A Long Night of Masks (PG)
“August 13, 1875. Reina de Los Angeles seems little different from all of these other California pueblos. Pretty, dry, and old. Hardly likely the site of such near-mythical exploits as I have heard whispered across the plains, and with worse cantinas than San Diego. My brother tells me I do not allow the magic of this place to work on me. Possibly, but my purpose lies not in the setting, but in the man that I have crossed this country to find.”
The bullets lodged in his thigh and shoulder were constant reminder of the kind of pain a human body could withstand. He had carried them with him for two years and he would carry them to his grave. A month of hard riding. The pain. He ignored it.
The night breeze through cypress branches and the deep indigo sky were of no comfort to the man once called Reid. It seemed an eternity since he had been comforted by anything; an eternity as far and near as the horizon he and his brother chased. The dome of night stars above them were the same that saw them leave El Paso; beautiful and patient, those stars watched over The Ranger. He ignored them.
Once, long ago, there had been a father and a mother, vague untrustworthy memories of happiness. Blood. Fire. The first of his endings.
There had been the learned peace of his adoptive family, his adoptive people. They who called themselves the Potawatomi. But the white world he had been born to reclaimed him. Reunited with his white brother, he was told he would at last have a “proper home.”
But in his heart, young Reid was waiting for another ending for he knew that no home of his, proper or not, seemed to want him for long.
Later the motherly bosom of academia fed him abstract ideas of law and justice, and this sustained him from Harvard to Bryant’s Gap, the box canyon where he was met again with blood and fire. Six graves left behind but only five bodies. The Ranger buried his white brother and his name. Orphaned again, this new man was left no haven and no connection to the world save one: his Potowatomi blood brother from an earlier life, the same who restored him to health after the massacre at Bryant’s Gap and who now shared his travels and his dead man’s mission.
He wore a Franciscan cassock the night he entered the overgrown courtyard of Hacienda De La Vega, though he was no friar. Almost immediately he felt they were being watched. A shared look with his brother told him their instincts were in agreement. They continued into the view of the rambling adobe mansion. Caution warned but The Ranger paid it no mind. Under the majestic Californian night he took for granted and under the rough sackcloth hood, The Ranger felt safe.
It was the disguise that gave him comfort. Not the mask or the badge this night, but enough to hide behind. In the five saddlebags that helped conceal his startlingly beautiful horse were enough costumes and make up pieces to supply a small theater troupe. He walked beside the ghostly white animal pleased with the disguise, pleased with the shadows, and pleased to have reached their destination.
The Ranger’s Potawatomi brother slid from his own mount and watched the shadows that his brother could not; the combined perception of these two men was matched only by that of the animals that made the night their home. Each movement, sound, smell was catalogued and weighed for potential threat. Thus their surprise at the sudden voice from behind.
“Guests! What an unexpected pleasure.”
The two travellers coolly turned to face this greeting, neither betraying a trace of nerves. They cursed themselves. How could any human have gotten behind them? The Ranger betrayed nothing, but behind his eyes his humiliation was plain; here in the fox’s lair he had been startled by an old man in the dark. Wearing white, for God’s sake.
The figure was healthy and slim, shimmering in a fine linen suit under the trees; the voice was rich, amused, sweetly accented with Spanish blood and breeding. He remained perfectly still but seemed capable of moving like lightning. Though he’d never before laid eyes on him, The Ranger knew this man. The Spaniard spoke again.
“Hacienda De La Vega is honored by your presence, Padre. Would you dine with the master of this house before journeying on?”