Somebody Up There Likes Me
A short, loud sound echoed across the empty expanse of golden corn fields. Crows which had settled amongst the crops suddenly took flight at this. The corn itself seemed to respond, too, swaying as though searching for the source of the noise.
Then the source came falling down heavily into the dry grass on the outskirts of the corn fields, with a hefty 'OOF!'
A red parachute flittered downwards and landed on top of the thing.
Then it – whatever it was - stirred amongst the soft material. A few dust clouds flew about as the mysterious shadow got to its feet.
It was a young woman. She had dark, cocoa brown skin and jet black hair. She looked tough, but not professional as she wore a simple baggy sweatshirt, a pair of dirty trackpants and had her hair mostly covered by a black bandanna.
The woman abandoned her parachute where she had fallen, and then she started to walk, quite unsteadily, over to a nearby barn. The whole area was uninhabited – there were gloomy barns with no animals, golden brown corn fields with no harvesters, dusty ground with no flowers. There were, however, some trees and a few offerings of grass, and the woman thought she could hear cars every so often which meant that there must have been a road somewhere.
Finally reaching the barn, the woman ventured inside. It was dark and cool, and only a few rays of the setting sun crept in through the doors at either end. There were a few old hay stacks inside, so the woman sat down on one of those to inspect her painful ankle.
This young woman was called Denise Robinson, and she lived in Los Santos, San Andreas. She inhabited a small house just off Grove Street, where her boyfriend lived.
This was why she was out here in the middle of nowhere - Her boyfriend Carl Johnson had mysteriously disappeared from the 'hood after a lot of gang wars with the Ballas gang. After he was gone, Ballas came in and took over Grove Street, and nobody knew where CJ had gone...And if they did, Denise doubted they would tell her. CJ's family and friends didn't even know she existed, yet CJ was very special to her. She loved him, although she wasn't sure he knew it, and was prepared to do anything to find him.
So she had taken a taxi to the airport, but it was shut. Taking a deep breath, she had vaulted the high fence and run off into the vast, empty cage of concrete.
She had found a plane, and the engine ran smoothly. Taking a deep breath, Denise had pulled on the parachute in the back of the jet, and then hit the controls and taken off into the sky.
Trouble was, the police found out she had stolen a plane, and they came after her. Seeing as it was her first time flying on her own, Denise didn't manage to avoid the gunfire that attacked her jet, but she did manage to bail out as her plane exploded, thankful for her parachute.
Now she was sitting on a lump of hay, nursing her wounds, and with no idea where she was. The sun was almost gone below the horizon now, light fading fast. With that thought in mind, Denise decided it would be better to spend the night in the barn than blindly look for God-knows-what in pitch black darkness. She sorted out a bed of hay, and then ventured out into the pink-lit landscape. She retrieved the tattered parachute and then took it back to the barn.
Denise lay down on the hay and pulled the parachute material around her. It was pretty cold at night, even in sunny San Andreas.
Shivering, Denise slowly fell asleep.
Morning broke at 6 o'clock AM. Denise stretched out her arms as she sat up, yawning.
In need of refreshment, Denise wrapped her parachute around her and wandered out of the barn, in search of water. She was sure she had seen a lake on her descent into the fields, so she headed in the direction she thought it was.
She ducked through a couple more dark barns, sidestepped around stacks of hay, and eventually came to a grey, concrete road.
Across the road there was grass and, indeed, a lake. Denise checked for traffic before crossing over to the water.
As she washed her face and drank from the lake, many cars and bikes zoomed past behind her. Denise wondered if one of them might give her a lift into the nearest town, but due to her appearance, she thought the odds would be unlikely.
Nevertheless, when she was done washing, she went to the side of the road and held out her arm.
Several trucks and cars went past – none welcomed her. So Denise stepped out into the road and—
A tattered blue car hit the brakes and stopped right in front of her.
"Excuse me," Denise walked around to the window of the car. "Could you take me into town, please?"
"After what just happened? No way, lady, you're crazy," snorted the driver, and he put his foot down and zoomed off.
Denise, quickly spying he had a wooden rack at the back of the car, leapt in and crouched down amongst the empty beer cans and milk churns, hoping he hadn't seen her.
After a bumpy ride into town, the truck started to slow down. Denise took a chance and leapt from the back of the rack into a clump of foliage.
Now covered in even more mud and dirt, Denise pushed her way out of the ferns and finally saw people and buildings. She ventured over the road to the opposite side of the street and walked along to the first building.
As she neared it, she could see it was called The Well Stacked Pizza. There were many of these fast food joints in Los Santos, so she walked inside to grab a bite to eat.
There were no queues in the pizza place, and only a few people sat at the sticky tables, munching drooping slices of pizza and limp salads.
Denise ordered the largest meal and sat down to eat. It was really foul food – the cheese on the pizza was slimy, the base soaked in grease. Even her favourite drink of Sprunk didn't taste good.
"This food sucks!" she exclaimed loudly.
The employees looked up from behind their tills. They glared at Denise until she got up and stormed out.
Already she was beginning to hate the countryside. As she walked further down the street, she got stares and whispers directed at her from passers-by. Denise guessed they didn't think much of city folk.
"Hey," She stopped a shrunken little man wearing nothing but a pair of tattered brown trousers. "What is this place?"
"We don't want none of your types roun' here," the man snarled.
"Look, you stupid little old man, I don't think much of your types either, but I wanna know where I'm at!" Denise said in her high-pitched, Los Santos tone.
"This here town is Montgomery. A suggest you hit the road and go back where you came from!" With that, the dwarfed man scurried off.
"Montgomery, huh," Denise looked around. The streets were all but empty except for a couple of country-looking women chatting to one another.
Denise walked around the corner. There were some shops lining the opposite street and a few cars, motorbikes, and bicycles trundling along.
"Riff-raff," said a voice behind Denise.
Denise span to see another little man hobbling away from her. Wow, she hated this place. She needed to get out of here, but thoughts of the Ballas back home prevented her from heading back.
She had to find CJ.
She ran out into the road and punched a woman off her bicycle. She pedalled fast onto the street and rounded the corner. She carefully bunnyhopped over someone in her path, and then sped up a nearby hill. The wheels kicked up dirt and grass, and then suddenly the hill steepened and dropped.
"AAAAAAAAAAH!" Denise screamed as she fell downwards, and then BANG! The bike's wheels hit solid earth and continued down a dirt path.
Denise opened her eyes, which she had screwed up tightly during her descent, to see a highway – and the cars and trucks were speeding along it incredibly fast.
A deafening noise hit Denise's ears – and then hit her bike. She was flung onto the side of the road, her bike mangled under the wheels of a truck that had failed to stop.
Another car crumpled her bike – and another, and another. But as she wearily got to her feet, Denise saw a car stop and its driver climb out.
"Are you alright, lady!" shouted the driver.
Denise wandered over to them, almost getting hit by another speeding car in her dazedness. "Yeah, for sure, I'm fine."
"You don't look fine," said the man, whose face was blurred through Denise's eyes. "And I don't think you'll be going anywhere on that bicycle."
Denise turned to look at her bike – and blacked out.
Denise slowly opened her eyes to see a blurry grey ceiling staring down on her. It sure was grotty. So where was she?
As she tried to sit up, her head started pounding and her back ached. Despite the pain, she dragged herself up into a sitting position, and then examined her surroundings.
She was lying in a little bed, covered with a scratchy, grey blanket, and next to the bed was a little table. There was a battered-looking alarm clock on it that said it was five-thirty. Whether it was morning or evening, Denise couldn't tell because the only window was covered by shutters, and it was dark either way.
The walls were a dirty white colour, and the carpet was worn and brown. The only other thing of interest in this room was a door. It was brown, like the carpet, and looked like it had been through the wars. However, there was light seeping under it, and that was what intrigued Denise the most.
Forcing herself to get out of bed, Denise groaned and threw back the blanket. She slowly got to her feet and hobbled to the door, her head still aching and her back still hurting.
She grasped the tarnished doorknob and opened the door. It creaked slowly until she could step right out onto more worn carpet. It was a sort of hallway. There was another door which was open, revealing a dingy bathroom, and down the hallway was an equally grotty living area. The light came from a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling, and from her position in the hallway, Denise could just see the back of a tatty couch.
She shuffled off towards the living room, and when she got there she saw a man sitting on the couch and watching television. He hadn't heard her enter the room yet, so she was free to look around before making herself known.
Straight ahead was a tiny little kitchen, and to the right were windows with old lace curtains trimming them. The only other objects in the room were the TV, the couch, a scratched coffee table, and the door that led outside of this tiny accommodation.
Darkness showed through the curtains, although the sun was beginning to rise. It was five-thirty in the morning, and Denise had awoken in a strange man's bedroom. What the Hell was going on?
Suddenly, the man switched off the TV and got up from the couch. What was she going to do!
Denise darted into the bathroom and hid behind the door, cursing quietly due to the pain. She watched through the crack of the door hinges as the man walked into the bedroom. He stood in the doorway for a long time, seemingly wondering where something had gone...Or someone...
Suddenly thoughts flashed through Denise's head – she had had a crash on her bike...And someone had tried to help her...And she had blacked out. She remembered seeing a man. This must be him.
Denise felt guilty for trying to hide from him.
She opened the bathroom door and stepped into the hallway. The man span around. He was actually quite good-looking, tall with blonde hair and wearing a chequered red shirt. He looked like a country man. So why did he help her when she was so clearly from the city?
"Um, hi," Denise said awkwardly.
"Hi, I was wondering where you'd gone," He seemed relieved.
"I was just using the bathroom," Denise said, gesturing vaguely behind her. "So you're the guy who saved me from a fate worse than death?"
The man laughed. "Well if you count getting squashed flat on a highway as worse than death, then I guess so. How're you feeling?"
"Woozy, achy, thumping headache," Denise smiled. She looked around. "So this is your house?"
"Trailer," the man corrected. "This is Angel Pine."
That name sounded familiar to Denise...But she couldn't place it. So she smiled again and said, "Isn't this where Mount Chiliad is?"
"Sure," he nodded. "Taller than all these here trailers stacked up."
"You live in a trailer park?" Denise didn't intend it to sound rude, but it did.
However, the man took no offence and smiled. "My name's Guy Hill."
"Oh, ur, for sure. I'm Denise,"
"So why are you out here?"
"Going across the motorway on a bicycle?"
"Oh...I'm looking for ma boyfriend. Carl Johnson. You heard of him?"
"I don't meddle much with city folk," Guy sat down on the bed. "He gone missin'?"
Denise nodded. "How did you know?"
"Just a guess. People disappear all the time, y'know. Mysterious circumstances..."
Denise watched him suspiciously. He seemed to know more than he let on.
"Hey, if you know where CJ is, you better be telling me now or I'll shove the whole of Mount Chiliad up your ass!" Denise exclaimed.
"Whoa!" Guy backed away. "Chill out. I don't know anything. I swear."
"Then why are you being all mysterious and shit?" Denise asked, still unsure.
"Was I being mysterious?" Guy's face was one of innocence.
"I didn't jack a plane for nothing, ya know," Denise said angrily. "And A know you know something."
Guy gulped. He could see Denise was extremely angry and desperate, and he didn't want to make her any madder, on pain of death, as it seemed. So he took a deep breath and beckoned her to come closer.
Denise sat next to him, her heart thumping. Did he really know anything of use, or had she just been too harsh?
"I know of a couple of...rumours, which have flying about," whispered Guy. "Some says there's a Bigfoot up in these here mountains...Some say there's some corrupt cops from the city that come here just three days ago."
"That was when Carl went missing," Denise relayed, her eyes glinting.
"Sure...People say they saws these cops take a young lad out here to the trailer park...But no one has been brave enough to knock on the door in case those cops are still there. We country folk, erm...We gots some secrets too, you understand."
"Yeah, for sure. Go on,"
"Well, um, I guess you could go 'n' call on this here trailer...But I warned ya, those bent cops could still be lurkin' around these parts. But ya never know, your 'CJ' could be there," Guy got up quickly, as if he had said too much already. "Now I'm goin' to have me some sleep. I'll go on the couch if you wanna catch some winks."
"No, I got too much to do," Denise replied. "Thanks for all your help, um...I'll be back later, if that's cool witchoo?"
"Sure is," Guy smiled. "Good luck."
"Thanks," Denise answered, walking out of the room. "I'm probably gonna need it."
Denise stepped outside into the cool morning. The sun had all but risen by now, highlighting the clouds in a pale pink against the bright blue sky. There was an early morning breeze blowing slightly, making the trees and shrubs shiver as if they were cold. The dewdrops on the grass nearby glittered in the sun like diamonds.
However, Denise was too nervous to enjoy the beauty of nature. She slammed the trailer door shut and headed off across the dirt towards the other trailers. She would have known where she was going had Guy told her the trailer number, but as it was, she would have to ask someone else.
She knocked on the door of a randomly-picked trailer and waited for a reply.
It came soon – and angrily.
"What the Hell do you want!" shouted an angry old woman as she threw open the door. She held a shotgun in one hand and a ginger Tomcat under her other arm.
"Um..." Denise stared uncertainly at the cat as it hissed at her. "I was, ur, wondering where Carl Johnson lived."
"There ain't no dirty city folk around here," snarled the woman – and her cat snarled, too, as if imitating her. "So why don't you just bugger off home to your own kind!" And with that, she slammed the door.
Denise was startled, but decided to forget it and try someone else.
She rang a homemade-looking doorbell that was stuck next to the door of the next trailer. Someone answered, but this time they didn't slam the door.
"I've never heard of a Carl Johnson...Can you describe him?" asked the kindly woman.
"Um, for sure...He's black; about this high, got black hair...Cornrows I think,"
"Wait a minute...I think I've seen him," said the woman, deep in thought. "He lives in that trailer just over there. Got here about three days ago."
"Oh ma God, thank you!" Denise exclaimed. "I'll check it out."
The woman smiled and shut the door.
Denise practically ran over to the trailer, but when it came to knocking, she hesitated. What if he wasn't in there? What would she do?
She slowly knocked on the door. She would just have to think about what to do later.
There was no reply after five minutes, so she knocked again.
Another five minutes passed. Again, Denise hammered on the door.
But after 20 minutes, no one had come to the door. Denise wanted to sit down and cry, but she didn't. Instead, she stepped back, and then ran at the door.
BANG! Denise collided with the corrugated metal but it didn't budge. However, her shoulder was as painful as Hell.
Cursing, Denise took a small step back and then kicked out at the door.
BANG! This time the door fell into the trailer. Denise stepped over it and went inside.
It was pitch black except for the rectangle of light that swept in through the hole where the door used to be. Denise reached out for where she hoped a light switch was – she found one and flicked it on.
The bulb above lit up and showed a room in complete disarray. Papers were flung about everywhere, spilled and empty cans littered the floor, and worst of all, there were blood stains smeared across the walls.
Denise's eyes were wide. Trying not to imagine, what had happened here, she stepped over the mess and went in search of other rooms.
She found a bathroom, which was surprisingly clean, and then found the bedroom.
The bedroom was tidy as well, except for one drawer in the bedside table that was only shut partially. Denise knelt down and pulled it out.
The draw was full of papers, and as Denise examined them further she saw they were maps. The maps had big, fat, red X marks on certain locations. One of the maps had an X in Balla territory. There was one showing a mark at a train station. Another was marked with an X at a place near the docks.
And a final X mark was placed near the top of Mount Chiliad.
Denise grabbed a black briefcase from the corner and stuffed the maps in. Then she left the trailer and looked around for some sort of transport. She spotted a Sanchez trail bike resting against the side of a tattered fence nearby. She ran to it, hung the briefcase on the handlebars, and then leapt on. The engine buzzed into life and Denise brought the bike round to face the huge hulk of rock that was Mount Chiliad. Then she sped off towards it.
There was a footpath leading up to the summit of Mount Chiliad, so Denise manoeuvred the bike up it. It was a thin path, though, and the rock was crumbling in places, but Denise didn't care.
The bike seemed to have a mind of its own as it hurtled up the mountain path, swerving around risky corners, wheels kicking up dirt and throwing loose stones over the edge of the path as it went.
After an age of wind-swept travelling, clouds started to form around Denise and her metal steed. The cloud swirled around the mountain like an eerie mist, swallowing it whole and obscuring Denise's view.
Treetops reached up out of the clouds, groaning menacingly, their branches waving in the sharp wind and reaching out to grab Denise and drag her back down into the soup of fog.
But suddenly the path flattened out and the crumbling corners no longer threatened. The trees sank down back into the misty clouds and the air cleared.
Denise had reached the summit.
Denise got off the bike and lay it down carefully on the ground. Then she peered across the expanse of rock which had been flattened out for tourism purposes. There was a minivan and a caravan parked near the bizarre 'spire' of rock that was the very top of the mountain. There was also a BMX bike leaning against a cluster of rocks.
Breathing in the cool air, Denise headed over to the parked vehicles. Her shoes kicked aside pebbles as she walked. It was eerily quiet and no one else seemed to be up there.
She reached the first vehicle - the minivan - and examined it. Through the mud-splattered windscreen, she could see old cans of Sprunk lying on the floor, road maps scattered across the seats. The dashboard wa gathering dust. This van had not been used for a long time.
Denise wandered over to the caravan, hoping to find something more interesting. She peered in through the window to see that everything was very tidy and showed no signs of neglect.
Denise went to the door to see what was inside the living area. She was about to open it when BANG! It was flung open, knocking her to the hard, rocky ground.
Denise looked up as the small dust clouds cleared – and rolled quickly out the way as a shotgun released a shell.
She jumped up and rolled behind the caravan, just as another bullet flew past her. She looked desperately for something to save her – and saw it.
POW! Another bullet scraped the paintwork from the caravan as Denise darted away from it. She ducked and rolled to avoid another shot, scooping up the object she needed as she went.
Slipping it on, she sprinted to the spire of rock, bullets chasing her all the while. Denise ran to the top of the spire, took a quick look behind her and then jumped.
The wind ripped at her face and clothes as she plummeted towards the ground. Crumbling rocks were falling all around her, loosened no doubt by her feet pounding on them. She was too scared to open her eyes, but she had to. She felt her eyeballs would be torn straight from their sockets as they watered furiously.
It was then she saw the trees closing in on her and the leafy brown ground below; she barely had time to open her parachute before—
Denise landed in a large pine tree, the branches creaking and groaning with her weight. She breathed heavily, looked about frantically. All she could see was the sky and branches above her – and she didn't want to move to investigate below.
But then, with a sharp, splintering noise, the branch cracked and Denise slid downwards, screaming. She covered her face with her arms as she fell, wondering if this was ever going to stop—
As she hung just a few centimetres above the ground, Denise almost laughed. She was getting herself into some really deep shit here. She had been insulted by country folk, almost been squashed flat on a highway, almost been attacked by a woman and her cat, had just been chased by a shotgun-wielding maniac and then base-jumped straight off the top of the biggest mountain in the state! Now she was suspended by her parachute in a tree, her feet dangling a few centimetres off the ground, with no idea where she, or CJ, was.
Denise slipped free of her parachute and fell to the earthen, leafy floor. Shaking her head, she got to her feet and looked around.
There was a large wooden hut right next to her. No lights were on, no sound or movement coming from inside. She guessed whoever had built this hut had no intention of sticking around...And if they did, they were obviously mad. Why would someone want to live on Mount Chiliad? As Denise had just discovered, it was hardly the safest place to explore, let alone live on.
Nonetheless, the hut intrigued her so she moved onto the rickety porch and knocked softly on the door.
Denise was used to getting no reply from these places, so when no one answered the door after five minutes, she was hardly surprised. So, she tried the door – and it was unlocked.
It was dark and gloomy inside, and it smelt of musty damp. Denise highly doubted there would be electricity, so she headed to a tiny slit of daylight that was struggling under a pair of wooden shutters. She threw the shutters open and the light scampered into the hut, dust dancing joyously in it.
Denise opened the rest of the shutters and soon she could see everything clearly. There was a tiny little table with a single chair; a manky-looking bed with thin sheets; a gas stove in the corner; and a desk with another chair in front of it. There was also a door leading to a tiny bathroom, which Denise didn't really want to investigate.
Instead, she headed to the desk. She pulled open a draw to see documents and papers. She picked up a manilla folder marked 'Witness Relocation Scheme.' She looked inside to find official-looking documents, notes paperclipped to them. Denise wasn't really interested in reading the documents, so she put the folder aside and searched through the rest of the desk.
More folders about witness relocation and the FBI were unearthed. Whoever lived in this hut was clearly into something serious.
Denise took the FBI and Witness Relocation Scheme folders and put them into her briefcase. She was gathering lots of information now; about what, she didn't know. But whatever they meant, they could lead her to CJ, and she wasn't about to pass up that chance.
Careful to leave everything as she found it, Denise left the hut. It was still quiet outside, save for the tweeting birds and the breeze slipping through the trees.
And then a sudden, sharp click came from Denise's right. Slowly, Denise turned to look.
There was nothing there.
Denise was a bit freaked out – so she went over to the tree where her parachute still hung and decided to try and get it down. She took the handle of the briefcase between her teeth and then jumped up to grab onto a tree branch. She pulled herself up amongst the leaves and set to untangling the parachute and its strings.
But as she dropped back to the ground, parachute on, she heard another clicking noise. And then another...And another.
Denise suddenly recognised the noise – it was the sound of a safety-catch being taken off a gun.
Or, as in this case, several guns.
And then, suddenly, all Hell broke loose.
Denise leapt behind the tree trunk as a hail of machine-gun fire rained down on her. Bark flew from the tree as bullets hit it, and suddenly Denise had no other option: the edge of the mountain was right beside her, and she was wearing a parachute.
She took a run-up and jumped, stealing a glance at her assailants – the FBI!
But that no longer mattered; at least not for the moment. Denise was falling fast – very fast – and as she tugged on the string to open her parachute, the material billowed out in a cloud of red, and Denise saw there was a huge hole ripped right through it.
Pain lashed through every corner of Denise's body, pounding across her skin, tearing at her internal organs. She plunged to the bottom of the river, the parachute strings tangling around her as the material, which had previous been floating above the surface, was sucked down into the darkness.
Kicking her legs frantically, Denise began her ascent to the surface. The water stung her eyes but she had to keep them open – the promise of light above was the only thing keeping her swimming. Her lungs seared in agony as she struggled to hold her breath, kicking and struggling as the parachute that had twice saved her life now threatened to drag her back down and take it.
The surface of the water rippled tauntingly above Denise, and she grew angry. With the strings of the parachute tugging at her arms and legs, Denise grabbed her knife from her boot and SNAP! She cut through the strings.
Then she kicked out harder than she ever had before and broke the surface.
Denise gasped for breath, swallowing down the cool mid-morning air. It revived her lungs and felt amazing on her wet face.
Despite this saviour, however, Denise was exhausted and she didn't know how much longer she could swim for. She looked about hopefully: a cliff face confronted her from one side, too high too climb; on the other side was another rocky ledge, smaller than the other but still too high; there was nothing but water behind her; but ahead of her she could make out a shore.
Denise paddled along, making sure to breathe correctly. Her muscles were aching and tired, but she knew she had to keep going.
The water started to become swampy as she neared the shore. Dead trees leered from the misty gloom ahead, snarling at Denise as she swam for her life. Large rocks also rose out of the swamp, goliaths made from stone.
And then Denise felt her feet scrape the earth beneath the swampy water. As the water became shallower still, Denise fell onto her hands and knees and crawled up to the dirt that signified the shore.
Finally, letting out a breathy cry, Denise collapsed onto the dirt, the water still lapping at her feet.
She was covered in mud and dirt. Her face was painful on one side where she had been lying on some stones. Her muscles still hurt, but she managed to drag herself up into a kneeling position so she could better survey her surroundings.
Evil-looking trees blocked out all but a few rays of sunlight from rescuing the swamp from its gloomy fate. The dirt continued on as a path, leading into some trees which looked healthy in comparison to these swamp ghouls.
Denise decided to follow that path, so she pulled herself onto her feet and started walking – well, hobbling – towards this forest.
Her sneakers and socks were soaked with water and it was uncomfortable to walk in them. Denise now wanted nothing more than to be back home – with CJ.
That thought kept her moving through the forest, until a loud noise startled her.
Denise span about, looking for the source of the noise.
There it was again! What the Hell was it?
Denise almost jumped right out of her skin – until realisation hit her.
They were cars. There was a road somewhere!
This time Denise followed the noise. When it faded, another came to take its place. Denise started to run. Her feet kicked up earth as she sprinted to the noises, her muscles groaning in protest but moving anyway, unable to stem Denise's determination.
And then the trees parted and—
For the second time in as many days, Denise had almost been run over. Thank Goodness this wasn't a highway. She smiled hopefully at the driver, who was staring angrily at her.
"MOVE OUTTA THE WAY, LADY!" he shouted.
"Sorry, sorry..." Denise was about to step out of the way when she had a better idea. "Hey, I know we got off on the wrong foot, but can you take me to a town?"
The man frowned in thought – but he luckily nodded.
"Great, I owe you one, man," Denise smiled, as she opened the car door. She clambered into the small vehicle and the man started driving.
The car smelt of old hay and manure, and there were several old parking tickets and receipts scattered across the dashboard, as well as numerous empty food packaging hiding on the floor. It certainly wasn't the sort of car Denise wanted to stay in for a long time, so she asked the driver, "How long is it to the nearest town?"
"Dillimore? S'about a half hour drive from here...maybe more." The man replied. He looked away from the road for a second and leered at Denise.
Denise pulled a face. "Keep yo eyes on the road!" she screeched as the car almost smashed into a tractor.
The man ignored her and turned off the main road onto one made of dirt. There were trees all around, their numbers growing denser as the man carried on into the shadows.
Suddenly, he stopped the car. He turned to look at Denise again, a crooked smile spreading across his face.
Denise glanced down at her door - no handle!
"What the fuck you playin' at, man?" she shouted. She stared out the window for a moment. "This ain't even the way to Dillimore, is it? Shit! Lemmee out the damn car!"
"In a moment," hissed the guy.
Denise widened her eyes as he reached over to her.
"A don't think so!" exclaimed Denise, and she punched him in the face.
He roared with pain, and Denise moved her legs up and pressed both her feet against the man's chest, pinning him to the door on his side.
"You motherfucker!" Denise screamed at him. He tried to move towards her again, but she kicked him sharply in the chin. His head snapped backwards painfully.
Denise kept him stuck against the door as she quickly grabbed a map from the floor, examined it, and pocketed it. Then she grabbed the gear stick and pulled for all she was worth.
CRACK! The stick came loose and Denise stabbed at her window with it. The glass shattered all over the inside of the car. Denise cleared away some of the jagged pieces from the window frame, and prepared to leave the car.
She looked back at the man who now seemed to be gaining some more strength.
"You better have this back," she quipped, and drove the gear stick into his eye.
The man screamed and blood spurted everywhere as the sharp stick penetrated his eyeball. Denise hurriedly turned from him and launched herself out through the small window.
She immediately set off running.
"Thanks for the ride!" Denise called back sarcastically as she sprinted down the dirt path back to the road.
Her feet back on concrete again, Denise shook her head and straightened out the crumpled roadmap, taking a quick look behind her to make sure the man wasn't following her.
Nope. It seemed his perverted days were over.
Denise stared back down at the map. The lines squiggled along the paper like multi-coloured snakes, curling around blue patches of lakes, rivers and ocean, winding through hills of green, leaping across ditches of paper creases. It was enough to make anyone's mind boggle.
Randomly guessing at which road she was on, Denise followed a dark squiggle to a gathering of more dark lines and green splodges. Shaking her head again, she tucked the map away and set off along the road.
"Damn!" Denise cursed, jumping further onto the hard shoulder as a car rushed past her. She brushed herself down, shaking her head again. She straightened out the map with a flourish and then started off down the road once more.
"Hmm..." Denise consulted the map again as she sat at the side of the road, deep in thought. She traced a finger along one of the lines on the paper. "So if I go...yeah...Hey, no shit!" She jumped up and stared into the distance - she could make out the shape of a lighthouse through the fog.
It was the lighthouse on Santa Maria Beach, Los Santos.
Denise watched wistfully as the grey mist swept out of her line of vision, giving way to views of white sandy beach, steely water, and the pier. She was considering running like Heck back into town, just to be home again, but the fog cleared further, rolling through the cool air like rain-filled clouds on a windy day, and Denise caught sight of several groups of gang members.
Gang members wearing purple.
Denise shivered. There were Ballas everywhere on the beach, strolling casually along with 9mm pistols and Mini-SMGs clutched lazily in their hands. Some stood in circles, laughing and joking, smoke from their joints mixing with the eerie mist that swirled around them. Others still were sipping from a bottle being passed around as they gazed at a Lowrider, complete with hydraulics, which one of their homies was showing off.
It was like some kind of a nightmare. Had the Ballas destroyed every last Orange Grove Families member in the city?
Denise unclenched her fists, which she had unconsciously balled while watching the scene before her, and sighed heavily. She now knew for certain she had to find CJ - he was truly the only chance Grove Street had of regaining power.
Glancing back at the map, Denise found the route she had to follow to get to Dillimore. She didn't really know why she was still bothering to go there, but it was the only other village she had heard of aside from Angel Pine and Montgomery. Denise was a city girl, through and through. She couldn't remember ever having left Los Santos before now.
Tucking the road map away once more, Denise started trudging along the hard concrete again. She was wary of how close to now-Balla territory she was, and found herself crouching slightly as she walked. She was unarmed and didn't much fancy a firefight in the fog; although this was now slowly dissipating as though it realised Denise was using it to hide from the Ballas and wanted to spite her.
Denise broke into a run, hoping that nobody had spotted her. The sun was now a blurred white-yellow fuzz up in the sky, burning through the fog like a hot knife cuts through butter.
Luckily for Denise, she had sprinted on past the Flint Intersection and was now safely hidden under the wide struts of the highway above. She carried on across the grass, head down, thoughts melancholy, her hope and strength fading with the mist.
Half an hour later, Denise took her first step into Dillimore.
It was very similar to Montgomery: hillbillies wandering around; a few cars and lorries driving through the narrow streets; lots of small houses with tiled roofs and battered Ranchers, Waltons and Caravans sitting in the drives; and a large General Store, which was closed. There was also a Police Station, a Steakhouse (another property not doing business today), and a Gas Station.
Denise felt dazed and fatigued. She dragged herself around the bend to the Police Station. She wondered if she should tell them about the old pervert back near Angel Pine - but she decided against it. After all, she had stabbed him in the eye with a gear stick. She didn't think the police would appreciate that very much.
But as she turned the corner, she noticed a lot of yellow police tape. It fluttered in the wind, cordoning off the gas station. Denise wanted to know why, so she subtly moved a little closer.
There was a man babbling on about a 'robbery' that had happened. He was leaning against a red car - Denise couldn't tell whether it was a Sabre or a Clover. She walked almost right next to the police tape as she came around the other side of the gas station, straining her ears to hear what else the man had to say.
There was cop asking him questions, a pen poised in his hand above a notepad. "...like?" Denise heard him say.
"...she had reddish kind of hair, b-b-brown maybe," the guy stuttered. "Had a shotgun I think. She tried to--"
At that moment, a policeman walked into Denise's view.
"Step away from the perimeter please, miss," he said in a country drawl.
Denise looked over his shoulder at the babbling man, and scanned the rest of the gas station. She spotted a Sprunk vending machine - she was pretty thirsty and also thought it to the perfect way to eavesdrop on what the gas station dude was saying.
"A just wanted a drink, officer," Denise told him innocently. "I walked a long way, y'hear? A come all the way from Angel Pine, I'm thirsty as Hell!"
The cop watched her closely, appraised her grubby appearance and tired eyes.
"Fine. But make it quick." He lifted the police tape and Denise ducked under it and scurried over to the vending machine.
Her ears were alert as she fumbled in her pockets for a dime.
"...stole it. Just hooked it up and drove it off!" Denise listened intently the man's story. "Me and me son gave chase in the old car, but she ain't what she used to be." There came the sound of a car bonnet being patted. "Please catch 'em, officer, y'know how hard it is to make money around here. I can barely rub two cents together runnin' this place."
"I understand your predicament, sir," replied the cop. "We'll do our best to find them both, and your tanker."
Denise slipped the coin she had found into the machine. She turned around to see the police officer from over by the police tape staring at her. She smiled at him hopefully, then looked back at the machine to choose what drink she wanted.
"...he look like again?" Denise caught the end of the policeman's next sentence.
"I told you, he's dark-skinned, got black hair, wearing a black vest and trackpants... Sorry I can't be more helpful. I couldn't see his face, he were wearing shades." The gas station owner answered.
Denise's heart skipped a beat. That sounded like CJ!
"Could you tell me where they were headed?" asked the cop.
"Not sure, naw. Me and my boy managed to follow 'em past that farm near to Beacon Hill, but then the crazy woman popped our tyre and we lost control of the car."
Denise's can of Sprunk hit the tray of the vending machine with a thud. Denise was going to take her time retrieving it, in order to hear more of the conversation going on, but she suddenly felt a strong hand grip her underarm.
"Time to go, miss. Get yer drink," boomed the policeman behind her.
Denise shook her arm free. "Getchow hands off of me. A was just leavin' anyway." She snatched her can from the machine and left the police area. Blood pounded through her veins, her heart thumping. So CJ had stolen a tanker and headed on past Beacon Hill, wherever that was. Why? And who was this reddish-brown-haired woman the gas station owner was speaking about? Denise had a bad feeling about her, especially since she not only sounded crazy, but seemed to be accompanying CJ.
Walking on past the Steakhouse, Denise arrived in its car park. There was a Freeway motorbike parked there.
Denise glanced around to make sure nobody was walking by, and then jumped onto the motorcycle and kicked the engine to life. She'd driven bikes before, but they were BF-400s or PCJ-600s. This vehicle was like a Harley and its engine growled like a beast. It was difficult to manoeuvre out of the car park and through the winding streets, but Denise soon got the hang of it.
When she was on the outskirts of Dillimore, she pulled over and stopped an old woman in a pink floral frock.
"'scuse me, lady, can you tell me the way to Beacon Hill? Ma map ain't got no names marked on it," Denise pleaded.
The woman paused, but then nodded. Denise retrieved her map from her pocket and straightened it out. She showed it to the hick who jabbed a finger at a small 'raised' location which was a slightly lighter green than the rest of the grassy areas.
"Here's yer hill. Now go on, get outta here." The woman said in a witchlike, crackly tone.
Denise grinned her thanks, then stared at the map for a moment while the old woman hobbled off down the street. Denise pocketed the road map, leapt back onto the bike, and zoomed off to investigate Beacon Hill.
By the time Denise arrived at the mysterious hill, it was fast becoming dark. Denise guessed it was about five or six o'clock. She was about to turn the Freeway bike onto the dirt path leading to the hill, when she spotted a smear of black on the road behind her. She left the bike on its prop and went to look at the smear. She knelt down on the grass next to the road and touched the dark substance.
Denise smelt the black mark on her finger - it was petrol.
There was a slim chance that it belonged to the aforementioned tanker, but Denise had learned not to ignore such a thing. Her eyes flitted around the area, searching for any more streaks of oil. She looked back at the dirt path and saw that there were a few drops there.
The Freeway roared up the path, kicking up clouds of dust as it went. Denise narrowed her eyes and pushed the bike onwards. The dirt road wriggled around like a snake, twisting and turning. It even crossed over a train track at one point. Denise saw two glinting eyes of a freight train in the distance as the motorcycle bumped over the rails. She then looked to her left and saw her next big lead - a large offering of petrol trailing off over the grass and onto a road. On the other side of the road was a sign that said 'RS HAUL'. Denise could make out two hangars with corrugated metal doors, and a little wooden shack connected to a slightly larger building, all inside an 'enclosure' of small walls. She veered the bike off the path, onto the grass, and then skidded in a full spin over to the RS HAUL place.
Denise got off the bike and looked around. She had time to see the door of the wooden shack slam shut, and then everything was quiet. She went to the shack and knocked.
"A saw you go in there, foo'! Time to stop playin' Hide 'n' Seek!" Denise called.
"I just wanna talk! I'm... interested in doing some work for ya!" Denise lied.
There was a short silence, and then the door opened. A small, toothless old man stood in the doorway. He held out a wrinkled hand and grinned.
Denise shook his hand before he hobbled out of the building and stood before her. He wore a little cap and grubby overalls. He wore a pair of spectacles, which the glow of the setting sun glanced off.
"I'm Mr Whittaker, how's ya doin'?" he said with another smile.
"Fo' sho'. I'm Denise Robinson," Denise replied.
"Nice example ye have here," Whittaker gestured to the Freeway. "Used to have one like it when I was a lad. That was some time ago now, as you can see." He laughed, wheezing.
"What kinda place is this?" Denise asked.
"Why, this is the one and only truckin' depot I've run for half o' my life," Whittaker answered nostalgically.
"I saw petrol smears back there. You had any recent deliveries?"
Whittaker kicked a pebble on the ground and looked down, avoiding the question. He looked up, squinting in the orange twilight and shrugged. "Dat's all confidential, miss."
"I ain't no cop or nothin', I was just lookin' for someone," Denise tried to reassure him.
"Someone, huh? Where you from, miss?"
"Los Santos. Ma boyfriend's gone missing."
"Arrr, that's a darned shame. What's his name?"
"Carl Johnson. But we all call him CJ,"
"I ain't never heard nothin' 'bout no 'CJ' fella," Whittaker stared off into the distance. "I don't really get to know ma clients too much."
Denise sighed and followed his gaze to the slowly setting sun. She would soon have to look for somewhere to stay for the night, and this place just seemed to be a dead end. It was time to leave.
"Oh well. Thanks anyway. I guess A just followed the wrong lead," Denise wandered back to her motorbike, clambered on, and started it up. "Bye now."
Whittaker watched her for a moment, then said, "I might know somethin'... Ehh, but it'll cost ya."
Denise turned around to look at him again. She killed the engine and got off the Freeway. "You know somethin'? About CJ? You better be tellin' me, old man!"
"I'll tell ya, sure, but I'll be needin' your bike there." He nodded at the vehicle.
Denise stared from the motorcycle to Mr Whittaker and raised an eyebrow. "Tell me what you know first. I'm in no mood for games."
"Sure thing, miss. Step inside, will ya?" Whittaker beckoned her over to the wooden entrance to the building.
Denise now knew better than to go along with strange guys, so she folded her arms and shook her head. "Out here. You can have the damn bike, but this conversation's gonna be on ma terms, y'hear?"
Whittaker chortled and looked at Denise with narrowed eyes. "Whatever you says, miss. Whatever you says."
"Tell me," Denise urged him.
Whittaker leaned casually against the shack. "I's had a delivery today, sure. Young'uns from Dillimore. One of them, she done some business for me before. The other, young city lad, I ain't seen him before, but I offered him some work here. He says he got too much else to do right now, but he'd come back 'nother day."
"This city guy... He black?"
"Yup, wore a cap he did,"
"Well, your 'CJ' went off with Catalina. Who knows where they's headed?"
"Catalina? Tell me more about her. She sounds like some bitch,"
Whittaker laughed again. "Catalina sure is fiery. She likes things done her way, the old country ways. She got some cousin from the city, though. Name's Cesar. Don't know if they's still in touch,"
"I don't think I've heard of him,"
"Naw? Well, Catalina's been helpin' this CJ lad get on his feet. We didn't get much catchin' up time, but my guess is she's got herself a new stooge."
Denise paused before asking her next question, thoughts whirling in her brain. So Catalina was helping CJ. That didn't seem too bad. But stealing a tanker? Was that really help? And who was Cesar?
Denise strained her memory. There was something in her mind that had clicked at that name, but she couldn't place it.
Suddenly she realised - Cesar was the leader of the Los Aztecas Varrios gang. They were a Hispanic gang, wore blue and hung around El Corona and Little Mexico back in Los Santos. Denise felt a pang of sadness as she thought of her home city and its gang warfare.
"Now's about dat dere bike..." Whittaker cut into her thoughts.
Denise stepped in front of the motorbike. "Not yet. Where's this Catalina hang?"
Whittaker grinned his toothless grin. "Now why would I be tellin' ya that?"
Denise sighed in exasperation and looked to the sky, as though searching for answers. It was getting late, and the sun was just a small sliver of light on the horizon. The sky was growing from orange to purple, and clouds the colour of deep mauve were scudding through the air.
"Listen you stupid ol' man! I wanna find out where ma damn boo is, and if you ain't gonna be tellin' me where that Catalina bitch has taken him, imma gonna be goin' East Coast on yo' ass!" Denise screeched.
Whittaker looked shocked, and actually scared. He held his hands up in front of him in a gesture of peace, as Denise balled her own hands into fists and moved threateningly towards him.
"Catalina lives up on Fern Ridge!" Whittaker rasped.
Denise breathed hard through her nose and grabbed Whittaker by his lapel. She lifted him off the ground, then put her face to his and said slowly, "That's all A wanted to know."
Denise dropped Whittaker and headed over to her bike.
"You... You remember our little deal?" Whittaker asked hopefully.
"Nope." Denise replied; and then hit the gas and zoomed off into the night.
An owl hooted high up in the forest trees, watching the world below with glassy amber eyes. It ruffled its feathers and turned on its lofty perch on a branch, as a roaring sound echoed from the distance.
The wise bird saw headlights coming from over the hillside. It hooted softly, and then took flight into the air as the growling monster tore down the road.
The metal beast turned off the road onto a dirt path. The path led all the way up a grassy hill, forking near the top and giving its follower the choice of left or right. This time, left was picked, and brown clouds of dirt flew into the cool evening air behind the wheels of the Freeway motorcycle, which was now slowly ascending the path.
The engine spluttered in protest as it was forced upwards, whining and shrieking, hungry for more petrol. Finally, it gave a last mechanical cry, before dying completely.
"Shit!" Denise clambered off her ride and kicked it hard, loosening one of its metal panels. It had never occurred to her to top up the gas tank at Mr Whittaker's while she had the chance, and now she was regretting it sorely.
Denise looked at the road map she still had with her. She was still going the right way, and thanks to help from another hillbilly back in the small town of Blueberry (which was also experiencing a crime surge after a liquor store had been robbed), she realised she was definitely at Fern Ridge.
Denise had no choice now but to continue on foot. A breeze fluttered past her, ruffling the leaves on the bushes and trees around her the same way the owl had ruffled its own feathers earlier. Denise started along the path, hugging herself for warmth.
It wasn't long before she saw light coming from somewhere between the huge forest trees. She quickened her pace and soon a small cabin came into view. There was a weathered old fence around it, beaten and rotting with age. There was also an old pick-up truck lying forlornly, with no wheels and coloured yellow-orange with rust, next to the shack. The cabin itself had hubcaps dangling from the roof, and despite the windows being boarded up in place, a few fingers of artificial light escaped outside through cracks in the boards.
As Denise drew nearer, she saw a spade lying against the fence. And in the proximity of the spade was a charming trio of mounds in the grass.
Denise shivered. Her pulse started to race. She had no weapons - her knife had been long lost in the swamps in Whetstone, and that gear stick was, for all Denise knew, still well-lodged in some pervert hick's eyeball.
But wait a second... There was a weapon she could use, however primitive it was.
Denise grabbed the spade from over by the fence, skirted around the graves, and headed onwards to the door of the cabin. She gritted her teeth, then took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
The muffled voices that had been barely audible from inside the shack now stopped completely. It was as if the rest of the forest had been silenced as well. No more owls hooting, no more wind whistling, not even the sound of a car engine from the road below. The only noise was Denise's heavy, ragged breathing.
Then a new sound broke the quiet - bolts and locks were being removed from the door of the cabin. And all of a sudden, the door was opened ever so slightly. More light scurried out of the shack, illuminating Denise's puzzled face.
As her eyes finally adjusted to the outburst, she realised she was now staring down the barrel of a very mean-looking shotgun - and straight into the eyes of an equally mean-looking woman.
Her eyes were dark, almost black, and her hair was a reddish-brown.
Denise drew a sharp breath. Catalina.
"Who the fk are you?" snarled the woman, presumed Catalina. She had an accent, sort of Spanish, but Denise knew now Whittaker was telling the truth about her cousin being Cesar.
"I'm sorry, A was just wanderin' around, got a little lost, y'see, and A was wonderin' if y'all could put me up for the night?" Denise decided to keep her identity as CJ's girlfriend a secret for the moment.
"No trespassing," hissed Catalina.
"Aww, c'mon, man, A been walkin' 'round all night," Denise pleaded.
"Get off my property before I put a bullet in your pretty face!" Catalina shouted.
"Who's it, Cat?" A slightly dazed voice came from somewhere inside the cabin.
The accent was unmistakably from Los Santos.
The voice was unmistakably CJ's.
"CJ, shit, it's me, Deni--!" Denise didn't get the chance to finish screaming the rest of her sentence before she had to dive clear of Catalina's weapon firing off a fat shell.
Rolling in the dusty soil, Denise took cover around the other side of the cabin, adrenaline coursing through her, her body's natural defence system of 'Fight or Flight' taking effect.
This was definitely one Denise wanted to fight.
However, she realised she had dropped the spade when she'd jumped clear of the hostile Catalina. Footsteps from around the corner pulled Denise back to the current situation with a thump.
Catalina was clearly prepared to kill her.
Denise hurried off around the back of the cabin, hoping to find a window through which she could talk to CJ.
The footsteps grew closer, now accompanied by a slightly manic and hushed cackle, along with rasps of, "Come out, come out, wherever you arrrrreeee..."
Shit, Catalina was completely crazy!
Denise stealthily went on around the other side of the shack. She peered around the corner nearest to the front of the house, and saw Catalina wasn't there. This was her chance. She dove forwards and snatched up the spade, hoping she'd not made too much noise and would have time to grab CJ and get out of here--
"Hah!" yelled Catalina from behind Denise.
Denise was about to turn when she felt cold metal press against the nape of her neck.
"Don't move," Catalina said warningly. "And drop the spade, bitch."
Denise let the spade fall to the ground. Catalina didn't retrieve it.
"Shoot me then, hoe!" Denise screeched. "A don't care!"
"Oh, don't worry, I'll shoot you eventually. It's just I have these new, sharp things I'd like to test out, first. And my current guinea pig is much too precious to bleed," Catalina laughed, her breath blowing across the back of Denise's neck.
"You's one Hell of a motherfkin' fool to do this. I ain't never done nothin'. A just wanted a place to stay," Denise lied.
"But you know CJ?"
"Erm, yeah, he from the 'hood back home. Y'know, Los Santos? Where your cousin Cesar's from."
"You know Cesar, too?"
"Yeah, he... He sent me!" Denise had a sudden moment of inspiration. "He need to talk to CJ, but, ur, he couldn't get down here, got too much shit happenin' right now. Mind if I pass on his message?"
"Why don't you tell it to me instead!" Catalina snapped, ordering Denise rather than asking.
"Fine, fo' sho'. Tell him to not forget 'bout his girl... An' to get back to Los Santos. Ballas taken over the whole damn place. The Grove needs him. You tell him that?"
"Consider it done," Catalina said, although there was something in her tone that said otherwise. "Now get off my land!"
Catalina didn't wait for a reply. She shoved Denise roughly forwards, towards the edge of the hill.
Denise knew what was over that edge, having passed it on the way up the path. She wasn't surprised, then, to find the grass give way to nothing but air as she plummeted down towards a big, cold river...
Denise rocketed downwards through the icy water, but quickly regained her senses and began kicking back to the surface. She was soon breathing in the fresh oxygen as she made her way to a pebbly shore nearby.
Denise climbed onto dry land and squeezed the water from her hair and baggy clothes. She looked up to where Catalina had pushed her over the edge of Fern Ridge and saw a shadowy figure move away and head back to the cabin.
Denise made her way up the pebbly path to the road again, her whole body aching with tiredness and despair. Having learned her lesson about getting into cars with hillbillies, she simply jumped into the rack of a Walton as it trundled by. She knew it was useless going back to Fern Ridge to try and rescue CJ - if he even needed to be rescued - so she lay down amongst the crates of eggs and shut her eyes to get some rest, a tear slipping out and hitting the wood below her with a thud.
The owl, having returned to its favourite tree, watched her go, the bright moon reflected in its glassy amber eyes.
Denise opened her eyes.
Grey morning light dilated her pupils. The car she had been hitching a ride in had come to a stop in somebody's drive.
Not knowing where she was, Denise slowly slipped out of the Walton's rack and stretched her arms out, yawning. She looked up and down the street - rows of houses, some with cars parked out front, lined the other side of the road. As usual, a few country folk were walking about. It was very quiet. Denise stopped a cowboy to ask for the time.
"Why, it's six-thirty in the mornin', young lady. Shouldn' you be sleepin'?" he replied.
"Oh, right, fo' sho', yeah... What's the name of this place?" Denise asked.
"This ol' village? The one and only Palomino Creek, ma'am," said the cowboy with a smile. "You don't get out much, do ya?"
"Aww, no, man, I'm a city girl," Denise grinned back, feeling she could trust this guy not to be prejudiced like the rest of the hillbillies she'd met.
"You're pretty far away from a city. What brings you out here?"
"Lookin' for someone, that's all,"
"Well, I hope you find 'em, miss,"
"Thanks. Hey, is there anywhere I can get some food around here?"
The man pointed off into the distance. "Jus' down the road, there's a pizza place."
"Yo, dude, you got ma respect, thanks," Denise slapped him on the shoulder as she headed off down the street.
"No problem, miss!" the cowboy shouted after her. "Good luck!"
Denise waved a hand behind her at him, and then took a deep breath of the cool air. She could detect the smell of freshly-baked pizza; her stomach growled in reply.
Denise took in the sights as she neared the Well Stacked Pizza restaurant. She saw a small bank, an 'Ammunation' shop, and many houses. It was a nice village really, and its residents weren't giving her as many filthy looks as the people in Dillimore, Blueberry and Angel Pine. Denise couldn't help but wonder why.
She pondered this as she sat down at a plastic red table, a tray of fries and pizza in front of her. She started to ravenously wolf down her food, finally putting her hungry stomach at rest.
Then an old woman hobbled over to her. "Say, lady," she croaked, "you's from Las Venturas like the rest of 'em?"
"Huh?" Denise was startled and choked on her pizza. She took a long drink of Sprunk, and then shook her head. "Los Santos. Where's Las Venturas?"
The old lady pointed out of the windows and down the road. Denise followed her gaze, but saw nothing but houses.
"It's jus' over the bridge. Thought you might 'ave been one of those folk. We get a lotta people from over there," continued the woman.
"Oh, right, well, erm, no. But A might just check it out, thanks. Oh and," Denise stopped the lady as she was about to hobble off again, "do you know if there's somewhere A can get a fresh change of clothes?"
The hick shook her head. "You could try askin' some of the people that lives here. Maybe they'll see you right." Then she left the restaurant.
Denise nodded to herself, finished her meal, and went back outside to follow the old woman's advice. She decided to start from the very top and work her way down the line of houses.
The first place she came to was made almost entirely from wood. It sat on the outskirts of town, near the river. Denise knocked on the door, but got no reply - she'd expected no less.
She risked a glance in through the window. She peered through the net curtains on the other side and saw a bedroom. There was a chest of drawers, a bedside table with a lamp, a bed with magazines scattered over it, and various pictures hung up on the walls.
Denise sighed and was about to turn away when one of the pictures caught her eye.
It was a picture of her.
It was on the bedside table rather than the walls, in a neat little wooden frame. It was a photo of Denise standing outside her home in Ganton, smiling cheerfully. But who had taken the picture?
Denise knew straight away - CJ.
This was one of CJ's safehouses!
Denise went to the door and tried the handle. It was locked, but Denise knew how to deal with that.
Denise stepped over the fallen door and went inside. She propped up the piece of wood, its hinges broken and limp, in the doorway, and then went straight in the first door she came to - the bedroom.
Sitting down on the bed, Denise examined the photograph. She'd looked so happy then - she'd been so happy then. It made her sigh and shut her eyes for a moment as she remembered a date CJ had taken her on...
He'd picked her up at about 9 o'clock, dressed in the blue suit she'd bought him, a gorgeous bouquet of pink flowers clutched in his hands. Denise had been all set to let CJ use her green Hustler to drive around in, but CJ had brought along his own vehicle - a flashy white Infernus from uptown.
CJ had driven her right through the rundown neighbourhoods of Jefferson, Idlewood, and Little Mexico, and come out on the other side in Downtown Los Santos.
Denise didn't know where they were going, but soon the Santa Maria beach had come into view. The sun was setting, and the sky was beautiful shades of orange and pink. CJ had led Denise down to the seafront and they had just sat there on the sand and talked as the sun slowly went down.
It brought tears to Denise's eyes again as she remembered it all. She put the picture back on the nightstand and got up. She left the room and went to investigate the rest of the house.
After finding nothing more of interest except a few used dishes, Denise went into the clothes closet and tried on some of CJ's clothes, hoping they'd not be too big.
She ended up wearing a pair of black khaki pants, and a denim jacket with a white shirt underneath. She also put on a pair of thick hiking boots, figuring they'd be better than her old canvas shoes if she was going to be walking for miles again.
The clothes and boots were a little oversized, but Denise wore a belt and tied the shoes up extra tight. For a final touch, Denise put on a pair of black shades.
Denise also found a parachute and a Desert Eagle gun at the bottom of the wardrobe. She took both, tucking the pistol into the back of her trousers and slipping on the parachute.
Time to leave.
Denise went back outside, making sure to leave the broken door in such a way it looked like it was still firmly fixed to the doorway. She headed off down the street, only to hear a gunshot go off.
She dived instinctively to the ground, heard shouts, swearing and an alarm going off, then looked up to see several police bikes zoom down the road.
There were two cops on the pair of motorbikes at the rear, and two more out in front. One of the front bikes seemed to be leading the way, at least for the one behind it.
The latter bike caught Denise's attention.
CJ was driving it.
Denise saw a lean Sanchez motorcycle propped up against the side of the safehouse. She ran to it and leapt on. The engine buzzed angrily as she steered it after the party of motorbikes.
She wasn't going to let CJ get away again, and she certainly wasn't going to let that Catalina bitch escape either. She had a few things she wanted to say to her.
Denise rounded a hedge only to see the squad of bikes go soaring across a gap in a broken bridge. One of the policemen didn't make it, plunging into the cold water below. The chase continued as the trio of bikes landed safely on the other side.
Denise revved up the motor and floored it towards the bridge. She'd never done anything like this before, and she sure as Hell didn't want to end up in the river like the other dude. His gurgled cries betrayed the fact that he couldn't swim.
The wind rushed past Denise's ears as her trail bike hit grassy ground, which gave way to the rickety wood of the collapsed bridge.
Denise zoomed off the ramp-like side of the bridge, the wheels of the Sanchez whirling in nothing but air. She wanted to shut her eyes, but she had to keep them open so she could see if she was even going to make it...
The wheels of the motorcycle finally caught solid ground again, and now Denise was careering at top speed along a dirt path. It twisted away under a highway, where Denise saw the cop at the back of the pursuit disappear.
She switched to the top gear on her bike and sped off after him, CJ, and Catalina. She ducked reflexively for no reason as the Sanchez took her under the freeway. Trees, grass and road on either side of her rushed past in green and grey blurs.
Denise could now see all three bikes ahead of her, and this filled her with even more determination. There was another dash under an off-ramp, which led to another one. A small village was looming in the distance.
Suddenly, without warning, the cop smashed into the edge of one of the concrete pillars nearby. His whole body crumpled as the bike threw him clean out of his seat. As Denise rushed past, she saw the body slide down, leaving a sickly trail of blood smeared up the edge of the pillar.
Denise tried to keep her mind clear. Now she was the only one following Catalina and CJ, which meant it was solely up to her to stop them. She shook her head to clear her mind and when she looked back up she realised she was about to collide with a tree!
She didn't hit the tree - she hit a small rock lying under the grass. Denise had no time for relief, as the rock that had saved her from a smashed face had also spun her off the dirt track and onto the grass nearby.
Denise stared on into the village and saw CJ and Catalina about to get away for sure. She kicked the bike back into life and took off after them again.
Please, she thought, please don't let them get away...
Denise came around the outskirts of the town as Catalina swept through the middle, CJ lagging behind somewhere. Denise bounded off the grass and onto a curving road, and accelerated around the corner in time to see Catalina heading straight for a police blockade!
Denise had a sudden thought. She drew her Desert Eagle and fired straight ahead at Catalina's back wheel.
The wheel popped, and both bike and rider both fell to the ground right in front of the police road block. Denise kept her gun trained on Catalina as the Sanchez zoomed over the crossroads and away from the police.
Denise kept going, turning to the right and speeding around another tight corner to the entrance to the village, where she hoped she could catch CJ. She was about to reach it, when CJ's bike went flying ahead, right in front of her eyes. Denise barely had time to get around another corner before she saw CJ take down the police officers and help Catalina onto the back of his ride.
And then they were off again.
Denise's heart sank, but she knew she just had to keep going. She chased after CJ's motorbike, which was now heading out of the village, Catalina shouting insults at CJ.
Suddenly, Catalina turned around, smiled evilly at Denise, and raised a Tec-9. Denise's eyes widened with horror as she realised she was about to have her head blown off, when BANG!
Catalina had aimed for the Sanchez rather than Denise, and had shot its front tyre to smithereens. The bike skidded and fell. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. Denise could only watch as Catalina threw her a 'V' sign and the police bike sped off into the distance.
And then her head hit the road with a painful CRACK!
And Denise blacked out.
"...lucky to be alive."
"...wonder how it happened?"
"Police say she was riding a bike and someone popped the tyre."
"No one knows, yet, except for Miss Robinson."
The voices became clearer.
Denise awoke to see a white ceiling looking down on her. Her head hurt, and she slowly put a hand to it; she felt bandages. Her arm stung, and she gazed at it to see a drip stuck into it.
"Aah, you're awake," said one of the voices Denise had heard while coming back to consciousness.
"Huh? I, erm, yeah, sure..." Denise felt woozy and confused. She looked around some more.
She was a small white bed, in a small white room. There was a doctor standing by the bed, waiting expectantly for something. He had brown hair, and didn't look at all like the ugly hillbillies Denise had seen before.
"Where am I?" Denise asked him. She glanced around the room again, startled by how clean and bright it was. "Shit, I ain't dead, am I!"
The doctor laughed. "No, Miss Robinson, you're in hospital, in Montgomery."
"Where's that bitch! She get away! Imma put a cap in her ass, that hoe! Where's CJ!" Denise struggled to sit up, but the doctor gently forced her to lie down.
"So you saw who caused your accident? The police say the wheel of the bike you were driving was punctured by a bullet," explained the doctor.
"Yeah, I saw her, clear as anythin'! Her name's Ca--" Denise cut herself off. She had a problem now. If she told anyone about Catalina, they'd arrest CJ, too. After all, CJ was Catalina's accomplice in all the robberies.
"Miss Robinson?" The doctor smiled as he waited for an answer.
"Wait, I, ur, A don't remember," Denise lied, lowering her eyes to her pale hands. "They--I mean, she was goin' too fast."
The doctor stared at her for a brief moment, trying to work out whether or not she was telling the truth. "You just said you saw her 'as clear as anything'. Tell me what happened."
"I don't want to!" Denise protested.
"Surely you want your attacker to come to justice?"
"Nah, man, I've had worse. Let's just let her off the hook this time, eh?"
"I'm afraid I don't think that's possible. If this woman is connected to the robberies of the small towns around this area, the police would really like to catch her,"
Denise's eyes were fearful. She'd been backed into a corner. She could just say she'd only seen Catalina, and then she could hope that CJ would be long gone by the time the police got to Fern Ridge.
"Fine," she sighed. "Her name's Catalina. She's got dark eyes, reddish-brown hair, I think everyone around here probably knows that description of her, straight?"
"I'll go and get a police officer. You just try and remember as much as possible." The doctor hurriedly left the room.
Denise sighed. She looked around again. She spotted a calendar on the wall. Today's date was the 15th.
Wait a second...
The doctor returned with a cop by his side. The policeman was about to ask Denise something, when she interrupted him.
"How long have A been in here?" she asked.
The doctor looked taken aback. "I, ur... About four days. Why?"
"Four days? Shit!" Denise attempted to throw back the covers and get out of there, but the doctor restrained her. She'd been in there for four whole days! Catalina and CJ could be anywhere by now!
"I gotta go!" she shouted as he forced her back down. "I got places I need to be! Shit, foo'! Lemmee outta here!"
"Miss Robinson, we need your statement!" the cop exclaimed.
"Fuck you, man, I ain't sayin' nothin'! Get off of me, ahole!" Denise let loose with a strong punch and the doctor went flying backwards into a trolley full of medical instruments. CRASH!
The policeman moved forward, but Denise was on her feet now, ripping drips and needles from her arms.
"Just calm down, miss," he said slowly.
"Shut up, bitch," she replied and kicked him in the face.
She grabbed his nightstick and pistol, and hurried out of the room. She arrived in a corridor. A couple of hospital security guards had heard the commotion and were running towards her. Denise took off in the other direction, shoving past people, until she reached a door marked: 'STAIRWELL.'
"Good enough for me," Denise said to herself, and she flung open the door.
She hit the stairs on the fly, her bare feet smacking against the concrete steps. She gripped the railings tightly as she carried on down towards the bottom floor.
She burst out into a brightly-lit reception. There was nobody in there except for a couple of nurses, doctors, and the receptionist. The woman behind the desk was speaking quickly into a telephone, looking worried as she and the doctors stared at Denise.
Denise raised her pistol and everyone dove to the floor. She let off a shot, which hit the telephone with a BANG, blasting it to pieces.
"Gimmee some clothes, man!" she shouted at the receptionist.
The woman rummaged under the desk for a key and threw it to Denise.
Denise caught it and stared at it momentarily.
"Third door on your left is clothes storage," the receptionist whimpered.
"Thanks," Denise said with a sneer. She ran down the hallway, found the right door and went inside. There were lots of garments hanging up in this cool, dark room. Denise didn't bother looking for the outfit she'd borrowed from CJ - if she got out of this alive, she'd buy him some new clothes - but grabbed the first things she could find.
Now dressed in a white vest (a woman's, luckily), grey chonglers and a fresh pair of canvas shoes, Denise left the clothes room, her gun leading the way.
No sooner had she stepped outside, than a dozen cops surrounded her, their pistols pointed directly at her.
"Drop the gun, Miss Robinson," said one of the police officers. "We don't want to have to hurt you."
"Fuck this," Denise muttered and aimed her pistol at him.
He dropped to the floor, a foul soup of blood and brains oozing out of the gunshot in his forehead.
The other cops were all shocked at first, but quickly came to their senses and opened fire on Denise. Denise ducked, knowing from experience that they would all aim for her upper-half first. This gave her the chance to roll forward towards the reception and the hospital's exit. She drew the nightstick she'd stolen at the same time and rammed it into a nearby policeman's crotch.
He let out a silent howl and fell to his knees, where Denise delivered a sharp uppercut to his chin, throwing him backwards into another pair of pigs.
Denise was now free to make a dash for the exit, and she did so, ducking, occasionally jumping, and hunching her shoulders over as she avoided the bullets pursuing her. She dove through the automatic doors as a hail of lead slammed into the glass windows all around her, creating spider web-shaped cracks.
Denise had no time to enjoy the breeze on her face; she ran for the nearest vehicle and jumped in. She started the engine and turned the commandeered-ambulance sharply, bumping up onto the grass and almost toppling it. Sirens started up behind her as the police gave chase.
The medical van was certainly not the best vehicle for off-roading. It was top-heavy and unstable on the rocky, uneven ground as Denise forced it onwards past a small farm. There were police Rangers coming from left, right and centre, but the cops weren't exactly the best drivers. Some of them smashed into the farm buildings, scattering people as they leapt for cover. Others still careened right down the hilly terrain - one rolled over onto its roof, crushing its occupants, before bursting into flames a moment after Denise zoomed past it.
There was a road ahead, and Denise's ambulance bounced down onto it without too much difficulty. Some cops overshot it, rushing straight over it and down into the drink on the other side.
Denise swerved the ambulance to face up the road, and flicked on her sirens to make the traffic ahead of her move out of the way. She didn't care if it alerted the police to her presence - she was already driving a bright white-and-red ambulance.
Cars and bikes let Denise pass as she roared along the road. Police sped after her, but she quickly spun the ambulance to the right and the Rangers flew off the road - some smashed into wooden fencing, and others ripped through it and into a group of barns nearby.
Denise blew her hair out of her eyes and hit the gas again. She saw a bridge straight ahead; the sign next to it read 'Martin Bridge
Las Venturas '
"What the Hell," Denise shrugged and zoomed off. A cop car behind her spotted where she was going and tried to follow - it ended up driving headlong into the green road sign, leaving a dent in it and crumpling the front end of the car like a tin can.
Denise dared a glance in the rear view mirror to see a new squadron of Rangers tailing her. She looked forward again to see a sandy highway leading left or right. That was no good. The cops would catch her in seconds.
Then Denise saw a large hilly mound of desert sand, which looked like it could be climbed in a vehicle if it was going fast enough. She put the pedal to the metal and tore on towards the desert. She zipped across the first lanes of the road, drawing beeps and complaints from the drivers that had to come to a jarring halt - only to later be bashed into by a pair of Rangers who hadn't had time to stop.
Denise's ambulance was now at the base of the sand slope and soon enough the wheels were chewing up the fine grains and spitting them back out, whirring wildly but unable to carry the weight of the ambulance upwards.
"SHIT! This never happens in the movies!" Denise shouted. She looked over the back of her seat to see the police Rangers had all stopped behind her and cops were climbing out, shotguns pointed at her van.
"Come out with your hands up!" called one of the officers.
"What the fk are you talkin' about?" whispered one of the other cops.
"I always wanted to say that," the first guy replied.
The policemen all looked back at the ambulance to see the wheels had stopped desperately scrambling for traction on the sandy hill. One of the men motioned for another two to follow him. They slowly moved forwards, the muzzles of their shotguns aimed and ready.
The first pig reached the passenger door of the ambulance. He crouched below the window so the woman inside wouldn't be able to see him at first. Then he jumped up, gun raised.
A look of confusion crossed his face.
There was nobody in the ambulance.
It looks simple enough, but the science behind it is strange and wonderful. Such an illusion requires the presence of intense heat - in a desert perhaps. If the temperature coming from the sand is high enough, it bends and distorts the view; and the blue sky above is reflected onto the grains below. This gives the impression of a glorious pool of water, an oasis in the distance. It fools the weary traveller unfortunate enough to be trekking through such conditions, and they may trudge for many miles in search of the drink they desperately need.
Worthless miles, possibly leading them even further out into the middle of nowhere.
Luckily, if you could call it luck, the deserts of San Andreas weren't harsh enough to produce such dangerous beauties of the natural world. But they were tough enough for a fatigued fugitive with the police not far behind.
So Denise ran.
She sprinted through the desert, sweat trickling down her forehead in the hot afternoon sun. The sand slowed her down, swallowing her feet and pouring into the lace holes in her shoes. She had no idea where she was, and hadn't thought it a good idea to have stopped at the village she'd passed to ask someone.
Denise was thirsty, starving, and tired. The heat rippled all around her, almost tauntingly, as drops of perspiration dripped into her eyes. She couldn't breathe, she could barely walk any more, and she was so beaten back by despair, she wondered if there was even any point in running from the police. She might as well just sit down here in the desert and wait to be found... or wait to die of thirst.
Denise let out a long breath as she sank to the sandy ground. She lay down on her back and looked up at the bright sky. She thought about everything she'd done in her useless life. Just gangbanging, hanging out on street corners, living in the ghetto. She'd even had three kids when she was younger - too young to know anything - and had given them away. But when she'd met CJ, in a way she had kind of felt wanted, and useful. Her heart sank now as she realized how much she was letting him down. She'd given up on him. But after everything she'd seen, did he even need her?
Hell, he was probably having the most fun he'd ever had in his life, out in the countryside, leading a fresh new life. Never mind about the 'hood, never mind about his friends, family or girl.
In the distance, Denise heard sirens. They swam through the heat towards her, sounding like a pack of ravenous wolves.
Denise sighed and got to her feet. She was about to surrender any weapons she had on her, ready for when the cops arrived, when she thought about her previous musings.
Was that really what CJ was about? They'd first met when he'd saved her from a burning building. He could have just left her there to die, but he didn't. Maybe it was guilt, remorse, his conscience getting the better of him. But no matter what the motive, CJ wasn't a buster any more. And Denise knew that she wasn't either.
She set off running with a renewed vigour, breathing hard, wiping her forehead with her arm. She jumped down off a sand dune and hit the ground on her feet for once. She peered ahead into the distance, squinting through the heat and saw a small road. She'd been trying to avoid any roads so far, in case the cops were around, which is why she'd been following the edge of a canyon, high up above a river.
Denise carried on along the winding verge in silence. There was a very slight breeze blowing, and it refreshed Denise's sweaty face. It also brought no messages of pursuing police; the sirens had all but died away.
Denise walked onwards, heading nearer and nearer to the road. But when she finally reached it, she found herself looking at a huge stone structure that loomed over the gentle river below like the shadow of a circling vulture above its prey.
It was a dam.
Denise approached the road cautiously. The grey snaking concrete path led right over the top of the dam and past some cliffs on the other side. Cars sped down the road, some of them honking their horns at Denise as she wandered over to the sand nearby.
"Get outta the road, lady!" screamed one guy.
Denise through a 'V' sign at him and carried on walking away from the dam. After all, there wasn't anything there that particularly caught her attention.
At that moment, she felt a rough hand grab her shoulder. She span around to see the angry man standing behind her, a golf club clutched menacingly in his spare hand.
"Look, A don't have time for this!" Denise screeched at him. She grabbed his wrist and twisted it up behind his back. He dropped the golf club in agony. Then she shoved him forward and he fell to the ground, sending up a cloud of sand.
Denise sprinted off before he could get back up. She ran on along the edge of the canyon, but then decided she needed to change her direction - just in case there were still cops looking for her. She dashed off away from the river and headed towards two strange-looking rock formations, which stood tall and proud in the hot sun. There was a gap between the two, so Denise aimed for that. It was only a short walk away, but to Denise it felt like hiking up Mt Chiliad. When she reached the space between the stone goliaths, she scrambled up a sandy slope and tumbled down the other side.
Denise landed, not on sand as she had expected, but on parched, cracked earth. She heard voices; they were faint, but she could make out a few 'Wow's and 'Oooh's. She managed to pull herself up to see what was going on.
Her eyes widened.
She'd found her way to a tourist attraction, that was for sure. The people milling about were snapping pictures and gasping delightedly at another one of Nature's beauties.
To the tourists, the Regular Tom geyser was a perfect photo opportunity, something to add to their slideshows when they returned home. Their families would say it was great, a wondrous sight indeed. But to Denise, it meant something more than just a natural wonder of the world.
To her, it was one big drink.
Not caring about the people around her, Denise headed straight for the geyser. She took off her shoes, rubbed her sore feet, and then climbed over the rope that surrounded the rock fountain. Some people stared at her, curious; others frowned and whispered angrily to one another.
Denise ignored them all, and heaved herself up to the top of the geyser. She peered down into the small dark hole where the water shot out and waited hopefully.
There came a soft roar from deep within the rock, and all of a sudden a huge burst of cool water came flying out at Denise.
Denise smiled as cold spray settled on her face. Then, in the same way one might drink from a running tap, she put her lips to the water and started gulping down the life-giving liquid.
"Have you no respect for nature!" One of the tourists finally objected aloud.
Denise didn't look up from her drink and just waved a hand carelessly behind her at the woman. The fountain of water stopped and Denise wiped her mouth and clambered down from the geyser, feeling refreshed.
She put her shoes back on, then looked up to see a group of angry-looking people surrounding her.
"Listen, fools, I've been walking in this goddamn desert all day, gettin' chased by the police! I was thirsty. Maybe when you get lost in this fkin' place, I'll come and judge you!" Denise pointed an accusing finger at them all. Then she sniffed and wandered away from the geyser.
With her thirst now quenched, Denise sighed, feeling satisfied. She looked around, craning her neck as she gazed up at all of the towers of rock around her. There was one particular structure that caught her attention. It wasn't made of stone or sand, but of an entirely man-made material; metal.
It was a huge satellite dish.
It was gigantic and it was pointed up to the sky, like an oversized sunflower. It cast a shadow over itself more than anything else, but the valley below it was also shrouded in darkness. It actually sat atop a peak of rock. Denise figured it would take an age to get up to it to investigate, so she decided against her better judgement to forget about it. Instead, she turned and made her way over to the oddly-shaped stone formations. She heaved herself back up the sandy slope and looked out into the distance.
It was getting on late in the day now, and the sun was still at its hottest. Denise hadn't slept in ages, and as she squinted through the heat she could see a small collection of buildings. They were quite far away, and there was a big black fence all around them, but Denise figured she'd be able to sneak in some how and find a nice soft bed to catch some shut-eye in.
She slowly made her way down from the sand dune and wound her way through the spiny desert trees and cacti. As she drew nearer to the area, her feet found a dirt path. It seemed to lead around the enclosure and maybe even up to it. Denise shrugged and set off along it, cutting a few corners until she came around to a pair of big, steely gates.
Denise peered through the 'netted' metal and saw several large hangars and guard towers. Hmm. This place didn't look too friendly. But then Denise spotted something parked next to one of the hangars.
It was an aircraft.
It was sleek, white and had a sharp pointed nose. It looked mean and dangerous, probably a military jet. Denise wanted to investigate further, so she wandered a little closer to the gates in front of her. She looked up to the top of the fencing and wondered if she might be able to vault over it; but no, there was barbed wire perched menacingly there.
Denise walked away from the gates and around the other side of the complex, circling the airplane. She was about to just let it go, when she saw a very small hole cut into the fencing. It had been concealed behind one of the spiky trees nearby, and it looked just big enough for a lithe, small person to crawl through. It didn't look particularly neat - just as though it had been roughly torn apart, most likely by a coyote or other desert creature.
Denise had a new respect for nature already. She knelt down and carefully shuffled forward on her stomach and started to squeeze through the hole. The jagged metal edges clawed at her clothes, ripping them in a few places.
Despite getting covered in sand and a little blood, Denise smiled.
She was inside.
Denise didn't actually know what she was inside, but it looked important. And that jet, however evil-looking, was a great way of looking for CJ. Denise knew she'd have a better chance of spotting any trouble on the streets from above the cities, country and desert. Well, if she could work out how to fly the plane.
Denise looked about the buildings, and then scurried over towards the hangars. She was almost there, when there was a shout from somewhere close by. Then an electronic voice rang out across the area.
"Condition Blue activated."
Denise instinctively hunched over her shoulders and ducked around the corner of a nearby building, into the shadows. She peered out into the dusty courtyard to see several camouflage-clad men with M4 machine guns raised move cautiously towards the hangars. A few of them broke away from the group and went on over to the guard towers.
"Damn, what is this place?" Denise whispered to herself. She drew back into cover and decided to stealthily make her way towards the airplane via the narrow 'alleys' behind the buildings. She took a deep breath and ran, stooped forward, towards her target.
Denise reached the next stone and metal construction and ducked into the passage running along behind it. For once the ever-present sand proved useful as it muffled her footsteps while she hurried along the edifice.
As she reached the end of this particular alleyway, the 'Condition Blue' had died down and the guards were returning to a less wary state. This also aided Denise as she had now arrived at the vehicle hangars.
There was only one military guy posted near to where Denise hid, and he was lazily looking off into the distance. So lazily, in fact, that he didn't even hear the footsteps scampering along behind him to the Hydra VTOL fighter jet he was supposed to be guarding.
Denise opened the bubble of the cockpit and slipped inside the plane, shaking the dusty sand off her shoes. The inside of the Hydra was impressive, with leather seats and the largest array of buttons and controls Denise had ever seen. There was a button labelled 'THRUSTERS' and another called 'LANDING GEAR', and a few other unnamed switches, as well as a veritable rainbow of blinking lights. There was a little green radar as well, and then a few things that Denise recognised having flown a small plane before; a joystick and the engine switch.
Time to use them.
Denise hit the button and a soft roaring sound filled her ears. She felt the plane jolt slightly and then hover in the air like an oversized helicopter. Another thing she noticed, with a horrified gulp, was the immediate response of several guards close by as they finally spotted what she was doing - they lifted their M4s onto their shoulders, shouting commands.
That eerie electronic voice spoke again. "Condition Red activated. Closing blast doors."
"Shit!" Denise exclaimed a she fumbled for the right button. Why wasn't this damn plane flying forwards!
"Hold your fire!" shouted one of the men outside. "That's a million-dollar project! Go over and get her out!"
Some of the soldiers broke out of the circle surrounding the jet at a distance, and moved closer, guns still raised.
"Come out with your hands up!" yelled one of them to Denise.
"Fuck you!" Denise replied and then those hands she had been ordered to surrender found the button marked 'THRUSTERS'.
"Now that's what I'm talkin' about right there!" Denise said, and she hit the switch.
The response was instantaneous.
The jet shot forward at an incredible speed, its landing gear scraping along the sand.
"...fire!" Denise heard from behind her.
Suddenly, the body of the Hydra was scraped by a hail of bullets. They pinged off the metal and some of them left tiny dents in the inside of the cockpit.
"Shit, A gotta get this bird in the air," Denise said, and she pulled in the landing gear and pulled back on the joystick.
The Hydra soared up and out of the area below, narrowly missing the fence. It rolled sideways as Denise banked it around to face where she hopefully remembered the way to the coast, and pointed the thrusters downwards to hover. Her heart pounded, her whole body flushed with adrenaline. She let out a deep breath, and was about to start flying again, when a streak of light flew past her window.
"What the fuck was that?" Denise asked herself in shock.
A beep started up from somewhere in her jet. She looked down in alarm at the control panel and her eyes fell upon the radar.
There was a red, flashing dot on it, heading straight for her!
Denise could only stare in horror at the green and black screen, as she realised where she'd just taken this Hydra from.
Area (Restricted) 69.
Another light rocketed past Denise and CRASH! It hit one of the rock towers and exploded in a spectacular display, throwing chunks of stone all around.
"Missiles? Goddamn it!" Denise yelled. She hit the Thrusters and banked her Hydra to the left not a second before a missile shot beneath it.
Denise quickly looked out the windows and spotted a fleet of airplanes on the horizon.
There were five of them, and they flew in formation, heading straight for Denise. They looked like they meant business.
Denise didn't want to fight - not because she wouldn't, just because there was no way she could possibly survive a dogfight in the air - so she turned her plane around and zoomed off.
She checked her bleeping radar; shit, more missiles!
Denise flew on towards two rock pillars side-by-side. If she could just fly through there, she might be able to lose the tail...
Flipping the Hydra ninety degrees, Denise shot through the gap between the two. Two of the missiles got confused and SMASHED into one of the stone pillars. It creaked... It groaned... And as the dust clouds from the impact thinned, the great stone column fell like a cut tree.
BANG! It hit the other pillar near its peak, and there it stayed, leaning up against it for support as it watched the Hydras chase Denise through the air.
One of the enemy jets drew level with Denise. Denise saw the missiles hanging from its wings and gulped. It was as the other Hydra banked around to face her, that she realised she also had those very same weapons.
She looked around the control panel for that button... Where was it?
The enemy Hydra slowly began to drop a missile...
Thrusters, no. Engine, no. Chaff, no, whatever that was. Missiles! A ha!
Denise jammed her finger onto the 'MISSILE LAUNCH' button and pivoted away from the spot where she'd been hovering, not a moment before a rocket swept past and met its fate on the side of a cliff.
Denise's missile, however, was far more successful.
Whether the other Hydra's pilot underestimated Denise, or just didn't see the deadly projectile encroaching on his craft, it didn't matter anymore. His Hydra was blown to pieces in a hot fiery ball of light. Pieces of steel shot through the air and began to fall to earth like some kind of absurd hail.
Denise felt the power coursing through her, and made a decision. She span her Hydra, still hovering, around to face the angry hornets behind her.
She dropped a missile.
Two of the Hydras swerved away from it, but the one caught in the middle received it. The missile flew straight into the cockpit.
"Yeah! Take that, busta!" Denise exclaimed.
Her radar screen bleeped - one of the three remaining Hydras had unleashed another rocket.
Denise had no time to do anything else but completely roll the plane over, hovering upside down until the missile had slammed into another canyon.
She then hit the MISSILE LAUNCH button again, and exchanged fire with the enemy plane nearest her. Denise pulled back the thrusters and spiralled upwards into the air, leaving the antagonist's rocket to actually smash into the Hydra on the other side. Denise's own missile found its rightful target.
More bits of jet sliced through the sky, black like the shadowy eagles that glided carelessly by.
Just one Hydra left.
It reacted faster than Denise and dropped a missile before she could even blink. The rocket sped towards Denise's Hydra.
Denise tried to launch her own missile.
The button was jammed!
"Damn it!" Denise shouted. She could see the missile coming straight for her now, and it was all she could do to reach out and slam her hand down onto the 'Chaff' button, hoping it was something to do with ejecting her seat.
Denise opened her screwed-up eyes to see a strange ball of light fly away from her jet. The missile, like a shark scenting a bigger fish to fry, veered away from Denise and headed after the innocent light.
Denise stared down at the panel in awe.
Then she realised she would have to haul ass out of there before her enemy released another metal monster.
Thrusters pulled back, Denise flew for all she was worth away from the other Hydra. A quick glance out the window revealed it was still chasing her.
A main road came into view. On the other side of it, was the ocean. Two bridges sitting side-by-side, as the doomed rock towers had before, loomed out of the mist. One was tall and grey; the other, a complex structure of red.
The enemy grew ever closer.
Denise pushed the Hydra onwards towards the bridges, thinking maybe she could somehow make the other jet crash. But she wasn't that good a pilot, not really. She'd never manage it.
The pursuing jet had finally launched another missile!
Denise's wide eyes settled on her radar and she saw, in horror, that there was no way she would have enough time to--
The fish swam through the sea together, looking around for any predators nearby. Their little shiny eyes caught sight of something slowly sinking down into the depths of the ocean. It was a black, ghostly shadow. A few other black pieces floated nearby.
The fish were curious - a trait that they should be sorry to possess in such territory - and went over to investigate.
The shadow had a pointed nose and looked very much like a giant shark. The fish, finally coming to their senses, fled the scene, leaving a little trail of bubbles behind them as they vanished into the murky distance.
The shadow hit the seabed with a muffled thud, clouds of sand blooming out from the impact point, like fog rising off the moors on a misty day.
But this was no shark.
It was the charred corpse of a Hydra jet, stolen from Area (Restricted) 69 earlier that day.
Surely its pilot would not have survived such a cataclysmic fate...
Many metres away, up above the surface, bubbles were rising. They made a quiet popping noise as they met the cool air.
Suddenly, the bubbles grew larger, and then something broke the surface and let out an almighty gasp.
It was a woman, a very damp and exhausted woman. The pilot of the doomed Hydra.
She had leapt from the plane not a moment before it was blown to smithereens. The enemy jet seemed to have given up its search and presumed Denise dead, just like the eye witnesses in San Fierro Bay that had seen the sleek, white machine plunge to its death in the grey, chilly waters.
Denise was right in the middle of the ocean between San Fierro and the desert. The bay seemed a million miles away, as did the sand on her other side. She was tired as Hell and knew she couldn't tread water forever.
Just as Denise was thinking this, a boat slowly drove into view. It was headed straight for her.
The boat soon drew level with Denise's floating form and Denise struggled through her bleary eyes to read what it said on the side of it. It looked like it said 'Coastguard', well, that's what she hoped.
But as her eyes adjusted, she realised that it didn't say that.
It said 'SFPD'.
San Fierro Police Department.
Denise shook her head as she looked around at the grey walls. She'd wanted nothing more than a dry set of clothes and a hot meal, only hours before and now she'd got what she wanted. But in the entirely wrong context.
Her dry clothes turned out to be an orange shell suit.
Her hot meal was served to her through bars.
She was in jail.
The cops had retrieved her near-unconscious form from the water and transported her straight to the city prison. She'd given her statement, trying to squeeze in a few sentences that weren't exactly correct, about how she'd been told to steal the Hydra by some crooked government agent guy. The police told her it was nonsense, and so she'd been sent to a cell for at least a night.
Denise figured if she'd had some money, she might have been able to bribe her way out. But whatever cash was in her previously-owned pockets had either been blown up, lost, or lying sodden in the ocean somewhere.
She finished her dinner - which, all things considered, was not of too low standard - and pushed the tray away. She lay down on her hard bed and stared at the wall. She was so tired, but with so much going on in her head, she wondered if she'd ever get to sleep--
A harsh voice assaulted Denise's ears and she opened her eyes in surprise. She turned away from the wall and looked at the doorway.
A cop was standing there. The door was open, letting precious light flood into her dark room.
"You're being moved," said the policeman.
"Wuh?" Denise squinted at him.
"You're being sent back to Los Santos, with no further charges at this time. However, commit any more felonies and you will be in prison a Helluva lot longer than you did this time," explained the man, escorting her out of the cell. "Come with me, please."
He led her to the reception area, where he conversed with another cop behind the desk, checked a few files, and handed Denise the clothes she'd been wearing before.
"Get dressed." He pointed to a small room nearby.
Denise did as she was told in silence. She emerged from the windowless room and was led outside to a waiting helicopter.
"Am I a celebrity now?" Denise asked sarcastically.
"Just get outta here," the cop snarled. He shoved her, with her hands still cuffed, into the chopper. He waved to the pilot and the other policeman, who was to be supervising Denise while she was in transit, and slammed the door shut.
The helicopter lurched and wobbled as the rotors carried it up into the steely sky of San Fierro.
"I suggest you take a nap. It'll be a while before you're back in Los Santos," the policeman next to her said.
Denise shook her head. "A might just look at some of the sights, if you don't mind."
The cop shrugged and stared out the window. Denise followed suit on her side. She could see sirens on the streets below. She watched with amazement as two flashy sports cars flew along the road, two SFPD cars in hot pursuit.
"This place get a lot of po-lice chases?" Denise asked.
"Huh? Oh yeah, tons. There's a lotta hills around, see, and the thieves are mainly joyriders lookin' for a thrill. But just lately, we've been seeing an increase on cars gettin' jacked," the policeman divulged. "All of 'em sports cars. This one woman got followed all the way to Gant Bridge before some hooligan smashed into her car to get it. They're pretty determined these days."
"Mmm." Denise said in agreement. Then she fell silent.
The rest of the journey was spent flying over countryside. Denise recognised most of it, and even felt a pang of sadness as the green hills paled away to the towering skyscrapers of Downtown.
It seemed her adventures were over.
Denise yawned widely and walked out of her bedroom to the kitchen. She poured herself some juice and drank it while she looked out the window.
Gangs stood on the street corners outside, a man in a black beanie hat not too far away. Denise's eyes narrowed as she watched him wander over to the gang members. But what did she care?
The gang members were Ballas.
It'd been two or three weeks since her return to her home near Grove Street. CJ still hadn't shown up, and Ballas and base-dealers ruled the city. They could be seen everywhere, trying to reduce another happy person to nothing but an empty, soulless junkie.
Denise had dealers even knock on her door a couple of times. She'd told them wear to stick it, but with everything crumbling around her, she was finding it increasingly difficult to resist the chance for her troubles to disappear, even for just a little while.
She shook her head clear of thought and turned on the television.
"...Venturas, there's been a daring heist of one of the biggest casinos in the city" The news was on. "Hundreds of thousands of dollars was stolen from Caligula's Casino on the Strip. Officials are looking into it, but right now nobody knows for sure how it happened. Casualties and fatalities are numerous--"
Denise turned off the set. She never cared much for the news, they just talked crap all day and got paid for it as far as she was concerned.
There came a knocking on the door. Denise's eyes shot to it, and soon her hand was doing the same towards the doorknob.
There was a dark figure, silhouetted by the sunlight behind it. Denise recognised the form as that of another drug dealer.
"I'll give you a goooood price," said the man. "But I'll also give you a tip-off... There's some big party goin' down at Big Poppa's mansion up on the hill, in Vinewood... You should check it out."
Denise sighed heavily. She could do with a party, even if it was at a drug lord's house. She liked Vinewood anyway. And if she didn't go, she'd never know if she was really desperate to try crack, or if it was just a stupid thought.
"Fine, fo' sho'. What time?" she asked the dealer.
"After nightfall. Bring a friend... If you got any." The man sniggered and wandered away.
Denise slammed the door shut.
The sun slowly sank below the hills of Vinewood, the sky darkening from orange, to purple, to the deepest blue. The moon rose up into the night like a ghost from a freshly-dug grave, staring spookily down at the small figure making its way up the hill.
Denise's face was set and resolved. She didn't know what she was doing, but she knew she'd find out soon enough. She finally reached the path to Big Poppa's mansion and she wandered along it to the door.
"Yo, anyone home?" she called as she knocked.
The door was flung open. A man wearing a white hoodie smiled at her.
"Well hey there, lady. Come on in to the partaaaaaay," he said slimily.
Denise pushed past him into the entrance hall. She followed him through the house, taking in the plush surroundings and luxurious décor. This was certainly a nice place, although Denise was sure it had once belonged to some other guy. A celebrity, a rapper. What was his name?... Madd Dogg, that was it. Last she'd heard, he'd tried to throw himself off a roof somewhere. She didn't know how that story ended, but she guessed it wasn't too good.
Denise and her escort finally arrived in the living room. It had a red carpet, a bar, and lots of sofas and televisions. Very nice.
Well it would have been had it not been filled with crackheads and drunks.
"Drink for my bitch," Denise heard the hooded guy laugh to the barman.
"I ain't your bitch, fool!" She screeched at him, and hit him around the head.
"Shut your face, woman! You're whatever I say you are!" shouted the guy, who was clearly drugged up to the eyeballs.
Suddenly, he pulled out a gun. He held it with an unsteady hand, pointing it right in Denise's face.
"Put the gun down, idiot," Denise said disdainfully. "A betchoo don't even know how to fire one of those things. Put it down!"
The man didn't. "You should be begging on your knees for your life, hoe!"
Denise raised an eyebrow. "I've seen a lot worse than this, believe me," she said to him. "And you're about to, as well!"
Denise had kicked the man in the crotch and smashed his face into the bar, twisting the hand clutching the pistol up behind his back. He yelled out and dropped the gun.
"That'll teach you, damn fool," she said angrily.
"Shit, this woman's messin' up our party," shouted someone from over the room. "Who invited her?"
Just then, there came screams of pain and horror from somewhere else in the mansion. Panic ensured in the lounge. People were jumping out of their seats and running for the exits.
"What's happening?" Denise yelled to a woman who had come, screaming, from another room.
"A don't know, shit, just some Triads or somethin' attacking us!" the woman replied as the crowd surged along. "Big Poppa's guys took most of 'em down, but there's this one busta from Grove Street still around!"
Denise stopped in her tracks, as prostitutes and baseheads swarmed past her, channelling up the narrow halls towards another room. There was a firefight going on up ahead; people were shooting down from the balconies, and one lone figure on the floor was retaliating.
Denise recognised him instantly.
"CJ!" Denise screamed, barely audible above the rat-a-tat of AK-47 fire. A hail of bullets raked the walls around Denise, bullets that were intended for CJ. The last man up on the balcony received a shot to the face that blew it to pieces, and then CJ was gone, running into the next hallway.
"CJ!" Denise shrieked, running after him. She saw him about to run around the corner. "CJ, shit, it's Denise!" she shouted.
She saw his head turn towards her, his eyes widen. She saw his lips mouth the word 'Denise' in confusion, and then a shotgun pellet slammed into the wall behind him and he dashed off again.
"Goddamn it!" Denise cursed. She nabbed an AK from a bloodied corpse nearby and set off after CJ once more. She rounded the corner and saw CJ fight his way through a small recording studio. She raised the AK to her shoulder and BLAM!
She managed to nail an attacker in the chest as he tried to shoot CJ. Denise went on to the recording studio and ran through it. It seemed even as she was chasing CJ, he was chasing someone else ahead.
Denise was getting tired, and the AK-47 felt heavy in her arms. She turned another corner of the winding hallways and saw CJ vanish through the doors that led back outside. She was about to follow when all of a sudden, a man jumped out from behind a potted plant and shot her square into the stomach.
Denise, in a daze, put a hand to her wound, as if to check she was really bleeding. Her hand glistened with red. She let out a gasp and fell face down on the blood-stained carpet, her heartbeat slowly fading as the world itself faded to black in front of her eyes.
The doctors walked down the pristine white corridor, checking their clipboards and talking absent-mindedly. One of them stopped next to a doorway and bid the other goodbye - this was his 'stop'.
He walked inside the room and shut the door. He sighed sadly as he looked at the pale form lying in the hospital bed, drip bags all around. The nurse that had been checking the latter came over to the doctor.
"I'm all done here," she told him. She paused and looked over at the body. "It's such a shame. She looks so young."
"Los Santos claims many victims, I can tell you that for nothing," replied the doctor. "The police say there were dozens of injured people in that house up on the hill... Paramedics tried to save them but, well, the casualties soon turned into fatalities. This woman is lucky to be alive."
"Any suspects in the crime?" The nurse asked one more question as she turned to leave.
"No. I doubt the police would be able to do anything anyway. This kind of shit happens all the time around here. Thank you, Becca." He waved a hand at her and she left the room.
The doctor went over to the woman in the bed. She'd been in a coma for a couple of weeks. Her stomach wounds were healing, but she'd lost a lot of blood. He should have known working at a hospital in Los Santos was a bad idea. Especially now the riots had begun.
Yes, people roamed the streets with violence in mind, some carrying looted television sets, others carrying guns. Houses had been set alight, and the black smoke swirled into the sky where police helicopters penetrated it with their heavy spotlights.
Los Santos had never been safe. But now, it had never been more dangerous. It was hardly the right time to be sending paramedics out onto the streets, yet ironically they were needed more than ever.
The doctor did a few routine checks to see if the woman was alright, and then he hung her medical report on the end of the bed and left the room.
The paper fluttered in the slight breeze that came from the air-conditioning vents. It was a chart, with some tick marks in boxes, and details about the patient. Scrawled at the top of the paper, in the doctor's handwriting, was the name -
It was later that afternoon when it happened. And when it happened, it was as if an aura of silence and calm was hanging over the corrupt city below. The fires raging through the houses and buildings were extinguished. The black smoke that filled the air gave way to a bright, sunny afternoon sky. Looters were forced into prison cells, the fruits of their escapades confiscated.
The riots had stopped.
And although Los Santos itself seemed no longer sad and broken, there was one structure that was.
The bridge high above Grove Street was now missing a large chunk of stone.
The pedestrians walking by gave it no further thought, merely assuming it had been torn up by rioters. But the small congregation of people in the cul-de-sac below knew better.
Some of them headed back to one of the houses there, but one of the small figures said he had something he needed to do, and he had jumped into a nearby car and driven off down the road.
He drove through the streets of Los Santos with a smile on his face. Everything that had happened, in the end, had turned out to be worth it.
The convertible he was driving turned the corner and headed off into Downtown Los Santos. After that, it wasn't long until he reached his destination.
As he stared up at the city hospital, a group of gang members standing on the corner caught his eye. He reached into his pocket and drew out a wad of cash. With a grin, he wandered up to one of the gang members and gave them a bill.
"Getchow self some nu threads, man, you're embarrassing the Grove," he said tauntingly. He slapped the gang member on the back and headed up the steps to the hospital.
The other guys laughed as they watched him go. They were very different to the people Denise had seen out of her window so long ago.
For one thing, they were wearing green.
"Um, hi there, I'm here to see someone," the man said to the receptionist inside the hospital.
"Alright, may I take your name, please?" replied the woman.
"Oh, fo' sho', it's Carl Johnson," the man responded.
"And who is it you wish to visit?"
"What relation are you to her?"
"Erm... Well, I'm her boyfriend, but A really need to see her,"
"Okay. I suppose I could let you off just this once," The receptionist flashed a winning smile at CJ. "But you do know she is in a coma, right?"
CJ felt chills ride up and down his spine. "No, A didn't. Is she gonna be OK?"
"She could wake up any day now. You never know, it might just be today," the woman said with another sickly grin. "She's in room two-hundred-twelve."
"Thanks," CJ replied and he headed over to the elevator.
As the metal contraption rose up past several floors, CJ wondered what Denise would look like. He felt a whole world of guilt after just leaving her back in that mansion. He'd been sure he had killed all the guys in there. It didn't matter now, though, what was done was done. But CJ couldn't wait to tell Denise what had happened while she'd just been sat at home in Los Santos all that time. He'd done some really cool stuff.
The elevator doors rolled open and CJ walked down the hallway to Room 212. He went straight in to see a nurse and doctor standing around the only bed in there. CJ went over to have a look at what they were doing.
He gazed over the doctor's shoulder and saw Denise's eyes flutter open. She gasped.
"C...J?" she asked in a strained whisper.
The medics seemed to only just realise CJ had come into the room. The nurse went to get Denise some water, and the doctor smiled warmly and looked from CJ to his patient.
"Is she gonna be OK?" CJ enquired, startled. "The receptionist said she was in a coma."
"She has been, but as you can she's awake now. She was about due," laughed the doctor. "I'll leave you two to catch up now. Miss Robinson," he added to Denise, who was gulping water, "ring if you need anything."
Denise nodded, and the nurse and doctor left the room.
"CJ, ah shit, I've been lookin' for you all over the damn place!" Denise squawked, smacking CJ around the head as he sat down in a chair by her bed.
"Ow! Damn, woman, what was that for!" CJ rubbed his temple where he had been struck.
Denise pulled herself up in bed and put her glass of water down on her bedside table. She looked at CJ for a moment, and then said, "What the Hell you been doin' all this time?"
"I've been everywhere, Denise," CJ said, leaning back in the chair. "A seen San Fierro, the country, desert, shit, even Las Venturas! The Strip looks damn good all lit up at night! Why you been followin' me?"
"Coz the 'hood was goin' under, fool!" Denise replied angrily. "And you just up and left!"
"Those damn cops made me leave, baby. A didn't want to. But everythin' is aight now, the Grove's back on top. Ain't no more Balla pushers in the streets no more," CJ reassured her. He stoked her hair. "Whatchoo been doin'? Barely leavin' the house? A wouldn't blame you, it wa'nt safe out there."
"I've have more of an adventure than you have!" Denise screeched. "You never answered your damn phone, busta!"
CJ pulled back his hand and looked away from her, as if he was trying to figure out what to say back.
"Listen, A followed you, straight? A flew this plane and got shot down in the countryside... Some real strange fked-up folks out there, A tell you that!" Denise broke off into her tale, waving her arms about until it hurt her stomach too much and she had to stop.
CJ listened intently, his eyes growing wider until Denise told him about her chase through Big Poppa's mansion, and then it was back to the present day.
"Damn," CJ paused. "Damn! A had no idea!"
"Yeah, fo' sho'. And who the Hell is Catalina!" Denise said, her anger returning.
CJ blanched. "Erm.. She and I did some business, baby, she helped me get back on ma feet when I was out in Red County. That's all."
Denise huffed and crossed her arms. She shot a glare at CJ. "Yeah, well that better be all." She took a deep breath, then went on, in a soft tone, "I missed you, honey."
"Yeah, me too," CJ replied. "I'm sorry."
Denise shrugged and smiled. "It don't matter. Hey, what happened at Big Poppa's after A passed out?"
"I chased that motherfker down and nailed his ass! Now A own his crib," CJ grinned. "And you're lucky, coz I'm just about the richest guy on Grove Street."
"Daaaaaamn! That means you gotta buy me lots of great stuff, y'hear?"
"I hear you, baby, loud 'n' clear. But man, all that stuff you done... shit, you're determined!" CJ said, spreading his arms wide. "A don't know how you survived it all."
"I guess somebody up there likes me," Denise said with a smile.
And then the two embraced in the glow of the late afternoon sun, as its gold smile spread through the hospital window, enveloping them in its warmth as they enjoyed their reunion.
Later that week, Denise was allowed to go home. CJ picked her up in a new sports car - it was white and flashy, an Infernus. He was wearing a tuxedo and had a big bouquet of pink beach flowers clutched in his hands.
Denise looked at him curiously as he pulled out of the hospital pick-up zone. He wasn't heading back to the Grove. Instead, he took her under the spaghetti junction in Downtown Los Santos, through Conference, and out the other side.
Denise gasped as she saw where CJ had stopped the car. He helped her out of her seat and her feet met sand, sand that glowed orange with the slowly setting sun. CJ walked her down to the ocean, where the soft waves were slowly lapping.
They sat down and talked together, as the sun sank beneath the horizon. The sky darkened and the stars came out, twinkling up in the sky like tiny diamonds.
Soon, Denise and CJ headed back to Grove Street, but a few people still remained on the sandy shores of Santa Maria Beach.
They were standing in groups, drinking out of liquor bottles, gazing up at the lighthouse that towered over them. They were gang members.
But there was one thing different about them to the ones Denise had seen before.
They were wearing green.