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MY NAME’S MANUEL HERNANDEZ. EVERYBODY CALLS ME MANNY. THEY’RE STILL TRYING TO GET IN. I CAN HEAR THEM SCUFFLING. I HOPE MY LIGHTER DOESN’T RUN OUT. I HOPE I HAVE TIME TO FINISH IN CASE SOMEONE FINDS THIS. OR ME. IT’S TRUE. I’M NOT CRAZY. AND I’M SCARED. THEY’RE MY FRIENDS, MY FAMILIA. MY BLOOD. BUT I DON’T THINK THAT MATTERS ANYMORE.

I CAN STILL HEAR THE SHOTS. WE HAD PIECES, THEY HAD PIECES. I DON’T KNOW HOW MANY, BUT THERE WERE A LOT OF THEM. THEY HIT US BECAUSE WE HIT THEM BECAUSE THEY HIT US, YOU KNOW HOW IT GOES. I CAN STILL HEAR HECTOR CHOKING. CHOKING, LIKE HE WAS DROWNING. CHOKING AND CRYING, LIKE A LITTLE GIRL, FOR GOD. A RED BUBBLE GREW BIG OUT OF HIS MOUTH AND I WANTED TO THROW UP WHEN IT POPPED ALL OVER HIS FACE.

I CAN STILL SEE CHINO FLOPPING AROUND LIKE A FISH NEXT TO HECTOR. CHINO’S WHITE T-SHIRT WAS BLASTED RED. NO. MORE LIKE BLACK, BECAUSE THE STREET LIGHTS WERE OUT. HE HAD A SURPRISED LOOK ON HIS FACE, LIKE JESUS, THIS IS REAL. HIS EYES BUGGED AT ME AND BEGGED ME FOR HELP. HE’D BEEN SHOT BEFORE, BUT I WASN’T SO SURE HE WAS GETTING UP THIS TIME. I CAN STILL SEE HIS GOLD CRUCIFIX, SHINY IN ALL THE BLACK, PROTECTING HIM FROM NOTHING.

WE HATED TO LEAVE THEM LYING IN THE ROAD LIKE DYING DOGS. THEY WERE LIKE BROTHERS. WE GREW UP IN THE BARRIO TOGETHER, SLICED OUR THUMBS AND RUBBED THEM TOGETHER, FAMILIA TILL THE END. BUT WE HEARD SIRENS FAST, ESPECIALLY FOR THE EAST SIDE. USUALLY, YOU CAN’T FIND THE PIGS WHEN YOU NEED THEM. MAN, I JUST COULDN’T GET BUSTED. I ALREADY HAVE A PRIOR AND SOFIA’S PREGNANT. I KNOW SHE MESSES AROUND, HELL, SO DO I, BUT I THINK IT’S MINE. SHE SAYS IT’S MINE. AND I DIDN’T WANT TO BE LIKE THE DOG WHO DID MY MOM BAD, THEN LEFT HER FOR SOMEONE ELSE, AND SOMEONE ELSE, AND ENDED UP IN THE JOINT ALONG THE WAY. LIKE OUR HOMEBOYS, TITO AND CASPER.

CHEWEY SAID HE COULDN’T GET HOOKED BECAUSE OF HIS MOM. HIS DAD’S A DRUGGIE, HIS BROTHERS ARE SNAKES, AND SHE WOULDN’T EAT IF HE DIDN’T BRING HOME THE BEANS AND RICE HE BOUGHT WITH WHATEVER HE STOLE. AND I THINK WE BOTH THOUGHT, I DON’T KNOW, MAYBE WE JUST HOPED THAT THE COPS WOULD GET TO HECTOR AND CHINO RIGHT AWAY, AND CALL AN AMBULANCE. SO, WE HUNG OUT IN CHEWEY’S ROOM AFTER IT HAPPENED. GOT STONED AND DRUNK TRYING NOT TO THINK, TRYING NOT TO FEEL, CHECKING THE NEWS FOR A DRIVE-BY ON CHEWEY’S BEAT-UP T.V. BUT NO ONE SAID ANYTHING, SO WE WAITED. AND THEN HECTOR AND CHINO WALKED IN THE DOOR.

I THOUGHT I HAD SMOKED TOO MUCH WEED, BUT CHEWEY SAW THEM, TOO, AND JUST SAT THERE, HIS MOUTH WIDE OPEN LIKE HIS RED WEASEL EYES, PROBABLY BURNING HIS FINGERS ON THE ROACH. THEY STOOD THERE ALL ZOMBIED, THEIR SHIRTS SHOT UP AND MUDDY BROWN EVERYWHERE. BUT I KNEW IT WASN’T MUD. AND THEY STUNK. THEY STUNK LIKE DEAD CATS. THAT’S WHAT I FIRST THOUGHT. LIKE THAT CAT HIT BY A CAR AT THE CORNER LAST WEEK. THE NEXT DAY, IT WAS ALL COVERED IN BIG BLACK AND BLUE FLIES, MAGGOTS ALREADY CRAWLING AROUND IN THERE. THAT’S HOW THEY SMELLED. CHINO USED TO BE ALL LAUGHS AND JOKES, WE THOUGHT HE’D MAKE A GOOD DAD ONE DAY. AND HECTOR WAS OUR JEFE, THE SHOT CALLER. NOW THEY WERE NOTHING. HECTOR AND CHINO WERE DEAD. MAYBE THEY HAD MAGGOTS CRAWLING AROUND IN THEM, TOO. STANDING THERE STINKING, THEIR EYES ALMOST WHITE LIKE OLD PEOPLE’S EYES, THEY LOOKED AT US. LIKE THEY WERE WAITING.

I STARTED THINKING I WAS GOING CRAZY OR SOMEONE WAS PLAYING A MEAN JOKE ON US. THIS ONLY HAPPENS IN THE MOVIES. BUT RIGHT AWAY, CRAZY CHEWEY WENT OFF, YELLING ABOUT BANGING BACK, HUNTING THE VATOS DOWN, AND FLATTENING THEM. THAT SCARED ME MORE. BECAUSE THAT MEANS IT NEVER ENDS. EVEN WHEN YOU’RE DEAD. SO I TOLD CHEWEY I DIDN’T WANT TO BECAUSE OF SOFIA.

CHEWEY STARTED BAD MOUTHING HER, CALLING HER A RACCOON-EYED SKEEZ, CALLING ME A CHAVALA, A LITTLE GIRL, AND A COWARD. SO I BELTED HIM. I THOUGHT WE WERE GOING TO GET INTO IT, BUT HE ONLY LOOKED AT ME LIKE HE DIDN’T KNOW ME, HIS MOUTH SMUDGED BLOODY BY MY PUNCH. WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU, ESE, CHEWEY SAID, WE’RE BLOOD TO THE END, QUE NO? HECTOR AND CHINO TURNED TO LOOK AT ME, LIKE THEY WERE WAITING FOR THE ANSWER. SO I ASKED CHEWEY, IF WE WERE BLOOD TO THE END, THEN HOW COME HE LEFT HECTOR AND CHINO IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD? AND THEN WE REALLY GOT INTO IT.

THEN CHEWEY’S MOM STARTED POUNDING ON THE DOOR, TELLING US TO SHUT THE HELL UP, SO WE DID. WE DIDN’T WANT HER COMING IN AND FINDING HECTOR AND CHINO STINKING DEAD AND STILL STANDING. IT WAS A MIRACLE THEY GOT BY HER THE FIRST TIME, BUT IT WAS REALLY LATE AND THE OLD LADY WAS PRETTY WELL LIQUORED UP BY THEN. HUFFING AND PUFFING, ALL SWEATY, CHEWEY AND ME EYED EACH OTHER, OUR FACES BRUISED UP, WAITING TO SEE WHO WOULD START UP AGAIN. HECTOR AND CHINO NEVER MOVED. BUT THEY NEVER TOOK SIDES WHEN CHEWEY AND I GOT INTO IT BEFORE THEY DIED. I GUESS SOME THINGS DIDN’T CHANGE. BLOOD IS BLOOD, CHEWEY SAID. I TOLD CHEWEY, YEAH, BUT DEAD IS DEAD. BRO, WE’RE THE ONLY FAMILIA YOU’VE GOT, WE’VE ALWAYS BEEN THERE FOR YOU, CHEWEY SAID LOW LIKE HE WAS ANGRY, YOU DO THIS OR YOU’RE GONNA HAVE A REAL BIG PROBLEM WITH ME, ESE.

MAN, I SHOULDA CLEARED OUTTA THERE RIGHT THEN, I SHOULDA JUST JUMPED INTO THE CAR, AND DROVE LIKE A BAT OUT OF HELL. MY MOM WAS ALREADY BURIED, AND THERE WAS NO REASON TO STAY. I SHOULDA DROVE FOR DAYS AND THEN STARTED OVER. LIVE A NORMAL LIFE. BE HAPPY. DIE OLD, WITH MY TATTOOS FADING OUT TO GRAY. BUT CHEWEY’S A MAD DOG. I KNEW HIM LONG ENOUGH TO BELIEVE HIM. AND IT’S THE ONLY LIFE I KNOW. SO, INSTEAD, I WENT WITH CHEWEY, HECTOR, AND CHINO TO LOOK FOR THE GANG BANGERS. BECAUSE CHEWEY WAS RIGHT. BLOOD IS BLOOD. AND HE WOULD FIND MINE IF I DIDN’T.

IT DIDN’T TAKE US LONG TO FIND THE THEM. THE LOSERS WERE AROUND THE CORNER FROM 19TH ST. WHERE WE NABBED THEM THE FIRST TIME, STUPID IDIOTS. BUT NOT JUST THEM. WE WERE ALL STUPID. STUPID, AND SORRY, AND SAD. WE SHOT, THEY SHOT. I DON’T KNOW HOW MANY WE WASTED, BUT CHEWEY WAS HIT. HECTOR AND CHINO GOT IT AGAIN, BUT ACTED LIKE THEY DIDN’T FEEL IT. AND THEN, RIGHT THROUGH THE CAR DOOR, I TOOK A BLAST IN THE THIGH.

MAN, I’VE NEVER BEEN SHOT BEFORE, NOT IN ALL THESE YEARS OF BANGING, AND IT HURT LIKE A MOTHER. I WANTED TO CRY. IT BURNED ALL THE WAY DOWN TO THE BONE, AND I THOUGHT OF MY ABUELITA. SHE WOULD HAVE SAID THAT’S HOW BURNING IN HELL WOULD FEEL LIKE, IF SHE HAD STILL BEEN ALIVE. AND I WONDERED WHERE SHE ENDED UP.

THE BASTARDS SHOT OUT ONE OF MY TIRES, BUT I TORE THE HELL OUT OF THERE ANYWAY, SPARKING FAST ON THE RIM. I GOT FAR ENOUGH TO PULL INTO THE CLOSTER APARTMENTS, PARK IN THE BACK, AND KILL THE LIGHTS TO WAIT THE HEAT OUT. I HEARD SIRENS SOMEWHERE FAR AWAY. THE CAR WAS QUIET, BUT CHEWEY WASN’T DEAD. HE WAS ON HIS WAY, THOUGH, AND I WAS BLEEDING BAD. HECTOR AND CHINO SAT IN THE BACK, LOOKING AT NOTHING NOW, WITH THEIR PIECES IN THEIR HANDS. THEY WERE DEAD, BUT MAN, DID THEY HAVE GOOD AIMS.

I TOLD CHEWEY WE HAD TO GET TO THE HOSPITAL BUT I DIDN’T KNOW HOW WITHOUT GETTING BUSTED. HE PULLED HIS FLANNEL SHIRT OPEN AND I SAW HIS GUTS SLIDING OUT THROUGH THE HOLES THEY’D MADE IN HIM. HE WAS BREATHING FAST, AND MOANING, AND BLEEDING BLACK ALL OVER THE SEAT BESIDE ME. TOO LATE, BRO, CHEWEY SAID, PROMISE ME YOU’LL GET THEM. I THINK I WAS IN SHOCK OR SOMETHING. ALL I COULD DO WAS STARE AT THE PUDDLE OF BLOOD GROWING IN HIS LAP.

CHEWEY GRABBED MY ARM HARD WITH HIS BLOODY HAND. HE WAS STILL SO STRONG. YOU BETTER PAYBACK, HOMEY, HE SAID, SPITTING BLOOD SPRAY ALL OVER MY FACE AND THE WINDSHIELD. I DON’T KNOW WHY, BUT I JUST COULDN’T ANSWER. BLOOD-IN AND BLOOD-OUT, EITHER YOU GET THEM, MANNY, CHEWEY SAID WITHOUT A SMILE, OR WE’RE COMING BACK FOR YOU. I SHOULDA JUST LIED FAST AND LET HIM DIE BELIEVING IT. BUT I JUST STARED AT HIM, AND HE STARED BACK. UNTIL HE GAVE UP HIS LAST BREATH, HIS EYES STILL OPEN. AND THEN I BOOKED IT.

I LEFT THEM ALL THERE IN THE CAR AND HIKED IT FAST BACK TO MY PAD. THE TOYOTA WAS STOLEN BUT EVERYBODY KNOWS WHO I CREW WITH. I ONLY THOUGHT ABOUT TORCHING IT AFTER I GOT HERE. I STARTED GETTING MY STUFF TOGETHER FAST BECAUSE IT WAS JUST A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE THE PIGS START SNIFFING. AND BECAUSE IF IT HAPPENED ONCE, IT CAN HAPPEN AGAIN. I FIGURED I COULD GET TO SOFIA’S BEFORE THE SUN CAME UP. WE COULD TAKE HER BEAT-TO-HELL HONDA AND TAKE OFF. LEAVE THIS AILING TOWN FOR GOOD. GET A PLACE TOGETHER SOMEWHERE. MAYBE GET MARRIED. SHE COULD BE A MENTIROSA, A POKER-FACED LIAR, BUT I THINK I LOVE HER. THEN THE LIGHTS WENT OUT.

I WENT TO ONE OF THE CRACKED WINDOWS IN THE KITCHEN AND SAW HECTOR PULLING ON THE LOOSE BACK DOOR KNOB. I HOBBLED TO THE BEDROOM WINDOW AND FOUND CHINO STABBING AT THE RUSTED BOLT WITH A CROWBAR. SOMEONE STARTED BEATING ON THE ROTTEN-WOOD FRONT DOOR, AND I KNEW IT WAS CHEWEY. WHEN CRAZY CHEWEY MADE A PROMISE, HE KEPT IT.

I GRABBED MY PIECE, BUT HOW CAN YOU KILL SOMEONE WHO’S ALREADY DEAD? IT WOULDN’T MATTER HOW MANY BULLETS I PUT INTO THEM. DEAD WAS DEAD. SO I CLIMBED UP HERE INTO THE ATTIC WHERE I HIDE MY STASH AND EXTRA CASH, TO WAIT FOR THEM TO GO AWAY. I WAS HOPING THEY’D THINK I NEVER CAME HOME AT ALL. BUT I’M AFRAID THEY FIGURED OUT WHERE I AM. THEY’RE DEAD BUT THEY STILL KNOW MY HIDING PLACES. I HEAR THEM SCRATCHING AT THE ATTIC PANEL. I GUESS THIS ST. MARY TAT ON MY ARM AIN’T GONNA PROTECT ME. LIKE CHINO’S CROSS. BUT I GOT MY PIECE. YEAH, I’M AFRAID TO DIE. BUT I’M MORE AFRAID OF COMING BACK. I DON’T NEED REVENGE. I JUST NEED OUT. BLOOD IS BLOOD, CHEWEY ALWAYS SAID. MAYBE. BUT I’M SPILLING MY OWN BEFORE THEY DO. SOFIA, TE QUIERO, PERO ASI ES LA VIDA LOCA.