The Promise

by

 

Gail Manfre

 

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

 

ZORRO, DR. AVILA, AND TERESA SOTO

COMMENCE .LE RAZ DE MAREE

 

 

Selena looked alarmingly at Teresa Soto who stood before the commandante defiantly, with her hands on her hips. "Teresa, please do not ...”

Glorioso pointed to Señora de la Vega with his whip. "Sound advice, Teresa. Now, leave at once before I change my mind and decide to really teach you a lesson."

Selena de la Vega again implored Teresa to be cautious, but she felt compelled to speak the truth even though she risked another depraved assault by Glorioso.

“Teresa, listen to me carefully. Capitán Glorioso is insane.” Selena heard the commandante sputter angrily but she dared not stop now. She motioned with a subtle nod of her head for Soto to gradually make her way to the bedroom door. “Glorioso wants me so badly he will murder anyone who opposes him. Please leave while you can!”

“No, Señora de la Vega, I will not leave you alone ...” Teresa started to say.

Glorioso yelled curses at both women but hurled his whip at Soto. The whip struck Teresa directly across her mouth. He quickly flipped his wrist again and wound the whip around her neck, choking the prostitute.

"C-can't b-breathe!" Teresa gasped as she struggled to untangle the leather vise cutting into her flesh. She fell to her knees as Glorioso dragged her towards him.

Selena, horrified by Glorioso's latest cruelty, rushed him from behind. She collided with the commandante and the three of them tumbled into a heap to on the floor. The impact forced him to release the whip and Teresa managed to untangle the vicious weapon from her neck.

Momentarily stunned, Glorioso did not see Teresa head for his office door. When he regained his senses, he yelled her name, but she had already fled.

Stunned by Señora de la Vega’s action, the commandante rubbed his aching forehead as he stared down at Selena who lay motionless at his feet. I will publicly thrash Teresa when I catch her. But Glorioso could not fathom Selena’s concern for a prostitute. Señora de la Vega you should not trouble yourself with servants and putas. And like Teresa, you will pay many times over for your insult. ‘Insane‘? No, my Selena, I am simply a very daring man who takes whomever and whatever he desires My dear sweet Selena, I will teach you, one or way or the other, the proper respect and deference I demand from women. You are mine now in every sense of the word and I will never return you to your “beloved”’ Diego de la Vega. He swore silently as he deposited Selena’s limp form on his bed.

Glorioso bounded down the stairs out into the cuartel yard, roaring commands to his lancers for the arrest of Señora Soto. In his haste to capture Teresa, he forgot to tie up Selena after he placed her on his bed. Once he was satisfied that the lancers were hustling to carry out his orders, he rushed back to his bedroom to check on Selena’s condition.

How long the capitán stood over Selena de la Vega he did not know. He knelt beside the bed and felt her wrist for a pulse. It was weak but steady and her complexion was pasty. By the Virgin, if Selena is seriously injured or maimed by Teresa Soto’s foolishness, I will publicly flog her and then hang her in the center of the plaza! Foul woman! To think I permitted that puta to touch such a highborn lady as Selena! He muttered more oaths sotto voce. Again, he listened to her breathing and was glad when Selena began moaning. I should summon Dr. Avila now and as discreetly as possible. The capitán ran outside and saw that the newly promoted Corporal Peldar was in charge of the mid-morning guard duty shift. Glorioso waved to him to come into his office.

"Sí, mi Capitán?"

"Peldar, quietly very quietly, fetch Dr. Avila. Tell him nothing but inform the old fool that the matter is urgent!"

“At once Commandante!” Peldar eagerly replied. If I continue to do my job well, perhaps the capitán will transfer Garcia and Reyes to the Arizona colony and I shall be in charge of the all lancers. The corporal smiled to himself as he sprinted down the main street of the pueblo toward Dr. Avila’s office. Imagine, me, the son of péons, a sergeant in the King’s Alta California army!

Glorioso shrugged. Why could he have not been blessed with at least a dozen lancers with a sense of duty and loyalty such as Corporal Peldar? Better tend to Señora de la Vega, the devil take her for slipping and falling like that! Do not worry, he licked his lips as he brushed the top of her bosom with a practiced hand, you will soon be well and you shall forever remain mine!

Much to Glorioso’s disgust, Selena whimpered Diego’s name repeatedly, but the next words utterly surprised him. 

Querido ... my baby... Dieu...” Selena whispered. “My baby...”

The capitán grinned fiendishly. “So, you are pregnant! Oh, my dear Selena this alters the situation. I am more determined than ever to keep you. You shall never see your ‘corazon Diego‘ alive again. You will soon be a widow and then we can begin our lives together as the Vizconde and Vizcondessa de Estrada!”

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

Tornado snorted a warning as Zorro mounted the great stallion in a side alley across the plaza from the cuartel. “Tornado, what do you see or smell? Turning around, he saw the Cuartel gate swing open. The Fox immediately jumped from the saddle and disappeared further into the alley’s somewhat protective mid-afternoon shadows. Corporal Peldar leading Dr. Avila into the Cuartel? Madre de Dios! Selena! He felt his heart turn over at the thought that Glorioso had hurt her enough to require the good physician’s services. Dios mi, give both of us strength to help us through this terrible time! I have already spoken with the alcalde but I better linger a little while longer.

Capitán Glorioso relentlessly paced in his office, fervently hoping that Señora de la Vega was not seriously injured. If only she would not be so stubborn. Any woman of noble birth would be ecstatic to become my wife. With the money I have collected from the district taxes, bribes and the income from La Casa de Hospitalidad, I can retire to Madrid and live on the interest. And the de Estradas are long time friends of His Majesty Ferdinand VII. The king will soon favor our family again with royal patents and commissions. With such a beautiful -- extremely wealthy --descendant of the Grandees as my new wife, my social position in the Spanish Court would be unassailable. Who knows what offices, titles and loyalties could be purchased for the right price?

The Vizconde de Estrada lit up a long puro cubano and blew out circles of blue smoke into the air. Ay yi! Doctors, he muttered derisively, doctors are for women and children, not for men such as myself. He derisively mused as stabbed the air with more staccato puffs of cigar smoke.

Dr. Avila opened the door to Glorioso’s private quarters and angrily dropped his medical bag on the capitán’s desk. He frowned heavily at the Commandante before speaking.

“Capitán, I have seen many cruelties and dealt with all sorts of brutes in my time and I will no longer keep silent! I shall inform Don Diego de la Vega immediately that you have assaulted his wife.” Dr. Avila said thoroughly outraged. “ Now out of my way!”

But Glorioso was thirty years younger than Avila and before the physician could shut his medical bag, the six foot tall, well-muscled commandante had his hands around Avila’s throat.

“If you so much as think about going to de la Vega with any news about my attacking his wife I shall kill her and you! Comprende?”

Dr. Avila nodded as much as he was able since the pressure on his neck did not relax at all. Glorioso released him but kept one hand on the physician’s shoulder as he escorted the elderly man from his office. When the capitán opened his door he saw that Peldar had obeyed his orders to the letter, for the only lancers in sight were guarding the cuartel’s gates.

“Corporal Peldar!” the capitán said tersely, pushing the physician next to the lancer, “Dr. Avila is ready to leave now -- and -- he will not be returning!” He nodded wordlessly at Peldar.

The ultra loyal Peldar snapped to attention. “Sí, the commandante’s wish is my command! Dr. Avila, come with me now!”

Somehow Dr. Avila kept his balance after being shoved through the Cuartel gate. He brushed off his chaqueta where Glorioso had grasped his shoulder in a vain attempt to remove the Commandante’s touch from his memory. Preoccupied as he was, Señor Avila was surprised to see his office door ajar as he was about to use his key.

“Buenos tardes, Señor Médico. Please come inside.” The Fox welcomed the doctor from his comfortable perch on Avila’s windowsill. “Your pardon, señor for this intrusion.”

“El Zorro!”

“Dr. Avila, can you tell me, por favor, how badly injured Señora de la Vega is?” Zorro saw the hesitation distorting the physician’s face before the physician turned away.

“The capitán threatened you --?” he began to ask.

“Never mind what that raton told me! She has a moderate concussion, Señor Fox. However given the little time I was allowed to examine her ... we all are aware of the Commandante’s cruel treatment of women.” Dr. Avila coughed nervously. “However, I am positive he...” the physician deliberately left his thought unfinished.

Zorro struggled to keep his face neutral but averted his eyes for the pain burning within them would surely have given away his secret identity. BY THE VIRGIN! THE SWINE! “But she will ...recover fully?“ he inquired after settling his emotions and wholeheartedly praying the médico would not notice the desperation in his voice.

Dr. Avila stepped toward the Fox. “El Zorro you can not possibly blame yourself for Capitán Glorioso’s barbaric actions. I shall not allow you to assume the burden of that man’s crimes when you have to deal with fighting tyranny and concealing your real identity. Please inform Don Diego that indeed she and their child shall be fine. If you can, Señor Fox, free the señora as soon as possible! Glorioso is a vicious animal who must be stopped.”

“Gracias, Dr. Avila,” Zorro whispered.

“Uno momento, Señor Fox. Would you tell an old man like myself why such a dashing young caballero as yourself has deliberately chosen to become an outlaw? Why you would deny yourself a wife, a family and accept this lonely way of life? I would really like to know.”

Astounded by his acute perception Zorro turned to face his father’s long time friend. “Sí, I will answer your question, Señor. I decided to fight injustice for exactly the same reasons that you did in choosing to become a doctor. The people needed help and there was no one else to help protect them from evil men such as Monastario, Galindo, Ortega, the Eagle and now Glorioso. You combat disease to aid mankind. I fight unfairness and inequity so that people can live in freedom. Our jobs are the same, Dr. Avila. Neither one of us was coerced into our present duty. We both saw a real void that needed to be fulfilled so we acted. Sí, our lives are lonely but do we not owe our fellow man help when he is ill or enslaved?”

Dr. Avila did not expect to find such wisdom in a young caballero. “You are correct, El Zorro. Now vaya con dios and do not forget to pass along the information regarding Señora de la Vega.”

“I shall. And gracias, Dr. Avila for your time and your courtesy,” Zorro saluted him. 

The médico watched the Masked Avenger with a mixture of admiration and anxiety for the young hero as the Fox plunged through his office’s back window and moved with graceful ease from shadow to shadow.

El Zorro led Tornado back towards the safety of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament where he knew the good friars had prepared some hot food for Dons Alfredo, Alejandro and Cornelio’s vaqueros. As he approached the church the warm aromas of tortillas, hot chocolate and other wonderful foods caressed his nostrils. By Santiago I am quite famished.

Zorro was wrenched from his pleasant thoughts of a hot meal by the sound of a woman crying. He nudged Tornado closer to the Posada. It was Señora Teresa Soto and she was sobbing bitterly. The small and lithe figure in a white blouse rushed toward La Casa de Hospitalidad, opened the Posada’s door and slammed it behind her.

Tornado, my friend, I momentarily forgot Selena and I are not the only ones suffering as a result of Glorioso’s madness.” Zorro’s eyes misted again at the depth of Señora Soto ‘s despair. True, she was a prostitute, but she was also a human being and a child of God. In good conscience he could not sit idle and watch her emotional breakdown. He and the great stallion carefully darted among the sparse shadows behind the Posada until the Fox discovered Teresa’s room. Between the slamming of doors and her anguished crying, her quarters were not difficult to find. Lady Fortune was still favoring him as her window was open. He found a stepladder propped against the wall and in seconds Zorro lithely climbed on her windowsill.

“I will have my revenge on you Commandante! I will, do you hear, I WILL!” Señora Soto sobbed all the way back upstairs to her room. Teresa threw herself onto the bed, promising all the saints in Heaven she would make novenas to each and every one if only they would implore her Savior to strike down Glorioso. She remained oblivious to El Zorro, who had climbed up to her room and was now perched on her windowsill until the Fox’s pleasant baritone floated through the room.

“Señora Teresa Soto, it is I, El Zorro.” he said softly in between her sobs, “What can I do to help you?”

“W--what? Who? Señor Zorro! W-hat are you doing here?”

“Simple. I heard a lady crying and being a caballero, I felt that it was my duty to offer any assistance I could.” He pushed himself down to the floor. “It appears that you and I have a common enemy, Commandante Glorioso.”

“Bastardo!” She bitterly exclaimed “Murderer! He killed my Carlita, Señor Zorro! Oh, sí, she jumped from her room to the stable yard below, but he was going to--” Teresa threw herself into Zorro’s arms, almost knocking him down.

The Fox responded by embracing her and allowed Teresa to continue crying a little while longer, then he then gently helped her to a chair.

“I apologize, Señor Zorro.”

“Most unnecessary Señora Soto. It must be terrible to lose one’s child!”

“Gracias. Oh, El Zorro! You must rescue Señora de la Vega. Glorioso is a brute! Why, I heard sounds of a struggle inside the Commandante’s office. Then Corporal Peldar fetched Dr. Avila. I know that Glorioso has seriously harmed her!”

The Fox nodded weakly, “I am aware of the Señora de la Vega’s injuries.” Somehow he mastered his rage and asked her “Will you help me, Teresa, to destroy the Commandante?”

She met his direct gaze. “Sí!”

 

 

END OF THIRTY-EIGHT

 

 

 

 

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