Patrick Midnight, the new but highly secret chargé d’affaires of the Coolidge administration, arrived in Mexico City on a swelteringly hot summer’s day. Although the city went about its business in its usual manner, Midnight could not help but detect the aura of menace. The rebellion of the faithful was already a year old, and although the capital city was firmly in the hands of Calles and his Red Jacobin loyalists, one could sense that the citizens felt under siege from without and under the thumb of an increasingly repressive military government within. Although far from a papist, Midnight privately supported the cristeros and considered the Mexican government’s anti-church measures both blasphemous and extreme. Again, it was his duty to keep these opinions buried, as Washington, his current paymaster, had sent him down across the Rio Grande with a very specific mission: impartially report on the war and communicate back his thoughts on how best peace could be achieved. A simple and straightforward mission.
However, Midnight’s life was always one of crooked paths. Yes, he was officially a boring bureaucrat with a ho-hum background. And yet, unbeknownst to everyone except a very select few, Midnight was the chief operative in a clandestine network of gentlemen. Said gentlemen counted among their members scholars, statesmen, and even one displaced king. This network utilized the Coolidge administration to their advantage, and got their man, Midnight, down into Mexico in order to carry out a wholly separate mission. He was sent to the ancient city in order to find an even older relic.
Midnight erased the sweat from his brow as he crossed the Palacio de Bellas Artes into the Barrio Chino. It felt like crossing over from the real and familiar world into one of fantasy and strangeness. The decorative red paper lanterns beckoned him deeper into the byzantine byways of the city within a city. A small slip of paper informed him to search out and find a place called Hong’s Emporio de objetos raros. The note gave further instruction that the shop would be located in a white stucco building that also contained a pharmacy on the bottom floor. Midnight had little difficulty in finding the location, but, as he walked up the darkened steps to the second floor, he could help but feel a sense of disquiet. The unease was deeper than being a stranger in a strange land. No, this was a nervousness and tension born of something far more profound.
“We are in a pagan land. ‘Tis nowhere for a goodman to tread.” The voice of Increase Blackstone, his long-dead ancestor, spoke to Midnight. It was no mere disembodied echo, either, for Midnight could see before him the ghostly outline of the dour, yet eccentric Puritan.
“I have not espied you reading the Good Book in well over three nights. This is an unpardonable slippage.”
Midnight waved him away and promised the specter that he would do better. To any observer, Midnight looked like a lunatic babbling to himself. In truth, ever since placing his hands on his family’s lost bible from the 17th century, he had become possessed by the powerful spirit of the late Reverend Blackstone. And like any specter or demon, Blackstone appeared when he pleased. However, unlike a typical haunt, Midnight’s ancestor was primarily benevolent, albeit a bit taxing on Midnight’s nerves.
“Be wary, lad. I sense a great evil awaits us here in this heathen shoppe.”
“This mission shall not take long, Reverend. We are merely after a rare book, which should be easily purchased.” Midnight padded the breast pocket of his coat. Inside was his leather wallet which contained a large number of pesos, all of which had been given to him by the Society for Gentlemen Geographers. In the other pocket was the small .25-caliber automatic that he kept on his person at all times. He had learned over the course of several missions that danger was always a possibility.
Midnight opened the door that led into the elderly Hong’s curio shop. Behind the counter, which was piled high with knick-knacks, mostly of an obvious Chinese character, sat Hong. Thanks to an intelligence dossier provided by the Society, Midnight knew that Hong was a Filipino scamp masquerading as a Chinese merchant. However false his Chinese identity was, Midnight also knew that Hong enjoyed very real connections to the city’s small but deadly Ah Tian tong. The shop doubled as a front for the tong, where money was laundered and illegal gambling flourished. However, in spite of everything, Hong’s curio shop contained rare and valuable items, chief among them the Tratado de Yucatán. Unbeknownst to Hong but known to Midnight, a 16th century treatise written by the conquistador Jorge de Espira was secretly contained within the dull confines of a 19th century land survey. Midnight used his best Spanish to ask Hong about the whereabouts of the land survey.
“You do not want that, señor. You want one of my precious stones or beads that come directly from the Maya.”
Midnight waved his hand. “No, I would like to see the book, please.”
“Señor, I can get you the book, no problem. But a gentleman as distinguished as yourself should purchase the finer things. Like this, for example.” Hong pulled from underneath the counter a gold pocket watch. “A true rarity. This once belonged to the mayor of the city. I have the certificate to prove it.”
“The book, please.” Hong made a slight show of exasperation but found the book and presented it to Midnight. Midnight thumbed some of the pages and inspected them. Halfway through the book he saw and confirmed that the old handwritten treatise was in fact sewn on top of the newer pages.
“Perfect! I will take it,” Midnight said while opening his wallet.
“Do you not think that this book would pair well with a pen? A golden fountain pen, which I have right here for a very affordable price. Also, no writing desk would be complete without the proper paperweight. See, for instance, this.” Hong grabbed from a nearby shelf a clay figurine displaying an Aztec god that Midnight did not recognize.
“This little devil is impossible,” Blackstone said in a haughty manner.
“Hold thy tongue,” Midnight whispered in a mocking tone.
“Sorry, señor. You do not like?”
“No, no. Sorry. Just a little kink my personality. How much for the book, sir?” Hong named a price. Midnight handed the fistful of crisp bills over. As he did so, the door to the shop opened. A visibly surprised Hong said something in Mandarin to the two customers who came in. The men were dressed in the Western manner, with dark suits and hats. Neither responded to Hong’s exclamations. They stood stone-faced by the door as a third man—a tall and stern fellow in a gray suit, black tie, and felt hat—entered. Unlike his two compatriots, the man was European. He also responded to Hong, except in Spanish.
“You silly merchant. You were about to sell that Yankee a priceless artifact for a trifle. Luckily for you, I have come to stop this injustice.”
Midnight turned and looked into the man’s eyes. His bearing and face indicated that he was neither Mexican nor a native speaker of Spanish. The man’s aura disturbed him as it was the aura of a predator.
“Eye. ‘Tis a dangerous man,” Blackstone said. “Gird yourself and prepare to unsheathe thy sword.” Midnight moved his hand closer to his pistol.
“I am afraid that you are too late, sir. I have already purchased the volume. I am its legal owner.” Midnight puffed out his chest a little in a tepid display bravado.
“So, it is your property, then? I pity you; all property is theft. Ergo, by your own admission, you are a thief. This is how I deal with thieves.” The man drew a revolver and fired once at Midnight. The large-caliber bullet nicked Midnight’s left shoulder and forced him to the floor. Another round exploded from the revolver’s nose. It entered Hong’s throat with a ferocious speed. The curio shop owner fell hard to the floor in a bloody heap.
“Devils! Blasphemous devils!” Midnight felt the spirit of Blackstone leave his body and take corporeal form. The Puritan was not quite flesh and blood, but his vaporous body was hard enough to harm those who opposed him. There, underneath the lights of the curio shop, stood Blackstone in all his glory. His tall, black capotain sat atop of long brown hair that fell across his shoulders. His slender frame, black clothes, and swift legs gave him the speed and shiftiness of a ghost, which is exactly what he was.
And the ghost struck with ferocity. Blackstone smashed his semi-translucent fists across the faces of the two Chinese lackies. They stumbled backwards with eyes as big as saucers. Pain mixed with shock as they both pulled out large knives. Both men made ready to advance only to retreat once they both realized that their enemy was invisible to them.
While Blackstone dealt with the two henchmen, Midnight went after their leader. The two men stalked each other across the curio shop. Midnight let loose two .25 rounds that missed wide. The wound in his shoulder troubled him. He watched as the blood pumped and oozed all across his arm. He bit his lip to dull it all, but nothing worked. The other man must have smelled Midnight’s discomfort, as he rushed him and tackled him to the floor. A flurry of well-executed punches and elbows connected with Midnight’s nose and cheeks. He felt every cruel blow, and the blood from his shoulder mixed with the fresher blood from his face.
“That book is mine now, Yankee. It will be a pleasure to deny you and your country the treasure for the glory of the workers’ revolution.” With that, the man smashed Midnight in the face one more time. In doing so, he sent him into unconsciousness.
Midnight awoke hours later.
“You were a heavy load, lad. Almost as heavy as sin.” Reverend Blackstone looked down at his wounded descendent with pity. Through swollen eyes, Midnight recognized the hazy outlines of hundreds of candles flickering in the wind.
“Where are we?” Midnight asked.
“A church, lad. Although a papist church full of heathen idols, God still dwells here.”
Midnight let out a series of groans. “Do ye know why those men committed such evil?”
“The book,” Midnight responded. “He wanted the book for his country. He admitted as much to me.”
“Nay, we are not the only hunters after the relic.”
“Worse,” Midnight said following a series of painful coughs, “that man spoke as a representative of the Soviet Union. We have found ourselves in the middle of an international incident.”
“Dark days. Dark days indeed, lad. It is best now that ye rest your weary bones. I shalt do what must be done.” Midnight took the advice and returned to the dream world.
The following morning, Midnight left his bed and was greeted by one of the nuns of the church, which was in truth a majestic cathedral. The nun handed him a cup of hot coffee mixed with milk. She also provided him with two tortillas filled with rice, beans, and eggs. Midnight thanked her for her hospitality. When he finished his meal, he inquired after the whereabouts of the cathedral’s chief priest. The nun gave him a slightly concerned look.
“Father Huerta is in his chambers. He has been talking to an angel all night.”
“Or a ghost?” Midnight asked.
“Yes, it could be a ghost.” The elderly nun made the sign of the cross. She pointed Midnight in the direction of the priest’s private quarters. Midnight limped his way to the door. His knocks were answered by an old man with bronze-skin and a thin mustache. His large eyeglasses and small frame belied a man capable of unimaginable energy. Father Huerta bowed at the waist and escorted Midnight inside.
“You are a most welcomed guest, Mr. Midnight.” The excellence of the priest’s English stunned the American.
“Your English is flawless, father.”
“You are too kind. I learned everything while studying in your country. I have not had much use for English in many years. That is until this moment with you and your…” the priest paused. Words landed heavy on his tongue, and he could not speak. Instead, he smiled and showed his open palms. Midnight knew what perplexed him—the spirit of Reverend Blackstone.
“Our friend told me of your troubles,” the priest continued. “You were wounded by a man after a book. What kind of book would be so important or so valuable as to cause violence against another man?”
The priest’s kind face relaxed the typically anxious Midnight, who decided on the spot to let loose a handful of secrets. “The book is not important. Rather, what is hidden inside of the book is important. Many centuries ago, a conquistador named Jorge de Espira penned a detailed travelogue of his explorations of the Yucatán. The good knight was part of a small band that included a certain monk who also doubled as a spymaster for the Holy Roman Empire. This monk, the third son of the Bishop of Trent, brought to the New World a priceless relic. The goal, we believe, was to use the relic’s power to establish a magnificent parish somewhere in the jungle.”
The priest’s eyes widened. “The relic must have been extraordinarily holy.”
“Indeed,” Midnight said, “de Espira recorded that the relic was a cross made from blessed silver that had been crafted in Jerusalem by members of the Knights Templar. Even more spectacular, the cross supposedly contained in its center a ruby bearing bone fragments from John the Baptist. These had been found during the occupation of the Temple Mount.”
Father Huerta made the sign of the cross. “And you say that this precious relic is somewhere in my country?”
“Yes. The small war band led by de Espira were betrayed by Mayan peasants, who slaughtered the men while they slept during the night of the full moon. Only de Espira managed to survive by fleeing back to the sea. He wrote his manuscript after finding refuge in Santo Domingo. In it there are maps showing where the war band was ambushed.”
“And that is where the holy cross was taken?” Midnight nodded his head in affirmation.
“The man that attacked you,” Father Huerta asked, “why does he want the cross?”
“I do not know for sure, Father. I have an idea, however. The man claimed to be an agent of the workers’ revolution. That is Bolshevik talk, as you well know. It would seem that he is a Russian agent, or someone employed by the Comintern.”
“Communists and their sympathizers are currently at war with the church here. Their goal is the eradication of the faith throughout Mexico. Thousands have been killed or left homeless. So many churches have been desecrated. Nuns have been violated.” Father Huerta hung his head in sorrow. “If such a person is after a holy relic, then their only goal is to destroy it.”
“Correct. By destroying the cross, the Bolsheviks would score another victory in their war against God. Plus, if the legends about the cross’s powers are true, then its destruction would deny the rebels a divine aid.”
Father Huerta lifted an eyebrow. “What does this mean?”
Midnight stepped slightly closer to the elderly priest. “It has long been held that whoever possesses the cross shall have God’s protection, so long as that person has faith.”
“If the rebels get the cross, then they could be assured victory?” Huerta’s face beamed with joy. He clapped his hands together and praised his voice in praise of the Almighty. “Brother Midnight, I must get you and your friend away from here and down to the Yucatán. That cross must be found.”
“Can this be done, Father?”
“Yes. Wait here until nightfall, and I will see to it that your journey will have protection.”
Hours later, and the priest proved to be both a man of God and a man of his word. Several hard-looking men arrived at the cathedral to escort Midnight to a safe house just outside of the city. Midnight learned during the ride in the dilapidated Model T that the men belonged to an underground Catholic newspaper that worked deep within the heart of Calles’s city to funnel money and guns to the rebels. Their safe house proved to be honeycombed with radios, telegraphs, and as many guns as a military arsenal. The men inside of the home greeted Midnight with good cheer and something foul that they called tequila. Midnight took one sip, swallowed, and smiled. Inwardly he held back his disgust.
“Madeira is like milk compared to his monstrosity,” Reverend Blackstone said.
“Hold your tongue.” Midnight’s outburst momentarily troubled his hosts, but all was forgotten when the American said that he was eager to begin the journey. And so, they did, with the darkness covering their exit towards the south.
The secretive group traveled for several days in virtual silence until they reached Tabasco. After crossing the border into the new state, one of the men, Morales, informed Midnight that they were going to stop at an isolated rebel camp. More men and guns were needed, Morales said, because the army was pushing hard to recapture certain towns and villages along the coast that had thrown their lot in with the rebels. Morales also informed the American agent that the army desperately wanted to capture El Lobo.
“Who is El Lobo?” Midnight asked.
The sense of reverence in Morales’s voice was undeniable. He looked up at the stars in the night’s sky and yet somewhere his eyes twinkled brighter. “He is our best commander. A man from the north who was once an officer in the army. He rejoined the faith after refusing to murder innocent peasants on the first week of the rising. His soldiers are devoted to him like Caesar, and he lives like a saint. Because of the importance of your mission, El Lobo will guide you. Only he is worthy of the task.”
Midnight leaned back in his uncomfortable seat. The gravity of the situation wore heavy around his shoulders like an albatross. Not only did fate place him in direct confrontation with a Bolshevik agent, but also the might of the Mexican military. His only support would be a handful of peasants armed with pilfered rifles and shotguns. Survival seemed like a distant dream.
“Aye, lad. Do not give into black thoughts. God’s will be not for us to fret over. What shall be done, shall be done. Have I not told you of the days of King Philip?” Blackstone began to recount the months and years of burning towns and stolen families for the weary Midnight. The spirit’s voice became a hush when he spoke of his late wife and child, both of whom were massacred during the raid on Warwick. Blackstone spared no detail in recounting how he had found his beloved wife and child bloodied and mutilated at their farmhouse.
“I felt my blood turn to a burning lake of hatred. I felt as if possessed by all the demons of Hell when I saw my Catherine beheaded and abused. There, lying next to her, was the innocent Abigail with a wound severing her torso from her limbs. I uttered the foulest oaths. I swore vengeance and made a blood pact as I buried what was left of them in a single grave. From that day hence I became merciless. I joined with Church’s rangers and delighted in the killing of the pagans. I smote their women and children just as mine had been slaughtered. ‘Twas a terrible thing, but for my deeds I was awarded many honors. I was given a new plot of land in the Plymouth Plantation. God gave me a new wife and child, but the Lord never forgot my sins. For my blasphemy, I was cursed to wander the Earth forever as a shade. Thus, I now find myself intertwined with ye.”
“Not the worst result, given all possibilities,” Midnight said aloud.
“Aye, lad. Not the worst.” Midnight’s Mexican guides muttered to themselves about the “crazy gringo” until Morales silenced them. “The Yankee knows our tongue,” was all that needed to be said and all the snickers ended.
The long and arduous journey paused at dawn the following day when the Model T entered a shabby village composed of a series flat white buildings made of stucco and straw. Morales informed Midnight that the villagers would take him to El Lobo’s camp up in the hills.
“Do not be afraid. They are on our side. As for us, we must return to the city and our duties. Best of luck, Brother Midnight, and may God be with you.” Midnight shook the man’s hand and watched as the Model T turned around and headed northwards to the capital. Although weary, Midnight felt energized enough to begin the trek up into the hills. He did not have to wait long, as the village headman greeted him with a handshake and a Winchester. Midnight accepted the rifle and a bandolier. The headman and several young men also armed with rifles escorted Midnight several miles into the surrounding hills. Eventually, just as noon approached, they arrived at a large camp that included a ring of tents. A large fire was roaring in the center where four men were busy cooking soup. Others lounged about or were busy cleaning their rifles. None looked like El Lobo.
“You must be the American that I have heard about,” a booming voice said in English. Midnight checked his ears, for the voice not only spoke English, but it did so with a distinctly American accent. Midnight turned and saw a large, beefy man with wide shoulders and squarish head. The man was blonde and bearded, and a fat cigar hung limply from his mouth.
“You look surprised, Mr. Midnight. Such a face is not good for playing poker.”
“You would not happen to be General El Lobo, would you?”
“In the flesh, my dear fellow.” El Lobo extended a large paw towards Midnight, who shook it gladly. “It’s good to hear plain speech again. I speak Spanish like a native, but a mother’s tongue is always better.”
“How is it possible that an American is in charge of a rebel force this deep in Mexico?”
“Simple. I landed at Veracruz in 1914. Met a woman, had a child, and then went AWOL. Instead of facing the brig I joined the Division del Norte with other mercenaries. Been here ever since.”
“And pray, why do they call you El Lobo.”
The general laughed. It was a loud, hearty laugh that shook the hills all around them “I earned the name originally because Wolfe is my legal surname. However, the men call me El Lobo these days because in battle, I’m meaner, nastier, and more vicious than a hungry wolfpack. Are you prepared to fight, Mr. Midnight?”
“Happy to.” Midnight raised his rifle and smiled.
“Good. Get some rest, for we are ambushing a Federal column tonight. Once we wipe them out, we’ll have plenty of ammo and fuel to get to the coast and find that damnable book of yours.” El Lobo winked before turning on his heel and heading towards what Midnight assumed to be his personal tent. Midnight searched in vain for a bedroll or hammock, but ultimately gave up and fell asleep in the grass nearest the fire.
“Time to earn a living.” El Lobo’s large boot tapped Midnight’s ribs. His body ached all over from his rough bed. “It’s not the Ritz, I’ll give you that,” El Lobo said. “Here, take this.” The general handed Midnight a hot bowl of soup. The warm broth and assorted vegetables tasted wonderful. Midnight ate as if he had not eaten in a week. When he finished the first bowl, he asked for another.
“No time for that. Besides, there will be plenty of provisions soon courtesy of the brigand Calles. Now, my new lieutenant, to war.” Midnight scrambled to his feet and followed El Lobo as he screamed commands in Spanish. His men formed up into small squads consisting of three or four men each. All wielded rifles. They marched off into the night in good order. Midnight stuck close to El Lobo, who went everywhere with a pair of loyal praetorians whom he referred to as Romulus and Remus.
“I do not know their real names because they have never told me,” he said. “It is good to have bodyguards. Have you ever experienced something similar, Mr. Midnight?”
“I cannot say that I have.” A wry smile fell upon his lips. Reverend Blackstone smiled as well, although his was a sharper, more carnivorous smile.
El Lobo, with Midnight and his men behind him, left the camp and began the arduous march down from the hills and into the jungle valley below. They passed the first village and several more like it. In each, dark and scared faces looked at the armed men. Few smiled or showed signs that they were happy to see them. They seemed less like active supporters of the rebels and more like helpless bystanders. The silent rebels marched deep into the jungle for well over an hour. They stuck closely to a narrow dirt road that meandered through the dense jungle. Then, at a prearranged signal, they split into two bodies. They straddled the thin road on opposite sides. Within seconds, Midnight watched in disbelief as the peasant fighters went prone and disappeared completely from view.
“The Federals will drive right through here. They have no other option if they wish to secure this country. Plus,” and here El Lobo unleashed a smile that made Midnight’s skin crawl, “they are operating under the influence of bad intelligence. One of their soldiers proved covetous and thus gladly told the Federals about a camp at the end of this road. The camp does not exist, of course.”
“Of course,” Midnight echoed. Blackstone quietly added that El Lobo was a “crafty devil wearing man flesh.”
Untold minutes passed by in the darkness. The unfamiliar sounds of the jungle unnerved the American agent. Strange birds and bats hovered in the air, while heavy rustling caused Midnight to suspect that jaguars were stalking them with hungry eyes. He could not stop sweating, and his whole body twitched with an anxious waiting. Thoughts of being eaten alive consumed him until, without warning, a series of headlights cut through the darkness. El Lobo shouldered his rifle. Midnight followed suit and aimed his barrel in the direction of the lead car’s engine block. All the rebels were quiet, unseen, and still as the long convoy crept closer to their positions. When the third car came level with El Lobo, the general stood up and let out a rebel yell from his ancient Southern memory. An avalanche of bullets erupted all across the road. The rebels fired with impunity and abandon, so much so that several incidents of friendly fire occurred that night (to hardly anyone’s concern). For his part, El Lobo fought like a demon. He unloaded and reloaded his rifle with ease, and Midnight saw him personally kill three Federal soldiers who did not have enough time to exit from their trucks even fully. Midnight could not keep up with the crazed general, although he did manage to fire several rounds, including one that caught a Federal officer in the shoulder blades. Midnight moved closer to the wounded man but stopped when he saw the lifeless body of a Federal soldier fall out of the driver’ seat of one of the trucks. In his stead was the Russian agent, who hit the accelerator with the full weight of his foot. Quick thinking saved Midnight from being ground up underneath the truck’s wheels.
“I must follow that truck!” Midnight shouted at El Lobo. The general did not hear him at first. “I must follow that truck. The Bolshevik from Mexico City is escaping. Where does this road go?”
“It ends at the coast,” El Lobo said.
“I must leave now.” With that, Midnight entered one of the trucks. He took his seat only to find it covered in blood and brain matter. Midnight swallowed his disgust and, without saying farewell to El Lobo or his compatriots, he raced headfirst into the pitch-black night with only the Russian’s taillights as a guide.
“A wild thing you are doing, lad,” Reverend Blackstone said beside him. “We are plunging headlong into the abyss.”
“What other option is there? I know he has that book, and with it he can get the cross.”
“Aye. That devil should never place his filthy hands on such a fine relic. Onward.”
Midnight found himself struggling to manage every turn on the narrow road as both machines traveled at high speeds. Never before had Midnight come so close to instantaneous death, and yet he preserved. Blackstone spent his time in the truck praying without pause. When the road ended, it ended with a suddenness that forced Midnight to brake as hard as possible.
Just beyond the truck’s window was the ocean. The expansive beach and the black water were empty save for a single ship anchored just off the coast. The ship was large and well-lit, with a ramp connecting it to the shore. Midnight recognized that the Bolshevik’s plan was to drive onto the ship and abscond out to sea. He could only guess that the ultimate destination was the Yucatán and the cross. The Bolshevik’s truck cut through the beach to reach the ramp. Midnight watched helplessly as the truck entered the vessel and came to a stop. Midnight depressed the accelerator as much as possible, but his truck failed to reach the pneumatic ramp in time. He watched as it lifted itself from the beach and folded back to rest on the ship’s hull.
“God has denied us this one thing, but there remains another path.” Midnight looked into the specter of Blackstone’s eyes and understood his meaning. Abandoning the truck and his rifle, Midnight entered the cold water and swam as hard and fast as he could. The salt water entered his mouth and filled his lungs, forcing him to cough. Yet, he swam on until eventually grabbing hold of the ship’s exterior. His exhausted hands hunted for something to cling to. When the familiar shape of a rope was discovered, Midnight used the last reservoir of his strength to pull himself up. He was far too disoriented and tired to recognize that he had pulled himself right into a trap.
“You are too stupid to know when you are defeated, American.” The Russian said as Midnight was grabbed by a pair of hands belonging to Federal soldiers. The soldiers pulled him all the way aboard and, using a revolver, forced him onto his knees. A quick search followed, which relieved Midnight of his .25.
“You are going to die, and very soon, but I must allow myself the perverse pleasure of watching you realize that your god is not going to save you.” The Bolshevik laughed to himself as he ordered the Federal soldiers to bind Midnight’s hands and feet.
“You may as well get used to that position. We have a long journey ahead of us. It will be days before we reach Isla Mujeres.” The Russian laughed heartily to himself, and the Federal soldiers joined in. Midnight could not help but feel that his life had reached its final point.
Bizarrely, for reasons that Midnight could not fathom, the Bolshevik and his small army of Federal soldiers and seaman did not dispatch him with a bullet or dump him into the ocean. They let him stew in the hot sun without food or water for days, as the ship sailed towards its destination. Midnight felt his lips hardened with sweat and salt. His throat turned to ash, and entire body became a damp towel of sweat and other, more unnamable floods. As he felt death creep closer, he started having delusions. In one, he imagined that the Bolshevik was the ancient ferryman of the underworld who was leading him across Styx into the realm of the shades. In another he convinced himself that Blackstone had abandoned him and joined with the Bolshevik, who looked less like a man and more like a demon—red-skinned, with membranous wings and a large, curled tail with a scorpion’s hook at the end. Throughout these deliriums, Midnight managed to piece together some bits of information. Namely, the Bolshevik was something of a political officer for the Mexican Army, and his official duty was to ensure the revolutionary zeal of the Federal soldiers. The original mission for the ambushed convoy was the liquidation of El Lobo’s camp before decamping for Isla Mujeres. The island, Midnight learned one night as the Bolshevik spoke in hushed whispers to the ship’s captain, contained the fabled silver cross of the Knights Templars.
“Guard yourself for a bit longer, lad. I know ye desire me to free you, but we must wait until we reach the island,” Blackwood said. “We shall defeat the devils there. In the meantime, pray.” Blackwood’s words offered little comfort but they did offer a coherent plan. Midnight put his trust in the possessing spirit. He left the endless torture of the days and the loneliness of the night to pass by until, one night underneath the light of a half moon, the ship came to a stop.
“Time to move, dog.” The Bolshevik kicked Midnight in his thin ribs, causing a sharp pain throughout his emaciated body. Midnight tried to stand, but could not due to extreme dizziness. Two Federal soldiers held him up, walked him down to the island’s shore, and kept him on his feet as the Russian oversaw the entire unloading of the vessel. It was obvious that the Federals and their political officer were planning a massacre. Every man, from soldier to sailor, carried a modern carbine or submachine gun. When all were assembled, the Bolshevik addressed Midnight while holding de Espira’s account aloft.
“This is where they hid it. The old Christian dog knew that the Mayans who slaughtered the priest and his soldiers who retreated here. You see, this island is sacred to the local Mayans. It was here that they worshipped a moon goddess named Ixchel. They, the ancient proletariat, rose against their masters and, as a spoil of their victory, brought one of their relics here to be given to Ixchel. And now, as a victory to scientific socialism, I shall get the cross for himself.”
“And do what with it?” Midnight wheezed.
“I shall take the cross back to Mexico City and publicly melt it down into bullets. That display alone should end this rebellion of superstition once and for all. And if it does not, then the bullets will.”
“And what of me? What are your plans for me—an agent of the U.S. government?”
“Even agents of the U.S. government die in war, and we are about to bring war to the Mayans of this island right now.” The Bolshevik ordered the soldiers to move forward. Midnight was placed at the head of the column to act as a human shield. The first shots fired were to be for him. The Russian fully expected the Mayans to resist. After all, they had no love for the Federals nor the central government they represented. On an even more fundamental level, they did not like non-Mayans treading on their sacred island. Yet, as the men walked through the sand and then the streets, nobody came out to greet them. The islanders decided to stay inside rather than fight. The Russian took this as a bad sign.
“They have an ambush set up somewhere,” he said in Spanish. “Let us get out in front of it.” Nothing more needed to be said; the soldiers and sailors began going house to house. They kicked in doors and dragged people out of their homes. Midnight watched helplessly as several families were murdered point-blank by soldiers lusty for blood. Ideology did not drive them. Rather, their eyes spoke of a more elemental hatred—a hatred foreign to Midnight. As the band of uniformed brigands moved deeper into the island, the wanton violence only intensified. Entire houses were ransacked for goods before being set alight. For a ship nearby, Isla Mujeres must have looked like a raging inferno.
“Look men. We have found the mayor,” the Bolshevik barked as he picked up a small, brown man by the back of his neck. The haunted and hurried face pleaded in a mix of Spanish and what Midnight took for Mayan. His requests were only met with scorn and kicks. The Russian demanded the location of the temple in Spanish. At first, the mayor pretended to be ignorant of the Russian’s words. But, after several more kicks to the face, he relented and informed the Russian that the old temple was located inside of the island’s colonial church.
“Clever devils, these Mayans. They disguise their real religion with the shell of a fake one.” The Bolshevik laughed before placing his Luger to the mayor’s temple. He squeezed the trigger. A small explosion of red mist left the back of the mayor’s head. His small body hit the road immediately after.
“Come, men. We have one more mission before we can rid this island of superstition. After that, we will give the world evidence that the Americans are supporting the rebellion.” The Bolshevik let out his biggest laugh yet. The others joined in, while Midnight fully realized that his corpse was scheduled to be used for propaganda purposes.
“We can wait no longer!” Midnight yelled. The exclamation confused his antagonists, who ceased their laughter.
“What did you say?” asked the Russian.
“He said the wait is over, ye scoundrel.” Reverend Blackstone’s semi-luminescent shape appeared in the darkness. He used his small sword to cut Midnight loose from his bounds. Once free, Midnight used his limp and dehydrated body to lunge at one of the bewildered soldiers. In their brief struggle, Midnight managed to secure the man’s carbine and use it to smash his nose into smaller pieces. The hot blood from the wound temporarily reinvigorated Midnight, who utilized the fear caused by Blackstone’s appearance to shoot and kill several of the Bolshevik’s men.
The Russian cursed and fled in the direction of the stone church. The remaining Federals and seaman auxiliaries made to fire back at Midnight, but one pass through their ranks by Blackstone, who cut several of their uniforms to ribbons, caused the men to run screaming to the coast.
“The Lord hates cowards.” Blackstone mused.
“And the worst coward of them all demands a new chase,” Midnight added.
“Let us not tarry a second longer, then.” Midnight felt Blackstone’s helping hands as the ancient shape guided his ragged body towards the towering figure of the island’s stone church. Each step quickened his heart, and yet Midnight had never felt so focused. He had a singular target and a singular mission, both of which seemed to be reaching their denouement.
The church was a small, angular affair made almost entirely of stone. Midnight did not know it (but Blackstone did) but that church’s stonework had once belonged to a Mayan temple that the Spanish had demolished for its idolatry. This history gave the edifice a dark character—a type of darkness that could not be cast aside by a million candles or an army of electric torches.
“The game is up!” Midnight shouted into the dim church interior. “Surrender now and your punishment shall be light.”
The Russian laughed somewhere in the gloom. It was a hard, cruel laugh. Midnight tried to listen for his footfalls but could only discern the shifting of dust.
“Our war is only in its early stages. The American capitalist system will lose. You will be one of the first to be executed for your crimes of collaboration.” Midnight tried to track the voice. To his ears, it sounded close to the apse. Midnight did his best to move closer. A shot rang out, missing him completely but nevertheless reminding him of the pain in his arm.
“I will always have the advantage over you, American. In this battle and the many to come. But, even at his best, Napoleon knew the importance of a strategic retreat.” The Russian punctuated his words with a loud crash and thud. Midnight heard several golden cups hit the stone floor, and he winced at what he knew to be the intentional desecration. The Russian was destroying the island’s only church out of ideology and spite. Incensed, Midnight raced forward. He stopped immediately when he saw it following the Russian’s final act of blasphemy.
There, at the altar, the Russian unloaded several rounds from his pistol into the stonework, followed by several swift kicks. Midnight reached the site just in time to see the powerful gleam of silver that emanated from the new gouge. He reached for it. After several painful twists of his wrist, Midnight removed a small and simple silver cross with a ruby stone in its middle. Midnight had found it—the sacred silver cross of the Knights Templar. Also, inside of the altar was a squat statute made of polished stone. The statuette showed a woman with large breasts seated on her knees. A large, crescent moon-shaped object emanated from her head, and she held in her hands what appeared to be a rabbit.
“A pagan idol,” Blackstone whispered.
“The cross and this idol together makes sense. The Mayans who killed the Spanish warriors so long ago probably placed the cross within the power of Ixchel to show her victory over the foreign religion.”
“Or,” and Blackstone’s whisper deepened almost to a growl, “the godless heathens continued to carry out their infernal rites in this holy house for centuries.” Midnight contemplated the idea. He accepted that it could be possible. He also realized something else—that in his study of the cross, the Russian had absconded into the night.
Midnight raced back out into the island night. The streets remained empty of people, which comforted him considering that Midnight could be adequately accused of vandalism, and thus earn the ire of whatever faithful remained on the island. However, despite the absence of life, the streets did not feel empty.
“Evil is afoot, lad. Fooling with those objects must have stirred something. Cannot ye see the gathering shadows.” Midnight stared hard into the night. All was dark on the unlit streets, and yet, in the corners and near the coast, he could discern figures darker than the night. They moved with a slower but determined gait. All seemed to be moving towards him.
“Thou shouldst fly, lad. This is no fight for you,” Blackstone said. He did not wait for a rejoinder. He ran, or rather floated like mist, into the melee of shadows. Midnight turned on his heel and ran towards nowhere in particular as Blackstone faded from view.
Days onboard on a patrol vessel with the Mexican Navy, followed by several interrogation sessions with what Midnight took to be Mexican military intelligence, eventually ended when Midnight’s diplomatic immunity was confirmed. This saved him from further trouble, but it also meant that it was time for him to leave Mexico. Calles’s army was on the march and scoring some victories, even though cristero ambushes continued to bedevil the Federals. Midnight was given a military escort back to Mexico City, where a new train to San Diego was arranged for him. His intelligence minder told him that he had two days to get his affairs in order before departure. Midnight filled the first day with his official report, which proved to be a dull affair. Midnight informed the Coolidge administration that the cristero rebels had the support of most of the locals of the south and interior, while Calles could rely on urban denizens and most of the north. Midnight concluded that the war would remain a stalemate barring something dramatic like an offensive or a coup. Midnight suggested a U.S.-brokered peace deal as the most effective path.
He penned a second missive on that day. His account told the members of Society for Gentlemen Geographers that the cross was real and safe. However, in the letter, which would not be mailed until Midnight safely reached the American interior, Midnight confessed that the cross was no longer in his possession. Midnight explained his rationale for the decision before doing it. He came out proudly as a supporter of the rebel cause, and as such he gave the cross to the Mexico City cell attached to El Lobo’s operations in Tabasco.
“By the time you read this, the cross will be with the rebels, who so desperately need its grace.” With that, Midnight ended his second letter and placed it inside of his jacket’s breast pocket.
Sure enough, whilst Midnight dozed during his long train ride towards California, a large offensive in Tabasco was mysteriously eradicated. Calle’s government lost over one thousand men in a single week. The blow proved so enormous that the government pulled out of the state altogether. This victory provoked several other rebel bands to go on the offensive, until, months after Midnight’s return to the United States, Mexico City itself was threatened. The so-called “Miracle of ‘27” did not end the war, but it did put Calles on the backfoot. In his propaganda, “Jefe Máximo” blamed the Americans and Spanish for interference. He sought for and received more Soviet aid. This windfall in money and arms stabilized the front and saved Mexico City for Jacobinism, and yet Calles failed to do much more than that. Eventually, Midnight’s recommendations came to pass, and a peace settlement was agreed upon.
Midnight dreamed peacefully in his compartment as the train slowly crept close to the border. Without cause, he awoke just as the American side of the Pacific came into view. A sign for Tijuana let him know that his journey was about to end. Blackstone, with ugly injuries all across his face, sighed next to him.
“What the devil happened to you?” Midnight asked.
“Nay, never speak of the devil, lad. ‘Twas God who protected me in my fight with those demons. All that matters is that I am here now. We shalt speak no more of the matter. Best now to read our Bible and contemplate holier matters.”
“Bit of a problem there,” Midnight sheepishly admitted. “I have no Bible on me.”
Blackstone growled and called his descendent all manner of names. To rectify the unholy situation, Blackstone removed his personal Bible and began reading aloud. Only a languid Midnight could hear.
— Arbogast is a poet with a blog. He is the author of, most recently, The Shanghai Horror.