With his powerful, commanding voice, there were few who could resist Hernando Cortez' speeches or his philosophy, catering to the wants and desires of a tired and disillusioned populace. He stood in front of his devoted and trustworthy followers that had amassed in front of him, his clothes impeccably pressed and cleaned; flawless black marred only by the small band of white near his thick neck. "Today is the dawning of a new age!"
He walked towards the cameras, but did not smile for them. He knew this was an important event that apparently "had" to be televised and although he allowed the reporters presence, he did not have to be civil to them. After all, this was not some mere gathering for curiousity. It was so much more.
"We will set out now to form a new society, a new way of life."
Cheering and expected responses. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand, as it had always been from the beginning. He could control and manipulate people so easily and it worked to help support and fund his philosophies. "Far from the decadence and sin of the modern world, we will create a new emblem of civilization, a new world! And this new world shall be ours, ours to explore and ours to conquer as our own!"
The crowd cheered their approval.
"For glory! For honor! For god!"
Another rousing cheer followed his statement and his short address was complete.
Afterwards a reporter managed to track him down to speak with him. As expected, Cortez was as terse and frank as he had been in almost all of his addresses, glaring at the cameras as if they had personally insulted him.
"Father Cortez, thank you."
"Yes, Father Cortez, may I ask what exactly this 'exodus' you're planning entails?"
Cortez sighed as if this was a question posed to him every moment of the day that he had long ago grown tired of answering. Close but not quite. "We are moving west to form our own community free from sin."
"'Sin', yes." The reporter nodded towards the camera. "What kind of sin are you talking about, exactly?"
Cortez rolled his eyes, his voice only growing more deadly with each passing moment. "Sin. Thievery, laziness, lechery, even the greatest of sins commited in what could very well someday become 'sanctioned' relationships..." He narrowed his eyes. "Such hideous blasphemy done and protected by this government. They have lost their sense of ethics, but that shall not happen to us. We are breaking free."
"You mentioned 'sanctioned' relationships?" The reporter could sense the danger but had to continue. "Are you referring to the oft-debated 'marriage among homosexuals' issue?"
Cortez only narrowed his eyes for a moment, extending the silence just long enough to be uncomfortable before speaking in deathly low tones. "You know what I'm talking about."
The reporter turned to the camera with relief, glad to have the piercing eyes off of him. "Well, there you have it. Father Cortez is moving west with his congregation to form their own community-"
"Someday we will find you."
The reporter turned in surprise, finding Cortez rising and staring at the camera with the dark and frightening seriousness that can only come from an angry priest. "You cannot escape us, you sinners who dwell in the darkest places, living out blasphemies in the name of the lord, ekeing out livings on the belongings of others and shuffling from place to place. Thieves! Thieves in the night, you will not be safe. God shall find you and punish you for your misdeeds, and mark my words..."
Cortez easily shouldered the reporter aside until his immense, impressive image was dominating the camera lens. "Your souls and bodies will mean nothing when that time comes."
With quiet dignity, dangerous and unpredictable, Cortez walked away, leaving the mildly shaken reporter to return to his previous stance in front of the camera.
"Well, there you have it. Back to you, John..."
Meanwhile, somewhere within the dirty, sinful, disgusting streets just mentioned by the Beloved Father, two prime examples of hideous abominations and wastes of human flesh that he had been referring to were cheating at a game of dice and profiting rather nicely from it.
The setting was an alleyway, littered with debris and various kinds of garbage, not too far from where Cortez had made his address. Within this alleyway several people were crammed, bunched up against walls, watching the ground intensely. Two of these broke apart and traded a secret handshake with one another at their victory.
While the lighter-haired one -- wearing a red sweatshirt and faded blue jeans -- played with a small electronic toy designed, for reasons that only God could be able to discern, to make the most irritating and high-pitched noises known to man, his black-haired companion -- outfitted with a long-sleeved blue shirt, a thin camouflauge overshirt, and loose army-issue jeans -- moved forward to take his share of the crumpled green bills lying on the pavement.
"Wait! One more roll!" The angry youth whose money was at stake was desperate and moved to block his adversary from taking his money. He was much larger then the winner and was more threatening, with baggy clothing that could be concealing any kind of weapon, so the winner backed away understandably, still flush with the thrill of victory.
"Dude, you're broke. You've got nothing left to bet with!" He smirked as his companion created the sound that was supposed to resemble a machine gun but instead resembled staccato bursts of high-pitched static.
"I got this." The potential loser dug into one of his deep pockets, pulling out an often-folded faded piece of white paper.
"Pff, a map." He rolled his eyes. His companion, however, lost interest in his toy for a moment when he caught sight of the paper and darted forward.
"A map? Tulio, look! A map!"
"Yes, I can see it's a map, Miguel. I don't see what-" Tulio rolled his eyes as Miguel snatched the map away, unfolding it and staring at it for a grand total of twelve seconds before apparently deciding he understood the entire thing. Before Tulio could move away, he had grabbed his shirt and pulled him back, nearly ramming his head into one of the walls.
"Look! Look at this!"
Tulio shook his head in irritation, looking down at the seemingly incomprehensible map. "So what?"
"Look, it's a map to El Dorado!"
"...California." Tulio was duly unimpressed. Miguel seemed shocked that he had missed the significance of this.
"It's a chance, don't you see? Think of all the gold that was there and the prospectors-"
"That's just a legend-"
"But it COULD be real! This could be our destiny! Our fate!" Miguel gestured overly dramatically as Tulio pulled him aside, hissing at him sharply.
"If I believed in fate I wouldn't play with loaded DICE, Miguel."
The response to this was something that Tulio could never resist. The huge puppy eyes and pouting look.
"Not with the face, no. No. Quit it-"
"We bettin' or what?" The loser's angry question broke their conversation before Tulio could completely cave in. One more glance at his partner's face however sealed his fate. With an amazing and false show of confidence and bravado, he tossed the map onto the money that still remained on the asphalt before posing somewhat dramatically, hand pulled back at ready.
"Alright, let's go."
Tulio paused in mid-movement, his heart skipping. "Huh?"
"With my dice this time." The angry glare from his opponent and the people surrounding him did not make it a question. The situation had abruptly turned for the worse.
"Alright, fine." Tulio placed his loaded dice back into his shirt pocket, angrily glancing at Miguel for a moment who was busy creating a highly distorted rendition of a bomb falling with the small toy in his hands. Tulio glared at him for a moment before taking the offered dice from the opposing youth's hand.
If he was religious he would have prayed, but instead he gave entreaties to Lady Luck, who he was already positive would not hear or listen to him, if she even existed.
"C'mon, we need that map..."
Miguel busied himself by almost creating a drumbeat from the machine gun noise until a nasty glare from the others finally made him stop. With a dramatic and desperate flourish, the dice left Tulio's hand, skittering across the dirty floor.
Everyone watched the small cubes intently. Even Miguel was perfectly silent as the cubes finally came to a rest.
"YES!" Tulio lept into the air more out of relief then joy, watching only distractedly as his partner snatched the map eagerly. Within moments he had knelt down and was shoving as much of the money as possible into his pockets before he noticed on one of his more enthusiastic circulations of his hand, something he had not intended to had come along with it.
The red dice clicked across the pavement, neatly coming to a stop on seven.
There was an awkward silence as someone nudged the dice with the toe of a sneaker, watching as they stubbornly remained on their dual numbers. Tulio backed away slowly, laughing hesitantly. Gesturing to Miguel behind his back, his partner quickly complied, the sound of a bomb exploding, or at least a close approximization of it, giving them the attention they needed.
"Your dice are loaded!"
"Loaded dice?!" Tulio pretended to look deeply affronted, whirling on his blonde partner. "You gave me loaded dice?"
"Me?!" Miguel, looking comically offended, placed a hand on his chest as the two of them began sidling smoothly towards the exit of the alleyway as they were speaking, noticing that those who had lost a significant amount of their cash were apparently enraptured by the verbal battle that was about to take place. "You think I gave you those dice?"
As the two of them turned the corner, entirely prepared to break into a run, Tulio ran directly into a police officer.
"Ahehe..." Tulio looked quickly at Miguel for a moment, the two of them coming to a mutual agreement over glances. Tulio gestured towards the sky, hoping that the movement wouldn't jostle the loose change now settling in his overshirt's pockets. "Can you believe it? He gave me loaded dice!"
"I did no such thing!"
"You accuse me of falsehood?!"
"I do, sir! I challenge you to a duel!"
"A duel! Ha! I would not duel you sir, you duel like your mother! And your mother was a poodle!"
"Poodle, ha! Your sister was a duck!"
Backing away slowly and steadily, they moved back past the opening of the alleyway. A quick glance confirmed that the group they had just cheated had decided the novelty of their little performance had worn off and look as if they were about to draw weapons.
"Not you guys again..." The officer shook his head, walking in front of the alleyway. The two conmen took this opportunity to point down it, intriguing the officer to turn his head to investigate himself.
At the sight of so many youths in the process of or having already pulled out a gun, the officer was already on his toes, weapon ready.
"Time to book!"
Tulio and Miguel ran as the sound of guns firing came from behind them.
Within moments the two had slid across a car hood, down another alleyway, and up a fire escape with practiced familiarity.
"You got it?"
"I got it!"
The short exchange was all that took place before the two braved a leap across a roof, skidding across to descend down a separate fire escape which, they hoped, would be unknown to their followers.
The continued sound of gunshots however, which seemed to be coming closer, did not make this seem likely.
As they ducked around a brick corner, a whizzing sound cut the air, along with a sharp noise as a piece of the wall fractured. With an almost comic eep, Miguel ducked out of the way of the shrapnel, nearly colliding with Tulio as they turned the corner.
Another short exchange and the two were off again, darting back and forth as what could have been insects whirred by them, striking their surroundings but almost miraculously missing them.
Finally, something came into view. A large yard filled with buses and people. The perfect place to disappear.
"There! Over there! Bet we can lose 'em there!"
Swiftly and desperately climbing a chainlink fence, Tulio made it to the ground on the other side first, mainly because he opted for the quickest route down: letting go once at the top. He landed sharply and somewhat painfully, but lept to his feet and braced himself as he knew that Miguel would follow suit. Not quite as smoothly as he had hoped, however, as the arm of his large red sweater caught on the spokes at the top of the fence. Tulio grabbed Miguel's other arm and pulled harshly, the trapped sleeve coming free with a loud ripping noise, and the two of them ran off once again. They shoved and pushed their way into the crowd teeming around the buses, expecting a panic reaction from those present at the sound of gunshots.
They forgot what city they lived in. While the general reaction seemed to be worry and a bit of alarm at the thought of bodily injury, no herd mentality of "run aimlessly in circles and scream hysterically or die!" had apparently taken place. Worried muttering and some movement was the extent of their reaction to the nearby gunshots.
Meeting up again near the center of the crowd, Miguel and Tulio panted for breath.
"Think we lost 'em?"
"I think so."
"Should take cover..."
The two of them looked over at a nearby bus at almost the same time. With practiced skill and stealth, they snuck their way onto the bus quietly, ducking under the windows so as not to advertise their presence, eventually settling at the back of the bus.
They fell into their seats thankfully, still breathing hard. Looking at one another, they both smiled at once.
"Looks like we did it again."
"You owe me."
Tulio sighed and rolled his eyes as he dug two dollars out of one of his pockets and tossed it carelessly in Miguel's direction. The green paper swiftly disappeared into the pouch on the front of Miguel's sweater.
His blonde friend turned and looked out the window for a moment before ducking out of sight again. "Should be night soon."
"Good, that'll give us some cover later on."
"You don't think this bus is going anywhere, do you?"
"Pssh." Tulio actually did not know, but he did not want to admit something like that. "I don't think so. I mean, the bus was already open, right? Wouldn't other people be on it by now? I bet some idiot just forgot to lock it. Works for us though."
"I wonder what those people out there are doing..." Miguel took another peek out the window. "They look kind of...focused, I guess."
Tulio rolled his eyes. "Whatever they're doing, they made a good cover."
"That's true." Miguel smiled and leaned back, sighing as he settled into the seat. "At least we've got some breathing room again."
"I wonder how long it'll take 'till they find us this time."
"Eh, doesn't really matter."
Exhausted from their panicked and adrenaline-rushed dash for safety and the fact that neither of them had slept the night before because someone suspicious had been lingering outside their apartment, the two of them eventually fell asleep in the relative safety of the bus. Drifting together during their slumber, Miguel eventually ended up resting his head on Tulio's shoulder which Tulio reciprocated unconsciously by putting his arm around him.
They were able to rest and regain energy without harm of prosecution in the large vehicle. Their irate followers had left to pursue more available and convenient methods of regaining lost money. They were safe.
Some may say this confirmed the existence of Tulio's Lady Luck, the pair having escaped danger in such an almost miraculous way.
But as the book says, Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Perhaps it was this scriptural exhortation that created the small cracking noise that woke Tulio up.
Night had fallen completely, but the bus itself was well-lit. Only one person stood in front of him: the source of the small noise that had woken Tulio, who was naturally a light sleeper, from his slumber.
The noise was one of the largest, burliest, and most frightening men Tulio had ever seen cracking his knuckles. The fear his countenance produced was not entirely because of his physical appearance, however.
"Um...Miguel..." Tulio whispered, shaking his now inconveniently positioned partner roughly. Miguel woke somewhat slowly, blinking several times before noticing the frightened look on Tulio's face and following his line of vision to see the ominous figure in front of him.
Within moments the two of them, with yelps of surprise, had darted into the only corner away from the irate priest possible, Miguel hiding almost completely behind his taller and thinner companion.
"Cortez..." A terrified whisper.
They knew about Cortez. Everyone did: his highly offensive, discriminatory, inflammatory diatribe against anyone who differed from him or his decided stance on religion had been a constant public spectacle, often televised. His unique belief focused on the select few of the population lucky enough to be "chosen" by one of Jesus' apostles and that these chosen people were how others should aspire to be. How this was accomplished and the details of how Cortez learned of this were never made known to the public.
It was no surprise that, while they did differ somewhat in gender, almost all of his congregation was white, middle-class, and relatively intolerant. Most influential Christians had publicly disavowed Cortez as a cult to be ignored, claiming quite rightly that his beliefs went entirely against the teachings of Jesus, but he kept drawing people into his ranks despite their best efforts. In truth, most authorities and normal people were quite glad and relieved that he had decided to move somewhere else: it solved the problem for them.
If you were an atheist or a thief, lazy, lecherous, gluttonous, disrespectful, of a different ethnicity, or, ironically enough god forbid, homosexual, then Cortez was a name you both hated and feared. Cortez was the person you would constantly claim that you'd kill/maim/insult/rob if you ever encountered him, but in truth deep inside you were terrified of him.
Miguel and Tulio fit more of the sinning requirements then could ever have been necessary. The fact that Cortez had walked in on them and had seen them sleeping together made it seem that Lady Luck had just stolen their money, given them the finger, and then kicked them into the gutter where they then got nailed by a bus.
"My disciples were carefully chosen by the followers of Christ." Cortez stood, blocking the exit to the aisle, cracking his knuckles with careful calm. The lack of emotion in his voice only made the moment more terrifying. Both Tulio and Miguel were quite aware that continuing to be as close as they were, Miguel clutching onto Tulio from behind, shivering so close to him that Tulio could feel his body's movements, could not be helping their case. "And I will not tolerate stowaways on our journey, much less heathen..."
Cortez nearly spat out the word. "Sinners such as yourselves."
Tulio and Miguel exchanged quick, frightened glances, whispering quietly to one another.
"What are we going to do?"
"I don't know-!"
"He's going to kill us, I know he is-"
"He can't do that, he'd get caught-"
"Not if he's going somewhere else, oh god we're gonna die-"
"Shh, shhhhh! Shut up! I need to think-"
"What's to think about, we're going to die oh god-"
"Shut up! We aren't going to die-"
"What? Is he going to invite us to a picnic?!"
"I didn't say that-"
While they had been speaking, Cortez had walked down the aisle, gesturing broadly. Within a few moments, two rather large apparent followers of his appeared, both more then capable of incapacitating the two terrified thieves cowering in the corner. Although Cortez had his back turned to the two of them, he continued speaking, knowing that they were both listening.
"You will be punished. Oh believe me, you shall pay for your sins. And when we found our first true perfect society...'let the streets run red with the blood of the nonbelievers'? Is that how it goes?" A quiet, humorless laugh that only sent chills through the frightened pair. Cortez raised a hand. "You two, lock them up. Go ahead and rough them up a bit if you want, but don't do anything permanently damaging."
Cortez began walking down the length of the bus, his hands clasped behind him. "After all, we need them intact for the opening ceremony tomorrow."
Perhaps, when faced with two large men in a bus and the threat of death, some men would have resisted with a sense of desperation, determined to let his captors know that he had not submitted to their scare tactics. Some men may have fought back, verbally or physically, lashed out and commited a daring escape.
Apparently, Tulio and Miguel had already spent their allowance of daring and miraculous escapes and the two of them were not the best equipped for hand-to-hand combat. They submitted quietly and without protest, too frightened of the prospect ahead of them to even attempt to slide by their attackers or to try and trick them.
Ironically enough, in order to make their punishment "symbolic", they were punished together, which actually made it easier. They at least had their unspoken support. Although their assailants certainly had a great deal of rage towards them for no real good reason, they were not adept at expressing this in physical violence, not to mention that the two of them had some experience in absorbing and softening blows during their life in the city. Therefore, the "roughing-up" was not nearly as bad as it could have been and with only a few bruises, the two of them were tossed into the basement of the nearby headquarters for the expedition west.
As the door locked behind them, they immediately turned to one another.
"You got that knife?"
"In my pocket."
Their hands had been bound behind their backs ineffectively and hurriedly, a situation the two of them were going to remedy shortly. With some complicated and uncomfortable maneuvering, Miguel pulled the knife free and with Tulio's guidance, helped cut his bonds. With his friend's hands free, cutting the rope that held Miguel was simple.
A quick survey of the room did not reveal anything particularly interesting or useful. A few discarded boxes. Some rags of what could have been a tent, a blanket, or someone's clothes. Raggedy books. A barred window which was set far above them.
The last item was what caught Miguel's attention. "C'mere, c'mere. Give me a boost."
Tulio rolled his eyes but obliged, lifting Miguel upwards to look through the bars.
"What's up there?"
"Can't hear much, but looks like Cortez is informing the rest of the bloodthirsty mob about us." There was a short pause as Miguel squinted. "Weird, I don't see any pitchforks or torches."
"Maybe they missed the sale." Tulio responded without his normal sarcastic flair, letting Miguel down. The carefree expression on his partner's face was not comforting. "Miguel, what are we going to do?"
"Hmm? Oh yeah...the whole 'kill kill kill' bit. Hmm..." Miguel leaned against the wall and slid down into a sitting position, managing to look thoughtful the entire time. He spoke with overly deliberate and slow seriousness. "I don't know."
Tulio threw his hands up in the air in frustration before settling down next to his partner. "Great! I can't believe this, this morning we're a hundred dollars clear and now we're going to get killed at dawn by a bunch of religious fanatic freaks in some kind of bizarre sending off ritual!"
"And we got a map." Miguel helpfully pointed out. Tulio buried his face in his hands.
"Right, the map. How could I forget."
"Well, look on the positive side."
Tulio paused, staring into nothing, before very slowly turning to face his partner with a deadpan expression. "What positive side?"
"Um..." Miguel paused only for a moment, his eyes flicking around the room rapidly before focusing back on the window above him. "Ah! There's a car up there."
Tulio's expression and voice did not change. "A car."
"Yeah." Miguel's expression made this seem as if this was the best thing in the entire world that could be outside that window. Far better than perhaps keys to their room or a giant sack of money. No, this car apparently surpassed anything else on earth that could have possibly been useful, judging by the expression on Miguel's face.
This time Tulio narrowed his eyes slightly. "What on earth are we going to do with a car?"
"You know..." Miguel gestured meaninglessly for a moment before setting his hands in mimicry of holding a steeling wheel. "Drive it."
Tulio stared at him for a full five seconds, hoping what Miguel had said would sink in in that short interim. Miguel looked off to one side and back to Tulio rapidly for a few moments, eventually subsiding into a helpless shrug and smile. Tulio kicked out his legs angrily, sighing as he settled back against the wall.
"This is just great. Just great."
"Fantastic." Miguel agreed with a tone that also mocked Tulio's at the same time, pulling the small electronic toy out of his pouch and beginning to play with the buttons once again. A shrill noise cut the relative silence of their small cell, and Tulio buried his face in his hands, mumbling to himself.
"I hate you, Lady Luck. Christ..."
With a sigh of resignation, he slowly turned and began to rhythmically beat his head against the wall.