The Valencian’s new gang was called the Eastside Chicharrones and they were at war with the Cadillac Mafia over an insult to La Bomba’s grandmother. A Cadillac Mafia member known as Corn Dog had called the old woman a “ho,” a “fat old ho,” an “ugly gorilla-ass ho,” and said she walked like she had “two big-ass burritos stuck in her armpits.” The Valencian found these comments dishonorable but was more concerned with preventing the war; for conquest, he needed the locals united. And so he crossed Figueroa into Cadillac turf, a brazen gesture, and somehow—through his appearance, his speech, or the literal rattling of his saber—brokered an apology from Corn Dog as well as forgiveness on the part of his girlfriend’s grandmother.
The police chief called the mayor. “My guys have been trying to make peace down there for years. This jerk walked right in and did it.”
The denizens of the Alley Cat Motel of East Hollywood developed a certain affection for the Sevillian. The women became protective of him. They even fired their existing bouncer, a video-game addict named Chaz who had been beaten senseless in his three most recent altercations; the Sevillian would never fail to draw his sword for their honor. Yet word of his coinage spread, and additional professors, curators, reenactors, and other self-proclaimed experts sought his attention and his gold. The Sevillian would only part with his currency for one reason, however, and the women wouldn’t part with it, period. As such, the brothel became a place not where sex was sold but where academics and other antiquarians could pay $50 to see rare coins and $100 to hold one.
The mayor called his counterpart in San Francisco. “I’m turning whorehouses into museums down here. What have you done today?”
Our Lady of Skid Row had long partnered with a nearby mosque, also run by the dejected and insane, to provide meals and shelter to the many accomplished bums of downtown. The Segovian was wary of this partnership until he saw the local Moors were quite like his own modern brethren in that they drank the brightest wines, threw day-old muffins at bicyclists, and spoke directly to God through the ceiling of the city bus.
The riverfront garden of El Portugués, meanwhile, began somehow to bloom. The vegetables were sickly and probably a little toxic, like the river that fostered them, but they were pumpkins and carrots and onions nonetheless—a real hit, needless to say, among the be-flanneled dads of Atwater Village.
The people of Los Angeles, like their rulers, grew fond of the visitors. They were invited to speak in high school classrooms by history and Spanish teachers alike; the exploits of Cortes and Pizarro were featured in many a barroom trivia; hipsters lined up all over town to get their little conquistador tattoos. Yet the Spaniards themselves felt that something was missing. Ever since the day of the hailstorm, which in retrospect seemed heaven-sent, their original mission seemed to have been lost. It was time to get down to the business of actually conquering something.
Thinking as one, they mounted their horses and rode back to the riverbank where they had parted months before. El Portugués was napping with a tri-colored sombrero pulled down over his face. The Valencian was the first to arrive; he had discarded his armor in favor of oversized wind pants and an extra-large t-shirt that read REAL THUGZ DO IT IN THE STREET (a gift from La Bomba). The Segovian arrived next; he had dreadlocked his beard and was wearing a number of biblically informed bracelets. Lastly, the Sevillian—he had gained forty-five pounds. Having changed so little in hundreds of years, it was a shock for each to see how the others had evolved.
“We swore an oath to our king and to God,” declared the Valencian.
“This is true,” admitted the Segovian. “Yet I am saddened to disrupt the life of this city. I have become well acquainted with the inhabitants.”
The others nodded in somber agreement.
“We shall ride into its heart,” continued the Valencian. “We shall conquer from within.”
The idea made them uneasy. The Sevillian thought of his women, of the way they bathed him and slept with their little heads on his chest. The Segovian had only just begun to learn the ways of peace. And El Portugués, well, he had finally begun to farm—it saddened him to leave the river behind.
Nonetheless, they polished their armor and bathed their horses in the river. The day to be immortalized was a Friday in early October. Much of Los Angeles had flocked to Santa Monica for what was presumed to be the final beach weekend of the year. Still, the spectacle of the four old soldiers in their armor, their horses proudly trotting down the 110 Freeway, brought people out of their homes and stopped traffic in the streets. Surprisingly, people cheered.
“We are adored.”
“We are heroes.”
“Look, they plan to follow us.”
And follow them the people of Los Angeles did. They were accompanied downtown by pedestrians, residents, and drivers abandoning their cars. The crowd soon blocked both sides of the freeway. People poured out of office buildings as the triumphant horsemen made their way towards Pershing Square. Parking attendants neglected their booths. Restaurants emptied. Pigeons flew.
They were conquerors. They were heroes. They were all over Twitter.
The Spaniards were intercepted by the mayor himself at the intersection of Third and Grand. He shook hands with each of the four, smiling for the phones, and demanded they join him for a beer. The Spaniards, wondering if they wouldn’t have to fight, after all, accompanied him to a bar with unlimited chicken wings and helmet-sized margaritas. Here they laughed and told stories, shared ideas on urban improvement, and spoke of the future as though it could only be brighter than the past.
“I would like to present you with a key to the city,” the mayor announced for all to hear.
Later, from the top floor of City Hall, the conquistadors gazed out upon their sparkling domain and reflected on the centuries of frustration that had preceded their conquest. All those years, all that desert. And yet it had been so simple in the end.
The Valencian looked to the south and dreamed of the palace he would build for La Bomba; there would be so many Pollo Loco’s she could never grow bored. The Segovian looked east to his broken-down church and vowed to deliver from darkness the remaining heathens of Skid Row. El Portugués, overwhelmed by the crowds and the attention, directed his longing to the north; there was vacant soil to be nurtured. The Sevillian, finally, peered into the sunset of the west, smiling drunkenly for the women who had taken him in, fed him pork rinds, loved him.
They couldn’t help but laugh at their predecessors, Cortes and the others. Those assholes had made it look so hard.
Devon Bixler was raised in Blacksburg, Virginia and studied at NYU. He lives in Los Angeles.