THE HUNTER’S PREY
DECEMBER 9-10, 1821
The Dark Knight
allowed Ricardo to believe that he traveled the Camino Real alone and
unobserved. But what surprised El Zorro was the discovery that his enemy
had a more extensive knowledge of the terrain between the Mission and
the de le Vega hacienda than the average caballero.
Del’Amo eluded the three military patrols that he had, so far,
encountered just one day’s ride from Los Angeles.
Ricardo had also
found a couple of the same caves that the Fox had used many times before
in his cat and mouse games that he so enjoyed playing against the
Spanish Colonial Army. Zorro noted that del’Amo cleverly erased
whatever hoof prints his horse made between the edge of the road and the
beginning of the mountains’ vegetation by swishing some sagebrush
across the Camino Real. As Señor Blazer Felipe Maria y Castile, his
fencing instructor during the less than three years he studied at
Madrid, the only “soundly defeated adversary is a dead one. NEVER
underestimate you opponent!” The Fox would never make that mistake
Tornado,” the Fox comforted his agitated steed after his riding
companion alerted him by pawing the ground twice, indicating that
Ricardo del’Amo was near. “Smell the scoundrel, eh boy? Easy does it
my friend. All in good time. You see, Tornado, I am driving him toward
home. He is clever, but half of the deadly game we are playing involves
ingenuity as well as bravery. I want to delude him into
thinking that he can successfully dodge me. He is foolishly entering my
personal defense circle and I am thoroughly prepared for him to enter my
Joaquin, just wonderful! Your performance is wonderful and your physical
resemblance to Diego is striking. “Come with me, son of mi viejo,
Don Alfredo. This is the usual time that I check in on Doña Moneta and
make sure that she has everything she needs for the afternoon.”
way,“ said Joaquin to Don Alejandro. “I have been looking forward to
this meeting since we were twelve years old!” He glanced down into
Moneta’s warm brown eyes as he raised the back of her hand to kiss it.
“Ah, my Arabian
princess! You are even more beautiful now than ever! I am still your
most faithful servant!” Then he executed a grand, sweeping bow, the
formal greeting of the Spanish court. Joaquin also told her the true
reason she was feeing better was because he had arrived to
take excellent care of her.
have not changed one bit! Join me for some refreshment.” Moneta said.
“but I cannot stay up away from my bed very long until Dr. Perez says
I can-- my eyesight is still quite poor. I love to sit in the patio in
the afternoon and I cannot do this until the good doctor gives me
permission. But, let us talk of happier times, Joaquin! We have more
than a decade of news and stories to exchange with each other!”
harrumphed. “Ah, Moneta, Don Joaquin and I have much discuss regarding
our strategy to deal with del’Amo. Be assured that after we have
concluded our meeting I shall order Don Joaquin not
to leave you alone, even for a minute!”
Don Joaquin sighed
in mock distress. “If only I can survive the next several hours
without basking in the glow of Señora de la Vega‘s ‘mystique‘!”
chuckled. “Moneta was right. You have NEVER learned to grow up!
Seriously, Joaquin, we have urgent matters that we must talk about, so
we shall see you for dinner, my dear daughter.”
Moneta nodded, sighing deeply.
As they sat in the
library drinking some aged and very mellow Jerez, Don
Alejandro’s voice became serious.
"Joaquin although you were obviously a very good actor and
mimic, your impersonation must be perfect!”
Alejandro- I mean my father,” Don Joaquin said in his best
imitation of Diego’s firm, yet light baritone voice, “I can and do
perfectly imitate a person’s voice as you are hearing me mimicking
Diego’s voice now--about five minutes after I have heard it for the
first time. Actually, I try not to mimic the person or his voice. I
study the person’s walk, mannerisms, and the inflections in his voice.
Diego’s tones are easier for me to ‘adopt’ because I have known
him most of my life.”
“If I understand
you correctly, Don Joaquin, I mean, ‘Diego.’ you do not impersonate
your subject, you try to actually become that person!”
clapped his hands in admiration. “BRAVO, Don Alejandro! In the words
of someone we both know and love very dearly, ‘EXACTLY SO!’”
Joaquin frowned briefly and then decided to ask Don Alejandro something
that had been bothering him greatly since Joaquin received Diego’s
note earlier today.
I may be overstepping the bounds of propriety, but may ask where
Diego will be while I am taking his place here in his home?”
[By the three
Marias! I am glad that Diego provided me with an answer to that obvious
-- and dangerous -- question.] Don Alejandro said to himself.
Joaquin, you are most certainly entitled to an explanation. Zorro
approached Diego about providing protection for my son and his wife
after Moneta was shot by Ricardo. Naturally, Diego felt that the Fox
could capture Ricardo and protect Moneta, Bernardo and myself. Joaquin,
Diego and Don Juan del’Amo are making arrangements to have Ricardo
committed. Well, for his own safety! Diego is trying to help Don Juan
del’Amo, who is already en route to Monterey, expedite the
incarceration procedure. He hopes to be home soon.“
Don Joaquin pursed
his lips. "I always knew that Ricardo was extremely selfish and,
grunted in agreement. “And now, Joaquin, por favor, speak in Diego’s
voice as much as you can.”
Joaquin bowed to Diego’s father. Then Joaquin straightened himself as
much as he could and his cleared his throat. "Father,” Joaquin
said wearily, "I wish you would allow me to lead my own life! I am
a lover of poetry, wine and song! "
smiled. "That was nearly perfect! However, Diego has a slightly
deeper voice. Try again. For example, practice calling out for Bernardo.
“My son rolls the ‘r’s in his mozo’s name.”
Joaquin tried the
phrases once again. After half an hour, Don Alejandro believed that when
he closed his eyes, Diego was sitting right before him.
sighed, quite pleased with Joaquin’ s efforts. [However, he
thought, there is one test that would prove Joaquin could help Zorro
defeat his adversary!] “ Go to the door of the sala and call
Moneta to come to the library asking her to join us here!”
Joaquin bowed to
Don Alejandro, and he walked to the library door and opened it, “Moneta,
mi preciosa, will you have Jorge Paco bring you to the library
where we can have some refreshment together?” Joaquin‘s baritone
echoed throughout the patio.
Moneta instantly replied as she removed the tinted spectacles to help
block any light that could irritate her eyes. “We did not expect you
back until ... much ... later... Confused, she glanced back and forth
from Don Alejandro and Don Joaquin.
was that you?“
Joaquin reveled in
his smugness. “Don Alejandro, I believe that I have solved the problem
of Sergeant Garcia or anyone else whom will only be satisfied with
speaking with me/Diego personally. Just leave everything to me! I have a
‘prop‘ that I would like to use to ‘insure‘ that Don Ricardo
accepts my impersonation of ‘Don Diego!”
tone was somber but his eyes twinkled mischievously. “I trust your
judgment. Your servant, Señor Alvarez. I mean ‘Diego!’”
slashed repeatedly through the air as he practiced exactly how he was
going to relieve El Zorro -- and later -- Diego of their lives.
learned two very important lessons from his duel with El Zorro: Rule
number One, the best defense is to always be on offensive; and Rule
Number Two, always defer to Rule Number One. He knew that the Dark
Knight was a consummate master of the defensive art of
misdirection. More than once during their duel, Ricardo allowed
his blade to be “pulled away” or change from his original line of
defense, usually Ricardo’s upper right side. Zorro’s rapid false
attacks wrongly convinced Ricardo to lower his saber from defending his
original position. The Fox then executed a perfect lunge and struck
Ricardo on the opposite side, his upper left torso, and had it been a
real duel of honor, Zorro would have skewered him like a hog on barbecue
Garcia. I am very tired and I want to go back to Los Angeles!”
Corporal Reyes said mournfully.
“Sí, Baboso! Do
you think that you are the only one who is weary! Like you, I have been
in the saddle since sunrise. But you do not hear me complaining, do
Reyes shook his
head. “Well, only three times since lunch--”
Garcia covered his
face with his hands.
“And I think
that the reason we cannot locate Don Ricardo is because he wants to stay
lost! It is getting late!” Reyes continued to complain.
“Stupid one! The
lack of rest has turned your brains, such as they are, to mush! But you
are right --we cannot continue to search in the dark, especially since
it has rained recently. There are mud pits deep enough -- up to a
man’s knees --everywhere! Buglers, sound the regroup and retreat
ceased to be amused by Garcia’s ineptness as he watched the army
search fruitlessly for him. [He obviously has not figured out I
travel by night and sleep during the day.] del’Amo silently
laughed. No, what was truly irritating was the fact that the Fox was
toying with him. His continued freedom meant that El Zorro was delaying
their inevitable showdown.
But since his
previous duel with the outlaw, Ricardo had been receiving twice weekly
fencing lessons from the Master Fencing Instructor to Emperor Napoleon
Bonaparte’s General Staff, Monsieur Girard. When Ricardo defeated the
Fox his pleasure would be multifold. First, he would unmask Zorro and
then kill him. His fame would become unlimited since Ricardo del’Amo
would always be known as the man who killed Zorro. The authorities
and the gente de razon, the upper class, would hail him as a hero.
Of course, the peons would despise him, but their opinion had never
mattered to him anyway. And lastly, the Fox’s death by his hand would
torture his faithless wife Anna Maria forever.
Zorro made one
final trip to the secret cave where his father was waiting for him with
fresh clothes and food. As he changed his clothes, he told Don Alejandro
“Tonight is the night, father. I only came home to get see you and
Moneta. I have to decide whether a man who used to be one of my best
friends must live or die. Yet, as I told Father Felipe, I am still so
full of hate that I find it difficult to concentrate on my final combat
with Ricardo del’Amo. I know that I gave you my word.”
looked into Diego’s troubled eyes with fatherly love and
understanding. “Never, ever underestimate yourself, my son! You have
dedicated your entire life to aiding the poor and defenseless. When the
time comes, you will do the right thing! After all you are a de la
Vega and you are El Zorro!”
Diego finished his
transformation into the Fox by pulling on his mask. He shrugged. “May
it happen as you wish, my father. How
is Bernardo doing?”
“Come and see
for yourself. He is doing much better. Bernardo is finally starting to
eat again,” said Don Alejandro as he handed the Fox back his saber.
“Gracias a Dios!
I cannot wait to talk with him. Come father, time grows short and I want
to see Moneta before I leave. I also want to make certain that Don
Joaquin has everything prepared before Ricardo arrives here as
Don Alejandro put
his hand on Zorro’s shoulders, “Go take care of Moneta. Do not worry
about anything or anyone else! Joaquin and I know exactly what to do
when that porco, Ricardo, does finally show his face
Moneta brushed her
hair for the third time since she learned Diego was back. As she was
rearranging her toiletry articles on her dressing table Moneta saw her
Dark Knight’s reflection in her hand held mirror.
" El Zorro!
Zorro rushed to
her and lifted her into his arms. “ Querida mia, how are you
happily. "Now that you are home, I am doing very much better! I am
so glad to see you before Ricardo’s arrival."
The Fox found that
he could not remove his gaze from her lovely face. “Moneta --”
She placed her
fingers over his mouth. "Be quiet, my darling! El Zorro is here so
everything is going to be fine. "
“You know that I
swore to my father I would bring Ricardo del'Amo back to Los Angeles to
face the King's justice. Moneta, I also solemnly promise you that I
will come home to you alive." He kissed her deeply on her lips
and then he was gone.
against the wall, vainly trying to prevent herself from crying. Several
minutes later she left the cocooned safety of her bedroom and went to
talk to Don Alejandro and Don Joaquin.
polishing his saber and placed it in its scabbard. He mounted his horse,
Sky Fever, and urged his steed onward to the de la Vega hacienda.
Del’Amo checked his pocket watch. Bueno. Only a half-hour to
sundown, and the people’s hero usually appears just after the sun has
relinquished its searing hold on the day to its serene cool Mistress of
the Night, the moon. As the crimson red sun vanished behind the
mountains, Don Ricardo felt he was not alone as he turned his mount onto
the small dirt road that led directly to the de la Vega hacienda. Zorro
can’t possibly be watching me now. I know that he is waiting
for me at the hacienda. Well, Señor Fox, here I come. Ricardo
whistled in the night air. He felt supremely confident that his combat
with Zorro would end quickly and then he would deal with Diego de la
The Dark Knight
watched as calmly as he could as Ricardo del'Amo tied up his horse at
the de la Vega hacienda's hitching post. Del'Amo quickly scanned the
hacienda’s grounds. He pressed his ear against the gate and could not
hear anything. Then he moved several paces back, took aim at the door,
and kicked it in.
astonishment, no one was sitting in the patio, nor did he see any lights
on in the sala. Then Ricardo looked more closely at the balcony and he
saw the light shining beneath both Diego's and his father's bedroom
doors. He began shoving the patio furniture around and this resulted in
the response he wanted. Don Alejandro emerged from his bedroom first. He
saw Ricardo in the patio aiming a pair of pistols at him.
“Old man, knock
on Diego’s door.”
“Father, what is
all that noise?” ‘Diego’ said as he stepped out onto the balcony.
tardes, Don Diego!“ Ricardo sarcastically greeted the younger de la
Vega. “Get one of the servants to bring a lantern and the both of you
come downstairs immediately!”
Their new Indian
servant Jorge Paco and Don Alejandro’s mozo, Felipe
Lopez, came through the sala and placed a lantern on the patio table.
Del'Amo told the both of them to return to hacienda.
"I said move
it! Pronto! Please, gentlemen,” he said, gesturing with one of his
pistols, “Take your seats. I promise you that the evening's
entertainment will soon begin.”
started to sit down, Ricardo noticed that he had a handkerchief wrapped
around his face. "What is the matter with you Diego?"
"I have a
toothache," he said in a muffled voice. "It really
Del'Amo picked up
the lantern and held it next to Diego's face.
clenched his fists inside his night robe. “Por favor, Blessed
Virgin, let our ruse work!”
‘Diego’ yelped as Ricardo pulled at the swollen left cheek
"What a pity
that the swelling has affected your handsomeness! But, soon you will be
unable to feel anything at all. "
snorted angrily. " Get to the point Ricardo! What is it that you
moved away from them and sat down in a chair across the patio where he
could observe his “guests” at all times. “Why, I am looking for
that coward, El Zorro!"
shook his head and then grabbed his mouth. " Ouch!“ he said
aloud. “Uh, Ricardo,” he said slowly, “Zorro is not here."
for both of you gentlemen, I have plenty of time to wait for him to
Alejandro de la
Vega started toward del’Amo. "If I were 20 years younger I would
thrash you myself! Why are you searching for Zorro here? "
Ricardo sneered at
the two hidalgos. “Zorro seems to have certain affection
for you de la Vegas that is beyond my understanding. I know that I only
have to wait here a little while and Zorro will come. Oh, and Diego?
painfully turned his head towards Ricardo. "Sí."
evilly. " If I were you, Diego, I would recite all the prayers that
you know, because after I kill El Zorro, I am going to relieve you of
your miserable life!”
Don Alejandro and
‘Diego’ traded sharp looks. “Do not count your chickens before
they are hatched Señor!” The elder de la Vega warned.