The Promise

by 

 

Gail Manfre

 

 

 

CHAPTER FIVE

ZORRO AND DON STEFANO

 

 

The Fox positioned himself beneath the balcony of young Alvarez’s window, unfurled his whip and with a nimble flick of his wrist, wrapped it around the don‘s balcony. In seconds he climbed the side of the hacienda’s wall and calmly arranged his cape around him as he sat on the windowsill. Zorro rested his head on his sword and watched silently as Don Stefano entered his bedroom and immediately removed his hat and chaqueta. The Dark Avenger patiently waited as the caballero settled comfortably in his bed before speaking.

“Ah, Don Stefano Alfredo Alvarez, did you enjoy yourself this evening?”  he said, his voice full of sarcasm.  

“YOU!” Stefano gasped. “But how did you know where I have been all night?” he asked suspiciously.  

“The Fox has eyes and ears everywhere my young friend who thinks that he is a man!”  the famed outlaw of Los Angeles retorted.  

Outraged at the Fox’s caustic tone of voice, Stefano charged at Zorro until he felt the masked man’s sword touching at his throat.  Then he wisely retreated to the edge of his bed.  

“I repeat señor, do you really believe that you are a man?” Behind the black mask covering Zorro’s face Stefano could see the contempt glittering in the Fox’s eyes.  

Don Stefano staggered backwards onto his bed. “My uncle shall hear of this!”  

“An idle threat if ever I heard one,” El Zorro taunted Don Stefano.  

“Your uncle is quite aware of your recent despicable behavior, nephew!” said an older masculine voice behind Stefano‘s back.  

Don Stefano was stunned.  “You... you ...  also  knew uncle?”  

“My young friend,” Zorro added, “did you also think you could hide your nocturnal amorous escapades from either your uncle or me?”  

“’Escapades!’” Stefano angrily retorted.  “You continue to talk to me as if I were a ...    child!”  

“Sí,” Don Alfredo frostily interrupted his hotheaded nephew. “Because you are acting like one! And I am glad that Zorro has decided to intervene in this matter!”

“Tio Alfredo, all of the older dons ... they see nothing wrong in having a mistress.  It is my right as a man!” Stefano yelled, “and I am a man!”  

Don Alfredo swiftly rushed up to Stefano and slapped his face. “Your right as a man? Dios, mi!  If you truly believe that ‘catting’ around in a house of ill repute makes you a man, well, you are seriously mistaken!”  

But Stefano stood his ground. “Women,” he replied evenly, “especially the putas in the pueblo, are to be used as we men see fit.”  

Zorro again jabbed Stefano with his rapier. “ I expected to hear such vile talk from the Commandante’s mouth, not yours, my young señor. Those ‘putas’ as you call them, are human beings, my wayward friend.  By a twist of fate these women were not born wealthy and Capitán Glorioso forced them into this form of slavery!”

Don Alfredo grasped his nephew’s shoulders. “Stefano, you shall no longer visit La Casa.  That is an order!”  

“It takes a real man to admit that he has made a mistake,” Zorro gestured with his weapon.  

“Sí.” Stefano grudgingly acknowledged.  “I suppose so.”  

The figure in black inched his rapier a little more into Don Stefano’s chest.  “Young man, if you continue to ignore both your uncle’s interest in your welfare and my warning to stay sway from La Casa, I will engrave one of my ‘Z’s’ on your chest and will take further unpleasant measures if you persist in your irresponsible behavior!” the Fox threatened.  

“Understood, Señor Zorro.”  Stefano muttered darkly.  

“Very well, then I bid you buenos noches. Be assured I shall be watching you and here is a small souvenir to remember our conversation.” Zorro turned and etched a “Z” into Stefano’s mahogany headboard. Without another word, he leapt through the windowsill and was gone.  

Stefano stole a glance at his uncle’s face.  Don Alfredo’s scowl was so deep it seemed to be etched upon his face. He curtly told his nephew, “go to bed, Stefano. We will have further discussion regarding this unpleasant matter tomorrow morning.  Buenos noches!”  

“G-good night uncle,” the teenager stuttered despondently.  

Stefano Alvarez lay awake until just before sunrise plotting how he would thwart Zorro. I shall tell all my friends to make it a point to seek entertainment at the La Casa.  No one will dictate to me how I shall live my life.  No, not Uncle Alfredo and certainly not an outlaw such as Zorro!

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

 

All Señora Maria Suarez knew was that she had to escape this horrible life she had unwittingly fallen into.  Her husband, Jorge, was unable to pay the latest two pesos ‘special’ inventory tax Commandante Glorioso had imposed on all the tradesmen who sold their wares in the Pueblo de Los Angeles’ marketplace.  She and Jorge had been selling their fine hand made pottery for almost three years, but now Juan Glorioso was the Commandante of Los Angeles. Any vendor who could not pay the new tax found himself in jail or worse. With Jorge imprisoned, she was of course unable to keep open their booth in the pueblo‘s market place. Desperate, Maria believed Carlita Soto’s promises of earning many pesos, so Maria to work for Glorioso in order to feed her six children.  

Maria should have listened to Father Gennares and accepted his offer of food and shelter.  Both he and Father Felipe of the San Gabriel Mission had been trying to buy some of the contracts of the “evening companions,” which is what the women employed at La Casa advertised themselves. Nearly all of the pobrecitos in Los Angeles and the surrounding area were illiterate.  None of the female peons who “made their mark” on the Commandante’s contracts realized that they were legally bound to work “until the Commandante of the Pueblo de Los Angeles determines that the monies owed to the Spanish Government have been duly discharged or until a period of twenty-four months have passed, whichever occurs first.”  

She had attempted to escape from Capitan Glorioso’s employ once before, but Maria had been caught and forced to work three days without sleep. Now she knew there was no one to whom she could appeal for help. And what of Zorro? Conchetta had believed the Fox would come to her aid and she is dead....  

Maria had received neither food nor water for the past two days and her arms ached from being stretched on the Cuartel’s whipping post. Her torn back muscles screamed constantly from the half dozen blows, which Corporal Ysidros had given her earlier that afternoon. But to the Commandante’s disgust, Maria did not cry or whimper as she received the beating. She had earnestly prayed then, Oh El Zorro, where are you?  I can not take any more of this cruel treatment. Surely you will come tonight; if not I shall be dead by morning.  

Capitán Juan Glorioso’s hated baritone filled her ears. “No, my disobedient one, I am not going to kill you ... I am turning you loose in the Camino Real this evening after sunset. If you can survive the walk to the Mission, good. If not, so much the better. “

Maria’s reaction was to spit in his face.  

“PUTA!” he yelled. “You shall have no water at all.”  The capitán checked his pocket watch.  Four o’clock. The sun would set by five thirty. He would release her now and Suarez would suffer even more in the still blazing sun, but what was the life of a female peon to Glorioso?  

“Sergeant Garcia come here,” Glorioso ordered.  

“Sí, Commandante?”  Garcia saluted him briskly, avoiding eye contact with Glorioso. The sergeant did not want to aggravate him any more than necessary when Glorioso was in such a sullen mood. His new superior officer treated Garcia as an ignorant peasant much the same way Capitán Monastario did.

The capitán whispered to Garcia so the prisoner could not hear him. “I am releasing Maria Suarez shortly. Wait another thirty minutes and take her to the Pueblo’s limits.  Make certain that you direct her to the Mission, clear?”  

Sergeant Garcia wiped his brow. “But commandante, the señora will surely die unless you permit me to give her some water.”  

“No you shall do nothing of the sort;” Glorioso glared at the sergeant as he swiped the water jug from Garcia’s hands.

“I understand mi Capitan,” Garcia saluted and began making arrangements for Maria’s release.  

Glorioso marched back to his office and selected an imported Cuban cigar to help him relax. “The puta will most certainly die on the Camino Real, and not on military ground.  Therefore, I can not be held accountable for her death,” the capitán said aloud as he propped up his boots on his desk and focused his mind on more pleasant thoughts.

 

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

 

Diego’s business meeting had lasted much longer than expected at La Casa and he did not want to spend any more time there than necessary.  The sordid atmosphere of the place had left him wanting to rush home and bathe very thoroughly. His father’s financial advisor, Señor Alberto Montero, insisted the meeting be held here at La Casa to satisfy his curiosity regarding the preeminent subject of gossip in San Pedro. Earlier in the afternoon Bernardo informed Diego of the commandante’s plans to release Maria Suarez after sunset, and the young caballero wanted to hurry back to the cave so he could prepare to retrieve her before the abused señora spent any considerable amount of time on the Camino Real. Diego certainly did not want the young lady to suffer the same fate as Conchetta Miro.  

Diego had overheard the peons’ gossiping in the pueblo’s market place. The peons in Los Angles talked of nothing but Señora Miro’s death. Why did El Zorro not act earlier? Surely the Fox will not allow the Commandante to murder another young lady? No, certainly not! He will not let Señora Suarez die! the townspeople whispered among themselves. The young caballero vowed he would save her life. As Diego was stepping into the carriage Bernardo ran up to him.  

“There you are. I was wondering where you were,” Diego said sotto voce.

Bernardo motioned for his master to get into the carriage and then the mozo looked around to see if anyone might see them “talking.” Just before the Cuartel’s gates were closed, I overheard Sergeant Garcia shouting orders regarding the serving girl Maria Suarez. The Commandante is releasing her in a little while. We had better hurry so you can return as El Zorro and retrieve the señora.   

“By the Virgin! Maria can not last long in this heat due to her poor physical condition.  HIYAH!”  Diego grasped the reins and pushed the mule hard for home. May St. Teresa d’ Avila help me to return in time!  he pleaded to Heaven.

 

END OF CHAPTER FIVE

 

 

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