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About Vulpecula

  • Birthday 02/05/1990

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    San Andreas
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    London, UK
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    Fantasy, science fiction, creative writing, recreational gaming, various nerd/geek things.

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  1. I for one am open to any given nationality or ethnic background (mixed race would be very interesting and contemporary), so long as they tick the boxes for being relatively likeable and badass. What I would really like to see is a female protagonist, especially one done right. There are plenty of women on the other side of the tracks, and they can certainly be just as cunning and ruthless as any man.
  2. I spent all of last week worryingly addicted to Saints Row 2. I honestly think I prefer it to The Third; the story is better, the characters are better, the pacing is better, everything is more coherent. SR3, whilst good, is simply mindless self-parody for its own sake. I tip my hat to you, THQ/Volition, for letting me download a superior game for free simply for registering for the online play of your new one.
  3. The last full chapter. ~ Seven Praise and Condemnation Monday 8th March There was the usual level of bustle in the halls and corridors of the field office that morning. As Rachael walked past several colleagues, she picked up snippets of conversations here and there, and was intrigued by those pertaining to the last couple of days: “Police report”, “Arson attack”, “Retaliation”, “Tensions”, “Getting worse”. She didn’t have to think very hard about what they could be referring to. Escaping the throng, she slipped into Noel’s office. Noel was sat casually, leafing through a brown dossier and murmuring to himself. Hearing the door, he looked up, adjusting his reading glasses. “Hey, Rach.” “Good morning,” she said. “What have you got there?” “Oh, this?” Noel said, gesturing to the folder. “Just some files Larson handed over. Don’t worry, I asked nicely.” He smiled glibly. “It’s some material about these gangs: Eastside, Southside. Pretty standard stuff; quite turgid. Not bestseller material.” “Is it ever?” Rachael said sardonically. “They just look like a bunch of desperate kids,” Noel said glumly. “I don’t think they really understand what’ll happen when Grove Street goes down.” Rachael shrugged. “They want it, they’ll get it,” she said. “And everything that comes with it.” Noel looked up at her more intently. “Rachael,” he said, “I need to ask you something.” He closed the folder and pushed it aside, removing his glasses and replacing them in their case. “What is it?” she asked. Noel sighed deeply. “Am I am workaholic?” “Noel…” “No, really,” he pressed. “I mean, do I have any symptoms or tendencies or what? Do I take enough breaks? Is all I ever do work?” Rachael tugged her collar, utterly taken aback. “Well, Noel,” she stammered, “I don’t…really…” “Please, be honest with me here, as a friend. I mean,” he said, laughing weakly, “there’s…there’s got to be some reason she’s leaving me, right?” Rachael’s face hardened. She strode over to his desk, leaning on the surface with both hands. “You want honesty?” she said firmly. “All right: Yes, you do work a lot. But you do it because you’re dedicated; you’re always so hell-bent on getting the job done. That isn’t a flaw, that’s a damned fine virtue. God damn it, Noel, you’re the best man out here, you’re the best colleague I’ve ever had, and I am proud to be working with you. It’s…it’s always a pleasure.” Noel sat stunned. “Well, I, uh…I…” he murmured, “Thank you very much.” She softened and put on a warm smile. “But yeah,” she said shrewdly, “you could stand to take more breaks.” Noel smiled back at her. “You know what?” he said, pushing his chair back. “I’m going to start acting on that advice right this second.” He grabbed his blazer from the back of the chair and swung it around his back, slipping it on. “We’ve got nothing from Larson,” he said, buttoning his jacket. “You, uh, want to go get a coffee and a sandwich or something?” Rachael fingered her hair. “Yeah, sure,” she said. “Glad to hear it.” After patting himself down to double-check he had all his relevant valuables, he strode over to the door and held it open for Rachael to pass through. He closed it behind him and vigorously followed her down the hall. ~ Sunday 7th March At 1.00 in the afternoon, there was a knock at the front door of the Penning household. Calling off his siblings, David leapt down the stairs and hurried over, swinging it open. Dwaine and Julian stood expectantly and attentively outside. “Good afternoon to you, gents,” David said warmly. “And to you,” Julian said. “Please,” David said, gesturing with his arm, “come in.” His fellow band-mates duly entered. Closing the door, David followed them through the foyer and into the spacious living room. “Make yourselves comfortable,” he said. The two younger boys sat down awkwardly. “Are you sure this is okay, dude?” Dwaine asked. “Yeah, man, it’s fine,” David said. “My parents are out and, before you panic, don’t worry: the wonders of video games, glossy magazines and the Internet will keep the feminine horde at bay upstairs.” They all chuckled briefly. “Anyway,” he said, clasping his hands, “before we start, can I get you fellows anything?” “O.J,” Julian said. “You got it,” David said. “You, Dwaine?” “I’m good, thanks,” he said, waving dismissively. He disappeared into the kitchen, returning minutes later with a glass of water for himself and orange juice in a champagne glass. He handed the latter the Julian and took a seat across from the others. He took a sip of his drink, clearing his throat. “You know why I called you over, right?” Dwaine and Julian nodded. “Good,” he said firmly. “Frankly, after yesterday’s display of…inflated self-worth, we need to have a talk.” “Agreed,” the two replied at once. “Technically, the concert is less than two weeks away now,” David said. “We absolutely have to get everything down and finalised by the 14th at the latest. There can’t be any last-minute alterations; we can’t screw this up.” “You’ve hammered that in quite well enough,” Dwaine said. “But there’s someone who still doesn’t get it,” Julian said. David crossed his legs. “I can’t stand to put up with his behaviour much longer,” he said. “And I’m sure you two can’t either.” Dwaine and Julian shook their heads and murmured agreements. “I’m really quite worried,” said David, “that he’s in no fit state to play – musically or personally.” “Then what are we supposed to do?” Julian asked. “We can’t just…call it off.” “Indeed we cannot, Julian,” David said. “Us three”—he gestured to each of them in turn—“could put on a decent show by ourselves. Only, it’d be entirely instrumental work, seeing as our vocalist and lead guitarist is currently not up to scratch.” Julian shrugged. “We could do that,” he pondered. “Hang on, guys,” Dwaine said nervously, “I don’t think…this is right. Isn’t this…betrayal?” “‘Betrayal’ is such an ugly word,” David said. “I prefer ‘long-term pragmatism’.” “Come on,” Dwaine said incredulously. “Seriously?” “I know what you’re thinking, Dwaine,” David said, “but Juan isn’t your old friend anymore. He’s not the same; that side of him died when she arrived. Isn’t it obvious? He’s been drinking and smoking pot for months, which I’m certain she supplies and partakes in herself.” “If you know this,” Julian said, aghast, “then why haven’t you gone to the police?” “Because our families have been close since...” he trailed off. “I didn’t want to put him through it. That said, my reservation is fading away bit by bit. I swear to God, I am this close”—he placed his forefinger and thumb millimetres apart—“All I’d need is the right justification.” “And hoarding and supplying isn’t evidence enough?” Julian pressed. “Well,” David said cautiously, “as far as we know, she’s not making a profit from it; she’s much too sycophantic for that.” There was silence for a few moments. Dwaine spoke up. “Maybe we should try talking to her about it?” he suggested weakly. “Do you honestly think she’d listen?” David sneered. Dwaine backed off. “Hmm,” he said. “Fair point.” “Returning to my main argument,” David said, “Juan is dangerously unprepared for the show: when he does show up to practice, he’s late, and she’s corrupted him into a total prick. I never had the urge to physically assault him until yesterday; that was just fucking low. Does she tell him to say this shit?!” He hit the table in front of him with his fist. “You okay, man?” Julian asked. “Yeah, yeah,” David said quickly. “The point is: Juan really needs to get his act together, and fast.” “Is that going to happen?” “If he works at it,” David said. “And is that going to happen?” “Again,” David sighed, “if he works at it.” Julian put his drink down and clasped his hands loosely. “Forgive me,” he said, “but I don’t feel safe betting on those odds.” David turned to look at him. “Do any of us?” he asked. David mulled over the predicament for a short while; the group sat in uncomfortable silence. “Tell you what,” he said finally, “I’m going to be lenient. Let’s say we give him a chance; if he shows up next weekend, we give him a shot at the show. If he doesn’t, we either play by ourselves and disappoint a lot of people, or we just go right ahead and pre-emptively cancel the whole thing, in which case we have a lot of disappointed, angry people on our hands.” “Sounds wonderful,” Julian sneered derisively. Dwaine raised his hand. “If I may ask,” he said, “What happens in the scenario where we let Juan play and he manages to screw up?” David considered for a few seconds. “In that case,” David said with an undercurrent of callousness, “we go right ahead and ditch him.” ~ Not much later that same day, Juan had retreated to his second home. He lay on the couch in the living room, feeling fairly comfortable and content together with the only person who really understood him. Resting just behind him, with one arm wrapped teasingly around his waist and her head resting on his shoulder, Angel Arvada didn’t appear much different to any other girl. Olive skinned, she had a soft, unassuming face framed by chocolate-brown hair, with a small nose and light brown eyes. Her fashion was unremarkable; she was clad in a loose dark green tube top, beige Capri trousers and loose socks. She sat there idly, stroking Juan’s sleek black mane and calmly murmuring. “Don’t listen to them,” she cooed, “they’re just a bunch of jealous dicks.” “I know, right?” Juan muttered lazily. “It’s like, they don’t get me anymore.” “They’re just bitter,” Angel sighed, “about your talent – because you’re so very talented.” “Indeed…” Juan said. “I just keep trying and trying and…and they act like that to me. It’s not right.” “Oh,” said Angel, shaking her head, “it’s not right at all.” Juan sighed. “I just…don’t understand it,” he said. “I put in all that effort and they’re so abusive.” “They just can’t comprehend that you’re better than them,” she said astutely. “All your skill, and talent, and…proficiency,” she giggled lewdly. “I think you just shouldn’t bother with any of them. They just want to ruin everything for you, but you can show them, right?” Juan turned to her and grinned. “Hell yeah,” he said, “I could do this on my own. They’re all just clueless idiots.” Angel returned the grin, nodding rapidly. “You know what?” she said suddenly. “We should just stop talking about this; it’s so depressing how they’re trying to bring you down like this. I think we should relax.” Juan blinked. “But…we are relaxing,” he said. “No, silly,” Angel said playfully, “relax.” Juan’s mouth hung open in realisation and amusement. “Go for it, dude,” he said. Angel moved to sit up straight and tugged at him. “Come on,” she said, “get up.” “Why?” Juan asked, somewhere between genuine interest and feigned stubbornness. “Because, we’re gonna go upstairs,” Angel said. Juan’s eyes lit up. “Whoa,” he murmured gleefully, “I’m right behind you.” Aided by Angel, Juan gradually pulled himself up from the sofa and stumbled slowly towards the stairs. Working their way up and down the hallway, the two quickly moved towards Angel’s room, slipping inside and closing the door. Wasting no time, Angel put her hands to Juan’s chest and pushed him back onto the bed, jumping after him. Placing her knees either side of his hips, she straddled him. Putting her hands forward, she snaked down and fiercely kissed him, sighing contentedly. They caressed passionately for a few moments before Angel pulled away, leaving her lover wide-eyed. “Can we please fuck?” he wheezed. “Of course, baby,” she answered sweetly. “Later.” Juan frowned. “But first…” Angel murmured, rolling away from him to the edge of the bed. She reached for the bedside cabinet, opening the lowermost drawer and picking out three items. Rolling back over, she held them up to him and watched his disappointment fade. He nodded appreciatively. Angel handed him one of the joints and repositioned herself, sitting up against the propped-up pillows at the head of the bed. Juan joined her. She placed the rollup between her teeth and took up her lighter, a simple thing with a faded American flag and glossy metal covered in fingerprints. Flipping it open with practised precision, she flicked the ignition; a small flame arose. Her voice slightly muffled, she spoke. “Christ, I love you.” “Ditto.” She held the flame to the joint, igniting it before passing the fire to Juan. They inhaled together. ~ Wiping the remnants of crumbs and sauce away with a napkin, Noel thanked the waiter. The young man reciprocated and their each bade each other farewell. Noel got up from the table, with Rachael coming up next to him. They headed out of the small, pleasant eatery. Noel had driven down to Santa Maria Beach, walking out on the pier to the seaside amusements and restaurants. He had gone on a whim, still high from his friend’s appraisal, and both of them had been pleasantly surprised: whilst the food wasn’t spectacular, the premises had character and the food was fairly decent for its price. Now they made the long walk back up the pier to their vehicle, talking as they went. “I was thinking,” Noel said, “about that mom and her kid we met the other day. We should look into moving them; they’re too good for that place.” “Well,” Rachael said, “you could always talk with Larson; I’ll sure he’d be able to work something out.” “Yeah, probably.” “Why bring it up?” she asked, gently hitting his arm and laughing quietly. “You’re supposed to be relaxing, remember?” “Well…” Noel said vaguely, “It just sort of…struck me.” Rachael smiled at him. “You’re not getting attached, are you?” she asked teasingly. “Wouldn’t dream of it,” Noel said blithely, “I hate cute kids.” Rachael burst into laughter. “Yep,” Noel went on. “Totally hate ‘em.” He laughed with her until she got a hold of herself again. “Hey,” she said, “thanks for taking me out.” “My pleasure,” Noel said. “It’s just…I hardly do anything…” “Well,” Noel said, “it’s good to have some fun once in a while, you know?” “Yeah,” Rachael sighed. They walked in the rest of the way in silence. ~ Well, that's it. I've shared it all with you all. Hopefully you enjoyed what you read; I enjoyed writing it for a time. Since we're done, I'm perfectly happy to answer any questions you may have regarding characters, plot details, backstory and other such things. Thank you all for reading.
  4. An exploration of the characters' domestic lives. Make of it what you will. ~ Six Fissures Saturday 6th March At midday, a cacophony of noise consumed the vacant garage of the Penning residence. Luckily for those residing there, it was drawing to a close; the last strains of Metallica’s ‘Sad But True’ bounced off of the partly-soundproofed walls as, after a long while, things finally began to calm down. Silence fell as Dwaine quietened the still-shuddering cymbals on his extravagant drum kit. All that was left was the ringing from the small amplifiers that dotted the room. Despite the amiable spring temperature, he was still sweating from the exertion. He drew one hand across his forehead, spinning a stick between the fingers of the other. In front of him, Julian shook his hand to fight the ache that had crept into his wrist; his black Gibson Explorer hung limply by its shoulder strap. He was just able to summon enough remaining strength to support it with his other arm. Opposite him, David Penning was in a similar state of exhaustion, having to heave his red bass guitar off his shoulders and place it back in its stand. There were beads of sweat dotting his forehead and hair. The trio were tired; their apparent leader, however, was anything but. With his Fender Stratocaster nimbly supported, Juan wore his usual look of perpetual smugness, seemingly unaware that he wasn’t the room’s sole occupant. Dwaine raised his hand meekly. “Permission to say that that went well?” he asked. “Granted,” David said. “Thanks.” Dwaine slouched in his seat, clutching his pounding heart. “Gotta say,” Julian wheezed, “that was pretty fun.” David nodded his head, smiling at him. It took mere seconds for them to turn on their frontman. “All right, Juan,” David said, running a hand through his long red ponytail before crossing his arms. “You get four guesses about whose playing wasn’t up to standard this week – and three of them aren’t us.” Juan turned to face him. He wore his hair down today, and it looked to be in better condition – perhaps he had actually gone to the effort of washing it. His expression was smarmy. “Hey—hey,” he said, stammering slightly, “what are you talking about? I was fine.” Julian stepped in. “Sorry to shatter your ego,” he said, “but your vocals are sloppy and your instrument is even worse. You were lagging behind me for a bit. I repeat: you’re lagging behind your backup.” “Oh, come on,” Juan said, laughing weakly, “I’m okay. I just…have a new way of doing things.” “I’m sure,” David interjected, “that this brilliant new plan involves being outshone by everybody else. Maybe it’s a deliberate thing?” Juan scratched his head. “No, no,” he said. “I’m…I’m fine. It’s you who’re the problem.” He had become adept at digging himself deeper; everyone now glared at him. “Seriously?” David hissed. Julian put his palm up to silence him before turning back to Juan. “Look, man,” he said calmly, “we appreciate you turning up for once; but if you’re going to do this, we all need to be consistent. We can’t have you turning up and being mediocre like this. You do remember that we’re practicing for a reason, yes?” “Of course,” Juan blurted awkwardly. “Concert, right?” “Yes.” “And when is this concert due to take place?” David pressed. Juan put his hand up; his jaw hung in concentration. “The nineteenth,” he said. “No— No; the twenty-first.” “The twentieth.” “Ohhhh,” Juan said slowly. “Right…right. I—I knew that.” David rolled his eyes. “Saturday night, eight o’clock,” he said mechanically. He sighed. “Juan, you can’t keep going on like this; this is going to be our moment. This isn’t going to be just a dozen or two-dozen run of the mill sycophants; it’s going to be hundreds of people. Well…one hundred, two hundred, you get the picture.” “The point is, we have an audience,” Julian said. “And they expect a good show from us. There could be talent agents in that crowd. And…and even if there aren’t, we still need to give them a good night – they’re paying for this.” There was silence for a few moments, then Juan started giggling. This went on a short time before he regained coherency. “Why…” he said, still laughing, “should…I listen to…any one of you?” Julian rolled his eyes. “Here we go again,” he muttered. “I…I know, for a fact,” Juan said, erratically gesturing with his right hand, “that I’m the best player in this band.” “You could be if you focused,” David conceded. Juan whirled on him, pointing his forefinger. “For a start,” he said, “you’re a bassist, so your opinion is worthless.” David’s face contorted in incredulity, followed immediately by a stunned Julian. Juan cleared his throat self-importantly. “I think,” he said matter-of-factly, “that you’re just in this for the fame…and money.” Look who’s talking, thought Julian. “In case you haven’t noticed,” David said dryly, “with the mansions and the fleet of cars and the private school, we’re all quite well-off here.” “Then…then you just want people to know you,” Juan said. “You’re…you’re insecure.” David’s eyes narrowed. Well, this isn’t farcical at all… Julian slipped off his guitar and set it down on its stand across the room. “You’re not as dedicated as you used to be,” Juan continued. “You keep questioning me. Do you care anymore?” “Do you care anymore?” David barked. Juan gave a righteous grin. “See…see,” he said jumpily, “you’re different. This isn’t like you, man. You’ve changed.” Oh, Julian despaired; you have got to be kidding me. “What’s your reason for being here?” Juan asked. “What’s yours?” David shot back. Juan paused, thinking. “I…I would like…to make music,” he answered. “You don’t seem…all that enthusiastic.” “You can’t even play anymore,” David sneered. “Y—You—You’re lying,” Juan said lazily. “I mean, what’s your reason for being here? It’s like…you only picked up that bass, like, not even four years ago.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” Juan sauntered around the garage aimlessly, still criticising him. Then the epiphany struck him. “Oh, I know,” he said, grinning smugly, “you only bother with this ‘cause of your sisters, right?” David clenched his fist. Juan made sweeping feminine gestures, putting on a high voice. “Oh, look at me,” he said, “I’m so talentless; my only motivation is corpses.” “You son of a bitch!” David roared and lunged at him. Julian was quick, moving behind him and throwing his arms around his stomach, heaving him back with all his effort. Dwaine leapt from his drums, rushing over and struggling to restrain the man. David hurled a string of curses at Juan, who simply returned to laughing at him. “Come on, man!” Julian wheezed desperately. “He’s just being a dick!” “Don’t lower yourself!” Dwaine said. “You’re better than this!” David’s face was twisted with primal rage; the tall, muscular figure was barely held back by the two shorter, lankier boys. He barked at his tormentor with wide and bulging eyes. After a few moments of futile struggling to get at him, he relented. “Come on, man,” Julian said calmly. “Let’s go.” With one hand firmly on his upper arm, Julian led him out of the garage and into the house proper. Juan, still grinning smarmily, gave a faux salute. “Go fuck yourself,” he called. For a moment, David flinched back, but Julian hauled him back through the house and out of sight. When both were gone, Dwaine turned to his friend with a face of disbelief. “Seriously?” he said, throwing his arms out. “What the fuck was that?” Juan scratched his head distractedly. “He was being an asshole,” he whined. “Not cool.” “He was being honest,” Dwaine sighed. “You’re really not as good as you think you are; you’re losing it.” Juan’s jaw fell open. Dwaine headed to the door. In the doorway, he turned around to face him. “If you keep this up,” he said gravely, “things are going to get pretty bad. Just saying.” He turned and left, leaving Juan in stunned silence. ~ At two o’clock in the afternoon, Mercedes lowered the screen on her laptop with a heavy sigh. She had been up since dawn working on assignments for her classes. Satisfied with what she had accomplished thus far, she decided she would take a short break. A long time ago, she would have been preparing for her weekly visit to Labelle; with a few years of treatment, their meetings had dwindled down to bimonthly – she would visit him the following weekend. She filled the void left in her routine by socialising, reserved for one person in particular. Getting up from her desk, she left her room and headed a few doors down the hall. At the sound of her door creaking open, signalling the invasion of her personal space, Carmen flinched up from her position on the bed. She eased up upon seeing the intruder, not least because it wasn’t her parents trying to awkwardly talk to her for yet another time. Mostly, they got the hint and left her alone; even they seemed to have grasped who was best placed to deal with the girl. “May I come in?” Mercedes asked. Carmen’s reply was almost inaudible, but it was assent. Mercedes entered the room, carefully shutting the door behind her. She was granted the great honour of having Carmen look in her general direction, when she usually focused either on her laptop, a book or a wall when in the presence of others. Though it was unnecessary, Mercedes returned her favour by slowly tiptoeing across the room to the foot of her bed, sitting down on the edge across from her sister and putting her hands on her knees. “Are you all right?” Carmen nodded. “Has the week been fine?” she asked. The girl nodded again, pulling her legs towards her stomach and hugging them, resting her head on her knees. “Are you occupying yourself okay?” Mercedes asked. “You’re not bored, or…?” Carmen shook her head. Mercedes smiled gently. “Do you have any plans at all?” Carmen shook her head again, her eyes wandering to the wooden posters that supported her bed and to the photographs on the wall. Mercedes eyed the empty spot next to her. “May I?” Carmen nodded approvingly; it was her privilege. Thanking her, Mercedes pulled up her legs and nimbly crawled over next to her, propping up the two pillows against the head of the bed and moving to sit up. There was silence whilst she made herself comfortable. When she was content with her position, she too pulled one leg close to her, laying the other flat on the duvet. After a few moments, Carmen extended another privilege to her; her awkward shuffling and lowering of her shoulders were sufficient to inform her. Mercedes carefully put her right arm over the girl’s shoulder, nuzzling her. The two sat in silence; Mercedes’ mere presence was satisfactory. Carmen rested her head on her shoulder, motionless as her sister murmured affectionately and stroked her long, wild hair. Words were not necessary. Mercedes remembered perfectly every detail of that cursed Friday afternoon: how her father had called her, and then her mother, and then finally a member of the hospital staff on Carmen’s own phone. She remembered meeting with her parents, and the mad dash to the hospital; how they had been unable to see her for hours, and panicked upon being repeatedly told she was critical. In the evening, they had finally been allowed access. They gazed upon a sickly creature of wires, cables, tubes and machines. Rendered unrecognisable under the equipment that covered her, breathing regularly through a mask and oblivious to the monotony of the heart monitor, she would never know how her sister completely lost it, screaming, cursing and howling like an infant. The staff had had to remove her, leaving her parents to watch over her, themselves grieving as if their little girl were already dead. And Juan had never deigned to show himself. He had been with Angel, fixated by her even then. Blinded by ardour, he had not considered that he might want to be present if his younger sister should die. She had been in hospital for weeks, only being realised on compassionate grounds late on Christmas Day. The reaction of the police was most crushing of all. Stared down by Carmen’s parents and sibling, one might have thought they would have given a lengthy explanation of the attack and its perpetrators. It couldn’t have been a school feud: God only knew she had few friends and the attackers were certainly not local. Had they wanted money or valuables or, God forbid, to violate her? No. “Just some kids looking for a good time.” That was all the explanation they got. There was no justification; there was no legitimate grievance – it was just ‘fun’. Mercedes hated the city. She completely and utterly hated it, and everyone in it. The school and Vinewood were safe havens, but even they were infested with seemingly lobotomised fools and the riffraff snuck in every so often. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could stand to live here. The minute she was able to do so, she would flee this wretched place. She became aware of soft snoring; Carmen was sleeping again. She looked down at her now; she was much better than she had been. The bruising around her face was gradually fading, though she was never vain enough to bother trying to hide it. Her mouth hung open slightly, and Mercedes could see intact surviving teeth, and those that were yet to be repaired or replaced. Whilst her jaw had been reset, she had subsisted on a diet of painkillers and liquidised food; it had delivered a terrible blow to her dignity, but Mercedes had always been there. Her cheeks were still gaunt, and though her nasal fracture had healed well, the doctors said that the resultant crookedness would be permanent. Despite multiple offers, Carmen had showed no interest in reconstructive surgeries. She had not lost her stubbornness, at least. But everything else was gone. Even after her jaw had healed up sufficiently enough to allow coherent vocalisation, she conserved her communication to various growls and grunts. She was loudest screaming and crying in the aftermath of another nightmare. Those around her, and those specialists she had very reluctantly agreed to see, knew that she had not forgotten how to talk – she simply never did. Of course Mercedes had talked to Mr Labelle about her many times, but even though he was exemplary, he could not offer anything beyond what the years had already taught her. Sighing, Mercedes gently pulled her arm away. Moving about, she gradually laid Carmen in an approximate recovery position. Satisfied, she leant down, brushed some unwieldy bangs away from her face, and kissed her forehead. She got up from the bed and quietly left the room. Walking down the stairs and into the foyer, she had the brainwave that perhaps she could break up her routine a bit and start her weekly workout early. Her father had installed a private miniature gym in a converted shed in the back garden, and she consistently used it. Working out served two purposes: it kept up her strength and stamina, and helped distract her from the current realities of life. After a quick drink to sate her thirst, she returned to her room and changed into more appropriate clothing. Back downstairs, she crossed through the kitchen and slipped out of the back door and into the garden. She strode along the pathway, taking in the pleasant afternoon air and relatively clear sky. She entered the gym, closing the door behind her. She faltered after a few steps, collapsing against the wall and sobbing. ~ In the evening, David was sprawled out on his bed, his face furrowed in thought. One thing was certain on his mind: Juan was only getting worse. Week by week (when he bothered to show his face), his singing and playing ability slipped, sagged and deteriorated. He was also certain of another thing: this had not always been the case. Ever since they had formed in the early summer of 2009, he had shown prodigious skill and seemed naturally suited to the role of leader. Everything had gone as well as anyone would have liked until the end of October. On the evening of the 31st, he had decided to attend a Halloween party. He emerged with Angel on his arm and things had never quite been the same. He guessed it had been eighteen weeks now since they had met; over those weeks, Juan had gradually become more distant, spiteful and arrogant. There was some malignant force affecting his behaviour, and David had a pretty good idea of who it was. He had come to divide the band’s time into Pre-Angel and Post-Angel. Before she appeared, he genuinely believed that they might have had a shot at success; now, with every passing week, that seemed less and less likely, disappearing over the horizon like so many bad jokes. And it infuriated him. Sitting up, he reached over to his bedside table and carefully picked up a photo frame. He gazed at the picture forlornly. Holly and Lyra looked out to him with wide smiles, Holly firmly hugged by her older sister, who rested her chin on her shoulder. Their red hair shone in the sun, their blue eyes sparkling with youth and vitality. They were inseparable, and had the rest of their lives to spend frolicking together. The picture had been taken over Christmas of 2005, when their future was an absolute certainty. Four months later, Holly was dead, murdered by the psychopath who had abducted Mercedes for some contrived ransom. Such was her devotion to her friend, she had gone looking for her, and paid for her loyalty with her life. Two months later, utterly distraught and unable to accept her adored little sister being gone forever, Lyra had committed suicide. He still remembered his older sister Charlotte’s horrified shriek when she had chanced upon her body hanging in the basement. It chilled him every time. They had cut her down and called for an ambulance, but it was futile. Two weeks later, they had to endure another funeral. Without professional help, their hysterical mother would have gone mad from grief. David shook his head, brushing the thought aside. He fingered the photograph, sighing mournfully, biting his lip and closing his eyes. At least they had the hundreds of photographs of both of them, meticulously maintained now, that preserved their sisterhood for the ages. He looked at them with their carefree smiles, and anger overtook him again: not at Holly’s murderer or at Lyra for not seeking help. But at Juan. Everything he did, he did for them. Juan was, in his own way, right: they were his sole motivation. He took up music for their sakes. The fool, addled by his conquest, could never truly comprehend why he had made such a decision. And he certainly did not have the right to freely speak ill of the dead. Replacing the photograph on the table, David reached for his phone. He went to his contact list, scrolled down and dialled the first relevant name he saw. ~ At 10.00 in the evening, Noel was preparing himself for bed, moving about the house in a progressive state of undress. His blazer was hung up in the closet of the bedroom and his shoes were placed neatly at the foot of the bed. His shirt was undone at the neck, with his tie hanging loosely. His hair was dishevelled, but he didn’t care at this hour; he had only one thing on his mind. Moving in the plentiful light of the lamps, he sat on the edge of his bed with his phone in hand. He had thought this over all week; it would be improper and callous not to go ahead with it. He picked out the number from his contact list, dialled and put the phone to his ear, waiting anxiously through the ringing. “H—Hello?” came a small, tired voice. “Who…is it?” “Hey, sweetheart,” Noel said gently. “It’s me.” Natalie yawned. “Why are you calling so late?” “It’s not late where I’m at,” Noel said, laughing softly. The girl returned the laughter meekly. “Just thought I’d call and see how things were,” Noel said, running his hand through his hair. “They’re okay,” Natalie replied quietly. “I’m sleeping over.” “Ah, sleepover,” Noel said. “Very nice.” Relief washed over him that there would be no inconsiderate interruption this time. “Look, um,” Noel said awkwardly, “I just wanted to say…I’m sorry about…Sunday.” “It’s…okay.” “You didn’t deserve that,” Noel said. “I’m sorry.” Natalie spoke after a few seconds. “It wasn’t your fault, Dad,” she said. “Mom’s just being weird.” Noel snorted amusedly. “Yeah,” he sighed. “Mom was never the most considerate person.” “She says she hates you,” Natalie whispered dolefully. “I’m sure she doesn’t mean it,” Noel said. “Maybe she’s just…exaggerating. I don’t hate her.” “Really?” “Yeah…” Noel sighed. “Have you caught any bad guys yet?” she asked suddenly. Noel laughed softly. “I got a few, yeah,” he answered. “They’re just bumbling henchmen, though. Hopefully we’ll catch the real bad guy soon.” “I hope you do,” Natalie said. “That’d be cool.” “Yeah,” Noel said. “It sure would.” Noel sighed again. “Look, uh,” he stammered, “if you’re okay with it, I could maybe…call you up next weekend.” “Okay,” she said. “But, um, don’t wait up for it, though,” he said conspiratorially. “This is our little secret, okay?” “Of course…” Noel chuckled. He glanced at his wristwatch. “Look,” he said with finality, “I probably shouldn’t be keeping you up at that hour.” Natalie gave a murmur of agreement. “I just wanted to catch up, really,” Noel said. “Go on, get back to sleep.” “All right,” Natalie said, yawning again. “Goodnight, Dad.” “Goodnight, sweetheart.” ~
  5. This was the longest chapter I wrote. My primary goal here was to tell the audience as firmly as possible that Noel, Rachael and their allies are just human beings doing their jobs. They are only antagonists relative to Carl, who would obviously have reasons to view them as the 'villains'. Also, behold the numerous abandoned plot threads! ~ Five Public Relations Friday 5th March At 7.30 in the morning, a familiar black sedan pulled up opposite the police headquarters in Pershing Square. Noel and Rachael stepped out and crossed the road, getting barely halfway up the steps when the doors swung open and a bevy of policemen shuffled down past them. “What’s the problem, gentlemen?” Noel asked curiously. A young officer turned to him. “We’ve just got news of an assault in Ganton,” he said quickly. “Some guys jumped a girl; sounds bad.” “Sounds like it,” Noel murmured. “These things happen all the time,” the officer said dejectedly. “We’re going to check it out; shouldn’t be anything too unusual. Probably some upstarts with no respect.” “Isn’t it always?” Noel sneered derisively. The officer ran a hand through his hair. “Really have to go, sir,” he said, increasing his pace. “You understand.” “Naturally.” Noel let him pass, then hurried after him and cleared his throat. “Excuse me, sir,” he said, “but you wouldn’t mind if my partner and I came along? We’re working a case right now and we like to investigate everything we can.” The officer turned to him. “Fine,” he said impatiently. “Just follow behind us and try not to get in the way.” Noel nodded, heading back to his car with Rachael in tow, following behind the two police cars that turned the corner with their sirens wailing. ~ A short while later, the impromptu convoy pulled up in Ganton. The patrol cars cut off the sirens, though left the lights flashing; there was already a plethora of sirens all over the city providing a constant soundtrack to proceedings. The police double-checked their loaded pistols before they got out of their vehicles, and walked at a brisk pace over to the house where a young woman was being looked over and consoled by a handful of ambulance staff. Noel and Rachael, also sufficiently armed for the area, followed close behind. The young girl – she couldn’t have been older than 22 – looked at the police and the strange pair in suits with apprehension. Seeing this, the medical staff went to assure her. “You’re not in any trouble, ma’am,” one said, “they’re just going to ask you a few questions, just to get a better picture of things, and then they’ll be gone, all right?” She nodded quickly and timidly; she still sobbed quietly. One of the medics looked up to the gathered mass of authority on the sidewalk. “Please don’t overload her, sirs,” he said. “Take it easy.” “Oh, it’s fine,” one officer said, “we’re just after some specifics; business as usual.” The girl spoke up. “It’s…it’s fine,” she choked. “At least…they didn’t get my daughter.” Noel raised an eyebrow. “Oh?” “She’s got a little girl in there, sir,” a medic informed him, gesturing to the house. “We’ve got a couple of people in there with her, just entertainment. You can go in if you like; we just need all the distraction we can get right now.” “At your service,” Noel said with a smile. He put a hand on Rachael’s shoulder. “Stay here and be inquisitive, okay?” “You got it,” she said, returning the smile. Her hand wandered to her concealed firearm and her eyes tracked her surroundings as Noel slipped into the house. The interior of the house was as modest as one would expect from this area of town: sparsely furnished, with small, square rooms crammed into the government-mandated allotment. It managed to be relatively serene, however, with strategically-placed plants and photographs. The kitchen was relatively well-kept, with the fridge home to the expected erratic, infantile art drawn by the child. Noel hummed approvingly at them. In the living room, by far the largest room of the whole abode, a serviceable television sat in the corner, with two sofas at either wall perpendicular to it. On one sofa were three people: two fresh-faced, young medics and, between them, the girl. At a glance, Noel guessed her age to be somewhere between thirty-six to forty-two months, and her complexion told of a carnal union between the dark-skinned mother and a most-likely Hispanic youth. With the mother the only one present, and thinking little of the area, Noel guessed that this union was short-lived, quite possibly ephemeral. One of the medics looked up to see him in the room. “Well, who do we have here?” he asked, partly to the girl. Noel smiled broadly. “Hello there,” he said. He walked slowly up to the girl, and bent down on one knee to meet her eye to eye. The girl gasped in shock at his posture. “Are you going to marry me?” the girl asked. The three adults laughed. “Well,” Noel said, feigning sheepishness, “I know I am devilishly handsome, and I am very flattered, but I’m afraid that I’m taken, ma’am.” He suppressed his despondency over that blatant lie. He put his hand out to her. “I’m Noel,” he said. “And what’s your name?” “Suzie,” the girl murmured shyly, hesitantly placing her small hand in Noel’s. “Suzie,” he said, gently shaking her hand, “that’s a nice name. Diminutive of Suzanne?” “Wha…?” Noel chuckled. “Doesn’t matter,” he said. “Are you all right? How was your day?” Suzie looked away. “Okay, I guess,” she whispered. Instinctively, she had greater concerns. “Is…is Mommy going to be okay?” “You’re mom’s going to be just fine,” Noel said. “There are good people outside fixing her. It’s nothing, really.” ~ “Some dislodged teeth; bruising on the arms and legs; some trauma to the ribs; broken nose; black eyes,” the medic said calmly, listing off the mother’s injuries. “She’s lucky; it could’ve been worse – we’ve seen some really bad things. Lucky for her they were cowards.” Rachael nodded, listening intently with her arms crossed over her chest. “Any idea who did this?” she asked. “And why, for God’s sake? It’s terrible; you just don’t treat women like that.” The medic nodded. “I see your point,” he said. “You, uh, got kids yourself?” Rachael chuckled lightly. “Oh, no,” she said. “I would have had them already if I did; they’re just not for me.” The medic laughed back. “Understandable and reasonable,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll find what sick bastards did this.” “I do hope so.” ~ “So,” Suzie said quietly, “if you’re talking about good people, are you a good person?” Noel smiled. “Oh, yes indeed,” he said grandly. “Are you a policeman?” she asked. “You don’t look like the police…” Noel snorted gently. “Well, I’m kind of like the police,” he explained softly. “I go out and catch bad guys; it’s not as glamorous as TV, though – I spend most of my time behind a desk.” He chuckled self-deprecatingly, and the medics joined in sympathetically. Noel crossed his arms and huffed dramatically. “I wish my paperwork were as exciting as chasing the bad guys,” he sulked. “But…that’s life.” Suzie giggled. “Do you have kids, mister?” “Oh yes,” he said, smiling wider. “I have a little girl, too. Well…not so little anymore; she’s coming up to eight, in August. Her name’s Natalie. Pretty good name, if I say so myself.” As he drew to a close, he was beaming with pride. Not even his soon-to-be-ex-wife could take that away from him. “I think you’d get on well together,” Noel said, chuckling happily, “like a house on fire. Heh. Well, that means the opposite of what you think it does.” “Why do they say that?” Suzie asked curiously. “A house on fire is bad…” The group laughed gently. “I’m sure most of the Fire Department would agree with you there, Suzie,” Noel said. They laughed again. “How’s school for you?” Noel asked. “Or…kindergarten. Do you have any friends? What do you do there? Do you have fun?” He talked to her effortlessly, and it served its purpose; he sat and listened intently and with genuine interest as she told him. ~ Outside, Rachael continued conversing with the medics and the police. “Ma’am,” a policeman said gently, “I’m going to have to ask: Why were you attacked? Was it unprovoked?” The woman sniffed sharply. “It was…it was, like, seven o’clock,” she whimpered, “and…and I was just going outside and…and I hear these two guys talking about…about Grove Street.” All present looked at each other surreptitiously. “What about them, ma’am?” the officer coaxed. “Well, they was just…they were talking shit about them,” she went on. “All lies and shit. They were saying how they were powerless and worthless and…and a disease and…stuff like that.” “Strong opinion,” the officer said. “How were you involved?” The woman sniffed again. “Well, I was always taught to…to tell the truth,” she said weakly. “So I can’t stand to see people talk about Grove Street like that. I thought I’d tell them what’s what; so I call over to them, and remind them how they’ve been nothing but good to us all these years. They’ve given us money…and books…and encouraged people to…to go to college and…and make something of themselves and…and lift us up out of here. And that’s the truth, ‘cause that’s all I’ve ever known.” “We understand…” The woman went on, her tone becoming more distressed. “Then these two guys, they start yelling at me. They start calling me a traitor and…and a whore and…and a…a dumb bitch and…and they…they just…just came right at me…” She stopped, returning to open weeping. Those around her let her be, not asking anything more. It was a while before she summoned up the nerve to speak coherently again. ~ “People make fun of you?” Noel asked with light indignation. “Well, that’s a shame, Suzie; you shouldn’t let them. Nobody can just tease you like that, it’s awful. Tell you what…” He swung up his left fist. “Give ‘em one from me,” he said, grinning. “Actually…you probably shouldn’t, you might get into trouble…” The adults chuckled. “But you should seriously tell someone,” Noel said glumly. “Your mom, or your teacher, or somebody. I for one won’t stand for it, and you certainly shouldn’t.” Suzie clenched her small fist. “Yeah!” she squeaked. Noel chuckled. “You show ‘em!” There was a knock at the door. Noel looked up and saw Rachael. He turned back to Suzie. “One moment, please,” he said, raising his forefinger in gesture. He hopped up and strode over to Rachael. They kept their voices down. “You called?” Noel asked. “Yeah,” Rachael said. She glanced over at Suzie. “I thought you were on distraction duty, not making lifelong friends…” Noel scratched his head and laughed. “Well, the heartless bitch is intent on snatching away my real daughter,” he hissed resentfully, “I thought I might make up for it.” He raised his forefinger. “Oh,” he said, smiling, “maybe I could adopt her!” Rachael lightly punched his arm, grinning. “I don’t think Mom would be too happy with that,” she said teasingly. “Touché,” Noel conceded, nodding. “She is cute, though; bright, too. Aside, what news?” “Mom divulged that she was assaulted by a couple of thugs in blue clothes,” she explained. “She said they might’ve called themselves ‘Southside’ or something; probably small-time. Amoral assholes, in any case.” “Clearly…” Noel said. “I think that’s all we’re getting out of her,” Rachael said dejectedly. “I think our time here is done.” “As you wish, ma’am,” Noel said, smiling. He turned around and spryly returned to the sofa, leaning down again. “Well, Suzie,” he said, “I’m terribly sorry, but I have to go; I’ve got bad guys to chase down.” “Really?” she gasped. “Yes indeed,” Noel said. “It’s been wonderful to meet you, and I do hope things turn out okay.” He put his hand out; Suzie took it more eagerly. “You keep yourself safe, all right?” he said, gently shaking her hand. “I’ve had fun. Goodbye.” He got back up and headed for the door. At the doorway, he heard the girl huff. “Do you have to go?” she asked. “Afraid so,” he said dolefully. “Maybe I’ll come see you again sometime, all right? You’re a good kid, and your mom’s doing a great job. Try to enjoy the rest of your day.” The little girl frowned. “Okay,” she murmured sulkily. Noel took his cue to slip outside and past the crowd of medics and police. Noel took the inside of the sidewalk, with Rachael on his left. Nearing their car by mouth of the alley, Rachael gasped suddenly. It was all Noel needed; he turned, swung his left fist out and caught the skinny thug directly in the stomach. He kneed him directly in the groin and then swung his elbow out to meet the goon’s forehead. The hard blow knocked him back, and Noel put his foot behind the man’s ankle, tripping him. His limp body hit the grimy alley floor with a thud; he was unconscious. Noel turned to Rachael, shaking his hand casually as if nothing had happened. “And that’s how you kick ass.” Without a word, the two slipped inside the car and Noel started and revved the engine. “So,” Noel said whilst buckling his seatbelt, “do we know anything at all about these ‘Southside’ fellows?” “No,” Rachael replied. “Do we know anyone who might?” The two paused. Noel smiled at her as he threaded the steering wheel in his hands and moved the car onto the road. With the steering column locked, he performed a smooth turn across the street, bringing the sedan into the right lane and moving slowly to the intersection, pulling out and heading back to the police station. ~ Heading through the corridor at break, Artemis was minding her own business. Of course, trouble was never far away… “Glomp!” She had barely time to turn before the figure impacted her side and swept her across the narrow space into a row of lockers. Once she had sufficiently reoriented herself, she realised it couldn’t have been anyone else with the audacity to have one arm wrapped around her waist with a hand at the small of her back – a sensation she was quite fond of when it came from that individual. Artemis smiled meekly. “Hello again, Aurora,” she said quietly. “Good morning, Arty,” Aurora replied happily. There was a somewhat manic gaze in her eye. “Squee.” It would be accurate to say that Artemis was envious of her: whilst she had a gaunt frame befitting her introverted nature, Aurora was a sight to behold. Her form was the product of dozens of hours spent in a gym, lithe and voluptuous, with a quaint face, bright eyes and a warm smile. Her long black hair hung over her shoulders, streaked with purple. From top to bottom, she publicly proclaimed her allegiance to her subculture of choice, dressed in motorcycle books, striped black-and-purple leggings, a knee-length black skirt, and a purple corset top over a long-sleeved black shirt with matching frills at the wrists. In stark contrast to the world outside, she was strikingly pale, her only cosmetics being black eye shadow, matching nail polish and a hint of rouge. “Heh,” Artemis murmured, scratching her head. “Maybe go easy on the glomp thing? I kind of like this ‘life’ thing…” Aurora feigned glumness, and then beamed at her, pulling her into a full hug. “I…I also like breathing…” Artemis whispered croakily. “Of course you do, dear,” Aurora said, releasing her immediately. Artemis attempted laughter, clutching her sides momentarily to ease the fleeting pain. “Shall we go?” Aurora asked. “Let’s.” Walking down the hall, there was silence between them for a few moments whilst Artemis cleared her throat and gathered the mettle of talk. “Aurora, I was thinking…” she said. “Yes?” “Maybe we could…you know…hang out this weekend?” Aurora bit her lip and sighed; at that, you could already hear the air hissing out from Artemis’ swiftly deflating hopes. “I’m sorry, Arty,” she said, and she genuinely meant it. “I’ve…I’ve got…a prior engagement. All weekend, I’m afraid.” Artemis frowned. “Again?” she said sadly. “This keeps coming up every so often. What is it, exactly?” “Just some time with a close friend,” Aurora answered. “It’s kind of a family thing.” “What do you get up to?” “Oh, we just get together and chat,” Aurora said. There was nothing evasive about her tone. “It’s nothing, really.” “Hmm,” Artemis murmured. “I noticed this seems to happen every time you say you have a bad week.” “Well,” Aurora said, “I’ve just kind of had another bad week.” “Isn’t there anything I can do to help?” Artemis asked. “Hmm,” Aurora sighed. “Not really. I kind of have my own methods of dealing with these things. Just some me-time to get my mind off things.” “Fair enough,” Artemis said silently. Aurora ran a hand through her highlights. “Look, I’m really sorry, okay?” she said. “I know you want to hang out some more. I’ll try to make it up to you next weekend, okay? I promise… experience pending, of course.” “Sure.” Aurora put her arm on her shoulder and pulled her close. “Seriously,” she repeated, leaning down to kiss her forehead, “I’m sorry.” “It’s…it’s fine,” Artemis said, immediately smiling and faintly tingling at her touch. ~ Moving spryly up the steps in Pershing Square, Noel and Rachael walked into the foyer of the police station. They didn’t need directions anymore and simply made their way to the office. On their way, they stopped as a gangling man was hauled past them by two burly officers; the man was incessantly cursing at them as he was dragged down the hall towards the cells. They stared at each other for a few moments and then continued into the office. Their presence had already been noted, as Larson was standing by the door to his office a few moments later, beckoning them. By the door, Noel pointed his thumb towards the hall. “Have you considered muzzling him with soap?” The two men paused, then laughed, vigorously shaking hands. “Good to see you two again,” Larson said. “Please, come in.” The trio went into Larson’s office and made themselves comfortable. Leaning on his clasped hands, Larson spoke. “So,” he said, “what brings you here?” “Well,” Noel said, “your station got a call earlier; there’d been an assault in Ganton. A couple of thugs let loose on a young mother.” “Mm-hmm.” “I stayed with her kid,” Noel said, “but Rach got most of the relevant information.” “Yes,” she said, stroking some hair behind her ear. “Sir, the woman said that she’d responded to those two men criticising Grove Street – whether justly or unjustly I leave at your discretion.” “Go on…” “She said they were wearing a lot of blue, and that they said they were allied to an organisation that calls itself ‘Southside’.” “We thought you might be better informed on these guys than we were,” Noel said. “Could you fill us in?” Larson smiled. “Well, you’ve certainly come to the right place,” he said. He brought one arm up and rested his chin on his palm. “Off the top of my head,” he said casually, “they’re relatively new; appeared around two or three years back. Though they would never challenge Grove Street directly – nobody’s that stupid – they claim territory in the south of the city. If our intelligence is to be believed, for the last few weeks they’ve been putting out feelers to another outfit, the Eastside Crew, headed up by one Julius Keyes. The Crew claims areas currently maintained jointly by Grove Street and their allies in Varrios Los Aztecas.” Larson snorted derisively. “I know, I know,” he said. “Southside and Eastside; very original. You think they’d focus on other things, like one of the education programmes Grove Street is so fond of. No such luck; petty squabbling suits these types just fine.” He cleared his throat before continuing on. “These two outfits seem to be in the early stages of cementing a strategic alliance,” he said. “God knows how they think they can take on Grove Street, even if they are losing control. Even a non-venomous animal can deliver one hell of a bite.” His voice became sober. “For the sake of this city and everyone in it, I think it’s best if we nip these amateurs in the bud and get Carl as quickly as we can. The GSF is going to leave a void, and things are going to get messy in that void. When this is over, there are going to be a lot of angry, disillusioned people with easy access to guns. When I’m done with this job, I’d rather people in the future don’t refer to my time in office with the words ‘gang war’, ‘civil war’, ‘apocalypse’, or any other unflattering buzzwords you care to mention. We need to be quick; we need to be ruthless; we need to—” “Stop talking and start acting,” Rachael chimed in. Larson stopped abruptly, floored by her bluntness. “Yes, madam,” he stammered, nodding slowly. “Yes, of course. You saw that gentleman in the hall with the inventive vocabulary?” The two nodded. “He’s not just another city lowlife,” Larson said, grinning. “He’s Carl’s man.” Noel and Rachael exchanged glances and turned back to Larson with awkward, impressed smiles. “Oh yes,” Larson announced proudly, “hour by hour, day by day, man by man: we’ll catch him. A year ago, it might have been a question of if; now it’s only a question of when. We’ll get him…eventually.” ~ At dusk, safe in the hills of Vinewood, a man sat alone. He sat in a neatly pressed suit in a deep leather chair at a semi-circular desk in a small office. Around him the walls were covered with vintage vinyl records in cases, and trophies and awards sat on row upon row on several small tables. There was the odd poster in the room, preserved for eternity behind a sheet of glass, as almost everything else was. The man in the posters and photos, whose face adorned record covers and cassette tapes and CDs, had left this abode many years ago. With the help of his manager, Madd Dogg had had his heyday. Now he lived a reclusive life, safe with his royalties and bottomless bank account, at another residence. Occasionally he might make a public appearance or perform in front of the crowds again, but it was only as a curio, a relic of a bygone era. Public interest had faded; he was old-hat, and modernity’s children, basking in their illusion of eternal youth, had no time for an anachronism like him. He had his money and his music; he had become a mentor now – he neither needed nor wanted anything more. His former manager had unceremoniously booted him from his house of many years a few years ago, when he had had the urge to establish it as his permanent headquarters from which to gaze upon his domain. As things had deteriorated further and further as the months went by, his former friend had barred him from ever returning: their friendship, like his music career, was a relic. Depressed, dejected and desperate, Carl Johnson sat in the chair, peering lazily at the walls, remembering his old life. It had been a good one: one he would gladly return to in an instant – but those days were long gone. He had overseen his protégé’s last musical endeavour at the turn of the millennium. Sensing the turning of the tide, Madd Dogg was reduced to releasing a compilation album every so often to prop up his finances and keep his investors happy. He lived well enough. But that was history. With Sweet’s sudden death that April day in 2006, Carl had had leadership of the criminal underworld thrust upon him. After the mourning, it had been a relatively bearable job; but after a while, cracks began to appear: the brothers’ respective strengths and weaknesses came to the fore. Sweet, stubborn and focused, had been an efficient leader of the syndicate: generous and ruthless in turn when the situation called for it, he was very comfortable overseeing the internal affairs of Grove Street and establishing complete control over the ghettoes. With Carl and a plethora of advisors on hand, he had stamped out crime and corruption, reduced poverty and strangled the drugs trade. But that was memory. Carl had always strived to be a legitimate businessman; he had income flowing in from all over the state generated by the enterprises he had established and maintained. Most of this money he had diverted to his family, to assure them a standard of living that he himself could never have dreamed of. He had never thought himself the leader of this vast empire. But that was reality. Try as he might, Carl felt power slipping through his fingertips. He knew well now that it was always Sweet the jumped-up small-timers had feared, with his often ruthless policies. Resistance was fleeting; such was the rate at which it was crushed. What had they to fear from a legitimate businessman who had washed his hands of such a life? Sweet had been feared and respected; increasingly, Carl was merely derided and ridiculed. Carl had carried over most of his brother’s policies, but over time their effect diminished. Cracks became fissures, eventually becoming festering sores on the body politic of the city; all manner of vermin came through those weak points, infesting the areas he had strived so valiantly to transform. Increasingly, his enemies were emboldened by these signs of weakness. Every time there was word of drug circulation, he sent in his men to stamp it out; but it simply reappeared at a later date, and those dates were increasingly close. Now it seemed that every few days he received news that some young kid had gunned down another one of his men. It made him sick. And it only got worse. There came a knock at the door. Being edgier than in his prime, Carl jumped at the sudden sound. Without a word, he gestured for the man to enter. The man was Jonathan Davidson; Carl’s trusted aide and bodyguard of ten years. Of the same complexion as his boss, he was dressed immaculately in a tuxedo, with his hair shaved in a military way. In recent months, he had come to be seen both by Carl and himself as a bearer of bad news. Today was no different. He cleared his throat. “Carl, sir,” he said, “I have an update.” “Bring it,” Carl said tersely. Jonathan strode over, standing opposite him on the other side of the desk. “We’ve just had word that they hauled in another of our boys today,” he stated calmly over Carl’s growl. “He might talk or he might not – we can’t be sure.” “Damn it…” “The police are getting very serious about this, sir,” he said. “That Strider is stubborn; even if we did manage to get rid of him, I think he’d rise from the dead and keep at it. He’s very determined.” “Arrogant asshole,” Carl hissed. “He should be doing his job.” “With all due respect,” Jonathan said, “he is doing his job, sir.” Carl leaned back in the chair and sighed despondently. “Also, sir,” Jonathan said gravely, “I must tell you this. All week, some of our men have reported seeing a black sedan moving around town. Some are saying it’s a man and a woman, and they seem to be in regular contact with the police and probably cooperating with them.” Carl growled again. “Judging by their uniforms and general conduct, it’s possible that…that…” “What?” Jonathan cleared his throat. “That…they’re from the FBI, sir,” he said. “Maybe they smelt blood. We can’t say for sure, but…I’ll tell our guys to keep an eye on them.” “Fine, fine,” Carl said quickly, waving his hand towards the door. “Is that all?” “Yes, sir.” “You may leave,” Carl said sternly. “As you wish.” Jonathan clasped his hands behind his back and strode slowly from the room and down the hall. Carl slammed his fist against the table and cursed. ~
  6. It started getting muddled around this point... ~ Four Rebellion Wednesday 3rd March Mercedes awoke at her regular time, going through her morning routine without incident except for a brief pause to look into Carmen’s room to check up on her. The girl still slept soundly; in her current predicament, she often kept to her room to sleep. Mercedes sighed dejectedly at the poor girl. After a while, with her backpack slung over her shoulder, she headed for the stairs. She flinched as the front door swung open. Identifying the figure at the door instantly, she reminded herself not to be surprised. Juan stood in the doorway, standing rather lazily. He was dressed in an orange hooded top, scruffy jeans and an old pair of shoes, and his shoulder-length hair was tied back and had the oily sheen of neglect. He had seen better days. His face was pallid and his eyes bloodshot with slight bags, but he managed to give a weak smile when he saw his sister. “Hey,” he said tiredly. “You good?” Mercedes rolled her eyes. “Been better,” she replied indifferently. Her voice became stern. “Where have you been?” In the past, her brother’s tardiness and random appearances made her cross her arms and become huffy, putting on the best impression of their mother she could muster; she had long since passed that stage, and her arms simply hung at her sides limply. She despaired for the boy. “Just hanging with Angel, y’know,” Juan answered hesitantly. “It’s…it’s all cool.” “Well, it’s not ‘all cool’ over here,” Mercedes sighed. “Why’re you back now? I thought you said you were just going for the weekend?” “I was…” Juan said. “Well, you must have a very unique view of what constitutes ‘weekend’, because it’s Wednesday.” Juan shrugged and scratched his head absentmindedly. “Angel said I could stay at her place…so I did.” “So there’s something wrong with this place now?” Mercedes said sharply. “Mom’s always pushy and annoyed and shit,” Juan mumbled. “Gets on my nerves. Fuck that.” Now Mercedes did cross her arms indignantly. “Mom is ‘pushy’ because you’re doing jack shit with your life!” Mercedes snapped. Juan made erratic gestures. “Hey, hey,” he said quickly, “I’m totally doing stuff. I—I have the band and we’re, like…” “When do you ever turn up to play with them?” Mercedes demanded. “When do you ever get up off your ass and play an instrument? What the hell are you doing with your life? When do you ever stop and think, maybe, Carmen would appreciate some support from more than just me?” “What does she have to do with—” Mercedes hissed and threw her arms up. “You know what?” she said. “I don’t have time for this shit, because I actually have things to do.” She forced her way past him through the door and strode hurriedly over to the garage side door. She went inside, emerging soon afterwards with her bike. She pushed it over to the porch and swung over onto it. She turned to her brother, glaring at him. “Have a good day,” she said tersely. With that, she rode off down the street. She muttered to herself irritably. Juan had been growing progressively more aloof since he’d met up with Angel that weekend in October. Now he spent his days alternating between Angel and irregular band practice, but mostly – like Carmen but without the justification – he confined himself to his bedroom, spending most of the time in bed, listening to heavy metal and stumbling around the house half-naked to eat whatever irregular meals he could conjure in the kitchen or having the audacity to order some manner of fast food when the fridge was always fully stocked. He abused his bank account on the days he remembered it was there. His new way of life might have made him a vagabond if he hadn’t been born into the most comfortable existence money could buy. Deep down, she supposed she pitied him. Forced to juggle caring for Carmen, her hectic school life and Juan’s inactivity, she flirted with religion, occasionally dropping into a church and regularly thanking God that she had a skilled psychiatrist. She brushed her thoughts aside as she neared school: she would indulge herself in work and return to incessant worrying later. ~ On the west side of the train tracks across from the heartland of Grove Street, in Idlewood, apartments that had been generously renovated and cleaned up were starting to show signs of their old character. Cars that had long-since become archaic sat haphazardly over the front lawn and on the sidewalk: Admirals, Bobcats, Esperantos, Mananas and Perennials sat in a state of decay, showing their age. In one of the flats, it was unusually crowded. Around two dozen men and a handful of women sat together in the dingy surroundings, talking amongst themselves whilst the radio alternated between the latest hip-hop and rap music. Half the room were dressed in rusty brown colours, the other half in blues. On the coffee table between the two groups, loaded pistols were haphazardly scattered. They had laid down their arms, and were negotiating in conspiratorial tones. The head of the group clad in orange was, like his comrades, fairly young; clean-shaven, with a rugged, dark countenance and hard brown eyes. One could not read much of his history in his face: he might have been sitting comfortably in a position of power for years, or he might have only recently taken over from another. The way his subordinates behaved, however – their ease and confidence around him – made one think that he was a weary, experienced leader of men. Like those around him, he had braved the hardship of the slums, and rose to prominence through sheer force of will – and yet he was only just 32. “Right,” he said, clasping his hands, “here we all are; the third of the third at three o’clock. As the leader of the Eastside Crew”—his entourage cheered briefly—“I, Julius Keyes, call this meeting with our friends in Southside to order.” Julius licked his thumb and rifled through imagined pages in the air, putting his forefinger firmly on the non-existent top of one. “The first order of business,” he stated firmly. “There are reports of an incursion into Grove Street”—the entire group booed—“territory by some pusher. We don’t know whose side he’s on, he may well be independent, but he up and killed somebody.” “He a dumbass!” one of Julius’ men blurted out. “No, man,” another in blue countered, “he a bona fide hero!” A few in Southside agreed. Julius cleared his throat and silence returned. “Well,” he said, “whatever he may have been, maybe he wasn’t all that astute. Just another dealer on another day. But here’s how I see it: it’s not the man, but the message that man brings.” The two groups looked at each other perplexedly. “He’s a dealer in a whole line of dealers,” Julius went on. “One of many. Look, the point is: he got through. They all got through. Hell, most people get through these days. There aren’t that many, but there they are. They’re out there, pushing their product and poking holes in everything.” The groups now began nodding in appreciation. “Every day they get through and try to sell, whether they’re successful or not, they show the world that there’s not a barbed wire fence, or a force-field, or a fortified wall around these parts. There are cracks, and people get through ‘em when they can. They show Grove Street that they don’t have the monopoly there anymore.” The group agreed in whispers. “Those old men running the show,” Julius continued, gaining confidence as he went, “they don’t have all the power they think they do anymore. And why is that? Because Grove Street is weak!” Both groups cheered their approval at this. “Grove Street, they ain’t got it in ‘em anymore,” Julius snarled. “Every dealer that gets in, every one of their guys that gets popped and buried, every crack in their façade is a sign of their weakness. They’re impotent!” Again the group cheered. “They’ve lost it!” Julius said assuredly. “It’s death by a thousand cuts for them! They’ve been losing control every week and every day since Sweet got popped.” The two groups laughed and gave their approval. “Now, I gotta admit,” Julius said, “even I don’t know who got him in the end. Could’ve been anybody. But they still got him, because he let his guard down. He got overconfident, thought he had all the power, thought he had it all under control. And then,” he said, tucking in his third and fourth fingers to form a gun, “bam!” The two groups clapped merrily. Julius gave a pithy snort, smiling and brimming with confidence. “Now CJ”—both groups jeered—“Now that he’s in control, it’s dire straits. Things are going to hell all around him, ‘cause he ain’t nothing like his brother. He’s struggling and it’s not getting any easier. I bet every day, he gets told how irreversibly fucked up everything is, and he can’t stand it. Sooner or later, it’ll all be over for him.” Both groups cheered loudly. Julius spread his arms wide. “That’s why our time has come, my friends,” he said. “Now is the time to take advantage of everything and make sure things go our way. Grove Street has had their time; time for some new blood!” Now Julius stood up to address all present, making sweeping gestures with his hands. “The time has come!” he said. “No longer will we watch our brothers and sisters suffer under the old tyranny! It’s time to rise up, and crush their monopoly on our lives! ” The entire room whooped and hollered. “No longer will anyone tell us what to do! This is our town now, not theirs! The end is at hand for those who think themselves our masters! A new day is coming, a new dawn of new blood and new power! Plenty of people are pissed off, ‘cause they know it’s been too long! As long as we’ve got soldiers and guns, we will stand up to their terror! And if they try to crush us, we’ll unleash a vengeance like nothing anybody’s ever seen!” The entire room rose to their feet, applauding. “If we stick together, nothing will stop us! Death to Grove Street! Eastside and Southside for life!” The frenzied chant rose up amongst all present: “Death to Grove Street!” Ad infinitum, ad nauseum. ~
  7. Three Allies and Atrocities Monday 1st March Dawn: the sun was just beginning to creep over the horizon. In an ideal world, the night brought with it a sense of peace for those not fortunate enough to live in gated communities – the reality as of late was quite different. On a “good” night, the police were called to investigate and deal with all manner of disturbances dozens of times; less if they were lucky. More often than not, the patrol cars wailed down the streets into the slums, with only the most hardened officers daring to set foot inside the vestigial empire of old Grove Street. Larson Strider relished the opportunities where he could turn the tables on the assorted criminals and lowlifes, and surprise them. This morning, in East Los Santos, there was just such a chance. A battering ram smashed into the old, rusted door at 6.00; it was ruined instantly. Drawing their pistols, a dozen policemen rushed into the breach screaming demands at the top of their lungs. They poured into every room of the unremarkable bungalow; being a modest property, half the team converged on the only bedroom, throwing open the door. The room’s sole occupant responded sluggishly to the sudden awakening. He could barely comprehend what he was seeing as two burly officers hauled him up out of the unkempt bed clad in only underwear and a vest. He was violently thrown about for a few seconds; it only stopped when the men demanded he throw on some clothes. Half-awake, he fidgeted into a pair of jeans at gunpoint, moving on to slip on some modest shoes and a sports jacket. The moment he finished dressing, he was pressed up against the wall and roughly handcuffed. “What the hell is this, man?” he asked irritably. One of the officers spoke up. “Drake Trenton, we are arresting you on suspicion of affiliation with the Grove Street syndicate; we have reason to believe you are aiding and abetting the fugitive Carl Johnson,” he said. “You’ll be coming with us to the station for a little quiz session.” “I don’t know anything about that guy!” “Oh, we haven’t heard that one before…” the officer mused. “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. Come along, boy.” Two of the officers took a shoulder each and led him from the premises, hurrying down the steps and towards the waiting patrol cars. Drake was unceremoniously thrown into the back seat. Looking on, Larson strode over to his own vehicle, his brown greatcoat flapping lightly around his knees. A ghost of a grin crept onto his rugged face; another easy victory. ~ At 9.00, a black Washington sedan pulled into the parking inlet at the front entrance of the Los Santos Police Department in Pershing Square. Shutting off the engine, Noel Valentine adjusted his tie and sighed. “Are you okay?” Rachael asked. Noel nodded quickly. “Yeah, yeah,” he said quickly. “Let’s go.” Both exited simultaneously; Noel led the way up the short set of stairs through to the lobby. There was some minor commotion down the hall; the receptionist seemed oblivious to it, giving the two a disinterested stare as she looked up from her monotonous work, having seen Noel lean into the generously-sized room. “Hello,” said Noel. “We called ahead; we’re here to see whoever’s in charge around here.” His hand dove into his inner breast pocket; he dug out and casually flipped open his identification. “This is all you need to know.” The woman looked over the leather wallet and its card for a few seconds, eventually nodding. Hunching down, she picked up a phone from its cradle, quickly punched a series of numbers into the keypad, and waited. “Two guests here to see you, sir,” she explained. “Say they have prior clearance.” “Let ‘em through,” answered the voice on the end. She put the phone down, looking back up at them and raising her arm. “Down the hall, first on the left,” she said, pointing. Noel gave her a curt nod and he and Rachael walked the short distant across the hall, taking the short set of steps up to a bustling office. Phones rang shrilly and constantly, always answered by the impenetrable myriad voices of the staff at their desks. Others hurried about with files, documents and assorted paperwork; there was always something happening in the city outside. At the far end of the hall, a stern man of forty-seven beckoned the two newcomers over to him. He was lucky to retain a full head of hair, but had to compromise with streaks of grey. He was dressed smartly enough, and not dissimilar to Noel: polished shoes, ironed trousers, pristine white shirt, suspenders, neat tie. He was rugged, with a chiselled jaw and firm features, but there was friendliness in his eyes. Upon closing the distance between them, Noel put out his hand. “I guess you’re the guy, then?” he said. The man clasped his hand genially. “Larson Strider, chief of police,” he said. “And you are?” “Noel Valentine,” he said. He gestured behind himself. “And this is Rachael.” Larson smiled and nodded. “Ah, yes,” he said. “I got the call yesterday. Good to see you here.” “A pleasure, sir,” Noel said, giving a small smile. Larson raised his thumb to the hall behind him. “Shall we head into my office?” The officer led the two through into the small room and through a door on the left. They slipped inside. They found themselves in the office behind the glass partition. It was spacious enough and modestly furnished with the appropriate equipment, with leather swivel chairs and a fine desk atop which a modern computer sat. Larson took his seat, gesturing for Noel and Rachael to take their own. Once all were seated, Larson cleared his throat and began in earnest. “I trust that your superiors would have already briefed you on why you’re in this fine city,” he said, his hand sweeping across the room. “So let’s not retread old territory. Simply, you are here to pursue your goals, and I am here to pursue my own; cooperation between our two parties is essential. We both, ultimately, have the same goal: namely, the dissolution of an old, tired regime and the apprehension of its leader. Our combined efforts will make short work of this; the sooner this is over, the better for all of us.” Noel and Rachael nodded appreciatively. “Latest news from the front: we just hauled in another suspected member of this little operation, and we’re going to see what interrogation can provide for us. In the last few weeks, my department’s been working flat-out to trace any and all connections to our mutual opponent. So far, results are favourable, and with any luck they’ll continue to be.” Larson caught Noel’s eyes and gazed at him intently. “If I may ask, sir, what’s with the shifty looks?” “Oh—Nothing – I—“ “Oh, I get it,” Larson said indignantly, “just because this city is a forsaken hellhole, I must be yet another bent cop, right?” “Well—I—“ “For your information, I’ve been working my ass off for the last eighteen months to avert that nasty little smear. I’m not sure I fit into one of your much-loved stereotypes, thanks.” Noel nodded, averted his eyes and furrowing his brow. “Every cop in this city has been Johnson’s lapdog since he took power; I thought I’d break with tradition and get on with my damned job. I don’t get thanked for it, I don’t get praise: I just keep dodging bombs and bullets. Some life. Really quite a precarious position, being an honest lawman for a change. Who’d have thought, huh?” Noel scratched the back of his neck. “Right… I apologise. It’s just…what I’d heard…” Larson grinned. “Apology accepted. Looks can be deceiving, after all. Let’s not let some crude stereotype stand in the way of our professional relationship.” Noel cleared his throat. “Yes indeed,” he said. “So, do we have a plan for any of this?” “I wouldn’t say so,” Larson said warily, “not in concrete terms. We have to do as best we can with what we’ve got. Johnson’s being pretty elusive. He goes from one place to another: lodges with affiliates, does favours here and there, that sort of thing. His exact whereabouts are unknown: the best I’ve been able to do is follow up leads and rumours wherever I can. He’s getting weaker by the week, so now’s the prime time to bring him in when the opportunity knocks.” The two agents nodded. “The man’s got friends, family, associates scattered around town; I’ve been wanting to chase up some of them. You guys could be a godsend in that regard. The best we can do is keep bringing in anyone who was so much as went to the same school, though I’m not inclined to the side of fallacy; it’s tenuous at best. Instead, I’ve been making a concerted effort to focus on the syndicate’s ‘high command’, if you will; somewhat harder to find, but very useful in the long-term. We might have a better chance at this if we could employ some form of surveillance. Think you two are up for it?” “If we have the right resources,” Rachael said confidently. Larson nodded. “Right,” he said. “I’m the go-to guy, I guess. I can give you pretty much whatever you want: men, guns, cars, cameras; you name it, I’ll try to supply it.” “Very useful indeed…” Noel said. He crossed his arms. “No time like the present. You mentioned this ‘high command’ fellow?” Larson looked at his watch. “Scheduled to be interviewed at half past,” he said. “You want to come along?” “Cooperate as early as possible and this is all resolved sooner,” Noel said. Larson smiled, chuckling lightly. “Good man,” he said. “If we’re lucky, we might just have this damned thing over with by the end of the month.” ~ Just a few blocks east of the glitz and glamour of the elite’s sphere of influence lay the underbelly of the city: the festering, bursting boils of urban decay, deprivation and degradation – the underside of the pristine shoe, dirt trapped within its grooves. Yet who cares to look under their shoes when they are convinced they are nigh-divine? The ramshackle housing around Grove Street had seen some renovations over the last eighteen years, both the token efforts of slimy politicians desperate to woo the voting bloc, and money and material from other, more clandestine sources that one did not speak of in polite company, or any company, if they had sense. Still, most in the area knew well who their benefactors were and that their services came with rewards; drug trafficking had been all but eliminated here some years ago, with dealers forced from the streets and made to sell their wares elsewhere. Education programmes brought about increased literacy as more people began to get a grasp of valuable vocations. Some even earned enough through honest work to be able to leave the area – but, to the surprise of their neighbours, they had chosen to stay. Their benefactors had begun to make the area, if not perfect, at least more liveable and tolerable than before; some even went so far as to say it was becoming ‘nice’. Charity bought trust and paid for loyalty. For the past year, however, things had been gradually shifting: more windows were cracked and broken; more houses faded; the dregs of society began to worm their way in to any opening they found. Hearing of the re-emergence of drug dealers in the area, the velvet glove became an iron fist, mercilessly seeking out and eliminating sources of ill will. Hardened troops clad in the familiar green of the dominant power rushed into battle, encircling and destroying pockets of dissent and malice, flushing them out, dealing with them however the local commanders thought proper. Even when warnings and threats escalated into guns and bombs, there were still those who sought to resist, engineering disharmony and discord amongst the populace. A hard core persisted and fought on at all costs; they painted themselves as the oppressed and their would-be saviours as ruthless tyrants, seeing fair punishment as brutal subjugation. Explaining this phenomenon, one looks to the adolescent urge to rebel, to oppose the Establishment so hated in the popular consciousness. Indeed, it came down to a rapidly-growing rebellion against the orthodoxy, one that grew more determined and sophisticated, and whose fight was not waged without cause. Just past midday, one could see the malice seeping through the cracks in the heart of Grove Street. The specimen was a horrid little thing, clad in loose jeans that hung low at the waist, exposing his underwear, with a ruffled shirt under a dirty sports jacket; clothing of the ostensibly impoverished that did nothing to disguise the reek of bodily odours. It was hard to tell his true figure: he was thin, mildly built, attuned to running when needed. He wore a beanie upon his shaved head, and his bloodshot eyes looked in every direction from their sunken sockets, his lips quivering upon his gaunt face. Though he knew the risks, the lure of money was too great; he was hunting his prey. He watched as commuters passed by, leering and sneering at him, some quite aware of what his presence entailed; they moved around him promptly. One was not so fortunate; a young woman, twenty or so years of age and of Hispanic descent, rounded the corner onto the street. She was quick: she spotted him almost immediately and imperceptibly drifted over to the opposite side of the sidewalk. She held her head high as she approached, her eyes distractedly looking away from him. With only a few metres between them, the scrawny figure showed that he had yet to learn the full meaning of the word ‘tact’. With an oily, painful grin that exposed his rotting teeth, he leaned out to her. “Hey—hey,” he barked, his voice trembling, “I got some good shit right here. You want some, baby?” The woman wrinkled her nose, intently ignoring him. “Hey, you listening, baby?” he repeated more aggressively. “You got money? I got the best product on sale, so good.” “Oh, piss off, you pathetic freak!” the woman snapped tiredly. “But—but I can’t go now, baby,” the man said keenly. “Not ‘til you tried some of this. Tell you what; discount! Fifty! Just fifty, baby!” He was up close now, hyperactive and antisocial. “I told you,” she hissed, “I don’t want any of your shit! And neither does anyone else!” “Oh, come on, baby!” he murmured sycophantically. “I—I’ll give it to you for twenty-five! Ten! You’re just that good, baby!” The woman grunted, and then sudden relief washed over her face when she looked behind the would-be pusher. Confused at his potential customer’s sudden change of heart, he froze abruptly when he felt a firm hand on his shoulder. He was spun around fiercely, and came face-to-face with a tall, imposing man clad in green sportswear with a matching bandana. “I think you should listen to the lady,” the new man said, his voice gruff. “Didn’t you hear? We don’t want your kind around here. So why don’t you do this nice little community a favour and piss off somewhere else, huh? And take your disgusting merchandise with you, too.” The dealer sneered at his detractor. “Man,” he said angrily, “who the hell do you think you are? Don’t you know what’s what? Grove Street ain’t worth shit no more! You can’t touch me, man! You fuck off!” The man in green stood in silence, taking in the little tirade. “You know what?” he said finally, his voice threateningly low and measured. “I think my fist is gonna prove your little theory wrong, if you don’t clear off our turf right this min—” In the blink of an eye, the dealer’s hand flew to his waistband. There was a flash of silver and a bang. And then another. The man in green was silent; one hand clutched at his abdomen, the other limp where it should have been at the hole in his neck. He collapsed with a whimper, pools of blood expanding on the sidewalk. The woman shrieked, running for her life down the street and rounding the corner with such intensity she tripped, quickly correcting herself. There were more screams as people realised what had just happened. Panicking, and knowing what would soon happen, the dealer turned and ran off, leaving the scene and the body behind him, repeatedly cursing the name of the empire and its leader as he went. ~
  8. I doubt Tommy even has an empire anymore. As much of a badass as Tommy was, he probably ended up like Pegorino. I did allow room for some unforseen mishap to occur. It's always a possibility. And a character study of a fallen Tommy would certainly be interesting in and of itself...
  9. And now, an As You Know chapter. ~ Two The Santos Gambit Sunday 28th February FBI field office, Los Santos At four o’clock in the afternoon, Noel Valentine sat comfortably in his office, legs crossed under him, taking a phone call. “Yeah, I know,” he said, laughing lightly. “It must be late over there, huh?” “It’s seven o’clock,” said a small voice. ”Ah, you rebel, you!” Noel chuckled. “Clearly you must be apprehended, criminal!” The girl giggled. “When are you back, dad?” Noel smiled. “Oh, I don’t know, sweetheart,” he said, arching his back. “I can’t promise anything, unfortunately; I go where the work takes me. Besides, I get to bust some bad guys. Is that cool or is that cool?” “Totally cool!” “I’ll see you when I see you,” he said. “I’ve got a new case; should be interesting. We’ll definitely meet up when I get back, okay? Movies and ice cream sound good?” There was no response. “Hello…? Natalie? Are you there?” “What have I told you about talking to her, you prick?” Noel rolled his eyes. “Well, hello to you, too,” he sneered. “We’re having a perfectly nice conversation and you just feel that need to interrupt. What’s with you?” “You know the rules, Valentine!” the woman replied. “Oh, oh,” Noel said sardonically, “I’m terribly sorry; have you put a goddamn restraining order on me now or what?” “Don’t think I won’t! You are not to talk to her!” “I recall that wasn’t our agreement last time,” Noel said. “Stress of it all getting to you?” “You know why I left,” the woman hissed. “And why might—” “You just disappear to the other side of the country and don’t tell anyone!” “Well, I was transferred, these things happen…” “You never told me!” Noel rolled his eyes again. “Basic security protocol,” he reiterated. “You really should be aware by now; it’s been, ooh…ten years?” “Don’t you take that tone with me!” she snapped. “And don’t keep calling my daughter!” “Well, I sincerely apologise for being her father,” Noel hissed. “She mine’s too; I have that right.” “Not when this is over!” Noel leapt out of his seat. “You can’t do that—“ He paused mid-sentence. The line was dead. He stood trembling for a few moments; then he cursed loudly and repeatedly. Only just forty, his life was already beginning to collapse. He stopped abruptly when there was a knock at the door. Steadying his breathing and calming himself, he called the visitor inside. The caller merely held open the door and leant in. “Sir,” he said almost lazily, “the boss wants you in his room for the briefing. Five minutes.” “Right,” Noel replied brusquely. The man closed the door and continued down the hallway. Noel quickly went about brushing down his immaculate suit; he pinched the folds of his trousers, straightened his tie, adjusted his suspenders and picked up his blazer from the back of his chair, slipping it over his shoulders and tugging it across his back, brushing it down lightly, fastening each button with practised rapidity. He brushed himself down a second time just to make sure; he ran a hand through his greying, receding blond hair and left the room. He reached his superior’s office in half the allocated time. He was quickly joined by another member of staff. Upon sighting her, Noel felt better instantly. “Rach!” he said with an awkward smile. “Good to see you!” The two shook hands. Rachael Emerson was only thirty months younger than him; she dressed just as smartly, perfectly comfortable in business trousers, and wore her flaxen hair in a professional chin-length bob cut. She was as pleasing to the eye as he remembered; the stresses of the job ebbed away at her countenance with every passing year, yet still it remained. “How are you?” she asked. “Everything all right?” “It’s been better,” Noel replied jadedly. Rachael simply nodded. Noel shot a look at her. “You got transferred here as well?” “Oh, yes,” she said, brushing back a strand of hair. “Just last week, actually.” “Me too,” Noel said with a small laugh. “They dragged me here; quite a way to go. Are you enjoying it so far?” Rachael shrugged. “Not a bad place,” she admitted, “not good, either. I stay well clear of the slums whenever I can, but it comes with the territory. I hear they’re a real nightmare these days.” Noel nodded. “I’m not surprised,” he said. “All these new gangs are crawling through the woodwork. Or so I’ve heard.” “Could be pretty volatile,” Rachael said. Noel concurred. At ten minutes past, they were allowed in. They took their seats in leather swivel chairs; the office was sparsely furnished, with only a handful of chairs, a desk, a filing cabinet and a bookcase at the rear wall. The walls were covered in pristine certificates and awards in photo frames proclaiming the achievements, awards and commendations of their proud recipient. There was a pile of documents and two trays, but no computer; the man across from the pair didn’t much care for the machines. At fifty-five, William Saint was in his seventh year as head of the Los Santos division. He had a hard, stern face of a pallid complexion, finely lined in all the right areas to give his authority its authenticity; he was a man of simple tastes, with a simple grey suit and polished shoes. He wore his thinning, greying hair combed to one side and gazed at the occupants of the room through his thin, smart spectacles. “It’s good to see you two,” he said warmly, his voice austere and commanding. “Sorry to drag you over here on such short notice, but I believe I have an assignment that may well be of interest to the both of you. Let’s get straight to it, shall we?” He handed each of them a manila folder from the pile on the desk. They opened the documents without hesitation, carefully skimming the pages. William raised his hand, pointing. “If I may draw your attention to the profile at the front,” he said. Both nodded obediently and flicked back through the file. They saw a brief summation article, with two pictures of a familiar figure given their own pages. Noel and Rachael studied the photographs intensely; Noel looked up. “I think at least one of you knows who that dashing young man is,” William said. “Yes indeed, sir,” Noel said, stammering mildly. “If I’m not mistaken, and with the evidence you’ve provided here, he must be…Carl Johnson.” William nodded in agreement. “You’ve got a keen eye there, Valentine.” The two agents continued to skim the document. Noel cleared his throat. “Sir,” he said, “are we being assigned to…?” “To get him?” William answered. “That would appear to be the case. I’m putting you and Miss Emerson in charge of this operation.” Noel went silent, letting the privilege and enormity of the task sink in. “T—T—Thank you, sir…” “No need to gush about it.” Noel brushed down his jacket with a free hand and straightened up. “Now,” William said, “you’re free to read those documents in your own time to glean any information you might find useful, but for the sake of brevity, allow me.” William paused, cleared his throat, and began anew. “Winston Churchill once said that there are an awful lot of lies going around the world, and that half of them are probably true. The same goes for any rumours or speculation you may have heard pertaining to this city. In recent months, more little gangs have started emerging; it’s mostly small-time – just a group of poor kids trying to do something with their lives; peculiar way to go about it, but each to their own. Some, however, are slightly more serious about matters.” He clasped his hands and rested them on the desk. “The Grove Street syndicate’s power and influence has been gradually declining; its high command is learning the hard way that it can’t control or keep an eye on everyone and everything anymore. It’s just not feasible; they’re too stretched. They’re getting weaker; nobody’s listening to them anymore. And you can bet that frustrates them like anything.” “Our intelligence reports,” he went on, “indicate that this decline started around the spring of 2006. A member of the high command, Sean Johnson, alias ‘Sweet’, was assassinated in a drive-by attack. He was arguably the heart of the organisation – his brother, according to most sources, has always been more of an entrepreneur; the brains, if you will. He’s got several front businesses all over the state. Since the death of Sweet, Carl has been having more and more difficulty keeping everything under control; he’s by no means incompetent, it seems he just never had a contingency plan to deal with something like this. He seems to be merely…ineffectual. He is, in his mind, a businessman before a simple ‘gangster’. We’ve been trying to do something about him for years, but he keeps moving all around the state to safe houses and various associates, always one step ahead. He keeps going anywhere and everywhere he can get to – a smart move on his part; but he can’t keep it up forever.” He cleared his throat again. “Recent intelligence reports suggest he’s back in the city, trying to get everything back under control any way he can; there’s been a string of brutal reprisals against anyone he thinks is trying to interfere in the ghetto, in any way. Unfortunately for him, it just seems to be galvanising opposition even more, and there seems to be something of a fully-fledged ‘resistance’ against the Grove Street organization by several new small groups. Sooner or later, it’s all going to come crashing down for him. To his credit, he’s done a good job keeping drugs out of there and lowering crime, but…he just happens to be on the other side of the fence. I feel it will be best if we speed up the process; make it less painful for him.” He looked across the desk, staring at Noel and Rachael intensely. “This is a moment of critical weakness,” he said firmly, “both for Carl and his organisation. We must take advantage of this excellent opportunity to bring him in. Nobody on the street is going to ‘squeal’ or ‘rat’ on anybody, so finding him may prove slightly troublesome on your parts; but I have faith in you. We’ve phoned ahead and alerted the correct authorities; you’ll be working with your counterparts in the local police department – they’ll provide some manpower.” Noel surreptitiously eyed Rachael; she saw the apprehension in his furtive gaze. “You will be provided with appropriate resources to complete your task; we’ll provide whatever you may need within reason. You are free to use this premises, and the local police precinct, to regroup or reorganise should the need arise. You are hereby authorized to use any means necessary within the law. Johnson may well be courteous enough to stay until the end, so that gives you a good window in which to conduct operations. You have a car waiting outside; it contains basic equipment, and directions to the accommodation you’ve been provided.” William stared across the table, taking a deep breath. “Find Carl Johnson; bring him to justice; do it as quickly as you can. You are dismissed.” ~
  10. One Shadows and Nightmares One Month Earlier… Monday 1st March 2010 The mobile phone’s alarm clock went off, as it did every weekday, at 6.30a.m. With a groan, Mercedes Vialpando shrugged off the loose bedcovers and sat upright, pushing her arms skyward and arching her back. Cracking her fingers, she swivelled and put her feet on the floor, steadily getting up and heading off to commence her rigid morning routine. In the bathroom, she put a hand to her nape and released her hair from the band holding it, loosely shaking it out and letting it fall just below her shoulders. In its current state, it barely framed her face. She didn’t pay much attention to herself in the mirror; faint lines marked her pronounced cheeks; her chocolate brown eyes weren’t as bright as they had once been; her caramel skin had paled during the winter. She took her usual short shower, tied her hair back, dried off and returned to her room, dressing at leisure. She wore what she did most days: a simple loose midnight-blue T-shirt and form-fitting pale blue jeans with a pair of black high-top sneakers. After extensively combing her hair and retying it, she headed downstairs. She sat down to her regular breakfast: cereal, fruit and yoghurt. She took her time over it, rinsing the cutlery and returning it to the cupboards before heading back upstairs to the bathroom. She timed herself; five minutes to brush, floss and rinse. By now her hair had dried sufficiently to let down, and she quickly shook it loose, absentmindedly combing it with her fingers and fluffing it at the back. Returning to her bedroom, she collected her phone, house keys and wallet, slipping them inside her pockets. She then quickly gathered up her rucksack, fingering through its contents to double-check she had packed the correct materials the previous night; all was well. She stopped, and exhaled deeply. She checked her watch: 7.25. She shrugged. Not bad at all. She slung one strap of the bag over her right shoulder and exited the room, closing the door behind her and walking down the corridor. She passed her brother’s room with a curiously proficient apathy: Juan was no doubt in the company of his latest conquest again. Slightly further down, she stopped, and opened the door carefully to look inside. Her younger sister was still in a deep sleep, curled into a foetal position with her hair splayed out on the pillow. Mercedes gave a weak smile at the scene; she quietly closed the door, biting her lip and clenching a fist. She shook her head and continued downstairs, complacently snatching up the keys to the garage from their hook on the wall. She found her bike safe and secure. It was a newer model, in dark red; a gift from her parents and to herself, partly or wholly (she couldn’t really remember) on the advice of Mr Labelle. She had sold her old bicycle; she didn’t like to think of it – it was a dreadful trigger. She took her helmet – also new – from its hanger and fixed it securely. She led the bike by both handles towards the side door. It swung outward and she walked her bike outside, leaning it against the disused bike rack in the courtyard. She locked the door and swung her leg around the frame, climbing on to the saddle and cycling the short distance to the house’s front door, slipping the keys through the letterbox; someone would know to return them later. Her fingers tensed on the handlebars. She closed her eyes and thought for a few moments; then she pressed ahead, easing the bike down the small incline and into the street. At this hour, the sun was making its presence known; the temperature was creeping into the teens already. Come the summer, the distant star, exacerbated by the city’s pollution, would be merciless. From her position, Mercedes could glimpse the skyscrapers of the financial heartland, far to the east now. They were less imposing than they had been; she had grown so used to them that she hardly paid them any attention. The family having relocated to Richman from Vinewood, the journey to school was slightly further than it had been in the past. Mercedes didn’t mind: it allowed her to alter her route often, making slight changes here and there, taking a different way every week, sometimes every day. It was good; having no definitive, repetitive routine disadvantaged anyone who might try to track her movements. She made good time in today’s randomly-selected direction; she cut through Rodeo, heading east past the film studios, always circumventing the cemetery, and let her remaining momentum carry her through the gates just after eight o’clock. After securing her bike at one of the racks, she readjusted her backpack and strode up to the main entrance, taking the steps two at a time. ~ The bell rang, as it always did, at 12.30. The students, demonstrating their eternal enthusiasm for emancipation, stood up from their desks as one and surged through the door, joining the rapidly swelling masses. Mercedes, amazed but unsurprised at her peers’ flagrant disregard for their own health and safety, stayed behind, calmly gathering up her belongings and guesstimated the thinning of the throng outside before she dared join them. Bidding her tutor goodbye, she slipped through the doorway and into the bustling hall. She would follow her schedule: lunch and then straight to the library. Despite the luxury of her surroundings, it did nothing to endear her to the output of the cafeteria, and for this reason she always preferred her own produce. The library acted as her refuge from the boisterous and banal recreational areas outside. It was, to her, a perfect arrangement. This rigid routine had been in part co-opted by her closest friend both within and without the premises, whose familiar meek and mild voice she now picked up amongst the fading cacophony of the others. She turned and smiled gently. “Hey, Arty.” “Hello…again…” Artemis Gardner was a thin and frail specimen: she was distinctly average, with a plain fashion that fitted her unassuming disposition. As always, she was in her humble ruffled white shirt, khaki knee-length trousers, odd socks and shoes of the same make as Mercedes’, in cerulean blue. She wore thin, smart spectacles and her unkempt dark brown hair was trimmed neatly just above shoulder-level. What books were not in her frayed satchel she held closely against her breast. She was the picture of the awkward social outcast; but if she knew of how others viewed her, she certainly didn’t care. Mercedes wouldn’t have had it any other way. “How was your morning?” she asked. “Oh,” Artemis said, “it was…okay; nothing much. You?” “Much the same,” Mercedes said. “It’s mostly just studying now, isn’t it?” Artemis nodded. “So,” she said, “the cafeteria…?” “Indeed.” Whilst the two made their way, two other students swept past them going in the opposite direction. The two were perfectly casual; one would not think there was any urgency to their pace, but they both wore expressions whose meanings could only be discerned by a select group – there was worry and strain upon their countenances, and it was not entirely due to the academic pressures they and many others were to have thrust upon them in the coming months. Both were young males, a short distance into their seventeenth year, every inch of their beings screaming their image of rebellion against the world: the youngest of the pair, also the tallest, had a sleek black mane that reached to his mid-back, messy but healthy. He strode in military combat boots under mildly tattered blue jeans, and wore a short-sleeved black shirt that advertised his allegiance to some contemporary heavy metal ensemble, its printed emblem the height of fashion and mutiny against his peers. Black leather wristbands dotted with metal studs clung to his forearms. To gaze at him, he was an unremarkable figure: tall, though lightly built, plain-faced, his fashion the only feature that would distinguish him in a crowd. His companion was imperceptibly shorter than him, just under six feet, and, aside from allowing for larger stock to accommodate his maturation, his own fashion appeared not to have altered much at all in the long years spent at the academy: this one wore black sneakers, military camouflage trousers and a light blue shirt, with his unkempt blond hair falling to his shoulders. He was somewhat more becoming than the other boy, with his countenance having become smooth with mild lines scattered about. Both headed purposefully through the open doors and into the communal quad. Emerging from winter, the sun was picking up, and pleasantly warm. Around the square, students sat on benches, talking amongst themselves about myriad topics both relevant and irrelevant to the surroundings. In the centre of the square, at a neatly maintained ring of grass, stood a large oak tree; a handful of students were clustered in small, private groups around the outskirts, basking in what shade it could provide at this time of year. The two boys meandered around them and sat down at the base, resting their backs against the firm surface. “So, Dwaine,” the black-haired boy said dryly. “Weekly rendezvous.” “Quite, Julian,” Dwaine replied. “And we’re here to discuss…?” “The ‘Chosen One’,” Julian said acidly, flamboyantly flapping his hands and fingers as he spoke. “Or the one who thinks he’s the Chosen One,” Dwaine said more reservedly. “Because he’s become an arrogant prick?” “An insufferably arrogant prick, Jules,” Dwaine added, nodding. Julian nodded back to him solemnly. “It would appear that his much-vaunted ‘talent’ is in incremental decline,” he said. “Saturday was terrible.” “I didn’t think it was too bad,” Dwaine said. “No, no,” Julian said, waving his hand to silence him. “Saturday wasn’t bad per se: I was alright, you were alright, David was pretty good. There is a weak link here. Allow me to clarify: Juan fucked up bad.” “Ahoy, Captain Obvious,” Dwaine sneered. “Do we have a culprit?” “First and foremost, it’s Juan himself,” Julian said. “But there is another suspect. Could it possibly be…her? The one who shall not be named? The unspeakable?” “The Wicked Bitch in the Vest?” Dwaine suggested. Both sniggered. “I do believe we have our suspect,” Julian said. “Then the question remains: What do we do?” Julian scratched his head, sighing exasperatedly. “Well,” he said heavily, “the performance is set for the twentieth. We’ve still got another couple of weeks to really figure things out before we go out and do our thing. We’ve more or less got our set list down, maybe there can be some adjustments there if we want, but nothing too late. We’re all getting quite good at this; hell, Juan was probably up there with the best of them before the she-devil came on the scene.” “Do we keep giving him chances?” Dwaine said wearily. “We can’t stand to risk anything, not on the night.” Julian nodded approvingly. “We’ll see how things play out from here,” he said. “If this behaviour keeps up next week or the week after, we go straight to the source; tell that slimy sycophant to stop messing around to her face.” “Will that work?” “We have ways and means, friend,” Julian said. “Trust me. This has to end.” ~ Concurrent with the conspiratorial dialogue between Julian and Dwaine, the school library also saw its own discussions. In accordance with the rules, conversations were in hushed tones, measured and duly quiet. It was debatable how many of the exchanges were strictly academic; even the most committed students gave in to the temptation to flout rules and discuss all manner of subjects whilst lazily perusing material for subjects that were of the utmost importance. One such detrimental conversation was occurring between Mercedes and Artemis. On the second floor of the vast library, in a quiet communal studying area far removed from the masses, they sat opposite each other over a table, looking busy with their tomes whilst talking of something altogether different. “Is there anything you want to talk about?” Artemis asked, though Mercedes’ blank expression quickly told her she had not spoken English. She backtracked quickly, meekly apologising for her outburst of German. “Sorry…it’s practice.” “Not an issue,” Mercedes said, before muttering what Artemis suspected was a playful tease in Spanish. Mercedes cleared her throat and brushed a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “So,” she said, “how did your weekend go?” “Nothing terribly exciting,” she said shyly. “Mostly just brushing up on my chosen language, as you may have guessed; met with Aurora to catch up and keep sharp. That and procrastination.” She gave a self-deprecating little laugh. “How about you?” “Ditto, but worse,” Mercedes said. “Snafu; you know the drill.” “What drill—” Artemis quickly caught herself, and nodded her head. “Oh, oh, right.” Mercedes gave a faint smile to her. “Things still not looking up?” Artemis asked. Mercedes shook her head glumly. “Wish I could say otherwise,” she said. “I can get by, but…it’s getting worse. Not—not with me, I mean; I still go to Mr Labelle and all, and he’s great, but…it’s everyone else. Juan has turned into a complete jerk lately; I swear it’s his latest girlfriend. When he met her, okay, he was gushing about it, but after a few weeks he started acting differently; really differently. His eyes are bloodshot, and he alternates between euphoria and paranoia. He’s grouchy and giddy and won’t talk to anyone anymore.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “I’m seriously thinking...he might be smoking something.” She bit her lip. “And it’s that girlfriend that’s giving it to him. She’s just the same, except she looks even worse. I can’t stand it.” “You think it’s…marijuana?” Artemis said hesitantly. “I’m thinking it is.” Mercedes sighed. “And he’s become so damn arrogant around everything; he’s obsessed about this music of his, but most of the time since he dropped out he just sits around doing nothing at all. He’s becoming a pathetic waste. He talks and talks about this glorious future success of his, but he hardly even works towards it; from what I’ve bothered to listen to, and heard from the others, his guitar work is shoddy and getting worse. He decides randomly what sessions he wants to go to, when he doesn’t just spend all day in bed like a loner.” “That is pretty pathetic,” Artemis murmured. “Thank you,” Mercedes said gratefully, gesturing to her. “And his not-doing-anything pisses Mom off pretty bad. Dad doesn’t say much, but I know he feels the same way. I don’t think either of them can stand to just see him sitting around wasting his life and being dependent on others, especially after all they’ve done for us. He really doesn’t have an excuse; he’s a bright kid, just errant. I love him, but he’s being a complete idiot right now.” Artemis nodded. “Christ, he has no excuse for acting like this at all, not like…” Mercedes paused, inhaling sharply. “Not like…Carmen.” The two sat in silence for a few moments. “Carmen…” Mercedes sighed deeply, running a hand through her hair. “She’s…still not great. Not very talkative, though she never really has been. I try to talk to her, but she’s…she’s aloof. Away somewhere, I don’t know. Maybe somewhere that makes her happy. God knows she of all people needs it. I wish I could know what she was thinking; she’s unreadable. She’s upset and frightened and she’s probably letting herself go mad and…and I just want…to help her…” Mercedes wheezed, shuddering as she felt tears stinging at her eyes. She choked bitterly. “I practically raised her myself after mom and dad didn’t know what to do; everything – everything – I did…undermined and ruined! And those fucking assholes are still out there, God damn it,” she growled, simmering. “They still haven’t fucking caught them yet; they fucking said they would. I swear to fucking God, if I found them myself, I’d…” Her left fist hit the table with a moderate thud. Artemis sat in shocked silence, unable to offer a reply that would in any way be adequate to what she was seeing before her. “I would too,” she whispered gently. “I would too.” ~ Friday 20th November 2009 At the end of another long, monotonous school day, Carmen Vialpando hurried out of the gates amongst the throngs of her fellow students. It was 3.30p.m, and she was especially glad to be finished: over the previous weeks and months, she had grown wary and tired of her academic life. Now she at last had more time to herself; more time to waste with frivolities that were no less repetitious, but certainly more personally enjoyable than school. Swinging a leg over, she mounted her bicycle and prepared for the journey home. She was glad of her greater autonomy these days; gone were the times when her brother and sister would always accompany her, keeping a close eye before heading off to their own establishment. It had been just over eighteen months now since she had hit 13 and they had made the decision to wean her off their company. Juan had been the first to go, with Mercedes taking her last journey with her only after weeks of gradual withdrawal, taking one last ceremonial journey with her on the last day of school before the summer break. Since last September, she had been going by herself, confidently and without incident, every day. And she loved it. Today, she wore what she did on most days: a short black leather coat over a long-sleeved band shirt with jeans and matching leather sneakers. It was comfortable, practical and about as close to typical ‘rebellion’ as she could get without breaching some clause of the dress code. She had come to be quite fond of her new fashion, wearing it as often as possible before her common sense told her it should return to the laundry pile. Today was unremarkable in most respects: it was relatively warm, in the upper teens, and there were clouds dotted in the afternoon sky. People and vehicles mingled in their perfectly ordinary routine. It was just like any day: dull, predictable and soon over. Carmen pushed forward, moving out of the schoolyard and up the sidewalk alongside the congested road. The journey from school to her home usually took no more than 25-30 minutes, accounting for inconsiderate traffic, equally ignorant pedestrians and how she felt about tackling hills on any particular day. She went along calmly; it was a decent day, and she didn’t mind the temperature. Every so often, she peered behind her to check for anything suspicious; it wasn’t strictly necessary, but the nature of the city had the tendency to make every the most calm person paranoid – and not without reason. Heading north towards the Vinewood sign, she became aware that there were three youths behind her – from her brief glimpses, they looked to be Hispanic, possibly in their late adolescence, and were clad in the uniform of the underclasses: loose vests, sweatpants, poorly-fitting and decaying shoes, each with light stubble and shaved heads. She paid them no heed. “Hey!” She flinched, but continued onwards. “Hey, you!” She imperturbably increased her pressure on the pedals. After a few moments, there came a piercing wolf-whistle, but it might’ve been a bloodcurdling shriek for all she knew, because she jumped noticeably in her seat. The trio eyed her hungrily. “Hey!” one of them called again. “Slow down, chica, we want to talk!” She didn’t dare glance behind herself again, but sensed the three closing in. The leader walked briskly, covering the distance between them in an unsettlingly short time. He was quickly joined by his comrades. The group formed a triangle behind her, the two in front on either side of her rear wheel. They were quick to pick up the scent of sweat. “You nervous, girl?” the leader sneered, snickering. Carmen didn’t respond. “What are you?” one of them asked, snorting. “Some kind of Goth, man?” All of them laughed. “Quiet one, eh?” another said. “Oh,” the leader said coldly, “we like the quiet ones…” “Puta!” She felt herself jerked backwards, one burly arm around her waist and another clamped over her mouth. She instinctively began thrashing and flailing as she was pulled into the adjacent alley. She was dragged deep inside, round a corner to a dead end. In the filth and grime, they set upon her. There was first a swift knee to the stomach followed immediately by a hard right hook to the jaw. She hit the ground hard with a squelch, landing on her side. A hard kick to her back and she was thrown onto her stomach whimpering. The next thing she registered was the agony of her hair being pulled. Her head was lifted; she felt a hand squeezing the back of her skull. Her face impacted hard with an audible crunch as her nose broke. The hand continued to force her head into the concrete; again and again her face splashed into the rapidly-expanding pool of her own blood. The other two were busying themselves as well; she was acutely aware of a white hot pain in her ribs from their kicking. Both hands gripped her skull, and she could only screech as she felt her chin reduced to flesh and blood as it was forced back and forth in some crude parody of sanding the pavement. She was flipped over, and briefly tried to assume a foetal position before the three forced her out of it. There were more kicks to her legs, arms, crotch, stomach and chest, and numerous punches to her abdomen and arms. Every time she murmured, choking on her own blood for clemency, there was a hit to her neck or face. ‘No.’ Searing pain in her ribs. ‘Please.’ Another blow to the jaw. ‘Stop.’ Agony in her chest. It morphed into a flurry of relentless punches and kicks. Her face was covered in blood and streaked with tears. The pain. Jesus, the pain. She stopped counting the seconds. The two lackeys who had been working on her abdomen moved to firmly hold her arms. She felt the third grip her jeans. She heard the zip. She struggled feebly, her only vocalisations the pitiable, futile whimpering of a mortally wounded animal. She squeezed her eyes shut, shook her head and begged. There came the screeching of tyres, abruptly followed by gunfire. A fist struck her head. Spluttering on blood, she went limp. The youths snatched up her backpack as they ran, the leader seizing her bike. There were footsteps on the ground. The sound of traffic had faded into insignificance. A police officer rushed into the dank alley, crouching by her wilted body. “Ma’am, are you alright?” She was completely still. The officer could only curse in horror and disbelief. He quickly ran back to his patrol car and snatched up the radio. “Requesting immediate medical assistance at the Mulholland intersection; urgent. For God’s sake, hurry.” ~ Carmen awoke with a jolt, sweating and screaming. Complete darkness only exacerbated her; she shrieked in terror, throwing off her bedcovers and looking around wildly. Already there were footsteps in the hall outside. The door flew open, closing just as quickly, and the shadowy figure leapt at the bed. “Carmen! Carmen!” The older girl put her arms around her and pulled her close; the girl still struggled in her panic. “It’s okay, sweetheart!” the figure whispered quickly. “It’s okay! I’ve got you! It’s fine!” Mercedes gently kissed her, holding her fiercely and gradually quietening her. “It’s okay,” she repeated, nuzzling her, “everything’s okay. I’m here. I’m here now.” Carmen relented, and the two huddled as the girl began sobbing quietly. No words passed; Mercedes simply held her, continuously stroking her hair and intermittently kissing her. At some point, she stopped crying. Mercedes maintained her grip, refusing to let go until long after the girl had fallen back to sleep. Putting an arm around her, she made herself comfortable. She remained at her side until dawn. ~
  11. Or: How Not To Write Fan Fiction Salutations! Since my return to these parts, I've noticed that this section of the site is appallingly neglected. I aim to fix this. During my original run here and in my absence, I have fervently pursued the art of writing fiction. It began with fan fiction when I was 13; since I was 16, I have known that I would like nothing more in this life than to be a published author. To accomplish this, I shall pen work of my own making. I used fan fiction to build up my skill level and enthusiasm; an already established universe is a decent starting point for those interested in the craft. You'll be pleased to hear that the majority of my fan fiction has been set in one particular universe: Grand Theft Auto. Specifically, the GTAIII-'verse encompassing Liberty, Vice and San Andreas. Way back in 2005, over the course of two weeks in April/May, I pumped out what was, in retrospect, an eye-gougingly awful story wherein Cesar and Kendl had a daughter who was subjected to a dastardly ransom plot by a man seeking vengeance against Carl Johnson for an encounter back in Liberty City. He chose to get to him through Cesar...who he somehow knew about...because... Well, the young mind has never been particularly gifted at inventing logical plots. Still, whilst it was posted up on FanFiction.Net, I did get a review from another young man who proclaimed it one of the best stories he'd read on the site's GTA section (which should indicate the section's general quality to you all), and he has become a close friend of mine. Months later, I decided to do a complete re-write of the thing. It followed the same basic plotline, but expanded on original characters and subplots. It was written over the course of 20 months, from approximately September 2005 to May 2007. The final chapters were written during my dark days of 2006-7. Such was my mental state that I wrote a climax so mind-bendingly stupid that even the thickest Hollywood executive would vomit with rage, and replaced it completely with the ending I originally had in mind in April 2008. Still being the product of a young, immature mind, it's not the greatest thing in the world, but people seemed to like it. I suppose, for my age, it counted as well-written junk. The events of that story are in some ways helpful for understanding those of the story you will see below, and if you're morbidly curious there is a link to the original included for reference here. Almost immediately after I had finished that, I began thinking of what form a sequel could take. My thoughts remained static for most of the rest of the year, with something concrete only beginning to form in early 2008. You see, during the writing of the previous story, I had done something thoughtless and incredibly stupid: I had mentioned in passing dialogue that Sean 'Sweet' Johnson had been murdered. It was so casual that I still do not have any idea who would have killed him. Still, working from that, it gave me a foundation: with Sweet's death, the overall control of Grove Street would pass to Carl, who would deal with matters in his own way Ultimately, however, the situation would eventually deterioate beyond his control and the authorities would move in. On paper, the basic plot was thus: March 2010: The Grove Street syndicate is on the verge of total collapse; a once-mighty empire stares into the abyss. In the ghettoes, various street gangs announce their bitter resentment at the organisation's long rule, bringing gang warfare back to the streets as a parade of dealers and con artists slip through the cracks. Drugs and guns make an unwelcome return. At the centre of the emerging chaos is Carl Johnson, tired and bitter from years of stressful leadership. He grows weaker, and it does not go unnoticed. Seizing the chance, the LSPD breaks free of its leash and summons the FBI to help bring him in and punish his two decades of criminal excess. Elsewhere, Carl's friends and family face problems of their own. Four years on, intensive therapy hasn't vanquished Mercedes' post-traumatic stress disorder; the lure of sex and drugs is alienating the rebellious Juan Vialpando from his family, and angering his friends. The rift between the twins will be tested to the limit as, over the course of thirty days, events in the city threaten all they have ever known. Sounds like a nice epic crime thriller/drama, right? Indeed it was. It was also, crucially, doable. After a miserable false start with NaNoWriMo 2008, I began anew in August 2009. It went well enough at first. And then, somewhere, somehow, it all went so very wrong. I got distracted by other writing projects, other means of entertainment and life in geneal. The subplots began to get out of hand, especially with regards to the various relationships between the young protagonists, including sexual relations and identities. Fatally, the plot shifted away from the adults and towards the teenagers, giving the latter more emphasis and ignoring the former when they were originally supposed to run parallel to each other. It probably reached the point of no return when I assigned a sexual fetish to a particular character with no real justification (it appears nowhere within the story itself - it's just background information). Moreover, I lost my enthusiasm: I could not find a way to bring the story to its conclusion from where it was. So, on 5 August, after two years, I finally gave up. I felt it just wasn't worth it anymore and that I could be spending the time putting the same level of effort into my own original work. I post this here because I want to showcase my work to you all and receive feedback; I post this and you read it in the full knowledge that it will never be completed in its current form, and that I have decided to leave fan fiction behind. It's a part of my past, but it can't continue. This is a story of how not to write fan fiction in our beloved fictional universe: when it all goes terribly wrong. And with that said, I present the putrid corpse of... ~ Legal disclaimer: I have written this purely as a creative exercise and for my personal enjoyment; I have not penned it for, nor have I sought, profit. All canonical characters, locations and vehicles featured herein are the intellectual property of Rockstar North and Rockstar Games; original characters are my own. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious; any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Liberties are taken for artistic and dramatic effect. All social and political opinions expressed herein are purely the views of the characters presented and in no way reflect the views of the author. I do not support, condone or encourage any of the illicit activities depicted in this work. 'Thirty Days' Prelude Vinewood, Los Santos The mansion was completely surrounded: squad cars and vans blocked the roads; barriers and burly officers with shotguns and rifles cordoned off the far ends of the street. Helicopters circled overhead, their glaring searchlights scanning the rooftop and perimeter for any signs of figures who might have thought escape was even remotely possible. Snipers lay hidden in bushes and on the rooftops and balconies of the homes opposite; their wealthy owners were in no position to complain or resist such firepower. It was midnight; more vans screeched to a halt at the edge of the roadblock, their backdoors swinging open and a flood of SWAT officers emerging in full combat gear, clutching their Heckler & Koch UMPs firmly as they promptly took positions amidst the sea of red and blue lights. Dozens of police officers crouched behind their cars, their pistols and shotguns fixed on the faded splendour before them. Leaning tautly against the hood of his patrol car, a stern-faced man in a brown leather jacket sighed despondently; there was impatience in his disappointment. Hopping off the vehicle spryly, he strode quickly over to another officer. “Well…” he said soberly, pulling back his sleeve and peering at the glowing face of his watch. “Time’s up.” The officer looked at his superior apprehensively. “Do we give the order, sir?” The older man nodded. He took the two-way radio from him, pressed down a button, and spoke firmly. “All units move in.” Battering rams made short work of the main gates; two dozen officers charged down the winding driveway, patrol cars moving in behind them to barricade the road. Iron clanged dully against the grass as circular saws cut an entrance into the upper veranda; the SWAT team charged into the breach with battering rams as their fellows above leapt from their aircraft and slid down their lines to secure the roof and its helipad. The back doors were unceremoniously forced open, each one slamming against the inner walls with a resounding bang. A team of five men took up their weapons and entered the dark backroom, fanning out; their eyes darted into every corner, their guns swinging to and fro. Gesturing to each other, they moved into the long hallway, crouching and moving forward rapidly. They went from door to door, kicking them open under the weight of their boots and lobbing in gas grenades. They secured the hall quickly, advancing to the stairs. The leader of the small group edged out into the open corridor, putting one foot on the edge of the uppermost stair. A metal cylinder clinked down the stairway, followed by another. There was a soft bang and a flash of light followed by the hissing of teargas. Shots rang out randomly, punctuated by fits of coughing and wheezing. The team charged down the stairs, slamming the butts of their weapons into the figures in the mist. At the main entrance, another small team had already spread out around the swimming pool, slowly advancing further down the corridor; bodies were strewn about in the halls, blood trickling down the walls and into the pool. Another team came up behind them, entering the gym as the others swept into the en suite bar, cleaning up any last, futile resistance. The two men standing back to back barely had time to aim before they collapsed from pre-emptive stun grenades; they rolled weakly on the floor, momentarily incapacitated as the team quickly secured the room. A haggard man in a dishevelled two-piece suit emerged from behind the bar. He was put at gunpoint in an instant. “Freeze!” “Drop the weapon!” “Hands up!” Utterly defeated, the man had no choice but to obey. The magazine of his CZ-75 dropped to the floor with a soft thud, followed by the weapon itself. He emerged from behind the bar with his hands behind his head, too crestfallen and disgraced to give any remark. The steady clicking of shoes against marble sounded in the hall; from behind the SWAT team, a tall blond man with a tousled fringe entered the room. He looked around with fascination, running a hand through his hair; a ghost of a smile appeared on his rugged countenance. He walked past the team unopposed, striding up to the defeated man. The blond tilted his head peculiarly. “Good evening,” he said with a faux cheeriness. The dishevelled man lurched over from a swift knee to the gut, then an elbow to the back. As he collapsed to the floor, his hands were held firmly behind his back, the blond man straddling him. There was the clink of cold iron on his wrists. “On behalf of the LSPD and FBI,” he said coolly, “Carl Johnson, you are under arrest.” ~
  12. I suppose it is in Rockstar's interest to make it look pretty, but not to such a degree that it compromises the quality of the gameplay. They had their time to experiment with IV; we all expect they know what they're doing with the technology by now. Graphics are a non-issue; the potential gameplay and story should be the focus of any discussion.
  13. TUN3R, GTA in general doesn't aim for bar-raising graphics - its focus is, and always has been, gameplay. SA was, at its best moments, maybe 7/10 in terms of looks, at most 8/10 if you squinted. It looks dated, but its aim is to be fun as hell. Compare that to the dozens of games on the market these days that admittedly look pretty but that provide maybe half a dozen to a dozen hours before boredom sets in. In the battle between graphics and gameplay, gameplay will always win to people are looking for a good time and aren't fickle and shallow. I mentioned in a related topic that I welcome the reduced geographic scope in favour of focus on characters and gameplay. The Greater Los Angeles area by itself is massive (33,954 sq mi, according to Wiki), not including surrounding countryside. To recreate this down to the finest detail is itself a monumental achievement; anything else is a welcomed extra. GTA has always found its heart in sprawling urban areas; I'm sure V's Los Santos will provide ample space and variety to suit nearly all tastes. And I'm a guy that romanticises life in a scenic country town.
  14. Thanks, though I'd appreciate it if you refrain from calling me by a lazy handle I haven't used in over 5 years.14-year-olds are rarely gifted at OMGAWESOME screen names. Group hug? I called you by that because I had NO IDEA who you were until I looked up your display name history. Ahhh. Fair enough. All is forgiven.
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