“Esta navidad, ahh-eh/ Esta navidad ahh-eh”
Hector Lavoe/Willie Colon
Every year people die, get crippled, or suffer deformities at Christmas. This year alone the cops nabbed twenty-seven tons of contraband fireworks, and more than three hundred people burned to death from those that got through. Mostly kids.
We had a close call with my uncle, who couldn’t imagine Christmas Eve without it. Having missed eight years doing time, first in California then in Peru, he gets festive now that he’s unhappily married and has a daughter. Since she’s three months old, she was sleeping when a rocket backfired and blew up on the terrace.
No one was hurt, so I’m certain the Virgin Mary was protecting us.
Just kidding, although you hear that shit in my family. I haven’t figured out if they believe it or just say it as ritual incantation. We’re more pagan than we like to admit. More African, more Native American than European.
Homicides have dropped this year, but disappearances are up. Same for kidnapping versus extortion. Progress.
I’m on my way, but you have to understand. We get distracted easily—always bogged down in side streams.
It’s about one in the afternoon on the Christmas Eve, and it’s time to buy stuff we’ll need: beef, rice, sausage, coconut, cinnamon, lemon, and the rest: weed, lots of hard liquor, boxes of beer.
My uncle and I are coming out of the parking lot where he keeps his mafiamobil, a black Ford Bronco, when bam! Motherfuckers appear out of nowhere, hemming us in, front and back, and unless we run them over, we’re trapped.
Guys in ski masks with 9s, Mini-Uzis, and R-15s jump out, telling us to lie down against the hood and whatnot. As usual, the only thing I had was my cell phone, but Chucho had rings, a thin gold chain with a gold cross, two bracelets, and rolls of cash...at least $250.
We were laid back, and they let us go without a hassle.
Wrong move. They should have taken us somewhere, killed us, and burned the bodies or left them in the trunk of a taxi. Chucho understands what keeping a low profile means. Fools knew only that they had taken someone down and still had time to sell the car and buy a pig to roast before midnight.
Don’t get confused: my uncle’s a rare breed. He hates violence and doesn’t use it to augment profits. Which may be why he’s richer than any one else in our family but not very successful in the business.
We’re partly to blame. None of us went into the business with him, so Chucho had to freelance. Had we been there, all of us would have gone down in a blaze of glory.
Chucho doesn’t merit that type of sacrifice.
Back on home ground after his last bid, he made friends fast, since he was good at routes and corridors. Those friends—associates, he calls them—were running the city when the idiots jacked us.
Chucho doesn’t use land lines. A couple cell phone calls and word was out. At 5:30 PM, motherfuckers showed up in person, sans ski masks, with the money and all the stuff we had planned to buy with it, plus jewels, gun, etc.
The poor fools were promised their lives and future employment if they gave everything back with interest, which they did.
We heard their bosses ordered they be cut up and roasted anyway, evidently to send a message about robbing associates. They had their eyes torn out with knives, grapes put in the sockets, and they were basted with the paste they use to smoke pigs.
That could be rumour or gossip, though.
FORREST HYLTON is an Associate Professor of History at the Universidad de los Andes, and the author of a bi-lingual novel, Vanishing Acts: A Tragedy, along with several books on Latin American history and politics. Beginning in September 2012, he will be a post-doctoral fellow at NYU's Tamiment Library, where he will be completing research for a book entitled 'Doing the Right Thing': Labor, Democracy, and Organized Crime on the Brooklyn Waterfront During the Cold War.