3 Weeks until racing day…

"Carl, Carl!" the familiar heavily accented voice brought Carl out of his usual twelve-hour sleep, twelve hours to slowly kill his everlasting hang over from the night before. "CJ, wake up man! It's important!" Cesar Vialpando, long time friend and soon to be member of the Johnson family, screamed at the top of his lungs, standing in the middle of the cul-de-sac that ended grove street with both hands on either side of his mouth.

Carl rolled out of his small bed, hitting the floor painfully on his face. Grumbling Carl stood up, grabbing his dark green robe off of the floor and wrapping himself in it. Slowly but surely he stumbled down the second story hallway of his late mother's house, nearly falling down the stairs as he leaned into every step he took. After a lifetime of drowsy steps he made it out into the sunlit street and the anxious and impatient Cesar.

"Alright, alright, I'm here man, stop yellin'." Carl mumbled, holding his right hand over his eyes to shield them from the sunlight. "What's so important, Kendl have the baby or something?" Kendl, Carl's sister, had been pregnant for about seven and a half months, give or take, Carl wasn't really counting the days.

There was a brief look of disappointment on Cesar's face but he quickly hid it with enthusiasm. "CJ, you're never going to believe it!" he yelled, grabbing Carl's shoulders with both hands and shaking him. "The race, esse, the race is coming!"

Carl grimaced, shaking Cesar's hands off of his shoulders and taking a couple of steps back. "What fucking race man! You woke me up to tell me about some dumb street race? Kendl must be gettin' to you or something…" Carl turned around, walking back inside of his house, looking forward to collapsing on his bed and going back to sleep. "Street race, he wakes me up for a street race…crazy foo'."

Cesar followed Carl back inside, turning down his excitement to deal with Carl's current mood. Carl dropped onto an old blue couch in front of his big screen TV in the corner, nearly falling asleep on impact.

Cesar's lips curled downward. "Listen to me esse-"

Carl sat back up, his face a mixture of exhaustion and anger. "Damn it man, it's-" he paused, looking at the clock radio on top of the television. "It's fuckin' noon, I'm tired, I'm hungry, and I'm sick of talking about racing with you!"

Cesar ignored him. "Listen to me Carl," Cesar growled. "This isn't just any fucking race I'm talking about, it's the mother of all street races in San Andreas homes." He moved in front of the television, making sure he had Carl's undivided attention. "It's the race that only comes here once every five years, everybody wants in-"

"Why's that?" Carl asked, still not sounding too interested.

"Because the pot is one of the biggest," Cesar said, leaning back on the television. "Seven hundred and fifty grand, not to mention every other racer's ride, it's a sweet deal esse."

Carl sat up at the mention of the money. "Seven hundred Gs?" Carl rubbed his stubble-covered chin. "Damn…that's pretty big…" money had been rather tight for Carl.

After Tenpenny and the riots three years ago things hadn't exactly quieted down like everyone expected them to. Madd Dogg had fallen back into drugs and alcohol, thanks to Kent Paul and Maccer's influence, costing Carl a sizeable chunk of his wallet to make the problem go away. Then the Ballas started attacking Grove Street, and of course everyone looked to Carl to cover the damages and to supply weaponry for every grove soldier to defend himself with. Then the cops wanted to be paid off every other day or ridiculous charges would be pinned to Carl. Not to mention the garage in San Fierro proved to be a never-ending problem that always needed money to make it go away. There were thousands of other things wrong, but long story short, Carl was broke.

Cesar nodded. "I know esse, you're the first person I thought of when I heard it was coming back. We both need the money, Kendl wants to leave the hood and with the baby on the way I agree with her, but I don't have the money for it, I barely had enough to buy into the race."

Carl cocked an eyebrow. "You have to buy in?" of course, to make money you have to spend money. "How much?"

Cesar put a lopsided smile on his face. "Fifty grand, I've been saving."

Carl sighed. "That's my little niece's college fund man," he stood up, grabbing Cesar by the collar of his white shirt. "I gave it to Kendl for the baby, not for you to piss away on some race!"

Cesar pushed Carl back. "Listen to me, Kendl will thank me for this when I come back with a garage full of sweet rides and a pocket full of thousand dollar bills."

Carl shook his head. "Do you even have a car? I mean how long is the race, tell me about this thing, I'm gonna have to know, I gotta make sure you win now."

Over the next half hour Cesar told him everything he could remember about the race. It was a three-day race across the entire state with only two rules; you have to check in at a certain location in each area, and that you not take off the tracer put on every racer's vehicle. Apparently they handed out maps at every checkpoint that would lead you to the next location. There were no set tracks, and no gun ban.

"You want in or not?" Cesar asked finally. "A lot of other sets are gonna be reppin' in this race, Ballas, Vagos, I'm rolling for Los Aztecas."

"I said I needed to make sure you won, and if the Ballas are gonna be in this shit I don't have a choice, man I don't want to think of the shit they could buy with that kind of money." Carl shook his head, they'd have enough money to restore Smoke's old crack empire, not to mention buy enough guns to roll into Grove Street and take over for good. "I've got just enough to buy in," Carl stood up, pulling the couch cushion up to reveal a small hole with a stack of dollar bills inside. "Beats the bank." He laughed, grabbing the money and tossing it to Cesar.

"I'll make sure to put it in for you…" Cesar stood up and began heading for the door. Quickly he turned his head. "There's one other thing I need CJ."

Carl, now lying back down on the couch, sighed. "Shoot homie."

"I need a car." Cesar said quietly. "My low rider won't cut it with these other racers."

Carl swore quietly, the truth was he needed a car, too. "I'll see what I can dig up…now get the hell out of my house!" he threw a magazine at the smiling Cesar.


The next day Carl had set out for San Fierro, the one place he could snatch a car and get it modified to his liking before the owner of the vehicle even noticed it was gone. Duane and Jethro were good mechanics; if it wasn't for all of the smoking they did things might actually have gotten done at the garage. Carl made a mental note that with his cut of the winnings, Cesar and he had decided to split the pot regardless of which one of them won, he'd higher better, more reliable, mechanics.

It was midnight by the time Carl pulled his green Emperor into the ex-gas station he often spent most of his time, and money, on. Out of every one of his assets this had been the most promising but somewhere along the line things had gotten messed up and the garage hadn't even received a new coat of paint, let alone the repairs it so desperately needed.

Carl reluctantly got out of his car; reluctant because he really didn't want to deal with the mechanics and the mountain of problems he was sure they'd dump onto his shoulders. "Hello? It's Carl, your boss?" he called, opening the rusty metal door and walking inside. "Anybody here?" the lights were turned off and the usual cloud of smoke was gone.

After a minute of thorough searching Carl found a note taped to the office door.

'Yo, CJ, we're taking some time off to go to the Vice City boat show, there's gonna be work for us there, sorry about not tellin' you before.

Peace

-Jethro'

Carl crumpled up the note and threw it behind him. It figured they had left, rats always abandoned ship first and this garage was sinking fast. "Who the hell's going to help me get the cars now?" Carl already had a good idea who he was going to call even as he asked the question.