This is the second installment in Devon’s trilogy about conquistadors of old sacking the city of today. Read part one here.
The Valencian rode his horse into the gang-contested territory south of downtown. The Sevillian, on the other hand, ventured through the quiet streets of Los Feliz, drawn by the bright haze over Hollywood. And while El Portugués remained at the river, the Segovian made straight for the skyline.
Having found his way to South Central, the Valencian instigated a number of scuffles, in one instance trading blows with an HVAC repairman who didn’t care for the flies buzzing around his horse, but eventually he arrived at a family barbecue where he was well enough received. The young men didn’t like the looks of him, but the girls thought he was cute, and Miss Burgundia Philips of the renowned and much-decorated Compton Quilting Sisters, who was blind and almost dead, kept his paper plate well-stacked with ribs. The kids ran in and out of the yard to bounce peanuts off his helmet.
The Segovian, meanwhile, was surprised to find the people of this strange new land already Christianized. On his march towards the Fifth Street skyline he came upon a flickering crucifix above the littered doorway of a halfway house, a single pious structure among the dilapidated buildings east of downtown. He was bid entry by a man who called himself Pastor Blaster and whose flock of rejects were known mainly for blanketing the nearby farmers market with incomprehensible pamphlets about a prophet from Oxnard. Inside, the Segovian was treated to a hot dog bun and an inaudible speech by a man with a hat pulled down over his face.
The Sevillian, for his part, did not make it to Santa Monica but got sidetracked in the brothels of East Hollywood. The women at first would not accept his coin but reversed this policy when informed by a visiting pawn shop clerk that the pieces were nearly priceless. “Oh yeah, I see shit like this all the time,” the clerk said when he saw the conquistador drunk and face down on the floor. The girls declined to sell him their pieces and instead spoke giddily, as they often did when feeling flush and free, about the new lives this latest gold would surely bring.
The humble citizenry of Los Angeles typed furiously into their phones in an effort to locate the origin of these mysterious men. The public spoke of how the visitors might have arrived.
“They’re probably filming one of those Antonio Banderas movies.”
“The Ren Fair’s in April.”
“I heard it’s a Dos Equis promotion.”
The noble rulers of Los Angeles, meanwhile, were unaware of the visitors until the Valencian, in an effort to train an army, began instructing teenagers to fire his harquebus at mailboxes. The responding officers felt they lacked the jurisdiction to arrest a four-hundred-year-old man from New Spain, and the police chief, feeling similarly restricted by this obvious philosophical dilemma, resolved to call the mayor.
“You know me, boss, I wouldn’t hesitate to toss this bum in jail. But how can we expect him to be law abiding, you know, given where he’s coming from.”
“I’d have to agree,” said the mayor. “Who are we to judge?”
Meanwhile, El Portugués purchased a great big pile of Chinese food and shared it with his friends. He slept for two days and then went about exploring the river. He rode his horse upstream and eventually came to a riverbed of dirt rather than concrete. At a Burbank supermarket he traded his spurs for an assortment of vegetable seeds; these he planted along the banks. He then exchanged his helmet for a bottle of rum, which he had much enjoyed on his voyage across the Atlantic. The work and the drinking resulted in a nap on the bike path. Ankles crossed, El Portugués dreamed of the ocean and of his first love and of home.
The first person to seek out the visitors was a professor of medieval studies at UCLA who spoke the Spanish of Cervantes, the Spanish of Velázquez, of the Armada, of the Inquisition, of stale bread with worms in it, of the bloody flux, and was thus roughly fluent in the terminology of old-school conquest. He first approached the Sevillian in an alleyway where the young bachelor was urinating on a brick wall.
“Hello,” he said, unsure of his pronunciation or vocabulary. “I am a scholar of great wits.” The Sevillian squinted doubtfully and turned his aim in the visitor’s direction. The professor jumped back so as not to be pissed upon. He continued, “You are a conquest-man. I am a forthright lady. Is this truthful?”
“What?” said the Sevillian. “Are you an idiot man-child?”
“I – I speak, I am, I –”
The Sevillian drew his sword. “Fool.”
“No, no fool,” stuttered the professor. “Friend. God. I am. You are woman-born.”
The Sevillian would have slain the man had he not slipped on a rotted sandwich and smashed his head into the side of a dumpster. Still urinating, he was knocked out. The professor carried him inside with the help of a dozen prostitutes and lay him upon a couch in a back room where it seemed he had been lain before. The women pushed the professor aside and engaged in a process of fanning the conquistador’s face and pressing a wet cloth to his forehead; this appeared routine.
“Noble scholar, soon shall I perish,” said the Sevillian upon awakening, a wan smile on his lips. “Yes, let us now record the legends of my life.”
The Segovian, away from the church for an afternoon scouting, came upon a Sikh and sought to engage him in combat. The Sikh, an accountant from Denver who was accustomed to being confused for a Muslim, forced a patient exhale. “Man, don’t make me kick your ass.”
The Segovian drew his sword and charged, but the Sikh stepped into a bus stop, whereupon the Segovian smashed into a plate of plexiglass. He fell off his horse with a groan, and the Sikh, no lover of history or horses, felt obliged to assist him. “Wow, LA,” he said, pulling the old Spaniard into a sitting position against a fire hydrant. “You couldn’t get any fucking dumber.” The Segovian was later awakened by a woman who released a pigeon in front of his face, and he remounted his horse and rode back to the church where a dinner of ketchup and peaches had been warmly advertised.
The Valencian befriended a gang member called Hot Soss who treated him to a drive-by shooting and a chili dog at the Inglewood fair; the conquistador argued the importance of pursuing an enemy after giving fire, but the message was largely lost in the house party that followed. He danced much of the night with a woman called La Bomba whose whole family was in a gang. La Bomba was a great big woman whose left breast carried the tattoo of a vulture with a crown of roses. The Valencian could not believe how large she was and was thrilled to be the object of her sizeable affections.
And so the conquistadors made their homes among those they would conquer. There followed several weeks of drinking and copulation and farming and outdoor napping in which they lost track of their true mission. It wasn’t until the last day of August, when a great thundercloud broke upon Los Angeles from the northeast, and nickel-sized hail blanketed the city’s streets and neighborhoods, that the four old friends endured a moment of reflection. They stood in the empty streets and allowed the hail to rain down upon their armor like so many arrows of a savage foe. The gardeners, gangsters, nannies, professors, police, whores, and pawn shop clerks—all of LA ran for cover. But the visitors remained, each in his own violent solitude, power lines dancing recklessly overhead, palm trees spiraling apart at the helm, car alarms blaring—each thought of the old friends with whom he’d arrived. They’d been separated before, indeed for decades at a time, but never had they felt so far apart.
Devon Bixler was raised in Blacksburg, Virginia and studied at NYU. He lives in Los Angeles.