Pastel, stoned and mangy, shoves his tin-can taxi from lane to lane at high speed, a palm-sweat proposition because he has no mirrors, or shocks, or muffler, for that matter. Steering with his knees, he shout-sings Guns n' Roses while fumbling about the console for a joint. We're leaving Cataño, a densely packed slum just west of San Juan, Puerto Rico, with Hector Camacho Jr. aboard, for a day-trip tour of the spots where his father, Hector "Macho" Camacho, the former light- and welterweight champion of the world, spent the last two years of his louder-than-bombs life getting high, chasing ass, and drowning his sorrows. "Wouldn't sleep for days, just high all the time, running around dressed up like Michael Jackson," says Junior. "He ate, shit, showered, did everything on coke – even sniffed in front of his mom, and she smacked him silly!"
"Oh, 100 percent, I seen that!" croaks Pastel. "She say, 'Stop the cab!' and get out and hit him. Little tiny woman beating Macho!"
The two of them cackle and cry, "Que rico!" in coarse admiration for Macho's madness. We've been driving the barrios and talking about Macho with his barfly buddies and dealers, while Pastel slips off to powder his nose from red-top vials of coke. Skinny and horse-faced and given to bouts of unexpected laughter, Pastel was Macho's tour guide through hell, the guy who drove him wherever he wanted, so long as drugs and girls were the destination. He's pulling in now to Bayamón, the second-largest city on this hard-bitten island – and number one in violent crime. Life was always fraught in this coastal community 20 minutes south of San Juan, but for 10 years now, there's been open blood sport among the gangs here. Coke and weed blow in like sea breeze, the cops are incompetent when not corrupt, and the murder rate, per capita, is five times higher than it is on mainland U.S.
Bayamón was Macho's birthplace and his killing floor: Last November, he was sitting in a parking lot with a pimp and drug dealer named Jamil, waiting on a girl they both knew. In the rush-hour snarl, some kid got out of a Jeep, walked up calmly to Jamil's GT, and emptied a clip through the windshield. Jamil was cut to pieces, his back and sides riddled with slugs. Macho took a bullet in his lower jaw; it clipped his spine, then made a right turn, slicing his carotid and pinching blood-flow to his brain. Dozens of drivers watched from the street as the shooter reached into the car, grabbed a satchel, then got back into the Jeep and took off. Macho had a dim pulse when medics arrived, but brain activity had stopped. Two days later, his mother signed the release to remove him from life support.
Near the scene of the shooting, along a strip of sad-eyed bars and padlocked offices, Junior toasts his father with skunky Medalla, the beer they sell at roadside stands to wash down fried patties and pork rinds. Thirty-four now, and known in these parts as Machito, he was a middleweight of promise who won a Caribbean title but never loved the sport enough to grind it. He'd been in and out of boxing for much of a decade and was making a lukewarm comeback last fall when his wife, Raquel, told him the news. "I seen her face and said, 'My father, right?' She said, 'Baby, he's been shot, ain't gonna make it.' I was shocked, but yet I wasn't, 'cause this is what happens when your life is about girls and drugs. It's either jail or die."
If that response to the news of the death of the man for whom you've been named seems a cool one, well, Macho wasn't the warmest of fathers. He was 15 when he sired Machito with a girl named China in New York's Spanish Harlem, and he took little or no hand in raising his son, leaving him in the projects when he quit New York to live in Florida and Puerto Rico. He'd have him down for a visit each summer, but disappeared the minute he got the boy settled at his beachfront condo in Isla Verde. "I'm 10 years old, and he's gone for two days, going, 'Here's $100, get a burger,'" says Machito. "I think he did shit like that to toughen me up: locked me in a closet to see if I cried, or made me smoke a jay with him at nine."
How Macho, who made millions of dollars and was the brightest, most gorgeously watchable star this island has ever produced, wound up at 50 buying blow off schoolboys and living with a down-at-the-heels hooker named Cynthia, is the story we've spent all day cobbling together from the patchwork impressions of his cronies. Some describe a playboy who'd never prepped himself for life and its empty spaces after boxing. Others invoke a sweet but heartbroken man, whose estrangement from his wife and three sons was the punch that dropped him for the count. A few allude to the toll his brain paid for the toe-to-toe wars during his prime, when he got tagged on the button by Edwin Rosario, Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, and Julio Cesar Chavez, but never went down, much less out. "His words were messed up. You could hardly understand him," says a pretty ex-girlfriend named Gloria Fernandez. "They made fun of him on TV, like, 'Look at this clown' – and he thought they were laughing with him, not at him."
But time and again, the talk turns to memories of fonder days. All anyone cares to remember are his blur-quick hands and buzzing, Bruce Lee footwork, or the maniac cheer of a man who partied five days straight and packed 100 years into 50. Who else, after all, had a unicorn's head proudly tattooed on his penis, told his friends he wanted to be buried naked and displayed that way at his wake, and who, stopped for speeding, explained to the cop that the girl beside him was sucking it so well, he didn't want to stop her by downshifting. The cop, of course, laughed and let him off: Ay, que rico, Camacho!
After one last pool-hall stop for weed, we roar up to a driveway on a rural patch of road. Inside the house Macho bought for his mother – he kept a small flat on the ground floor to crash in when he was too stoned to drive home to Isla Verde – there's the reek of green mold from a bathroom in shambles, the toilet pried up off its bolts. The only thing to perch on in the sitting area is an ornate, ladder-backed throne, daintily painted gold but missing its seat. "My father loved that chair; he was fixing it up," says Machito as he bends to feed the dog, an emaciated pup as starved for attention as it is for the tin of franks being served. Riffling his father's desk, he comes across clippings of Macho in his golden twenties, gorgeous and smooth-skinned, not a scratch on him, after defeats of Mancini and Howard Davis. "You couldn't touch him then: too fast, too pretty. He'd hit you three times and be gone." In the jumble of papers and notes chicken-scratched on envelope backs, Machito finds an eight-page, single-spaced letter from one of Macho's younger sons. It's a bitter indictment of his father, a man who "ain't bother" to see his kids or send their mother money to raise them. I get halfway through it when Junior refers me to a notepad of Macho's scribbling. Mixed among the doodles of costumed superheroes is what looks to be a three-line poem. It reads: "I have no more money/I have no more looks/All I have left now is...MACHO."