The Promise

by 

 

Gail Manfre

 

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

 

 

ZORRO’S OPENING GAMBIT

 

 

“Your pardon, Señorita. The caballero at the bar says that you have an appointment with him at six thirty tonight, said one of the barkeepers to Diego’s dining companion.  

Furious at being interrupted, Carlita whirled around to see the gentleman in question. Her grimace quickly became a broad grin. The caballero was obviously drunk as his nose was beet red and he nearly fell as he greeted her from the bar. And there was a much younger man with him.  Ah, it will take very little effort to relieve these two of more than just a few pesos, she chuckled to herself.

Diego swallowed his surprise because he knew Carlita’s older client for this evening, Don Guillermo Perez, but he was shocked at seeing Don Alfredo’s nephew, Don Stefano, here in the posada with Señor Perez. De la Vega dropped his head slightly and concentrated on smoking his cigar. Of all the men Diego knew, young Stefano was the last person he expected to see in this place. Hmm, it appears that the Fox has one more important thing to do, he thought wryly.  

“Sí, Pépé. It is Señor Guillermo Perez from San Pedro. Bueno, you may inform the señor that I shall be with him momentarily.” Carlita dismissively replied.  

“Sí, Señorita Soto.”  Pepe replied.  

Carlita hesitated, clearly waiting for Diego to ask her to remain with him. Never pass up a chance to make money, she thought as she slid her long delicately shaped fingers towards Diego’s hand that rested on the table.  

Again, Diego merely smiled and said nothing as he secretly enjoyed her ill-concealed discomfort.  Charming and persistent, but I do feel some pity for her. She should lose interest in me very soon...  

Finally, Señorita Soto rose from her chair and sneered at him.  “It has been ...”  

“Interesting.” he finally commented. Diego reached inside his heavily gold brocaded chaqueta and threw a single peso onto the table. “For your valuable time, señorita. You must excuse me. I also have an important appointment elsewhere.  Buenos noches.”   

Carlita extended her hand expecting Diego to treat her as one of his female friends. The caballero merely stood there looking down at her with an unreadable expression in his eyes. The “hospitality lady” snorted angrily and made a deliberate show of slowly picking up the money, withdrawing a pouch from the front of her blouse and tucking same back into place.  Then Carlita huffily flounced toward the bar.  

Don Diego watched half amused and half revolted as Señorita Soto marched upstairs with her head held high while she and Don Stefano trying to support a staggering Don Guillermo. Señorita, you have made your bed and now you must lie in it, Diego sardonically noted as he exited the posada to meet Bernardo.              

The mozo had already finished the assignment that his master had given him.  When he left Diego, Bernardo quickly found a hiding spot across the street with an excellent view of La Casa’s front entrance. For the next half-hour, he saw several of the local dons go inside. But he could hardly believe his eyes when he spotted a very familiar young man look furtively around the plaza to see if anyone had followed him.  No, it cannot be...yes it is!   Don Alfredo‘s nephew from Buena Vista!  What is his name? Si, I remember now.  Don Stefano José Alvarez, a mere boy.  He is only seventeen, not a man by any stretch of the imagination; Bernardo snorted distastefully as he crept back into the carriage.                                                                            

Diego knocked on the carriage door hoping to catch Bernardo off guard but the mute continued nonchalantly gazing around the plaza. Then Diego slapped his friend playfully on his shoulder. “Ah, Bernardo, I can never trick you. Now tell me on the way home whom you have seen patronize Commandante Glorioso’s establishment tonight.  I am afraid that I only saw two dons whom I recognized. One was Don Guillermo Perez - a business associate of my father’s and the other was ...”  

Bernardo touched his master’s arm with a pitying look in his eyes. He carefully signed the name of the caballero he had seen. Don Alfredo’s nephew..”  

Don Stefano Alvarez,” Diego noted sadly. “Si. I recognized him immediately and I am fairly certain that his uncle does not know of his nephew’s involvement with La Casa. Perhaps El Zorro might pay a social call upon Don Alfredo and prevail on his good graces to monitor his nephew’s nocturnal activities. Then we should further memorialize the evening for young Alvarez by favoring him with a personal interview with El Zorro, eh?”  

Bernardo nodded his head rapidly and smiled.  Now?”

“The night is still young my friend.  Where is your sense of adventure?” Diego chuckled as he motioned for Bernardo to hurry home.  

In response Bernardo’s grin grew larger. How he wished he could see young Stefano’s face when Zorro confronted him!

 

 

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

 

Zorro climbed aboard his horse, Tornado, and rushed from the secret cave into the dark black night. The only hope that the Masked Avenger had in disrupting the Commandante's misbegotten business was to scare away his customers, the dons, who were the backbone of Capitán Glorioso's profits.   

This, as Zorro knew, would not be an easy task. As a man he certainly realized the attraction that a forbidden female presented to members of his sex. Like most of the members of the hidalgo class, a don would not think twice about considering women of questionable reputation as suitable wives.  The men who frequented Capitán Glorioso's business would not even regard those women as human beings with any sort of feelings. And many of the caballeros that Diego de la Vega personally knew had supported mistresses for the majority of their entire married lives. This practice was simply second nature to a great number of Spanish men of the upper classes.  

The Masked Avenger realized the delicacy of this situation. Although he privately disapproved visiting prostitutes, he was far more concerned with the welfare of the women working for the Commandante. He also had to impress upon the caballeros not only were they contributing to the success of an illegal enterprise but together with Glorioso the dons were also responsible for the degradation of the poor unfortunate females forced to work in such a place. Zorro sighed inwardly. Then there was the matter of Don Alfredo Alvarez’s nephew. Had he not witnessed the young man entering the La Casa he would not have believed it. If his uncle only knew what Stefano had been doing in the Pueblo at night he would probably flog him.  

Don Alfredo's hacienda was not very far from the de la Vega estate.  Zorro had to be careful riding at night near this hacienda because it was very close to the La Brea tar pits. He chuckled to himself as he remembered the time when Zorro tricked Capitan Monastario and his group of lancers into riding directly into the sticky and awful smelling tars.  He certainly did not want to want to spend the remainder of the night and most of the following day trying to remove far from his black silk costume!  Tornado skillfully picked his way across the countryside as the stallion galloped wards his master's destination.  

The animal halted automatically before the hacienda without a spoken command.  Zorro looked up at the massive three-story structure in awe. The hacienda was much larger than his father's place and was surrounded by a six-foot high stone wall. Don Alejandro's old friend had always lived ostentatiously, and far beyond his means. Don Alfredo prided himself on his collections of 16th century Spanish art and gold plate. The Fox had always felt that this casa was more a museum than a home whenever he and his father visited "El Grande Sueño," [the Great Dream] as Don Alfredo called his hacienda.  

Climbing over the wall was relatively easy, and once he was on the hacienda’s grounds he quietly unbolted the gate and let Tornado in.  Surprisingly, there was light shining from Don Alfredo’s window. Odd, because the older man always retired before nine p.m. Perhaps he is doing the annual rancho’s inventory. Zorro thought as he alighted on the balcony outside Don Alfredo’s room and peered inside. But the hidalgo was not occupied in bookkeeping. He was kneeling before a large statue of Our Lady of Guadeloupe in his bedroom and his prayers were audible to the Fox.  

“Virgin Mother, where have I erred in raising my nephew? Several times I have expressed my disgust with his visits to La Casa! Stefano is an orphan and I have raised him as best as I could for the past decade.  I have taught him the tenets of our beliefs, yet he insists upon visiting that ...house of ...”  

“Good evening,” Zorro said from his perch on the don’s windowsill, “and your pardon for this late night intrusion, Don Alfredo.“  

“Senor Zorro! It is good ah ... to see you again!  But, as you can see I am about to retire,” the old man replied.  

The Fox nodded.  “Don Alfredo, I shall be brief. Since you are already aware of Don Stefano’s trips into the Pueblo, I am asking you for your help.  If you can aid me in persuading the other influential men in the district to boycott Capitán Glorioso’s La Casa, we can force the Commandante to shut down his immoral business.“  

Don Alfredo’s face brightened with renewed hope. “Si, Si! I can call a meeting in my home ...”

Zorro waved his hand. “No, Senor.  We want this anti-prostitution crusade to be very much undercover. The capitán has paid informants everywhere.  You have already spoken with young Stefano and now I shall speak to him.  Con tu permiso?”  

“Gladly given Senor.” Don Alfredo smiled. But I will have, shall we say, individual consultations with several of my friends who ... support the Commandante’s establishment.”  

Bueno. As I must reiterate, Don Alfredo, we have to be very careful about discussing these plans with anyone else except perhaps Don Alejandro. Hasta la vista.”  Zorro pitched a quick salute to the caballero and then evaporated into the night. When he returned to Tornado, the great black horse was shaking his head toward the gate.  

“Someone is coming?” I hope it is young Stefano. I must convince the youth to forego taking his pleasure at a house of ill repute.  His parents, the late Don Leon Alvarez and Doña Katira Alvarez de Mazatlan, would be turning in their graves if they could see their son’s risque behavior!  Zorro noted grimly to himself.  

Tornado’s right front hoof struck the ground once. Yes.  

“Just one rider?” the Fox asked his mount.  

Again the stallion raised his right hoof and tapped once.  

Zorro pulled Tornado into the shadows with him.  “Ah, sí. It is Señor Stefano. He has returned from his ‘rendezvous’ in the pueblo. Bueno. I shall endeavor to provide him with some unexpected entertainment I hope he will never forget.  Remain here my friend, I shan’t be long,” the Fox whispered to the black stallion.

 

 

END OF CHAPTER FOUR

 

 

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