CHAPTER 8—Back to Liberty

"Do you know what you're getting yourself into, kid?" Luigi asked, pacing the room while Skinner sat in a red chair. Lu's club was still in the process of being repaired, meaning they had to have their little interview somewhere else. They chose the next best place, Salvatore's old mansion. "The Don ain't no party boy, Skinner. If you wanna do work for us, you're gonna have to play by the rules."

Skinner leaned back into his chair. "And those are?"

"You come here, we tell you what needs to be done, you do it, come back, you get paid. We'll agree on the amount before you leave. If we find out the job hasn't been done, we hunt you down and you will pay. With your life. In other words, you agree to work for us, and there'll be no screwing around. Do what you're told, or the Don'll have something to say about it."

There was the sound of a door opening and then closing. Skinner looked up and saw a man dressed in a crisp, pressed suit, wearing a hat and carrying a cane, come slowly into the room. "My name's Joey Leone, I'm the Don of the Leone Mafia." The pair shook hands, and Joey took a seat. "You sound very reliable, I've called some of your past employers, and they've all told me great things."

In reality, Skinner had given Joey the numbers of various cell phones he owned. Every time Joey called, Skinner pretended to be a different person on each phone.

"I can do any job, any time, Mr. Leone."

"Please, call me Joey."

"All right, then, Joey," Skinner said uneasily.

"It was me and my boys that finally ran the crazy Triads out of this town. Last we saw of them, they was swimming for their lives over to Staunton Island. I suppose they'll hole up in that part of Liberty for a while. Don't think we'll be seeing much of them until they've built up more men. Their death toll was too great for them to come looking for trouble anytime soon."

"Congrats," Skinner said, nodding at the Don. "Then I suppose Jason coming to Vice City to impress Tommy was a complete waste, eh?"

"You know Jason Beretto?" Joey sounded surprised when Skinner nodded. "How's he doing these days? Actually, haven't heard from him for about two weeks now. We sent him to Vice City to make a deal with the local head there, Tommy Vercetti. You know him?"

Skinner lied again. "I've heard of him, but never done any work for the man. You guys need SPANK?" Skinner asked suddenly.

Joey's eyes lit up. "Actually, we've been running short on it. Harder to smuggle it in with the cops all over the place. Ever since that drug bust down in Trenton, the boats are being watched more closely. Have to time deliveries...very slow work, you know."

"I brought a whole caseload with me. I'll give it to you, for a small fee. I have ways of getting you more. All you gotta do is pay me, and it's yours."

"How much you want?"

Skinner hesitated. Joey was all too eager to get his hands on this stuff. "For the twenty pounds in the case...four grand."

Lu almost exploded with indignation. "You expect us to fork over two hundred dollars a pound? That stuff ain't that good."

"We'll give you three grand for the whole case. And I'll chip in a gun."

"I already own a gun," Skinner snorted.

"Do you have a shotgun?"

Skinner considered. The only gun he had on him was a Colt .45. He had ditched the shotgun he'd killed the Mafia men with back in Vice. He could remember throwing it into the water, because his fingerprints were all over it. It would be nice to have something more powerful in case he needed it. "What kind?"

"Spaz."

Rapid-fire. Nice. "Deal."

Joey smiled and the two shook hands. "Deal."

"So what's my job? Who's the hit?"

"This is gonna be your hardest job yet. I want you to find a man known as the Shadow, track him down, kill him, and dispose of his body. I don't want to hear from him ever again. Get rid of him, Skinner, and I'll pay you double for every case of SPANK, along with a hundred thousand dollars for doing the job."

What Joey had said was true—all the Triads occupying Chinatown in Portland had fled for their lives. All this time, they had been thinking that a victory over the Mafia would be arriving sooner than expected. But when the Mafia crashed Chen Kong-Sang's little rant, all that and more had changed. Until more people could be sent over from China, the tiny band of Triads left in Liberty City was whittled down to merely four dozen and five. After the loss of Sang, a new leader had stepped up and instated three underlords to assist him in his reign of power.

His name was Yu Lun, but everyone called him Lun. Lun had convinced three people—Kang Yao, Dao Yun, and American-born Will Chen—to follow him to victory. His plan was a dangerous one—return to Portland in secret, rig the Leone mansion, vacate the vicinity, and blow it. With any luck, the Don and his underlings would be inside the mansion at the time of the explosion. Careful planning would be taken into consideration when taking on such a scheme. With the Triads, explosions were a great remedy to their problems.

"My spy and explosives expert, Ryo Shang, is willing to provide us with the C4 we will need to rig the mansion and destroy it. I am going to need three volunteers to get over there, do the work, and set the bombs. You will not travel by boat—swimming is our only option. We will set this plan into motion by nighttime." Their meeting place and hideout was the basement of a bar in west Staunton. "With any luck, there'll be no guards watching the ocean, and when you come in, you go up the slope, set the charges underneath the house, get out, and set them off. Fireworks those cops will appreciate trying to ignore."

There was uproars of laughing from the remaining Triads. They hated the Mafia for bringing their powerful numbers down to a dwindling amount. If something wasn't done, those bastards would get away with what they did.

"Our plan is simple. If nothing goes wrong, it is doable. I need to find four people willing to take on this task and make the Triads proud." Most were hesitant to volunteer, so Lun used words of wisdom. They were all talking in Chinese, making for a more patriotic meeting. "Should some of you not make it, you will be remember by China as the greats of our time. But I know in my heart none of you will fail me. Please, step forth, and lend your services."

Hands instantly shot up, and Lun made his selection. "We strike tomorrow evening."

The Shadow had just had a big haul. After collecting packages dropped into the water from a huge plane for a man called Donald Love, he had been rewarded handsomely. The handgun he was carrying was in his leather jacket's pocket, but as he walked down the slope and into his hideout in Staunton, something didn't feel right. There was a soft click in the background noise, and the Shadow made his way down the slope more slowly, drawing the handgun from his pocket and clicking off the safety.

As his foot hit the bottom of the slope and returned to level ground, there was a loud crack, and a sniper slug flew right over his head. He shouted in surprise and threw himself to the left just in time to avoid another bullet. Whoever was attacking him was reloading on the far window, he was sure of it. They were looking out one of the windows on the buildings around his hideout.

"Almost got ya that time, Shadow!" a voice called loudly.

"Shadow?" he called back. "My name's Jack Garrett! Get to know it, because it's the last name you'll ever hear!"

"And I'm Skinner. Likewise, chump!"

But he was not nicknamed the Shadow for nothing. While Skinner was distracted, Jack jumped from his hiding spot and fired off three quick shots. One hit Skinner in the chest, the second missed, and the third hit him in the shoulder. The sniper's rifle fell from his grip and hit the ground, clattering just out of Jack's reach. As for Skinner, the hitman fell from the second-story window and hit the ground of the alley with a thump.

Jack made to nudge the man, but Skinner groaned and picked himself up. Before Jack could fire, Skinner pulled the pin on a grenade and tossed it. Jack threw himself backwards, crying out in dismay as the grenade exploded. But, like a miracle on legs, Jack came through the smoke and opened fire. Skinner rolled behind the wall where the elevator door was and drew his own Colt .45 to match Jack's handgun.

When Skinner went out to fire again, he saw that Jack and the sniper's rifle were gone. Just as he began to realize what had happened, the rifle's butt connected with the back of his head, his face smashed against the wall, and he slumped to the ground. "I didn't get my nickname by being slow," Shadow said, tossing the rifle to the side, out of Skinner's reach.

With his face and head bleeding, Skinner was in no condition to fight. "Who are you working for?" Jack asked, cocking the pistol and aiming it at Skinner's forehead. Skinner didn't reply. "How did you find out where I was holed up?"

To this, Skinner did have an answer. "I threatened a Yakuza man until he told me. Said they've been helping you out. That makes the Mafia hate the Yakuza, buddy."

Jack grinned. "So, you work for the Mafia?" Jack looked Skinner up and down. "You're their little hitman, huh? Some piece of work you are. Barely took me by surprise. Who's the chump now?"

Before Jack knew what had happened, Skinner was up, his hands flying. The pistol was lifted from his grip and flung away, and Skinner instantly went into hand-to-hand combat fighting. Jack blocked a punch, docked under a roundhouse kick, and came up with an uppercut to Skinner's chin. Travis's head snapped back, he hesitated, and then teetered, threatening to fall over. Jack flicked the pistol into his hand, struck Skinner across the face with it, and watched the man fall over.

"Nice try, Mafia man. But it's going to take more than that to kill me. Too bad I can't let you leave knowing where my hideout is. That would be dangerous to my safety. That means I have to kill you. Ready to die?"

Skinner flipped backwards as Jack fired his gun. As the white man made to knock the gun away, Jack grabbed his wrist and flung him against the far wall. Skinner hit the dumpster and slumped to the ground. He could feel the sniper's rifle behind his back. As Jack closed in, Skinner reloaded the gun behind his back and smiled up at Jack. "Heads up."

As Skinner wheeled the gun around, Jack ducked under the bullet, and Jack raised his gun, firing at the rifle and knocking it out of the man's hands, yet again. "Don't you ever learn?" Jack snarled. "I'm the best in the business. There's no one better than me. Not your boss, not any of their hitmen, obviously. I outsmarted you when you were staking out my hideout in Portland, and I can outsmart you again. I'm smarter than all of you combined, and if you try to kill me again, it'll get personal."

Tired of listening to this crap, Skinner pulled the pin on another grenade and chucked it. Jack backed up, covered his face to block the explosion, and as soon as the smoke cleared, Skinner saw Jack was gone. When he felt for the rifle, he found it was missing as well. There was a dinging noise, Skinner looked up, and saw Jack wave as the elevator doors started to close.

Skinner howled in rage and fired his gun, but the doors snapped shut before the bullet made it over. Shadow had gotten away, like he always did. No wonder that was the man's nickname.

Thumbing the clip release, Skinner slammed in a fresh clip and stood. As he did so, he heard the sniper rifle crack, felt something hit him in the chest, and looked down. The bullet had penetrated the Kevlar body armor, entered his body, and exited the back. Skinner gasped, fell to his knees, and hit the ground. He wasn't dead, but it would be a long time before he would wake again.

The four Triads who volunteered for the mission to the Don's mansion stood waiting around the southern tip of Staunton Island. Waiting with them were Yu Lun and Kang Dao. They had both arrived in a fish van, bringing the volunteers in the back of the truck. Ryo Shang arrived in a Reefer minutes after they showed up, and he waved at them while his boat pulled in. "There's your ride, boys," Lun said to his spies. "He will drive you down to Portland, to the southern tip where the Don's mansion lies. Swim to shore, take the C4, and he'll inform you on what to do after that." After bidding them good luck, Lun and Kang got back into the fish van and drove off.

Shang helped the four men into his boat and sat them down around the edges on the seats he had installed. As he took the wheel, pushed the throttle forward, and cruised back on track, he pointed at two large cases. Both of them were waterproof, backpack style objects, and he said firmly, "Those have the C4 in them. Don't get shot in the back while you're wearing them, cuz you know what'll happen then." He laughed heartily and when no one else did, quickly quieted himself. "Ahem. Anyway, two of you will wear them, the other two will be armed. I have two AK-47s in the bag next to the seats," two men reached down and yanked the guns from their places, leaving the bags where it was, "along with a few extra clips." Within seconds, both armed men found the extra ammo.

"How long will this take?" one un-armed man asked.

"As long as it takes for you to plant all eight bombs. Put them around the base of the mansion, one to attack the foundation, and two because you'll be less visible. Make no noise when you move. Oh, change into the black outfits in that bag as well." In short order, all four men were decked in black fatigues. "Very good," Shang said happily. "Get the packs on, we're nearing our destination."

The boat rumbled along the coast, waves rippling in its wake, and halted about a third of a mile away from the beach behind the Don's mansion. "Get into the water, and get going. We don't need any screw-ups. Even if none of you escape alive, if you get the bombs planted, all will be forgiven. I will be waiting here for any survivors. Good luck."

All four men plunged into the freezing cold water, and immediately began swimming for shore. Even though their suits protected against the cold somewhat, all four were eager to get out of the water and reclaim Portland for the Triads.

Toni Cipriani walked slowly from the Don's mansion and onto the porch, placing his margarita on the table and observing Joey sip his daiquiri while watching the cars flash by on the road to his left. At this time of night, the city was surprisingly busy. Joey sighed, took another sip of the rum-filled concoction, and looked sternly at Toni. "What are we gonna do, Toni?" he asked. "I've been trying to get a hold of Jason for too long, and he's not picking up. We have to call him and say we don't need those funds. Even Tommy don't know where he is. Skinner said Jason was in Ross Island, but we can't afford to send anyone to look for him. We need everyone here. I just feel like this family's being torn apart. First pop bites it, then I become responsible for the whole gang, and now Jason is missing."

Toni looked sternly at his friend. "You don't wanna be Don no more?"

"I want to be Don, Toni, I just don't know if I'm cut out for this. Are we doin' the right thing here, by making me Don?"

"Only time will tell, Joey," Toni replied truthfully.

Suddenly, there came a screeching cry. Two Mafia boys came flying from inside the mansion, one of them with handgun raised. "Get down!" he screamed. Both Toni and Joey hit the deck, and the Mafia man fired a single shot. A muffled cry rent the night, and there was a thumping sound. "We got someone out there," the man said, looking at Joey and Toni. "Stay here, we'll go thump 'em." The second Mafia man drew a baseball bat and nodded.

As they both headed into the night, the man who had been shot gasped and made his way to his teammates, who were in the process of attaching the eighth and final C4 explosive. "What happened?" one of the guys asked.

"Evening," a voice behind the staggering Triad grunted. "Look what he got here." A baseball bat came swinging from nowhere, smacking the wounded man in the back of his head. His skull caved in, blood gushed from the wound, and the body fell into the grass. The three remaining Triads looked on in surprise as a second man stepped forward and shot the same man in the back. There was a puff of blood, and before this man could die, he uttered, "Run!"

All three Triad men jumped up and began running. Bullets whizzed around them as they zigzagged their way up to the rock overlooking the water directly behind the mansion. Its hole in the middle resembled an oval as it arched up and then down, away from the land behind it. The three men sprinted up this as Joey Leone jumped onto the grass, leveled a sniper's rifle, and fired a single shot.

The man lagging behind was hit in the back, fell over, and exploded. He hadn't been able to install the final bomb, and it was sitting in his pack. Luckily for the other Triads, he had been far enough away to not affect them. Joey and Luigi, who had finally emerged from the mansion, ran after the Triads, with one Mafia guy, wielding a shotgun, hot on their heels.

Toni was just starting to follow when he felt his back pop, and stopped coming, merely standing near the mansion to watch. Little did he know that the automatic timer in the C4 had activated.

Both Triads took flying leaps from the end of the massive rock and fell towards the water below. The first man smacked into a huge rock in the water headfirst. He didn't even stand a chance. However, the second man splashed into the freezing water and started swimming for the Reefer, which Shang had parked not far away.

Joey breasted the hill, sighted the man in his rifle, held his breath, cocked the gun, and fired. The bullet took the man through his back, but the man kept going. He climbed into the boat as Joey reloaded the gun, took aim again as the boat began to pull away, put the crosshairs on the driver, and fired a second time. The bullet missed, the Reefer turned away from Joey's line of fire, and vanished into the night.

"He got away," Joey said as he lowered the rifle.

"Yeah," Luigi agreed, "but only one of them did. We got the rest of 'em, and those Triads will be sorry they ever messed with—"

That was when the mansion's foundation exploded. The whole house gushed fire and collapsed in on itself. Toni was close enough that he was lifted off his feet, burned by the fire, and thrown back at least twenty feet. The Mafia man on the deck was disintegrated instantly.

Lu, Joey, and the Mafia man were at Toni's side in a heartbeat. "Toni!" Joey cried in dismay. He turned to Luigi, panic on his face. Toni was still alive, but only just. He would need some medical attention for the punishment on his back and the burns on his face. "Lu, what do we do?"

Luigi shook his head and let a tear roll down his cheek. "I don't know if he's gonna make it. Call an ambulance," he said to the Mafia man, "and Joey, get some wet rags. Don't get butter, it'll only make it worse. We gotta cool that burn down." As both men ran off to do as they were bid, Luigi stood and looked out towards the ocean. "This time, Triads, IT'S PERSONAL!" he roared. The only thing to greet his words was the sound of his own echo.