Ring of Fire
Capitán Rodríguez sat back in his
chair and contemplated what he had just been reading. He stared
thoughtfully at the plain cover of the ledger that lay on his desk. This
Monastario had kept a very detailed record of his encounters with Zorro.
Unfortunately, his guesses as to the identity of the outlaw seemed no
better than anyone else's. Why, Rodríguez thought in disgust, he
even tried to say that Diego de la Vega could have been Zorro! What an
absurd idea! Well, at least the ledger was giving him a bit more
insight into the outlaw's methods. Perhaps, if he could understand him
enough, he would be able to get one step ahead of him and snare him, at
long last. However, that still seemed to be far in the future at this
stage of the game. He sighed and put the journal into the drawer of his
There were other things to plan for
right now, such as his own trap for the Fox and the young acid-tongued señorita.
A plan was indeed forming but he was beginning to see that he would need
someone to help a little if he was to set things up as he wished. That was
one of the parts of the trap that he was still waiting to have come into
his hands, a partner, so to speak. He needed someone who would understand
what he wanted to do and not only go along with him on it, but also for
whatever the reason, actively seek it just as he did. Well, I will
think my plans through. When the man comes along that will fit my purpose,
I will make my move. Until then, I will just watch and wait, he
thought determinedly to himself.
All this waiting around seemed to be
an uncomfortable process. The comandante frowned even more as he thought
back over the problems he had had during the last few weeks. Since the
swordfight with Zorro, which disrupted his meeting with Vásquez, the
labor contractor, Capitán Rodríguez had not had any direct
confrontations with the outlaw. That did not mean that he had not felt the
renegade's ire. Even after Zorro's warning that he be careful in his use
of the land seized for taxes, Rodríguez had continued acquiring land,
which controlled water access. He had finally gained just the key lands
that controlled the water through some of the ranchos. They were not the
richest to be sure, since that would surely tempt fate too much at this
point. Rather he had chosen waterways that passed through some of the
smaller successful rancheros' lands. If he were successful with these
smaller holdings, then he would bring pressure to bear on the larger,
Almost as soon as he had recovered
from the injuries he had received in his battle with Zorro, he had begun
using the men in his jail to build his own project, an earthen dam across
Arroyo Venado. Within two nights of the gates to the dam being completed,
workers returned early in the morning and found the creek flowing as it
had always done, the earthworks blown apart during the night. On a boulder
beside the remains of the dam was painted a large Z. Not to be outdone,
Rodríguez immediately put the men back to work rebuilding the dam and
resolved to keep a watch for Zorro in case he returned to destroy it
again. Rodríguez's blood began to boil as he thought of the events of a
night three days later.
The night had started out well
enough. He had ridden out to see that the men were well concealed and as
alert as they should be. The dam was once again nearing completion and the
capitán thought that Zorro, or others who felt as he did about the dam,
would strike again now that the water flow was blocked to those ranchos
downstream. A notice had been sent to the affected rancheros announcing a
200-peso tax for "water usage derived from government lands."
This was surely something that Zorro would not ignore.
"Sergeant García!" he had
called loudly as he pulled up near the reconstructed dam. "Report at
once!" Rodríguez gave a grunt of satisfaction as the sergeant
lumbered out of a cluster of boulders not far away. He had been quite well
hidden, which had pleasantly surprised his capitán.
"Sí, mi capitán?" García
"Ah, very good, Sergeant! I see
no one. Are all the lancers in position?" Rodríguez said with a
"Sí, Capitán," he was
assured. "No one can approach that dam without being seen."
"I think I will wait with you.
We will have action tonight, I am sure," Rodríguez ventured. "I
feel it in my bones!"
"Well, I am sure that Zorro
will have heard of the tax by now, at any rate," García agreed.
"Return to your spot, Sergeant
García. I will find concealment for myself and wait for the entertainment
to begin," Rodríguez said, pleasantly.
Everything became still and darkness
began settling over the apparently deserted meadow beside the creek.
Although the capitán would not have admitted it, he himself had trouble
staying awake. Peace and silence lay over the area like a blanket.
Suddenly, from the picket line
behind the meadow where the horses had been hidden, came the challenging
neigh of a stallion. The noise of much stomping and the whinnies of the
soldiers' horses shattered the peace of the late spring evening. Whirling
toward the picket line, Rodríguez could just make out the black clad
figure of his enemy. "After him!" he bellowed to the hidden men.
Silently, the man in black took the time to jerk the picket line loose and
attempted to scatter the horses. Rodríguez smirked at the attempt, for it
seemed to be a clumsy failure. The horses were easily recaptured and the
men were off in hot pursuit with no more than a minute's delay. Perhaps
Zorro is getting careless. If he is, I will be waiting to catch him when
he stumbles, he laughed to himself as he mounted his own horse to give
Soon, the lancers, with Rodríguez
at the front, were riding madly after the outlaw. As they began to go into
rougher terrain, it looked as if they were getting closer to him. Then
quite suddenly, the black horse and its rider were simply gone.
"He could not have just
disappeared!" Rodríguez exclaimed in astonishment. "Look
everywhere." For several minutes, the lancers fanned out and searched
behind boulders and bushes for any sign of Zorro, but to no avail.
Sergeant García rode up beside
Capitán Rodríguez. "Capitán, it is as if he vanished into thin
"I can see that, Baboso!"
"Well, at least, we kept him
from doing whatever he came to do," Corporal Reyes commented from
"Yes, I sup--" the
comandante began, but before he could get the rest of 'suppose' out, he
suddenly envisioned the meadow beside the dam as it was now, completely
devoid of lancers. "NO!" Rodríguez yelled. "Back to the
dam quickly! It is a trick! Hurry!"
Once again in the lead, the capitán
took the lancers as quickly as possible back over the rough landscape
toward the dam, all the time cursing his own stupidity. How could I
have let that scoundrel trick me, of all people, like this? he asked
himself. But if we hurry, it will do him no good. There is no way that
he will have time enough to double back, do any damage and get away. We
will be there in plenty of..." A resounding boom from just beyond
the meadow ahead interrupted Rodríguez’s frantic thoughts. The capitán
began recalling every curse word that he had ever known as he realized
that, no doubt, that boom had been the dam, again.
Pulling his horse to a stop at the
edge of the now raging creek and dismounting, Rodríguez stood with his
hands clenched in anger as he watched the surge of the very considerable
amount of water that had, until a minute ago, been caught behind the dam.
"Look, Capitán!" Private
Rómez cried. He then pointed to a spot on the far side of the creek.
There on top of a bank was Zorro, calmly watching the scene from the back
of his black steed.
"Shoot him! Shoot that
black-hearted fiend!" Rodríguez ordered. Not satisfied with the
quickness of his men's response, Rodríguez snatched a nearby musket and
fired toward the outlaw. He saw his musket ball harmlessly throw a spark
as it ricocheted off a rock to the left of Zorro. Had he been calm
himself, he would have had to admire the courage of the man in black. It
had been less than two months since a musket ball had actually hit Zorro.
Yet, he sat now as still as if Rodríguez had no chance at all of hitting
him. Exasperated at his own failure to hit the outlaw, Rodríguez snatched
up another musket and tried to aim a bit more carefully. As he did, he
stepped further out on the overhanging bank of the creek. Undercut by the
force of the rushing water, the bank gave way under the capitán's feet
and he suddenly found himself tumbling into the rushing water. Clutching
desperately at the muddy bank, Rodríguez managed to keep himself from
washing away downstream but was unable to pull himself up out of the
water. To Rodríguez's embarrassment, several of the lancers found this
amusing. Nor were they alone in their amusement, for above them all, the
capitán could hear Zorro's irritating laughter.
"Oh-ho, Capitán! I see that
you are a dedicated man," Zorro laughed. "It seems that you are
about to let yourself be totally carried away by your work."
Sergeant García attempted to get a
grip on Capitán Rodríguez's hand, but found it a bit slippery with mud.
"Capitán, rinse your hand and I will try to reach you again,"
he yelled over the noise of the water. "You," he ordered a
nearby lancer, "give me your hand so you can anchor me." He
reached back to the much smaller man and then leaned down further and took
hold of Rodríguez's hand.
As Rodríguez's weight was added to
García's considerable bulk, the poor lancer struggled to keep his feet
from sliding toward the edge. The
lighter soldier began looking around desperately for something to grab a
hold of, anything substantial enough to provide an anchor. He clutched
tightly to a boulder beside him. For
a moment, it appeared that his death-grip on the boulder would hold.
Then his eyes grew round with dismay as the unstoppable force of
gravity again pulled him steadily toward the water.
His mouth moved as if calling for assistance, yet for a moment no
sound came. Finally, he croaked, “Corporal…anyone…help!” He leaned back, digging his heels into the soft earth of the
bank. It did no good.
Slowly, but surely, two parallel furrows appeared as the heels
slide, inch by inch, toward disaster.
Suddenly, as the sergeant reached further to try to get to the
capitán, all the lancer’s valiant efforts failed.
gasped out as he leaned too far, and arms flailing, toppled into the water
with his capitán. Now added to the force of the water in the creek was a
tremendous splash of water that hit Rodríguez solidly in the face as the
hefty sergeant landed beside him. The smaller lancer was only saved from a
similar fate as Corporal Reyes grabbed the back of his jacket and pulled
him to safety. Both the capitán and García came up sputtering and
spitting. Gradually as most of the water escaped from behind the dam, the
two men were left struggling in knee-deep mud as the water level dropped
in the creek. Despite themselves, several of the lancers chuckled openly
at the comedy of errors.
However, sitting atop Tornado, Zorro
was having the biggest laugh of all. Finally, he called, "Well, as I
see that you and the good sergeant are too busy for a visit tonight, I
will come again when you are not so bogged down in the details of your
jobs. Buenas noches, muchachos!" With that, he turned the big
stallion and disappeared into the night, his laughter still drifting back
to them on the breeze.
The lancers rode back to the cuartel
that night in a very uncomfortable silence. No one wished to turn their
angry capitán's attention toward themselves. They all doubted that he
would be very easy to live with the next day either. The only thing the
lancers could think of to be happy about was that they were not Sergeant
García. Capitán Rodríguez's anger was not easily borne, and right now
the capitán was VERY angry with the hapless sergeant.
Capitán Rodríguez a very happy man even now, three days later. As he sat
at his desk remembering the embarrassing incident and how the outlaw had
laughed at his expense, he held a wine glass tightly in his hand. Unable
to control his anger any longer, the capitán hurled the glass across the
room where it shattered against the adobe wall. "Just wait,
Zorro!" he growled. "My laughter will be what you hear, the last
sound you hear just before the trapdoor opens beneath you on the gallows!
I wonder which will hurt you more? Your own death, or the fact that you
will have caused an innocent's death in a trap meant for you, as
well." Chillingly, the capitán smiled as he thought of the revenge
that he was determined to have, very sweet revenge indeed.
words seem to cut through all the assorted noise in the cantina, as if her
unsettled emotions lent an edge to them, although she had spoken quietly.
Her eyes looked wild and frightened, as if she had had a confrontation
with the devil himself.
Diego sat looking at her in concern.
"In what way do you mean for me to be careful, Ania? I fully intend
to use care whenever I meet him again, if I do," he stressed the
'whenever', intending that she understand that he meant as either of his
personas. "Why is he such a danger?"
At a movement at her elbow, Ania
tensed, but then relaxed as she looked up into Bernardo's concerned face.
Having also seen the confrontation that had just taken place, he had come
over immediately to find out what had transpired. "Diego, let us not
discuss him here. Let us go up to my room and I will tell you everything I
am unlucky enough to know about that devil's spawn," she said as she
looked back at him, her eyes filled with more fear than he had ever seen
After paying for their meals, he
gracefully assisted her from her chair, and taking her arm, escorted her
upstairs. Normally, with only Bernardo accompanying them, he would not
have entered her room. It often took so little to start the type of gossip
from which he had always tried to shield Ania. However, there were
sometimes things that were more important than appearances. He felt that,
whoever this man was, learning about him was one of those things. Seeing
Ania this upset could only indicate that the man was, or at least had been
a serious threat to her. To protect her from that danger, he had to
understand exactly what was going on. Judging by Ania’s reaction, he
agreed that it could not be explained in a public common room.
As they entered the bedchamber,
Diego was surprised to see Ania glance around, almost as if she expected
the stranger to be hiding in the shadows ready to spring out at them.
Hearing Bernardo close the door tightly, he took Ania's hand in his and
pulled her toward him. Gently, he brushed his fingers over the hair that
curled softly in front of her ears and then tenderly cupped her face with
his hands. "It is all right, Ania," he reassured her, "he
cannot hurt you now. Just tell me what we are up against. Unless he is
supernatural, he cannot be invincible." Ania took a deep breath and
put her hands over his, taking comfort from his closeness and touch.
"That is it, Ania," he said quietly as he felt her slowly stop
trembling. "You know I will do whatever I must to keep you safe from
"Yes," Ania replied in a
low voice, "that is one of the things that frightens me."
Diego shook his head and let out an
exasperated sigh. "I am afraid you are going to have to explain that
comment, Ania. Why do you not start at the beginning? Perhaps then I will
understand this apparent lack of confidence in me." He led Ania to
the chair at the desk and pulled a chair over to sit beside her.
Her tension still too high to sit
for long, Ania was immediately back on her feet as she protested, "It
is not truly that I do not have confidence in you. I trust you with my
life and beyond. It is just that he...."
Diego gestured for her to stop,
"The beginning, Ania."
Ania stopped for a moment and
gathered her thoughts. "Well, I guess the beginning would be with my
stepmother. I told you that she took a lover while we were in Spain. This
is that man."
"But, Ania," Diego
commented, "this man hardly looked old enough to have been involved
with your stepmother."
"Diego, my stepmother was not
as old as my father. It was her first marriage, a good catch for her, I am
sure." Ania shook her head and frowned. "She was only in her
mid-twenties and she had an eye for younger men." She paced for a
minute before starting on the narrative again. "His name is Carlos
Luis de Irujo."
"There is a Carlos Martínez de
Irujo who is Spain's minister to the United States. This is his son?"
Diego asked, surprised.
"His nephew," Ania
corrected, "the younger son of his brother, Arturo."
"I met his father and mother at
court while I was in Madrid. I believe they were from La Mancha,"
Diego said. "I remember there being some talk of a son and an older
woman." He stopped, not quite sure if Ania would care to know what
Ania apparently already knew all she
needed to of the situation. "Yes, I suppose there would have been
some talk regarding the two of them. At least, after what I did."
"What was that, Ania, if I dare
to ask?" Diego smiled teasingly at her, hoping to ease her tension.
"Knowing you, no doubt it was a ninety day wonder, whatever it
"Oh, I can assure you it went
beyond my usual reaction, querido." Ania stopped pacing and looked at
him. "For you to understand, you need to know what was going on
between my stepmother and me at the time. Leya had listened to Felipe's
warning. I was not beaten again. I was slapped a few times, but nothing
like before. She did, however, begin to find other ways of pressuring me.
She made inquiries and found out which servant it had been who went after
Felipe the night she had beaten me so badly. There were two servants who
were especially attentive to me. The woman, Ana, was a personal maid to
me. In a way, she reminded me of Luisa, whom I missed badly. The servant,
who had taken it upon himself to go for Felipe, was Ana's husband, Pablo.
About a month after Felipe had gone back to school, leaving me with Leya
again, Pablo disappeared. Ana was beside herself with worry. Finally,
another servant came upon Pablo's body in a wooded area not far from the
casa. Ana was devastated. I tried to help her, but I am not sure I did. I
missed the old man, too. Not long after the body was found, Leya and I had
an argument. She warned me that if I did not become more cooperative
something might also happen to Ana. She led me to believe that "that
sneak, Pablo" as she called him had been punished for running to
Felipe about "private affairs of my household"! I was horrified,
and for once, terribly frightened of her."
"She truly had Pablo
killed?" Diego gasped.
Ania shook her head, "I do not
really know if she did or just used it to scare me when she heard of it.
Whichever way it was, it worked. I was terrified that she would hurt Ana
and that it would be my fault, as I thought Pablo's death had been."
"What were her demands?"
"Merely that I "look more
favorably" on her choices for my future husband," Ania answered.
"At this point, I did not see that I had a choice in the matter. It
puzzled me for a while, however. She did not push me at the wide number of
young men that she had before. Apparently, she had decided that she could
kill two birds with one stone. If she could marry me off to Carlos de
Irujo, he would remain close to the family, and to her. His family was
also well connected at court and could be influential.
This was just what Leya had been wanting all along," Ania
"I am not sure just why they
did not arrange for it regardless of my feelings. They could have, but I
suppose they must have realized that Papá would not wish me forced into a
marriage without his being consulted. Perhaps they did not think he would
approve of the match unless it was something I said I wanted.” Ania
shook her head, her expression darkening as if she were watching some
tragic play before her eyes. “Carlos began what to outward appearances
was a courtship. I tolerated him. I
hated it, but I cooperated. Still I resisted setting a date for a wedding.
Finally, Leya and Carlos hatched a plan. They decided that were things to,
shall we say, go a bit too far with the courting one night I might be more
willing to proceed as they had planned." Ania had walked away from
Diego as she spoke. She heard him take a sharp breath as he realized what
she was suggesting.
He quickly rose and came to her.
Taking her shoulders in his hands, he turned her to face him. A horrified
look filled his eyes as he looked down at her. "Ania, did he...he
attacked you... forced... He did not touch you, did he?" Ania found
that even Diego could be affected enough by something to have trouble
putting what he wanted to ask into words.
Ania slowly shook her head and
quickly reassured him. "No. Oh, he tried, but he forgot that I had
been raised with mostly boys around me and had learned to fight almost as
well as my brothers could, at least until they grew bigger than me."
Ania smiled wanly. "When he grabbed me, he at first thought I would
scream for help. Instead, when he put his hand over my mouth, I bit him as
hard as I could. If you see his right hand without his riding glove, you
will see quite a scar from that bite. I briefly got loose and ran for the
hallway. Ignoring his injury, he made the mistake of coming after me. I
brought him down the way my brothers had learned I could bring them down
if I wished, the same way I brought down the first man who attacked me the
night Zorro and I had our race." She watched Diego closely to see if
he remembered. "With the carefully placed use of my knee."
For a moment, Diego was too relieved
to react to the slight triumphant humor in Ania's voice. "If he dares
approach you again, I will...."
"No, Diego! Please just avoid
him if at all possible!" Ania cried, alarmed again. Diego merely
looked at her, waiting for her to continue. At this point he would not
promise what he would or would not do.
continued, "Anyway, I did get away with only a torn gown and bruises,
but I was afraid that if given enough time he would try again and maybe
succeed. I began looking for some way to protect myself from him more
permanently. He and Leya had been careless. Before the assault upon
my person, I had overheard Carlos telling Leya how he had stolen a
personal seal from his uncle and was using it to acquire money from a
government treasury. Carlos was forging his uncle's signature and
using the seal to make the papers look authentic. The letters he
wrote ordered the treasurer to pay so much each time to Carlos. Even
as Carlos was recovering from our encounter, I broke into his room
and found the seal, some letters he was using as a guide to his uncle's
handwriting, and several pages where he had been practicing the
"He resorted to forgery to get money? Why? His
parents are quite rich," Diego asked.
"Apparently both he and Leya
had expensive tastes," Ania answered. "What his father sent him
was never enough."
"What did you do with the
evidence of his crime?
"I took it to my uncle, who
took it to the magistrate," Ania continued. "He tried to keep me
out of it, but when the case was heard in court, the magistrate required
me to testify. Leya and Carlos had no doubt who had turned him in. I was
very terrified that Ana would be the one to pay. When I told her what I
had done and why, she stayed with me in my room for several nights. I am
not sure whether she was trying to protect me, or I was trying to protect
her. After Carlos was arrested and taken away, I was sure Leya would do
something, but she did not. Perhaps she was too afraid someone would
connect her with the scandal at that point. I do not know, but thankfully,
she did not follow through on her threats...at least not at first. It was
just at that point that my father surprised us by arriving back in
"Surely you told him about all
that had happened," Diego commented.
"No, for when I returned from a
ride the day he returned, I found that Ana was missing. Leya reminded me
of what had happened to Pablo. This time, I was sure she had Ana. Ana
would be returned to me, if I did not tell everything to Papá. I was
afraid to tell Papá anything beyond what my uncle told him. I was able to
convince him that I was so affected by the whole affair that if I were
forced to wed anyone chosen by my stepmother I would kill either myself or
Perhaps Papá felt that I was a
little unbalanced by the horror of the experience. I do not know why, but
he did humor me in this issue. He signed papers saying that Leya did not
have the right to arrange any marriage for me. Only he could do that.
Anyway, shortly after Papá left to return to Florida, Leya announced that
she was pregnant. Six months later she died in childbirth and I was free
of her. I am sure many people were shocked by how little mourning I seemed
to do. I refused to mourn even the infant. I told no one that I did not
believe the baby was my father's. I just wanted to get the whole business
“Very shortly after that, Papá
sent for me. The rebellion had been put down and the Americanos who had
taken advantage of the confusion were driven back to the northern border
of our colony. I was finally able to go home." Ania paused for a
moment as she remembered how good it felt to leave Spain behind and return
home to her father's lands. "I thought it was all over then. Three
years passed. My father was called to Pensacola for a meeting of
government officials. Felipe had returned from Spain and was overseeing
Papá's affairs in his absence. While Papá was gone, a man appeared in
the pueblo declaring that he had known me in Spain and that I had done
immoral things. At this time, I did not know who the man was. Felipe heard
of the man's insinuations and immediately challenged him to a duel. The
man was Carlos de Irujo. His father had managed to get him released from
jail and he wound up in the colonies when his father encouraged him to
leave Spain. I am not sure where he was during the intervening three
years, just here and there, I suppose."
"De Irujo was able to beat
Felipe in the duel?" Diego asked. "He really must be good with a
sword to have done that. Your brother was one of the best swordsmen I have
"No, Diego. Felipe won the
duel. However, he was a man of honor, just as you are. If he could beat a
man and achieve satisfaction in the matter, he did not kill. He received
an admission of falsehood and an apology from Carlos, witnessed by those
around them. Felipe thought the matter was settled. As he walked away,
Carlos pulled a holdout pistol from his coat and shot Felipe in the back.
The man has no honor, Diego! That is why I want you to promise me that you
will not let him provoke you into any duel, no matter what! Carlos was
charged with murder, but again his family's influence intervened. For his
foul deed, he was merely barred from returning to West Florida ever again
for his deed. He did not leave as soon as he was released from our jail,
however. He stayed long enough to send me a note. Diego, he has sworn
vengeance on all my family and me for the disgrace that he seems to think
I brought upon him. That is what he meant when he said that he might be
seeing both of us again. I am sure that he will try to provoke you into a
duel and will try to kill you because of me. If Papá and Juan were still
alive he would try the same with them. Please do not fight him, Diego,
either as yourself or as Zorro. I do not doubt that he still keeps a
holdout pistol concealed somewhere. Diego, you are too honorable. You
would have to remember to show him no mercy. Yet mercy is as much a part
of you as is your love of justice. It might make you vulnerable!"
Ania’s emerald eyes, when she looked up at him, were full of fear that
he now realized was as much for him, as of any danger to herself.
Gently, he drew his fingers along
her cheek in a caress and raised her hand to his lips. "I will
promise you that I will avoid it if I can, but I cannot allow him to hurt
you in any way, Ania," Diego said quietly after a moment. "You
will just have to trust me on this."
Ania looked at him. Then she slowly
nodded. Diego would always do what he felt was right. She knew this. It
had been one of the first things she learned about him and truthfully she
could ask no less of him. She could only pray that good came of it this
time. She exchanged a worried look with Bernardo who was standing by the
door. They would both have to trust Diego.
"Try to get some sleep,"
Diego advised her. "Tomorrow we will return to Los Ángeles. Perhaps
he will be going aboard a ship and will not try anything. I will try to
find out what I can. While we are gone, do not open your door or window
"Be careful, Diego," Ania
"Sí, Ania. I always am. Try
not to worry," he reassured her. "Te amo, Ania," he
whispered as he leaned down and kissed her. With a final reassuring smile,
he and Bernardo went downstairs. Ania carefully locked the door behind
them. For once, she did not feel defiantly brave. Looking over at the
small shrine in the corner of the room, she pulled her rosary from her
pocket and knelt, praying of protection for all of them.
Diego and Bernardo sat in the tavern
for quite some time, asking questions and watching for trouble. By
midnight, they had learned that de Irujo had come from a ship now anchored
in the harbor, but had seen no one. Perhaps he had returned there and
would sail with the ship at dawn. They walked out and tried to see if de
Irujo was anywhere around. As far as they could tell, he was not. Finally,
returning to the inn, they grabbed a few hours sleep before rising to help
Ania arrange the loading of the wagons as they returned for the rest of
Ania seemed lighthearted again
before they left. Diego had encouraged her to believe that Carlos de Irujo
had probably left on his ship for other ports. Ania believed it because
she truly wanted to believe it, not because she felt that he had. Laughing
and joking among themselves again, they rode homeward, the future once
again bright. They would have been less happy had they known that from a
window of the inn, Carlos de Irujo watched them and planned for his own
been told that there was land to be had by anyone willing to claim it in
the San Francisco area of California.
His father had written, encouraging him to “make something of
himself”. While gambling
had become his life, the idea of being a hacendado and maybe recovering
the life and respect that had been snatched away when he was sent to
prison was very tempting. His
uncle had mailed him the title to a few thousand acres hoping to give his
nephew a chance to turn his life around.
Until that evening, when he had seen Ania Valdez again, he had
decided to do just that. With
her appearance, something much more valuable than land returned to fill
his heart. That something was
revenge. Ah, Revenge!
Nothing is worth more than that.
Besides, de Irujo told himself grimly, the land and the
gambling will still be there when I finish making that witch pay for every
last minute of that time I spent in that cell.
making what he thought would be merely a temporary stop in San Pedro, he
had paid for passage to San Francisco.
Luckily, he was able to recover the money he had paid.
Using part of that money, he purchased a fine horse and tack. He
had plenty of cash with him. That would be no problem. Anyway, he
told himself, there will be people willing to gamble just as much in
Los Ángeles as in San Francisco and the fringe benefits are much better
in Los Ángeles. He laughed as he watched the people and wagons leave.
He also had been asking questions last night. He now knew just who the
tall man was with Ania Valdéz and had heard that he was no swordsman. Perhaps
he should learn, he laughed. That would be a very good idea, Don
Diego de la Vega. Not that it will do you any good. Carlos smiled.
This was starting to be a very promising stop for him, much more so than
he had thought when he got off the ship.
Now things were very promising, indeed.
Still smiling, he turned and went out to begin his own trip to the
pueblo of Los Ángeles.