Ring of Fire
pranced and snorted as if anxious to continue their journey when Zorro
reined up to the dark, empty casa. The door hung open and various
possessions lay scattered on the ground. Dismounting and walking far
enough into the door to look around, while still holding the horse's
reins, Zorro was relieved to see no bodies lying anywhere. Hopefully, that
meant that Tomás and his family were still alive. However, the fact that
no one was here also left him in something of a quandary. He needed to
know where they had been taken and there were precious few clues for him
away from the house, he looked down at the dust by his feet. It took him a
few moments to be able to discern the tracks of several riders and the
wheel marks of a cart. He stood looking thoughtfully in the direction the
tracks led. De Irujo and anyone with him would probably have horses. I
would bet that Señora Gonzales and the children were taken somewhere in
the cart. "Tornado," he said aloud, "I think we will
just see where this leads us." Remounting, he rode along slowly,
stopping many times to be sure of his trail, and, occasionally, doing a
bit of backtracking to recover the trial when it was lost in the
however, he came to a frustratingly hard section of the path where all
tracks vanished. He rode forward for a short distance until the ground
became softer and then began riding across where he hoped the trail would
continue. The minutes ticked relentlessly past as he searched with no
result. "By the saints! I will not lose them now!" he swore as
he dismounted to look more closely at the ground. Suddenly, the sound of
another horse could be heard coming toward him. Quickly, Zorro led Tornado
behind a rocky outcropping standing beside the road and waited.
reined Ventura to a stop as he took the time to get his bearings. Things
looked different in the moonlight. He stopped beside a boulder and looked
around. Then he cried out as a figure suddenly stepped from the shadows
and grabbed the reins.
are you doing on Señorita Valdéz's horse, muchacho?" a voice
Zorro!" Pepe gasped as soon as he realized who stood beside him.
"I...I...Señorita Ania...she told me to take Ventura and hide her.
She did not want Capitán Rodríguez to get her. She was afraid he would
take her away from Don Diego." The comments brought back to mind the
danger the patrona was in and his hopes that Zorro would rescue her. It
did not look like that was happening. "What are you doing out here,
Señor Zorro? Why are you not helping my patrona? I thought she could at
least count on you," he said accusingly.
is your faith in me, Pepe? Listen to me," Zorro said with a smile.
"Take this horse back to the de la Vega stable. Stay with her and
tend her well. Señorita Ania will soon be back to get her and she will be
much pleased to see how well you have cared for this fine animal."
The man in black reached up and rubbed the mare's neck affectionately.
Ventura turned her head and considered the man quietly.
surprised Pepe. It was almost as if she knew Zorro was a friend. Then he
realized what Zorro was indicating by his words. "She will be back?
You mean she is safe? She will not be killed?" he asked as a joyous
smile spread over his face.
Pepe, she is safe. She is no longer in the cuartel. Rodríguez cannot hurt
her now. But, speaking of safe, these hills are not safe for you. Go home,
muchacho," Zorro said sternly. "Somewhere out here are the other
bad men who helped the capitán and if you were to come upon them, they
would more than likely kill you rather than let you tell anyone about
men!" Pepe suddenly cried. "That is who I saw, Señor Zorro.
Back there at a cave! They have Señor Gonzales and his family, all of
them! I was just headed in to tell Capitán Cosío or Sergeant García!"
cave? Where, Pepe? Can you tell me where it is?" Zorro prompted
urgently as he brought Tornado forward and swung into the saddle.
could show you," Pepe offered hopefully. How exciting it would be to
see Zorro in action again!
not unless there is no other way. If you were to go with me, you might get
hurt. You still must go on into the pueblo and get the lancers. None of
these men must be allowed to escape! Think carefully, Pepe. Was there
anything near the cave that was unusual?" Zorro asked him.
his own disappointment at the missed opportunity, Pepe thought for a
minute. "Nooo," he started slowly. Then he brightened.
"Wait! Sí! High on the canyon wall above the cave entrance, there is
an old Indian painting of some kind. It is some sort of bird, I think,
maybe an eagle."
thunderbird!" Zorro supplied. "Sí, I know the one. Good job,
Pepe! Now you go on and find help. Tell them how to get to the cave. Then
get yourself and that animal back to the stable where you will both be
safe. You can be sure that the señorita will hear of how much help you
have been. Adios, Pepe!"
sent Tornado at a rapid canter in the direction from which Pepe had come.
He knew the cave well. When he was a boy, he had been everywhere up in
this area. Adventurous and mischievous throughout his boyhood before he
went to Spain, his father had always told him that it had been a wonder
that bears had not eaten him or that Indians had not taken him. The
thunderbird cave was one he remembered well. Indeed, it was the very cave
where he had learned to be a bit more careful of how he explored them. In
it, he had actually come face to face with a bear. Luckily for him, the
bear was neither particularly hungry nor very angry at being disturbed. He
had very quickly gone one way, while thankfully Señor Oso had gone the
other. He was not likely to forget that cave if he lived to be a thousand!
far from the cave, Zorro slowed Tornado to a quieter pace. Finally, he
stopped, ground tied the horse and continued on foot. The campsite in
front of the cave looked peaceful as he crouched behind a tumbled rock
formation and waited to see if there were guards around. On the far side
of the camp, he could see one guard, awake and pacing. There appeared to
be two more men, sleeping with their bedrolls across the entrance to the
cave and another off to the other side. Zorro looked closely at the
shadowy area just behind this last sleeper. Yes, he could just make out
three people at the base of a group of small trees there. They appeared to
be tied up. He silently made his way toward those trees.
to the deeper shadows, Zorro slowly eased up behind the prisoners. He
stopped and hugged the ground as the man lying nearby suddenly arose and
walked toward the fire. De Irujo! he growled to himself as the
man's features became clear in the firelight. Well, I must admit, this
will be a pleasure! As de Irujo walked over to speak to the guard and
they both faced away, Zorro spoke quietly to the first man tied to the
tree. "Tomás! Shhhhh, silence, mi amigo," he whispered as Tomás
almost cried out in his surprise. "Do not look back at me. I will cut
your hands free but keep them behind you."
held very still and directed a silent prayer of thanksgiving toward
Heaven. He had never been so relieved to see anyone in his life. There was
finally hope for his family. He moaned softly and hissed through his teeth
as the blood began to circulate a bit more freely through his hands. It
took him a few minutes to be able to flex his fingers. His sons were soon
free as well.
rose again as Zorro cut the last person free. He realized that this was
merely a boy. He knew Roberto to be no more than eleven or twelve years
old. Just how much trouble could he have been? Oh, such brave bandidos
we have here...afraid of even a child, so that they see a need to tie him
up! he thought indignantly. He reached and patted the young boy's
shoulder. "Roberto, once things start happening, it would be best for
you to find some place out of the way and remain there. Things could get
want to help..." Roberto started.
son, Zorro is right,” Tomás whispered firmly. “I know you are not
afraid to help, but you are still no match for a grown man. There is no
shame in your staying out of the fighting. Besides, if de Irujo captured
you again, he would try to use you to make us surrender. Do as we say,
Papá," Roberto said reluctantly.
there only the three guards?" Zorro inquired.
is de Irujo, as well," Tomás told him quietly. "That one is a
dangerous snake, Señor Zorro!"
es la verdad," Zorro agreed. "Be ready."
he crept closer to the cave entrance and watched the two men talking. He
saw de Irujo walk back over to where two more men slept.
Irujo kicked the nearest one awake. "Get up, baboso! It is going on
third watch. I will soon be leaving for my ride into the pueblo and I want
all of you up and alert before I do."
man grumbled something under his breath and slowly pushed himself up.
Zorro was surprised to see that the man was Rómez. He had not thought
that the capitán would risk sending a uniformed lancer out to his
accomplices' hidden camp.
Irujo, I can see where you might be too excited to sleep, getting to see
this plan of yours and Rodríguez's accomplished, but why can you not let
the rest of us sleep?” Rómez continued his grumbling out loud. "WE
are not going to the hanging." With a yawn, he reached over and shook
the last guard awake.
down at the two men, de Irujo said, "Perhaps it is just a feeling I have. When things are
going too well, it is best to be prepared for things to go wrong. To think
that I have Ania Valdéz right where I want her! The only thing needed to
make it complete will be the look on that little witch's face when she
sees me watching her just before she dies! How can my vengeance be perfect
unless she knows that I am behind her downfall?" De Irujo smiled as
he thought about it. "However, I do not want there to be a chance of
anyone, like one of these peons, getting away and ruining
eyes narrowed as he listened and he took a firm grip on his temper. He
focused his mind on how to take care of all the guards without their
having a chance to get to a hostage. Suddenly, he crouched back down as
there was a movement from the cave entrance. He frowned as he watched a
young woman come out and walk to where bags with what appeared to be
supplies were stacked.
man beside Rómez, Mauro, watched her closely as she walked by. "Rodríguez
will most likely order us to kill all of these people this morning, es
verdad?" he asked de Irujo.
de Irujo answered.
know, it is a shame that one will be missing so much of life," Mauro
Irujo shrugged and walked away, not wishing to be involved in what he felt
was coming. Rómez walked to where the horses were tied, as well.
sauntered to where Abril had now replaced the sack and stood preparing to
go back into the cave. "Buenos días, señorita," he said
heart began pounding in fear as she noted the way the bandido let his eyes
roam over her body as he came to stand over her. Abril backed carefully
away from him. "I...I...need to take this back to my mother. She
needs it for my little sister."
I doubt there is really that big a hurry, little pretty one," Mauro
said soothingly. "Stay awhile, señorita." He reached out and
traced his finger lightly down her cheek.
young girl jerked her head back as if Mauro's finger had burned her.
"No, I do not think that I will!" Abril quickly tried to
back away from him.
was not an invitation, señorita," he said as he suddenly grabbed
her, pulling her roughly against his body and forcing a kiss on her.
"There is a lot you need to learn and very little time for
school." He began to push her back along the side of the wall of the
canyon as she fought to get free.
she continued to struggle, Abril desperately struck out, clawing Mauro
across the face.
you little wildcat!" Mauro growled. While keeping a secure grip on
the girl's arm, he drew his right hand back to strike her. The blow never
was astonished to suddenly find himself sprawled upon the ground several
feet away from the girl. His eyes filled with panic when he saw the man
who was responsible for the sudden change in his situation, a man now
standing over him dressed in the flowing black cape and mask of El Zorro.
He did not know how the Dark Angel came to be here, but Mauro himself
wanted very much to be elsewhere.
Zorro yelled as a signal to the others. Tomás and Rico were immediately
up and diving at the two men nearest them. It was time to teach this nest
of scorpions a lesson.
Cosío led his men back toward the pueblo. It was now too late to have any
chance of catching Zorro. He had decidedly mixed feelings about that. He
had just had two wanted criminals slip through his fingers. That is never
a wise thing for a leader to allow. Such things looked very bad on one's
record. Yet, in this case, at least it kept the señorita from being
executed the next morning and would give him more time to sort things out.
Now if he just knew where to find that "loose thread" Diego de
la Vega insisted was there. They arrived back at the cuartel to find it a
shambles. Perhaps the one good thing he noticed on the way in was that the
angry crowds were gone. After they had learned that Zorro had escaped with
the prisoner, the people had all wisely disappeared back to their own
exactly happened here, Sergeant?" he asked García who had just
ridden up with a group as well.
happened," García said shortly.
of this was caused by one man?" Cosío looked around in disbelief.
Capitán, he is the only one we saw. Maybe he had help with the
explosive. I am not sure." García shook his head.
is Capitán Rodríguez? I have a few questions for him," Cosío
is dead, Capitán," came the answer.
Zorro killed him?" The young capitán looked sharply at García. It
occurred to him that perhaps he should not be too quick to decide that
this outlaw was a blessing in disguise.
Zorro was fighting him, but no....It was Private Sánchez's gun,"
shot the capitán?" Cosío asked in surprise.
I really think Señorita Ania's hands were on the gun when it shot
him," García finished.
you are confusing me. Perhaps you had better start at the beginning,"
the capitán instructed him.
did as he was requested. Cosío sat with a look of astonishment on his
face as García described Zorro's walking in to the cuartel alone and then
provoking a duel with Capitán Rodríguez.
wonder songs are made about that man!" the young capitán finally
said with a shake of his head. "It is too bad about Capitán Rodríguez.
Sergeant, what can YOU tell me about this de Irujo character the señorita
insisted was involved in this? I had hoped to ask your capitán more about
him. Something does not feel right."
that black-eyed devil was bad news from the first day he was here. He
tried to kill Señorita Valdéz, or so she and Don Diego said," García
is the second time in the last few hours that someone has referred to him
as 'black eyed'. Why do you say that?" Cosío questioned.
he is, Capitán. Why, I have seen Indians with lighter eyes!"
the sergeant explained.
sat up very straight and stared at the other soldier for a long moment.
"Sergeant, what would you say if I told you that the man in my prison
right now has eyes as blue as a cornflower?"
would say that you have the wrong man, señor!" García exclaimed.
loose thread!" Cosío exclaimed. "The loose thread that Señor
de la Vega told me to look for. That is it! Sergeant, I do not wish
any disrespect to the dead, but I think we should see what we find in your
capitán's quarters. Where is his body being kept?"
a bed in the barracks. We had set that up as an infirmary of sorts. The
doctor is there now, or at least, he was when I left."
two men began methodically searching. Soon the strong box containing
silver bars and samples of silver ore came to light. García looked
thoughtfully at the geode in his hand. "Señorita Ania reminded me of
this just before she and Zorro escaped. She is right. It is exactly like
the ore from her mine. Maybe there could be other places near here with
the same mixture of stuff in the samples, but it does make me
nodded and they went on with their search. They found the chest clearly
set aside for the King's taxes, but then behind several blankets, they
also found another chest with prime examples of jewelry and not a few bags
of gold in it. Cosío looked up at García. "Is it safe to assume
that your capitán was more than a little interested in bettering his
station in life, Sergeant? I think this is a bit of 'feathering his own
nest' if I am not mistaken!"
could be right, Capitán Cosío. He was about as interested in that as any
man I have ever known," García replied. Then his eye caught on
something that had gotten pushed to the very back of the little storage
room. Reaching back and plucking it from behind the edge of the chest,
García handed the crumpled piece of parchment to Cosío and they looked
at it curiously.
they held was a short page from a letter. As they moved it, the odor of
tea drifted from the paper. "I just thought you might want a bit more
of that tea I sent last time. We were lucky to get a rather large shipment
this month. Hope you enjoy it. Love, Antonia," it read. It was dated
more than seven months ago. On the back, there were several versions of
the same word; the last appearing identical with the writing on the other
side. Below that was an imperfect stamp showing the V and griffin seal.
you say that what we have here is an example of a practice sheet for a
forger, Sergeant?" Cosío asked with a smile.
García said enthusiastically as he smiled back.
then they were startled when a young boy ran in the door, followed closely
by a lancer. "Sergeant García, you have got to come!" the boy
gasped out just as the lancer caught him.
You cannot just burst in here. Out!" the lancer said.
Capitán! Zorro sent me! Listen to me, please!" Pepe pleaded.
soldiers immediately turned to the boy at the mention of Zorro.
"What, boy? Out with it! What is going on?"
quickly told the story of seeing Tomás and his family being held by
bandidos and about Zorro going to help them.
Cosío shook his head. "That hombre has been busy! Hurry, muchacho,
where is this cave?"
quickly gave them the same description and general directions he had given
am not familiar with your area, Sergeant. Do you know where this cave
is?" Cosío asked as he walked toward the door.
Capitán, I do. Pepe, thank you for bring the message. Now you go on home.
You will be safe there," García said, unknowingly repeating Zorro's
advice to the young boy. Quickly he headed out the door after the capitán,
calling for Reyes and the other lancers as he went.
slowly walked out the door and mounted Ventura. Outside the pueblo, he
stopped and looked back. He had wanted to help, too. Hmmmmm, the
soldiers still have not come out. They are going too slow! What if Zorro
needs help before they get there? I bet Ventura can get me back quicker
than they can come! With a bright smile of excitement, Pepe wheeled
Ventura and rode back toward the cave.
rolled frantically to the side and to his feet, trying desperately to get
to his musket propped nearby. He had not gone six feet, however, before
Zorro gripped his shoulder and twirled him around, right into his fist.
The bandido groggily fumbled for the knife in his belt, but a black gloved
hand had already intercepted his own. Pulling the man's arm back and
around behind him, Zorro forced him to the ground and tied him securely,
disarming him as he did. With a smile, Zorro handed the gun to Abril and
turned, searching for yet another 'scorpion' to bring down.
a minute, Abril's eyes followed the man in black, a smile on her own lips
and a dreamy look in her eyes. "Gracias, Señor Zorro," she said
softly. Finally, she sighed deeply, turned to kick the man tied up at her
feet, and then moved back into the cave entrance, the gun clutched
resolutely in her hands. None of these animals would get past her to
threaten them again!
nodded, grimly pleased to see that Tomás and Rico were handling things on
their end. Tomás had a firm grip on Rómez’s collar as he doubled the
lancer over with a solid blow to his stomach, while Rico seemed to be
doing an admirable job with Iago. Now,where is de Irujo? Zorro
wondered, inwardly pleased that this one had been left for him.
Irujo had managed to reach his bedroll again and snatched up his sword
just as Zorro spotted him. He turned as if to aid the others. However,
that thought was driven from his mind by the sound of a sword being drawn
from its scabbard behind him. He turned back, a look of fear in his dark
eyes. De Irujo had never planned to meet Zorro himself. He was no fool.
However, plans assuredly meant nothing in this case, for there stood the
Dark Angel de Los Àngeles, like some avenging winged creature of the
night. De Irujo stepped to meet him, fear in his heart, but not yielding
there were some who considered de Irujo an excellent fencer, it soon
became apparent that he was no match for Zorro. The Fox seemed almost to
be toying with him. Zorro's laugh carried through the night as he stepped
away from de Irujo for a moment. "Your true spirit is showing, Señor
de Irujo. There is fear in your eyes. Where is the bravado you showed when
plotting the downfall of a lady? That lady was hardly more than a child
when she spoiled your plans, plans to increase your wealth and allow you to
have the mistress you wanted by your side. What a disappointment you must
have been to your illustrious family! She did not bring about your
downfall, señor. YOU did! Yet you would hound her, taking from her those
she loved, and finally, her own life. You deserve the fires of hell for
that, yet somehow you have always escaped justice. How have you always
managed that? What demon has always been on your side until now?"
Irujo struggled to swallow. The look of intensely controlled anger in the
masked man's eyes sent a shiver of dread through him. Desperation filled
his heart. Surely there was something he could do to throw the outlaw's
near perfect timing off and allow him to get out of this situation.
Suddenly, he leaped forward, trying to force Zorro to make a rash move by
having to respond so quickly. However, a cry of alarm was drawn from his
own throat as Zorro parried his thrust and then enfolded his weapon and
sent it spinning away into the bushes. De Irujo fully expected Zorro to
kill him where he stood. What he was not expecting was for the masked
man's free hand to connect with his jaw with enough force to send him
spread-eagle over a large boulder behind him, head spinning. He pretended
to be unconscious.
do not deserve an almost honorable death in a duel. You deserve to end
your life as you meant for Señorita Valdéz to die, with a noose around
your neck and with the condemnation of the people ringing in your ears.
This time, you will not escape justice, Señor de Irujo," he heard
watched him for a moment. When de Irujo did not move, he looked away to
where the others were still fighting. In the heat of the moment, he had
forgotten Ania's warnings. He did not see de Irujo slowly ease his hand
under his chest to where he kept a small but deadly pistol hidden.
Catching a glimpse of motion, he turned to find himself facing down the
barrel of the gun. At the same instant he told himself to move, he saw de
Irujo start to squeeze the trigger.
the action could be completed, however, a ball of fury dropped out of the
tree above de Irujo. Pepe knocked the gun from his hand and out of reach
as he scratched and pummeled any part of de Irujo he could reach with his
fists. With an infuriated roar, de Irujo snatched the boy from his
shoulders and flung him at Zorro.
fearful that the child would hit his sword, turned it aside and was
knocked backwards several steps as he tried to keep the boy from being
hurt. After he had set Pepe on his feet and pushed him behind a nearby
rock, he looked around for de Irujo. He would puzzle out how the boy came
to be here later. As he quickly sheathed his sword, he spotted the man
running for his horse, which stood already saddled for the expected ride
into Los Ángeles. His eyes narrowed. There is no way this one is
getting away from me this time! he thought, but he would have to hurry
if he was to stop him.
as de Irujo pulled himself into the saddle, Zorro raced across the
clearing, and using a small boulder as a platform for his leap, vaulted
into him. Both men landed amid the nervous horses. Zorro had landed hard
on his back and shoulder. It took a moment for him to get air back into
his lungs. Sensing a chance to escape, De Irujo leaped up and tried to
dash off. Zorro was instantly up and on him, flinging him up against a
tree, the anger in his eyes no longer so well controlled. Black leather
gloved fingers gripped de Irujo's collar and tie tightly, lifting him from
the ground. De Irujo struggled for breath as he pulled frantically at the
What is going on here?" came a sudden voice above them. Zorro took
his eyes off de Irujo's face long enough to look cautiously over his
shoulder. Unnoticed until this moment, Capitán Cosío and Sergeant García
and their lancers now formed a loose circle around the two men on the
you must arrest this man! Surely you can see that Zorro attacked us!"
de Irujo tried to bluff as Zorro eased a bit of the pressure off his
Cosío," García cried. "THAT is de Irujo, the REAL one!"
de Irujo's outburst, Zorro gritted his teeth and shook him like a terrier
shakes a rat. He once again pulled de Irujo's tie up around his neck like
a noose. Ignoring the lancers for now, Zorro growled, "You will tell
the truth to these people or you will die here and now. With my own hands
will I see that Justice catches up with your worthless soul!"
right! All right!" de Irujo squeaked as Zorro once again let his feet
barely touch the ground.
carefully, Capitán," Zorro admonished over his shoulder to Cosío.
"He has quite a dirty tale to tell, but it will answer many of your
aided by a few more growls and shakes from Zorro, de Irujo told of how he
had come to be working with Rodríguez and of what the late capitán had
told him of the attacks on Ania and her family. He told of his trips to
Monterey and Santa Barbara. He even hinted that he had been as far as San
Francisco. As the Fox did not shake him when he stretched the truth there,
he knew he had at last reached a part of the story that Zorro did not
somehow know. He might be able to use that later. "That is the truth!
I swear it!" he gasped as he finished. Zorro gradually eased him
down, his angry eyes never leaving de Irujo's.
him," Cosío ordered. “Take Zorro, as well.” Several
lancers stepped forward eagerly, only too happy to do as he commanded.
cautiously halted again as Zorro tossed de Irujo into the nearest lancer's
arms and backed up against the tree, warily eyeing the surrounding
lancers. Getting himself captured at the same time as de Irujo was not
exactly a part of his plan. However, the odds were now overwhelmingly
against him for the second time tonight. Tension hung in the air like a
cloud as the capitán silently considered his options.
García spoke up. "Capitán Cosío, perhaps this will sound strange
coming from me, but remember, if not for Zorro, a very grave mistake would
have been made in a couple of hours," the big soldier insisted as he
turned to Cosío.
my family and I would have been dead as well," Tomás added.
met Zorro's eyes solemnly. "I am well aware of all we owe El Zorro
tonight, mi amigos. I am also aware of what my normal duty would be."
He paused for a minute. Zorro's hand tightened on the hilt of his sword.
Then Cosío went on. "However, I believe that the duty of gratitude
outweighs that of law in this case. Lancers, tie the other four prisoners'
hands and put them on their horses. Judge Vasca will be very interested to
hear their story and I am sure that he, too, will be grateful, for once,
to be proven wrong. No one will earn the 2500 pesos for Zorro's capture
gave a barely perceivable sigh of relief and relaxed his hand as the
lancers withdraw from around him. Once he was sure that Capitán Cosío
meant what he said, he turned toward Tomás' family where they stood
watching and made a slight bow. He smiled at the look on Abril's face and
winked. Then he turned back to Cosío and García, saluting and bowing
Capitán Cosío! I am glad to see that there are some who honor justice.
Adios!" With that he turned, vanishing into the shadows of the
surrounding hillsides. A minute later, they heard the sound of a horse
rapidly galloping away.
Cosío sat with a smile on his face. "Sergeant García, it is too bad
that no one here is a poet or musician. What a song this all would
make!" He looked at the smiling García and shrugged. "Oh, well!
Let us get these hombres into the cuartel and make sure Judge Vasca
listens well to each. There are still wrongs to undo in this case. Thank
the saints, we were stopped from committing one that could not be