The Gift

 

 

 

CHAPTER NINE----ZORRO ‘S STRATEGY

NOVEMBER 5, 1821

 

Don Alejandro looked askance at his son Diego. “Surely, neither you nor the Fox would neglect taking to task that miserable worm, Ricardo? It has been two days since his ...disgraceful behavior at your wedding!” Don Alejandro kept muttering to himself and pacing back and forth in the sala since it was too cold for them to dine on the patio where they normally had breakfast. Finally, he sat down next his son. “I assume by your silence that you are going to permit that raton to insult your wife and the rest of your family -- he must be firmly dealt with, the sooner, the better!” The elder de la Vega sighed. “May all the Santos give me strength!”

Diego sighed indulgently at his father. “Por favor, of course I shall ‘deal with’ that ganallo! I believe that this situation requires handling with an iron fist -- but presented with a leather glove. When the Masked Avenger and I are finished with Don Ricardo, he will be begging the Fox to book him passage on the first ship sailing from San Pedro to the Philippines!“

Don Alejandro’s grin reached all the away up to his hairline. “Ah.“ He said somewhat intrigued by Diego‘s mysterious promise of implementing some kind of action against Ricardo. “And are you going to reveal your plans to me or must I wait another forty-eight hours?“

“Father,” Diego replied in mock severity, “have you not always told me that patience is a virtue?”

“Ay, yi, yi!” Don Alejandro raised his eyes heavenward. “May all the Santos give me strength! Diego, I am a man of action, and I am also thinking of the family honor!”

“Sí, my father. There is also a saying that ‘revenge is a dish that is best served cold.’ Knowing Ricardo as well as I do, right now he is reveling in the fact that once again his vicious insults and conduct have not resulted in any unpleasant consequences for him. Well, he shall now reap what he has sown by his spiteful actions.“

“So, tonight the Fox has special plans for Señor del’Amo?“

Diego grinned mischievously. “Exactly so!”

 

[[[[[ZZZZ]]]]

 

Diego told Bernardo to meet him in the secret room immediately after dinner. As the young de la Vega transformed himself from the foppish caballero to the heroic Dark Knight, he told his mozo about his plans to teach Ricardo del'Amo a lesson.

Bernardo smiled. He mimed to Zorro. ‘Good luck! Somehow I do not think that even Zorro can redeem a twisted person such as Don Ricardo!

“Why Bernardo, does that mean you are unwilling to help Zorro restore a lady's honor? For shame, Señor!“ the Fox replied in feigned dismay.

‘I will do whatever I can to aid your damsel in distress! Please, tell me more!’ Bernardo begged the Fox.

“I want you to post as many special avisos as you possibly can. Here is what I want written for the first batch of the avisos---”

Bernardo's grin grew wider and wider as Zorro began dictating the announcements.

“Bueno, my good friend. And while I am paying a furtive evening visit to the esteemed Don Ricardo, you shall post the first notice in the pueblo’s town square. Now, hurry up and get dressed.”

His mozo shook his head. “’Get dressed?’” Bernardo slashed the air with his right finger to form the letter “Z.“

“Well, we do not want anyone discovering yours or Diego’s role in this little melodrama, do we? You had better hurry! I have heard that the Fox is a very impatient man! Off you go!“

 

[[[[ZZZZ]]]]

 

Tornado seemed to fly like the fabled Pegasus on this night of another full moon. As they raced together through the cold and forbidding night, Zorro gazed up at that Nocturnal Observer known as the moon. Tonight, the earth’s evening companion hung as if she were suspended on an invisible chain, glowing like a huge white pearl against the ebony sky.

It was harvest season and this is when the moon appeared as large and as bold as the sun. To the Amerindians the moon was a hot, ‘blazing’ object whose reflected light could drive one mad. On the other hand, to the ancient Sumerians, who worshipped the moon as the ultimate cool and serene goddess, she was the true “Mother of the Earth.” By 720 B.C. King Sargon II ordered that the Moon be worshipped as the Supreme Deity of the Babylonian people. Even the Hebrew holy site, Mount Sinai, owes its name to the Babylonian word for the moon "Sin."

Zorro certainly was not above using the moon’s mystique to his advantage. He was the source of the rumor that when the Masked Avenger rode his Tornado on the night of a full moon, he was invulnerable. One afternoon after he had rescued from slavery an elderly Indian from being kidnapped to work at the Sonoran tin mines, the grateful man told El Zorro that he was what the Spanish conquistadores called a “brujo (warlock).”

“Now that I am very old, my bones always ache and my eyes are beginning to fail me. My powers are not as strong as they once were. But, you, Mascarado, I can see that you truly walk in and live by the Light--”

The Fox gently interrupted him “No, viejo, I have no magical powers; and as for religion, I shall never abandon my Catholicism.”

The old Indian had laughed uproariously! “It does not matter how you praise the Creator,“ the brujo retorted, just as long as you worship the One True God as the Father of all men! Señor fox, I bless you again in the name of He who made everything, Known and Unknown, Seen and Unseen. My young caballero, you already possess the two most important powers in the Universe - your belief in truth and love. As long as your remain faithful to those ideals, you shall be invincible!”

As the harvest moon watched, the Fox directed Tornado through Coalinga Pass towards the hacienda that Don Ricardo had been renting from Don Rodolfo Perez. Don Rodolfo‘s estate was located in the opposite direction from the de la Vega’s hacienda, northwest of the Camino Real. When Zorro arrived at the rear of the hacienda he was not surprised that it was very easy for him to enter its grounds. According to Bernardo, who knew the Head Housekeeper of Don Juan del’Amo’s hacienda in San Francisco, his son Ricardo Del’Amo had only brought his mozo and two other servants with him to Señor Perez’s hacienda near the San Gabriel Mission. Zorro ordered the black stallion to wait for him behind the patio gate.

He tried to remember the location of Don Rodolfo’s bedroom. “Ah, sí! Don Rodolfo‘s sleeping quarters were on the second floor in the third bedroom on the right!” he said quietly. The Fox flicked his leather whip, wrapped it around the top of the balustrade and pulled himself up. He quickly leapt over the railing and glided silently down the balcony floor. When he reached del’Amo’s bedroom, he retrieved a small piece of wire that he fashioned to pick door locks. But Zorro first wiggled the door handle and he was surprised to find it unlocked. In one fluid motion he slipped between the door and a nightstand that stood beside Ricardo’s bed. When del’Amo unexpectedly rolled over to sleep on his right side - thankfully the side away from the bedroom door --Zorro had already slid himself beneath the bed. Ricardo slept on. The Fox stood up and surveyed the bedroom.

As he stared down at Ricardo’s tufts of coal black hair, Zorro hated him so much at the moment he would have strangled del'Amo in his sleep. Shrugging off those temporary appealing thoughts of murder, he bent down to pin the note that Bernardo had written for him to the side of Ricardo‘s pillowcase. Ricardo continued to snore.

Before he exited the bedroom Zorro turned back and jauntily tossed del’Amo a silent salute. Then he ran out into the hallway to find his way back down to the rear of the porch to where Tornado was waiting for him. The Fox whistled for his mount and leapt upon his back. “Well, my four-legged friend, it will be very interesting to learn about Don Ricardo's reaction to my little note. Somehow, I do not believe that he shall be amused!“

Tornado whinnied in agreement as he carried his master rapidly but silently back home. The silvery moon had just disappeared below the horizon by the time Zorro returned to his secret cave. He checked his pocket watch and saw it was nearly midnight. Diego hurriedly changed into his nightshirt and managed to slide underneath the sheets and snuggle as closely as he could to Moneta without waking her.

 

NOVEMBER 6, 1821

THE FOLLOWING MORNING

 

Don Ricardo Hector Diaz y del'Amo slowly swung his legs from his bed to the floor. He yawned contentedly and then stood up to stretch. When he dropped his arms to his side after he performed his usual morning exercises, his hand touched a note addressed to him lying on the pillowcase, so he sat down on the bed to read it.

“MADRE DE DIOS! May all the saints give me strength!“ Ricardo yelled after he read the note’s contents.

As Ricardo threw on a red velvet robe over his white cotton nightshirt, he rushed out into the hallway yelling for the servants. When his Indian mozo arrived, Ricardo asked him if he had seen anyone else enter his room last night.

“No, Senor, we always go to our own quarters very soon after you have retired for the night.“

“And no one noticed the intruder enter my bedroom? DIOS! I could have been killed.“ Once again, Jorge, DID YOU SEE ANYONE ENTER THIS HOUSE. AFTER I WENT TO BED?“ Ricardo backhanded the Indian as hard as he could. “Insolente!”

“Padrone, I have told you the truth!” Rather than risk further physical abuse, Jorge remained on his knees and did not dare to look into his master’s eyes.

Don Ricardo yelled. “Leave me alone for a little while! I shall be down shortly for breakfast! “VAMOOSE!“

Jorge fled to the relative safety of the kitchen. “Dios! These Spaniards!” he said quietly in their native tongue, to the other female servants, who were members of his tribe.

“Ah, no, Jorge; not all Spaniards are so cruel. Don Ricardo’s father is gentle and kind. But I do not know who or what can explain his son’s anger!”

Jorge’s eyes narrowed. “I can. He hates Señor Zorro and the de la Vegas. His hate has driven him mad. He spat on the floor in disgust. “A curse upon Don Ricardo’s head!” The other servants nodded in silent agreement.

Del’Amo sat on his bed and reread the anonymous note, desperately looking for a clue, perhaps in the writing style, the grammar - anything that might reveal the identity of the coward who wrote this note!

He read it aloud: “ATENCION! ATENCION! IT IS TIME FOR THE PEOPLE OF LOS ANGELES TO KNOW THE TRUTH ABOUT DON RICARDO DEL’AMO. HE IS NO GENTLEMAN! ALL OF HIS EVIL DEEDS AND TRICKERY WILL SOON BE REVEALED!”

As he ate some frijoles rellenos and tortillas with his imported chicory coffee from New Orleans, he pondered if anyone in his social circle was capable of playing such a foul trick. Who, I wonder, is clever enough to have plotted and launched such a bold plan? Perhaps the gentleman in Monterey whom I cheated at cards a fortnight ago. No, too old. If I were to demand satisfaction upon the field of honor, the viejo would die from fright!

“But, wait a minute! I know exactly who did this!” he said aloud as he snapped his fingers. He yelled again for Jorge to brush his best suit while he shaved and then Ricardo wet his silk handkerchief with some of Anna Maria’s favorite scent. He dressed quickly and as he rode down the Camino Real toward Los Angeles, Ricardo rehearsed exactly what he was going to say to his tormentor.

Señor, I am accountable to no man for my behavior, not even to my father! Ricardo thought as he rode his favorite mount, Sky Fever. No man rules me, my fine young hidalgo, and you will soon learn that lesson just as my family and servants did long ago!

His anger increased the closer he approached Los Angeles. “Oh, Diego, my former rival in the affairs of the heart, you truly do not realize with whom you are dealing. And I will not be satisfied with a private apology. I am going to humiliate you and your family before the entire pueblo. You know, I am really looking forward to our little meeting later this morning. Let the games begin!” Ricardo’s shouted into the crisp early winter air.

 

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