve been over anything from music tastes to the use of condiments on pastries.

Yet again Daniel forcefully freed an arm, now the right one that he aimed for a hit on Carl’s face; for someone as good as him at breaking a grapple, Carl thought it was the weakest punch he’d ever taken from an adult. He still wasn’t going to allow another one through and raised his left arm to defend from the next strike, Daniel’s knuckles harmlessly bouncing right off his bone. It was Carl’s turn to have a go at his nose, but Daniel crouched as soon as he saw the fist coming, then went for a swift counter-hit elbow first, which contacted Carl’s mouth.

The hit was as awkward as it was dirty, but was also far more painful than the first, and he thought something may have cracked as a result. Seeing how quick his rival was at dodging punches, Carl switched strategy after recalling exactly where they were having their little scuffle. He swiveled in place so that he was now facing the entrance, before steering Daniel right over the still not cleaned glass shards – the fool had no idea what had hit his foot before absolute, agonizing twinge took over, and he was forced to shove Carl backwards to take the short break he was in desperate need of. The fight hadn’t even been intense enough for adrenaline to kick in and help him ignore this torture, and after starting off so well, he was all of a sudden at the mercy of the enemy.

“Who are you working for?” he gasped.
“Someone who’ll be real upset if I’m unable to pay my debts.” Carl said, midway through a charging attempt.
Daniel stopped dead on his tracks, and it was clear that it wasn’t solely for pain reasons either. Still in ‘fight or flight’ mode, Carl was even mildly disappointed that the battle wasn’t reinstated.
“You haven’t done any racing recently, have you?” Daniel questioned.
“What’s it to you?” Carl said, smiling smugly. Daniel was clearly aware of recent events more than he even came to expect.
“Come on, boys, you don’t need to beat each other to a pulp for my sake.” This voice, a really soft and soothing one, belonged to the girl that both had already almost forgotten about, getting in between the two to separate them – best for her to think that was all there was to the fight.
“Heh, I’m just toughening up this frat boy. Preparing him for the dangers of the dating world.” Carl replied, accompanied with a quick malicious smile at Daniel’s direction.
Daniel scowled. “Aren’t there any ambulances down the road for you to chase?”
“And now you two are just being petty, like a pair of schoolgirls. If your dispute is this bad, why don’t you come with me and deal with it like we always do in these parts?”
“A horseshoe throwing competition?” Carl proposed with a shrug.
“That’s just lame. I’m talking a little shooting challenge.” the girl chirped. “If the two of you can at least beat me, that should already be a major step for – bigger things, eventually enough.”
“Shooting, huh? I ain’t sure about that...” Carl said. He really didn’t have time for this – as tempting as her seductive tone was.
“Knew it!” Daniel asserted triumphantly. “So, what do I win?”
“Excuse me?” Carl asked, the country girl being equally confused.
“Carl gave up already before the contest began, which means I won by default...”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. I said nothing like that. In fact, I’m gonna look like a great Western gunslinger next to your sorry ass when we done.” Carl angrily spoke over him.
“Then let’s get going!” The girl excitedly pointed both in the right direction, which was the door. “My name’s Helena Wankstein, by the way... thanks for asking, gentlemen.”

Back outside, Carl’s slightly horny mind already made up a justification; he’d use this as practice for whatever his next firefight would be, while teaching Daedalus a well-deserved lesson by the side. If he picked up a girlfriend out of it, that would cure some of his loneliness problems while spending time in the middle of nowhere as well, though he had to wait and see if it could evolve into any sort of long-term stuff.

“Follow me to the shooting spot.” she said, walking slightly ahead of the two. “You know, I’m a lot more excited about the variety you bring to this area than I thought.”
“She’s talking in singular, to me.” Daniel whispered as the two were far enough behind to be out of hearing range.
“You sure like to keep your hopes up. Didn’t Schrader ever pull you aside and show you how hard the real world is on smug punks?”
“Is that an insecure loser I hear? Coming second in the big race wasn’t enough, you want to be humiliated on the gun range too? I saw how you wanted to back out... what, did the Grove Street Families not raise you better than that?”
Carl felt really violated by now. “What is with the information? Why don’t you climb up to the rooftops and shout my social security number to the entire town?”
“Intimidated yet? Make no mistake, nothing escapes my notice. It’s a nice little trait I inherited from my father – no wonder he’s such a big deal on the east coast, nothing like anything your gang has to offer.” Daniel said condescendingly.

“Alright, this is the spot right here... wait a second, I’ll arrange the targets.” Helena said, having led the duo to a small backyard of an equally small, heavily derelict and most likely abandoned residence at the edge of the town. They weren’t too far away from the center – some stores were visible just across the nearest street – but in an obscure enough spot that a little gunfire wouldn’t put the general populace at risk.

“You know,” Carl began quietly again, “whenever someone boasts about their dad’s achievements, I take that as a sign they’ve got nothing of their own to be proud of.”
Daniel cackled. “And whenever someone complains about the topics I bring up, I take that as a sign they’re bitter and jealous.”
“Though I am impressed by your dad’s willpower. If I ever had produced garbage like you, I’d have thrown myself off a bridge long ago.” Carl snapped.
“Don’t you talk sh*t about my family.” Daniel warned, gritting his teeth.
“Then don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.”
“You’re lucky I have enough dignity not to state some uncomfortable truths about yours...”
“Well, boys, who wants to go first?” Helena yet again took them by surprise; it really wasn’t what she wanted, the two of them being at each other’s throats all the time while she was all out of focus whenever she wasn’t speaking.
“Playtime it is then.” Carl said, taking the first turn.

Die, little glass Balla fool! Big Smoke’s words echoed in his head as he ignored Daniel’s pressure-inducing gaze to his best ability. The first round would put all the competitors to a test one by one, shooting as many of the bottles as possible with six bullets. The gun assigned for him was a decently maintained Single Action Army, which packed a massive punch but was still easy to point where needed – no wonder it won over so many people back at the Wild West. Being a bit unused to professional level shooting, Carl caught four bottles, but had two highly frustrating near misses, both of which must’ve been accompanied by a triumphant gesture by Daniel.

“The SAA, huh? Nice gun you picked; I’m familiar with this, you know.” Daniel said once it became his turn and the tool found its way to his hand.
“Careful not to let the hair distract you.” Carl said.

The misleading worked; Daniel was obviously under a lot of pressure and made some mistakes, bringing him to four hits as well, though the last shot striking a bottle dead center was bound to give him a confidence boost. Helena went last, and was unexpectedly solid and stable with the gun, but eventually got the misses that Carl had secretly hoped to see from the start – another four targets went down, but no more.

“Careful, dudes. You’re dangerously close to losing to a girl.” Helena psyched them up.
“I’m just holding back a little so that c*nt won’t lose his self-esteem.” Daniel said, deadpan.
Carl frowned. “C*nt? What are you, English?”
“What’s wrong with a bit of diverse language? Unlike you, I’m not bound by unspoken rules of what should and shouldn’t be said... now, another round awaits.”
“I was about to announce that myself. How about a re-run of the last one, just to be sure there was no fluke?” Helena said.
Daniel stepped up, strategically in front of Carl. “This time, I’m going first, babe. Gotta set a proper benchmark for this clown.”
“For someone who’s supposed to know the ins and outs of the SAA, you’ve been a f*ck-up so far.” Carl said once the next six bottles were lined up again.
“You can eat those words and down them with Sprunk when I’m done... but enough talk. Die, little glass Primos!”

A rumbling noise that gradually grew in volume was starting to engulf the entire area; Carl thought very little of it until it became accompanied by gunfire that didn’t come from Daniel. Promptly, Helena grabbed the shoulder of the shooter, asking him to hold up for a bit.

“What’s going on?” Carl asked, the additional sounds of screaming, fleeing pedestrians causing some unwanted distress. If there was one thing he didn’t want, it was being caught up in a random, possibly drunken shootout like this...
“You two, get your backs against that wall and keep outta sight. I think they’re heading to the storefront.” Helena ordered, suddenly losing any flirty tone she may have once had. Even Daniel cut the bullsh*t for once and did what was told.
She peeked her head out around the corner, as the rumbling stopped. “Sh*t, just as I thought.”
“Bikers came back?” Carl proposed.
“These are from the Fitzpatrick brothers’ gang. Quadbikes, not choppers, by the way.”
“I think I heard of them.” Daniel said.
Helena gritted her teeth in disgust. “Anyone who stays long enough around here will. They’re like the bullies of the county, they’ll take everything they want because they know there won’t be much resistance. Cops have already lost two shootouts this past month.”
“And the cops can’t be f*cked to put forth more resources... why?” Carl questioned.
“Some say they’re corrupt, but – a few have died in those fights, so I doubt they’re staged. I guess they just don’t have the funding, and are too proud to ask anyone else for help.”
“Did those Fitzpatrick goons shoot someone just a minute ago?” Daniel asked. Carl had thought the same.
“The cynic in me would say yes, but I can’t exactly look through this wall and find out.” Helena said with the sound of a window smashing on the background.
“What about the contest?” Carl and Daniel said in unison, nearly loudly enough to attract attention if the redneck gang wasn’t busy with the robbery.
“Little games like this come to an end when these assholes are in town.” Helena said sternly. “If you two want to really prove yourselves, then stand up to that threat. I can flank them from the other side of this house if you engage them first.”
“How many are there?” Daniel’s voice was shaking a bit before he saw Carl’s mocking expression. “Not that it matters... too much.”
“I see five ATV’s, and I assume each member rides their own, so there we go.”
“Relax, Danny will be all safe and sound when he has me for protection.” Carl asserted, receiving a murderous glare in return. As unwilling as he was to take a chance like this... it was just a group of armed hicks, and taking care of them would earn some positive reputation assuming there was anyone to witness the ordeal.

Once everyone was armed (Helena unlocked a crate to reveal multiple other revolvers and enough ammo to shoot up the whole town), Carl was left all alone with Daniel, a situation that was honestly more awkward than dangerous at this point. He, too, took a peek to the street, and although he could mostly only see their backsides, he could tell that these rednecks looked like some scary motherf*ckers, possibly on meth if the random twitching was any indication, who were also packing like the Vagos guards in their most important strongholds. They looked happy enough having all the time and space in the world to take everything from the barber’s shop that wasn’t bolted down.

“How the hell do you not know the code if you and Schrader are a thing?” Daniel wasted no time breaking the silence.
“I’m not some full-time member, I just do jobs whenever they need it done. Got more questions, maybe Amadeus can educate you next time you see him.”
Daniel shrugged. “OK... if you’re the brave f*ck you think you are, why not make a run to that other building so we can attack from multiple spots too?”
“Great idea, why don’t you follow through with it yourself?” Carl teased.
“Enough of the time-wasting, would you rather let her walk to her death while we argue here? And if we don’t spread out, imagine how easily they can flush us out with just one explosive!”
“Get a hold of yourself, man... nobody likes a whiny bitch. Only reason I’ll oblige you is because I can’t keep a lady waiting.”

Only two yokels were standing outside at the time, giving Carl an opportunity to open fire while running between buildings, and through a bit of a random shot he tagged one gang member as he collapsed behind an ATV. The other, being far too late to the party and wasting a ton of SMG bullets on him as he’d already disappeared behind the next house, screamed at his comrades to come out and deal with the unexpected self-defense situation.

“They got a ni**er shootin’ at us! Drop what yer doin’ and lynch these sons o’ bitches!”
“Now that’s just extreme.” Daniel, having overheard it quite perfectly, was next to show himself, doing something far more impressive than anything in the contest by landing a clean center mass shot on one of the men exiting the store, despite the distance.
“And what the f*ck is that? A troll from the woods?” the biggest of the gang members exclaimed, his burst of concentrated fire forcing Daniel back into hiding.
“Looks like we got loose circus animals all over town, boys. Time for some community service!” said one of the other, less prominent members with an excited yelp.
“Heads up, Carl, one is coming around the building to get you.” Daniel pointed out just as a third shooter – most certainly Helena – entered the party from the far left side and got the bad guys completely freaked, one even checking if there were signs of more attackers in areas that really had none.

Having to make a split second decision as he pondered if it was OK to trust Daedalus, Carl made his way to the far right side just to be sure – the approaching footsteps and heavy breathing gave away the threat long before he rounded the corner. The redneck was as mystified as Smoke would be if two number 9’s fell in front of him from the skies, and Carl popped some well-placed rounds into his upper body and face to land his first confirmed kill. For a split second before he’d drained the life out of the man’s eyes, though, Carl got to see a feral, bloodthirsty look on his face, complete with teeth that looked like they belonged to a dog. Was it meth alone that drove these people into such emotionless killing machines? All the more reason to not meddle in their affairs any more than he was right now, that was for sure.

Wait ‘till Ike hears about this! Y’all gonna wish you were never born!” The posse leader’s menacing scream was sure to be heard over the entire block.
“How about f*cking no? Do these people have no idea how many enemies I deal with as it is?” Carl said to himself, working his way forward and put his trust on Daniel yet again to keep his backside clear while he found a brand new position to shoot from, almost right at the gang’s rear. Three still remained standing, though the one Daniel had struck was only barely hanging on, maybe out of fear of his boss.

Jumping out into the open with a freshly reloaded gun, Carl’s next barrage came at about the same time as Helena’s, and one of the hillbillies fell once again with a hit to the chest; there was no time to confirm whose bullet did it, because the posse leader was quick to fly into an uncontrollable rage and open fire at Carl, who ran like hell back to safety, forgetting about trying to place the next clip in anytime soon.

“Don’t be alarmed, C*nty Johnson, I’m behind the corner.” a voice said just before Carl got there, causing him to do just what he was advised not to. Even if he did have bullets in his gun at the time, there was luckily no danger of friendly fire as there was no way he’d confuse that haircut to that of a redneck’s.

“Why’d you run over here? Is it me you secretly in love with?” Carl asked, still gasping for air.
“If there’s one thing I don’t mess with, it’s grenades.” Daniel asserted.
“I didn’t hear no explosion.”
“Maybe it was a fake, maybe they were too incompetent to pull the pin, but when I saw them throw something at me, I wasn’t gonna wait around to find out.” He was dead serious, like a soldier lecturing a recruit; Carl was at a loss for snarky words, for once.

“Tell me though, Grove Street, isn’t it weird how they ride measly little ATV’s?” Daniel continued.
Carl felt insecure about committing to a conversation just yet. “Why?”
“Think about it... big, bulky bastards who think they own the place, just like the old Western outlaws. Why not ride to town in a big-ass V12 pickup that you can hear all the way in the next county? It would make them more intimidating.”
“Their drunk, or drugged... or whatever asses wouldn’t make it to town then, they’d crash a truck like that the second they got off-road or into a tough corner. And believe me, I wouldn’t underestimate ATV’s from experience – they’re more nimble than you think.”
“I’m not saying that. I find them quite fun actually, hell, I’ve heard this county has great trails for them, but they seem more like a thing for gangs that spend more time running away than shooting bystanders---“
“Boys, you need to come see this right away if you’re alive! The fight’s over!”

The tense shouting cut the analysis short; come to think of it, shooting had ceased just a while ago, and Helena was obviously still in good health. Throwing away all safety precautions for once, Carl jog-walked after the voice, with a confuzzled Daniel in tow. All he found near Daniel’s old position, for the record, was a medium-sized rock; he found his freakout and seriousness over it funnier than it should’ve been.

“What the hell? You shot everyone already?” Carl yelled, seeing no more men standing beside the quadbikes, and Helena inspecting the fallen bodies holding back a maniacal laughter.
“Don’t I wish I had! I got the small injured hick and the tall one that looks like a haypole – no idea how – but the big guy is gonna have one hell of a story to tell downstairs.”

Carl looked down; this specimen had a permanent expression of absolute rage stuck on his facial muscles, with a little river of blood dripping from his mouth – that had nothing on his chest, however, which had been turned into Swiss cheese somehow after he last turned his head away from action.

“He kept screaming orders and couldn’t decide who he wanted to kill more, me or you – so after you dodged back to cover, he turned the gun to me but forgot to get out of his own way first. If you’ve never seen meth rage before, that’s how it usually ends.”
“He killed himself out of a lack of concentration? I can picture this former associate of mine doing the same if he panicked hard enough.” Daniel said observantly, kicking the corpse for good measure.
Carl still had some concerns to vent out. “That maniac mentioned an Ike. Acquaintance of yours?”
“Ike Fitzpatrick? He’s the brains of the gang, and as of now the only brother remaining.” Helena said. “I would skip town for a bit if I were you two, for your own safety – his men might be dead, but he has his ways of getting people to talk if he needs that. And both of you sorta stand out like sore throats here.”
“But what about the date? As you saw, I just did take the fight to these moving targets.” Daniel bragged, setting his ass down on the nearest ATV.
“What date? I didn’t promise any dates. Now you quit acting entitled or I’ll start looking for new fish in the sea.”
“I didn’t mean it like that...” Daniel squeaked.
“Where can I find you later, though? I did more actual work than this guy and ain’t a spoiled little bastard.” Carl said.
Helena started counting with her fingers. “I usually practice my shooting over at Blueberry’s Ammu-Nation – if you see panicked civilians, you know that’s me. Then there’s the Montgomery Market next week, where I’m a paid guard, watching for disturbances. That evening they hold a barn dance as well, and I almost know neither of you is above a little partying...”
“That’s my language.” Daniel said with a not-so-subtle wink.
“Take care of yourself now, in case Ike finds out---“ Carl added.
“Believe me, I will. Now scatter already! People are coming back.”

Carl and Daniel found themselves going the same way, down a small alley between the shops of this district. They’d just avoided being noticed by the crowd coming to check up on the result of the shootout, and had some (unwanted, if Carl was concerned) free time to bid farewells now that the rest of the town, including the police, was too busy to pay them any attention.

“So, Felix Schrader had two CJ’s in one institution. Who saw that coming?” Daniel asked with a pretentious smirk on his face that really didn’t belong there.
“Obviously not you. And you must be a less dedicated member than I thought, speaking his name out loud in public like that.”
“That rule is for dumb rookies who can’t tell a serious order from a joke. And who the hell cares? I don’t see anyone who could use that information in hearing range.”
Carl was becoming tired. “Hey, punk, what’s with all the hostility? You still wanna keep this dumb dick measuring contest going ‘cause she hasn’t dumped either of us yet?”
“Maybe I should relieve the pressure and list the reasons I hate you that I haven’t said out loud yet. Or punch you in the face. That works too.”

They stopped in an alley intersection point to let through a young delivery boy on a bicycle, oblivious to the commotion all around them, who jumped the nearby ramp at full speed to get launched right to the gas station. A police Ranger nearly ran him over, but Carl didn’t stick around to look very closely.

“You should be careful not to have caught PTSD. A girl like you must not get in life-or-death situations too much.” Carl jeered.
“Please, be more original.” Daniel’s voice was utterly disappointed. “Half my enemies have felt the need to point out that yes, I have hair longer than my sister’s and I look so dumb because of that, but come on. Every last one of them gets shut down when they see how smooth I am with the ladies, and you’re no different in that respect.”
“Doesn’t take much for your spoiled side to be exposed, though. Ever done real work, by the way? Just for a day?”
Daniel exploded with laughter. “You’re one to talk! Gangbanging motherf*cker. At least I tried, but just as my father would agree, the world of corporate duties ain’t very open to individuals who take no sh*t from the big shots. So there we go.”
“Man, you’re just disconnected. No idea what it’s like without your daddy’s safety net.”
“And you – better not show your face in Montgomery while I deal with business. Then again, with you being such a slow little roadblock, doubt you’ll make it on time.”
Carl pushed him in a burst of anger. “Go learn some humility lessons from Deco. At least he acted like a f*ckin’ sportsman about it.”
“No wonder you lost the race; you lose the mindgames so easily as well.”
“Why don’t you invite your friend over to town? He gave me a deal, y’know, a deal to win some of that money back.” Carl’s order was almost desperate, but Daniel was the only link he could know between himself and the hardcore racer...
“Sure you did.” Daniel chuckled smugly. “His money’s safe and sound out of your reach, and he’s not about to risk it with any one-on-one meetings with a thug like yourself. Guess you’re gonna have to find someone else to rob blind, to get out of that mountain of debt.”
I’ll f*cking show you, prick. “That ain’t gonna be a problem. Now get lost, bum, before my chosen target is you.”
“I’ve got a small army ready to pounce on you if you try that. Literally, I mean it. I’d say ‘see you around’ but then this one time was more than enough for us, right?”
“Whatever you say, asshole.” They exchanged middle fingers, leaving for separate directions on the empty road at the other end of the alley.

There it stood; the Dillimore police station. Unintentionally, Carl had done himself a massive favor by distracting most of the force; all he had to do was follow that script he’d practiced with Kevin and get himself some private time with the homies. The glasses were miraculously not broken after spending a good bit in his pocket; it was time to engage blurry vision again and allow the nerdy lawyer to take over from the street hustler far away from home.

It was time for Attorney Thomas Jackson to step into the scene.

To Be Continued.

Edited by Carbonox

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Man, to think Chester Bennington was still alive and well when I started writing this. :/



SA21: All’s Fair in Law and War



“That the best you got? C’mon, kid, you punch like a bitch!”
“I’m trying! Just gimme some time!”

Sweet sighed. His patience was running dry trying to uncover the slightest hidden talents that Billy Butler may have had, but so far anything that involved going head to head with another person – or in this case, practice dummy – proved to be too much for him to handle. Sweet had given him an alright practice ground in his garage, clearing it of any distractions, but a fact of life was that the little white kid wouldn’t pose the tiniest threat to anyone with two functioning arms. If he wanted to compensate for the whiny voice that was like listening to nails on a chalkboard, working on it was going to be essential, but currently Sweet just wanted to remove himself from the situation, feeling embarrassed watching the whole thing. Desperate times called for desperate measures, as the old saying went, but was there any need to go this far with the desperation?

“Just... stop, kid. Stop for a moment.” Sweet couldn’t handle it anymore when Billy landed another awkward punch with the back of his hand. It wasn’t as bad as when he hurt himself earlier on, but belonged in an elementary school cafeteria fight.
“Was it better?” Billy asked in a bright voice.
Sweet went the honest route. “It was like pukin’ on a pile of sh*t. See all those scratches? They there ‘cause people have come and lynched this mo’f*cker to hell. You ain’t done sh*t so far. Swear you been hurtin’ yourself more than that dummy. And your voice better break soon, or it’ll get you into more trouble.”
Billy gasped at the harsh criticism. “I-I can’t help my features.”
“Forgot rule number one? No back-chattin’ to an OG.”
“Y-yes, sir. I’ll try to improve. But if this doesn’t work out, I could always just focus on stealing sh*t for you to use, and---”
“Kid, listen.” Sweet shut him up with one swift hand movement. “Lotta people join the Families not for loyalty, but just protection. That ain’t nothin’ new. But the niggas who pass initiation all bullsh*tted through it somehow. Maybe they drive fast, rob suckers with attitude, even shoot like pros---“
“When will I get to try shooting?”
“I didn’t tell you to speak! Point is, the fools you see representin’ now all did somethin’ to impress me. So far you ain’t got nothin’, and I almost don’t wanna take the risk of givin’ you a gun. This whole thing a trainwreck right now.”
“D-don’t fail me just now.” Billy pleaded. “I’m just under a lot of pressure – I – I – this is my only chance to survive. I can’t go back to Balla turf anymore... they’ll rip me apart.”
“Quit playin’ the world’s saddest f*cking song to me. There ain’t no room for freeloaders in here and you know it, so grow a spine or get lost.” Sweet growled, staring at the frightened teenager for a moment and allowing his anger to cool down.

He had one idea. One really simple idea that should separate the wheat from the chaff, and would show him by the end of the day if Billy was worth any more of his attention. He told the kid to go outside and wait while he searched his house for the one item that a brave prospect needed for proving themselves – the other one besides the blunt melee weapon, that was.

“Go hit up Idlewood some.” Sweet handed him a full bottle of spray at their rendezvous. “Just make sure it’s somewhere out in the open. So that, y’know, the Ballas get the message.”
“What kinda – tag you want me to paint?” Billy asked, still as fearful as ever. Sweet learned to ignore that feeble attempt at gaining sympathy.
“I dunno, anythin’ you come up with. Give it your own flavor maybe, but just make it clear it’s comin’ from the Families. When you done, come see me in an hour or two at Emmet’s.”
“Emmet’s?” Billy repeated.
“You know Emmet better than you claim, don’t ya? CJ once had an interesting story to tell about him and you.” Sweet made him a bit uncomfortable. “Now don’t chicken outta this unless you wanna miss out on the shootin’ test.”
“Shooting? I mean yes, I’m on it!”

Sweet watched with pride – for himself, as that was what he earned for finally getting the kid to do some work – as Billy excitedly jumped on a bike and nearly fell over immediately, rushing to his destination like there was no tomorrow. Either he was a hidden psychopath, or he just really needed to get a hold of a gun to ease up the paranoia. Sweet couldn’t decide what he wished more to be true.

Billy had stumbled almost out of sight when another cyclist pulled up right into Sweet’s personal space, his green bandana swaying in the wind to slap him fully unintentionally in the head. “So, how’s the interracial biz?”
“What I said to him is how I feel. Kid’s got some issues, but we gotta get all the potential we can get.” Sweet said to the gang member.
“Sounds real nice, but when you gonna apply that sh*t to me?” the man questioned, scratching his stubble.
“I ain’t blind, nigga. CJ and Ryder, now they out the game and Smoke busy bein’ harassed by CRASH yet again. When the next piece of big action rolls in, I want some of that sh*t. Tired of this standin’ around bullsh*t, lotta talent goin’ to waste.”
“Nino, there ain’t no big action.” Sweet pointed out. “And you should move or you gon’ lose him---”
“Ain’t no action my ass, dog!” Nino started waving his arms around restlessly; a habit Sweet was beginning to hate. “You seen all the sh*t goin’ on at Jefferson? Balla dope pushers got somethin’ huge on they hands, actin’ all sus as f*ck ‘bout it. Mark my words, that stash of Dup’s your boys blew into the sky was just the start.”
“I repeat, there ain’t anythin’. Without those boys, why go on the offensive again? We gotta lay back, see what’s happenin’, focus on the defense part for now. We already lost Eddie to that last raid and we had a f*ckin’ strong party there, so---“
“Now there ain’t none when I want a piece of the pie? I call bullsh*t! And then you tell me to babysit this dumb lil’ white boy and call it some mission?”
“Not babysittin’, a’ight? You ain’t gotta keep no Ballas off his ass, just report whatever he does.” Sweet insisted. “That way, he gon’ think I got eyes all over the place in this city. And f*ckin’ please, if you need real work so bad, come see me later. It ain’t like I couldn’t find a solution, we just got so much sh*t on our hands... Just do this now, OK? I’ll holler at you later.”
“Whatever you say, boss.” Nino finally got his foot off the ground, beginning to pedal away. “By the way, when I gonna get a nickname like y’all big homies got?”
“Sh*t like that only comes naturally. No ifs or buts.” Sweet put it bluntly. He was happy that Nino didn’t stop to address the topic further.

Sweet sighed. Maybe there was a point Nino was trying to make back there. Maybe, since Carl’s grand comeback, he hadn’t had much time for all of the aspiring members down the ladder; it was always the same old safe trio he relied on when something big was happening, with Horse and a few others keeping up appearances scarcely. He’d seen this exact same kind of dissatisfaction in the past from a very prominent homie, and if there was anything to learn from the consequences of that, something had to be done this time, and quick. Nothing would bring B Dup back into the mix anymore, but if Nino wanted greater responsibility, he was going to get it – provided he was ready to grow up a little and listen to a few stories about new factions involved in their life.

Miles away, Carl was hoping to channel some last bits of confidence into him before the moment of truth.

The cops were busy with all the incoming calls about the shootout, that much was clear – they also were more likely to be on edge, so no suspicious conduct was to be practiced or his cover would blow faster than the airport’s windsock or that one hooker he used to see in a Little Mexico corner back in the old days... but enough of that thought. Carl did one last subtle personal search on himself to ensure he was thoroughly unarmed, not that there was much to worry about since his personal gun was well and firmly in the car. Speaking of guns, if all this went well and he had an excuse to continue loitering around here, he had no doubt in his mind that he wanted to take up Helena’s subtle offer and meet up at Blueberry. It wasn’t every day that he met girls who were obviously into the same kind of things as him.

He was nearly run down on the front steps by two more cops in an obvious rush to the scene of the crime; neither showed any sign of being sorry, just the last one stared at him for longer than necessary, like to confirm that he wasn’t just seeing things when Carl first popped up in his vision.

The station had a depressing look to it, with only few windows providing natural light for the gray concrete hell whose corridors might well have led to nuclear bunkers or secret torture chambers. Having learned countless times in his youth (through sheer experience) how to conduct himself in police stations, he started off with a confident walk to the receptionist's desk, guarded by safety netting and being occupied by only one worker, an overweight man with a couple of unopened Sprunk cans at the ready, looking like he would rather be anywhere else right now. Even when Carl stood right in front of him, he didn’t acknowledge his existence at all, only starting to write more aggressively on his typewriter. Modern technology mustn’t have made landfall in this town quite as fast as dickheads from the east coast.

“Excuse me. Sir, I’m here to see my clients.” Carl was as formal and professional as he could be, and didn’t elicit the slightest reaction.
“Excuse me! I’m a lawyer!” Raising the voice didn’t help either; it was like talking to a brick wall. Who would’ve thought the most passive-aggressive and downright hostile locals would be found working in a public building?

“What seems to be the problem?” The raspy voice was that of an officer, the first one Carl saw inside the station in fact, showing up on the scene and only stopping once he was within touching distance; Carl just about suppressed his natural defensive urge that normally came up in these situations, doubly so now that it was a redneck cop in question, about as well-built as Amadeus was. One dumb move and he would literally have no leg to stand on as he’d be carried away to accompany his friends in the cells.

“Think I heard someone say ‘lawyer’.” said the cop before Carl had the chance to answer by himself. “Here to visit an inmate?”
“Uhh – yes. Two, actually. I hear some of my clients have been getting into trouble out here. Lance Wilson and Lamar Benson are the names.”
“Oh, of course. Those lunatics. Shoulda known someone would come to defend them eventually... but I digress. Bob, get back to damn work. You, follow me.” The cop shot an angry look at the worker, who was uncomfortably glaring at Carl as if hoping that the encounter would’ve escalated into a violent one.

Having inspected Carl quickly and declared him unarmed, the cop led him through some of those desolate corridors, just as devoid of life as the entrance hall had been. In hindsight, an armed break-in with a small posse wouldn’t have been too difficult if most of the force had been deployed to deal with something in a neighboring town – Carl had to put that at the back of his mind if he ever gathered up enough manpower that was willing to risk it.

“Sorry about Mr. Antisocial back there, by the way. He ain’t usually that bad.”
“Why do you keep him around if he’s too wretched to do his basic job?” Carl asked, spotting the text Richards in a tiny font on his nametag.
“Chief’s son.” the officer whispered. “Had to get him some line of work or there’d be an expensive tantrum... and you saw how unfit he is for a cop, so that’s the only option.”
“He looks like he’d do a great job over in Santos.”

Richards laughed like he’d never done before, despite Carl not actually meaning it in a sarcastic way. Needing a bit of recovery time to put on a serious face again, he directed Carl to wait in the halls while he would fetch the (alleged) gunmen from the cell blocks to get interviewed. Trusting that cop to not have malicious thoughts in mind, the only factor stressing Carl out now during this quiet alone time was his friends doing something stupid that gave him away. It wouldn’t be the first time anyway – when he last pranced around in disguise at the west coast, Ryder had been nice enough to treat him the same as ever, with a bit of extra mockery dedicated to his “fancy dress ball costume” despite them being in plain sight of the minor pimping gang Carl had tried to infiltrate. If not for Horse and the Devil brothers, he wouldn’t be here right now performing a more extreme version of that stunt.

The prisoners were brought in with the added manpower of a second cop, still with handcuffs on. Ryder’s eyes (Carl noted that his sunglasses had likely been confiscated, revealing a rare sight) went wide open at the sight of his “lawyer”, but he was nice enough not to open his mouth – maybe the shock alone quieted him down. LB was much more calm and reserved throughout the ordeal, but the deadpan, serious face he had on him was a clue that he’d been through something bad during his time in custody.

“So, Mr. Lawyer, which inmate is it gonna be first?” asked the second officer with a far more pronounced redneck accent than Richards had.
“Pardon? I was... going to talk with both of them at once. They were arrested together, after all.”
“Oh, no, no, we can’t risk that. Not unless the cuffs are kept on and a guard stays there with you.” Richards intervened.
“Don’t I have the right to see them privately?”
“You do, but I must stress that what you’re dealing with are some very dangerous---“
“They’re good, upstanding civilians who would never think to harm a man who is here to help them.” Carl said with more aggravation in his voice, some of it genuine. “And what kind of men, who claim themselves to be upholders of justice, would insert what is essentially a spy into our legal advice discussion? These men already have a history of mistreatment at the hands of officials, do you really want to perpetuate their distrust of the system?”

Maybe it was a stupid thing to do, as there was really nothing protecting him from these cops if they were particularly offended with his speech, but to Carl’s joy they were more astounded than anything, one of his pre-practiced lines leaving them utterly speechless – the fed-up tone that reflected some of his actual problems with authority helped reinforce that reaction as well, he thought.

“Very well.” Richards said after a long pause. “You have five minutes with the both of them... alone. If anything happens, just shout as hard as you can.” He almost looked sad sending Carl into the lions’ den, like he knew the men didn’t match the description at all and that the lawyer was maybe oblivious to the fact. The joke was definitely on him.

“So... there any cameras in here?” Ryder presented as the inaugural question once the door closed and the three thugs were all alone for the first time.
“Like where, in the flowerpot?” Carl mocked, shooting a few looks at the only distinctively colored object in the room. “I think we all good here.”
“Do we gotta talk law for the show, or can we cut straight to the chase?” asked LB.
Carl shook his head. “Don’t worry, I got a plan for when time runs out. It’s all good.”
“Well then... look, CJ, ten points for effort, but what are you gonna do beyond this? It’s a small fort they got in here.” LB said grimly.
“I’m gettin’ to that, uhh, one way – point is, I gotta, like, evaluate the situation-“
“Is this CJ at all? Nigga talks like a real lawyer fo’ sure. Big words, never gets to the point.” Ryder interrupted.
“Will you shut it?” LB hissed. “Homie, what about Sweet? He gonna be all right at Grove?”
Carl shrugged. “All right as ever if any usual sh*t goes down. But we need you for the whole reuniting bullsh*t.”
“And?” Ryder said expectantly.
“And Ryder’s ninja skills or whatever.”
“That’s right, and you better keep it right, nigga.”
“Why don’t you focus ninja style? Anyway, Carl, appreciate the work you put into this, but it’s a waste of time.” LB had a blunt face on, not that he would joke about these things anyway. “I don’t want any of our own to take the risk and storm the place, in fact we need a real lawyer more than a fake one right now. ‘Least then there’s a chance these thugs will let us go. Reunions ain’t just one man’s job, so see if y’all can do anything on your own wit’ that.”

Carl looked downbeat, struggling to accept all his work was to be for naught if the dudes in distress would rather not run the risk. “No matter how many foot soldiers he got in there, Sweet needs you more than ever right now.” LB added when Carl remained quiet. “He might still have those doubts about you, so no better way to prove him wrong than expandin’ the turf. And if sh*t hits the fan and we go off to federal prison, so f*ckin’ be it. 5-0 don’t scare me.”
“I gotta chime in and say I disagree wit’ the previous speaker and sh*t. I want the hell outta here, and fast.” Ryder said, ignoring LB’s contemptuous expression.
“There’s still gotta be a way---“ Carl stammered, fittingly right as the door creaked open.
“Time’s up.” Richards said. Carl was certain it hadn’t been five minutes yet, but ferocious arguing was going to take him nowhere in that regard.
“Oh, alright then. Very well, ho- uhh, folks, I trust your statements, but you really need to stay away from those violent video games. Real life doesn’t have a reset button, you know.” he said as a last greeting, taking his sweet time to get up and exit.

“We forgot to tell you, a very reputable colleague of ours is coming in to check on those same two inmates as you. Between that and this most recent alert, our schedule’s hectic as hell.” Richards explained back at the hallways, Carl reacting with little more than an apathetic shrug and trying to avoid conveying his downbeat mood.
“Hey, Mr. Thompson.” The other cop, likely Richards’ partner considering he joined the group once more, tapped Carl’s shoulder – he took a moment to react before remembering that was his fake name.
“I overheard that video game stuff you talked about. Gotta say, man, you just got yourself an admirer if half of that was genuine.”
“What do you mean?” Carl asked. Richards took the moment to run off elsewhere – probably a bogus excuse to get away from this other cop’s statements.
“Video games being a cancer to our society, that’s what! You know what kinda people play them?”
“Do tell me.”
“The kind that would murder and rape whoever they could in the real world if there wasn’t consequences, that’s who. So they play their games to get their fulfillment of violence rather than make an effort to change their thinking and become decent human beings. But oh no, it’s just innocent entertainment like movies and books! No, it f*cking ain’t, because those things at least teach you some positive lesson and don’t make you commit any of those atrocities!”

Listening to the rant with a numb mind, Carl knew that anti-gaming people certainly were a thing – that’s why he picked that as his quirk – but encountering one in the wild was an even weirder experience than he’d ever thought. This man was completely honest and stood behind every word he said, while Carl forced himself to nod along in false agreement... and swore to have a really good time with his own games as soon as he got back home.

“And then, then they only make them worse the farther we go. What if the next big idea is something where you can steal a car and run innocent people over? And get those stupid points for it? Thank f*ck I’m not the only one here who’s got a brain. My kids ain’t touching that sh*t in all their lives... say, maybe I should show them those gangsters you just talked to. Tell them that’s what they’ll turn into if they give in.”

Carl had already ceased to care what else he had to say, so he was able to focus more on the background. A new voice was mumbling something up ahead; judging by its tone, that must’ve been Bob from the lobby, the first time he actually opened his mouth in Carl’s presence. For once, he had the motivation to guide the person currently standing in front of his desk to the right place – a person who Carl thought he recognized from somewhere, even though that was all but impossible at a place like Dillimore-

Carl’s jaw dropped as the man’s side profile became clearer.

Officer Tenpenny.

Suddenly he found himself praying to every deity he knew of, including those weird ones from the Nation of Islam that some wacko recruiter had once discussed at length, for this adamant anti-gamer to shut his trap so he would maybe have a chance to slip by unnoticed. He could accept that Tenpenny would come all the way here to see some of his favorite prisoners, but not the fact he had to arrive at this exact time. What even were the odds for that? If only he’d never wasted his time with Daedalus... so many what-if scenarios filled his head that the video game rant was completely shut out by now.

“Oh, hey! You must be Frank Tenpenny. Could you follow me? The prisoners are all prepped up in the interview room.” The officer snapped out of his tirade and slammed the final nail in the coffin with his dutiful offer to help – no way whatsoever for Carl to sneak out of the situation unseen. As Tenpenny turned to face the talkative officer, his gaze quickly shifted to the “lawyer” who made his best efforts to look professional and nothing like that gangster C.R.A.S.H. was always bullying, though that only helped convince the others in the room that nothing was out of the ordinary. That look on Tenpenny’s face just confirmed it; from the first moment that he laid eyes on Carl, he knew.

“At least there’s someone in here who’s gonna show me where to go.” Tenpenny said to the cop. “I was just about to write off your customer service as absolutely disgusting.”
“Well, uhh – that’s alright. Always room for improvement, right?” The officer laughed nervously; Carl thought it was odd he’d bend over backwards to a minority, but he had to assume it was just that vibe that anyone got from Tenpenny at first sight. It was just undeniably obvious that nobody f*cked with him, and those who didn’t get the memo would do so twice as fast once he opened his mouth.

“Oh, do you probably know each other?” the officer added, observing Tenpenny’s continued staring at Carl. “Mr. Jackson just gave some legal advice for the prisoners, he’s from Los Santos too. You’ve probably had your fair share of courtroom drama.”
“Maybe.” Tenpenny stated bluntly. “Time to go, I’ll be right behind you.”
Carl’s heart, which had felt like it was close to a failure point, eased up at last as he felt he’d be in the clear after all. “Hey, it was nice to see you! Let’s definitely keep up the good fight!” the cop said in farewell, Carl responding with just a quick wave. He wanted out fast.
“Kid, not so fast.” He felt someone grab his arm before he could leave the station, and found himself in far too close proximity with Tenpenny’s face.

His voice was so quiet, the local cop was fully oblivious to him staying back. “You’ve been lucky recently, haven’t you boy?”
“Uh... yes, Officer.” Carl felt so weak speaking to him, his heartrate going up again.
“Good. You’ll need it soon. Ten second head start for old times’ sake, right, Jackson?”

That man did not joke around, not in Carl’s presence at least. He put the most rushed look on his face as he speed-walked out the door, being careful not to slip and fall on the stairs, and then sprinting with all the strength he got, to the getaway vehicle. No time for snacks from the gas station or more of the Welcome Pump’s drinks when he was just a few blinks of an eye away from being the target in the next big local manhunt. Only a single Ranger was visible in the station’s miniature garage, nothing compared to Pershing Square’s impound, and the Fortune was going to be in another zip code before Tenpenny was done exposing his secret. He just needed to make a small detour to pick up Kevin, but after that, going back to the refuge of Los Santos it was. The idea felt a lot like giving up and gave Carl the bad kind of goosebumps thinking about it, but after this there was little else he could do for his homies’ sake anymore.


“Hey, Sweet, I’m back! I did what you-“ Billy’s voice was clear and confident, as he almost ran into the chest of his new boss at Emmet’s yard, the memories of his last visit locked far away in his mind. The owner himself was nowhere to be seen around this time, but Sweet was certainly someone reliable enough to leave in charge – not that there was a whole lot to maintain.
“That was a decent tag for a rookie. But it takes way more than that to actually control the action.” Sweet said, calming him down with some hand movements.
“It – wait, how did you – no, nevermind.” Billy gasped. “If I passed, does that mean some of that target practice for me?”
Sweet shook his head. “You gotta learn to eventually do things wit’ more than the end reward in mind. I ain’t always gonna have a carrot waitin’ for you when I send you taggin’, spyin’, hell, robbin’ people.”
“But I did what you asked!” Billy pleaded with puppy eyes.
“Just don’t get it, do ya? CJ an’ I recently learned the hard way that there’s days when you work your asses off, even kill junkies to get your goal, and it all amounts to nothin’ in the end. You gotta appreciate the gains in this industry a lot better than that, ‘cause they gonna be few and far between. That pathetic beggin’ you keep doing, that’s a trait that needs to go, or we done.”
“Oh...” It was so painstakingly obvious that, unlike the other times, Billy had no clue how to improve himself this time, the ultimate meaning of the message not fully reaching him. As his head went down in a combination of disappointment and shame, he didn’t notice Sweet was presenting a handgun to him.

“Another thing is, I did make a promise, sort of, and I normally keep ‘em.” he said, observing Billy’s face lighting up like his most wanted Christmas present was being offered to him early. “Don’t expect too much of ‘em later though.”
“Wow, is this – is this loaded?” Billy took almost forever to actually dare grab the gun from Sweet’s hand, and when he did, there was no end to the admiration.
“No, for that exact reason.” Sweet replied just as Billy was looking down the barrel.

Once the mandatory lessons about gun safety (only point it at purple and yellow things) were all out of the way, Billy’s favorite test was about to begin. In his mind, who needed to be a good puncher anyway when he could get the message across just fine from a distance? Even that wouldn’t happen without issue, though, as he soon found out he lacked strength in his fingers too, struggling to even take the shots in the first place and gaining more chastising from Sweet. This time, taking the hint that his prior attitude was rotten and not welcome, he forced himself to do what was told and withstood the pain, gritting his teeth as he fired one shot after another at a target board.

He was surprisingly accurate, making one hole after another near the center of the board after the rough start – Sweet couldn’t tell if he was just fluking it or showing his first drop of combat talent. With no more bullets in the board, he pointed Billy to shoot from a longer distance while handing him another full clip. Still trying his damndest to ignore the burning sensation in all of his fingers, he inserted it like a robot and got to action immediately. Sweet thought this could turn into a lesson about how all the things being looked forward to weren’t necessarily just rainbows and unicorns, but was nice enough to leave it to another time.

This time, the first two bullets went all over the place, but then Billy found the old rhythm again, beginning to hit his mark time after time in much of the same way as the first round. Just as Sweet was getting ready to suck it up and congratulate him for an overwhelmingly great start, fatigue started to possibly kick in towards the end and his accuracy faltered significantly.

“Maybe you gotta hit up the gym so you can fire properly.” Sweet recommended, keeping up his tough guy persona while also being completely honest. “Now, feelin’ up for one more?”
“Yo, Sweet.” A voice he hadn’t heard for the longest time addressed him from the yard’s northern entrance. “Busy trainin’ your new pet? We gotta talk.”
“Shamrock Sanders. You sure you took enough time to check fo’ bugs?”

The man’s eyebrows already looked angry, but now that had spread to the rest of his face as well. He didn’t tower over Sweet, but certainly tried by standing on his toes, something the Grove Street leader took great amusement in.

“No time for cheap shots when the whole Seville Boulevard wants to have a word wit’ you.” the man said, showing off the appropriate tattoo on his shoulder like Sweet needed some confirmation of where he stood.
“Oh, look, I’m famous. Now why don’t you either brush your teeth, or back off before you gotta start pickin’ them from the ground?”
“This ain’t a game.” Shamrock said, several other agitated Seville goons entering the area to back him up. “And what’s that camera up there doin’, filmin’ us? I can’t send the message if there’s a damn camera.”
“It’s Emmet’s, moron. You gone so far you scared of even your own homies?”
“Then why’s it on the other building’s wall, moron? And what about that kid you got here? Might be a fed.” Shamrock suddenly pointed at Billy, who flinched.
“This one? Just f*ckin’ look at him, he like an underfed middle schooler more than some undercover bitch. And he knows if he talks, he dead. Ain’t that right, boy?” Sweet said.
“Uh – yes, as you say, boss!” Billy shrieked, prompting malicious laughs from Shamrock’s backup.
“Well in any case, I don’t want him listenin’ in. So get lost! And someone do somethin’ about that camera. Y’all know I’ll make it up fo’ Emmet if it’s his. Not that I believe that.”
“You heard the nigga, Billy. Training’s over.” Sweet ordered.

For the shortest time Sweet feared that Billy would embarrass him further by staying behind and trying to defend him in some way from this group intruding on their privacy – thankfully, his usual fear instinct kicked in, and possibly right after realizing how badly he could get beaten for doing something wrong there, he ran off. He could’ve done it with more dignity, looked less like a fleeing victim and more like a proud thug... Sweet heard no more remarks, but knew just how low everyone’s opinion was of Billy from their body language alone.

One rock-throw later, the camera was no longer on Shamrock’s worry list. “Right. J-Dog wanted me to clear somethin’ out with you.”
“Somethin’s off. Why ain’t he here to see me personally?”
“So you won’t sh*t your pants.” Shamrock said.
Sweet raised his eyebrows. “You think I’m a joke?”
“Actually, the Johnson name is kinda a joke in these parts. Just no smarts in the way you handle, uhh, internal relations. No wonder that one-eyed Chad kid and his homies been walkin’ all over you.”
“Yeah, you wanna know how he lost that eye, wiseguy?” Sweet snarled.
“Enough with the bullsh*t distraction!” another Seville guy yelled. “Could be your sister for all I care, but it don’t matter now!” Sweet could still easily tell who this was – none other than Clarence, one of the less intelligent members on the set, maybe only accompanying Shamrock with the hopes that he’d get to tell Sweet off.
“Leave the talkin’ to me already, imbeciles. Like I was gonna say, boss ain’t too happy...”


Carl was having a highly stressful time out in the country – it was like reliving the memory of the Adder theft far too soon – but the worst of it was starting to be over. There were no troubles associated with leaving Dillimore, but since then, cop cars were beginning to turn up on almost every slightly important road in the county, trying to debilitate him with sheer numbers. Carl needed to perform some elaborate tricks and turns to avoid detection, and felt like he had been successful as only a short distance remained before Kevin’s cabin.

Ring, ring. Oh, great, Sweet was on the line. If he wanted a situation report, it wasn’t about to be a pretty one – Carl wished he had braced himself for the meltdown that was sure to come.

“We got a problem.” Sweet was talking the second Carl picked up the call.
“Bigger than mine?” Carl asked without a beat.
“Bigger than anyone’s. Remember the Seville boys? J-Dog and that paddy Shamrock?”
“Who couldn’t? Motherf*cker would search me anytime we saw.”
“Just gotta be firm about it. Now thing is, they know how LB went down, and how he was wit’ us when it all happened.” Sweet’s voice was uneasy – this was their first communication since the dreadful day after all.
“Sh*t, they ain’t pinned that on us somehow?”
“Afraid that’s exactly what they did. Crack must be messin’ with Dog’s head, since he used to be brighter than this. More sensible or whatever. So now they say we better fix this sh*t, bust him out, or we officially gonna be enemies.”
Carl had his heart skip a beat. “They gotta be kidding...”
“Shamrock’s a serious nigga. Just like me.” Sweet assured.
“Well, once you hear my problem, you gonna wish we never took that job in the first place.” Carl said, gasping. “Tenpenny was here. Whole Dillimore’s gonna know who I am by morning, and he’s not gonna let those two off easy.”
“Tenpenny, out in the country?!” Carl heard Sweet coughing heavily for a moment. “No, you wouldn’t f*ck around either. Just – what the –“
Carl was shaking his head, even if Sweet couldn’t see it. “Stars aligned all perfectly to screw us over, nigga.”
“Well, no matter who it is there, we gotta do this somehow. This ain’t worth going to civil war. If you managed to scout it, just say how many fools you need, and we’ll raid that sh*thole.”
“We ain’t raidin’ sh*t!” Carl yelled, briefly ignorant to the fact it was his dominant brother on the line. “I mean, too much cops in there, and even if we got ‘em out, we’ll never get away with it. Tenpenny would just crack down on us outta spite too, when he finds out. Just – just – gimme a few more days. I’ll think of somethin’ in here real quick. Please?”
“Oh, I’d like to, but J-Dog won’t. And what other ideas is there?”
“They – might get moved. Or the cop station could have a weak back wall, so we don’t need no pile of corpses on our hands. Hell, K can still scout the place, maybe he’ll find somethin’...”
Sweet chuckled. “Inventive. I gotta admire that, but even you know you’re pretty desperate now.”
“It’s all I got right now. I’ll give you a shout again when the smoke clears up.”
“Gotta be soon, bro. No pressure.”

That feeling when a call ended so unclimatically almost, without reaching a resolution... it left Carl even more empty than the moment Tenpenny came into his view. Sweet was right, he could get inventive on the spot, but his quick ideas often lacked the required finesse in the end. All that he really could do now was hope that Kevin, not under the same kind of pressure, would have a more coherent mind than him, think up something more solid as the clock was ticking...


To Be Continued.

Edited by Carbonox

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Mr. Carbonox,


First, I must say, your dialogue is absolutely on point. I believe in it when I read it, and most importantly, I can hear the characters speaking in my head which breathes HUGE amounts of life into the story. In addition, I love GTA SA, so you've got the lucky fact that I'm already in love with these characters, and instead of drastically changing them, your writing brings new depth to them for me! So thanks man!


One small criticism might be both a compliment and a knock as well. Your narration is very on the nose. Concise, not overly flowery as some folks get, and to the point and detailed. However, it stands in contrast to the slang infused snappy dialogue. If this is intentional, more power to you. If it is not, I suggest you drop more of the narration and simply let your talent for writing dialogue direct the story. I am a dog for good dialogue and it is one of THE MOST difficult thing for writers to get down well, so I have to offer props when I see it handled deftly like you have here. Looking forward to the next installment Carbonox!

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You know you're a great writer (not) when you gotta once again split a chapter into parts because it just would go on and on otherwise.


SA22: Montgomery Burns – Part 1



”Draw four and play us some Grove Street colors, fool.”
“Damn, you sure love to give me a hard time, CJ.”

Just another tranquil day out in the backwoods. Birds chirping, coyotes mating and letting the whole forest know, poachers screaming in agony as they were caught in bear traps, and two men far away from home slapping cards onto a table. It got monotonous after a bit, particularly with Carl winning all the time, but it was the only form of entertainment they had in this nondescript cabin. The Uno set came for cheap, too, when Kevin was doing the mandatory shopping at Dillimore.

Carl could just have taken more joy in the victory streak if a certain detail wasn’t troubling him. He didn’t want to say it out loud, not without some alleviation, but he felt let down by Kevin’s lack of ideas for the jailbreak that couldn’t wait for much longer now. It was Carl who went sneaking on the hills near the station and scoping things out by binoculars until he was pretty certain a cop saw him through a window – it was also him who wanted to knock out some cops, particularly the anti-gamer, and have Kevin and someone else waltz in in uniform, though for that they would still need an excuse to take the inmates to another location, and could be recognized as outsiders anyway. It was a raging brainstorm that went on in Carl’s head going through possibilities after possibilities, and somewhere between his ideas he felt guilty about the mere thought of acting judgmental at the person who willingly offered his aid for the countryside business.

“Something on your mind, aside from victorious pride?” Kevin asked, hands near damn full of cards.
“Just... the usual.” Carl stammered.
“You just look sorta bothered. Is it because of the checkpoints?”
“Nah, popo don’t scare me. I could take a detour anytime I wanted to go back home.”
“But you won’t.” Kevin clarified.
“I’d want to, but duty comes first, I guess. You got any new ideas?”
“Not really. You sure that Daedalus kid couldn’t help you?”
“He’d rather step in a fireplace.” Carl stated. “Hey, Kev, tell me something... why you keep bringin’ him up all the time? Like he the only part of my story you care about.”
Kevin shrugged.“I guess that part with him just brings me back to the good old days.”
Carl felt skeptical. “Good old days? How?”
“Oh... just the usual business of young and naïve me getting into fights with other boys for nothing more than the girls’ affection. Back then, I really got to see how cruel the world was – it was me who came out on top almost all the time, but they got all the action. Even with their faces still bruised from my treatment!”
“Uh-huh. Look, man, didn’t your old crew ever do infiltrations like these? You gotta have a clue of how they pulled that sh*t off.”
“Oh, we did, and the plans were very elaborate. But to the bitter end, it was the founders who did all the thinking. I just did precisely whatever they told... and that was the way to go, honestly. I tend to get empty paper syndrome when people ask me to design something from scratch.”
Carl sighed, though he was surprised Kevin actually told him something about the crew for a change. “F*cking great. What about that spyin’ part though? You think they’d suspect you at the cop station?”
“It depends. If that asshole friend of yours Halfpenny is still there, he’ll be skeptical of anyone he doesn’t know. I don’t exactly pass as a local either.”
“Doubt he is, but CRASH coulda sent some other officer to keep things in check.” Carl said, imagining Pulaski hogging the donuts at their cafeteria and screaming orders to every cop in sight.
“And if you want reinforcements,” Kevin continued, playing a series of skip cards as he spoke, “I hope you haven’t forgotten about the-“

His head sprang up all of a sudden, like a surprised dog’s. Carl was shushed at when he inquired the reason; soon enough, he began to understand as well. The constant purring of a car’s engine somewhere close by, a brief screech of the tires as it came to a stop – Carl didn’t need to peek through the wooden walls to deduce someone had arrived right at their doorstep.

“You know what to do.” Kevin nodded towards the closet, the one distinctive piece of furniture in the whole cabin. Once all the spider webs had been cleaned out, it wasn’t a half bad hiding place on its own, though if the people outside were cops, Carl doubted they’d leave it unchecked if a full-blown raid was to be carried out. At least being out of their sight would give him a brief element of surprise, if it was any consolation.

Carl begged the floor below him not to creak as he took a mildly uncomfortable crouching position inside the closet. A firm, noisy knock on the cabin door indicated the visitor hadn’t just happened into the scene; as much as Carl wanted it to not be a cop, he was equally opposed to the thought of Sweet bringing a “task force” of gang members with him in indication that they were out of time and ready to roll.

Though, he hadn’t been in earshot when Kevin first talked about this cabin...

“You live here or something?” Whoever was there started talking the moment Kevin opened the door for him; the voice was deep, slow, highly accented but still very articulate.
“Not really, I just like hanging out in nature... Nice ride, by the way.” Kevin said.
“Are you alone?”
“Sure, how else could I have peace and quiet?”
“You’re playing Uno all by yourself?” the visitor asked gruffly. “I smell bullsh*t somewhere in this mess. Is CJ trying to escape his responsibilities?"

Alright, Carl may not have recognized the man immediately due to the slight muffling effect of the closed closet door, but out of the people he’d learned to know recently, only one had mannerisms and a tough voice like that.

“Not at all.” he responded, almost storming out like to show he was ready for whatever was happening.
“You need to be more careful than that.” a startled Amadeus said, hand reaching for his firearm but ultimately retreating. “My gut instict is shoot first, ask questions later. Now, Carl Johnson, what were you doing in there? Cleaning up?”
Carl innocently spread his arms. “Exactly, man. And you’d make a great cop.”
“Don’t get funny with me when you still have plenty to do before we’re even. Including right now.” an unamused Amadeus said, pointing straight out the open door and to his shiny white Buffalo.
“What’s happening?” asked Carl.
“Your namesake is slacking off again, and we need an extra gun to Montgomery, pronto.”
Kevin had his hand up. “Why not two extra guns? I wouldn’t mind work either, if it pays.”
“You are the new man Carl brought in a while ago – Kevin, something?”
“Williamson, that’s right.”
“I see... well, Williamson, I’m sorry but we’re pretty much full for this mission... and we don’t have a habit of putting all our eggs in one basket. Yes, I’ve heard you’re quite an asset, though, so perhaps later we can reach out to you. Now get on the move, Carl.”
“I’ll be back by evening, I think!” Carl yelled out while being pulled away in a hurry, hearing no replies from Kevin but spotting what looked like a frown on his face before the door was closed.

Almost expecting to be burdened by driving duties, Carl was relieved when Amadeus went straight for the driver’s side without a word being said. Preparing to rest well on the passenger’s seat to brace himself for whatever would happen in Montgomery, Carl noted that the car wasn’t half bad, featuring such things as leopard skin seats and a number of slots for drinks and snacks, some of them already filled. He was particularly thirsty for Sprunk, but dared not touch the cans without explicit permission.

“Hope you didn’t feed him no bullsh*t back there.” Carl dared to say first. “He really needs work at this time of life.”
Amadeus snickered, but kept a serious face. “When your namesake called in sick, I could’ve chosen either of you two. I ended up with you because you were the first I thought of, for some reason, and you obviously have more... incentive.”
“Kevin’s got debts too, actually.”
“Aren’t you a noble bastard? This isn’t a charity. We don’t have a constant stream of new things for hired gunmen like you to do, particularly when we can just do it ourselves. Also, his debts are none of my personal concern, unless he adds our company car to the list. Where is it?”
“The Fortune? Yeah, we had to hide it in some bushes ‘cause it’s a bit hot right now...” Carl said uneasily.
“Trouble found you again? Is that why the local Stasi has checkpoints all over the major roads out of town?”
“Afraid so.” Carl said unremarkably, just not up to thinking of it too much.

Wait a moment – Kevin was saying something about asking for help, wasn’t he? Carl never heard if he actually finished that sentence, but could he have had these Germans in mind? Grove Street may not have had the resources against the Dillimore PD, but these people had to be somewhere far above their level...

“Amadeus, that relates to a lil’ problem I got. I was thinking you-“
“Worry about it later. I haven’t even told you what our plan is, have I? We’re short on time, so the briefing needs to happen now.”
“I’m sorta on a tight time limit that’s about to expire, too.” Carl insisted.
“Then bring it up as soon as we’re done.” Amadeus said harshly, bypassing a hot dog van parked just about in the middle of nowhere, somehow ignoring the very inviting smell that reached out into the Buffalo. “Now, as the others probably told you, they were on a lookout for Rifa activities in this county. Turns out they hit a jackpot; they have a massive weed farm that appears to be a primary source of their product in San Fierro. The surplus gets sold to some of your neighboring gangs in Los Santos, so it should be a big deal for you.”
“Are we going to Montgomery to torch it?”
“No, it’s not that way. They’ll be in the Montgomery Market though, slithering into the crowd to grab farming supplies. Nice way to make themselves look like part of the honest public.”
“Montgomery Market? I swear I heard of that somewhere...”
“It is a big talking point in the community. But we’re not going there for any cattle or pumpkins. Since we would normally not belong, we’re presenting ourselves as a legit security team, keeping order in the place – and, on our spare time, planting the little things you’ll find in the glove box into the Rifa’s cars and purchased equipment.”
“What, these?” Carl said, fiddling with some plastic casings covering little items that looked like featureless white dots to him.
“You’ll want to be inconspicuous with those things. They’re bugging tools, which give us a neat one-way hotline to all their conversations.”
“What government bullsh*t are you guys up to?”
“It’s part of a bigger overall plan. Worry about it in all due time.”
“If it’s intel you after, why not rough up some Rifa and be done with it?”
“Are you dumb? T-Bone Mendez’s crew don’t work like that. They know he will literally cut off loose tongues, and that’s only the first act before you get to the savage killing part.”

Carl crossed his arms in disgust. “Why you givin’ me all that attitude, man? I thought we was cool the last time.”
“The Ballas have gotten on my nerves lately. That’s the short version.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Do you know how difficult it is to do my job and extract information out of a house party, where I cannot hear Scheiße over the music, and nobody is sober enough to talk coherently?”
“Hey, Heffner, what’s your exact connection with the Ballas? How do they let you in they circles no problem?”
“That question keep you up at night?” Amadeus snapped. “It’s simple, I sell them drugs. And you and your gang should be grateful for it.”
“Because... why? So they’d get all high and f*cked up?”
“Pretty much. Some might overdose too, if we get lucky. Not Chad though – the brainiac is as clean as a puritan in public. By the way, it helps that the Ballas aren’t too afraid of interracial interactions, as he would put it. Just a hint you could forward to your brother.”
“Wait, do you want us – well, me – to nuke the Rifa outta here so y’all can corner the market yourselves?”
“Calm down, youngster. If the Ballas ever lose out and you grab control of the eastern neighborhoods, we’ve got no plans to poison your areas. We are friends, after all.”
“Real good friends...”
“Our target demographic is – of the richer variety, something like the Madd Doggs of this world, if you understand me. We’ll leave your homies alone as long as there are no unfulfilled payments littering our minds.”
“Yeah, f*ck you too, homie.”

Amadeus laughed in such a way that Carl couldn’t tell if he was being light-hearted or malicious. He was quickly able to forget about that, though, when Amadeus reached for a plastic bag from his side door and tossed it in his lap.

“Take a donut. You might not have time to eat while on guard duty, and we don’t have use for you passed out.”
“Oh. OK. Thanks... I guess.” Carl, not wanting to seem like an asshole, took a pink one and began munching right as they came to a long stretch of road with traffic nowhere in sight.

Amadeus took the time to accelerate the Buffalo into some heavy speeds, probably trying to show off the car’s capabilities. For Carl, the sensation was kind of like what he experienced racing the ZR-350 – except still in a different league, as not being in control of the machine was putting him off. Bland county sights flashed by in an instant during the charge, which sadly had to come to an unforeseen end once a tractor appeared almost out of nowhere in front of them. Oncoming traffic was heavy enough that the Buffalo was forced to patiently follow at crawling speed for the time.

“Speaking of pastry,” Carl mumbled, mouth full of donut, “what the f*ck is the sauerkraut question all about?”
“Ketchup on a sauerkraut?” Amadeus clarified. “It’s a security question we use to recognize our own out in the field. You don’t need to worry about the answer – no one with a sound mind needs to ask it from you.”
“That makes sense ‘cause your buddy Daedalus did just that a while back.”
“Ah, Daedalus. Justified to do so because he thought you were that slacker... also, he had a lot of wonderful things to say about you.”
“Yeah, we liked each other so much we agreed it was best to never meet again.”
“How long is never? If this case is to be believed, less than a week. He was one of the first who agreed to join our squad, and he’ll be right there waiting for us.”
“Oh, hell f*ckin’ no. Should’ve gone with Kevin, man.”
“Enough. None of these attitude problems are allowed to stand on our mission’s path. You got a problem with him, you either deal with it outside of your work hours, or don’t at all. Got it?”
“Sh*t, well, don’t blame me if he starts sh*t though.” Carl said while Amadeus did an aggressive overtake on the tractor, on the first opportunity he got. “And in case some other asshole gets me confused as well, it’d be nice to know what to say to your security question.”
Amadeus sighed. “Fine, but if unwanted people start turning up with the answer in hand, we’ll know who was responsible. The question is who would put ketchup on a sauerkraut, and the answer is Woodrow Wilson.”
“President Woodrow Wilson?” Carl asked, getting a grunt in response. “Well, that’s sorta random.”
“Not random at all.” he snarled. “Evil man. Down your food with Sprunk.”

Carl did not wait for that suggestion to be annulled. His heart wasn’t going to thank him, but the brief satisfaction of tasting the soft drink again overrode that thought for now – and with all the time he was spending here, he felt he absolutely deserved some refreshment. He could already swear he was gaining extra motivation from this.

“Evil man, huh? I swear most politicians is like that.” he said once the first gulps were done. He was actually morbidly interested in seeing how this topic would pan out.
“This is a special kind of evil. His actions destroyed my family’s elegant reputation for generations to come. And that’s only one personal example. Like tainting a traditional delicacy with a cheap condiment, he tainted our entire cultural community just like that. Out of spite, no doubt. You’ll understand it all later...”
“Sh*t, I get where you coming from, but he long dead and sh*t.” Carl replied.
“Dead may not always equal redeemed, Carl Johnson. Scum like him need something a whole lot worse than a few moments of pain when the Grim Reaper decides their time is up, before I’ll bury the hatchet. Right now, I like to think all the bugs I squash are him, reincarnated. Because that’s exactly where our wrongdoers should end up!”
Carl raised his hands. “A’ight, I get it! Shouldn’t you take the left here? Think I see our town.”

He wasn’t wrong; he’d taken this route before with Sweet, and all the intersections leading to the local small towns were still relatively fresh in his mind. Amadeus wasn’t kidding about the scale of the market; the whole town was involved here, with banners put up on the entrance roads to welcome visitors from near and afar, vendors fully populating the main street up ahead and a country band entertaining the visitors.

“We’re taking a detour to Cholla Springs Avenue first, where you can change into your uniform in peace... I think that’s the way you want it. When you’re done, come meet the rest of our team one block east, and we can go through the plan once more. Don’t forget the headset.” Amadeus awkwardly grabbed a suitcase from the rear of the car and parked on the side of the street to check its contents.
“I take it you’re already wearing yours.” Carl noted; his employer was in all black rather than the usual gray, the first time Carl actually noticed the clothing difference.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Now where the hell did I stuff it?” Amadeus chucked the evidently wrong case back to where it came from with some excessive force before doing a bit more of a dedicated search. The second time turned out to be lucky – not that there were any more cases to check – and he proceeded to shove it to Carl so fast, he nearly spilled the few drops of Sprunk that still remained.

One rapid acceleration and zero apologies later, Carl crossed the lifeless street listening to the noises of the market, still audible all the way on the town’s edge, and wondered if Daniel was going to spend all his energy whining that the music wasn’t to his liking. The house where he was expected to change was appropriately fitted with a misspelled wooden sign indicating a guard post, and reminded him of Kevin’s hideout cabin with its distinct lack of furniture, with the exception of civilization being located right across the street. The security seemed minimal as no one was currently present to actually guard it, neither inside nor outside, and the door was unlocked. Just to prevent awkward moments with possible strangers who may or may not have had business to do inside, Carl took off no clothes until he reached the windowless backroom.

The outfit itself was his first real problem on the mission. While putting it on, it soon became very clear that it was nowhere near his size, like Amadeus had accidentally mixed things up and given his own spare suit to Carl. Maybe asking for a custom tailored outfit was unrealistic for a mission that had such a short notice, but Carl was going to have a hell of a time looking authentic when his hands looked like tiny grill sticks poking out of the much bigger sleeves. It was like he was back to his younger and edgier phase, when he thought wearing hoodies of this size proved some point, made him look tough or something. There was no mirror to admire himself from here, but he didn’t need one to know that he could’ve worn a pair of pink bunny ears on top of this and it wouldn’t change the public perception all that much.

While that was on his mind, one more thing needed to be done before he was ready to join the rest of society. Some of the gas released by the digested Sprunk was moving upwards in a hurry, and the pressure was better off discharged while away from the general public. The burp was glorious – Carl estimated it to have gone over ten seconds – as the tone wonderfully switched throughout the process to create a diverse set of noises. It would’ve shut Ryder up really damn fast if he was in the neighborhood being his nosy self. Not being sure if he could ever replicate that masterpiece again added to the letdown.

“Wow, Carl, is that really you?”
Carl’s inner ballet dancer came into play as a silly pirouette was his natural first reaction to a female voice addressing him from behind, at a time where he least expected it.
“Whuh – I – oh, ‘sup. Small world.” he stammered, his spin having brought him right into another face-to-face encounter with Helena Wankstein, in another one of the identical guard uniforms.
“You did pretty good there. Grandpa Earl would be proud – if he wasn’t so racist.” She looked a bit down saying that.
“Don’t apologize for sh*t others say, I wouldn’t. And you know a gang of deformed busters ain’t got nothing on me, baby.”
“I meant the burp.” Helena said with a giggle. “My family would always try and out-savage each other in the Thanksgiving table.”
“Tell me about it. In Santos everyone got a racist grandpa, too.”
“Yet we’re still the terrible generation somehow. But Carl, what brings you to Montgomery? Was it me, or the desire to serve the community?”
“Lil’ bit of both.” Carl lied. “I mean, you look at all these people getting together, and just know how sh*tty it would be if another gang tried to spoil the party.”
“There won’t be a shortage of them anytime soon. You obviously remember the hicks, but there’s plenty more where they came from... biker gang wars here, good old-fashioned cattle rustlers there... and that’s without counting the independent bandits. Long story short, this is what your county gets by having just that one cop station.”
“Sounds like the Wild West all over again.”
“That’s so on point. All that’s changed is they’ve swapped horses for bikes and ATV’s, and revolvers for modern automatic guns. You know, my family likes to tell me about the times when the government finally rolled in, promising us peace and prosperity as they’d clean these states of outlaws. Turned out those promises were only for the city folk at San Fierro or Blackwater, who could afford the massive price of that sh*t, so here we are, relying on volunteers like ourselves to keep order.”
“Has it worked out much?”
“It’s a double edged sword. The more we defend ourselves, the more aggressive those scum get as well... but there’s no backing off anymore. Best we can hope for is that we’ll kill or drive out all of them before we lose all of our best gunmen.”
“From my experience with Santos, I’m not sure it works that way.” Carl pondered.
“Really? What sorta lowlifes do you deal with over there?”
“Nothin’ too special. Drug pushers take up most of my attention.”
“Are you some kinda vigilante? With all you’ve shown so far, it’s obvious you’re no average civilian.”
“Uh, sure. More or less.” Carl said. Like so many times before, he could clearly imagine Sweet freaking out if he abstained from representing his colors like this, but then that fool didn’t know what it was like to be in love outside of his comfort zone.
“I see. It takes a lot of guts, you know. Coming here to defend a community where some might hate you no matter what you do for them, just for what you are.”
“Yeah, maybe...” Carl was faint in saying that, not having considered that side of things much.

There were no clocks around, but his inner voice told Carl that someone was impatiently waiting for him, and wouldn’t be very accepting of him wasting time to chit-chat.

“Nice to talk to you an’ all, but I gotta meet up with my supervisor. See you at that barn dance you spoke about, right?” With an additional nod, Carl was able to prompt her to move outside, with him right in tow.
“Oh, right! Do you think we might have the same one? Mine’s Bucky, he’s the one that looks like a bull shat him out, but I guarantee he knows how to break sh*t up-“
“Na-ah. That big guy from Mulholland or something, Amadeus.”
“Ah, the tall, mysterious, handsome-“ Helena was either being overly infatuated or testing him.
“Dumb as a brick...” Carl impulsively added.
“Don’t think you would say that to his face.”
“You’re right, but only ‘cause we have a business relationship going. Later, though.”

Not a single uncomfortable comment about the outfit – how much better could the exchange have gone? Carl was clearly getting there, but she wasn’t making any particularly obvious moves herself. Maybe that ever-so-anticipated dance would provide him with the opportunity he needed, but first he had better get his head in the right place and put in some good work.

The planned rendezvous point was somewhere in the middle of the crowd. Now having to enter it rather than observe from the sidelines, Carl could tell it was like stepping back in time into Wild West, with some modern twists here and there, like the presence of Inside Track’s virtual betting machines that served a large portion of the guests. It sadly didn’t come without its various flaws either: the constant noise that made his ears buzz uncomfortably, the obnoxious auctioneer trying to get cows sold, not to mention the unsupervised children rampantly running around, nearly causing him to trip twice in a short frame of time. It might’ve been Tony who told him years ago that the best kind of birth control was just this; interaction with random kids in a public place, doubly so if there was an event going on.

“Look, mom! A clown!”

The girl doing the shouting couldn’t have been very far into elementary school, but obviously had to be a bit behind her classmates in brain development. A clown? So what if his outfit was way too large, it should’ve been obvious he didn’t wear that for entertainment purposes. Pretending not to have heard that, or seen her pointing right at him with her mouth agape in astonishment, Carl pressed on through until he saw that the group he was supposed to meet had been standing in a clear spot just off to a side street all this time.

The other two lackeys he did not know, but Daniel was easily distinguished by his still uncut hair, despite facing away from him. Carl thought he could perhaps give him a good scare, but Amadeus, who happened to see him coming from a long way back, predictably spoiled the surprise.

“About time, Carl. Hang on, all of you, I’ll have to take a call.”
“Look who it is!” Daniel shouted the moment Amadeus became engaged in his own matters, before examining Carl’s outfit that made him cackle like a mental patient. “Whoa, what the hell are you wearing, CJ? You really want to make it easy on me, do ya?”
“Supplies were pretty low, had to choose from one of the extremes. I hear you’re into dudes in tight uniforms, so I ain’t gonna come here to distract your ass-“
“Cut the bullsh*t right there. Insults only work when they’re true – ever think of that, c*nt?”
“Fine by me, you English piece of sh*t.” Carl said, feeling that the two unknown soldiers, or whoever they were, were giving him more and more judgmental looks.
“For the second and last time, English I am not.” Daniel insisted. “How’d that ‘never meeting each other again’ thing work out, though? Couldn’t resist coming back for more?”
“Circumstances happened. When the debt’s gone, then we can finally go separate ways, unless you commit suicide ‘cause I was nasty to you.”
“That’s right, ‘cause you’ll never be able to pay them back and will be dead, crack snorter.”
“With a brain like that, I’m sure your parents was brilliant siblings. No way we could be that gang who actually stands against yay dealers, huh?”
“Ain’t you a band of righteous hoods!” Daniel cried out. “Real moral guardians of East LS. And if you make a jab at my family again, I’ll seriously f*ck you up.”
It was Carl’s turn to laugh. “Only if they give you permission, you mean?”

“Everything in Ordnung?” Amadeus caught the two of them out as mean glares were exchanged.
“Don’t know what the hell that means, but Daedalus here loves to dish it out and then complain when he has to take it.” Carl said.
“Enough with that sh*t already.” Amadeus replied, Daniel smugly smiling at Carl but not going unnoticed for long. “Both of you, I mean. If I’d known your hatred was this bad, I’d have put you in a boxing ring first. That worked back in my school.”
“F*cking sorry then?” Daniel said dismissively.
“It’ll take more than a sorry – for both of you again. Daedalus, we had been under the impression your ability to focus on what matters was better than this. And you, Carl, have started to earn a reputation as a man who leaves sh*t half done and calls it a day.”
“Half done? Nigga, at least I stuck to our agreed plans. It was outside factors that f*cked my sh*t up.”
“What kind of a good plan is it that can’t be adjusted on the go? Enough of this sh*t, I’m not about to make an argument out of it. Carl, those are Hans and Jürgen, colleagues of yours you might not yet know.” Amadeus introduced with such haste that Carl couldn’t tell which was which. Both having unremarkable appearances wasn’t helping matters either.

With no retorts or other comments coming his way, Amadeus took position in front of the half-circle that the four others had unknowingly formed, clearing his throat and waiting for the sounds to die down a little to give his voice a chance to be heard.

“Alright, I’ll make this quick – we’re really supposed to be ‘working’ by now. What we know about the Rifa guys doing their thing here is-“
“Ex-excuse me? I’ll really need a guard’s help.” Some young woman with an irritating voice rudely interrupted the gathering before it could truly begin, causing Amadeus to awkwardly pause.
“What seems to be the matter, citizen?” Daniel spoke up unexpectedly.
“It’s my daughter, I – I lost her in the crowd. Please, she could be anywhere and you know there’s all kinds of creeps roaming around! Poor Jadelyn must be so scared wherever she is...”
“Jadelyn?” Carl unintentionally said aloud.
“I can go searching with you if that’s what you want.” Daniel said. If he’d shot a snarky look at Carl while doing it, he would’ve been certain this was some cheesy attempt to gain moral superiority.
The woman bit her lip. “Thanks, but I’ll settle for the big guy if that’s OK with him.”
“Alright then... lead the way, we’ll find her together in no time.” Amadeus said awkwardly, having found no immediate backdoor out of the responsibility.

Just as quickly as the woman had intruded herself upon them, both she and Amadeus had gone and disappeared into the crowd, suddenly leaving Carl feeling more empty-handed than ever. Never before, not even when chasing gun stashes with Ryder, had a plan felt this rushed and badly thought out. It was sort of funny to him that Daniel’s help almost certainly got denied for appearance reasons, but why couldn’t one of those other two disposable mooks offer themselves in Amadeus’ place?

“So, what now?” Daniel moaned right away. “Do we just go our separate ways and hope we get lucky along the way? At least I don’t know sh*t about the cocksuckers we’re looking for.”
“Maybe, uh, Jürgen could expose...?” one of the Germans said uncertainly.
“Explain.” the other corrected, but with an equal amount of slur in his voice.
“Hey!” One more outsider inserted themselves into the situation, this time some man in a guard uniform with a handful of badges thrown in. “What f*cking slack-off party are you having?”
“It’s a statutory break, buddy. Nothing more.” Daniel said scoffingly.
“’Buddy’? Do you have no idea who I am?” The uptight guard was getting redder by the minute.
“Not really, but you act a lot like this other mini-boss I know. Standing firm on that second step of the ladder, getting everything out of that teeny tiny little drop of power you’re blessed with.”
Mini-boss?!” he squeaked like a pig. “Go do your work and learn basic manners, you little runt! And I swear,” he went on, sniffing the air intensely, “if I catch one more of you f*ckers doing drugs...”
“There’s no need to get upset because nobody would offer you any.”

Daniel was only spared another agitated response because someone spoke up on the guard’s earpiece, hopefully a bigger boss telling him off. He quietly mumbled something that resembled “yes, sir” into his mic, turned around to go right where he came from, and shouted for the quartet one last time to get back to work, somehow even more ineffectively than last time.

“Nice job drawin’ attention straight to us, Daedalus.” Carl taunted.
“Did you see the nerve he had just walking in here and yelling at us? Oh, wait, you wouldn’t. Now be a good boy and let our German friends do the talking, would you?”
“Uh, yes.” Jürgen (Carl presumed) scratched his head a bit. “Die Rifa have no idea we have come here, so they still – ugh, tragen blau und weiß.”
“Blue and white. Yeah, that changes everything.” Daniel said rolling his eyes.
“Und Hans has helped me track das Auto. It is a Sadler. Rot, like blut. A little damage on it, too.”
“So blood red pickup...” Daniel repeated in more understandable form.

What had the world come to? Whatever tight-knit community these guys came from mustn’t have been very tolerant of the use of English, as they talked like they’d only been learning a selection of random words for a year. Sure, Amadeus talked like a non-native speaker too, but his articulation was in another star system compared to these, to put it lightly. It was sort of morbidly funny for him, though, to think that these two child-like blabberers were meddling in some kind of a drug empire all along... and considerably less funny to imagine what they’d do to an unaware average person finding amusement in their speech.

“So, split up? Groups of zwei?” Hans proposed.
Carl was going to protest immediately, but Daniel was quicker. “If the previous conversation indicated anything, it’s that CJ and I work best when there’s no contact between us.”
“But Amadeus has told you to-“
“He meant we gotta set mutual hatred aside – not that we should become partners and sh*t. Big difference.” Carl insisted.
Daniel clapped in excitement. “Exactly! That’ll be the first sensible thing I’ve heard from you all day. Now since we know you got your fixation on cars, why don’t you locate those wheels while I handle social encounters? It should stick out like a sore thumb on the parking lot.”
“Just don’t alert those motherf*ckers. You got one job.” Carl warned, accepting the listening device that Daniel planted in his hand.
“I think I’ve been in this business for a little longer than you. Worry about your own performance.” Daniel argued, coming across particularly cocky that time around.
“So if he bugs their Sadler, we three all focus on farm equipment?” Jürgen asked.
“Works for me. Don’t forget to keep up appearances, though – in case someone like that lady needs assistance.”
“What if we – don’t understand what they want?”
“I’m sure if they notice that, they’ll point their finger at whatever’s giving them grief.” Daniel said, his index finger fixated on Carl as an innocuous example. “But I’m sure we won’t get too many calls, if any at all. We’re not in some sh*tty ghetto.”

With that, the party went their separate ways. A far-too-curious-for-his-own-good part of Carl would’ve liked to see what collaboration with Daniel would’ve been like, but maybe there were much better times for that, with less on the line. Right now, Amadeus’ statement had sort of given him extra kick to seriously prove himself on this run.

And if he got to shut Daedalus up doing that, it would be a nice bonus.

To Be Continued.

Edited by Carbonox

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I'm not dead. Also, I'm accepting tips for how to shorten the chapters while still keeping all the details around. This really went from another day in the office to a monster... and I'd originally planned for this chapter to be a one-parter!


SA23: Montgomery Burns – Part 2



He was an average familyman, slightly obese, maybe from the better-off sections of Los Santos, who’d put on one of his nicer gray suits for this particular occasion. Pacing around eagerly with an obscure booklet on hand, whatever had awoken his curiosity must’ve been important enough to persuade him away from home duties for an undisclosed amount of time.

Carl could’ve got up and told him to scram anytime he wanted. The coast was clear of everyone but this stranger, the opportunity to bug the Rifa’s red truck was perfect, but at the end of the day, he couldn’t stop himself from wanting to spy on him just a bit, see what these secretive antics were all about. If there was a suitable moment to berate him for being a terrible worker, it was this and he knew it all too well.

Coming to a complete stop at the front of the truck, the man took several deep breaths as if to gather courage, his hand darted straight up and he read aloud from the booklet: “Take me to my father-father, uncle-brother, Kifflom.”

Gibberish, that’s what it was. All the words but the last one meant something, but were saying nothing to Carl whatsoever. By now, he would’ve been actually scared to let himself be seen if the man didn’t maintain an innocent expression, looking like a child waiting for Santa to come only for high expectations to slowly turn into a letdown when nothing interesting happened. Carl was quick to shun the gullible part of himself that ever so slightly expected some supernatural creature to pop up following the man’s statement, as he stood up and approached from a blind angle.

“Sir? Everything a’ight, need any help?” he asked professionally.
“Oh, he-hey! I just knew someone would come...” the man stuttered.
Carl cleared his throat. “Sir, if this is not your car, I’d like you to move along. The parking lot is a non-loitering zone; you could easily get yourself run over if you don’t watch your surroundings.”
“Is this a test? All this damn symbolism... look, I answered ‘no’ to the question, could you do away with the metaphors already?”
“No metaphors here, just an order from a security guard.” Carl said plainly.
“Enough of this!” The man made a sudden agitated move. “All this searching... I won’t back away now, not that I’ve found the first damn clue at last. Please, in Kraff’s name or whatever, just tell me where the f*ck to go!”
“Let me see that booklet.”

Carl hated playing along with unstable people as much as the next guy, but was going to get no closer to the objective without de-escalating the situation first. Receiving the brochure with a surprising lack of complaints, though, he only had to go down the rabbit hole a short way to realize this was no ordinary game.

A 157-year-old Earth? Talking trees? He’d seen some downright scary stuff in the past (part of the job, really) and yet this religion, cult, whatever it identified as, easily took the cake with nothing else but this little window to their world. How they could show such a faux positive outlook on everything while only barely masking the sinister nature underneath the surface... these people were f*cked in their heads and wanted more than just the new recruits’ money, Carl could’ve sworn his life on that.

Alright, now just to gently guide the lost soul away from the wrong kind of path...

“Well done, you figured out I was in the – Epsilon Program all along.” Carl stated officially. “It takes – determination to push forward in the face of adversity, but the real test’s still ahead.”
“Real test? Fill me in!” The stranger’s eyes were the size of plates by now.
“Go to Northstar Rock, the place where Kraff, umm, once examined one of his more amazing creations that was Los Santos, and there he will determine if you’re worthy to follow him. I can’t tell you what kind of sign he’ll show you, but it’ll, like, twist your mind and leave no doubt of – his existence.” Carl was running dry on religious jargon already.
“Sweet! I knew this’d be worth it.” he exclaimed, snatching the booklet back without ever questioning why Carl needed to take a look at it in the first place, and disappeared from sight before he could even count to then.

Happy to get rid of that burden, and believing there was no one this grade E lunatic could hurt in the middle of the wilderness waiting for bogus signs, Carl planted the listening device with no one knowing any better. Job well done – conveniently at a time where no one was around to congratulate him.

“The parking lot appears to be secure.” he spoke to the earpiece he’d almost forgotten about.
“Hey, I forgot to tell you, but those things are wired so nobody else but us can hear each other.” Amadeus’ voice came up. “So no need to be subtle.”
“Unless someone’s standing next to me, you mean? Hey, wait a minute, where are-”
It was just too difficult for Daniel to shut up for once, as he intercepted the conversation out of nowhere. “Always gotta be a smartass, eh prick? While you’re there, have you seen my shiny SUV yet? Bet you’ve never seen wheels like that outside of a magazine, huh?”
“But Daniel, Amadeus has only recently borrowed it.” one of the other allies said.
“For the love of – you only decided to open your mouth now? And quit mispronouncing my name, we aren’t in Germany!”
“I think that’ll be the first and last time you get to drive my car, then.” Amadeus scolded.
“Perhaps if Daaaaaaaaa-niel didn’t need to tell lies to promote himself, people could just ignore his ass rather than call him out.” Carl continued, taking great pride in his alternative pronunciation.
“Please, no stirring the pot!” Amadeus spoke in a tone that indicated growing frustration. “Carl, if you have nothing else to do, just – act like a normal guard until I present new instructions. Someone will take notice if you don’t keep up appearances.”

For once, chilling out on the job was not only allowed, but encouraged! For as long as no terribly named children were in need of finding, at least. Carl had usually been the type to avoid sighting by guards to his best ability, so he fancied himself almost a natural at this job.

The biggest challenge? Actually determining what was real and what wasn’t. A second look at pretty much every situation that looked to require intervention revealed a more benevolent truth – a man waving his knife dangerously before a crowd was just playing five finger fillet, an apparent tractor thief was just a salesman showing off its capabilities. When he was shooed away from a band of gunslingers having their own harmless contest out of everyone’s way, Carl decided to start acting like the world’s most lenient guard, leaving everyone alone unless help was explicitly requested. It wasn’t like he wanted to throw himself at harm’s way at a fake job, anyway.

The one case Carl could not ignore was actually some ways out of his jurisdiction, just outside the town limits in some bushes across the wide-open field. He had to rub his eyes to make sure it wasn’t a delusion; some really old man, probably around Helena’s grandfather’s age, wearing a dark fur coat in a crouching position, like he was taking a sh*t – indifferent if he was in plain sight of an entire town. On second thought, was that even a fur coat? He didn’t see any sleeves, and looking more carefully, the hair did look more like it was an actual part of his body, so was it possible that this man was naked too? Public nudity was something even a master of leniency couldn’t get behind, he’d been disgusted often enough in his youth by the sleazebags from the next block whose only purpose in life was to show off the entirety of their anatomy to bypassers and maniacally laugh at shocked reactions.

“Hey, you! Could you put on something, or take that way out of people’s sight?” Carl yelled across the field, getting the minimal type of response as all the nudist did was slowly stand up and turn to stare back at him. Now that Carl saw his whole body – holy crap, was he large. There was a really sinister feeling about how that old fool ogled him, and he began to think it would be for the better for everyone if he left outsiders alone and stuck to watching over the town limits instead. Just as Carl turned around to get back to that, he spotted in the corner of his eye how the weirdo dashed into the woods at what must’ve been a bit uncharacteristic for anyone at that age.

Whatever that was all about, Carl wanted to forget it really quickly. He ended up thinking about forgetting it so much, however, that he didn’t mind his step very well and nearly got himself gored by a bull, tied with feeble-looking rope into a post and acting upset when Carl unknowingly approached. He jumped backwards, but that triggered the bull’s chase instinct, and it looked like Carl would get to be on the wrong side of an unscheduled Spanish style chase real soon, if a farmer alerted by the mooing didn’t arrive as soon as he did to calm the animal down. All eyes were now on Carl, most of them angry and judgmental, and he knew better than to try staying back to explain. Stretching his legs and chilling out on the job had turned out to be more stressful than sneaking to the Sharks’ truck.

“How’s guard duty been so far?” Carl was still contemplating the near-death experience when Helena suddenly spoke into his ear, resulting in a scare and a giggle.
“It’s like this place’s full of freaks.” Carl blurted his thoughts out. “No, I mean it ain’t like everything sucks about this, but I guess I’m a bit outta my depth.”
“I don’t like to say I saw that coming – but I did.”
“Lovely. Did you know your county even has its own ten foot tall freak hairier than a gorilla?”
“I’m from Flint County to be exact, but I can’t say I’ve seen anyone like that. Perhaps it’s a common occurrence around these parts.”
“I guess these people have a different idea of what constitutes a freak?”
“Could be. Half my family thought I was one when I didn’t have any kids at 20.”
“And now?”
“Years have passed and now all of them think that.”

Jackpot! Carl had never managed to sneak the kid question into the natural flow of a conversation like he did here. It was like he could finally leave behind the let-down feeling of having a girl back in Liberty City reveal she had a litter of three as late as their fifth date, and focus on the present and the future instead on the womanizing front.

“Do you want to know the best spot to oversee all the action in this place?” Helena’s question became progressively harder to hear the deeper they ventured into the crowd.
“A rooftop, I think.”
“I’m sure you sometimes take a menacing pose up there when the situation calls for a vigilante, but I meant those outside tables at Well Stacked.”
“Well, sittin’ down is nice too.” Carl admitted, feeling he deserved a break like that by now.

An empty table was hard to find, and them being the only people taking up space without eating was a bit awkward, but Carl could hardly complain – it was almost like half a date in here, with the added quirk of constantly having to be on their toes for out-of-line activity.

“It’s a nice event, right?” Helena said. “They’ve really outdone themselves on the entertainment factor – attendance must be skyrocketing.”

Carl nodded, despite not really being able to agree as a whole swarm of noisy kids rushed past the patio – unsupervised, again – to check out some nearby juggler show. Despite trying his best for once, he couldn’t immerse himself into this event very well at all. As a guard he perhaps didn’t have to, but feeling like an outsider in a place where everyone was enjoying themselves wasn’t particularly fun. The fact he was only halfway focused on the happenings around them, as he listened to things she couldn’t hear, perhaps didn’t help matters.

“The Rifa are in the middle of something really fierce right now – I of course refer to the bidding war against a bunch of farmers. Think they should have enough bank to win though.” Daniel’s voice reported in to everyone on the frequency.
“Sure, then watch T-Bone rip them a new asshole for spending thrice the budget on some average combine harvester.” Amadeus said.
“All that matters for us is that they get it, and when they do, they’ll be picking up a stowaway.”
“Just be discreet planting that damn thing. The setback’ll be huge if you f*ck around.”
“You worry about staying in character and not about my endeavors. They don’t call me the Newport Ninja for nothing after I-“
“No sneaking!” Amadeus’ yell hurt Carl’s ears. “Tell them some nonsense about doing a mandatory check-up for safety, then do the deed. That stupidity might fly in LC, but over here, we don’t tolerate failure because one guy decided to go solo-“
“Alright, Jesus, calm down. Just because our plans conflicted doesn’t mean I asked for a full-fledged lecture about the superiority of yours.”
“Sometimes it seems like the only option. You’re acting like a class clown, and I’m just about getting tired of babysitting your ass. More of these shenanigans and I’ll exchange you for Balint.”
“If you want a team player, you couldn’t make a worse choice.” Daniel pointed out.

The conversation died down soon after, disappointing Carl who had been expecting Daniel to bring out his immature side once more and maybe screw himself out of the job. Back in the real world, with Helena having gone quiet, Carl’s attention wandered somewhat randomly to a fat local, who looked a bit like Smoke, feasting on a Full Rack all by himself. Between the pig-like table manners and prior collection of calories, Carl amused himself imagining what kind of stuff Kendl would have to say about him.

“That’s one way to fatten the Christmas ham.”

Carl lost it. Helena’s whisper was discreet, but he unavoidably laughed just loud enough to surpass the volume of everyone else’s conversations, getting almost everyone to look at him somewhat scoldingly – the overweight guy being one of the exceptions. Carl forced himself to not even take a glance in his direction while imagining some of the unfunniest things in his life to get back into balance. No deaths, though – he wouldn’t catch himself crying in the middle of all these people, and certainly not in front of a girl he liked. Just a memory of Ryder insulting him did the job well enough.

Speaking of unfunny, was that thunder he was starting to hear? Others took note of the rumbling too, which luckily diverted their minds away from his inappropriate timing. The sky was perfectly clear, though, but weather worked in funny ways, and-

“Oh, f*ck, not again.” Helena said, now dead serious.
“Again? You don’t mean the rednecks?” Carl said the last word in undertone.
“Close enough. These are clearly not ATV’s though – they’re motorcycles.”
“Say no more, I think I know more than one crew who like to hit the road in this county...”

Some people already saw the writing on the wall that things were about to get ugly, and left the immediate area with quite a civilized evacuation routine. Carl cursed his luck, now suddenly being the one in the spotlight, expected to handle the situation and throw himself in harm’s way.

Helena loaded her Glock 17 in advance. “You’ve got a gun, right? Prepare to use it.”
The question was like a bombshell landing right on Carl’s head as he fruitlessly checked every nook and cranny in his clothes. “A gun...? Amadeus never said anything about firearms.”
“What madness!” Helena shouted with such anger that the local Big Smoke dropped the piece he was chewing on. “Carl, from now on, beat it into your head that talking usually solves nothing in this county, and guns are mandatory if you’re guarding anything.”
“You happen to conveniently have any spares this once?”

The noises only continued to escalate and become more deafening for the longest time before the sources finally came into view. The Angels of Death must’ve brought in an entire chapter; the convoy of bikers, obediently sticking to formation, was at least twenty members strong, all towering large and terrifying as hell. Suddenly, the security provided by all the more organized guards was starting to seem feeble.

Carl kept his head down. The Angels may have still remembered him and other fellow GSF’s for that little drug war on the roads, and it would be quite too easy for them to kill his unarmed self at this position – in more ways than he could think.

All the bikers stopped in what looked like a pre-planned formation, ensuring that the chapter president was at the center of the picture. Either the hair loss was natural or meth was doing its job right on schedule, but that didn’t mean this guy had one ounce of weakness in his substance. Hell, with a thick beard like his, he had to be insanely tough, because it’d get pulled a lot in dirty fights.

“People, people, what’s going on here?” His voice was imposing, sure to get heard a block away. “What is this fun-looking event where we never got invited?”
Like expected, no one responded, although Carl saw that Helena was just about the only person in the area to sustain eye contact with the man, coupled with a menacing stare. They’d be in so much trouble if that big shot noticed...
“We get real offended sometimes when we don’t get invited!” The boss’ shout was met with supportive chanting from the other bikers. “So why don’t we teach these chumps what it means in practice?”
“I agree!” yelled the second most prominent member, fittingly wearing a vice president’s badge. Within a few short moments, he had his shotgun out and fired it right towards the town center.

But it wasn’t the people he was aiming at – to the relief of both ill-equipped guards, his target was merely a large balloon depicting a cow, which was quick to collapse and terrify some more people at a distance who had thought the motorcycles were only a part of another show. The shot was like a prompt for the others to escalate the frenzy, because all the bikers scattered immediately to various directions, some shooting in the air to frighten civilians some more, others whipping out blunt objects to smash stuff with. One even did that to a fruit stall right in front of Carl and Helena’s eyes.

“Hey, guards! What are you gonna do about us?” Finally someone saw them and their costumes, right after the president had gone off to play his part in the chaos.
“I think they’re scared!” another Angel mocked, still on his bike that he ominously turned to face the duo.
“At least try and put up some fight!”
“Yeah, where’s the fun in this if everyone pussies out?”
One of them even waved a gun around. “You bitches are supposed to be guards, which means your occupational and moral responsibility is to COME AT US!

The Angels’ taunting sunk to making monkey-like noises – somewhat intimidating, but mostly pathetic coming from grown men. The duo remained unfazed, but to this crew it was like the biggest provocation of all. Some even got bored not receiving a reaction they wanted, and went right back to vandalizing storefronts.

“Like they’re frozen in fear.” one of the remaining two said.
“Then it’s time to break the ice.” replied the man on the bike. Smiling like a slasher, he started up the machine once more, did a brief burnout to rotate it in the right direction, and gassed it straight their way.

To Carl, it didn’t matter if the intent was to run them over or just scare them. Side-stepping out of the roaring chopper’s way, he landed a carefully timed hook right at the rider’s head as he passed – it hurt like a bitch to strike a target with that much momentum in the other direction, but it was all worth it when the man fell limp and crashed into the restaurant’s wall, making a noise excruciating to hear even knowing the victim was a hostile.

Carl made a beeline for the now freed up gun on the accident scene, while Helena opened fire at the wrecked biker’s friend, who had started reaching for his own with a wide open mouth after realizing what had just happened. It took a few shots for her to nail him, but all was good in the end as the biker was the one laying slumped over a table, and she remained unscathed.

“Great plan, Carl.” she said, reloading.
“I did what I had to do, that punk was crazy!”
“No, I seriously meant it. I needed an opening like that.”
“In that case, you’re welcome.” Carl said with relief, the two of them knocking some tables over for cover, something that came in handy as other bikers caught on to the fates of their buddies.

Daniel was fighting too in the distance, but under different circumstances. His only priority had been to sneak up to the Rifa’s newly purchased harvester while the owners were enjoying a beer, but before he knew it, there were Angels on all sides, and one of them interpreted his approach as an act of aggression. That guy looked like someone who ate puppies for breakfast, but went down incredibly easily in one punch – his friends didn’t like that scene, though, and were now trying to take Daniel down with fists and strength in numbers alone, their honor likely at stake.

“If any of you is still alive, I need immediate f*cking help – right now!” he shouted into the earpiece when one short break from combat presented itself.
Donnerwetter!” Jürgen’s voice was accompanied by gunfire, but from which side, that he couldn’t tell.
“Don’t know what that means, but nice to hear that.” Daniel grunted.
“Your radio ain’t workin’, but help’s right here, pal!”

Another man in guard attire, one of the real ones to be clear, had emerged from the midst of the main street rumble to smash the heads of two Angels together and calm them down while Daniel lured the last one into defending his lower body only to launch a high kick at his chest. The local guard watched with reverence as the biker had no answer for that, landing stiffly on the ground and remaining immobile.

“What? A friend taught me. Little more practice, and I’ll nail someone’s head next time.” Daniel said, tapping the nearest fallen Angel with his foot to confirm he was down and out.
“Nothin’, just hopin’ I had friends like-“ A pipe bomb went off somewhere nearby, startling the guard. “Nevermind, we still got more of ‘em to kick outta here. C’mon!”
Daniel was already moving for the harvester. “I’ll be right behind you, just gotta secure something first!”
“If it ain’t a person, just leave it, kid. There’s lives at stake.”
“It’ll only take a minute – and I don’t even have a gun, what am I gonna do about explosives?!”
The guard eyed him. “Only a city dweller could come in here and play hero without a gun. Least you could do for me then is act as live bait for the rest of ‘em thugs.”

Another explosion and desperate screams cued him to run off regardless of whether he was getting assistance or not. Daniel didn’t see how rushing headlong into battle with nothing to protect himself with would do any good for the innocents caught up in the crossfire – and the immediate loss of respect for this other guy only served to reinforce his viewpoint.
“Do it yourself, c*nt.” he said silently to himself, walking the other way.

Getting back to the objective, the harvester was now sitting all pretty and unattended. The doors were locked, complicating matters as a listening device wouldn’t be too effective on the outside, but an inconspicuous tracker found a good loving home on the vehicle’s bottom before it was time to climb up the steps and get to picking the lock. This was the first time he’d tried breaking into something bigger than an average Sentinel.

As the effort took painfully long, and the noises of the firefight grew bloodier and more intense, Daniel found himself struggling with moral problems at the weirdest of times. Would Amadeus value a job well done better than going out of his way to keep civilians safe? Daniel’s inner voice just couldn’t let that sh*t go on for much longer as long as there was something he could do about it, and bugging a vehicle as part of a non-personal operation felt meaningless in comparison. Of course, finding a loaded gun somewhere nearby and getting into good position to flank the gang members would be a top priority – his occupation wouldn’t be very sustainable if he didn’t prioritize his own survival at all times.

A strangely familiar noise was what got him to pause. More rumbling coming from a distance, but not from bikes this time – no, this had the ATV posse rolling through another town written all over it. He crouched down some, seeing them arrive so close to him they would have an easy time spotting him otherwise, unless their bad genetics affected their eyesight in some way, but he wouldn’t count on that.

“Hello there, old mates. What might you have on your minds today?” he said quietly again, imagining the gang wouldn’t feel quite so warmly about a reunion themselves.
“Hey, Gus, check this sh*t out!” The bikers only found out quite a bit later than Daniel did, when the rednecks were already congregating in the middle of town. They were received by a very minor committee, thanks to how far and wide the Angel chapter had split up.
“The inbred society, here to save the day?” asked the one called Gus, who Daniel noticed was making the ugliest face he could and still not coming near the rednecks in creepiness.
“You knuckleheads think you get to riot on our turf?” a redneck retorted.
“The Angels of Death don’t recognize your claims to any pieces of land in this county, my balding, one-toothed rival counterpart.” Gus said, provoking angry but incoherent chants from among the ATV horde.
“Careful, boys. Your leader might not like it much if you go around declarin’ war on your own.” the front man of the rednecks snickered.
“Don’t worry your little hick brains about it.” announced someone with a stately voice who showed himself out of nowhere, not just to Daniel but to the rednecks too, as their surprised reactions indicated. “Gus has a very good point regarding freeing up this county, and I won’t be above backing a good idea of a subordinate.”
“Harrison?! F*ck me...” Now the rednecks were scared, as a collective more or less.
“Bad move to leave Ike at home. It’ll be fun cracking some skulls that fight back...” said the big-bearded biker with smug confidence, readying himself and his goons for a brawl – when for a fraction of a second, Daniel’s eyes met with his most vocal henchman.
He ducked right down, but the damage had been done. “Boss, I think there’s someone over there!”
“Gus, I was just done praising you. Don’t make me take it all back with silly distractions.”
“But it might be a sniper working for them or-“

BANG! Daniel didn’t see what it was, but something in the middle of the assembly must’ve hit the gang members hard, because now they were the ones screaming in terror in place of civilians. Taking a careful look from his hiding place, Daniel saw the bikers were now unleashing their automatic weapons at the presumed attacker, obscured by buildings, while retreating down the main street. Coincidentally, his location was where a pair of rednecks took refuge, both having got over the initial freakout and shooting at the same target.

The moment of truth: to take them out for an easy firearm of his own, or hold the position in case the gangs’ common target would attempt to hurt him, too? The first option wound up being more attractive after no more than five seconds of hard thinking, because rationally speaking there was no such thing as a giant monster wreaking havoc out there, and he was just about itching to stick it to some more of the outlaws.

He knew how to do it. Close the distance quietly (made easy by all the background noise going on) and strike with precision and speed while still having the element of surprise. Daniel suddenly possessed two free guns once he’d knocked the ugly heads of the owners together.

A look around the corner revealed not just a falling redneck with several bullet holes in his head, but a pickup truck that had just rammed the hostiles and continued to make itself useful as cover for two gunmen relentlessly unleashing hell on anyone disturbing the local peace. Perhaps a hypocritical solution, but detractors would be welcome to show how to better pacify groups of lunatics who thrived on chaos.

“Take note, f*ckers! This town fights back!” one of them taunted. Daniel knew who he was – well, not by name, but he’d seen him patrolling with Helena a while back. Daniel had thought of him as a quiet type then, but maybe this battle was lighting him up.
“You’re not part of this war! Stay the hell aw-“ Those were the last words of a biker too stubborn to hide behind something before shotgun shells ripped his face apart. The man responsible shot Daniel a sly smirk before motioning for him to join up as well.
“See, Amadeus? This is why we always gotta pack.” Daniel said, not really intending for him to hear it, but feeling better already when he got to blurt it out aloud.

He didn’t give a damn what his friends thought – dual-wielding kicked ass, particularly with sub-machine guns. The job Daniel did on an approaching redneck wasn’t clean by any means, but he fell all the same as if he was finished off with a boring single shot to the brain. Daniel only needed to learn how to reload the guns quicker, and he’d be all set to wreak havoc... on deserving targets, of course.

The combined effort of the three men saw the main street get secured nicely enough, with the biker president and some of his entourage retreating towards the pizza place. Daniel checked his back, confirming there was no one sneaking around, and entered the street to cover more ground. He and Amadeus simultaneously tagged two of the bikers coming from an opposite alleyway, which left them considerable breathing room.

“Daniel, hold fire. Civilians coming through.” Amadeus ordered as a pair of guests who’d seen just about enough of this fine town scurried out of a pub across the street, the alley Daniel had come from being their destination. Luckily he didn’t make any bad decisions during his short moment of confusion, because it wasn’t like Amadeus to let Rifa members pass without incident – but of course, they were just going to grab their legally purchased harvester and take it right back to their farm, with a sneaky stowaway on board.

“Looks like there’s more trouble up the road. Go clear it up, and we can-“ Amadeus wasn’t even finished when Daniel was already running. One look at the situation was enough to call for immediate intervention, and none of the standing around bullsh*t that Amadeus did – the big-bearded biker hadn’t fled very far, and was currently having a field day shooting maniacally at someone holding station outside the Well Stacked. Bystander or guard, they weren’t going to hold on for much longer against that hail of gunfire.

“Quit jumping around and put up a fight, pussies! I f*cking hate time-wasters like you!” the biker complained, taking inaccurate shots at two people who had to keep dodging out of the way, the fallen tables not providing adequate cover against his assault rifle.
“Got your fight right here, tough guy.”

Daniel fired off a short burst from both his guns. The man took hits, but appeared to shrug them off as he faced his attacker with fury in his eyes – in an immediate moment of panic, Daniel shot again, not worrying about recoil but using up both clips at the same time. He appeared to miss all the vital spots and mostly put bullets into his stomach area, which didn’t down him but only made him more angry, something that didn’t look possible. Having no other options left, Daniel rushed the biker just as he was beginning to let out some kind of pained battlecry, and avoided thinking of the possibility of a painful death at his hands when he leaped in the air and aimed another one of his “trademark” heavy flying kicks at his chest.

Somehow, it worked. Daniel felt it was a lot weaker than the last one, but that biker must’ve been clinging on only with some kind of drug-powered strength, and a real physical attack got him flying awkwardly backwards, hitting his head on the curb while the assault rifle harmlessly fell close to Daniel’s feet.

“Well, then! That was a bit... messy, but all that counts is that you people are safe, right?” Daniel said in an awkward attempt to lighten up the situation, only then realizing the ones stuck dodging bullets a while back were none other than Helena and Carl.
“It was great, that’s what it was, Daniel!” a relieved Helena said, delivering a kick to the fallen body as her first deed.
“It was nothing, even though it looked like a certain death about to happen.” Daniel smirked and looked at Carl while saying it, just as the gangbanger coincidentally made himself look even more clumsy struggling to cross the tables.
“I had it under control!” Carl exclaimed in protest.
Daniel’s expression only got more smug. “Wearing him out of ammo, right? Just 200 more bullets and a heap of dodge-jumps, and you would’ve had him, I’m sure!”
“Leave it, Carl. No matter how you spin it, he really did save our asses.” Helena insisted.
“Listen to her.” Daniel said. “And get ready to pay the favor back anytime, because you owe-“
“I can’t believe you got him, though. I know some people who’ve tried to remove him for some time now.”
“What – the thick beard guy?” Daniel saw she was still inspecting the man. “What’s so special about him? He was maybe tougher than the other bikers, but-“
“Lester Harrison. Chapter president.” Helena introduced.

A weight was lifted off Carl’s chest – if this was the same chapter in question that he’d got in trouble with some time ago, Daniel had just unknowingly ridded Grove Street of one of its problems. A new president might still hold a grudge, but it had to take them some time to straighten things out first.

“I actually knew a Harrison back in school – massive c*nt if I ever saw one. This was kinda the future I thought he’d have, but the first name doesn’t match.” Daniel said casually.
“You there! We need more hands right now, there’s injured people that need carrying!” shouted another unknown guard from a distance at Carl’s group. One look at the street made it obvious why citizens were being injured – even though gunfire was still going off in occasional spurts, they were crawling out of safety, perhaps thinking nothing would happen just because the battle wasn’t happening right in front of them.
“Do we have to rescue this muppet’s minions too?” Daniel asked, viewing the late president with a hateful glare.
“Those who didn’t choose to take part in this take priority. Come on!” Helena grabbed both his and Carl’s wrists, certainly ensuring they wouldn’t back out of this one.

On the way, they were nearly struck by an escaping ATV gang member. Carl was starting to find these countryside conflicts more unsustainable by the minute, already having one warzone in East Los Santos to worry about. As soon as he’d find Amadeus in the middle of this madness, he’d make him hear out just how futile it was to participate in this – explaining his future departure to Helena would be a tougher deal, though. Perhaps he had to accept that things would never work between them in the long run, but his pride kept getting in the way of reason. Couldn’t let Daniel emerge victorious in this love triangle, after all.

The other guard wasn’t kidding – the injured were plentiful enough that everyone got to carry one over to the makeshift clinic just outside town limits by themselves, even with Hans joining the party from the other side of the alley too. Carl’s burden ended up being a clown, who couldn’t have said it better when he lamented how things had become unfunny real quickly, while Daniel had to use all his strength and then some to get an overweight farmer moving. One more speeding ATV passed by and the coast was clear, though Carl ended up questioning the practice of moving everyone to the same place.

Daniel was only halfway done with his baggage when Carl was going back to the starting point to grab another victim. Amadeus had found his way to the scene too, making things quite a lot more unnerving since he was still occupied with combat, even with the enemy factions on the retreat. Carl yelled at him to take the battling elsewhere, but Amadeus was in the middle of blasting a biker trying to run him over, hearing nothing over the shot except the satisfying impact and the thud as the body fell down to the ground.

The next biker got past Amadeus while he was reloading, and Carl had no choice but to help Daniel get the fat guy across the street before they were run over – an act that he wouldn’t have committed, just to be clear, if Helena and the other real guards weren’t watching. She too must’ve caught wind of why the close calls were happening, and looked determined to stop it, especially when Amadeus was nearly about to shoot the biker in the back with Carl and Daniel still on the line of fire.

“Big guy, quit provoking them and come help us!” she shouted with authority, this time reaching Amadeus’ ears. He turned to look at her right as Carl saw two more bikes round the corner, heading their way.
“No, wait, there’s two more! Watch out!” Carl screamed even louder than Helena, but Amadeus had already holstered the gun and started walking their way – the warning did its job though, as he detected them in the nick of time and was able to jump to safety.

“This one’s for our president!” The one at the front, whom Daniel recognized as Gus while others took note of his large collection of badges, had more ideas than just escaping in mind. Carl was ready to duck and cover, anticipating more automatic fire, but instead his eye caught something worse while stumbling to get off the street: a pair of flaming bottles flying to the roadsides...

It wasn’t a politically correct thought, but they should’ve hit Daniel and Amadeus to minimize the damage – the bikers obviously were either not thinking straight or were way more evil than he expected, because the wooden buildings that were struck allowed the fire to spread wildly farther into the town. The pyromaniacs weren’t going to stay back and face consequences for their actions, and Carl was sadly far too late to shoot them in the back, finding this one of those situations where it could’ve been justified. There was no time to get caught up in thought, anyway – every second the blaze appeared to grow ten times worse, finding more fuel from the grass and even climbing up an electric pole. Carl backed away spontaneously, not wanting to be anywhere near the inevitable explosion of a transformer.

“No standing around!” Amadeus stated the obvious. “Change of plan, I’ll handle the injured, you fight the damn fire!”

But there was little anyone could do, for the flames were eating up the town far too quickly, surrounding those supposed to try and contain it. The fire even crossed the main street by using the big “Welcome” banner as a bridge, finding plenty more buildings to turn into dust on the other side – they were going to need a really massive water source right at this location or a really massive extinguishing blanket to do anything about it before the fire department’s arrival – not likely to happen anytime soon. At least Amadeus had an easy time and greatly sped up the rescue mission, being able to support two people at once on both shoulders, but for now ignoring his directions and assisting him instead was all Carl or anyone other was able to do. He was just astonished that the hardass barn door voluntarily stayed in this growingly intense heat rather than taking off to save his own hide...

“Everyone, Bucky has a crew gathering people from the north side to safety! He says we should focus on rescuing anyone we find in the south!” Helena ordered after a quick radio chat.
“As long as we’re reasonable about it. Going too deep looks like suicide.” Daniel said. For once, Carl understood where he came from.
A nerdy-looking guard, who Carl recognized as the one hollering at them earlier frowned at him. “These people rely on us, rookie! Until we get more professional assistance, we’ve got a lot of responsibilities for them.”
“Who are you calling ‘rookie’?” Daniel shot back.
“It’s getting harder to see in here.” Carl said, covering his eyes from the smoke. “All we gonna do is add ourselves to the list of casualties if we keep going back.”
“Why did you even sign up for this if you’re such cowards? It’s easy, stick to the streets, stay low, and keep an eye out. You don’t have to follow my lead, but I’m sure the sheriff would love to hear your explanations for your criminal negligence.” With that, the guard ran into the smoke, and was out of sight within seconds.
“He doesn’t actually have a case on us, does he?” Daniel asked immediately, watching the crowd of people near them growing in size as more and more found their way to safety on their own.
“Do you really believe in a lack of obligation to help?” Helena said, more disappointed than angry.
“That guy wasn’t wrong.” Amadeus stated. “But he was a f*cking asshole.”
Carl crossed his arms. “Myself, I’d rather wait to be certain that someone’s unaccounted for before I-“

“McKayla! Oh my god, someone save McKayla!”
A young family appeared from nowhere, the panicked mother leading the way straight to the congregated guards while the father dragged a scared, confused little boy along. The woman bypassed Carl to get right up on Amadeus’ face instead, a trend not new by any means.
“Uh – something wrong?” he asked scratching his head, while Helena disapproved of the response. Carl didn’t blame him too much; the situation felt uncomfortable.
“We can’t find McKayla! We were hiding near the betting shop when the fire started, we had to leave in such a hurry, and I guess we just forgot or something... I think she’s still back there, I don’t want to think what’ll happen if-“ she tried to explain, but the frantic speech was hard to understand.
“You mean your girl’s lost?” Daniel’s question was met with a nod. “Have you yelled for her yet?”
“I-I-I’ve tried for minutes. T-three girls have responded, just none of them was mine...”
“Damn.” Carl said shaking his head. “That’s a tough situation.” He didn’t get to process things for more than a second before a small but fierce punch struck his shoulder.
Tough situation? There’s your unaccounted person somewhere in the middle of the fire, and bemoaning is all you’re doing about it?” Helena raged, the truly biggest fire in the town burning in her eyes.
“I know I seem like an asshole saying that, but-“
“But what?” Helena was whispering, perhaps to avoid putting the lost child’s mother through any further stress. “You can stay back and complain about the heat all you want, hell, wait for the incompetent rescue services to be another 30 minutes late, but I’m not watching some child get burned to a crisp for as long as there’s something I can do to change that.”

She pushed past Carl – and Daniel, who got his newest smug grin wiped off his face real quick – to enter the streets engulfed in smoke once more. Just like the last guard, she was out of sight within mere seconds.

“Helena, wait!” Carl didn’t want to lose her like that, not now – it was stupid, suicidal, and a hell of a good way to potentially undo all the good he’d done for Grove, but all of that went out of the window when Carl pushed right into the smoke in her tracks.

What were those fire safety protocols? Keep low, don’t let the smoke get in your lungs – Carl assumed he was doing a good job at it as long as he wasn’t coughing every step of the way. Continuing to call out Helena fruitlessly, he found it crazy how there couldn’t have been more than a few dozen feet between them, but the lack of vision and ubiquitous crackling of the flames obscuring his yells made the atmosphere oh so lonely.

“Who goes there?” Carl heard a man’s raspy voice ask out of nowhere. Putting professionalism aside for a moment to jump like a spooked house cat, he searched for the speaker feverously all around him, to no avail. The voice didn’t sound very distressed for someone stuck in the blazing heat either, subconsciously putting Carl on high alert.

“Just a guard here, you need help?” Carl said just what he imagined Helena would say before kicking the guy’s ass if he turned out hostile.

A figure emerged from the side, almost like wanting to take Carl by surprise but being too slow and predictable to perform that feat. This limping biker barely presented a danger to anyone as one of his arms was occupied by clutching at his wounded chest while the other dangled on the side harmlessly, too weak to throw any punches or use a weapon.

“How’d the terrorizing work out?” Carl asked.
“F*ck you.” The biker was trying to mask his groans. “You think you’re any better than us, Grove Street? Playing hero, saving meaningless average people from a disaster?”
“I ain’t here just to look good – wait, you said Grove Street?”
“We’ve kept an eye on your *cough* filthy OG’s ever since that stunt!” he wheezed. “And that wasn’t enough, was it? You killed our president too... you won’t leave this fiery pit alive, prick.”
Carl backed away when the biker pulled out a pocket knife, barely able to even hold it properly.
“I wish I could take credit for the kill, but I’m afraid it belongs to-“
“Enough talk! You might be one to banter with the enemy, but I ain’t!”
“You asked for it then.” Carl said, raising his gun without a worry in the world.

Click. Click. Why did his magazine have to choose this moment to be empty? The biker smirked at Carl’s predicament as he discovered there was no more ammo left altogether, gaining a new boost of motivation to edge closer, get those fateful stabs in and let blood loss deal with the rest-

One moment the Angel was smug, the next he found himself withering on the ground in pain when a charging shape appeared from nowhere, taking him by surprise in a way that he’d unsuccessfully tried doing with Carl. Jumping back and nearly suffering a heart attack, Carl gained a bit of smug satisfaction on his own, the red stripes in the attacker’s hair being all he needed to make out his identity.

“Always in need of saving, ain’t you?” Daniel said, killing the positive mood abruptly with his mean-spirited tone. “Now, you owe me two.”
Carl frowned. “I was just waitin’ for him to bleed out. Suffering seems about right for his type.”
Daniel shook his head. “Let’s hope he doesn’t. This band of degenerates needs to face justice in my eyes, and since that Gus person rode off like a sissy, this c*nt down here can carry the responsibility just fine.”
“Like hell!” The Angel, all too aware of what Daniel had in mind, made a last-ditch effort to move the rusty blade towards his own throat, but Daniel, anticipating something like this, cut it short well in advance with a stomp on the arm that caused him to drop the knife again, along with an ear-piercing shriek. Carl covered his ears, being reminded of OG Loc in the most inappropriate time.

“See what pussies they turn into when the odds are against them?” Daniel said with a mixture of pity and contempt, lifting the Angel onto his shoulder with minimal resistance.
“I see that sh*t way too often.” Carl admitted. “You sure you’ll be able to haul him yourself?”
Daniel bridled. “Do I think I can do that... you just f*ck off to get the kid to safety. Every second of my time you waste gets this lost soul a step closer to joining his crew in hell too early for my liking.”
“Whatever. You’re free to come back and help anytime you’d like.”

Lost... Daniel’s average, unintentional description along with the fact the subject matter was a biker got Carl’s brain jogging once their paths separated again. Could he find time in his ever tightening schedule to maybe raid the clubhouse of the Lost MC chapter that one wiseguy from a way back belonged to? The money he stole was technically going to Schrader anyway, sure, but anything to ease his anguish-inducing economic life was welcome.

Carl bumped into a wall in thought, luckily a stoney type that hadn’t been set on fire. He swore only he could forget the precariousness of the situation wandering off to make loose future plans like that. In his defense, though, breathing in this area felt easier and even his eyesight wasn’t affected too badly, making the whole inferno seem more like the next block’s problem.

“Help – please...” A weakened groan caught Carl’s attention. Hearing it a lot clearer than the biker’s fake call, he was able to follow the sound through the smoke, doing so with the speed of a real rescue worker, and with a weird sense of automation in his movements.

In some godforsaken way (though a lot could be attributed to the panic) a child had got herself stuck on a private residence’s fence, right between two horizontal levels. Carl held himself back from asking her if she was the one being sought by the terrified family, mostly because he’d already forgotten her name, but also because it didn’t matter – any truly distressed person getting rescued was a good thing, and the Angels were too dysfunctional at this point that this could in any way be one of their traps. In the face of helplessness like this, Helena could wait – she had more or less an element of surprise over the inferno, anyway.

“A’ight, everything’s gonna be fine, I’m here. Let’s get you free.”
The girl wasn’t awfully talkative, but Carl only needed her non-verbal cooperation anyway while trying to pull her out. Inserting a square into a circle-shaped hole and then trying to remove it would’ve been easier – there really should’ve been no way she ended up in this predicament when getting her to move an inch was asking too much. Switching to the other side to see if the girl would budge by going legs first, Carl got a slightly painful kick to the face and an anguished yelp in response nearly immediately.
“No! That hurts!”

What a whiner... was she going to choose suffocation or incineration over a few seconds of pain to the stomach? Maybe that was the essence of being a child – never being able to tolerate short-term losses even if a long-term gain was on the horizon. It reminded Carl of himself in his youth, though he doubted he would’ve kicked a savior in the face in her position, knowing how early in life he’d become desensitized to violence and death.

Risking a reshaping of his facial features, Carl pulled her legs again while adding some motivational mumbo-jumbo on top, but it turned out as useless as before. The stomach was stuck, plain and simple, and short of a really quick way of losing weight, the girl may as well have been screwed as the fire in the adjacent house worsened by the minute. Just one flying ember, and the dry wooden fence could easily ignite – assuming she didn’t suffocate first. The air quality wasn’t good by any means, just barely better from the viewpoint of someone who’d seen worse.

What was it with children and fences, anyway? Carl had had a moment of his own as a youngster too – nothing this life-threatening, but embarrassing for sure, which explained why it was so easy to recall in detail. Ryder’s family had a fence just like this around their yard in the old days too, and Carl would love to either jump it or just stand on the lower rail when talking to him, thinking he looked badass. When it finally broke under his weight, Carl had a double whammy to deal with, having landed on his ass and gotten yelled at by Ryder and Sweet alike. It wasn’t so bad now, but at that age it was easy to think he’d lost a friend forever for a stupid stunt-

Wait – holy sh*t.

“Kid, don’t be scared, ‘cause I now know what to do.” Carl warned, not wasting any more time before vicariously stomping on the rail, dishing out the equivalent of several years worth of gradual damage right then and there. Even the comparatively stronger design had nothing on Carl’s foot, showing the first signs of giving way only a few stomps later and only getting exponentially worse from that point on. The girl was smart enough to place her hands on the ground, bracing herself for the sudden sensation of falling when the rail finally snapped.

With a whole lot more space to move around, Carl was now successful in pulling her into freedom, but one more trial stood in the way – his foot was really sore after all that big damn heroism, and the kid was no better off, refusing to move when the recovery period should’ve been long over.

“I can’t walk! My feet, they’re... they’re all sore!”
“Damn it!” Carl was dangerously close to proceeding into a rampage of curse words. “It’s a shorter way than it looks like, you just gotta – keep going for a lil’ more.”
“Can’t you carry me?” the girl asked, tone all innocent but clearly trying to minimize the amount of struggle she’d have to go through.
Carl took some steps, testing out his foot. It wouldn’t give out from under him, but was an absolute strain to walk on.
“Maybe we could meet halfway? You could walk, but I’ll support you?” he proposed.

When Carl struggled out of the smoke cloud, back into the midst of the public with the girl cheerfully riding on his back, he felt more like a loser who caved in too quickly to obnoxious people than a hero that the civilians saw him as.

The reception was so odd, though. At best, Carl was used to a few of his homies congratulating him after a good day’s work, maybe getting a really rare and meaningful pat on the back from Sweet, that kinda stuff – but members of the public all cheering him on at once? He’d never seen that when the Families had the community in mind more than their own well-being, and certainly not ever since he moved to Liberty City. He never aspired to be the kind of do-gooder that Sweet usually painted in a negative light, nor did he enjoy being at the center of attention except in a drunken party, but this – felt good. Just a bit.

“I’ll take McKayla to her parents.” Carl heard a woman say just out of his sight as she grabbed the girl for herself, suddenly easing all the strain on his back. Although the lady acted rudely, not even addressing Carl directly or making eye contact before heading off into the crowd, what really mattered was the kid’s attitude and a rare display of thankfulness, not wanting to let go of him at first and then waving at him for as long as he was within eyesight.

“Did you just save her yourself?” It was the nerdy guard talking, having shown up to snoop on Carl like a school prefect, looking like he’d been bathing in ash without achieving anything meaningful.
“Sure. Not on your orders though.” Carl snapped.
The guard put on his signature frown. “This is no time to undermine basic orders!”
“Undermine? Bitch, get outta here. If you saved people as well as you ran your mouth over nothing, you’d have the biggest trophy case in the fire department by now.”
“Thank you, finally you get – wait, WHAT?!”

Carl wasn’t scared of him, but it was better to vanish into the crowd than stay back and listen to his full reaction when the realization got to him. If he wanted the information he was urgently looking for, he’d have to talk to someone more sensible than that.

“You seen Helena anywhere?” he asked the first guard he came across: a grumpy redneck who must’ve been tired of tending to the terrified people long ago.
“Saw her run off into that fire with ya in tow. S’pose that’s the answer you looked for?”
“Yeah, precisely, you prick.” Carl scoffed, moving on to the next one, sitting on a tree stump a bit further from the others, nursing a possibly injured leg.
“What about you? You seen Helena?”
“Was?” Of course it had to be Jürgen, with his lackluster English skills.
“Uh – nevermind. Where’s Amadeus?” Carl rephrased now that he was starting to get convinced the big guy wasn’t present either.
“Amadeus hat in der Stadt zurückkehren.”
“I have no idea what you’re-“
“Er ist eine gefangene Person zu retten versuchen.”
“Seriously, he might as well be playin’ poker with the seven dwarves, ‘cause I don’t understand, a’ight?” Carl spread his arms in frustration, but Jürgen was in no mood to try and translate his sayings to English while tending to what must’ve been a gunshot wound – Carl knew what those looked like all too well to question it.

There was one more guard to be found nearby, no distinguishable features on this one, who happened to be approaching Carl right then. He must’ve had something to say himself, but Carl opened his mouth faster.

“Hey, you seen-“
“I already overheard your other questions. All I’ve seen is that emo-looking guy dragging a half-dead biker out of the fire and run back in. Suicidal bastard.”
Carl rolled his eyes. “Oh, great.”
“I know they’re probably the only ones you know from the whole team, but if you – you got any personal qualms that need discussing, you’ve got a great listener right here.”
“What the f*ck?” Carl squealed. “I mean, no offense, but that’s creepy as f*ck. I got something bigger than ‘personal qualms’ in mind when I get to them, so-“

“Guards! Guards!”
“Take care, man. I got a goldfish to feed.” Just as quickly as the guard had appeared, he slithered out of the scene, leaving Carl to deal with the griefs of a panicky farmer alone.
“W-what’s the matter?” a disconcert Carl asked, looking daggers at the coward’s general direction while waiting for something coherent to come out of the man’s mouth.
“Muh boy Oscar! If someone can find him, it’s you!” the farmer insisted, shaking Carl by the shoulders so hard his hat fell off.
“Oscar is...?”
“In a barn just on the outskirts. I was a dumbass, I left him in there thinking it’s a safe place to hide from the chaos, but then all this fire started spreading and-“
“Is that the hero guard? I haven’t seen Josh since the fire, could you please see if you can find him too?” a woman said unexpectedly, with others behind her also joining the hassling.
“Ol’ Betsy can’t wun like she used to, you gotta do somethin’, pal!”
“I think my dog’s stuck back there! His name’s Hannibal... he won’t bite, I promise.”
“My life’s gonna be in ruins if Oscar doesn’t make it!” the farmer screamed over everyone.
Carl clapped loudly to stop all the madness. “A’ight, order! ORDER! Can y’all just speak up one at a time, tell me what your family members look like and where you last saw them, so I can-“
“You can’t waste time like this, hero! Josh is in danger, you need to just GO!” the woman yelled, making a 360 from a sweet-talker to angry bitch in an instant.
“Better not tell us you’re chickening out this time!” said an old man from the middle of the crowd that hadn’t forwarded a request if Carl recalled correctly.

Like when he’d emerged the first time, all the expectant eyes on him. Five years ago, Carl would’ve turned his back to all this with upwards-pointed middle fingers to boot, out of spite against anyone who thought they could tell him what to do. Now though... the damn peer pressure to do good was getting to him in a whole different way here when he felt more like a part of the crowd and less like a degenerate who’d always clash with it, never giving a crap about the rules. The people were being assholes, but only because they were stressed about their loved ones – an understandable reaction that would go away once something was done about their needs. He didn’t even think he needed the overzealous guard’s faux wise words for this new moral development, when the most genuine change was originating in his own head.

Not that he’d quit being a banger. There was just no point to it this far from home.

Carl didn’t respond to any of the borderline provocative shouting, just walked straight back to the edge of the danger zone with everyone moving out of his way, equally quiet. Still no sight of emergency vehicles... while he was no economist, he could tell the county needed either a service reform or a really merciless kill force to purge out the gangs. Anything to stop widespread destruction from happening again, basically. If the latter idea were to happen, Daniel could volunteer to get something to do and stay out of Carl’s path.

Those civilians didn’t need to know it, but Carl may have gone into the fire anyway if there wasn’t anyone else in particular to save – it was just that the two people he really needed to talk to were both still somewhere in there by all accounts. Carl wanted closure to this intricate operation, and it wasn’t going to happen if they both were to choke, burn or suffer some other horrific form of death in the small town-sized oven.

One benefit of making a second run was that he was more used to the fumes this time around. It was no less poisonous, but a lesser man would faint a short way into the endeavor. Operating outdoors also carried no risk, as far as he knew, of some beam collapsing right on his head or blocking the only way out, a fate that was uncomfortably close to greeting him in that last incident with fire at the Ballas’ warehouse. Instead, getting started would turn out to be Carl’s pet peeve – he had no leads apart from a nondescript barn that was supposed to house another victim. Assuming the others were on the search for that same missing person, though, that one lead may have been all Carl needed.

For starters, he navigated his way back to where he’d found the girl. There was a set of ashy footprints headed further into town just next to the fence – he couldn’t tell if they were there the last time, but rationally they had to be, unless it was the village asshole or a gang member willingly choosing not to help. The prints’ size was just about big enough to fit Amadeus if he had to guess, but definite answers wouldn’t come if he only stood there making assumptions. Carl blamed the stress associated with the pressure to find some missing person for his inability to get things done quicker.

“Carl, you son of a bitch, your turn to help me out!”
How Daniel recognized him from so far away with a disrupted vision was a mystery, but it didn’t matter right now – something really big was hot on his tail, rumbling along the street with such intensity that Carl could feel the ground shaking. As soon as his brain was done realizing the danger, he broke into a run, forgetting the trail for now as Daniel caught up alongside him.
“You’ve pissed off a trucker?” Carl shouted, regretting the question immediately – a gas-powered vehicle would’ve caught and run them over already.
“How bad is your eyesight?” Daniel shot back, panting like mad. “Hold the thought... see that building up ahead? Fallen beams at the entrance?”
“Uh huh!”
“Run straight at it, then turn away at the last second!”

It was all so sudden and hectic that Carl nearly didn’t remember what Daniel told him to do before they already were there. Unsure if the sensation on his back was from the wind or the breath of a really big animal, Carl performed a haphazard dive to the left while Daniel went right, just catching a quick glimpse of a huge bull’s black and brown rear end crashing straight through the beams and into the house. More ruckus was heard while it was inside, almost like a shelf or another large object being knocked over right afterwards. Daniel was already back on his feet by then, in a stark contrast to Carl who had trouble telling which way was up in his dazed situation.

“Damn... no doubt that was a china shop.” Daniel said, forcefully laughing as if to hide how terrified he must’ve been.
“This is a f*ckin’ circus.” Carl snarled.
“The event had some of those elements indeed, if you remember.”
“Just don’t speak, asshole. How the hell did you piss off such a thing any-“ While Daniel peeked inside the building, Carl got a great look at the back of his head, which answered all the questions in his mind right there. “Your hair, you f*ckin’ punk-ass bitch!”
“My hair what? Haven’t you insulted it already? General rule of sh*t-talking is you don’t repeat yourself...”
“The – the red stripes!” Carl yelled. “No wonder that thing was berzerk! Then you f*cking drag me into it like it’s my problem too...”
Daniel’s confusion changed into a smirk. “That is an urban legend and grade A bullsh*t, Carl. Our pursuer, like all of his fellow cattle, don’t see color. The movement of a cape, on the other hand, sets those motherf*ckers right off.”
Carl frowned, Daniel’s smartassery bringing Chad to his mind. “So that’s what you did? What for?”
“Calm the f*ck down, mate. No, I didn’t play matador, or do anything to provoke the poor bastard. Those dark marks on his body though – those looked like some nasty burns. I’d guess any animal would go all bonkers with that kind of pain that’s not going away.”
“You think we should head on outta here?” Carl asked, the bull’s noises upsetting him coming from so close, behind only one fragile-looking wall. “Think I’m done playin’ hero for today.”
“We could, but what about Amadeus? Good old boss-man would freak out if we left him and he perished in here.”
“Thought you didn’t give a sh*t what big shots think of you?”
Daniel shook his head firmly. “The small shots who think they’re big shots. Major difference. Don’t make me educate you all this-“

Something big broke down out of immediate sight, loudly enough to make Daniel pause. Carl wanted to make a run for it already, but stupidly kept waiting all the way until the bull’s head peeked out from the other side of that building, ready for a second round.

“Forget all I said. Gotta get to an exit!” Daniel said, pulling Carl’s oversized sleeve.
Carl stumbled a bit trying to keep up. “You know that thing’ll outrun us, right? Sooner or later?”
“I know, it’s a temporary tactic! Best we can hope for is we run into Oscar’s owner, or any other country dweller who knows how to control him, before we get horns all the way up the ass.”
“That thing is Oscar?” Carl said between puffs. “Knew I shoulda been more firm – asking for – details from that – asshole.”
“We met the same guy? I got loads of trivia from him. Oscar actually f*cks over 200 cows each year... no wonder it’ll kill him if he doesn’t make it out.”
Carl was unconcerned by that since he was falling behind again. “Can you – slow down? I ain’t – in the best of forms here!”
“Hit up the gym, mate! Won’t stop me from kicking your ass, but you’ll take a bit longer to tire out!”

Carl pushed himself to the limit to keep Daniel in eyesight at least, but just that was a lot to ask from him. He was growing more wobbly by every step, the world around him was all blurry like if he was traveling in a fast car, and breathing was a lot more difficult than he recalled, even though they’d left the smokey areas behind a long time ago – something Carl hadn’t noticed at all until he gave it a long, hard thought. His legs were more or less functioning on autopilot now, his brain determined to not come to a stop at any cost.

“To the left!” Daniel’s voice sounded much more distant than it should. “They got a corral there!”
Just a little longer! Then you can rest all day! Carl repeated in his head over and over again, nearly missing the turn that Daniel pointed out and only getting on the right path once he located the distinctive hair again. More people stood at a distance, waving and chanting incomprehensibly, maybe at him, maybe cheering for the bull to rip his ass to pieces, who knew, who cared... just a little longer!

“Dodge to the side, kid! Don’t run inside!” It was the only line that Carl could both hear clearly and grasp, which was nice because he thought he’d pass out if he tried to mimic Daniel’s movements any longer. He followed the instructions, watching Daniel run right inside the corral and turn around to cross the fence onto the safe side again while the bull came in tow, getting himself locked in by the farmers doing swift work to close the gate.

Carl didn’t worry about looking stupid lying down completely out of breath in the dirty ground, not one tiny bit, knowing these people had all been through much worse in their daily jobs. It wasn’t like his favorite athletes didn’t immediately drop and rest at the end of their hardcore performances either... hell, they never had to deal with being chased by big, burned and horny beasts, so in a way Carl deserved an even bigger break. The pain was really crazy though now that it finally caught up to him – it was like some truck was sitting right on his chest, blocking all his airways. A truck and a fat trucker on the front seat, munching on a hot dog and laughing smugly at his misfortune. What an asshole...

“You made it!”
Only Helena’s voice kept Carl from dozing off. Using up the strength of a hundred men, Carl turned his head only to see her hugging Daniel in relief, while he only got one short look of pity, like he was some child overwhelmed by a task too difficult for him.
“I knew you wouldn’t let the people down.” she said, extending yet another hug for the smug asshole because why not. Carl wanted to look at something else, but all he saw was the bull’s ass facing him as the calmed animal munched on some fresh grass. It was as if even Oscar was saying “f*ck you” to him while he was down.
“Ah, you know, I realized what this uniform means to the common man, and thus stepped up when the situation called for it.” Daniel explained proudly. “And when I thought my work was done, Carl was in need of saving too. Naturally I put aside our differences so he’d live to see another day as well.”
“Fcng frd...” Whatever came out of Carl’s mouth wasn’t clear words, but at least he tried.
“Only a little rest and he should be back to mouthing off like always.” Daniel said, offering his arm as he did. “Meanwhile, we could go and check back on the people at the south side one last time?”

Off they went like some melodramatic cutesy couple, not looking back. Carl wished he would just either suffocate on the bad air right there or finally wake up from this nightmare of going through all of the day’s trouble and gaining absolutely nothing. It was one thing to be a bitch to his gang and bear the brunt of disappointment in a failed mission, and another to do it in a completely strange setting for the sake of a couple of car bugs and staying in character through a highly improbable event. A variety of bitter thoughts related to these matters were the last thing on Carl’s mind before passing out.

“...nine, at large; six, extra deep; seven; two at forty-five...”
“S-Smoke?” Carl asked, coughing heavily. Where was he, anyway?
“I’m sure you inhaled a lot in there, but you should be OK now.” Amadeus said. A few more blinks, and Carl could make out his shape sitting on a tree stump, looking at some device. Flashing colorful lights at the distance were hopefully emergency services and not some head injury manifesting itself.
“I mean – uh, whatever – what was it you were saying?” He sat up, even with his body forcefully telling him it wouldn’t be a good idea.
“We’ve been charting locations where the Rifa have been active in Red County, all based on prior scouting reports – and more recently the devices you and Daniel were able to place.”
“Real... nice to know.” Carl’s breaths were hard-fought, his lungs feeling very heavy and obstructed. “So – what – were all the numbers for?”
“We’ve divided the country into squares and numbered them. See, nine is where they’re at right now, according to Daniel’s tracker. We won’t worry about it though until they stop.” Amadeus pointed out a map of the region as well as some primitive radar, which Carl couldn’t read, but nodded as if he understood the subject anyway.
“And what about the sixth square?”
“Pockets of small-time operations. Nothing worthy of – particular consideration, but it’s good to know they’re there.”

Carl relaxed some. Although he continued to feel like utter sh*t, it was getting to that phase where it was letting up, and there was actual hope again that he’d get over everything one day.

“Guess that barn dance won’t be happening now.” Amadeus said out of the blue when Carl wouldn’t continue the conversation.
“You care about that sh*t?” Carl asked in surprise. That whole concept seemed so distant now, like a childhood dream that he no longer bothered himself with.
“No, but I thought you might. With the way you were getting along with that girl and all.”
Carl wanted to just drop right back down rather than listen to this anymore. Amadeus may have sensed this, and changed the subject.
“Fires this large attract cops and media. If you want neither of them to spot you, I suggest we disappear while we still can.”

The statement was a bit open for Carl’s liking – he looked around to ensure nobody heard that, but could only see the same old farmers, fervently discussing amongst themselves but not acknowledging the two of them. Amadeus had parked the Buffalo on the side of the exit road just across the open batch of grass, but even that was a long walk by Carl’s current standards.

Carl nearly fell over while forcing himself up, while Amadeus obliviously went on walking. “Thanks for the help.”
“Don’t mention it.”

As one little act of decency, Amadeus did open the passenger door for Carl, who spent about a minute longer than him to reach the car, so badly out of breath that it was as if he’d just climbed Mount Chiliad. He threw himself into the seat, finding it just as comfy as he remembered – some great medicine for the fatigue until he had to settle to the minimalistic cabin furniture again.

“So there was a few twists and turns back there,” Amadeus said, starting up the car, “but you actually did your work flawlessly this time. I’m sure the Rifa are shaken up, but won’t think anyone tampered with their vehicles.”
“They got the harvester out in one piece, right?”
“Close the door. Yes, it’s still on the move.”
Carl followed the order, even when such a simple gesture was killing him.
“The point I was trying to make is that I’m complimenting you.”
“Comp- oh, right. Full paycheck, I guess?” Carl suggested. That was supposed to be just a thought, but his excitement got the better of him.
“We can provide that, but I thought it wasn’t the first thing on your mind.”
“What you mean?” Carl asked, feeling a big hand on his shoulder all of a sudden.
Amadeus looked him straight in the eyes, putting on the most compassionate face he could perhaps reasonably make.
“You mentioned a problem you were running out of time with. Tell me all about that while we drive.”

Carl pinched himself, just knowing this right here was a dream... except it wasn’t. For now, Ryder and LB maybe weren't all that screwed.


To Be Continued.

Edited by Carbonox

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Didn't even come close to falling off page 1 by the time I finished this one. Progress?


LC3: Clean Sweep



Luigi Goterelli was all smiles leaving the lavish interview room, and for good reason. Nothing wrapped the boss around his finger better than fully committing to the role of the hard-working Italian, and in spite of troubles with clichéd questions about strengths, weaknesses and future prospects, he was convincing enough to be allowed to start right away.

Remembering his fake alias – Scipio Alighieri – flawlessly and committing to the job of cleaning the city development building’s floors would be the real tough parts – he really wasn’t the kind to even share those duties at home. Being recognized later wasn’t supposed to be an issue according to Mickey; a bit of eye shadow and the growth of some extra facial hair here and there made him tough to tell apart from his usual self, as he could confirm when seeing the new look from a mirror for the very first time. He began the work day with a bathroom break, getting a chance to get on the phone with no one listening in and perhaps dealing with the strange sensation going on in his stomach at the same time.

“I got the job!” he whispered with elation as soon as Toni picked up the call.
Toni’s response was stoic. “Do you think you know where they’re holding the bank’s blueprints?”
“Hey, be careful or I won’t congratulate you when you achieve something this big.”
“Can you joke around some other time? You weren’t sent there for fun.” Toni said.
Luigi cleared his throat. “It’s a big building. I’m trying to stay discreet here, so don’t expect immediate results. Anytime nobody’s looking, this sanitation expert is gonna rummage through everything they got.”
“Whatever you do, watch out for security cameras.”
“Speaking of cameras, couldn’t Mickey opt for a slightly smaller one? I’m having a hard time keeping it hidden, I’ve had to shove it right up my-“
“As usual, he didn’t think everything straight.” Toni sighed. “He’d better present me with a good crew or I’m seriously considering cutting him out.”
“What about you? What’s your current situation?”
“I’m just about ready to go chase our transports. I’m looking at Joey right now.”
“Cool. I, uhh, recognize when I’m the third wheel, so bye, Antonio.”
“Bye, Luigi.”

It was silly, but Toni couldn’t actually remember the last time he ended a phonecall with a proper goodbye. He’d have to think to do that more often in the future, in case he was coming across unemotional and difficult to approach for his contacts.

Joey was fiddling a spark plug – at least Toni assumed it was a spark plug, not really giving a f*ck though – and needed a poke in the shoulder to remind him the call was indeed over.

“You were saying something about Sultans.” Toni reminded.
“Oh, sure. Mickey wanted a combo of capacity, handling and a bit of weight in your cars, and you can’t go wrong with a top of the line Karin Sultan. If you gotta go off road, the four wheel drive’s got your back.”
“We need two cars.” Toni said. “Or so I think. If there’s about three – no, four gunmen with one handling the explosives, it’ll be hard to squeeze together in one car. With two, we can distribute the weight and maybe have an easier time with the final escape... unless the cops respond slowly, which will make it harder for us to hide-“
“Remember to breathe.”
“You’re welcome to offer feedback of your own anytime.” Toni scoffed.
“In all seriousness, just take two. You got a point with the weight distribution sh*t back there, and by doing that, you’ll kill two birds in one stone ‘cause I need some help collecting those cars in the first place.”
“You don’t even have one of your own? Wait, what if we instead used that one?” Toni asked, pinpointing a Landstalker that was currently missing its wheels, but otherwise appeared to be in mint condition.
“Even a world class driver wouldn’t get you far with that. They have this unconventional tendency to flip at high speeds, uneven terrain, and so on.”
“Come on, it’s a damn SUV! How bad can it be?”
“A case of crappy design that the masses will buy because of clever marketing. If you really wanted an SUV, you’d need something on the lines of a Maibatsu Monstrosity, but good luck hiding from the law in something that big...”
“Whatever... so you don’t have Sultans, but you know where we can get them?”
“And the owners are not the type to call the cops on us?”
“Not just that, they should be softer than what you dealt with last time. Come on, we’ll take the el up north – plenty of time to explain on the way.”


“Just... just what on earth are you doing?!” Luigi’s supervisor did not hide his freakout over the numerous brown stains left behind by his new hire in the stall.
“I already said I’m sorry! It’s just that the burger I grabbed today might’ve disagreed with my stomach one tiny bit...” Luigi swore.
The supervisor grabbed his shoulders. “What if that overzealous bastard of a health inspector comes snooping around again? I can’t afford another hazard in these offices!”
“That’s my job, ain’t it?” Luigi pulled the hands back down. “Nothing like doing the least I can do and cleaning up behind myself.”
“J-j-just be quick!” The supervisor acted like he was going to faint any second.

Luigi sighed once he was out of earshot. This had to be one of those more uncomfortable parts of the job he thought he’d avert by only doing it for a short time... observing the extent of the mess his unusually wet dump had just caused, it made him wish he had Toni’s damned clothespin around right now.


“What’s up, Stevens? Did you hear something?”
“I – it’s gotta be nothing. Probably some fishermen.”
“Get back to work then.” Stevens’ boss said sternly. “We need these packed up by tomorrow.”

He had a point – the cabin wouldn’t run out of merchandise anytime soon. Even while loading it into the likewise never-ending supply of crates, Stevens kept looking over them and through the gaps in the wall, adamant that whoever was sneaking just outside would still be somewhere close. Unfortunately for him, Toni and Joey had heard him express suspicion clear as day, and were utterly impossible to detect, sitting firmly in place and obscured by foliage.

To an outsider, Stevens didn’t look much like the type to run with smugglers, but innocent looks were often the most deceiving. Only few could even guess that his scrawny outlook and child-like face, often stuck in a bored expression, really belonged to a 25-year-old man with pent up anger against the disappointments of society boiling underneath.

For being as bossy as he was, the older man wasn’t in much of a rush to do any of the work himself, his eyes fixated on a porn magazine that had to be older than the cabin itself. Both were wearing matching, modest light blue outfits that must’ve seen quite a bit of use, as the boss’ coat had more patches on it than that of the average vagrant in these parts.

“You know, if Fiorio doesn’t screw up the next run, we just might make profit off this.” the boss said to break the silence.
“It’s not much of a consolation.” Stevens hesitated some, before continuing on. “Why do you let Rinaldi strong-arm us up the ass, exactly? If it wasn’t for the Sindaccos, we could all pay our bills no problem... and then some.”
“Either we do what he says, or it’ll be Johnny who comes over the next day to bulldoze our entire livelihood into the sea. I’m not a bitch, but we need to recognize who the bigger fish are and follow their rules, no matter how asinine, in order to survive.”
Stevens scowled. “If they’re gonna screw us over all the time, why not move?”
“Do you think the Sindaccos are confined to this area? If it’s not them tracking us down at a new location, it’ll be whoever else is strongest. Face it, there’s no such thing as a niche up for grabs anywhere near this region where we could settle down and become top dogs. Upstate maybe, but I ain’t leaving my family behind for that sh*t, and neither are the others.”
“Then let’s f*cking kill someone and take their wallet!” Stevens tossed the crate he was just finished with to the floor. “Anything to get us outta this mess!”
“How do you plan on getting away with it? I hate to anger you further, but it’s only those mobsters who have enough job security on that front.” the boss said, which prompted Joey and Toni to smirk in their little hiding place.
“Pickpocketing? Burglary? Try being more supportive for once!” Stevens pleaded.
“Just trust me when I say the elegant subtlety of smuggling is the way to go, no matter the inconveniences. Savage has really added cop presence in this area to try and make it look good, and a crime spree is easier to track to our suspicious cabin than you think.”
“You think you’re smart because you got your way with words? But, uhh, answer this, old man. Have you ever even – tried to make it big? Why start a small-time operation if we’re never gonna grow bigger than the gangsters who push us around?”
The boss kept his cool, putting his magazine down. “Some people just get dealt sh*t hands. I can guarantee though, kid, that it’s still got a tiny bit of a chance of winning, which is more than you can say if you’re gonna fold.”

A car pulled up on the other side. As per Joey’s instructions, Toni waited until all occupants had got out and shut the doors before it was time to move. There were three of them, all clad in light blue as well, and their vehicle was just what the doctor ordered, if not in a bad-looking state with dirt all over it and minor fender damage.

“Intruders!” one of the men shouted out of instinct when the mobsters walked into view, the one next to him shushing as soon as it became obvious who were being addressed.
“Wrong guess.” Joey said gleefully. “I hope Ravaioli has a better idea of what’s going on.”
The man he pointed at was the one in the cleanest clothes, thick moustache dominating his face – likely the overall leader, but not someone Toni knew at all. The other two would’ve looked more like random hired thugs picked up from a low-end bar, if not for the matching colors.
“Joey. Long time no see.” The man was the only one not showing fear at this point.
“That’s because I’ve let you get away with no payments for way too long.” Joey said, more disappointed than outright angry. He clearly had the talking part all figured out, leaving Toni to stand on his side looking scary.
“I had an impression this wasn’t the deadline.”
“Not only is the car still technically my property, the small print says I may show up to collect my dues at any time. This happens to be it.”
“It’s been a bad quarterly. As a businessman, I know you understand what it’s like.”
“Tough sh*t. The current economic situation leaves no room for freeloading.”
“How are we ever supposed to sustain our operation without a car?”
“Ain’t this whole sh*t unsustainable? Here’s a tip from a pro: invest in a cheaper car. Not only will the transaction be smooth, but you won’t be thrashing any more of my beauties.

It didn’t matter if Joey’s anger was real or slightly manufactured as it drove the point home just fine either way. The two remaining members finally had curiosity win over them, popping out of the cabin with good timing as the drama was beginning to brew.

“I knew it! There were people spying on us!” Stevens shouted like him being right meant anything.
Ravaioli hit him in the shoulder with some real force. “Be quiet already, you f*cking idiot. You have no idea who you’re talking about.”
“It-it’s not the Sindaccos, right?” Stevens was more fearful when speaking of them this time. Toni wondered if he’d actually ever even met them face to face.
“No, and it’s nothing you need to think about too much.” added the goon next to him.
“Car keys then, please.” Joey extended his hand in the direction of the three stooges who’d just been driving the Sultan, unsure of who possessed them at this time.
“They’re taking our car?!” Stevens asked in disbelief while the fattest man of the group on Ravaioli’s left did just as Joey told.
“It’s just a matter of missing payments, but we’ll get a new one no problem...”
Another mafia family pushing us around?!” Stevens hatefully looked Toni in the eyes now that he’d figured out what his uniform stood for.

The bright red object he summoned from a pocket was unmistakeable. None of his colleagues tried to grab him, either out of fear of being stabbed themselves or just poor reaction times, but Toni wasn’t particularly bothered, even as he charged. He knew all too well what to do with kids who tried to play with sharp objects.

First Toni quickly dodged, made easy by the clumsiness and lack of calculation behind the initial stab, then grabbed a solid hold of the knife arm while the assailant had his back turned. Toni was much stronger than Stevens, having little trouble stopping him from waving the blade all over the place while prying it away from his hand. Stevens went into panic as soon as he was disarmed – just as unprepared to deal with consequences as expected. Toni kicked him in the leg, which dropped him on his knees screaming for mercy.

He yanked Stevens from the hair, rotated him so that he was facing at his comrades, and placed the knife over his throat. Stevens was too scared to even pretend to struggle, and his whole body could be seen trembling with the naked eye. Tears were rolling down his face and he was making no effort to try and hide them.

“Dear smugglers, or whoever the hell you are.” Toni said, his audience so quiet and tense that they could be mistaken for statues. The blade was verging on the veins on the man’s neck.

The knife suddenly went flying into the bushes. Before Stevens even knew he’d just been spared, Toni shoved him forward with force, so that he faceplanted on coarse sand.

“You’ll need to teach basic social skills to your youth department. Someone less civilized might never give him a lucky second chance like this.”
Joey nodded along, continuing once it was clear Toni’s line was over. “I know that little sh*t’s not representative of the rest of you as a whole, and this is your first strike, so I doubt there’s any need for kneecapping or anything of that sort. We’re leaving, Toni.”

Toni was the designated driver on the way back; he considered it quite an honor as his most recent driving duty must still have been fresh on Joey’s mind. With no one after him to pressure him into all sorts of mistakes, he paid extra attention on the road this time.

“I gotta say, I was surprised you didn’t just finish off that lost cause.” Joey said in the first traffic lights they got caught up at. “I didn’t take you for the type who spares nuts who have a knife.”
Toni bridled. “It was no act of kindness. Have you heard of Schiavio, the old Sindacco enforcer?”
Joey shrugged.
“Some store owner in Chinatown once had enough of him and his tormenting. Charged at him with a knife the next time he arrived to collect his cut. Schiavio was having none of it, and made an example out of the poor bastard. It only took cops two days to snag him with all the DNA he left behind, and now he’s rotting upstate, probably high up on the execution list.”
“Good for us, right?”
“All I’m saying is I’d rather not risk that fate because of some damn kid who doesn’t know up from down in this world yet. Doing time for the family ain’t a problem, but it’s gotta be for whacking a real target to be truly meaningful. Some really mean bastard, an existential threat for all of us.”
Joey nodded. “I hear you. Rinaldi would be my personal endorsement – it sounded like those guys knew him pretty well too.”
“I’m disappointed that he’s still alive and in his prime apparently. I wonder if he still holds a grudge.” Toni said thoughtfully.
“Odds are he does, if he remembers the past as well as you. It’s also a fact of life that it’s always the sh*ttiest people who catch all the lucky breaks and continue to prosper for as long as possible.”
Toni thought about Vincenzo, who alone proved Joey’s claim better than anyone.

“Regardless,” Joey stated once they got stuck in yet another set of lights two blocks from the last, “I’m starting to regret not beating up those losers. Good f*cking lord, do they piss me off.”
“Really? They can’t possibly be a threat for us, if you mean that.”
“Of course they can’t. No, I’m talking – this is a bit complex. Thing is, over there you have these five guys, probably growing up somewhere near here. OK, the kid doesn’t count, he can’t have had any Italian in him – but four guys from the St. Marks area. They’re already on the same side of the law as us, but do they join us to increase our manpower? F*ck no, they decide they’re too good for us, start a gang of their own that’s doomed for irrelevance from the get-go, and now it’s indirectly harmful to us because they’re forced to serve Sindacco interests.”
“None of them looked hardcore enough to have any place in our family.” Toni suggested.
“Not when we never had a chance to teach them any tricks.” Joey replied. “Toni, do me a favor – you see any other gangs like them, you set ‘em straight. It may be grass roots level, but I don’t give a f*ck, it’s the best we got. The more of them we got playing into our hands and not the Sindaccos’, the better.”
“I’ll put that behind the ear. Where’s the second target?”
“Sh*t, this went so smoothly I nearly forgot that part. Get some sleep tonight, and by the time you’re back to my place, I’ll have it all tracked down by then.”

Joey gave his shoulder a solid squeeze as a thank you for the support once the car was home free inside his garage. Toni was a bit let down by all this, having expected results sooner, but perhaps it wouldn’t matter too much – one more Sultan the next day, and he’d most likely finish his part of the preparations right on sync with Mickey and Luigi.


Luigi’s part was going smoothly once the initial shock was all dealt with. Moving out of the toilets and cleaning an office area filled with busy architects would’ve been a humbling experience to someone just starting off, but all Luigi could think of between the sweeping and trash can emptying was the wealth that he would have in his fingertips soon enough. It was nothing next to their annual salary, perhaps, but he felt like he was the winner on the long run, not accumulating stress and misery from one hard 40-hour work week after another.

“Hey, new guy.” said the drone whose desk he had just passed. “You forgot this.”

He sent a finished snack bar dropping to the floor with fake shock on his face, the others around him giggling. Luigi couldn’t hide his scowl, but stayed quiet as he picked it up. Smart comebacks were like kryptonite to people who thought themselves big shots, that much he knew.

His work in this room all done, Luigi had time to take a quick rest and peek out the only window. The view was just as depressing as the people, dull identical flats dominating the scenery. It actually made sense that maybe these very workers were the ones behind the design of all those buildings. All the more reason to seek eventual permanent residence from somewhere far away later on.

He took far too long to remember it was him that the main man was calling out for.
“Don’t be all slow now.” the boss said self-righteously when Luigi attended to him. “If you’re done here, go sweep the fourth floor and then you can go home.”
“Uh – yes, sir.” Luigi forced himself to say.
“Also remember that trying to photograph or steal any of the blueprints up there is a federal crime. So... don’t do it.” He sounded like he was going to say something more strict, but fatigue was holding his imagination back.
“It’s OK, I’ve been reminded of it already.” Luigi said, meaning to also say ‘way too often’ – while mopping the corridors, it was as if everyone walking past needed to tell him that.
“There can never be enough of that.” the boss replied uptightly, while Luigi lingered around for a few too many seconds for his tastes. “Well, what are you standing around for? Get back to damn work!”

Luigi had no chance to take a snapshot that day, or even locate the correct papers, as a guard vigilantly kept an eye on the floor the whole time he spent there. Potential for a distraction did cross Luigi’s mind, but for now he was woefully underequipped – no escape routes and nothing to fight people off with if the situation ever turned into a gun battle. The first matter was easy to scratch off the list while the day was still in progress with some subtle research, and although there were two perfectly fine emergency staircases on either side of the building, Luigi found himself fancying a subtle alternate route even more, one that he spotted on accident but fell in love on first sight.


Toni woke up uncharacteristically early the next morning, thinking for a moment that a healthier schedule would improve his abilities out in the field. Instead of him going through the same old routine as always, a gnarly surprise awaited in the living room, where Luigi was frantically practicing his cleaning skills after having spilled what looked like a whole can’s worth of soda on Toni’s cheap, but precious couch. Luigi tried to explain that he was only temporarily back because sleeping was impossible in 8-Ball's house with all the drafts, but Toni was exhaustively unconcerned. The experience served as a grim reminder of why he had so thoroughly sought after an apartment of his own as a youngster, even despite all the fun times he’d had with his roommates at the time.

Not having the energy to fight over the incident, Toni filled himself up with some of Luigi’s plentiful meatballs and a satisfying glass of freezing cold milk, dressed up in some of his more casual, rugged clothing as per Joey’s instructions over the phone, and packed his Glock 17 that he imagined he was going to need. Not even the luckiest man in the world would get to steal from two criminal groups consecutively and not face one bit of armed resistance – and in case another, more competent knife nut popped up, it’d be a shame if something went wrong trying to wrestle such a person.

Luigi understandably received no response when he wished Toni good luck. Even if it strained his schedule badly, he worked extra hard that morning to get the couch back as close to mint condition as possible, feeling confident by the end of it that he’d done well enough to guarantee some level of forgiveness before the heist.

Barely having enough time left to make it to work punctually, Luigi packed the gigantic camera and some snacks in a backpack – something he should’ve thought to use last time. This type of setup both minimized the discomfort of last time and was sure to not attract suspicion, provided no one searched these at the offices.

He rode a rental bike at speed to the nearest Ammu-Nation, grabbing only the best stuff for a secret stealth mission: a can of pepper spray, far more quiet than the quietest silenced guns out there and good at eliminating a nosy witness’ eyesight. He cut out all the chit-chat and was out of the store as soon as the shopping was done, leaving the shop attendant quite a bit offended that he didn’t get to share some boring story he had to tell about a drug-fueled party last weekend.

It was much of the same sh*t as before in the planning department, but multiple times worse. The office drones were beginning to get more acquainted with the new sweeper, and that meant sharing every terrible quip they had at their arsenal to direct to anyone they considered to be below them. Luigi could only suck it up by imagining himself shoving a wet mop into their faces, which would cleanse the area much better than focusing on the already shiny floors a second time. He was disappointed that he hadn’t thought of grabbing earphones for the day as well – nothing would spite the workers more satisfyingly than wearing something that explicitly screamed “I’m not interested in hearing anything you might have to say”.

Moving on to the coveted fourth floor, Luigi did find an abundance of workers this time, and for good measure, another cleaner and the same guard as before, far more attentive than Luigi thought anyone could be working such a boring job. Going even further, every single moment, except when he visited the toilet or cleaning closet, he was in sight of more than one person. Those who didn’t enjoy working in public view needed not apply in this building.

When the clock hit eleven, everyone in the offices was quick to leave their stations at once, almost like they were robots programmed to do just that. If the break was an hour long – at least it was in the video store, where Luigi set his personal record of longest consecutive days in an honest job with four – that was plenty of good time for misdeeds, provided the other two pairs of eyes made themselves scarce too. The other cleaner was most willing, but only once he was done with his corridor (damn workaholic), and the guard – whenever Luigi looked his way, he was in the exact same imposing position as before. Could it have been that he’d turned into stone?

The room with the correct blueprints was well out of the guard’s sight provided he didn’t move around, and the wooden bench inside it was a nice enough spot to sit down and enjoy the chocolate bars that Luigi had brought in as snacks. There wasn’t the same kind of nutritional value as in the full-blown warm meals the others were no doubt enjoying, but being able to eat far away from them and without hassle was nice enough to justify that.

Only being done with his section about ten minutes later, the other cleaner f*cked off at last to the staircase without even coming to bother Luigi. He already knew where the right folder was, now it was only a matter of scrolling through it and finding the correct papers. There were so many different branches of the Bank of Liberty that he would’ve snapped all of them for future reference if not for the film issue. Bedford Point, Trenton, Aaronsville... at last, Chinatown!

It was a big paper, and the only way to get a good view of it was to lay it on the floor. Some of the really small prints may have been too small to be seen properly from a picture, but if Luigi was concerned, that was Mickey’s problem only. The lens cover went off (best to not think what would happen if he forgot) and he got two shots in no problem, the second one zoomed in to capture the extra details.

“Hey, you! Espionage!” In the doorway was the guard, suddenly re-animated with the worst timing ever.
“I don’t think it’s an accident that you came snooping right now.” Luigi snarled.
The guard let out a menacing, nearly angry laugh. “I know only shady pieces of sh*t like you would stay up here, in this miserable dusty air, for the lunch break. How about a little zap? It’s alright, I’ll just let them know you tried resisting arrest in the report...”

Remembering the older mobsters’ lessons on how anything could be used as a weapon given the right conditions, Luigi turned the flash on and used up his final shot on the guard’s face before he could get the taser out. He didn’t expect it to blind him for too long, but there indeed was enough time to retrieve the pepper spray and even shake the can a little before pointing it at the guard, now showing his teeth and rolling up his sleeves, looking like he’d rather beat Luigi into submission with his gargatuan, possibly steroid-powered fists than settle for a less personal restraining device. Luigi took no chances with a man turning animalistic before his eyes, and held the spray button down for several long seconds.

The guard screamed, rubbing his eyes frantically to try and do something about the stingy itch. The label on the can said the effect would last for 10-20 minutes, which Luigi hoped would also apply to gorillas like that as he folded up the paper to his best ability and stuffed the file in what he assumed had been the right spot. The camera went back into the backpack and would be taken care of like a newborn puppy from now on, whereas the spray can was best held in hand until he was safely out of the building.

Luigi exited through the now clear doorway, finding the brutish guard leaning on a bathroom door, still suffering from the gas effects and looking like he was crying, but now also being helped by an office drone who shouldn’t have been there. The worker’s eyes locked with Luigi’s, then became focused on the pepper spray, and that was all the incriminating evidence he needed.

“What the – why – what are you doing?” he stammered, struggling to decide whether to attack or flee.
“There was a misunderstanding.”
“Misunder- why are you leaving the scene with all your equipment? Why did you even have that spray with you? Are you completely hone-“

That nerd was the next to get a face full of uncomfortable vapor. It guaranteed that a police investigation would take place sooner or later, but as long as the plan worked as intended, Luigi would be home free before anyone even got a call in. The next destination was rooftop access, easy to find thanks to the plentiful signage.

He heard a noise that must’ve been an alarm horn just as he ascended to the top. Two repairmen were making themselves busy with the ventilation system up there, having doubtful looks on their faces when they saw Luigi come up in a hurry like that, spray still in hand.

“What’s going on down there?” asked one of them, blocking Luigi’s path. Both were too big and bulky to simply work around with force.
“Err... some employee went nuts. Too much work forced upon him at once, I dunno. I had to gas him and flee up here in case it didn’t calm him down much.”
“But what if we weren’t up here, and he followed you? Not that many escape routes to choose from, I don’t think.” the same repairman said, scratching his shaved head.
“Except the window cleaning platform, right?” the other replied.
“I was thinking of that very thing, actually – you two might wanna lock the doors until the cops detain that nutcase. You won’t need the platform yourselves, right?”
“Do we look like we wipe windows for a living?”
“You’re right, my mistake.”

The platform was right where Luigi counted on it to be, not in any use and ready to get ridden down. An acrophobe would’ve dismissed it as a means of escape before any other, but without fears holding him back, all Luigi had to think about was holding on tight, operating the simple controls and enjoying the steady descent. If something went wrong, he’d at least be on ground level faster and feel no pain afterwards.

Meanwhile, the repairman was just done locking the door (and double-checking that he had a key) when a security officer appeared from behind a corner, baton in hand, scurrying up the stairs and blowing on his whistle so hard his face was going red. The professional fixer had no particular reaction to it, other than staying put as the guard ran into the door, twisting the knob a few times and then relentlessly knocking on it. He looked like he was going to smash the window on the door and squeeze through the hole if he couldn’t pass otherwise.

“OPEN UP!” The fixer really didn’t need to be ordered as he went on to unlock the thing right away, having to nearly jump back right after to not get run over.
“Where’s the suspect? Are you helping him?!” the officer screamed, doing his best army general impression as his face lit up once again.
“What suspect? I thought he was down there?”
“No, one of the victims said he and a guard were gassed by a rogue cleaner possibly taking pictures of some blueprints, who then ran straight up here! AND YOU INCOMPETENT BUFFOONS LET HIM THROUGH AND-“
“Cleaner? Oh sh*t...”

Luigi heard three men shouting for him at once from the rooftop while only a short way down on the platform. Just when he thought nothing would get him more pumped up than such a narrow escape, it got better when he arrived at the level of his boss, whose office was currently in disarray with the lights having gone out and most of the people in panic mode. It must’ve been destiny that caused his and the boss’ eyes to meet while passing the office.

“ALIGHIERI!” Luigi heard him scream through the window. “GET BACK RIGHT NOW!” He cried out something else too, but it all went unheard and was none of Luigi’s concern as he safely reached ground level on his little personal elevator. It was nice of the security to have focused their chase to the rooftop – nobody was down here ready to grab him right away. What was in its correct place was Luigi’s bike, purposefully left as close to the platform’s position as possible... only at the moment there was some crummy thief trying to work his way around its lock.

One more appropriate use of the nasty gas, and Luigi was home free. He heard sirens in the distance once he’d gained a few blocks worth of distance, but whether it was for his incident or something unrelated, it wouldn’t matter now. The clothing would perhaps incriminate him, but the quicker he got to St. Marks, the more certainly no one could catch him. There was no way anyone in that area, let alone Toni’s apartment block, was stupid enough to snitch on him.

Throwing himself onto Toni’s couch one clothes change and a quickie shower later, Luigi was overwhelmed by comfort and triumph before realizing he perhaps had better make a call. Knowing Toni’s style, he wasn’t going to be on any stealthy stake-out, nor would he be one of those types to obsessively take a ringing phone out even mid-combat – oh, how much he loved doing risk assessments and coming to the conclusion that it was safe to move forward with the idea.

“Yo, Toni. The omelette has just been made, even if I had to crack some eggs. How long until you’re back, any rough estimates? I’d hate to celebrate today’s victorious effort alone.”
Silence on the other end. Luigi was starting to wonder if the call connected properly, but then he heard a cough followed by a completely strange voice speaking up.
“Interesting, Luigi. What sort of victory might you be referring to here?”

The speaker sounded like he was attempting to imitate Toni, but the difference was glaring to someone who knew his true voice well enough. Luigi’s feeling of pride turned into dread like a switch had been flicked, and he was sure the voice on the other end was aware.

To Be Continued.

Edited by Carbonox

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I blame the forum update for its demoralizing factor and whatnot.


LC4: Fresh Talent

The alleys of Newport were vast and deceiving. To the locals, it was just basic knowledge that all kinds of illegal sh*t went down anywhere that wasn’t within view of the pretty, high-class business fronts, while it was often the outsiders who would mistakenly think it was safe to take a short cut and pay for that decision with the full contents of their wallet – or worse.

One such alley was Toni and Joey’s destination today, the latter finding his way to the right place like he’d been there before. They pretended to hang out just by the entrance, in plain sight of the public but every now and then peeking at the spoils. The Sultan was jet black, tough to see against the shadowy background, and surrounded by at least four unfriendly-looking men. The alleyways as a whole formed a T-shape, which meant a bit too many escape routes for them – assuming they were the type to make escapes.

“F*ck me, it’s worse than I thought. You think there’s any way to get to it without making a scene?” Joey asked nervously.
“Not causing a scene, are you serious? They’d need to be dead or far away to not notice their prized wheels changing hands on time.”
“Distraction sounds good. It’s just – it’s making me a little nervous. Those Russians really pack a punch when they get mad.”
“Joey Leone, scared of some street punks? Russians, Jamaicans, Chinese – good old-fashioned bullets work on all of them just the same.”
“You think these are just average street punks, don’t you? Toni, do me a favor and tell me what you know about the implications of the Berlin Wall and SU coming down.”
Toni scratched his head. “Movement’s become more free than ever for sure.”
“Yes, and that’s how you get a Russian boom that I’ve been worrying about for a bit now, alone in my office, anytime I’m too tired to work or jack off. Any crews with enough resources have been moving business to the States lately, and I’ve heard brutal stories about what’s happened to their competitors so far. They’ve dealt with so much harsher conditions in their homeland that Liberty City’s nothing next to it.”
“OK, well, if they’re too tough for you, stand back and I’ll show-”
“No, you won’t! And for the love of all things holy, quit wording it like that. They’re just unexpectedly tough, and only for now. Anyway, back to the distraction – maybe you could head to the other entrance, the left side’s good, and taunt those bastards into action. Once they’re busy targeting you, I can sneak up on them right here. It’ll be like taking candy from a baby.”
“As long as you do your part properly, I don’t see why not.”
“Why wouldn’t I? Out of intimidation? I’ll f*cking show you...”

Toni bypassed some more peaceful storefronts on his way, all of their owners blissfully unaware of what went on behind their backs right now, or the public disturbance that was just about to take place. Either that, or they just kept their eyes willingly closed hoping to avoid being branded as snitches – who knew. He thought it was nice of Joey to trust he would do most of the point shooting on this gig without too much trouble, because he hadn’t used a gun on live targets awfully often lately – that construction site shootout that ended up on JD O’Toole’s tape was really the only such instance as of late. A true mobster would never forget the know-how, though, and it wasn’t in Toni’s best interests to dishearten Joey by hinting he wouldn’t be in full form. The best way to get his skills back on track was more field work, anyway.

Toni was about to think up something really offensive to rustle the Russians’ jimmies while not making it too obvious it was bait all along, when he was forced to dodge something big, fast and very loud making a powerslide turn onto the very alley he was targeting, xenon headlights blinding Toni and lighting up the whole area like it was midday.

The black and grey Rancher, modified with a powerful-sounding engine, something that looked like kneecappers on all the tires and a variety of other things slid to a stop right in front of the Sultan, blocking one of its potential paths, the driver smoothly jumping out before the SUV had even stopped yet. At first, it was easy for Toni to assume some mediocre drug dealer was overcompensating for something and trying to make a quick buck on the Russians’ expense, but with him now finally in plain sight and illuminated by said headlights, Toni started to understand that something entirely different was up. The furious skull mask could be seen as typical belongings of a robber, but his equipment belt, filled to the brim with strange objects and dominated by six shooters on both sides, told a different story. Either this guy had read too many comic books and was walking to his death playing a vigilante... or he was dead serious about the line of work.

Убирайтесь отсюда, это частная собственность!” exclaimed one of the Russians, a tall and wide one in the same package with more facial hair than Santa. Toni crouched behind one of the dumpsters, even if it hurt his aging legs, and hoped Joey wouldn’t jump out of line while this nut was around.
“So, what do we have here? I assume the peaceful and vibrant Russian community of this town is having one of their pow-wows about what charities to donate for this year?” the intruder asked mockingly.

Это шутка?” questioned the gang member at the far back, concealed in the shadows.
”Нет, Станислав предупредил нас об этом.” His friend next to him sounded worried.

“There’s no way you four would know anything about a security truck loaded with Betta Pharmaceuticals’ money that was hijacked two nights ago? I think there are some patients out there who aren’t too pleased that the company they rely on is facing such a torrent of abuse lately.”
“What you talk about?” One Russian in a camo tank top stepped up, struggling with the language but at least trying to his best ability, which was more than his friends could say. As he looked the strongest and meanest, it was natural for Toni to assume that this was the leader of the little posse.
“You four match the witnesses’ description awfully well. That guy behind you hasn’t even changed out of that blue cap yet.”
“Go away, joker. I know nothing.” the Russian said, now gritting his teeth.
“If you’re innocent, I take it you’ll be fine with me searching your car?” the vigilante said, moving in closer. A bad move if one were to ask Toni.
“I said go away!”

A sudden intense bang shut the Russians up. Before they even knew what happened, “Santa” was thrown right off his feet like a reindeer hitting a big rock at running speed, the impact most certainly knocking the wind out of him. Strangely enough, while the gun the masked “joker” just fired looked like a standard six shooter, no blood had been drawn and the sound distinctly differed from the usual one, coming across as more of a “soft” blast than a hard noise of a lethal bullet. Talk about differences that only a mobster would notice...

“Anatoly!” shouted the Russian with the cap. “
Что ты сделал?
“I still don’t understand what you’re saying, except I assume that was a question.” said the vigilante, now almost bored, spinning the gun around his finger. “That was a heavy duty riot suppressor round, nothing more, nothing less. Your friend will wake up just fine next morning, though he might be feeling the aftereffects of an angry gorilla’s punch.” The spinning went on as he spoke, keeping the other Russians on edge. “If you aren’t gonna be good boys and do as I say, I can introduce that feeling to the rest of you as well.”

“What you think you are?” asked the tank top guy, towering over the masked man. “You come to our home, accuse us, then shoot us? Even police know limits better. So – do as they do, and get warrant!” He fearlessly stood right at the man’s face while shouting the last word.
The vigilante calmly stepped back. “It isn’t my concern what lawbreakers like yourselves think of me. Justice eludes your kind far too often in this city precisely because of what you just said. Cops have too many limitations these days. It’s so easy for your kind to abuse the system, it’s only right that someone operates outside of it, if it means you get your just desserts.”
“My kind? You hate Russians, what?
Ты слышал это? Он думает, что мы под ним.

Whatever Tank Top had said was really agitating the others – if Toni knew something about self-appointed kings of the streets, it was that when they made those aggressive noises, they weren’t about to back down, and the conflict would only end with the other side escaping the scene, or one of the parties laying in a pool of blood.

Toni needed to move. The dumpster didn’t cover him fully, and he wouldn’t try his luck sitting there if a gunfight broke out. The still illuminated headlights on the Rancher would mess with the Russians’ vision down the alleyway, allowing Toni to slip out onto the street undetected, wait for them to wipe each other out, and clean up afterwards--

“Stop right there, Yankee.”
Hearing someone who wasn’t supposed to be able to sneak up on him issue a command with a hoarse Russian accent wasn’t good for an ordinary man’s nerves, but that was where Toni differed from an ordinary man. For as long as there was no cold steel pressing against his flesh, there was time to bring out the death machine of his own and let it do its thing.

Toni’s shot landed cleanly in the throat area of the fifth Russian, whose lights must’ve gone out before he had even processed that his target was resisting. Unfortunately, disposing of one sudden threat opened a bigger can of worms, as Toni had just telegraphed his presence to everyone involved.

“Who goes there?” the vigilante shouted, reluctant to turn around however.
“Do-gooder brought sidekick!” Tank Top said at the same time, ignorant of his enemy’s equal surprise. Skull Mask wouldn’t take any chances with the agitated group – whipping out his second gun, he let loose two more shots to knock down both of the other goons on each side, cleanly and bloodlessly as ever.
“Halt! Whoever fired the gun, get your ass over here!” Skull Mask kept one of the riot suppressors pointed at the last Russian and the other in Toni’s direction. If Toni hadn’t had an idea right there, he may have risked making a run around the corner – instead he kept his cool, walking into vision with his hands where the vigilante could very well see them.
“Just a civilian here, exercising his constitutional rights just a moment ago.” Toni replied, unloading the gun just in case it helped convince the overzealous vigilante.
“Stranger! What you did to Igor?” the last Russian standing questioned, voice cracking.
“Like I just said – defended myself against a threat. I suppose Mr. Skull Mask understands the meaning of it perfectly well?”
The vigilante groaned. “Yes, I – suppose it was the right thing to do. Why would an armed civilian put themselves in this situation, though?”
“Just one of those wrong place, wrong time moments.” Toni added a fake chuckle. “I suppose I’ll move on, let more appropriate people clean up the mess.”
“Liar! You kill Igor, you try steal our own property, I know you try! Nobody f*cks with us anymore!”

Tank Top was a bit too brave for his own good, trying to pull out his gun even while outnumbered and aware of the rest of the group’s fate. Sure enough, he didn’t even manage to get a proper grip before it was his turn to collapse after a bang – only this time he acquired a very large, gaping, bloody wound on the side of his head.

“Someone call for reinforcements?” There came Joey from the side alley, completely blindsiding the Russian, gun still smoking. Somehow Toni had managed to forget his whole existence while everything else went on.
“Hey, Joey! Proper timing you got there for once.” Toni gave him a thumb up.
“Wait a second – timing? Reinforcements?” The tone in Skull Mask’s voice indicated trouble was still brewing, well before he raised his guns to point them at the mobsters. “Wrong place, wrong time my ass! You two wouldn’t happen to be from one of those rival Italian gangs all along? I’ve just about had enough of these turf wars to last me a lifetime!”

Joey was having a laugh for some reason, not a typical reaction for someone who would, at the push of a trigger, be about to receive a full length beating’s worth of pain and wake up in a cell.
“Fancy seeing you as well, Arbiter – that’s what they call you, ain’t it? This is what you do for a living? Run around in a tricked out car solving back alley disputes? It ain’t the most charming use of my money, I can tell you that.”
“Joey Leone.” the vigilante said, his voice suggesting he was smiling as well underneath that mask. “I was about to ask you if this kinda activity was exactly up your alley, pun not intended. Don’t you have that exact stuff – tricking out, as you say – to do to others?”
“News flash, people ain’t bound to their daytime jobs. Now give up that damn money you owe me, unless you wanna leave this place in our trunk.”
It was the vigilante’s turn to laugh. “Have fun explaining to the court that what you just said ain’t extortion, you asswipe.”
“Our style don’t involve settling disputes in a courthouse. You oughta know better than that.” Joey said.
“Even more incriminating evidence, I love it! Ever wondered why I borrowed from you of all people, and not some official, honest source? It’s not like I needed your cash to fund any of my activities – that’s been taken care of long ago – it’s because I knew you would call these mobster friends of yours to beat the money out of my barely alive hands, rather than pursue legal means. Honest garage business my ass! The police might have their hands tied when it comes to taking you down – all those sh*tty entrapment laws and whatnot – but I’ve done it. Consider yourself and your allies busted. Finished. No more terrorizing debtors, no more chop shop rings, no more – uhh, well, there’s a lot on the laundry list of all these crime families out there, and yours ain’t no exception!”

Joey made his yawn as pronounced as possible. “What a monologue! Toni, I’m sure I can’t be the only one about to fall asleep here, right?”
“Have a laugh while you can, but you’ve only got two choices as it is. Either you willingly get in my car and ride together to the nearest police station, or you get in while unconscious.”
“Wouldn’t that constitute kidnapping? How are you gonna explain that, prick?” Joey barked.
“Yeah, Ma always told me not to get in cars with strangers.” Toni added.
“You’re delusional if you think cops would arrest me for bringing in a bunch of degenerates. I’m not entirely unconnected, you see – the Forellis and Sindaccos haven’t been able to stop me from bringing peace to these streets, and neither will Salvatore Leone.” Skull Mask (or “Arbiter” as Joey referred to him as) spoke confidently, but Toni had no reason to believe a single word. It was always, always connections that people tried to flaunt about when argued into a corner.

Whether Skull Mask was convincing with words didn’t matter though, when both mobsters still were at (non-lethal) gunpoint, with Toni’s own gun still unloaded. There was a slight chance that they’d evade trouble anyway if brought for questioning – it was the vigilante’s word against theirs really – but attention among lawmen wasn’t what Toni needed with a heist in his near future, and it wouldn’t be above a deranged crime fighter like this to forge some evidence if it meant putting him and Joey away for an extended time. The situation called for desperate measures, and with no room for stealthy communication with Joey, Toni had to do this solo and hope for the best.

“Sammy, now!” he shouted to the empty alley behind Arbiter’s back. Joey was perhaps even more stunned by the yell than the vigilante, but all that mattered was that he turned both his guns in that direction and fired in panic mode. Toni charged him exactly then, sending Arbiter toppling over a dumpster, which seemed like a recipe for success at first, but sadly allowed him to more or less stay on his feet and fight back against the surprise attack. Arbiter took a half-hearted swing at Toni while trying to find balance, but it was easily dodged, and Toni instinctively headbutted him with superior results.

“Using your head in multiple ways. I like it.” Joey said.
“A bit of backup would’ve been nice to have when he started squirming.” Toni replied with annoyance, shoving the now dazed vigilante to the ground and holding him down with a foot. His guns were scattered around nearby, thankfully not going off like falling weapons usually seemed to do in movies.
“My hands get dirty so often, I’d rather keep ‘em clean just this once.” a smirking Joey proclaimed. “Anyway, now what?”
“Get rid of this clown and get the hell outta here?”
“And make sure I’ll never see my money again? No, I got me a suggestion right now.” Joey walked up to the downed man and lightly kicked him on the shoulder.
“Oh, great plan.” Toni huffed.
“Will you shut it? Hey, tough guy, you still with us?” Joey called out.
Incoherent mumbling. It wasn’t much, but proved he was still breathing.
“Good enough for now. Hold still a second.” Joey unexpectedly reached out for Toni’s pockets.
“What now, you imbecile?” Toni hissed, slapping the hand away.
“Your phone, we need it. Get it out already.”
“You’ve got your own...”
“Battery ran out. Just get it out.”
“You’re really gonna get acquainted with what your brains look like if your hand gets near my nether regions again.” said Toni, only following the order out of curiosity for what might happen next.
“Alright, here’s the deal. Tell us where you’ve got all your money stashed up, freak, and we’ll let you go on with the valiant crime-fighting, forgive and forget an’ all that sh*t. Refuse, and Toni here’s gonna arrange for the five-o to pick you up. I doubt they like competition too much.”

More mumbling. Toni looked down at the guy’s face, only now getting the idea he should’ve had long ago.
“Why not rip the mask off him? Nothing scares these types like getting exposed.”
Joey scratched his chin. “He might be too insane to be reasoned with if we try that. Hey, come to think of it, why not call up the fine folks of the mental asylum? What if this bastard’s got contacts in the force that let him have his way with impunity?”
“The white coats ain’t got a hard-ass reputation for nothing. Might as well give it a go.” Toni said with an evil laugh, now more relieved about the affair.

Dialing the number (Toni had memorized it just in case Ma ever went beyond the usual abuse and needed wheeling off before calling a hit on him, or worse), Toni was looking just far enough down to see the kind of movement that really didn’t need to be happening. Joey had started to go on about how he remembered Arbiter already driving that Rancher when they first met, only without modifications, and was completely ignorant to the “stunned” vigilante’s hand shuffling along the ground, much more intentionally than it should have, towards one of the fallen guns...

“Look out!” Toni tried to stomp on Arbiter’s arm, but the man sped up his movement as soon as the warning escaped Toni’s mouth, and proved he still had some fight in him by rolling over so fast Toni stumbled right off him and crash-landed on some neatly placed garbage cans, striking his chin and knees against hard surfaces for good measure.

That familiar non-lethal bang promptly went off behind him, but was thankfully followed by a scream that made it loud and clear Joey was still kicking, just not maybe in the best of shapes.

“My damn hand! Are you kidding me?!” Joey yelled. Toni forced his head to turn far enough to see that the gun was missing, and Joey’s gun hand was in obvious pain.
“Perhaps that’ll teach you to f*ck with a legitimate upholder of the law.” Arbiter got up from his precarious position with a grunt. “Now let’s try that surrendering thing again, and we can-“
“F*ck with this, asshole!” Toni made sure to only shout after he’d smashed a trash can lid at Arbiter’s face. He was aching all around, but there were better times later to rest and cry about it.
“We need to move!” Joey said while Toni continued to keep Arbiter at bay with a right hook.
“Get to the car, I’ll be right behind you!”
“He shot my damn gun off... just how...”

Joey ran like a rabbit, holding his slightly injured hand and using an elbow to break the Russian Sultan’s driver’s side window, while Toni shoved Arbiter even further back with more ease than he thought there should be. Having knocked him over some more trash cans by the parked Rancher, Toni made a run for the Sultan, checking out the ground briefly for Joey’s gun and maybe the other one of those riot suppressors, but it was too dark between the closely packed buildings to make out any details anywhere that wasn’t brightly lit up.

Toni almost expected Joey to at least be in normal enough condition to drive, but by the time he’d sprinted to the car, Joey had awkwardly shuffled his way to the passenger side and was in the process of finding a way to straighten up. Toni’s driving wasn't much more refined either, as he scraped the walls on the narrow alley numerous times before almost causing a pile-up of a dozen cars pulling into the busy street. For a four wheel drive car, the back felt awfully heavy, causing major oversteer in every turn – Toni’s number one nightmare in driving duties.

“Ah!” Joey got himself into a more comfortable position at last once they reached a long straight stretch. “Nothing like the feeling of a gear shift up your ass, I’m telling you.”
Toni’s hand, which rested on the stick in question at the very moment, suddenly started feeling very dirty.
“Keep your kinks to yourself, idiot, and tell me where to go.”
“Don’t you worry about directions.” Joey said, buckling his seatbelt. “And don’t you worry about that big-ass SUV that just found its way into our rear view mirror either. With my instructions, you’ll easily shake him even if driving under pressure ain’t been your forte lately.”

Leaving the vigilante alive was coming across as a worse idea by the minute as the blue headlights burned brightly in the rearview mirror, reminding Toni of their existence and approaching doom almost every moment. Heading into the direction of Belleville Park, an area he was decently familiar with, Toni cut through a gap in the stone wall surrounding the park to avoid the traffic jam up ahead, forcing pedestrians to flee away from the footpaths. The decision seemed great at first, but quickly the park grounds kept getting rockier and bumpier. The Sultan’s sturdy suspension handled the bad surface well enough, but what about when there were no choices up ahead but a ramp-shaped hill and a pond?

Toni went for the hang time expecting it to keep their momentum up, instead finding that there was a tree waiting right near the landing zone. Joey started screaming and Toni yanked the wheel so hard he thought it would come off any second... the car just about scraped the tree, getting nearly knocked over from the thick root on its side, and hit another ramp now completely out of control, flying over the local toilet blocks and finally coming to rest against the base of some war general’s statue, which stabilized the wheels once more.

A few seconds of relieved, stunned silence – then the rear bumper fell off with a clang.

“Uhh... as I said, with my instructions we’ll make an easy escape, right after the mandatory mistakes are gotten out of the way.” Joey said, now sitting in a way that looked like his underwear might’ve received some added stuffing.
“You can eventually fix this into working condition, right?” Toni asked, beginning to slowly crawl forward. The engine noise didn’t sound fully normal, but was good enough for now – and those xenon headlights weren’t anywhere to be seen.
“I can go to the scrapyard, grab a pile of debris, and convert it to a fully functional car that’s more pleasant to drive than a brand new Kuruma.” Joey replied with a bit of a shivering voice. “This one, I’m not all that sure.”
Toni got the car out of the park, casually merging into the passing traffic while every passing pedestrian’s eyes appeared to be fixated on the Sultan.
“Brilliant, why don’t you come back to me with a new answer once you’ve re-evaluated it in the garage? Now where’s that damn Callahan Bridge again...”
“Not too far, just take a left when we reach the end of this road. Did we lose him already?” Joey asked, examining each direction for the Rancher that would certainly stick out.
“Yeah, we lost him by wrecking midway through a shortcut.” Toni said angrily.
“Wouldn’t be the first unusual escape in my life. We better hope he won’t pick up that debris trail that seems to be coming from us, though...”
“Maybe I could call the cops now to let them know a crazy road rager’s on the loose, trying to run us off. If only someone had allowed me to finish the job with him...”
“Gotta keep my business afloat somehow! What happens when a nameless vigilante dies? He stays nameless, and all the money gets split between twenty relatives popping out the woodwork to get their fair share! Good luck extorting that...” Joey said in a huff.
“Wait a minute, where the f*ck’d I put it?”
“I mean, I don’t literally mean I’ll go under if he doesn’t pay, but you know, my interest rates are top notch, and it would make my life significantly easier if more people were being good debtors and paid the full sum back, rather than leave a mark in my account book like the leeches they a-“
“My damn phone’s not here, Joey!”

Toni almost rear-ended a cab in the next traffic lights, screeching to a halt. Showing Joey how there was nothing but air in either of his pockets, he was starting to get flashbacks of his bag or cap going missing in elementary school and having very few means to deal with it.

“It’s – gone? Wait, you just had it on hand back there, right?” Joey said.
“Yes, wiseguy, I did. Now, I don’t.”
“I hate to bear bad news, but that skirmish may have sealed its fate, amigo. It was hard for me to keep things in hand as well...”
“Oh my f*cking god, and now it’s right there, up for grabs for more Russians. Or seized by that wacko already.” A lot of honking behind Toni really set him off, prompting him to smash the accelerator just before the green light turned back red, leaving the impatient drivers trapped once more.
“Hey, no problem. Good thing about phones is they keep getting smaller and more expensive, ergo, easier and more productive to steal. I can have a rookie nick you a new one from the store by the end of the week, and your social network’s back, good as new.”
“Perhaps there is a problem involving my information on the old phone getting in the wrong f*cking hands.” Toni growled.
“That’s... out of my control, yeah, sorry. Perhaps a really nice detective will investigate the crime scene though and return it without fanfare or thorough searching?”
“Spare me the extreme optimism that even you don’t believe in, Joey.”

The overwhelming likelihood of Toni exploding with anger kept Joey quiet for the rest of the drive. Toni thought he saw the distinguished headlights prowling the street below them as they started crossing the bridge, but no trouble was ultimately brought upon them on the way to the safety provided by Joey’s business. The car kept showing signs of breaking apart throughout the journey, but the engine was nice enough not to shut down completely while on the road.


With Joey’s blessing, Toni had just grabbed himself an Orang-O-Tang from his personal soda machine (hidden away due to too many people coming in only to get a quick drink while having no need for a vehicle service of any kind), when he was called back to the main hall. Joey had the beat up Sultan’s trunk open, and the look on his face told more than a thousand words – he’d seen something he liked.

“I guess the car’s not a completely lost cause, huh?” Toni said.
Joey looked around briefly, as if making sure no additional pairs of ears or eyes were present. “I don’t know about its condition yet, I just wanted to show you something unexpected. In case you thought this was just a snipe hunt that produced more pain than gain, come back to me once you’ve feasted your eyes on this!”

Toni was surprised Joey would keep that stuff in sight when any customer could just walk in and spoil the little party any moment. Coke, coke and more coke – the trunk was stuffed to the brim with unmistakeable packages. Some had scattered, and the bottom ones may or may not have got ripped up in that whole park mayhem, but all in all there was a lot to be made selling this, assuming no one had been watching the car...

“Joey, I’m glad you’re expanding your interests once again, but you gotta get that sh*t away from my escape vehicle, pronto.” Toni said seriously, all sorts of unpleasant scenarios filling his mind.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m thinking... huh, you know that feeling when I really have no clue where to keep this, outside of moving it into another car?”
“Not really my problem unless I’m getting a cut of the action.”
“Geez, don’t make such harsh declarations when you’re pissed! What about a respray as well? I know what you’re thinking and yes, I believe cops are aware that this load exists. I might need to work fast, you can never know if someone spotted us... so damn easy for anyone to blend into the crowd in these parts...”
“Yes, I need a respray, and all f*cking procedures that a basic Pay ‘n Spray offers. Don’t screw this one up, pal, and we’ll both walk away richer than ever.”

Toni tapped Joey’s shoulder – it was all the encouragement he could bring himself to offer, still angry with the recent cavalier attitudes – and headed for the front door. Gathering the drugs into a neat pile, Joey heard him open and then pause at the doorway.

“Yup, the owner’s right there, he shouldn’t be too busy.” Toni spoke out.
Joey nearly fell over staggering as he slammed the trunk down at lightning speed, cursing himself for looking like a clown in a potential customer’s eyes – then coming to realize Toni had already closed the door, and there was nobody coming in.
“Not funny at all, Antonio!” Joey shrieked at the door.


All of the driving followed by sitting in a train had made Toni’s ass sore enough that he couldn’t bother to look for the right key to his apartment. Luigi had better be around to let him in so he could throw himself onto the couch and have some comfort for a change – an underrated commodity for even the worst of people.

“Who’s there?” Luigi was fast to respond to the knock.
“Commissioner Savage, who else? Just get the damn thing open.”
“Oh sh*t! I mean... you got a warrant? Law’s clear on the matter, you won’t just barge your way in like you own the place!”
“You took that seriously?” Toni sighed. “I am Toni Cipriani, lawful owner – at least for now – of that little household. Open up or you’ll find yourself kicked out of my couch.”
“How can you prove you’re Toni?” Luigi was quick to counter. “I’m not an idiot, you know!”
“I’m not calling you one, but I might do that and a lot worse soon, if you continue to lock me out of my apartment.”
“How about a safety question? What was the name of the little kid who was here the other day to try and lay claim to this place?”
“That kid – Lo-uhh-Loris? You could’ve picked a more pleasant memory to go with.” Toni said grumpily, watching the door swing open before he was even finished to reveal a paler-than-ever Luigi Goterelli.
“Mi scuso, Toni, but there’s been a new development. A really f*cked up one, if I might add...”
“Get a beer and don’t even respond to anyone else that comes knocking. Then, elaborate.” Toni said, stomping past Luigi to take his position on the couch. He’d already forgotten that there was that massive stain on it that hadn’t fully dried yet, but next to everything else going on, that problem had become irrelevant.

And elaborate Luigi did. He’d completed his task hours ago and had just planned to celebrate success together, expecting Toni on his doorstep any second, but trying to reach him via phone he instead encountered some kind of creepy impersonator, who must’ve sensed Luigi was up to no good and was trying his hardest to coerce a confession out of him. Even after Luigi let him know with some harsh words that he wasn’t the intended recipient of the call and that he’d be sorry for stealing a phone like that, the person remained defiant all the way until Luigi hung up on him.

“But you didn’t make any references to the family, right?” Toni asked.
“Never! Don’t infer that my lips are loose ever again, ‘cause that’s blatantly false and a little bit offensive too.”
“What about this caller... did he reveal his true voice, and what was it like?”
“How does one describe a basic voice? Uhh, it was bombastic, I guess? Sorta like the sound of someone who fancies themselves a big shot.”
By coincidence, Toni had a flashback to Arbiter’s monologue. “That’s him all right...”
“Him? Oh sh*t, I didn’t even realize you must’ve seen him yourself. I don’t think anyone can just sneak up on you and snag one of your most important possessions like that?”
“No, they can’t. It was just some criminally insane vigilante who got between us and some Russians.” Toni sat up to now give Luigi a description of his day’s work, perhaps exaggerating his competence but staying true enough to the events that Arbiter himself could confirm the story, if for some reason necessary.

“Heh, you sure showed him. Everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the face.” Luigi said, relaxed enough to have a laugh about it now.
“Headbutted.” Toni corrected. “In any case, until I have a new one, better make sure you ignore all contacting attempts from my number. And try to spread that word quickly, but y’know... subtly.”
“Tell me about it! Mickey said there was a stranger on your end as well.”
“Mickey tried to contact me? What for?”
“He said he had the heist crew all set up and we should all meet at 8-Ball’s tomorrow...”
Toni jumped up to spook Luigi. “What the f*ck? You mean he told all that to-“
“Come on, man, have some trust in old Mickey. No delicate details traveled across the lines before he sensed trouble, and that’s a promise.”
“That vigilante still knows a lot of names by this point.” Toni grunted. “If he ever brings us trouble on this side of the river, that’s gonna be on Joey.”
“We still carrying on with the meet-up like normal? No changes to the schedule?”
“No changes. Bring some of that pepper spray with you, though. If it got you out of the offices alive, it’ll come in handy if a wannabe law enforcement vehicle comes knocking.”


8-Ball’s house was a lot more tidy than last time, as if Mickey had put Fattie through slave labor to get it all sorted out. If not for the industrial smell and the irreparable ugliness of the surrounding area, it almost would’ve looked like a better alternative to Toni’s currently contested apartment.

Meeting his provisional crew for the first time was something he hadn’t had time to invest much thought in. Toni didn’t stress the moment much, knowing it was them who were under pressure to work on a good first impression. Mickey had better not have promised them anything yet, though – the last time Toni had turned down a crew member late into the planning, he nearly got in a truckload of trouble through the recruit’s spiteful actions.

Mickey greeted Toni and Luigi alongside three people, none of them ringing any bells at first glance. Sitting on a crate was a man with a face that looked like it had been bashed against a wall a lot to look like a pug or bulldog, arms crossed like he had got bored of waiting long ago. The couch was populated by polar opposites appearance-wise: both of them young guys, but one of them pale, skinny, hair all messed up and a scared expression on his face, while the one next to him looked more refined, well-built, kind of playful, constantly sporting a slight smile that may have had to do with the device on his lap that he twiddled with.

“The wait is over, gentlemen. This is your boss, Toni Cip-“ Mickey presented.
“I can do the introduction just fine, thank you.” Toni snarled, tired of him trying to act like a centerpiece of attention at all times. “I am Toni Cipriani from the Leone family, and tagging along with me is Luigi Goterelli.”

All the men muttered something barely audible that probably was a greeting. Toni just knew he was off to a great start when they behaved like shy school children in a convention where they wished none of the adults would address them.

“Is that all?” Luigi asked before Toni thought of anything to say. “You’re facing the men who are looking to see if you’ve got any marketable skills, and you’d rather sit around and fiddle your thumbs? If you don’t want to make money after all, then kindly f*ck off, but otherwise I’d expect more activity than this.”
“Yeah, and activity doesn’t mean playing with science projects when we’re talking.” Toni added to the upbeat man, who fortunately got the message and placed the device aside, the skinny kid next to him flashing an unpleasant glare his way as he did.

“Introductions are two-way, so now it’s your turn to tell me about yourselves. I think I’ll start with you.” Toni said to the pale one, who nearly jumped from his seat in shock, like he’d expected someone else to go first. “Who are you, where are you from, what are you good at?”
The guy stood up, shaking so much Toni could see it from a few feet away. “Uh, h-h-h-h-hi. N-n-n-ni-nice to meet you all. The n-na-name is D-D-D-Da-Daryl Evans.”
“Jesus Christ...” Luigi whispered. Toni didn’t let the early impression falter him.
“You can go on.” Toni said when Daryl (assuming he heard right) quieted down, as if afraid to say anything else without being told first.
“I-I-I-I’ve made many s-s-su-successful r-r-robberies over the y-y-y-years.” Toni and Luigi were astonished to hear that, just not in a necessarily positive sense. “And t-t-th-there’s no gun I c-c-can’t handle in a t-t-ti-tight spot.”
“Be more specific. What have you robbed and how’d you get away with it?” Luigi asked politely.
“N-n-n-no way! W-w-what if this is a – a s-s-s-st-sting?” Daryl shouted, eyes wide open like plates.
“I appreciate the skepticism, but we don’t really look like cops, do we?” asked Toni, putting on his most brutal face – ironically with a purpose of creating a sense of relief for this one occasion.
“T-t-t-there was this T-T-Triad s-s-st-stash in a Trenton w-w-w-warehouse. A f-f-friend and I c-c-cleaned it all up without d-drama... our c-c-clients were e-e-ec-ecstatic.”
“I think that’s the same break-in Vinnie lost his mind about once.” Luigi said quietly. “He thought it was some unauthorized move on our part, really wanted to find a culprit for that...”
“If I was in town at the time, it would’ve been me, I’m sure.” Toni sounded dejected before addressing Daryl once more. “You’re being far more confident than you look or sound, which is nice, I suppose.” The prospect blushed and sank into the couch. “But from the way you described your – alleged success story, you had no conflict to overcome on the way. How will you handle pacifying a crowd, or even getting into a fight with guards?”
“T-t-they won’t be any match for m-m-me. I-I’ve had p-plenty of g-g-g-gun training.”
“Gun training.” Toni repeated with a thoughtful voice.
“P-p-please consider me. I-I-I won’t ask for m-m-mu-much, just four pe-pe-per cent.”
“That is generous. I’ll make a final decision later, but for now, let’s give the others a chance to get heard. Guy with the device, what’s your story?”

“Oh!” He jumped right up, no doubt looking forward to doing some talking. “R-r-r-real nice to me-me-me-meet you, T-T-To-Toni...”
“Get the f*ck outta here...” Toni replied in disgust, turning away from his extended hand. One stuttering tool was bad enough, but two?!
“Oh, hey, relax, I can do just fine with a normal voice too. Name’s Lyles, Robert Lyles from Pike Creek.” the man said, ignoring Daryl who once again glared his way.
“Pike Creek? I thought you’d hailed from some sh*tty comedy club.” Toni grunted.
Lyles smirked, apparently taking that as a compliment. “That’s just a side job. Mostly, I work with explosives though.”
“Mm-hmm. Getting more interesting...”
“I even brought you a little sample of my work. A devastating Claymore mine I built from scratch.” Lyles added, pointing at the device. Daryl winced, making as much distance from it as possible.
“Lyles, I need something that can blow up a wall, not some poor asshole’s legs.” Toni said.
“That can be arranged too!” Lyles replied, picking the mine back up. “I’ve got plenty more where that came from, I just brought it here because I’m actually pretty proud of how much personal touch I managed to put behind it. See for yourself!”

Without proper warning, he sent the mine flying at Toni. Struggling to get any sort of good grip on the thing, he uncontrollably fidgeted it around, nearly dropping it twice before making a last-moment throw to Luigi instead. As unexpected as the moment was, he fared a bit better in the game of hot potato, not taking long before he was able to clutch the mine tightly in his arms.

“That better not have been an assassination attempt!” Toni exclaimed, his voice shaking.
“I wouldn’t be dumb enough to try and blow people up with my creations while standing inside the same house.” Lyles replied casually.
“What about the very concept of massacring a group of mobsters – is that nowhere on your list of concerns?”
“It would’ve been very uncalled for, that’s for certain. Look, I’m sorry if I spooked you with my little miscommunication.” Lyles said, but didn’t really sound like it. “The thing is, safety is always on my mind when designing these things – I wouldn’t want to think about the implications of friendlies getting caught in a blast. That device we’ve got here, you could chuck it into a wall with all you’ve got, or even step on it, and you’ll be perfectly fine. Only after you flick all the important switches attached to it in the right order, followed by this handy remote switch over here, will it become armed.”
“Perhaps I should take care of that.” Toni grabbed the diminutive device for himself as soon as Lyles got it out of his pocket, meeting no resistance.
“As if I wasn’t in enough peril already.” Luigi said with amusement.
Act professional!” Toni hissed, but accidentally loud enough that everyone else could hear.
“Uhh – so how much do you exactly charge for your services?” he followed up to avoid awkward questions.
“I’m no slouch, I can assure you of that.” Lyles said. “But I guess it would be rude of me to come demanding big cuts right off the bat, on my debut appearance alongside your – clique.”
Mickey smirked. “Lyles and I had a more or less peaceful negotiation about prices already when we first met face to face.” he said to Toni quietly.
“Logically, if Daryl Evans asks for four, I’d have to gun for forty-four or something – but taking the situation as a whole into account, I’m alright with six.”
“Why do you sound so much like you’re gonna hike the price up to ten next time?” asked Toni, while Daryl once again glared at Lyles like he was a serial rapist.
“Nothing’s set in stone yet.” Lyles said, shrugging. “It’ll all depend on my performance here.”

Toni was as doubtful as ever. “Small cut or not, how can you convince me you’re fit for the job? I don’t need any extreme creativity here, let alone some hyper-modern, I dunno, smart explosive with a GPS and camera attachment... just a guy with the basic know-how on how to attach plastic to a wall so that it goes boom.”
“On the contrary,” Lyles said, annoying Toni with his borderline self-righteous tone, “you might end up regretting it if you choose to hire some cheap, bumbling bomber who acts like that stuttering idiot while under pressure. Bombing is a delicate art, a life-and-death kinda deal. If you’re gonna make savings, make them elsewhere.”
“Sh-sh-sh-showoff.” Daryl murmured.
“And what about you, D-D-D-Daryl?” Lyles spat out right away. “What are you even doing here? This is a far cry from any mental institutions or pre-schools that you belong to.”
“F-f-f-f-f*ck you too, y-y-y-you smug b-b-b-ba-bastard! At-at-at least I’ve got p-p-p-principles!”
“What does that have to do with anything? I think you’re just mad that you can’t hold on to a lucrative position for long.”
“Do you two know each other?” Mickey asked skeptically.
“No!” The firm answer came almost in unison (Daryl’s stutter held him back a bit again).

Toni scratched his chin. “Luigi, Mickey, can we go to the back room for a chat? You...” he said to the third guy, “do you mind waiting just a little bit longer? This is pressing.”
The man grunted. Toni knew he had already been the most bored of them when he entered, and he should at least have given him a chance for a quick introduction first, but he wasn’t kidding when he noted how important the matter about to be discussed was.

“Well – you like them?” Mickey asked, out of their hearing range.
“Personally, I found Lyles to be vibrant, in a good way.” Luigi said.
“Is that why you’re still carrying his Claymore all over the place?” Toni mentioned. Luigi appeared embarrassed, having had no idea until now that he had absent-mindedly never let go of the mine.
Toni turned to Mickey. “As for you... well done gathering the freaks of Liberty City.”
“Freaks? Come on now, do you really believe there’s viable guns for hire in this town who don’t have some quirk to them?”
“I do.”
“Well, maybe there are, but a competent guy from Torrington who I loosely know refused to come along... shame, as I thought he wouldn’t be afraid of a little bank robbery in broad daylight. Also Stanley Swift – you ever heard of Stanley Swift? – demanded twenty per cent, so I switched to a couple of more affordable guys. They still got impressive resumes though, don’t you question that.”
“Swift? The high and mighty bastard?” asked Luigi, while Toni was unable to connect the name with anything.
“High, mighty and highly qualified.” Mickey clarified. “When I saw how pissed Toni was getting with Lyles back there, my suspicions were proven right... there would’ve been zero chemistry.”
“So he wanted big money just like Lyles, but you couldn’t convince him otherwise?” Toni asked.
“To begin with, he acted like he was above me, and only he’d get to call the shots. I’ll have to give Lyles some massive credit for knowing his place and never getting stupid on his interview.”
Toni harrumphed. “I wish he maintained that implied confined personality in my presence more often too. Even Evans is starting to give me bad vibes here – don’t interrupt, Luigi! He seemed humble asking for so little, so I was gonna forgive him for the stutter because of that – that means you too, Mickey! – but with how confrontational he got with Lyles, I’m starting to wonder if he’s much of a fit...”
“My point stands, Daryl has a fairly good record on him for such an insecure kid. My advice for saving a lot of money and tears: keep him away from Lyles, do most of the work inside with Luigi, and send him off with his little cut.”
Toni rolled his eyes. “I usually prefer it when every man’s capable of looking after themselves.”
“Welcome to the real world then, Toni.” Mickey said, patting him on the back. “Now let’s hear what our third man has to say – the fourth will be here any minute too.”

The pug-face stood up straight when the mobsters re-emerged. Daryl was sulking on the couch (still bitter about the argument?) and Lyles was, without anyone’s permission really, doing pull-ups at the other doorway leading to the kitchen.

“No more time-wasting, I assure you. Name, specialties, questions?” Toni said.
“Bruce Gallagher, racing driver.” He was less thrilled to say it than Toni expected.
“Not in the Vice City Racing Club by any chance?” Luigi interrupted once he was done placing the mine on the first chair he found.
Bruce nodded. Luigi clapped his hands in excitement.
“You got any wins? Toni, I swear these racers are the real deal, you saw it on TV, right?”
“No. A few close calls though.” Bruce said, maybe a bit offended that the first additional question had to be about that.
“That’s good, that’s good – what do you say, Toni? There’s nothing like a badass Aussie wheelman leading us to victory, huh?”
“Nice of you to notice the accent,” Bruce said dryly, “but I’ve not stepped foot down under in almost four years now.”
“How come?” asked Luigi immediately. Toni was starting to feel like an extra, his attempts to chime in constantly being cut off.
Bruce shrugged. “I just got bored. Plenty more action to go around in Vice City, and the other race locations.”
“Do you live in Liberty?” Toni asked, speaking over Luigi as he did.
“No, if I didn’t make it clear enough, it’s Vice City.”
“Knowing the streets inside out would’ve been an even bigger asset than driving skills alone.”
“I can practice, once you have the route laid out.”
“Uh huh. And your price was...?”
“Usually around ten, but if my navigation ability worries you, make it seven per cent.”
Luigi clapped his hands in excitement. “Seven is go-“
“Seven is good.” Toni said with a louder voice, shaking Bruce’s hand. Mickey was looking at them like he had expected more of a battle of wills than that.
“We’ll have to see if our other driver can give you some guidance on the street map.” Toni said as the sound of a car pulling up to the yard was heard outside. The timing could not have been more appropriate.

“You’re guaranteed to like what you’ll see. Hands down, the best racer in Liberty City, no matter what anyone else says.” Mickey said proudly. Lyles’ eyes widened with interest while Toni just prayed the last member would be another sane one.
“I couldn’t have said that better myself.” said the driver in question, having conveniently overheard the sentence from just outside the door. The tall and admittedly slightly handsome jock in his bright red overshirt was an unmistakeable sight.
“Aw, f*ck...” Toni muttered to himself, while Luigi and Bruce made distinguished groaning noises next to him.

It couldn’t have been a more appropriate reaction, no matter how talented he was, if Toni was concerned. Dan Sucho was more annoying than an excited Mickey, more of a jackass than Vincenzo on an average day, and more spiteful than Daryl and Lyles had been acting so far. To top it off, he and Toni had despised each other since they first met, with Sucho chronically needing to start sh*t with anyone he deemed to be competition and Toni’s own mother regularly pitting them against each other. If only his old posse of trashy friends hadn’t split up as they aged, Toni could’ve taught them a lesson or two with his friends, not quite as loud but certainly meaner by a mile.

“Toni-boy! What a pleasure to find that out of everyone in the world, it’s you!” Sucho shouted flamboyantly, adding that smug chuckle at the end that Toni despised above all.
“Danny-boy! Nice to see you’d put our differences aside to make a little money together.” Toni replied, making it a point that it should be him and not Sucho in control of the situation.
Sucho scowled at the nickname that he didn’t approve of. “I’ll be most glad to jump at the opportunity to take money from you.”
“I don’t think that’s the point of being in the crew.” said Bruce.
“Brucie, huh?” Toni was surprised that Sucho recognized him that well. “You’re here too, as the secondary driver no doubt? What’s life like in the club without me?”
“One c*nt down, only few more to go.” Bruce said to wipe the smile off Sucho’s pretentious face. “It’s actually pretty cool, certainly more light-hearted than your hayday.”
“But the light-heartedness hasn’t got you your first lucky break, has it?” Sucho asked immediately, causing Bruce to tense up.
“It’s a budget sport. Not many can say they have winning cars.”
“So why don’t you just quit submitting to your status and make some money?” Sucho had unknowingly put two and two together, and gained the smile right back. “Oh, is that why you’re here? Helping out the mob now that you’ve run out of options? What would the young fans say if they found out?”
“I don’t think they’d mind me nearly as much as you and your little scandal.” Bruce barked.

“Can you two shut the hell up?” shouted Mickey, putting Toni’s thoughts perfectly into words. “Sucho, it’s time for you to behave like I’d expect a champion to.”
“Champion?!” Luigi and Bruce asked in unison.
“You’ve clearly got bad information there, pal. This man’s no champ, even though he’s had a lot of good looks at the real one’s tail lights for certain.” Luigi continued. Lyles chuckled, Bruce smirked assertively and Toni was just trying to make sense of everything that was being said.
Sucho’s eyes narrowed. “Dumb luck, that lack of titles... but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had plenty of wins on my record!”
“You got bested.” Bruce said, almost right up in Sucho’s face despite being a great deal shorter. “You got bested a lot, and you never got over it. Deco was two laps down on you at Hyman Memorial, and still came back to kick your ass. Then Arnaud held you off at Venturas – I still remember your rant word for word, just so you know – and before you knew it, you went too far trying to retaliate on us. What a sore damn loser you are, throwing a fit as soon as you encounter a little adversity.”
“ENOUGH!” Sucho shrieked. “So I did a few dumb things, but that won’t mean it’s OK for some middle-tier scrub to come f*cking whining to me about it! I’ll still kick your ass in a one-on-one fair race, anytime, anywhere!”
“You can challenge each other once we’re done with the heist!” Toni yelled over Sucho.
“I don’t need to race you to prove anything, Sucho.” Bruce said calmly. “I’m calling you out for being a sh*tty person, not a sh*tty driver.”
“So you admit I’m superior?” Sucho asked predictably.
“Who knows... we have never really faced off in identically performing cars.”
“Then I’ll have it arranged! Don’t be such a f*cking – coward –“

Toni gave Sucho a well-deserved shove before things got physical. He perhaps should have done it much sooner, but it felt great all the same.

“F*ck your challenges! Either state your cut in the next minute, or you’re out, capiche?”
“Twelve per cent.” Sucho said with a straight face.
“Try again.” Toni said as Luigi shook his head. “Goons that are worth that much won’t let themselves get carried away with – shows of unprofessionalism.”
“How much is that Bruce prick getting paid? I can’t get less than him.” Sucho snapped.
“Just give us the damn number.” sighed Luigi.
Sucho grimaced, letting out a barely audible growl. “F*ck it... eight?”
“Great!” Toni yelled delightfully, with no sarcasm intended even if it was sure to seem that way. “You’ll do what you’re told, collect the eight per cent, live happily ever after, and we’ll never have to bother each other with our existences again.”
“I dunno, bothering you sounds too nice to pass up.”
“Anyway,” Toni said without acknowledging that, “we should meet up here later when the photos have been developed and the plan is all clear. If any of you can’t make it that time, or are in need of a private chat, Luigi or Mickey will be manning this post at all times.”
“Hey!” both said in protest, but Toni’s hand movement shut them up.
“Could you give them your phone numbers too? Communication is everything.” he added.
“What about you? Do you think you’re too good to talk with us?” Sucho said with a grating voice.
“My phone had a little accident. You could still call it all you want, but you’d only incriminate yourselves. I’ll see if I can get a new one shortly.”
“Incriminate? You mean it’s in some cop’s hands?” Lyles asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Not a cop, but still someone who’s opposed to our way of life. Fortunately, he should be in the dark about this whole thing... but if he’s somehow alerted, I know it’ll be the doing of one of you.”
“Isn’t it fun to work for the Mafiosi?” Sucho assertively asked from the other recruits. “No matter what kinda impression you make on them, there’ll always be threats.”
“I thought you fancied yourself manly enough to take a bit of heat.” Lyles replied.
“Oh, so you’re gonna side with them in hopes that they’ll leave you alone? Do you ever happen to get any pussy, wimp?”
Lyles rolled his eyes. “Did you walk in here right out of grade nine?”
“So what if I did? I was a pretty mean f*cking beast in grade nine. I could’ve taken on grown adults if I wanted. Nobody who knew their place f*cked with me.” Sucho said defiantly, bumping his chest.
“For real, man, I’m way too old for your dick measuring contests.” Lyles said, unable to contain his laughter. “I’m sorry you never got the memo about actions speaking louder than words.”
“Y-y-y-you think you’re s-s-s-so smart, Ly-Lyles?” Daryl spoke unexpectedly. “A-ac-ac-acting like some vo-vo-vo-voice of reason? It-it-it doesn’t w-w-work that way! W-w-we’re c-c-c-c-criminals, we’re s-supposed to-to-to act tough. N-n-no-no one is scared of s-s-someone l-like you, n-n-not if you don’t go out of your way to in-in-in-intimidate...”
Sucho scowled. “Oh, shut the hell up, chump. I don’t need support from someone who takes longer than my demented grandmother to finish a sentence.”

Fist fights were somehow averted, but by the time everyone had been herded out of the building with sufficient contact details in hand, Toni had determined that it was time for another serious chat. With all the recruits seemingly hating each other for no other reason than not matching up very well (the only pair who appeared to have even a touch of mutual respect was Lyles and Bruce), Mickey’s ability to choose the best men for the job was under plenty of scrutiny. He tried to justify himself by suggesting that Toni wanted affordability over peak performance, but Toni didn’t remember saying or alluding to it, causing them to part ways without a satisfactory resolution, and in a bad mood all around.

On the way home, Luigi’s proposal that they cancel the plans, dissolve the crew and try again later with a more concise strategy was ill-timed. Toni went a bit far with the subsequent beration, something he later blamed on Sucho’s corruptive influence, something Luigi could agree was eating at everyone’s morale more than anything.

Toni wouldn’t back out now – how could he sink any lower than his current predicament anyway? But most importantly, he was looking to do more than just gather funds... the Leones needed to be shown that he still had it – no, more than that. Toni was in it to restore his old reputation and then some, and a vital part of that was showing the ability to overcome any adversity the world would throw at him.

No one respected quitters, and Toni Cipriani wasn’t one. He’d force Sucho in line, craft such an eloquent escape route that Bruce would outsmart any local cop, and walk away with the money even if it was the last damned thing he ever did.


The End.


Edited by Carbonox

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