Dealing with the Devil

Antonio Martinez negotiates his way through a maze of boxes scattered across the living room of his small apartment as a massive stereo system pulsates with gangsta rap. Except for the stereo, he's almost packed--and ready to get the hell out of Denver.

The night before, his mother threw him a party at the old family home. 2727 California. It's not theirs anymore, but the new owners were gracious enough to allow one last hurrah in honor of Antonio's June 1998 graduation from the Colorado Institute of Art.

Now he's laboring under a haze of too much tequila. Antonio isn't much of a drinker, hasn't been since he gave up gangbanging nearly five years ago. Even in his wilder days, he didn't like losing control to alcohol...not like Danny and Panch and the rest...

"I was raised in this so-ci-et-ty," Martinez raps along with Tupac Shakur, who was gunned down in 1996.

"So they-ah's no way you can 'spect me to be a perfect person..."
Antonio's round head bobs with the beat. He strikes his gangster pose--arms out to the side, hands curled around the grips of imaginary pistols. He's wearing the uniform: baggy T-shirt and knee-length shorts hanging halfway down his butt.

"Life made us crazy," Antonio says after the song is over. "Life made us this way." He thinks for a moment, then adds, "And rap music.

"Coming from where I come from...I can relate to that shit. Tupac. Snoop Doggy Dog. They're successful, and they been around gangs and in prison and shit...and they ain't nobody's good role models.

"I don't understand these kids in the suburbs who say they're into rap music and wanna be gangsters. What do they know? My mama didn't buy me no new car when I was sixteen. I didn't get to sleep safe in my pajamas at my parents' home in the country.

"To tell you the truth, I resent them comin' to my 'hood and trying to act like me. It's a good way for them to catch a hot one in the ass, know what I mean?"

Despite his hangover, Antonio has to keep packing and cleaning. He's leaving this evening for a new life in a city where nobody knows him. Not the cops. Not the gangs. Only a friend and fellow art-school graduate with whom he'll be opening a high-end tattoo shop, putting his drawing skills to use.

Things are changing, not just for Antonio "Boom" Martinez, but for all of the members of the Deuce-Seven Crenshaw Mafia Gangster Bloods. He's escaping. Most of the others who made up the core group--including his brother, Danny "Bang" Martinez Jr., Francisco "Pancho" Martinez, Frank "Little Bang" Vigil Jr., Sammy "Zig Zag" Quintana Jr. and Alejandro "Speed" Ornelas--are not. They're doomed, brought down by an insanity that ate them from within.

Alejandro and Frank have already been tried for murder and convicted: 22-year-old Alejandro for his part in the July 1996 shooting of nineteen-year-old Venus Montoya; seventeen-year-old Frank for the May 1997 rape, torture and murder of fourteen-year-old Brandaline Rose DuVall. They will both serve the rest of their lives in prison. No parole.

Pancho faces a death-penalty trial in late August for the DuVall slaying. Danny's trial for the same crime is set for later in the fall; the Jefferson County district attorney hasn't yet said if he will seek the death penalty in Danny's case.

Antonio scowls. "And all because of snitches," including his cousin, Sammy "Zig Zag" Quintana Jr., who has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in both cases in order to avoid a potential death sentence and is now a star witness for the prosecution.

That's the way Antonio sees it. But a moment later, he concedes that the gang was already coming apart. Things were spinning out of control. Danny was "falling-down-in-the-mud" drunk most of the time; Pancho was getting more and more aggressive.

By the time Venus Montoya was murdered, the Deuce-Seven's heyday--of fine hotel suites and nice cars, of bigtime drug deals and rolls of cash the size of fists--was over. Dismantled by internecine warfare with other gangs and nearly constant pressure from the police.

Antonio was smart enough to see that it was only going to get worse, and he got out. The others, well, they saw no out for themselves. "Or maybe," he says softly, "they didn't want an out if all it meant was no place to go."

No one made getting out easy for Antonio--including Antonio himself. He'd been suspended and expelled from school, sometimes for good reason, sometimes not; he'd spent a year in Lookout Mountain after shooting a Crip; and there'd been other charges.

Most would have quit trying. Danny did. Pancho did. Frank did. Alejandro did. Antonio didn't. He had dreams and a few teachers who believed in him. And he had Lonnie Lynn.

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Steve Jackson

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