He wore a fringed buckskin jacket that was a size too large and a coonskin cap that fell loosely over his right eye, and insisted his parents call him Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier. In one pint-sized hand, he carried a replica flintlock pistol with an orange plastic muzzle-cap. In his other, he held a genuine, rubber Jim Bowie knife. It was fifteen minutes to eight on the fifth of July, and the temperature was already eighty-five degrees and climbing rapidly. By noon it would be ninety with matching humidity. He had been up since the crack of dawn, keeping watch out the hotel windows and waiting impatiently for his mother and father to wake up. Now, finally on patrol along the San Antonio River Walk, he breathed the stagnant air that smelled like stale beer and damp tree bark and covered the man-made canal between the buildings like Grandma’s quilt on a warm day.
He imagined himself at the battle of 1836 just the way it was depicted in the diorama at the Alamo gift shop where his father had purchased his replica gear. The tiny men thrust bayonets and fired at point-blank range, reminding him of an ant bed he’d once uncovered with his plastic shovel. When school started next fall, he knew he would be the envy of all his classmates in his hometown of Stuttgart.
Davy was on the alert for any enemies of Texas when he saw a man with a scruffy salt-and-pepper beard sitting with his back against one of the ancient cypress trees. He pointed his Jim Bowie knife and cocked his flintlock pistol, posing like the figurines in the diorama.
The man exhaled a lungful of cigarette smoke and gave him a toothless smile. “Easy, Davy,” the man drawled. “I’s friendly. You huntin’ Santa Annie?” The man wore an Army cap and camo jacket despite the heat and carried a cardboard sign with a hand-scrawled message that read Iraq Veteran, please help.
Davy stopped in his tracks. At just under three feet tall, he came face-to-face with the seated man and stared with unblinking curiosity. He struggled to understand his accent. The missing teeth gave his speech a slight lisp. Like all of the kids his age growing up in Germany, he was fluent in English, but this was his first trip to Texas and some of the locals were difficult to understand.
“I’s pretty sure I seen him under that bridge,” the man lisped, and cocked his whiskers toward the nearby stone footbridge.
“Danke,” Davy said. He slipped into his native tongue when he got excited. He gazed at the bridge beyond the patio of a Mexican restaurant. The meaning behind the accent slowly sank in. The man had called him Davy. He stood rail-straight and brushed the tail of his coonskin cap over his shoulder.
Someone had recognized him. He was Davy Crockett. He watched his mother give the man an American dollar.
The man nodded. “God bless you,” he said.
Davy peered in the direction the man had indicated. The majestic cypress trees and tall buildings created deep shadows in the early morning, making it hard for him to see under the bridge. He took an intrepid step forward. His mother held firm.
“This place is open.” She motioned with her head toward the restaurant. “We’re stopping for breakfast.”
“Nein, Mutter, es ist Santa Anna,” Davy said, trying to pull free.
“Santa Anna is just a story,” his mother reassured him. “Tell him, Gunther,” she addressed her husband. “Why did you buy him that gun?” She appealed to her husband, irritated at being up so early in the sizzling July heat.
“It’s part of history—” Davy’s father began to explain.
His wife cut him off for the hundredth time. “You’re glorifying it for him. He thinks the gun’s real,” she said, searching for a table near one of the large outdoor fans.
Davy followed his mother to a metal chair beneath a faded green canvas umbrella and near a fan that was taller than he was. The waitress put down her broom and came with a smile, wearing a white Mexican peasant dress with a red-lace apron that flapped in the breeze created by the big fan. She gave the three of them each a tall glass of ice water and a basket of tortilla chips and waited patiently while his father read the laminated menu out loud over staccato mariachi music coming from the restaurant speakers.
Davy announced that he wanted cornflakes, then turned his attention back to the shadows under the bridge. When he adjusted his chair, he could see between the red, white, and blue banners on the handrailing. He placed his flintlock near his fork. He could feel danger in the air. To him it was as real as the crispy tortilla chips and spicy red salsa resting on the table. His skin tingled with excitement. If Santa Anna was under the bridge, as the man said, he would be ready. Two pigeons suddenly landed beneath his mother’s chair.
“Scheiße!” she exclaimed, startled.
Davy ignored her. His father shooed the birds away. Then Davy saw something moving slowly out of the shadows, floating in the murky water, and drifting into a pool of sunlight. The bend in the narrow water channel forced the large object directly toward him.
He grabbed his flintlock and tore through the Fourth of July banner.
“Schau, Mutter! Look!” he shouted. “Santa Anna!” He raced to the water’s edge.
“Not now.” She sighed, pressing the cold glass to her hot forehead.
“Bam, bam!” Davy shouted, aiming at the object in the water, the toy pistol making rapid metal clicking sounds. He saw what looked like a hand and forearm extended above the surface of the water as if buoyed by an unseen rope.
The object bumped against the limestone steps. Now Davy saw what it was. A woman. Facedown. Dark shoulder-length hair tangled about her head. Small American flags decorated her blue tank top. A black skirt floated above her waist exposing yellow-lace panties, and her submerged legs appeared waxy green.
Davy dropped his replica flintlock.
“Mutter!” he cried, and his mother was beside him, wrapping him in her arms and forcing his terrified face into her breast.
“Es tut mir Leid, Mutter,” Davy trembled. I’m sorry, he thought, believing he had killed the woman with his replica flintlock.
“Es ist nicht deine Schuld,” his mother said, transfixed by the woman in the water.
“It’s not your fault, Philip,” his father repeated, using his real name. “It’s only a toy gun.”
A crowd quickly gathered. A young woman wearing an orange sports bra and lime-green jogging shorts took charge. “You call 911,” she commanded the waitress. She grabbed the woman’s foot and pulled her closer to shore.
“Gunther, hilf irh!” Davy’s mother shouted.
Before her husband could reach the water’s edge, the toothless veteran pulled the woman’s head up by her tangled hair. The restaurant speakers were playing “Guantanamera.” The woman’s face was frozen into a puffy smile. The crowd gasped and took a step back when they saw the skin around her eyes was swollen and a shade darker than her olive skin, as if she wore a masquerade mask.
“She’s dead,” the veteran pronounced, as if he were the authority. His words transformed the mood of the crowd from horror to morbid curiosity. The woman with the orange sports bra began to video the scene with her cell phone.
“We’re going,” Davy’s mother announced. She grabbed her son’s toy pistol and tossed it in the garbage bin. She shot a pointed look at her husband as if the toy flintlock he bought for their son were to blame for ruining their vacation.
“Wer war sie, Mutter?” Davy asked, staring over his mother’s shoulder at the body in the water. He was still shaking but beginning to breathe normally.
His mother hugged him tightly and took the stone steps up to the street level. “We don’t know who she was.”
“Why did she die?” he asked. He calmed down when the dead woman was out of sight.
She studied the street signs trying to formulate an answer to satisfy her son. She couldn’t think of anything. “How about some ice cream?”