aka teeth

There are mouse traps in the Fake AH Crew’s penthouse. Old school, spring loaded mousetraps right out of a cartoon. It takes everyone a while to see them, and even then no one really takes much notice; there’s nothing particularly abnormal about mousetraps after all. Except that the penthouse has never had mice. Except that for all they are bloodthirsty criminals no one in the crew really has the stomach to crush a rodent to death; the Lads short lived plan to keep a pet snake to terrify Geoff ended not because the man in question caught them but instead because none were willing to handle feeding the bloody thing.

So the traps are weird then. The traps no one uses. The traps no one claims. The traps that seem to be multiplying. Not quickly, slow enough to slide under the radar, but month by month the boxes grow until suddenly one of the spare rooms is completely filled.

Which, understandably, is noticed. Geoff calls a meeting and the crew wastes an afternoon squabbling over who and how and why but nothing is resolved. Everyone knows it must be a trap of some sort, someone setting up for a prank or a hilarious stunt, and no one wants to be the target. The culprit does not identify themselves, and there’s more than enough secondhand glee and trepidation going around to muddy the waters and keep the guilty party unknown.

No one is prepared to brave removing the mousetraps themselves, unsure if some trap will be sprung simply by entering the room, so the boxes remain. It’s an uneasy sort of acceptance, no member of the crew wanting to complain and single themselves out, so the threat lays dormant long enough that everyone has to move on, has to stop actively wondering. Even subconsciously they still pass the room gingerly, cautious, but as the months go by and the bedroom remains closed the fact that the boxes continue to multiply is pushed out of mind.

And then Dan flies over to pay Gavin a visit. As usual he’s greeted with a celebration, drink in hand before he’s through the front door; the first of many as the night predictably devolves into something raucous and messy and seamlessly fond. It’s late by the time the teasing and story telling dies down, by the time Dan finally trudges up the hall with his bag, so it takes the crew a moment too long to remember that Dan’s usual room was already occupied. They thunder down the hall just in time to see - nothing. The boxes are gone, the room is immaculate, like nothing strange has been growing there for almost a year, like the crew’s fears were entirely unfounded.

Or so they think, until dawn breaks with Dan screaming the house down, waking everyone up way too early as they scramble to arm themselves and drag their hungover bodies towards the apparent fight taking place in the living room. The fight between Dan and what turns out to be literally thousands of mousetraps, laid out in concentric circles around the main room ready to catch Dan on his usual jetlag-early, half-awake stumble to kitchen.

The culprit would be obvious even without Gavin’s distinctive squeaking giggles ratting him out, perched on the kitchen counter and filming the whole scene on his phone, the areas around him lined with its own little wall of still-loaded mouse traps. Unfortunately, regardless of whatever protection Gavin thought they would buy him, Dan charges right through to tackle him screeching to the ground anyway.

The video winds up on youtube, because of course it does; Gavin is an asshole and sees no reason why the whole world shouldn’t enjoy his endless efforts to torture Dan. By the time Gavin gets the video together, including a time lapse of the set up, various angles from a handful of go pros placed strategically around the room, a slow mo replay of the dawning horror on Dan’s face as the traps go off and the angry bodyslam to close it out, it has all the elements of an excellent video. So of course it goes viral; passed around the internet at lightning speed, shown on various news programs, racking up millions of views before the day is over.

It doesn’t take long for the internet to point out the handful of infamous criminal lookalikes edging into frame at the end, obviously too soft and rumpled and hopelessly entertained to be the real deal, but still a funny comparison all the same. Even more amusing when the blurry footage almost makes them look armed, so-called guns a startling juxtaposition against the silly prank and cutesy patterned pyjamas everyone seems to be wearing. Combined with the obvious opulence of the room, and the kind of cash it must take to buy so many mousetraps just for a stunt, there is no shortage of people joking about the video being a candid episode of MTV Cribs featuring the Fake AH Crew.  

If life were a movie, a shitty summer action flick, the Vagabond would be born of grief, a retaliatory reaction to the death of innocence, to the death of an innocent. Ideally a lover, extra points if they were childhood sweethearts, some beautiful, charitable, too-kind-for-this-world irreplaceable soul, taken too soon.

If life were a movie the Vagabond’s catalyst would have done no wrong, no links to the criminal world, simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, pure collateral damage. A real tear-jerker would have them there at his request, waiting on an overdue lift or walking home after some petty spat, their death forever weighing on the Vagabond’s conscious even after the flames of rage and retribution are finally banked.

But you know what they say about those ‘based on a true story’ movies, right? Embellishment upon embellishment until the whole story is distorted, flawed individuals made martyr at the hands of those who might be bad but are now lit as true villains, irredeemable evil to be vanquished by our damaged yet still dashing hero. Still, there is a grain of truth right there at the start, a tenuous thread hooking mindless entertainment back to cruel reality, and in this the Vagabond’s origin would be no different, underneath the cliché’s and the gimmicks you would find Ryan’s truth.

Like, hey, the perfect soul-mate was a bit much wasn’t it, the victim too pure, circumstances too outlandish to hold up to scrutiny, but the Vagabond had a family, once. Ryan had parents, had siblings, and it’s not the romanticised lover but by god were they loved. Maybe it didn’t happen on a dark and stormy night, maybe there was no unlit street on the wrong side of town or shortcut down an unfortunate alley, but they were lost all the same.

And sure, it’s a better story if the Vagabond has guilt, holds fault, if his actions were the ones that left a white-picket family strewn across their own yard in a bloodbath which can’t be unseen, but Ryan was always a good kid. Was bookish, quiet. He was never the one who had to rebel, never messed around with drugs, with dealers, never got himself into situations he couldn’t get out of. He did have a kid brother though, and in the way of beloved big brothers everywhere, Ryan might not start fights but he sure finished them. Years later, when sharp grief had dulled into something aching and eternal, he could almost laugh about how typical it was for that little asshole to leave him with one last mess to clean up. And clean-up he does – it might take him a while to get it all done but where the police investigation failed, Ryan does not.

But see, if life were a movie, the Vagabond would be cast as the anti-hero, a man who does terrible things, yes, but is only as bad as he needs to be to bring down the gang who took his family. He’s a murderer, sure, but only in the name of justice, and the audience can all rest easy knowing he is only doing what he has to do, that when the villains are slain and the credits are rolling he will give up his criminal activities and settle back into society, or even be locked behind bars, damaged, but victorious. And yet, we have the Vagabond, killer for hire turned scourge of Los Santos, the masked mercenary who revels in fear and bloodshed, embroiled in crime even countless years after his vengeance was served.

Because maybe, maybe, Ryan could have returned to a kind of normalcy if there had been a simple attacker, a mugger or a drunk driver he could take out in one shocking act, life irredeemably ruined but hunger for revenge swiftly satisfied. A drug ring needs more expertise though, needs more than a single shaky bullet from a teenager’s wavering hands, and once learned there’s simply no un-teaching those kinds of skills, no amount of scrubbing that will ever wash the blood away, no forgetting how that power feels. If you teach a man to fish you will feed him for a lifetime. Teach a kid to take what he needs by force and baby boy grows up ruthless. Teach him he has to choose between being prey and being predator and he’ll choose bloody every time, will redefine vicious right before your eyes.

You’re kidding yourself if you think the FAHC would be any less giddily excited than the members of AH if they got their hands on a shiny new ridiculous battle axe. Sure, their test subjects would be less fruits than living, breathing, pleading involuntary volunteers, but the childish glee is exactly the same.

They gather in a warehouse, everyone catching and bringing along their own little problem to play with, easily combining the satisfaction of burning curiosity with the tedious chore of taking out a handful of crooks who’d overstepped their place. Spring cleaning is always more enjoyable when you make a game of it.

Not that there’s anything clean about that day, the warehouse ends up about as messy as you’d expect, messier even - the Fake’s are nothing if not horrifically creative. There are cruel experiments and heartless dares, flashy tricks chased by thunderous applause to drown out the unfortunate sound of screaming.

Between Jack testing the sharpness of the blade by letting the weapon drop powered only by gravity, the Lads egging each other into increasingly reckless swings, Ryan whirling the axe around like he was practising for war and Geoff’s relentlessly chortling delight, it is a day of fun for all the family to enjoy.

Perhaps most surprisingly of all,  despite all expectations to the contrary, not a single member of the crew slips and chops off their own fingers. A success story if ever there was one.

Those floor to ceiling windows Geoff has in his office are great and all, very prestigious, perfect for gazing out at his kingdom, but they have to have come back to bite him at some point.

Surely there has been a moment when he’s staring out, halfway through updating Burnie on how things are going when in quick succession he spots one of his cars screaming down the road with a barrage of police in hot pursuit, in turn chased by what bizarrely appears to be motorcycle-drawn chariots, a series of parachutes popping in the distance as a distinctly familiar jet starts to plummet from the sky, and panicked civilians scattering every which way in the face of a lone tank rumbling down the plaza.

There must have been a moment when Geoff’s pressed his forehead to the cool glass, closed his eyes as Burnie chattered away unaware in his ear, and wondered when the fuck he lost control of his life. Also, how soon it would be possible to install blinds.