MÁSCARA CONTRA MÁSCARA

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The moon is high and the river is low. Through the chain-link fence and across the shallow waters of the Rio Bravo, I can see the lights of El Paso and I think of my father.

I remember sitting in his pickup...The windows are down. The cab smells of sweat, tobacco, and tepache. He turns Marty Robbins off and takes another sip of his pineapple beer. "A name is all a man's got," he says. "All he's got."

I shake my head.

I am not here in Juárez to remember anything. I am here in Juárez for my name. In my life, I have had two: the first I was born with, the second I claimed for myself. My birth name was a ditch-digger's name. The name I made for myself, it was a hero's name.

El Despiadado. The Merciless. The one who does shows evil no pity.

Now someone has taken the hero's name from me and turned it into something vile, but I will not allow it. I will have my name back. It means more to me than all my possessions, than even the stacks of bills filling the briefcase beside me. It is the most important thing I shall pass on to my son.

Headlights fill the rearview mirror. For a moment, I am blinded by the glare. When I step out of the car and into the night, my vision clears and I see the faces of my enemies.

Though they are four in number, I know no fear.

The first is young, a teenager cultivating a thin sprouting of hairs on a weak chin as desperately as a farmer trying to coach vegetables from rocky soil. He wears Levi's and an Indios de Ciudad Juárez jersey.

The second is a fat man in dirty khakis and a blue guayabera faded so thinly it reveals the heavy swirls of chest hair curling around his large breasts. A machete dangles from his belt.

Of the third, I can focus on nothing but the pits in his thin face. Not even the gun on his hip.

It is the fourth who matters. The Thief wears a red Western shirt with pearl clasps. His jeans are tight and dark. His cowboy boots are polished to a deep black. On his thin fingers are several bands ringed with diamonds. A thick gold bracelet around his wrist clinks against the metal case in his hand.

Gutter legends say he is from Tijuana, where his mother was a careless whore and his father an experienced burro. Whispers allege he is not Mexican at all but came up farther south in the urban hell of Sao Paolo where he was raised by rats in scrap ghetto mazes. A few rumors suggest he in fact belongs to the jungle, where he descended from priests who raised bloody sacrifices to old gods. There, they say, death squads butchered his family and he survived only by hiding in his mother's rotting corpse and offering prayers to Mictlantecuhtli.

I say bullshit.

A ditch-digger's son knows a ditch-digger's son.

"Are you —, old man?" he asks.

It is strange to hear my birth name spoken, it has been so long. It sounds foreign, alien, a jumble of letters as vacant as a dash on the page. Coming from his lips, it clenches my stomach and threatens to bring me to my knees with the violence of its disgrace. For a moment, I can say nothing and pray my speechlessness appears as only senility.

It does. The Thief snaps his fingers to rouse me.

"Yes," I respond.

"You got the money? Thornhill said you'd have the money."

"I do." I open the briefcase, show him the neat stacks, and then throw him a bundle of fifties. "You do not see the rest until I see your product and if your product is quality, I will purchase more."

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