Dealing With the Devil

When the Deuce-Seven Bloods went hunting for a snitch, they shot Venus Montoya instead.

"They called him a 'confidential informant,'" Antonio scoffs. "But you'd have to be a moron not to know who the 'confidential informant' was once the attorneys got the paperwork. 'Confidential informant bought this amount, at this time, on this day.' Jesus."

Antonio was at school when the police kicked in his door and arrested Danny. They left a note in the apartment, telling Antonio to turn himself in.

The "confidential informant" said Antonio and Danny had sold him pot. "It was a lie," says Antonio. "I never sold him anything. But I think they didn't want just Bang--they wanted Boom and Bang...and that's what he gave them.

"It was fucked up, anyway. Salvino was trying to get out of some charges he was facing, so they get him to give up Danny and me. I mean, what kind of a system of justice is it that the police let someone off who they know had done the crime for someone they think has done a crime?"

Antonio was desperate and went on the run for almost a week. If he was convicted of a felony drug charge, he'd lose the grant and he could kiss his dreams of graduating from art school goodbye. But he also realized he couldn't go to school while he was a fugitive, so he got a lawyer. "I told him, 'I can't live on the run, I got shit to do," he recalls. "I turned myself in."

As angry as he was at Salvino, Antonio was just as mad at Danny. "We were in jail and I told him, 'This is fucked up, dude, and it's your fault.'"

Danny tried to shrug it off. "Nah, blood, it's cool." After all, they'd always taken their lickings together.

Antonio realized then that as much as he loved his brother, as much as they had been through together, he was going to have to keep a greater distance. Still, he couldn't stay mad at Danny too long. "I was getting out and he wasn't," says Antonio, whose lawyer had convinced the prosecutors that they didn't have a good case. He got another deferred sentence provided he attend drug-and-alcohol counseling and submit to drug testing for three years. "We were still brothers," he says. "We were still Boom and Bang."

After Venus Montoya died, Antonio says, the police hoped they could pin the murder on Danny--say that he ordered the hit.

"A snitch is a snitch, and a snitch has to die," he says, switching back to his gangster mode. "No one had to order anybody. Salvino had shot up the Ornelases' mom's house when his sister was inside. What if she'd been killed, and not Venus Montoya?

"The cops knew it was him. But did they care? Fuck, no. He was their boy, and it was just a gang member's house."

Antonio turns off the light on his drawing table.
It was all about choices and living with the consequences of those choices. Whether you were Danny, Pancho, Frank, Alejandro...or even Venus Montoya.

"She was no innocent bystander," he says. "She was smart enough to make decisions not to be around gang members. Gangs are synonymous with violence, and she damn well better have known that what she was doing was life-threatening.

"Everyone sees her as this innocent little girl. Well, fuck that, dude. If she had died in a drunk-driving accident, everyone would have thought she was an idiot. But because she's hanging out with gang members getting drunk, that's different?"

Antonio realizes how harsh he sounds. It's part of the duality of his nature--the war that rages within him between the angels and the devils. He sighs. "Whose fault is any of this?" he asks. "The cops, because they set us against each other and sometimes innocent people get hurt?

"Hers, because she thought it was cool having a big gangster around, and she wound up dead on the floor?

"His, for not telling her that she was in danger because of him?"
In the dark, he's a silhouette against what light comes through the window. He rubs his face and rubs again, but a conscience is something that can't be rubbed away.

"Or is it our fault for hating so much that we shoot moms in their houses?"
He closes his portfolio and nods his head. "That's our fault," he says, then quietly repeats himself. "That's our fault."

A month after Alejandro Ornelas's trial, Becky Estrada prepares herself to speak at his sentencing. There has been so much death in her family already--a daughter and a son who'd overdosed on drugs, another son murdered and the killer still walking the streets, then Venus.

Some days she sits on her porch and looks for her granddaughter to come waltzing down the block, swinging her hair out of her eyes. When Angel asks where his mother is, she points to the stars. But how now to explain to the man who killed her, a man who didn't even know her, the crushing devastation of his senseless act?

She walks to the podium and addresses the judge without looking at the young man who sits glumly at the defense table. Now he looks just like all the others who came to court to testify against him. No more trying to fool a jury by dressing him in civilian clothes; no more pretense that he's some innocent.

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