The Gift

 

 

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN -

ZORRO’S STRATEGY - PART 2

NOVEMBER 17, 1821

 

Diego sat in the patio on a cool and dry mid-November morning finishing his breakfast. The previous night, he and Bernardo, who enjoyed accompanying him and being masked as Zorro, distributed another of the Fox’s avisos in the Pueblo of Los Angeles. This new one read: “SEÑORITAS OF LOS ANGELES BEWARE! RICARDO DEL’AMO REFUSES TO FACE HIS MORAL RESPONSIBILITY! HE IS A GANALLO AND A COWARD! As usual the Fox left the aviso unsigned.

He sipped some tea while he read a letter from Don Joaquin Alvarez, the son of his father‘s friend, Don Alfredo Alvarez. Much to Don Alfredo’s distress, Joaquin had decided to pursue his dream of becoming an actor, and he was writing Diego that he and his repertory group were to arrive in Los Angeles to perform an adaptation of the famous Cantar del Cid in a couple of days.

He chuckled. Well, Joaquin FINALLY got to play the hero after all! It will be good to see him again! he mused. As Diego continued skimming the lengthy letter, he heard Sergeant Garcia’s voice just outside the patio gate.

“Buenos Dias, Don Diego.” the Acting Comandante said half-heartedly. “I thought that I might come to warn you about Don Ricardo.”

“Has he been causing you problems again, sergeant?” Diego asked sympathetically as he motioned for Garcia to sit down.

“Sí, and then some, my friend.” Garcia replied gloomily. The Sergeant sat down wearily and secretly hoped that Don Diego would offer him some much-needed refreshment.

“You do look rather tired, Sergeant. Please stay here as long as you like." Diego then motioned to Bernardo to bring a small bottle of wine

“Ah, gracias, Don Diego. But about Don Ricardo ..” Sergeant Garcia hesitated “this time he has threatened to ruin your reputation!”

Diego nonchalantly lit his first cubano of the day. “Did he say how he was going to accomplish this?”

Garcia began laughing. “He has petitioned Judge Vasca to investigate his accusation that you are the person who wrote the avisos that have been posted throughout Los Angeles for the past two weeks. In fact, I have been instructed by the judge’s clerk to give you a copy of Don Ricardo’s complaint!“

“Por favor, Sergeant, let me see it. Diego said as coolly as he could. He quickly scanned the document. ”Utterly preposterous! Tell me, Comandante of the pueblo de Los Angeles, do you believe that I would do such a foolish thing?”

“Certainly not, Don Diego! Most people in the pueblo believe that Don Ricardo has gone a little ...you know.... loco!”

His friend smiled broadly. “Sí, I believe that the poor caballero has been indulging in far too much wine!”

“Oh, indeed! I can testify to that! Ever since your wedding, Don Ricardo’s sole purpose these days has been getting drunk! Well, adios, Don Diego!” Sergeant Garcia said sleepily. “ I must get some rest!”

“Diego! What did Sergeant Garcia want at this early hour?” Don Alejandro asked as he strolled into the patio.

“Buenos Dias, father. It seems that Don Ricardo has filed a lawsuit accusing me of slander and libel!” Diego winked at his father. “I must remember to speak to Zorro regarding his recent strange behavior!”

But Don Alejandro was livid. “What gall! Is there to be no end to his odious deeds! If I were thirty years younger, why I would--.“ His father shook his head in amazement. Don Ricardo is a walking abomination! Madre di Dios!”

“Trust me; father, things will work out. However, it appears that I shall require the services of an attorney and soon!”

Don Alejandro stroked his moustache and beard. “I shall send a message to our cousin, Don Valentin Posedar. He is the finest avocato in all of Alta California.“

Diego shrugged his shoulders. “Then I have nothing to worry about. Everyone knows that the Fox wrote those avisos and everyone also knows that I can not possibly be this outlaw, Zorro!”

His father exhaled noisily. “By all the Saints! I am not worried about proving your innocence, Diego! What truly has me quite upset is HOW del’Amo is going to demonstrate you wrote them!”

 

[[[[ZZZ]]]]

 

“Ricardo, are you serious about this lawsuit regarding Diego?”

“Do you not see, Anna Maria, that he believes that I am the father of Moneta’s child? He is jealous that I am the one who will marry you! Why he even told me just before his wedding to Señorita Esperon that you are still the only true love of his life! Mark my words, Diego married Moneta because he pitied her!”

He paused to see if his thinly veiled lies had their intended effect on Anna Maria’s pride. Surprisingly, she shook her head.

“Diego would never marry anyone he did not love, Ricardo,” she said firmly. “And I do not believe that either Zorro or Don Diego would stoop so low as to falsely accuse you of practically being a criminal!”

Querida!” he said tenderly. “Are you certain that you do not still love either one of those men?”

“Sí. I love you Ricardo, the only person who stood by me when I broke my engagement to Don Diego. And I have learned [in a truly serious blow to her ego, although she would never admit this fact to Ricardo] that El Zorro does not love me.”

“Anna Maria! Why did you not tell me this earlier? Did he break this .. sad. news to you gently?“

She looked away from him. “I met with El Zorro at his request, just before Moneta married Don Diego.”

Ricardo del’Amo grabbed her more roughly than he had intended. “Tell me everything!”

“Very well.”

[[[[ ZZZZ]]]]

 

Anna Maria set out on the Camino Real just on the outskirts of Monterrey. Following El Zorro’s instructions, another of her cousins, Antonia Elena Vivadores, was the only other person to accompany her. Although they both had been riding for almost ten minutes, neither senorita saw another horseman. But as they approached the crossroads on the Camino Real where it branched into the smaller road toward San Pedro, Anna Maria spotted the familiar black clad figure, the Fox himself.

“Buenas tardes, Señorita Verdugo, and to you also, Señorita Vivadores.” Zorro said in his most charming voice. Will you excuse us, por favor? Señorita Anna Maria and I briefly require some privacy.“

“Oh, Señor Zorro, I can not believe that you requested to see me! I--” Anna Maria halted speaking, as he seemed very distant, even cool towards her. Her beloved Dark Angel did not envelop her in his strong arms as she had desperately hoped. She attempted to look into his eyes but he deliberately avoided her gaze.

“Señorita Verdugo--”

“So, it is ‘Señorita Verdugo’! Why, I--”

This time he did embrace her, but his was the brief, comforting touch of a friend, not a lover...

When she stiffened in his arms he released her. “Anna Maria,” he now looked directly into her eyes. The Fox stood there, staring down at her. She sensed a new calmness in his demeanor, yet as Anna Maria returned his look, she found that the mask now hid more than his features. Those wonderfully sensuous eyes were now mysteriously unreadable. Was there another woman? she thought suddenly.

“Farewell, Anna Maria. Marry someone who truly loves you!”

“Then I shall become Señora del‘Amo.” she half-heartedly replied.

“Del’Amo!” Zorro exclaimed. “Anna Maria! He is the last man you should marry! He is beneath your contempt! His actions since the end of summer have been, well, as his betrothed, you should ask him yourself!” Without explaining his last remark, he spurred Tornado back towards Los Angeles.

Her face drained of all of its color at the vehemence in his voice. “Wait, mi caballero, tell me what you mean regarding Ricardo! Please come back!” She cried out bitterly.

“Vaya con Dios!” Zorro saluted her with the tip of his hat as he reared Tornado on a nearby hilltop. And then he was gone from her sight and her life, she knew, forever.

“You have told me everything, Anna Maria!” Ricardo looked at her, not knowing what to believe. He grasped her shoulders more tightly. “You are certain that there is nothing more?”

“S-sí!” Anna Maria cried out more from shock than pain. “Ricardo! Please, you’re bruising my arms!”

“Lo siento, querida! But are you sure--”

“To think that he once loved me! But, he also said the people of California need him more. Zorro told me that he could not abandon their welfare for his own personal happiness.” she said more bitterly than she intended.

He held her chin in his hands. “And?”

Anna Maria tried to mask the pain in her heart and soul as best she could. She thought to herself [I am no fool, Ricardo, I will never reveal what Zorro really said about you! You be unable to handle the truth! The remainder of the story about her rendezvous with Zorro was largely fiction. Zorro had never held her in his arms as she told Ricardo. In fact, the Fox coldly informed her how deeply he cherished his promise to the people of Alta California.] . Aloud, she told Ricardo, “I cannot love a man who will always consider the feelings of others’ ahead of my own!”

Don Ricardo kissed her goodnight as ardently as possible, which was exceedingly difficult for a man who loved no one save himself. He hoped that his deception worked. He left soon thereafter as Don Gregorio was scheduled to arrive from San Pedro on a business trip within the hour.

 

[[[[ ZZZZ]]]]]

 

“ANNA MARIA!” Don Gregorio’s voice boomed throughout the empty hacienda. “Where are you? There is no use hiding? I know that you have been seeing Don Ricardo against my explicit orders!”

She thrust out her chin. “And what of it, father! I love Don Ricardo and--”

Don Gregorio turned his back to her. “Spare me! Just as you ‘loved’ El Zorro or Don Diego, or anyone else who would flatter you with silky words and expensive presents!”

Anna Maria was truly horrified. “Father, how can you say such awful things about your own daughter?”

Her father replied in a flat voice. “Anna Maria, I can no longer tolerate your foolishness! Please leave this hacienda in the morning. I will make certain that my brother's family near the Mission of San Gabriel will take you in. I will no longer try to prevent you from marrying that scoundrel, Ricardo del’Amo! I shall make arrangements for you to have an account with my attorney so that you will not be penniless.”

Anna Maria’s face went pale. " You simply cannot do this father! "

"On the contrary, I can do whatever I want! Although you are still legally my daughter, you have shown complete irresponsibility by refusing my desire for you to marry Don Diego and instead socializing with Don Ricardo. “The man is an animal! Why can you not believe Moneta’s story that he is the father of her baby!”

Anna Maria covered her ears. “NO! SHE IS LYING--”

“Ah, my poor daughter. Moneta has never publicly acknowledged the name of her child’s father. NEVER, Anna Maria! So Don Ricardo must have--. He stopped speaking since Anna Maria tried to leave the sala.

“I will not listen to another untruth spoken about my future husband!”

Don Gregorio sighed. “You have become a vain and shallow young woman, my daughter. Del’Amo will cause you great harm. Nevertheless, I wish you well. He kissed Anna Maria on her cheek and then he shut the door to his bedroom.

Just after dawn, she sent a note to Don Ricardo and he quickly came to pick her up from her father's house. "Marry me Anna Maria, today! We can ride to San Gabriel and Fray Felipe will ask no questions! Por favor, I love you!“

Anna Maria sighed. “Sí, Ricardo! I wish nothing more than to be Senora del’Amo!”

“Bueno! We shall be man and wife by tomorrow afternoon.“

Anna Maria’s heart felt as if whatever love for another human being that had existed in her had been obliterated by the day’s cruel events. Am I too self-absorbed not to recognize true love when I see it? Diego loved me once! Maybe my father is right after all. Perhaps marriage with the flamboyant and devious Don Ricardo is all that I deserve! she said sotto voce as she cried herself to sleep the night of her wedding.

 

[[[ZZZZ]]]]

 

Moneta thoroughly read the lawsuit later upstairs in their bedroom as Diego was preparing to ride as Zorro. “But Diego, you did write these avisos!”

“And?” he said his voice muffled by the black silk mask he was adjusting over his face.

“EL ZORRO!” she exclaimed as the Dark Knight swept her into his embrace.

“Hush, Moneta dearest!” He kissed her into silence. “Señora de la Vega, have you, of all people no faith in Zorro?”

She looked up into his hazel eyes, which in the candlelight had become aflame with desire. “But--”

“Zorro orders you to be quiet. Oh! Moneta, do not do that!“

Moneta playfully pulled away his mask and then hurriedly stuffed it down her frock’s bodice. “Come and get it!” she said huskily.

[Knock! Knock! ] “Dios! Querida, it is just as well. I must be going!

Three sharp ones followed the first two knocks on their bedroom door. Santa Maria... it was his mozo’s secret code. He opened the door slightly.

“This had better be important!” Bernardo nodded and then twisted his hands in the air as he gave his young master the message. “Señor del’Amo is not staying in his leased hacienda? Where did he go?”

[He and Señorita Verdugo eloped to Father Felipe’s mission. Her father ordered her to leave home!]

Diego could scarcely believe his ears. “Bernardo, you are an eternal font of information! You have done well. Gracias!“ Meet me in the secret room in one hour! Diego winked at his mozo.

Bernardo turned up his palms and shrugged. ‘Por nada. Buenos noches, Señor y Señora de la Vega.’ He smiled as he walked back to his living quarters. Hmm, this past year I spent flirting with Don Ricardo’s chief housekeeper has finally paid off. I wonder what sort of magic my master shall perform tonight?

“Now, Señora Fox, can you refresh my memory regarding what I was doing five minutes earlier?” Diego teased his wife.

Señor Fox, as I said, you must retrieve your mask. I warn you, I shall not surrender easily! And--oh, Diego!” she giggled as he scooped her up in his arms and laid her gently down their bed. With one strong hand he pinned Moneta’s arms above her head and caressed her slightly protruding abdomen.

“Dearest child, I anxiously await your arrival and as much as I love you, I love your madre even more.” Moneta started to speak but soon Diego’s kisses made her forget time itself.

 

[[[[ZZZZ]]]]

 

“There you are Bernardo! We haven’t much time. Judge Vasca arrives tomorrow afternoon and the trial is set for the following morning. I want a new aviso posted as quickly as possible. Do not worry, four copies are all that we shall need to ruffle our prey’s feathers!”

“Let me see them.“

His mute friend handed Zorro the newest poster.

“Bueno, Bernardo! SEÑOR DEL’AMO YOU ARE THE ONE WHO IS GUILTY OF LIBEL AND SLANDER! I, EL ZORRO, AM THE AUTHOR OF THESE NOTICES! he read aloud. “Excellente, Bernardo. Put on your black silks! We are riding as a team again tonight! His mozo clapped his hands together excitedly as he and Zorro left the secret cave heading to their respective destinations.

 

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