Illustration by Gustavo Vargas
Wouldn’t life be a dream if everyone had a real, live guardian angel, someone who could fix any problem? Like the big brother you never had, who would beat up neighborhood bullies? Or your own personal version of TV’s Equalizer, a professional jack-of-all-catastrophes? Well, Matty the Mechanic is that man, a walking, talking solution to your pressing needs.
Somebody owes you money; he always collects. Somebody’s stalking you or yours; he puts an end to it. Somebody cuts into your dealing or whoring turf; Matty slams the brakes. Yep, he’s better than Maaco, the Pep Boys and Mr. Goodwrench rolled into one.
Not that he’s a grease monkey or, for that matter, a halo-headed, white-clad apostle. Matty’s name isn’t derived from “Matthew” or “Mateo”; it’s a play on his gang handle, El Matón — The Killer. Just call him your “Guardian Satan”; he won’t mind, as long as you pay up.
“I can fix anything — a debt, a death, a loss of face. You name it,” he says coolly, as he stares out the window of a Santa Monica one-bedroom apartment that he shares with his girlfriend and their pit bull.
His last job was to resolve a lovers’ quarrel between Betsy, a Beverly Hills porn actress, madam and musician, and her onetime boy toy, a would-be rocker who refused to return her gear, including her high-cost recording system, her new Beemer and even her beloved pooch. Not to mention that Boy Toy has been taunting her and disrespecting her in public, knowing that she has good reason not to involve small-claims court or the cops. Boy Toy laughingly suggested that she “hire a hit man to come get me” if she wanted her stuff back.
What a concept.
Of course, Matty is leery of any transaction where the love bug has bitten. He’s seen other fixers torched after the client gets sentimental about a permanently former or severely maimed lover, which might mean a song to the cops. But in this particular case, Betsy (not her real name) is also paying him a $2,500-a-month retainer as a bodyguard/driver, and he hates gigolos almost as much as Chesters and rapists.
Before moving, Matty grills Betsy for every particular: the dude’s hangouts, his demeanor, every quirk and fetish — he may need it all. One of Matty’s favorite tactics is a full recital of personal vitals to his target: He’ll tell you where you live, your phone number, your blood type, where your mother lives — right to your face without blinking. So cold-ass and mono tone is his delivery that the quarry often caves in on the spot.
A coupla days later, Matty saunters into the Sunset Strip coffee shop where Boy Toy is holding court like the king of rock & roll. The sight of this fey New York émigré coming on like Elvis’ grandson makes Matty want to reach for his Glock on the spot, but this is strictly business, so he takes a deep draw of filthy Hollywood oxygen and proceeds to the rocker’s booth, then smiles at Boy Toy and his two companions.
“You’re excused,” Matty says to the two young ladies, and without missing a beat, they follow his pointing thumb right onto the sidewalk. They know what time it is even if lover boy doesn’t. Boy Toy smiles patronizingly, but the mechanic registers no emotion.
“I bought your debt from Betsy Ann,” Matty says calmly. “She sold it to me for $3,500.” The rocker gets the full view when Betsy herself struts in. “Is this the guy, baby?” asks Matty calmly. She nods. “You have a day to pay it back. If you don’t, it doubles. Three days in, it’s 10 grand.”
Matty says no more. He doesn’t have to. Boy Toy gestures them out to the BMW and asks in a choked-out croak if all the gear, plus the pink slip, car keys and dog, will do. They will.
The value of the merchandise — his take-home pay from Betsy — is 10K. So Matty’s profit for this one conversation is $6,500. Matty returns the items to Betsy the next day after pulling up to rocker boy’s house in the same BMW.
The state has designated Matty a “validated gang member,” because he’s suspected of murdering more than a half-dozen fellow inmates in the service of his “klika.” But at age 36, he’s put behind him his days of running with the El Monte gang he joined at 12, and he’s even loosened his ties with the prison-based Mexican Mafia.
“If I was a member, I couldn’t do what I do,” he notes. “When you’re a member, all your jobs are done for the coach, for the fellas. Or, they’ll demand a cut. I’m what you might call an independent contractor, or I’m like you, Johnny, a freelancer.”
Nor is he a hit man by trade, or a killer by inclination. Unlike some former pen peers, ã he regards violence as the absolute last resort, because it’s brainless, and not painless.
He paid serious dues to reach this point — some 20 years of survival in the California prison system. His gang designation meant that his most recent jail time wasn’t in the main compound, where he helped rule the roost, but confined within a Security Housing Unit — 23 hours a day of lockdown in a 7-by-10-foot pen.
His last stretch at Pelican Bay State Prison pretty much snuffed out his remaining humanity. A medium-size, black-haired, head-to-toe tattooed, and goatee-faced terror, Matty stares out at the world with eyes that are little black dots of dead space, although this soulless and soul-chilling stare should not be confused with a lack of cunning or nerve. And though Matty has no legit career, he’s got the job skills he needs.
As it turned out, Boy Toy was an easy job, but you never know, comments Matty, as we sit chatting in his living room, where the damp ocean breeze is wafting into the apartment along with his neighbor’s barbecue.
“When they don’t get the message, it’s really pretty bad,” he says. “I’ll shake their hand and tell them, ‘Okay, have a nice day,’ and then make like all is forgotten for a month or so. Then I’ll turn up at their house with a goon or two to back me. Sometimes I’ll stick a broken bottle into their mouths and smack them six times hard in the jaw. Well, that’ll bust the crowns off Superman. I’ve had to do that and Dodger-bat the knees more than once.”
He pauses. “Frankly, I don’t get off on it; the guys who do are bound to fuck up.”
If the job requires a hit, Matty prefers to subcontract: “For the 10 grand on a bigger hit, I can sub it out to some kid for 500 and pocket the rest. They want to make their rep; mine’s made already.”
He never inclines toward murder: “That’s childish. I like to work things out between people so that everybody is satisfied. That takes brains. My old partners from the pen can’t believe that; they think you’re soft if you don’t kill.”
Intimidation is his preferred weapon. “Let them know through their friends that I’m a made man, and that’s usually enough. In my line of work, your reputation is everything. Appear soft or stupid and you’re through.”
But there are always hard-asses. Last year, a gentleman refused to stop stalking one of Betsy’s girls. The dude was breaking into her house, and she was petrified, so Matty moved fast and confronted him. When the fellow told Matty to buzz off, he whipped a bolt cutter from his coat pocket and performed a quick amputation of the man’s pinkie. “Handed him a bandana and told him his play time was over.”
There’s a market for what Matty does, something he figured out after departing Pelican Bay in 1993. He’d taken a job as muscle for a madam, and quickly noticed that the girls were always getting into jams, mostly with boyfriends. So Matty began to work these things out on the side. Eventually, the word of mouth was that Matty was an evil, but cool-headed, dude who could avoid blood spill.
His range of clients is varied, such as the person who is being blackmailed but can’t call in the police. Or the sugar daddy who wants to make sure no one is messing with his mistress. His fee can be a flat sum, say $2,500 for “discouraging” a stalker, or, for debts, three times (or more) the cost of purchasing the debt. The price is steep because of his “reputation,” as he’ll say.
Or let’s say a gang has a problem with another gang. “Blacks in L.A. don’t trust each other at all,” he says, “so they will come to the Salvadorans or to a Chicano like me. They can’t use their own kind or it could escalate into war.” In this scenario, Matty’s an unblushing mercenary. “Bloods and Crips, I play those fools off on each other all the time,” he says. “If one bids higher than the other, they got me.”
When those kinds of clients ask him to settle turf disputes, he’ll even make use of the hated Los Angeles Police Department, helping bust rival gangs to undermine their market share, as it were.
He stands, spits out the doorway and stares angrily straight ahead. “I’ll get the cops to do my dirty work. Like I care about the blacks. They ain’t my people anyway.”
With his skill and pay scale, life would be better if he hadn’t spent so much dough on drugs. And right now, his ass is getting kicked by hepatitis C, which he’s had for at least 10 years. Pallid and listless, he’s already had two naps, and it’s barely noon. He’s hardly eaten more than a doughnut.
“I’m going in for a liver biopsy in a month or so, to see how bad it is,” he confides. “Best thing about it is the Demerol IV — hey, legal dope is okay, right?”
As long as he can get up and go, his health problems have probably sharpened his perspective. He doesn’t have the energy to be reckless. “Discretion was and is everything,” he says, recounting the tale of a woman who came to him with problems over Henry (also not his real name), a high-powered trick and Beverly Hills lawyer.
When cops nailed the woman for carrying bogus painkiller script — and roughed her up in the process — she figured Henry was setting her up. It was his script, after all, and the lawyer he got for her didn’t show up at the arraignment. “She starts talking blackmail, and I tell her to be cool. What she’s gotta do is get her own lawyer, and take pictures of where the cops hurt her. I figured that her man was testing her, seeing if she was loyal and would hold her mud.
“Don’t you know it, he springs for the lawyer and all is cool. I was right.”
Another happy ending? Even better in this case. Henry was so impressed that he put the mechanic on a $500-a-week retainer. “I go to meetings with him, and I sit there and say nothing while these clients run their shit on him. I tell him who is on the up and up, where these guys are really coming from. I can think like a junkie thief, which Henry can’t do,” he says. “It’s the only way a lowlife gangsta from East L.A. would ever make it into Century City boardrooms, man, but I’m not complaining.
“Everybody needs a mechanic.”