The Gift

 

 

   

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

THE HUNTER AND THE HUNTED

 

DECEMBER 8, 1821

Diego quickly removed his jaqueta and threw on the black silks of his Zorro costume. He had to begin his hunt for Ricardo del’Amo as soon as possible because his former friend had gone quite mad. Now his dear wife Moneta, and his mozo Bernardo, had both been wounded by Ricardo del’Amo on their way home from a shopping trip to the Pueblo for some Christmas Posada items. Whether or not his grievances with the de la Vegas were real or imagined, Del’Amo had burned a very important bridge behind him.

Doña Moneta’s plea for leniency after the libel and slander trial was the lone voice of reason amidst a community, which demanded a very public and protracted punishment for Don Ricardo. Zorro certainly did not agree with those few inhabitants of Los Angeles who, because it was the Christian thing to do, wanted fair and humane treatment of Don Ricardo. No, Don Ricardo had thrust too many painful arrows into the Fox’s soul. Zorro had to bring del’Amo to justice his way. They would duel to the death; regardless of what the law said was the appropriate penalty for attempted murder.

Just as he was about to enter the secret cave, Don Alejandro caught Zorro at the top of the stairwell. "El Zorro, what I have to say will greatly disturb you but it must be said! I realize that you are being sorely tried by the recent horrible turn of events, but remember to ask Our Savior the strength to capture and not kill him!”

"‘Capture‘?” Zorro shouted. “Father, surely you must be joking! I intend to--“

Don Alejandro shook his head. "No, you must not take he law into your own hands! The Masked Avenger has always stood on the side of justice. You cannot appoint yourself judge, jury, and executioner. If you kill Ricardo del'Amo in cold blood, the people of California will not understand. It will appear that Don Diego de la Vega has hired you as a mercenary to take care of his ’ problem.’ "

Frustrated beyond almost all-human endurance, Zorro punched a wooden support beam in the cavern wall. He put down the lantern on the table and turned to his father. “But I cannot permit Ricardo to escape the consequences of his actions again! He must pay the full price for his terrible crimes!"

Alejandro grabbed his son's shoulders. “And I cannot allow you to commit murder!”

Don Alejandro riveted his eyes on Zorro’s own hazel ones, eyes tortured by the uncertainty that his beloved Moneta, although no longer in a coma, might remain trapped inside a dark universe of permanent blindness.

“What am I going to do?" Zorro squeezed his eyes shut, unwilling to face the truth in his father's gaze. [Dear God,] the Fox prayed, [I must not betray the people of Alta California’s faith in me to do the right thing, and I must remain true to my personal moral values. I cannot take Ricardo’s life just because it is convenient thing for me to do. I am not above the law, I enforce the law!’]

Don Alejandro continued his lecture. It must be having some effect as Zorro’s entire frame relaxed somewhat. "In your heart, Señor Zorro, you know you cannot do this awful thing. Promise me you will not kill Ricardo del'Amo unless he gives you no choice, that you will only use deadly force in the name of self-defense. "

His father watched as a myriad of emotions struggled for dominance across El Zorro’s face. What truly hurt his son the most was he had been unable to protect Moneta and Bernardo from that madman del'Amo. He knew that Diego believed that he since was the Fox, he should have foreseen all possible dangers.

The Fox picked up the lantern. "All right, father, I hereby pledge by my word of honor that I will not kill Ricardo del'Amo. I shall do everything possible to bring him back to Los Angeles to face the King’s justice. “

“Gracias, my son! Although this does not feel ‘right‘ to you at this moment, you will never regret your decision.”

“Perhaps in the distant future.” Zorro smiled wanly. He paused again mumbling to himself. “By the Three Marias! But there is one matter I have almost overlooked!”

"What is it?" asked his father.

"Well, it is going to be rather difficult to explain Don Diego's absence from his wife's bedside. But I have just thought of an idea.” He picked up a quill from the table and began writing out a note.

"Father; please have this message taken to Don Joaquin, the son of Don Alfredo. He and his acting troupe have been staying in Los Angeles for the past couple of days. Don Joaquin owes me some favors. He is a man of many talents and of many faces, which is the perfect solution to help my being in two places simultaneously!“

Don Alejandro read the note and laughed. "You are right my son! This is a wonderful idea! Vaya con Dios !"

He watched in aggrieved silence as his son embarked on perhaps the most dangerous ride that El Zorro would ever make. Then he sent Jorge Paco to look for Don Joaquin in Los Angeles and gave him instructions to bring his friend's son back to the de la Vega hacienda as quickly as possible!

 

[[[[ZZZZ]]]

Anna Maria sat dejectedly in Dr. Tomas Guerrero’s office near Los Angeles, after he told her that she was with child.

“Dr. Guerrero, are you certain… we have been married for such a short time!“

He smiled down at her. “Sí, Doña Anna Maria! By my calculations you are not quite three weeks pregnant. Congratulations. Now, I want to see you every four weeks or so. You are in excellent health and you should be able to give birth without any major problems. Buenas tardes, Señora del’Amo.“

Anna Maria cried all the way back to the hacienda in San Gabriel. [Already! It is too soon for me to get pregnant! I cannot believe that I am carrying that monster, Ricardo's baby! What in heaven's name am I going to do? I realize that I have deceived not only Don Juan and Ricardo but also have greatly cheated this innocent child and myself.

Don Juan del'Amo was waiting for Anna Maria when she returned to the rented hacienda. "What was the doctor's diagnosis? " he asked kindly, although he already knew the answer.

She shook her head. “It was just as I suspected -- I am pregnant. " Anna Maria began crying again.

Ricardo's father gathered her in his arms. "There is nothing to be ashamed of, my dear! You ... were in love with my son at the time when you married him, were you not?”

“No. I managed to deceive myself -- and Ricardo -- into believing that I could love him. I suppose the Masked Avenger shall always hold my heart captive!“

Don Juan nodded. “I thought as much. Nevertheless, God has seen fit to send you a child. No human has ever had the luxury of selecting his/her parents! You are a del’Amo now and I shall have a grandchild!” He smiled warmly at her. “Do not worry so. I shall do everything in my power to make the child's life as comfortable as possible. Now, get some rest. I shall be staying in the bedroom next door and the Governor has detailed his personal bodyguard to watch over you."

 

                                                [[[ZZZZ]]]]

 

Ricardo del’Amo managed to convince Father Felipe of the Mission of San Gabriel that he was sincerely remorseful about attacking Senora de la Vega and Bernardo, Diego de la Vega’s mozo. The fool, unable to tell whether or not I am being truthful. I shall stay here another day and then start out tomorrow night for the de la Vega’s hacienda. Diego, he thought caustically, I no longer care that you are incapable of handling a sword. You shall tremble and die at the point of my saber!

Unknown to Ricardo del'Amo, Father Felipe had told two of his Indian “children“ constantly watch his newest guest at all times. Shortly after Ricardo appeared at the mission gate, the priest sent a message to Don Juan that his son was hunting for Don Diego.

The young caballero laughed in his face when Father Felipe tried to explain to him how deep into spiritual trouble Ricardo had placed his mortal soul by his attempted murder of Doña Moneta and Bernardo.

"You do not understand father; Don Diego de la Vega has insulted me for last time! I am a member of the gente de razon! My family's blood is richer and much older than the de la Vega clan! Therefore, we del'Amo's are far superior to any other family in Alta California! "

"I pity you, " said Father Felipe, "for you have finally gone mad!” The friar bowed his head. “Of course, I shall continue to pray for your soul."

To his great surprise, Ricardo del'Amo actually looked chastened. "Father, Diego and I have been rivals since childhood. But as I have already explained to you, I cannot allow that inferior blood think that he is better that I am. It is as simple as that. "

Father Felipe was aghast. "Señor, we're all the same in God's eyes. Surely you cannot mean what you are saying! "

Ricardo waved his pistol in the air. "This weapon, father, is the only justice I know! At least now, it is the only justice I can trust! Turn around!” del’Amo said as he bound and gagged the good friar.

“Behave yourself, old man, and perhaps I shall allow you to live!”

 

                                             [[[[ZZZZ]]]]

 

Zorro and Tornado had fruitlessly searched the countryside between San Gabriel and Los Angeles throughout the night. Finally, they stopped at a small stream near the Mission so that they both could satisfy their thirst. The Masked Avenger looked up at the night sky and noticed that the moon was in her last quarter. He prayed that his good luck charm, "the Queen of the Heavens," as the local Indians called the moon, would bring him luck tonight.

Her Celestial Majesty reigned alone in the sky above him tonight. Dull gray white clouds began to obscure most of his view of the moon. As he continued his night ride, the sky became even more overcast, and the stars seemed to wink themselves out of existence. When the Masked Avenger approached the mission at San Gabriel, he saw that the lights in the chapel and Father Felipe's quarters were still blazing at this late hour. Strange, he thought, for the good father to be up past midnight. Perhaps his preparations for the Mission‘s own small Posada on December 16 are incomplete. I wonder.

He dismounted from Tornado and he instructed the stallion to wait for him at the rear of the chapel. He noticed a large chestnut horse being freshly saddled and loaded with blankets and supplies as he made his way around the mission grounds toward the stables, he saw a horse saddled with several days of provisions. “Dios! It is del’ Amo’s steed, Sky Fever. I hope that Father Felipe is unharmed!“ Zorro silently crept up to the window of the priest’s room and heard Ricardo arguing with the good father.

“I am sleeping here tonight Father and I should warn you that I am easily awakened. Please sit down in this chair. Fine.” Ricardo said as he tightened the priest’s restraints. “IF any of your so-called “children” attempt to rescue you or tries to harm me, I will kill you. Do you doubt my word?” del’Amo’s face was as cold and lifeless as marble.

Father Felipe nodded. “No.”

“Bueno.” Then Ricardo pushed down his hat over his face and proceeded to snore the night away.

Zorro stealthily moved to where Tornado was waiting and made camp nearby. He slept without the warmth of a fire because he did not want Ricardo to see any smoke in the morning as he left the Mission. The Fox’s prey mounted his horse just after sunup and turned his steed south towards Los Angeles.

[First things first]. Zorro thought angrily. He must check to see whether or not Father Felipe was still unharmed.

“Zorro! Thank the Blessed Virgin that you are finally here!” Father Felipe cried out joyfully after the Fox released him. “Ricardo del’Amo--”

“Sí, padre, I know what he has done. I am going to capture him today. That is my solemn promise!” He quickly freed the priest and brought him some water.

“Bless you. El Zorro!”

“Gracias, Father. Are you certain that you and the Indians are not hurt?” The Fox asked in a worried tone.

“Except for Innocente’s brother, Pasqual. Señor del’Amo struck him with his whip because he tried to defend me from that poor lost soul!“ Then Father Felipe saw the hate and contempt aflame in the Fox’s eyes whenever he mentioned del’Amo’s name.

“No, my son, wait! Listen to me, por favor! I know that you have been severely tried these past few months. I will tell you the same thing that I told Ricardo del’Amo. ‘Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.”

“Sí, Padre.” Zorro knelt before the priest. “Father, I beseech your blessing. I need the strength only God can provide me to conquer my desire to kill Ricardo del’Amo.”

Father Felipe was only too happy to oblige him. “Vaya con Dios, El Zorro!“

 

[[[[ZZZZ]]]]

 

Don Joaquin Sanchez, eldest son of Don Alejandro de la Vega’s friend, Don Alfredo Sanchez, knocked on the de la Vega’s sala door. Don Joaquin had not seen either Diego or Don Alejandro since Joaquin left the University in Madrid to pursue acting career nearly five years ago.

Alejandro instructed Jorge Paco to please admit his guest.

Diego’s father Don Alejandro was immediately struck by Joaquin’s uncanny physical resemblance to Diego.

Joaquin Alvarez bowed to Don Alejandro, and then Diego’s father slapped him on his back. “Good to see you, Joaquin. You are looking splendid. Apparently, the nomadic life of an actor agrees with you!”

“Muchas gracias, Don Alejandro! And how are Doña Moneta and Bernardo doing?“ Genuine concern wrinkled his forehead.

“The most beautiful addition to the de la Vega family continues to improve daily. However, we still do not know when or if Moneta will regain her full vision. Since she is so sensitive to sunlight Moneta can no longer enjoy her daily knitting sessions in the patio. She fatigues easily, so I only permit her to sit up in the sala thirty minutes or so, in the late afternoon. As for Bernardo, he was the beneficiary of a wonderful surgical technique and is doing splendidly. Dr. Perez still has confined him to bed for a while longer.”

“Bueno!” Joaquin sincerely replied.

“Ah, Joaquin, were you able to follow Diego’s instructions to the letter?” Don Alejandro asked.

“Sí. Diego and I are almost exactly the same height, weight and have dark hazel eyes. I just have to trim my mustache to get it perfect. Of course, there is really no doubt as to who is the better looking caballero!”

Don Alejandro chuckled. “You have not lost your sense of humor, Joaquin! Por favor, I do not know how much time we have, so why don’t you try on some of Diego’s suits?“

“Con permiso?” he nodded to Don Alejandro and stepped into Diego’s bedroom to change his clothes.

Less than thirty minutes later, Don Alejandro shook his head in amazement as he reentered his son’s room.

Don Joaquin was wearing Diego’s buckskin outfit and admiring his handiwork in the mirror.

“Hello, father,” ’Don Diego’ said as he bowed deeply to Don Alejandro.

“Excellente, Don Joaquin! We can go see Doña Moneta shortly, as she is the perfect person upon whom to practice your impersonation of Diego.”

Joaquin withdrew a cubano from inside his jaqueta and lit it. “Father,” ’Diego’ said between puffs of cigar smoke, “I have heard that this ’Don Joaquin’ fellow is an actor! What a disappointment to his father he must be!” Joaquin said in an almost letter perfect imitation of his son’s Diego’s voice.

“Ayi, yi yi, carrumba!” Don Alejandro roared.

 

 

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