When I was young my mom gave me some advice: Don't try to be what you ain't.
Instead I wish she had said, Know your enemy
Instead I wish she had said, Know your enemy
Hide-Out Case by William E. Wallace
Despite the painkillers he'd been tossing back by the handful, Art "Mosca" Chavez was still hurting more than a week after his accident.
Part of a front clip had jammed in the belt at the Flint, Michigan stamping plant where he worked. When Art tried to free it without cutting the juice, 20,000 volts of electricity knocked him on his ass and burned both his hands.
The pain made rest hard to come by, but Art didn't mind: lying awake in agony gave him more time to stew about how the feds had fucked him over.
Art was a former matón—an enforcer—for California's Nuestra Familia prison gang. He'd mobbed up while doing a juvenile flop in Ione and advanced through the ranks during stays at Deuel Vocational Institute near Tracy and CSP Solano, the state joint in Vacaville.
He'd been "recruited" as a snitch after his racketeering indictment by a federal grand jury in San Francisco. While awaiting trial, the U.S. Attorney sent Art to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles, an administrative prison crawling with Mexican Mafia members who'd been at war with the Familia since 1968.
Tossed into a lockup jammed with people sworn to kill him, Art had reluctantly joined the Witness Protection Program and agreed to testify against his former colegas in the gang. His deal: the indictment would be dropped in return for his testimony and he'd get a fresh start outside California.
Since then, Art had done a shit-load of witnessing, but he didn't feel he'd received much protection.
First the feds sent him to Flint, a city with so few Hispanics he stuck out like a Martian; then they pissed around for three months before providing him with paperwork for his new identity, moving him from one flop house to another every few days "for security."
After they finally came up with a fake birth certificate, Social Security and driver's license, it took them another two months to find him the job at the plant making parts for General Motors.
He'd been working there only three weeks when he nearly electrocuted himself on the assembly line.
"Fuck me," he muttered bitterly, frowning at the ceiling over his bed.
Jimmy Feely, the U.S. Marshal who managed Art's case, dropped by when Chavez was about to be released.
Hey, Esé!" Feely said. "I have good news and bad news. Which you want first?"
Art hated it when some pendejo in the Marshal Service pretended to be his carnale. He might have ratted out his former gang associates, but Art was just trying to avoid getting whacked by his former comrades, not make friends with badges.
"Give me the bad," he said.
"When you got lit up, you were still a probationary employee," Feely said. "That means you have no union security—they can fire you for no reason. Your health insurance hadn't cut in yet, either, so you don't have coverage for rehab."
Art scowled. "I can hardly wait to hear the good news."
"The good news is, you're getting a paid vacation in the Golden State," Feely said. "We're sending you back to California to testify against Beltran and Martinez."
Art's heart sank. Luis Beltran and Ernesto "Cholo" Martinez were the two top guys in the Familia. Art had killed seven people for them and supervised Beltran's street crank network in Modesto; his federal grand jury testimony against them already had made him number one with a bullet on the gang's hit parade.
"That's the fuckin' good news?" he asked angrily. "The prosecutor told me they'd probably both roll over."
"Well, they didn't," Feely said dismissively as he pulled an envelope from his inside pocket. "I'll be coming by in a few days to give you your ticket and San Francisco housing voucher. Here's a grand in walking-around money until then. Take one of your buddies downtown, get fucked up and chill out. We'll find you another job when you get back to Michigan."
Art sighed. He didn't have any buddies in Flint: he was a California Mexican and the three Hispanics at the plant were Puerto Ricans. His job was a union gig, but paid him less than he used to steal from 7-Elevens. Now he'd lose even that—plus he'd have to testify against the most dangerous men he knew.
"Fuck me," he muttered. "I'll have to start all over again."
If he spent it all, Feely's thousand bucks couldn't possibly buy Art enough booze to chill out.
A week later when Feely contacted Art with his air fare and voucher, the gangbanger was at the county hospital again.
"What are you doing back here?" Feely asked. "Did you have a relapse or something?"
Art shook his head. "I took your advice and grabbed the bus downtown to get shitfaced with that money you gave me," he said.
Art nodded. "I was two blocks from the bar where guys from the plant hang when some asshole stepped out of an alley with a .38-special. He took what you gave me plus $137 from my last paycheck. Then he shot me in the thigh for no reason."
Feely pulled up a chair. "You going to be well enough to make the 'Frisco trip?" he asked.
Art nodded. "Yeah, but when I get done, I'm done. I'm going to stay in California. I've had enough of Witness Protection. It's a fuckin' joke, cabrón."
Feeley's jaw dropped. "You sure, Art?" he said. "You're on hit lists for the Nuestra Familia and Mexican Mafia out there. You're not safe in California."