Zorro & the Old Comandante

by

 

Eugene H. Craig

 

 

 

 

Chapter 18

 

Somewhere in one of the hundreds of box canyons that shaped and formed the hilly landscape outside of the pueblo of Los Angeles, a black horse and caped rider emerged from the tangled vegetation that obscured the hidden caverns far below the De la Vega hacienda. The moonlight was bright that night and cast strange shadows over a landscape alive with nocturnal beasts and men on the move. A chilly night breeze swept along the valley floors, moaning and whispering its presence among the grasses, reeds, leaves and stones.

Along the rock-strewn hillside, through the green grasses of late fall rains, a fleet-footed stallion made his way past towering oaks and prickly brush. A band of raccoons, dipping their claws in a flowing arroyo, paused and raised themselves high on their haunches, listening and smelling the wind. A herd of grazing deer lifted their heads and watched the shadow of a horse speed across the meadow until it was lost among the oaks and pines that covered the hillocks down to the valley floor.

Beyond the volcanic and granitic outcrops that bordered the Torres rancho, lay the haciendas of Don Leon Santos and further to the west, the rancho Villa. As el Zorro approached the Santos hacienda through the hills, he could see torchlights and men searching the immediate area. He eased Tornado through the rocks and brush, close enough to hear, but not to be seen.

"It’s too dark to follow a trail, Paco, despite the moonlight," he heard one man tell another. "It would be better to begin at dawn."

"Don Leon won’t be happy to hear this, but it is the most practical approach," replied the other.

A third man offered, "There is broken brush, but it is hard to say what it could be caused by, probably a herd of deer."

El Zorro knew that Enríquez had already paid an unwelcome call on Don Leon. His next stop would be at the home of the Villas. He hoped that the family had missed the robber due to the Rodriguez party in town, but he needed to know. If Enríquez had struck, then he had a hideout and, if so, it could not be too far. Still, it would be an enormous amount of territory to cover, but el Zorro had his own ideas on where the madman might be. As he headed through the hills he saw the figures of two men on horseback approach the high walls of the Santos hacienda. He knew it was the comandante and corporal and he guessed that De las Fuentes would take a full report before proceeding to the Villa rancho.

"Come, Tornado," El Zorro whispered, encouraging the black stallion forward. "Perhaps we can get to the Villa hacienda before Señor Enríquez makes his appearance."

******************

The Juan Villa carriage bumped its way along the dirt road. Within the carriage, all the excited talk was what had occurred at the party. No one felt the least bit sorry for Sebastian Pérez or Salvador Muñoz. In fact, Teresa Villa told them, it had been rumored for a long time that Sebastian had beat his wife. Everyone saw that he did not hesitate to try to strike his daughter in public and that incident rather confirmed the old gossip.

Juanita had an especially good time telling everyone how Salvador walked on her feet while dancing and how she loved complaining loudly to further embarrass him. He kept twisting around to see where Margarita and the captain had gone. Juanita had silently gloated at his defeat at the hands of her best friend and the comandante, she confided.

"You might have been nicer to Salvador," commented her father. "After all, he’s never done anything to you and we don’t need to rub salt into the wound."

"Oh, Father, you just don’t know Salvador," Juanita insisted. "He’s not just a useless bore, you should know how he has treated Margarita – just like she is a cow. Nobody wants to be treated like that and he needed to be taken down a few notches. Besides, I don’t want him to think that just because he can’t get Margarita, he could come after me next!"

"Nevertheless, he certainly ate his fill of crow tonight," he replied. "Watching the interplay from the back of the room, I had the feeling that César was protecting Margarita as well."

"I was proud of the comandante," interjected Teresa. "Imagine an aristocrat stepping forward like that. And what control he displayed. You know the old proverb – ‘Obras son amores, que no buenas razones’ - 'Love is deeds, not just words.'"

Juanita’s twin, Josefina, spoke up. "Everyone knows Margarita is in love with Capitán de las Fuentes. I was glad to see him show he’s in love with her, too." She looked at her mother. "Did you hear the gossip that he is a prince?"

"Where did you hear that?" asked her mother.

Juan answered. "Somebody said Señor Pacheco started that rumor, but I don’t think that likely. What would a prince be doing in California? As for Sebastian, you know how much he has tried to marry Margarita off to Muñoz because of the family money."

Teresa turned to her husband. "Don Sebastian has no time for that kind of talk anyway," she told him. "I doubt whether he would believe it if he heard it. If you can’t show the gold to Sebastian, then he keeps his nose in the air."

"Margarita calls him a prince, of course," Juanita said. "But she does not mean it like he is royalty, only that he is such a unique man."

Everyone was quiet a moment. Then Juan Villa found himself frowning after looking out the carriage window. "I know it’s late, but look, there is hardly a light coming from the hacienda. Not even the torches have been lit outside the wall for our return. I can’t believe that Manuel would have forgotten to do that."

As the carriage pulled up to the great oak entrance and the driver called out "Hallo! Manuel, are you here?" Hearing no answer, he climbed down and tried the gate.

Juan Villa stuck his head out of the carriage window and watched the driver.

The man turned to Villa. "The gate is open, Señor Juan," he reported.

"That is odd," remarked the ranchero. He turned to his wife and daughters. "I’d like you to stay here a moment until Jorge and I inspect the premises." He stepped out of the carriage. "Jorge, come with me. I think we need to see if everything is all right inside." With that, the two men disappeared inside the gate. Within a few minutes they returned.

"Is anything wrong?" asked Teresa Villa.

"No one seems to be at home, but everything is quiet," replied her husband. "Perhaps Manuel is with his wife in the back or upstairs. The candles are lit."

"That is it," Teresa replied. "Lupe has been ill lately, so he is probably with her." She turned towards the twins. "I think we can go inside now, girls."

Juanita raced her sister indoors, laughing, and headed toward the sala. "I’m going to play some more tonight," she announced. "I feel so happy for Margarita." Josefina joined her, nodding.

Teresa followed the girls into the sala and draped her shawl over a chair. "It’s a little late, Juanita, but I did like the piece you played tonight. Could you play it again?"

"Of course, Mama," Juanita responded, and began to arrange the music sheets.

Juan Villa headed toward the study to get the pistol out of his desk drawer. He had a feeling of foreboding because Jorge had not yet returned with Manuel and things seemed too quiet. As he began to turn the knob to the door, he heard his wife call out, "Juan, could you come into the sala a moment?" He turned and headed back to the sala. When he arrived, he saw his wife standing next to the mantle by the fireplace.

"What is it, dear?" he asked.

"Look," she said. "Our silver candlesticks are missing - the ones that were stolen by Señor Enríquez just last month."

Her husband did not want to alarm the girls, so he said casually. "Let’s first check with Lupe to see if she took them down for polishing. You know how quickly silver tarnishes." He saw the doubtful look on her face. "I’m going into the study to check on things. Why don’t you girls play some more music before we retire? Music in the house is so cheerful." He headed back toward the study and stopped at a table outside to light a candle. He entered the darkened room.

Juan Villa was halfway to the desk when he heard a step in back of him from behind the door. He turned and saw the form of a man. In the man’s right hand was a pistol. The man had a smile on his face and his teeth were large and white. Juan stopped. "I see that you have returned, Señor Enríquez. Are you here to rob us again?" he asked.

"Put the candle down on the desk, Señor Villa," Enríquez told him. "And don’t bother opening the desk drawer. Your pistol is in my hand." He paused. "Don’t attempt to cry out or I might have to use this. It will be better for everyone if you just cooperate. Now, just return the way you came. If there is any trouble, I will take someone hostage. Do you understand?"

"I do," responded Juan. "I do not believe that any material possessions are worth the taking of anyone’s life. Before we go, I want to know if you harmed my servants, Manuel and his wife, Lupe."

"No one is hurt, Señor Villa," replied Enríquez. "I give you my word on that." He saw doubt in the man’s face. "If you don’t believe me, well, that’s just too bad." He motioned Villa out the door. Both men moved silently toward the sala.

It was at that moment that Juanita began to play "Für Elise." She looked up at her mother as she played. "I had to play this one first since it is Margarita and Capitán de las Fuentes’ favorite." She played on, barely noticing the two men enter the room.

Teresa turned casually away from the piano and smiled as Juan entered the room. She looked again as she saw the grim look on his face and noticed a man following him. She gasped when the man raised the pistol up for her to see. Juanita finished playing and looked up and gasped herself as the man gestured her father forward.

"That was very nice, Señorita Villa," the stranger told her. "Why don’t you continue playing?"

"It’s very hard to play when you have a gun pointed at my father," she exclaimed.

Enríquez grinned. "I like honesty," he told her. "You don’t have to play. Why don’t you two ladies just sit," he gestured at Josefina who sat down on the bench next to Juanita. He pointed at María, "Out of deference to the comandante’s good taste in music and yours," he said, "just stick that nice little statue in my bag." He pointed to a statue of the Virgin holding the dead Christ in her lap. "I won’t trouble you for anything else."

The woman reluctantly took the statue off a table next to the wall and put it in a leather bag that he handed her. The missing candlesticks were inside the bag.

Enríquez nodded and told Juan Villa, "Sit over there on the couch. Your wife and I are going to go out the door to my horse. If anyone follows me, I’ll shoot her. If not, then she will return to the sala, understand?"

Teresa looked very frightened and glanced at her husband. "Juan, I’m afraid."

"Don’t take my mama," Juanita spoke up. "Take me instead."

"Hush, Juanita," her mother and father responded in consternation. "I’ll go," Teresa said and began to move toward the man in the short black jacket.

"You’re very brave, Señorita Villa," Enríquez commented. "I like that. It would be better if the little Señorita came along after all." When her mother and father began to protest, he waved the gun at them. "Just sit down on the couch, Señora," he told her. He waved Juanita over. "Come on then. And remember, I’ll shoot." He scooped up the bag and handed it to Juanita.

As the two made their way out the front door, Enríquez took the bag from her. "Why did

you volunteer to take your mother’s place?" he asked her. "Aren’t you afraid of the consequences?"

"No," she replied. "You see, your gun is not loaded. It’s not even cocked." She paused. "My father and mother did not pay any attention to this. No one did. They are too worried to notice the details."

Enríquez looked surprised and impressed. "That’s right, little lady. You are observant, quite observant. So, now answer my question. Why did you volunteer to take your mother’s place?"

"I wanted to ask you why you are stealing only the candlesticks and the statue. You might have taken much more."

"Is that all?" he responded in amusement. "Did you want me to take more?"

"No," Juanita replied. "I just want to know why."

"I like you, girl," he replied. "If you want to know the truth, I’m not stealing these at all. I’m just borrowing them."

"Borrowing them?" the young woman asked in astonishment. "You mean you plan to give them back? Why?"

"That’s my secret," he told her as he led her around the dark side of the hacienda. "Just stay here till I climb over the wall. Then you can go back inside." With that, he pulled the straps of the bag over his shoulder. He went to the wall and placed upright a ladder that had been lying on the ground. When he reached the top, he sat momentarily on the high wall, then shoved the ladder back so that it fell into the yard. Then he disappeared into the night.

Juanita stood there a moment before she noticed that she was perspiring profusely. She wiped her hands on her skirt several times to dry them and thought a moment about what she had done and what he had said. Her boldness almost frightened her but she had been afraid for her mother who had been so fearful. She thought that if she volunteered herself, the man would do her no harm because of her age. How lucky for her that she had noticed the pistol was not cocked. Her father had taught her and Josefina how to shoot and she was very observant. She was counting on these clues to prove that the stranger had not really planned any violence and her instinct had been right. The chilly night breeze began to take effect and she began to shiver. As she turned back towards the house and a nearby lighted window, she saw a dark shadow move toward her from the front of the building. "Father?" she called a little nervously. "Is that you, Father?"

"No, Señorita Villa," a cultivated voice answered her from the shadows. A tall figure moved closer. "Do not be afraid."

As she moved toward the light, the dark figure came into view. Juanita Villa gasped in surprise, "Señor Zorro!"

----------------------------------------------------------

Capitán Francisco de las Fuentes did not linger at the Leon Santos hacienda. As a matter of fact, it was one of the few times that he had been rather brusque in taking a report and leaving abruptly with a brief apology to the ranchero who wanted to supply every detail of the items stolen. "Please come into the pueblo to file a full report tomorrow morning," the officer requested. "Since Señor Enríquez was just here recently, we have a better chance of intercepting him in this vicinity by following up with our pursuit." With that he rode off. Don Leon shrugged and consoled his wife who was upset that the comandante had not been interested in the value of the stolen items or the fact that they had been stolen out of her bedroom or the mess the thief had left.

It would be another fifteen-minute gallop to the Villa rancho from the Santos lands and De las Fuentes felt there was no time to spare. He was not sure what Enríquez was up to but it was a curious matter, he thought briefly, that he was only stealing particular items and not just everything he could get. But then, Joaquín Enríquez was an enigma in more ways than one.

Little did the officer know that a mere ten minutes up the trail, a man in black had taken a shortcut through the wide meadows and groves of closely growing young oaks and scrub brush and arrived at a quiet hacienda.

Climbing over a long wall at the back of the hacienda, he dropped onto the ground as nimble as a cat and looked around cautiously. There were a few candles burning in the main part of the house, but it was a noise in the back that drew his attention. As he made his way toward the noise, he heard the arrival of horses out in front. He understood at once that the Villas had arrived home, but he would check out the sounds first.

He came to a small cottage in the rear of the hacienda from where the sounds were emanating from. The cottage was surrounded by a garden of vegetables. El Zorro made his way to the porch and looked in through the front windows. The door to the cabin was wide open. There was no one in the main room although the fire burned in the fireplace. From within he heard a loud thumping. Drawing his sword, he carefully entered the domicile. The thumping was coming from behind a door.

"Who is there?" the masked man called through the door. "What is happening?"

The thumping stopped at once. "Help, help," called a woman's voice weakly. "We have been locked in."

The man in black looked around quickly and spotted a key on top of the fireplace mantel. He resheathed his sword and put the key into the lock.

"Do not be alarmed. I found the key and am unlocking the door," El Zorro announced. He opened the door and saw a man and woman. The woman was in bed and her husband was tied to a chair. He was just behind the door and had been using his feet to kick on the door.

"Señor Zorro," Manuel Jaras exclaimed as a bandana was removed from his mouth. "Thank heaven you are here."

"Señora, are you all right?" asked the man in black as he untied the man in the chair. The woman in the bed nodded but lay back on her pillow in exhaustion. Then he asked, "Who did this to you?"

"We are fine, Señor Zorro," the man began. "I was in the back checking on my wife. She has been very weak from an illness. I heard someone come into the room. It was Señor Enríquez, the man who robbed Don Juan just last month. He had a gun. He tied me up in this chair and then locked the door."

"When did this happen?" El Zorro inquired

"Some little time ago," Manuel told him. "Perhaps within the hour."

"Did Señor Enríquez rob you?" asked the masked man.

"No, Señor Zorro. He just overpowered me and tied me up. I had not yet lit the torches for the return of Señor Juan and his family, when I heard something odd here in the back. When I came into the cabin, Enríquez overpowered me after a struggle. I think he went into the main house after that."

"If you will excuse me, I think I need to go there now," the man in black told him.

The man still looked dazed. "Do you want me to come with you, Señor?"

"Señor Enríquez may be armed. I would not want anything to happen to you. Stay here until someone is sent to let you know."

Manuel nodded and looked over at his wife who nodded at him from her bed. "I will do as you say, Señor Zorro."

***************

Jorge Sosa stood in the front room still rubbing his head from the blow he had received while on the way to Manuel’s cottage. He had gone to the back while Juan Villa had gone back to the carriage. He did not remember how long he was out, but when he came to, he found Señor Zorro leaning over him and helping him to his feet. Then the masked man disappeared around the side of the house. Jorge decided to report to the ranchero what had happened. Upon entering the hacienda, he found the family gathered around their daughter Juanita who had just come inside. She was full of excited news.

"And that is when Señor Zorro appeared," she told them. "I told him that he should know that Señor Enríquez only stole two items; that he made a big secret of it and that he said he was only ‘borrowing’ them. Then, I told him that Señor Enríquez had just disappeared over the wall."

"Only borrowing?" her mother asked incredulously.

"And what else did Señor Zorro say?" asked her father.

"Señor Zorro thanked me for the information. He made a loud whistle and then his black stallion galloped in through the gate. He leaped up into the saddle, saying ‘You have been of great help, Señorita Villa. And do not worry. Señor Enríquez will not trouble you again.’ With that, he was off like the wind. I hardly believed that it happened."

The ranchero turned to Jorge. "My man, are you all right?"

The coachman nodded. "A little headache, Señor. Do you wish me to check on Manuel?"

"Yes, let's do that. I want to find out what happened. " Before leaving, he turned to his daughter. "Juanita, you frightened us by going with that bandit. Promise me that you will never again do such a thing."

Juanita reluctantly shook her head. "But if I had not, I would have never met El Zorro!"

-----------------------

The late night air was damp and chilly as the fogs began to meander their way down the hills and across the wide meadows. Far out along the coast, from the endless stretches of ocean, like a dark, ominous blanket, the clouds poured relentlessly inland, silent and cold. High above, the moonlight both illuminated as well as helped to obscure the landforms far below.

Three riders were in pursuit of a refugee. Coming down the road from the Santos rancho, Capitán de las Fuentes spotted a man coming toward him on horseback. It was Joaquín Enriquez.

"Señor Enríquez, this is Capitán de las Fuentes. Please come to a halt." When he saw that the fugitive hesitate, he added, "I mean you no harm, Señor."

Enríquez was wary, seeing the soldier who accompanied the officer. At a distance he could not tell if there were any more soldiers. "I regret to inform you that I will not voluntarily return to the cuartel, Capitán," he replied in a loud voice. "Don’t come any closer," he warned. "I have a pistol aimed at you."

"Will you allow me to come forward – just to talk?" asked the officer.

"Capitán, just stay away. Do not attempt to come any closer!" the man ordered again. He looked about and then urged his horse into the brush. He was swallowed up into the night.

From the road behind Enríquez, a third rider had approached and slowed his horse to and imperceptible walk. El Zorro heard the sound of voices ahead and the exchange that took place. He knew that Enríquez would either talk or bolt and he expected the latter.

Not far from the road was an old arroyo that, like so many, meandered through brush and meadow. There were many tall reeds. Dismounting, one could become invisible to any searchers. Unless one knew the land well and where the old streams led, it would be easy to miss an obvious method to avoid detection at night. It would be a good place to intercept the thief, thought El Zorro.

Meanwhile, a Spanish officer was issuing orders to the corporal who accompanied him. "It will do no good to follow him through the brush," the captain told the soldier. "Not in this darkness. However, I believe that Señor Enríquez intends to head back toward Los Angeles. A good league up the road there is a spot where he could either follow a streambed or re-emerge on the highway. That is where we can get him."

Corporal Reyes nodded. "Sí, Señor Capitán." He hesitated a moment. "Oh, Comandante," he began, "I know the stream bed well. Sergeant García and I followed it and it comes near here and, further up, near Señor Villa’s lands."

"Excellent, Corporal," the officer told him approvingly. "That is very good information. Here is what we will do." And both men headed back up the road in the direction of Los Angeles.

Tornado walked along the streambed very carefully as he had been taught. Up ahead, were the sounds of the clop, clop of another horse whose rider was unaware he was being followed so closely. Every once in a while, Enríquez looked behind him, but the visibility was worsening as the fogs began to penetrate the valley and the road. Finally, El Zorro was almost upon the fugitive, when the man turned and saw him. Both men held pistols.

When Joaquín saw the masked man ready to overtake him, he halted his mount and said loudly and boldly, "I have no quarrel with you, Señor Zorro. Do not try to interfere with what you do not understand."

El Zorro shook his head. "I am sorry to disagree, Señor Enríquez. You have beaten innocent men, frightened families and robbed them of their wares. Such actions must cease. I suggest that you reconsider and surrender yourself to Capitán de las Fuentes. He is a man of honor and will see to it that you receive a fair trial."

Enríquez only grinned in his peculiar fashion. "I am not worried about the good captain," he told the masked man. "But I will never submit myself to be taken to the jail of that hangman, Capitán Monastario. No one will return me to that jail cell, no matter who he is. As for the rest, a few people might have been frightened, but I have not really harmed anyone."

"Allow me to disagree once again, Señor Enríquez," El Zorro told him. "Not only did you beat several men into unconsciousness, you attempted the assassination of Capitán de las Fuentes only a few nights ago. How could you possibly say you have harmed no one?"

The grin disappeared from Enríquez's face and he grew angry. "You are as blind as all the rest," he shouted bitterly. "If you are so certain of my guilt, then come take me yourself, if you can." He dismounted from his horse and drew his sword.

"Señor, I will more than glad to oblige you," remarked the masked man. He dismounted from Tornado. Even in the dimming light, he did not feel disadvantaged. The two men began to circle each other. Then El Zorro struck.

In a sudden move, he thrust toward his opponent. Enríquez was nimble and jumped back, parrying and disengaging. He was awkward compared to El Zorro, but he was able to keep the masked man at bay for a while. As the minutes passed, though, it became apparent to both men that the battle could not last forever. In a spectacular movement, El Zorro’s wrist rolled and, in rapid succession from one angle to another, gained control of Enríquez’s blade. A moment later it went flying off into space. Enríquez’s horse bolted at the sudden movement of man and blade. "Now, Señor, I think you will have to accompany me into town," El Zorro told him.

There was an unexpected movement from behind the masked man and he glanced behind him. A man had quietly approached the scene of clashing steel on horseback. El Zorro noted at once that Enríquez’s countenance changed from the grim to a cheerful smile of recognition.

A familiar voice spoke and both men recognized the figure of Corporal Reyes who emerged from the haze. He cocked his rifle and said, "Don't anybody move. This rifle is loaded."

"Ah, Corporal Reyes," the masked man responded. "It would appear your arrival is fortuitous. Here is the bandit, whom Capitán de las Fuentes is looking for."

"Hah," laughed Enríquez. "But who is the most important bandit you have captured, Corporal Reyes?" he asked. "Me, I’m just a petty thief, but this is El Zorro, a man with a price on his head. Two thousand pesos is the reward for his capture, isn’t that so?"

Reyes hesitated. He was alone with two outlaws. He knew De las Fuentes was looking for Enríquez, but capturing El Zorro at the same time would be almost miraculous. He shifted the rifle between Enríquez and El Zorro.

The masked man attempted to reason with the soldier as Enríquez moved back and forth, taking imperceptible steps toward the reeds. "Listen, Corporal," he said, "you can catch me any time, but the comandante wants Enríquez, who is right here."

Reyes shook his head, "I don't think so." He knew how hard Zorro was to catch. Reyes did not like the odds of two clever outlaws and he by himself. He raised his voice and called out, "Comandante! Capitán de las Fuentes! I have captured the outlaws, Zorro and Enríquez!"

Enríquez was quick-witted. "Look out, Reyes, behind you!" When Reyes turned, startled, Enríquez plunged right into the reeds and out of sight. The man in black began to pursue him, but Reyes spurred his horse forward. Now there was only one target for his rifle. "Don’t move, Señor Zorro! I’ll shoot."

El Zorro was very exasperated with the situation. "Corporal!"

Suddenly there was the sound of horses approaching on the trail. Reyes was nervous. "Who goes there?" he challenged.

He was answered by a deep baritone voice, "Capitán de las Fuentes!" and the officer appeared out of the fogs. He had Enríquez’s horse in tow.

"Look, Señor Comandante," Reyes enthused. "I have captured the bandit, Zorro." He gestured for the masked man to approach.

"I see," replied De las Fuentes, "but where is Señor Enríquez?" The officer was rubbing his right leg.

"I’m afraid, given the choice of capturing me or capturing Enríquez, the good corporal chose me instead," the masked man told the officer. "I have a price on my head."

"Ah," replied the officer. "I would much have preferred to have taken Señor Enríquez." He turned to the corporal. "I do not think Señor Zorro is an enemy, Corporal Reyes. Will you please lower your rifle and allow him to approach me?"

Reyes was astonished. "But, Comandante, there is a reward for the capture of El Zorro! Two thousand pesos!" he responded as if reprimanded. However, he lowered his rifle.

"A waste of the taxpayers' monies," the officer commented. "I heard the clash of arms, Señor Zorro, and welcome your efforts to apprehend Señor Enríquez."

"Thank you, Comandante," El Zorro smiled. "You know, Señor Enríquez is not too far away. There is no time to lose."

"Then I wish you God Speed, " De las Fuentes replied rather wearily. "However, the fogs are closing in and what light from the moon is about to be lost. Would you care to use this mount?"

"No, thank you, Capitán," the man in black shook his head. He suddenly uttered a sharp whistle and within moments a black stallion appeared from behind the bandit.

De las Fuentes edged his own horse close to the young steed. "My compliments, Señor, on such a mount. Perhaps we should head back to the cuartel. Not even such a splendid animal can help you find Señor Enríquez in this darkness." The captain’s voice now sounded very tired and strained.

"Comandante, are you all right?" EL Zorro asked in alarm. "You sound as if you are ill. Do you need assistance?"

"I regret to say that an old ailment has returned to haunt me," the officer replied. "A wound I received in Peru." He now rubbed his right leg below the knee vigorously. "I will manage until I get back to the cuartel." Straightening up in the saddle, he handed the reins of Enríquez's horse to Reyes. "Ah, Reyes," he told the soldier, noting his dejection, "you did a fine job of capturing the two men. However, it seems that the Fates have decreed that there is more work to be done before we can solve the larger questions at hand."

"What are the larger questions?" asked Reyes curiously.

"I'm not sure I know," the officer answered trying not to show his discomfort. "But I think Señor Zorro may be able to assist us in this regard. We shall meet again, Señor?"

The man in black grinned and waved his gloved hand before departing. "That is indeed the case, Capitán. Already, Señor Enríquez left some important clues that are beginning to make sense. You shall see me again soon, Comandante!" With that the masked man turned and disappeared into the fogs.

 

 

Chapter 19
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