Matt Wallace‘s Rencor: Life in Grudge City is centered on rival técnico and rudo enmascarados forced to work together buddy-cop-movie-style, but what you’ll read below features neither of the leads — El Victor III and El Mil Calaveras III. Instead it features an aging cop and even more aging lucha-hero in a scene of remarkable heart, and heartbreak.
This was the chapter that really sold me on Matt and this project, and in hopes that it will do the same for you, I present in its entirety the prologue to Rencor.
Drawing the blinds of his office in Rencor Police Department Headquarters, Captain Gustavo Bustamante drops the plastic container of salad inside the bottom drawer of his desk and slams it shut. He hides it there instead of at the bottom of his trashcan so not even the janitor will discover it. Gus doesn’t trust the old bastard not to gossip with the members of his squad.
He opens his top desk drawer, reaching far in the back and removing a bag of mini BuBu Lubus. He rips through several wrappers in succession, shoving their classic strawberry, marshmallow, and chocolate candy contents in his mouth the way a chain smoker inhales multiple cigarettes on their coffee break.
Gus ordered that salad for lunch in good faith.
He really did.
It is today’s fault, not his, that it will go uneaten.
As he stuffs his fifth BuBu Lubu in his mouth, Gus reflects with malice upon the fact that every cop reacts to stress differently. You’d never catch him drinking himself into a stupor, or downing pills, or inhaling noxious smoke, or going home and beating his wife and kids. Yet none of those far more harmful activities have earned any of his colleagues such a hated nickname within the department.
“Gus the Bus.”
That’s what they call him behind his back.
He’s only heard it out loud once, and Gus crammed the head that spoke those words inside a locker filled with soiled workout sweats. It hasn’t stopped the other cops from using it, however. He can always tell.
Gus’s weight simply is what it is. He hasn’t been below two hundred and fifty pounds since he was a teenager, and he was never that tall to begin with. It’s only slowed him down in recent years, and he’s supposed to be an administrator now, anyway. Gus is and has always been a good cop who works hard. He’s just a hopelessly emotional eater.
Gus is stressed to the point of chocolate today because Medianoche, the old enmascarado hero, is waiting outside his office.
It’s Gus’s job to fire him.
The task is bad enough, but Gus isn’t just firing one man, he’s effectively ending an entire era of heroism with one sentence.
When Gus was coming up, back when he wore a uniform and walked a beat, there was never an official term within the department for the luchadores who “helped” the police solve crimes and combat citywide threats. They weren’t just part of the culture and the landscape of Rencor, they were woven into its very fabric. They were, in the reality of the border city, what purely American superheroes could only be in comic books.
But then attendance at the arena began dropping off.
Gradually, the media and the city council and the public at large all began to realize they were uncomfortable with masked luchadores running around the city fighting bandits and mad scientists. They even started blaming the enmascarados for the latter. The dreaded words “masked vigilante” were spoken more than once.
It was a dangerous path, and one that needed to be headed off.
So the enmascadaro-as-crimefighter officially became the “Rencor PD Auxiliary Patrol.” The enmascarados willing to stay on had their powers and authority clearly defined and greatly limited from what they’d been before. It effectively ended the era of lucha-heroes doing battle on rooftops, kicking in doors, and pursuing crooks who themselves were equally over-the-top.
Basically they were allowed to investigate, but were required to call in the “real” cops to do the rest.
That placated everyone for a while.
Gus was a lieutenant with an eye on his captain stripes when the final shift occurred.
Crime in Rencor had changed along with everything else in the world, it seemed. Gone were the days of werewolves and zombie sightings reported near the cemeteries and recounted seriously in all the papers. Gone were the hooded rudos, the villainous luchadores with grand schemes of taking over the city that always ended in their técnico rivals standing triumphantly over their pummeled forms and never-fired death rays.
All of those things faded into memory.
Worse than that, they faded into novelty, taking the enmascarado with them.
Now deadly street gangs infested Rencor, doing the bidding of even more lethal cartels. Drive-by killings in the streets. Serial murderers with no grand Machiavellian world-domination schemes, only dreams of perverse, terrifying carnage.
Crime became a truly ugly, vile, infectious thing, beyond the purview of masked heroes.
The Rencor PD Auxiliary Patrol was disbanded.
The era of the luchador crimefighter was finally over.
Gus’s predecessor managed to keep a number of the old-timer enmascarados on the payroll, the ones who weren’t in shape to go back on the road as wrestlers and who the city owed a great debt, even if most in it had forgotten. They officially became “consultants,” advising the force on relevant matters if and when they occurred.
But, of course, a younger generation was leading the charge in the police department now, and most of them didn’t want to hear from old men in colorful masks about anything, let alone fighting “real” criminals in the so-called “real world.”
The ranks of the enmascarado consultants shrunk, some retiring their hoods altogether, others claimed by old age, until the department finally decided to shutter the position completely.
The last lucha heroes who remained were relegated to touring schools, giving say-no-to-drugs-and-bad-guys speeches, or were invited to glad-hand at policeman’s balls and bake sales and the like.
Most were happy to still be relevant in that way.
Medianoche refused all of these offers.
He was a crimefighter.
And now he’s the last of the crimefighters.
It takes half the bag of BuBu Lubus and an entire bottle of pineapple Jarritos soda pop before Gus is ready to call him in.
He presses the buzzer on his desk, and a moment later the aging hero ambles in, smiling openly beneath his orange hood with its iconic hourglass symbol emblazoned on the forehead. Medianoche was a physical beast in his prime, but pushing seventy he’s become a round, pudgy man from head to toe.
“Hola, Capitán,” the five-time champion greets him.
Gus stands briefly and motions to one of the empty chairs on the other side of his desk.
“Have a seat, my friend.”
Medianoche squeezes himself between the arms of a chair.
“Did I ever tell you,” Gus begins tentatively, retaking his own seat, “you wrestled in the first match I ever saw?”
Medianoche shakes his head.
“Against Super Reactor Three,” Gus continues, a wistful smile coming to his face at the memory. “You dove out of the ring right onto him, right in front of me and my tio. It was…amazing. You were amazing.”
“I haven’t done that dive in a long time,” is all Medianoche says.
Gus nods. “It was the same dive you used to take out those bank robbers back in…whenever it was. It was my first week on the force, though. I remember that. An all-cars call went out for Banco de Rencor. We surrounded the building. Man, they charged out those front doors, three of them, armed to the teeth. They were wearing those big parrot heads, like they were in a parade. I froze. I did. A lot of us did. But they never got a shot off. You came diving off the big cement awning over the doors of the damn bank right on top of them, flattened all three.”
Medianoche nods, grinning wide and genuinely as his own recall kicks in.
“What did you yell?” Gus asks.
“You know what I yelled,” the enmascarado chides him. “Everyone back then knew what I yelled.”
“C’mon,” Gus pleads. “One more time. Please. For me.”
Medianoche sighs, then, body tensing in his chair and fists raised, lets out a powerful yell of, “Time’s up, cabrones!”
Gus explodes into joyous laughter.
Medianoche soon joins him.
It lasts as long as it can, until they both remember why they’re here, and that the days of Medianoche yelling out catchphrases as he topples bad guys have long past.
Fading laughter is one of the world’s worst sounds.
“I owe you a lot, man,” Gus says after it has died out. “The whole city owes you a lot. And I just…I want to tell you—“
Medianoche waves a heavy hand, silencing him.
“All those debts have been paid,” Medianoche assures him, sincerely. “I made my money. I got my props, the cheers of the crowd. For years I had that. No one owes me nothing, especially not you.”
Medianoche stands, slowly, his every joint cracking audibly as he does.
Gus follows suit, standing out of respect, almost ready to salute the man.
Instead he asks him, “What will you do?”
Then something happens that Gus will dream about for the rest of his life.
Some of the dreams will be good.
Most of those dreams won’t be.
Medianoche’s hands, knotted from decades of grappling and scarred from bare-knuckle brawling, reach up and deftly tug apart the laces behind his hood.
With one smooth, silent motion, he removes his mask.
Gus immediately looks away, as if Medianoche is concealing the sun itself beneath his hood. No one outside of their families ever sees an enmascarado’s face, not unless they lose their mask in a match. It’s as sacred as a priest’s robes, and even more mysterious.
Eventually Gus manages to turn his head back to the unmasked hero. Medianoche’s face is, of course, wholly unremarkable.
He’s just a man now, like any other.
“Maybe I’ll rob a bank,” Medianoche says with a smile, winking at Gus.
He places his legendary mask down upon Gus’s desk, gently, and turns to leave the office. He pauses with his hand on the doorknob, looking back at the captain.
“You know,” Medianoche says, “I always thought if I was unmasked it’d be in the ring. Time was supposed to be my power. My ally. I never thought of it as my opponent. But it was. It did what no rudo could. It took Medianoche’s máscara.”
Those are the last words he says to Gus.
He’s been gone for several long moments when Captain Bustamante picks up Medianoche’s hood. The textile still feels warm and heavy in his hands.
Gus always dreamt of being a cop, protecting people.
He never in his worst nightmares imagined he’d kill one of his childhood heroes.
©Matt Wallace / Keith J. Rainville, 2016