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Easter Fires: continued

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Murder Ballads
Secret London

I passed the map forward. For someone who knew it was "real nice up there", Ray didn't seem to have much idea of where Cross Mountain actually was. By now, he'd spotted a turning marked Cross Mountain Drive and steered us into what was evidently a housing estate. Far from moving uphill, we were driving deeper and deeper into a valley. Ray abandoned the map and decided he'd better ask for directions. He pulled up next to a middle-aged woman tending her front garden and called over to her.
"Say, could you tell me where that Cross Mountain . . . cross is? Cross Mountain cross?"
The woman came over, pointed back the way we had come and said: "Go back up the hill there ."
"Make a left when you come to 965. That's Milam Street. Then you go on a block and you'll see a brown sign that says Cross Mountain, and another left takes you right there."
Ray was determined to save face. "But this is Cross Mountain too, ain't it?" he said. "This is Cross Mountain we're on now, ain't it?"
Our saviour was starting to wish she'd never got involved in this conversation. "What are you looking for?" she asked Ray, warily. I decided I'd better intervene, and leant forward from the back seat towards Ray's open window. "The cross itself," I said.
"The cross itself. That's what I'm telling you how to get to."
Ray turned to me. "You got it figured out now?" he asked.
"I think so, yeah."
She ran through the directions one last time, I thanked her, and Ray started us back up the hill. He turned left into Milam Street as specified, and then started muttering how he couldn't understand where this turning on to Route 965 could be. Even I'd realised that Milam and 965 were the same road, but I could not get this information into Ray's head. Still, it was only a block, and even he couldn't get lost in that distance, so we soon found the Cross Mountain sign. Ray drove straight past it and then, when I protested, stopped dead in the middle of the road, forcing the driver behind us to take evasive action. Ray then did a (possibly illegal) U-turn and piloted us up the track we wanted without further incident.
This took us about halfway up the mountain, where we found a padlocked gate and a stile allowing pedestrians to climb the rest of the way. I left Ray at the gate, hoped that I'd made it clear that I wanted him to wait for me, and set off on foot towards the peak. I found myself on a dirt path which wound its way up the mountain in a lazy spiral, its pale, sandy colour contrasting sharply with the darker vegetation on either side. It wasn't a long climb, but it was steep, and the stones underfoot were loose, which made it easy to stumble.

I was getting used to the symphony of protest which Ray's driving always seemed to provoke

When I reached the top, I found a neat, freshly-built bonfire and a big stone cross encased in graffiti-covered steel. The two rows of lightbulbs along its outward face were protected with wire netting, and the power line feeding them secured with a padlock. The graffiti seemed to be typical teenage stuff. There were several declarations of young love, some of which had been scratched out by jealous rivals, and a few insults which amounted to the Texas equivalent of "Tracy is a slag". Peppered among these were six or seven indentations, each just big enough to accommodate the tip of my little finger. One of Fredericksburg's gun owners had evidently brought a few beers up here one night and used the cross for target practice.

Ray picked me up again that evening at the Lodge, told me he'd already taken one couple out to the fairgrounds, and announced he'd decided to stick around and watch the show for himself. He was obviously intrigued by what he'd seen out there, but still had little idea about the pageant's theme.
"It's some sort of Indian pow-wow, right?" he said.
There was no point in arguing. "Something like that, Ray, yes."
When we reached the turning for the fairgrounds, Ray cut abruptly across two lanes of traffic and made a big SUV behind us swerve violently the other way. The driver blared his horn as he shot past, but I took no more notice than Ray did. I'd started to rather like him by this time, I was getting used to the symphony of protest which his driving invariably provoked, and a few irate motorists seemed neither here nor there. Another week driving with Ray, and I would have been as oblivious to the problem as he was.
Gillespie County Fairgrounds turned out to be a horse race track, complete with little concrete betting offices and a large open-air grandstand where the pageant's 2,000-strong audience would sit. Behind the grandstand there were stalls selling hot food and beer, which people ate at the scattered picnic tables. The Fredericksburg High School Band was tuning up nearby, its bass player showing off with some nimble runs up and down the fretboard.
The racetrack ran straight in front of the grandstand, separating the crowd from the stage area where the pageant would take place. This was laid out with half a dozen Indian teepees, a miniature version of Cross Mountain, and a big bowl on a stick which would provide an Olympics-style torch for the evening's finale. At one end of the arena, a rabbit had been drawn in coloured lights. I could see a couple of floodlight rigs at the rear of the set, which we were obviously going to need because it was already getting dark. Ray, I realised, must have seen the teepees when he dropped his earlier fare off, and concocted his "Indian pow-wow" theory from that.

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