Book III: The Journey Home
The Plot Thickens
began signing again, this time explaining what he had overheard earlier
Diego stopped him once for further
explanations. At the end of
Bernardo’s narrative, he said, “So apparently the bandits have
become so incensed at the resistance in Los Angeles that they have hired
a mercenary to kill the leaders of the group, including Father and
Sergeant Garcia. And the
man is supposed to be British and riding in on the stage from Mexico
tomorrow?” he asked. When
Bernardo nodded, he added, “It would seem, then, that I have something
I must do before I can go home, although Father needs to be told that I
nodded and then pointed to the beard.
Diego smiled grimly. When
he thought of how close his father had come to death…. He jerked himself back to the present. “Did it fool you?” Bernardo
nodded. “I wondered when
I turned and saw you there.” Bernardo
indicated that he had watched him and George disembark, but had not
recognized him until right before his approach, although he had seen
Diego said, stroking his new beard.
like his father, Bernardo
thought in amusement. But
he knew there had to be a serious reason for the change and he asked.
in the event that the terrorists were still active, I did not want to be
recognized too quickly.” The
manservant nodded in understanding.
“I also know many of the conspirators’ passwords and names,
and I felt that I would be able to infiltrate their organization if I
was disguised . . . and if it became necessary.
And apparently it is,” Diego explained, and then he asked
Bernardo for an additional update of the group’s activities since his
complied and through many signs, which he noted Don Diego seemed better
able to follow, he told how the landowners and Sergeant Garcia had been
able to keep the depredations to a minimum in the Los Angeles area.
Don Alejandro had been the leading voice for the hacendados.
Diego smiled at that bit of information.
He was not surprised that Father would be a leader in trying to
stamp out the revolutionaries, just as he had been instrumental in
bringing the other rancheros
together against the Eagle. Bernardo
signed that he had planned on seeing just what this assassin looked like
and then he was going to ride to Los Angeles with the news.
pulled at his chin, deep in thought.
“We need to intercept that man and capture him.
I may be able to impersonate this assassin and that would be the
perfect way to infiltrate the revolutionary organization.”
Bernardo looked alarmed and signed his disapproval.
reassured him. “Bernardo,
if you only knew what I have done in the past months, you would not
think this an impossible task. And
besides, there is much I want to discuss with Jorge,” Diego said with
a grim smile. Bernardo made
the sign of the “Z.” “No,
not yet, I’ll have to keep this disguise for a little while and then
we will let Zorro ride again.”
paced the dining room several times before stopping and facing the
manservant again. “Bernardo,
there are several contingencies we may have to consider,” Diego told
the manservant gravely. “If
the man is abducted from the stage and then suddenly rides into the pueblo,
the revolutionaries might have questions and want to prove their
‘assassin.’ You may have to help me out on that one.
You must be ready to follow my lead when I return to the pueblo.” Bernardo nodded.
more planning, Diego and Bernardo went to the cabin where George had
everything packed and ready to be taken ashore.
“George, I have something very dangerous that I have to do
before I can arrange for your passage to England,” Diego explained
earnestly. “You may have
to play a small part. Right
now you and Bernardo will take these things to his room at the inn and
stay there until I return. Whatever
happens, or whatever I do, anything at all, in the next day and a half,
do not be surprised and under no circumstances call me Don Diego.”
He looked at the boy, whose eyes showed a little of the fright
that he, himself, was feeling. “Bernardo
knows what is going on and is ready to back me up if he needs to.”
got the sword and scabbard that George had placed on the top of the
stack of luggage and strapped it on.
He got the packet with currency from the smaller trunk and pulled
out what he hoped was enough money for his needs.
He would have to get it exchanged somewhere.
He motioned to Bernardo that he was leaving and turned to George.
“I have also arranged with Bernardo that if something happens
to me, he and my father will make sure that you get home.”
was on the verge of tears. “Why
do you have to go do these things now,” he said plaintively.
you remember me telling you about my abduction.” George nodded sadly. “These
same men are still terrorizing people in this area and I think I can
help stop them. They are
even now planning to kill my father and that I will not allow,” Diego
said in a deathly serious voice. “Wait
in the pueblo for me to
turned to leave and saw Carlos walking in the doorway.
“Planning to leave without me, eh?”
The Filipino gazed at Bernardo for a moment.
is my mozo, Bernardo.
I have told you about him,” Diego replied.
yes. You have indeed,”
said Carlos, smiling at the manservant in greeting.
Bernardo bowed in return.
The younger man saw the sword strapped at Diego’s side. “Diego, would you like to tell me what is going on?”
the door and I will,” Diego said with a sigh.
He then explained what Bernardo had told him and then told his
roommate his tenuous plans.
Diego. If you are going to
do this dangerous thing, at least let me be the one to go out and
exchange the money and buy you a horse.
It would not do for this assassin to be seen in San Diego before
he is supposed to arrive on the coach,” Carlos said.
I have already been on shore,” Diego said, chagrined that he had not
thought about that. He
could not know all of Jorge’s men, but they would recognize him if he
showed up later as the British assassin.
only for a brief time. You
are taking your life in your hands if you go out again.”
this is not your battle,” Diego said, repeating what he had said once
before to his friend.
I have already told you that I am going to help in any way I can,”
said Carlos vehemently. “I
will not stand idly by. You
are not going to come back to California to be killed before you can
finally make it back to your father.”
said nothing. His eyes
spoke his gratitude. He
could ask for no better friends than these here in this room.
He nodded and handed the pouch of money to Carlos.
“Take Bernardo with you. He
knows where the usury shop is and he will guard you against thieves
after you have made the exchange. Either
rent or purchase a horse, one that is sound enough to make the journey
to Los Angeles. And buy a whip and a pistol.”
nodded solemnly and then gestured to the mozo,
who glanced at Diego. Bernardo’s
eyes spoke volumes, especially the desire to stay with his long lost
master, but Diego simply motioned for him to go with Carlos. Sighing, Bernardo turned and walked out of the cabin with the
pondered his options; sifting through all of the information that
Bernardo had given him. The
idea of a strike against the cuartel
and his father bespoke of more than one man, but Bernardo had insisted
that Mexico City was sending only one man to accomplish this task, while
Jorge and his men were going to attack other haciendas
almost immediately thereafter. Diego
lay back in his bed and contemplated, turning ideas over and over in his
head. Two kills in two
separate places at almost the same time.
How could this assassin do it alone?
There is only one thing I can do, Diego thought.
I have to get the
information directly from the assassin.
the time Carlos returned, Diego was pacing the confines of his cabin,
George sitting on the bunk watching with fearful eyes. The chests and bags sat stacked and ready to go, the cabin,
their home for seemingly so long, ready to be abandoned.
money has been changed and I have bought you a horse,” Carlos
Diego said. “Now I want
you to go to the inn and take a room, preferably near Bernardo’s. I will meet you there tonight, probably late.
Make sure you get a room with a balcony.
That is probably the way I’ll come in.
And at least one of you put a candle out on the balcony so I will
know which room belongs to you.”
He paused, thinking furiously.
“Where is the horse?”
on shore, being watched by a young peon
who has your description and the promise of compensation,” Carlos said
with a smile, tossing a small pouch to his roommate.
I think I will go out and scout the road from Mexico,” he said
as he walked toward the door.
“I will take care of all the luggage,” Carlos said. “Vaya con Dios, my friend.”
paused in the doorway and turned back toward his friends.
“Thank you, all of you,” he said, gratitude heavy in his
voice. Then he turned
and left the room. As he
stepped into the small boat, he gazed toward the shore and saw the horse
Carlos had purchased.
the boat ground against the sandy beach, Diego tossed a peso to the boy. The peon
peered carefully at him and then handed him the reins.
Apparently he had passed the boy’s inspection as per Carlos’
description. Quickly, Diego
mounted and rode along the beach until he was out of San Diego, then he
rode toward the highway that the stage from Mexico would be taking.
When he reached the King’s Road, he began looking for likely
spots of ambush. About a
mile from San Diego, he found a narrow place in the road and began
laying his plans for a trap. He
gathered materials for his ambush of the next day until the sun drew
close to the horizon. Twice during his foray he paused when a stage rattled along
the road either heading to San Diego or toward Mexico. He watched from
behind an outcropping of rocks and sorted away more bits of information,
such as the speed of the horses and how well armed the cochero
was. He noted with
satisfaction that the coachman heading toward San Diego slowed for that
particular stretch of road, but Diego also noted that the cochero
had a pistol sitting on his lap, ready for quick use. It would seem that this was a popular place of robbery.
filed that bit of information away as well.
He scouted and found a place about ten yards north of the
position that would work almost as well.
He had taken in the fact that the driver had relaxed slightly
when he had passed the narrow, curved part of the road.
In his selected location, the road was wide, but there was ample
coverage for him to hide before the coach stopped.
And his whip would take care of the pistol.
the sun began its descent toward the coastal hills, Diego rode back
toward San Diego, surveying for places where he could hide the
Englishman. Finally, just
beyond the outskirts of San Diego, he found a small cave not far from
the beach. The waves were a dull muted roar and would help to mask any
noise that his prisoner might make.
Nodding in satisfaction, Diego tied his horse in a thicket and
rested in the cave, watching the sun dip behind a band of clouds, making
a brilliant golden display that was reflected off the ocean in the
distance. Happiness filled his heart.
I am home.
I am finally home, he thought as he enjoyed this sunset more
than he had enjoyed one in years. Despite
the circumstances that he now found himself in, despite the fact that he
had to stay incognito, despite the fact that he had to delay his return
home to his father, he was content.
He was home. All was well.
When Orion was above the eastern horizon, Diego mounted his horse and entered town, riding through narrower and less traveled roads and alleyways until he arrived at the back of the tavern. In the doorway of one balcony, a half-burned candle flickered. Smiling, Diego dismounted and led his horse around to the stable, where he tied the animal up with the others. He would leave before dawn, thereby causing no commotion at the wonder of an extra horse. And if, by then, there were a stable boy in attendance, he would simply offer an excuse and bribe the lad. Diego smiled benignly. He was too happy to let anything worry him right now. Tomorrow was soon enough to worry.
Carefully, silently, Diego climbed to the balcony, slipping over the rail like a wraith and stepping inside the room. He paused a moment, letting his eyes adjust to the gloomy interior and then he made out Carlos sitting in a chair in the corner, smiling at him. “Told you I was a light sleeper,” he said softly.
Diego glanced into the other corner and saw
George curled up on a pallet sleeping soundly.
“And George, thank goodness, is a heavy one,” he murmured.
“Did you find what you were looking for?” Carlos asked.
“Yes, I have the place of ambush prepared. I will be ready to deal with this assassin.”
Carlos sighed and his countenance became
serious. “I have the
weapons you requested.”
“Good, and thank you, Carlos.” Diego rubbed behind his ear, feeling a bit awkward at his friend’s solemnity.
“Now you need to get some sleep, Diego,” Carlos admonished.
Shaking his head, Diego replied.
“No, not yet. I must give Bernardo his instructions. Which room is he in?”
“We were fortunate.
He is in the room adjacent to this one.” Carlos pointed to a door next to him. “And it is unlocked.”
“If I do not return, it will be because I am sleeping in his room.” He slipped quietly into the next room where he found Bernardo dozing in a chair near the bed. Gently, he laid his hand on the mozo’s arm. Bernardo’s eyes snapped open. While the servant fully awoke, Diego shut the door between the rooms.
Bernardo quickly lit a candle and then began signing, stopping only to reach over and touch Diego’s sleeve, as though by touching he could make his master real.
“Yes, my friend, I have everything as prepared as I can. I will leave before dawn. If all goes well, I should be back into San Diego by supper—as Richard Patterson, English assassin.”
Bernardo continued signing. “You are worried about me?” Diego repeated. “Do not be. Worry more for the revolutionaries. They will be stopped and I will do whatever is necessary to put an end to their depredations.” Diego’s hard countenance softened at Bernardo’s continued signing. “Yes, I know you are worried and I appreciate your prayers on my behalf.” He clapped the servant on the shoulder. “How do you think I made it home so quickly,” he said with a smile.
Bernardo looked puzzled and then signed again.
“Ah, that puzzles you how I got home so quickly?” Diego asked with a smile, then he grew serious. “It did not seem quick to me, my friend. But we will talk of my adventures over a glass of de la Vega wine when all of this is over. Right now, I must try to get some sleep.”
Bernardo nodded and pointed toward a tray of food on a small table by the bed containing a much welcome supper. Quickly, Diego ate, his stomach now feeling the same measure of contentment that the rest of him had felt watching the sunset. Bernardo signed his apologies for the food being cold and somewhat stale.
Diego laughed softly as he finished the tamale on his plate.
“No, Bernardo, this is wonderful.
I was too anxious to eat this morning on board the ship, so this
is the first meal I have had today.
My thanks for your thoughtfulness.”
He wiped his fingers on a cloth Bernardo handed him and sighed.
friend.” Diego yawned and
slid off his boots. “Be
sure and wake me before dawn,” he added.
“If you can stay awake yourself.”
Bernardo grinned and nodded.
Diego lay down and let the events of this most tumultuous first day back home rattle around in his mind like seeds in a dried gourd. Finally, though, his fatigue caught up with him and he fell into an exhausted sleep.