Pacific Odyssey

Book III: The Journey Home

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirteen 

The Plot Thickens

 

 

Bernardo began signing again, this time explaining what he had overheard earlier that morning.  

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 am back.”            

Bernardo 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 similarities.  “Good,” Diego said, stroking his new beard. 

Just like his father, Bernardo thought in amusement.  But he knew there had to be a serious reason for the change and he asked. 

“Bernardo, 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 kidnapping.            

Bernardo 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. 

Diego 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.             

Diego 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.”            

He 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.            

After 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.” 

Diego 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.”            

George was on the verge of tears.  “Why do you have to go do these things now,” he said plaintively. 

“George, 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 return.” 

He turned to leave and saw Carlos walking in the doorway.  “Planning to leave without me, eh?”   The Filipino gazed at Bernardo for a moment.   “A friend?”

“This is my mozo, Bernardo.  I have told you about him,” Diego replied.  

“Ah, 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?”

“Shut 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. 

“Wait, 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.

“But 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. 

“But only for a brief time.  You are taking your life in your hands if you go out again.”  

“Carlos, this is not your battle,” Diego said, repeating what he had said once before to his friend.   

“Diego, 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.”  

Diego 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.”

Carlos 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 Filipino.   

Diego 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. 

By 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.  

“The money has been changed and I have bought you a horse,” Carlos announced.   

“Good,” 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?”

“Just 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.

“Good.  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.”

Diego 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. 

When 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. 

Diego 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.  

As 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.

 

 

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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. 

“Cold? 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.     Gracias, my 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. 

 

 

Chapter Fourteen
Chapter One
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