Pacific Odyssey

Book III: The Journey Home

 

 

 

Chapter Fourteen

 

The Assassin

 

 

It seemed almost an instant later when he felt someone shaking him awake.  Jerking up, Diego looked into the face of his servant.  Glancing outside the balcony door, he saw the first hints of the dawn and jumped up, grabbing his boots.  Bernardo handed him the whip and pistol Carlos had purchased the day before, along with a pouch of powder and another one of shot.  Then he signed, ‘Vaya con Dios.’

“Remember, Bernardo, when I come back to San Diego, I will be the Englishman, Richard Patterson.  If I don’t come back tonight, you will know I was unsuccessful and you will need to ride immediately to Los Angeles.” 

Bernardo gazed at Diego sadly, then signed again.

“Do not worry, Bernardo.  I will return.  You and Carlos and George must be ready to follow whatever I do.”  Diego paused and then smiled to reassure his mozo.  “It will be most interesting tonight, no?”

Bernardo smiled slightly and nodded, signing again. 

Diego laughed softly and clapped his hand on his mozo’s back.  “Yes, I guess life is always interesting with me around.  Are you sorry you came with me from Spain?”

Bernardo immediately and emphatically shook his head ‘no.’ 

Diego looked below the balcony and when he saw no one, he climbed over the railing to a wall and then jumped lightly to the ground.  Feeling Bernardo’s eyes on him, Diego looked up and smiled reassuringly.  Then with a salute, he slipped into the shadows and headed toward the stables.  It appeared the santos were with him, the stable boy was not yet awake.  Quickly Diego slipped the bridle back on the horse, and quietly saddled him.  Soon he was leading the gelding back down a side road until he was near the edge of the pueblo.  Just as the sun was peeking over the hills, Diego mounted and rode south, parallel to the King’s Highway.  By midmorning he was in place, ready to waylay the stage containing the assassin.   He waited. 

Diego saw the dust of the stage before he saw the stage itself.  At the first sign of the approaching travelers, he had dragged a large broken limb across the road.  Then he covered the lower part of his face with his bandanna, an act that seemed strange to him, and waited quietly on horseback off the side of the road, near a half dead tree.  As soon as the driver saw the branch, he pulled back on the reins and then as the horses jerked the coach to a stop, he reached for his pistol.  Diego’s whip whistled and the pistol was suddenly in his hand pointing at its former owner.  Smiling behind the mask, Diego was pleased that he had not lost that particular ability. 

The cochero stared at him in shock and then slowly raised his hands.  Diego rode his horse to the front of the stage and called out, his voice cold and authoritarian, “Everyone get out of the coach, with your hands where I can see them!”

Three people quickly stepped out of the stage.  They had seen the display with the whip and were appropriately impressed and fearful.  There were two women, one very young and one who appeared to be the young one’s mother or aunt, and one man.  The man, the assassin, studied him, his brilliantly blue eyes boring into his with a countenance that seemed almost predatory.  “Ladies,” he said gruffly to the two women.  “Please move to one side.  I will deal with you later.”  Diego had no wish for the women to be involved with anything that this man might attempt to do.  

“Please, Señor, please do not hurt my mother,” the younger girl pleaded as she moved with her mother to one side.  Both women had tears in their eyes and gazed at him fearfully.  The older woman played with the beads around her neck, her lips moving in what Diego could only assume was a prayer for protection.  He felt sorry for the women and wished he could do this in some other way, having never dealt with innocents in this manner, but he had to have this assassin and there was no other way in which he could accomplish that goal.  And this all had to look convincing.  

Suddenly, the blue-eyed man grabbed something from his vest and threw it, barely missing Diego’s shoulder.  The caballero had been expecting such a move and was ready.  The coachman’s confiscated pistol barked and the assassin grabbed at the place on his arm where Diego’s bullet had scored.  His eyes continued to lock onto Diego’s and the hatred that reflected in them almost made the young man shudder.  Señor, as you can see, I am as good with a pistol as I am with a whip,” Diego said evenly.  He pulled out his own pistol.  “Do not try this again.  Everyone give me your money and valuables!” he barked impatiently.  “Quickly!  Throw them on the ground!”   

The women pulled off their rings and necklaces and threw them on the ground where they made a small, glittering pile.   “You, too,” he said to the man.  He watched carefully as Patterson pulled off a ring and tossed it disdainfully in with the rest of the jewelry.  “You,” he said to Patterson.  “Where is your money?”  

“I do not have any with me, bandito,” he spat. 

Diego laughed humorlessly.  “You think me estupido?  You have some money or did you spend it all on that fancy knife you threw at me, or those nice clothes you are wearing?”  He called to the driver without pulling his eyes from Patterson.  Cochero, get his luggage and throw it down.  This man has the look of wealth about him.  And do not try to throw it at me or do anything equally stupid.  This whip can do as much damage as the pistol, and you do not know which I would use on you.”   Quickly, the coachman did as ordered.  Diego glanced down and noticed several bulges.  “Ah, inside the bag….” 

Suddenly, the Englishman leaped at him, thinking to take advantage of Diego during the moment he was glancing at the carpetbag.  However, the ‘bandit’ was ready for him, kicking Patterson away and then plying the whip on his attacker.  The end of the weapon curled itself around the Englishman’s neck and Diego pulled it tight, effectively choking off Patterson’s air supply.   Jerking the struggling man toward him, Diego leaned over and hit the assassin on the head with his pistol butt.  There was no need to court trouble when this one seemed less than willing to submit to captivity.  There would be time to question him later.   “There is money somewhere to pay a small ransom to a poor bandito.  I think I will take this one with me,” he growled.  Glaring at the women, he ordered, “Señorita, señora, back on the coach.”   

Diego then motioned to the coachman to continue on his way.  When the coach was around the next bend, he quickly dismounted, put the jewelry and money in the carpetbag, tying it to the saddle.  Then he tied up Patterson and threw him over the horse’s withers.  With a grim smile, Diego realized that the blow on the head along with the jouncing ride might just make this killer compliant, but he would not count on it.  He mounted behind his prisoner and guided the horse off the El Camino Real.  

Diego rode to the cave and then threw the man to the ground, where the Englishman lay, still unconscious.  Ground tying the gelding, Diego pulled the bandanna down, and then studied his antagonist.  Patterson was only an inch or so shorter than himself and his hair was a little lighter.  Diego was also pleased to see that the man sported a beard, much like his own.  While he waited for Patterson to regain consciousness, he went through the assassin’s belongings, including those that were inside his jacket. 

In a secret compartment of the carpetbag, he found a modest amount of money.  Probably Patterson was going to be paid after he had succeeded in killing his father and Sergeant Garcia.   There was a map of the area around San Diego, there were names of various people that Patterson was supposed to contact, including the name of a merchant in San Diego.  Diego tried to place the merchant, but was unable to.  There was also a piece of paper that contained his father’s and Sergeant Garcia’s names, along with descriptions of both men.  On the back of that paper was a timetable; 10: 00 o’clock marking the time that Father and the good sergeant were scheduled to die.  Both men at the same time? he thought.  How can that be?  Looking through the papers again, Diego found a letter of introduction, but it did not give the name of Patterson’s employer, only a single word, ‘Success.’  Diego could only assume that it was some kind of code word.   Disappointed, he gazed at two curious devices that had been wrapped in cloth and stored under the Englishman’s clothes in the carpetbag.  They intrigued him, but they, along with the papers that he had found, gave him scant clues to Patterson’s field of expertise.   He turned them over and over, finding that they were some type of flintlock devices.  They reminded him of something.   Not only was Patterson planning on killing more than one person at the same time, he would have to be able to kill from a distance, at least one of his victims.   The stirring of his prisoner brought him out of his reverie and he looked over at the bound man.  

Patterson glared at him and tried to free himself from the ropes, but Diego had tied them tightly.   As the Englishman struggled, he winced and Diego saw blood trickling anew from the grazing bullet wound on Patterson’s arm.  Finally the assassin stopped, seeing the futility of his efforts and turned his gaze to his captor.  Diego met the stare with one of his own, but saw something evil in those deep blue eyes.   They were ruthlessly cold and hard.  This was a man who did his job with the minimum of emotion and, probably with great efficiency.   He said nothing and finally Diego broke the silence.  “You are here to murder innocents.  How were you planning on doing that, Señor Patterson, especially all at the same time?”  

The Englishman started slightly, apparently surprised that Diego knew his name, but he quickly composed himself and spat in the dust. 

Diego smiled.  Señor, you can make this easy on yourself, or make it difficult.  It is your choice.  If you don’t tell me what I need to know, I will figure it out anyway . . . eventually.”

“I will tell you nothing, bandit,” Patterson growled.

Diego looked over Patterson’s possessions again.  Then he remembered Basilio, the King’s emissary, the man who had created the complicated chest that would blow up from a distance.  Basilio had been very clever, working out a device that would explode after the so-called war chest was on board a ship and out to sea.  Then the full realization hit him.  Patterson was an expert in explosives.  That was how he could kill so many at the same time.  Now he knew what the merchant in San Diego sold-- gunpowder and weapons.  Diego smiled again, his mind immediately thinking of ways to thwart the Englishman’s plan.  Looking up from his study of the devices, he noted Patterson’s still hard and steady gaze on him.   Diego laughed, elated over his successful detective work.  “That is all right, Señor Patterson, I believe I have all that I need to become a British assassin.  An assassin with powder and fire.”   At the Englishman’s startled glance, Diego laughed again.  Patterson’s features twisted into a mask of frustration and hatred. 

Then the Englishman’s face changed to a look of triumph and he, too, laughed.  “It won’t do you any good, Spaniard,” the man spoke passable Spanish, but with an accent betraying his origin.  “The men waiting for me are expecting someone who can speak the King’s English,” he added.           

Diego promptly reverted to English.  “You mean like this,” he said with a smile as Patterson’s jaw dropped.   Thinking again of the assassin’s purpose for being in California, Diego became serious once more, fixing the Englishman with a cold glare.  “Sir, you have no idea who I am, where I come from or why I have captured you, and it really is not important.   Be aware that you are only the first who will know the bite of my whip or the sting of my pistol.   I am prepared to do whatever it takes to stop the men who have hired you.”           

“Well, Richard Patterson, it seems that I have my new identity.”  The man struggled anew against the ropes, but the injured arm and Diego’s good knots made that impossible.  The caballero dragged his prisoner into the cave.  Señor Patterson, you had better hope that I succeed in playing your part, because I am the only one who knows where you are,” he said matter-of-factly, slipping off his trousers and shirt and tossing them toward his prisoner.  Diego gave Patterson a drink of water, bound up his wound, which turned out to merely be a flesh wound, and then untied the mercenary, all the while training his pistol directly on the Patterson’s heart.  “Now get out of your outer clothes and put on mine,” he ordered.   “You are about to become an itinerant vaquero and I, an English assassin.”  After seeing the hard and determined look in Diego’s eyes, Patterson complied.  The change was soon made, Diego never taking his eyes or his pistol off the assassin, and the man was soon tied up again.  Diego quickly put on Patterson’s clothing and then without another word picked up the carpetbag and left the cave.  He had kept his own boots, but took the other man’s with him as he galloped away, throwing them under a bush some distance from the cave. As he was riding toward the city, Diego used his knife to simulate a wound in the same place on his arm as he had inflicted on Patterson’s arm, biting his lip at the slight pain, but knowing it was necessary for authenticity.  A small amount of his blood mixed with that on the sleeve of the assassin’s jacket.  He then took Patterson’s bandanna and bound it up, pulling the knots with one hand.           

The map Diego had found in Patterson’s papers gave directions to a meeting place outside of the pueblo. It was a lonely, deserted hut just to the east of the main road leading into the pueblo.  Diego assumed that Jorge or one of his men would be there to meet Patterson, although there was a possibility that might not happen if the revolutionaries had received word of the kidnapping.  On the other hand, Diego thought, Jorge would undoubtedly be curious, wondering if his contact might possibly have escaped and still made the rendezvous.  So he waited, sitting in plain view on the gelding, trying to be patient, showing his confidence.  Just before dark, several men rode up to him and looked him over, their guns pointed menacingly at him.           

“Well, Englishman, you must have escaped, or are you perhaps the bandit who stopped the stage?” one of the men asked.  It was Jorge. 

Diego affected an English accent into his Spanish, and hoped that he had changed enough to fool Jorge. “I am clever enough to escape from a stupid bandit.  And consider this, it seems incredible that an itinerant robber would choose to go to all this trouble,” he said calmly and then pointed to the small wound on his arm.  “But it is of no matter.  He was like an annoying insect.  There was a small sting, but in the end he was easily squashed and killed.”  Diego pulled out a cigar that had been in Patterson’s pocket, sniffed it and stuck it between his teeth, affecting an air of nonchalance.  Right now, he wished it were lit; the smell of good cigar smoke could be very soothing. 

“But still, señor, we must make sure that you are indeed our mercenary and not someone impersonating him,” Jorge said.  Diego just shrugged, having guessed this would come, despite his careful planning.   Jorge had not lasted this long in his reign of terrorism without having been very, very careful.

“Let me see your paper from Mexico City,” Jorge said.  There was something that caused him some uneasiness about this man.  Maybe because the Englishman was a hired killer and not someone who killed for a cause, such as he did.  And then there was the fact that he was not totally sure if this was even the right man.  But then, as Patterson had said, what bandito would go to the trouble to impersonate an assassin?  However, there was something else.  Jorge couldn’t tell what it was, something that made him feel he had met this man before.  In Mexico City?   No, he didn’t think so, but then where?  He simply couldn’t remember.  Then he shrugged it off as ridiculous.  He would have remembered an Englishman.  No, this Patterson just looked like someone he knew—that was it. 

The assassin handed over the paper.  It was in order, but he still didn’t know if it had been stolen or not.  The man would simply have to prove his cold bloodedness.  A simple bandit wouldn’t have the stomach to do the kind of violence for which this man was known.  “Everything seems to be in order, but we still have to be sure you are the man you say you are, Señor Patterson.  You will have to do something to convince us.”

Diego looked complacently at Jorge.  “It is up to you, señor.  Simple proof will cost you an extra two hundred pesos.  Difficult proof will cost five hundred pesos,” he said coolly.  “But first I am thirsty and hungry, shall we go to an inn?”

Jorge gazed at the Englishman.  “We are not rich like the man who hired you, but still we need proof.  You choose the means of proof.”  

Diego gazed disdainfully at the men in front of him.  “Very well, but let us do it soon.  It is getting cold and I am tired of sitting here when there is a good meal waiting in San Diego.” 

Jorge nodded.   “Come,” he said simply, and the group rode into San Diego.

           

 

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