Carl had stared at the small corner of the newspaper all morning. When he had first laid eyes upon it he had thrown it down in a rage, though he had known the moment one of his staff entered the office with a wan face. He had always known.
Surrounded by the headlines of local politics, celebrity gossip, and the economy was a lone paragraph in a box. It read: ‘Prominent Grove Street member killed in altercation.’
Sweet was dead.
He had read the words over and over again, torn between disbelief and a twisted sense of relief. The seemingly inevitable had finally come to pass, and yet the loss brought on a keen, almost physical pain. His thoughts drifted back to the last great tragedy of his short life.
It had been nine years since Brian died. The distance seemed strange, even unsettling. Now Carl found himself in surroundings he could not have imagined; he had been on a journey at once amazing and impossible, certainly for someone of his upbringing. Death propelled him upwards even as it laid his kin low. He would never again be prey for ghetto thugs, if only because his new foes were more prestigious. He had sworn that no one would meet such an ignominious fate.
And yet Sweet was dead.
He wondered how it had happened. The report was vague as well as brief; who really cared about just another gang-banger? Had his brother been shot, stabbed, beaten? Was it a drive-by or a home invasion? The mind raced to unpleasant thoughts without concrete evidence. He imagined he would know eventually – he always did. Money bought eyes and ears.
And then there was the fury, not only towards the perpetrators but towards Sweet as well. Whatever else might have happened, Carl knew that his brother could not be entirely free of blame. They had all been born into a culture that Sweet had embraced most enthusiastically. Endless petty feuds and quickness to aggression could only end one way. In his new luxury, Carl liked to think that he had taken a more cautious attitude to such a life, and he was thankful every day that Kendl had rejected it.
With his last brother cold and pale, Carl did not think he would ever forget that day they had met on the steps of the police station. He had escaped, travelled across the state, made friends and allies, and become wealthy. He had driven down in a nice car, worn a modest suit, and offered Sweet true freedom. And he had had it all spat back in his face.
Instead, Sweet had dragged him back to a place he had only just realised he was glad to leave: back to dilapidated state housing, vicious drug addicts, and the cycle of violence that doomed so many young men. Sweet despised good food, hot running water, and clean clothes, and seemed perfectly content to live the miserable, ‘honourable’ life championed by the radio and television.
And, Carl realised, he hated him for it. The arrogant, deluded bastard! He was actually proud of never amounting to anything, of just being another statistic. He had almost been pathetic enough to give in to the drugs that had ruined half of the city. What was the point of saving him from addiction when he had always been high on machismo?
Kendl was expecting again. Despite his initial misgivings, Carl was proud to see how happy and safe she was with Cesar in San Fierro, far from the home that was no home at all. They had made a newer, better one, and they would never worry about money. Their children would not have their minds addled by poison or be taken away in one moment of gunfire and screaming tyres. Their classrooms would be calm and civilised, free from the likes of Ryder. Their lives would be enviably normal.
Carl took hope from that.
He had a lifetime to think. At last he tore his eyes away from the paper, pushed the chair back from the desk and went to find his biker leathers. A long ride would clear his head.