Pacific Odyssey

Book III: The Journey Home

 

 

 

 

Chapter Fifteen

 

Calling the Bluff

 

 

 

Bernardo, Carlos and George were sitting at a table near a back wall of the inn when Diego and a small group of the conspirators walked in.  So far, it seemed that his patron had managed to fool them.  They all sat down and talked quietly, after ordering wine and dinner.   After a while, Don Diego got up and casually sauntered toward the bar, looking around thoughtfully.  Catching Bernardo’s eye, he made a discreet motion with his hand, hidden from the men with whom he had been sitting, wanting the mozo to create an incident.  Bernardo signed his acknowledgement.  Noisily, he jumped up, pushing his chair to the side, and moved to the bar.  

Diego noticed George watching carefully, but hoped that the boy wouldn’t get involved.  He also observed Carlos watching them.   He could trust Carlos to follow the action and help him out with his subterfuge.  Bernardo nonchalantly meandered over to the counter where Diego was standing.  With a happy grin, the servant turned and waved to Carlos, who gave a half-hearted smile in return.  Bernardo deftly backed into his master upsetting the glass of wine in his hand, causing it to spill all over the counter and on his sleeve.  With a loud growl, Diego turned and roughly grabbed his mozo, slapping him across the face and then shoving him to the floor with a force hard enough to hurt.  He hated causing injury to Bernardo, but Diego noticed that his friend had fallen in a way that looked bad to those watching but caused very little actual hurt.  He mentally congratulated his multi-talented mozo. 

As Bernardo lay writhing on the floor holding his arm tightly to his chest, his face wrenched in pretended agony, Diego approached, fists clenched in anger, his face suffused with wrath.  In a voice that imitated the Englishman’s accent, Diego cried out, “How dare you touch me, you dog!  That was a deliberate attack!”

With his ‘unbroken’ arm, Bernardo made signs indicating his inability to speak and hear.  Diego continued approaching, and Bernardo raised his arm to protect himself against another blow.  

“Hold, señor!” Carlos called out, rising and moving toward Diego.  “This man can neither speak nor hear.  He did not mean to bump into you.”  Carlos grabbed the pretended Englishman’s upraised fist and it was then that Diego exploded into action.  He twisted his arm in a move that broke Carlos’ hold; one they had practiced many times.  His fist shot out, almost connecting with Carlos’ jaw, but to the audience in the tavern it looked like a hard, rock solid blow.  Carlos played his part well, staggering back.  Diego followed with another blow and then another.   Carlos dropped to his knees and Diego aimed his foot at Carlos’ ribcage, again just stopping short of connecting.   The people in the tavern gasped, seeing a heavy kick, one hard enough to cause serious injury.  Carlos added to the scene, screaming in supposed agony, falling to the floor and then lying still as though unconscious.  

Diego gazed around the room, seeing the fearful looks.  “Is there anyone who disputes my claim that I was attacked?”  Several people shook their heads.  “Good.”  He turned back to Bernardo, who gazed at him fearfully, scooting away from him on his rear end, looking for all the world like a frightened crab.  Pulling out his pistol, Diego leaned over and aimed it at the mozo’s head, the end of the barrel only an inch from his temple.  Bernardo signed, pleading, his eyes begging.  

Suddenly, Diego put the pistol away, laughing at the scene before him.  “Someone tell the scum that he had better not come close to me or I will kill him,” he said disdainfully.  Then he turned toward Jorge.  “Is there another tavern in this town?  I do not like the atmosphere here.” 

Jorge nodded.  “Yes, closer to the wharf, but you may find the patrons even less appealing, señor. 

Diego watched as George and several men helped Bernardo and Carlos up the stairs.  “Then we will stay here.  The riff raff have gone.”  Diego and the revolutionaries ate in virtual silence, as none of them wanted to say anything that could be overheard.  The conversation in the room was muted as well.  That suited Diego just fine.   He pulled out one of Patterson’s cigars and lit it this time, leaning back and watching the smoke drift toward the ceiling.  So far, everything is going quite well, he thought, satisfied.  

After a few more minutes, he got up and walked toward the door, leaving Jorge to pay for his meal.  Salazar followed him out.  “You could have picked someone more able to defend himself, Señor Patterson,” he said in disgust.  “That was just the deaf-mute who hangs around running errands for hacendados.  And the other?  Apparently the other was soft.”             

Diego pivoted and pierced the revolutionary with an angry glare.  “I do not recall anyone agreeing to pay me to perform my act of loyalty, and I do not work for free,” he said coldly.  

“Still you could have done something that would have proven your bravery as well as your loyalty,” Salazar retorted, his voice filled with disgust.

“Bravery?” Diego asked, laughing in derision.  “I was not hired to be brave, I was hired to do a job.  Bravery is for fools.”

Jorge came out of the tavern, his other two men behind him and approached the pair.  “All right, I’m convinced,” Jorge said to silence the argument.  They mounted and then rode out of the pueblo to a secluded area and the leader stopped.  “Now, Señor Patterson, what is your plan to get rid of those meddlesome Los Angeles King’s men?”

Diego knew he could take care of these men and capture Jorge before leaving San Diego, hoping one of the men would tell him what he needed to know, but he could not take that chance.  He needed to know, for the safety of those who had been fighting against the terrorists, how many others were in the organization.  He had to play along for a little while longer.  He would continue to bluff, hoping that he was doing a good enough job to convince Jorge and his men.  “It’s very simple.  I will blow up their leader’s hacienda and the cuartel,” he said contemptuously, as though dealing with contemptuous children.  “We will meet again when I have made the arrangements for the explosions.  I have no small experience in that field, you know.”           

“Yes, I was told,” Jorge said.  “We will meet tomorrow evening.  Is a day enough time to acquire those things you will need?”           

Diego nodded, breathing an inner sigh of relief, grateful that he had been able to fool these men thus far.  “I can do everything I need to do in a day.   How long does it take to ride to Los Angeles?”

“It takes about a day and a half of very hard riding.” 

Diego nodded.  “Very well.  If we meet in Los Angeles, say in three days, then we should be able to see the results of my efforts.  I will need a map, however.  I am not as familiar with this country as you are.”           

“How can you do this when you are not even going to be there to set off the explosives?” Salazar asked in disbelief. 

“I prepare the explosives, others deliver them,” Diego laughed evilly.  “I have stayed alive longer that way.”  The rest laughed along with him.  Jorge directed him to a different inn, one nearer the wharf, and told him he would give him a map to Los Angeles the next day when they met.           

Diego rode away feeling satisfied with his evening’s work.  Riding to the inn designated, he took a room and presumably went to bed.  A few hours later, he slipped out a back window and rode to the little cave where the assassin was tied up.  In the flickering dimness of the candle that Diego had lit, he found Patterson glaring morosely at him.  The Californiano gave him something to eat and drink, and then retied his hands.  Patterson complained about the pain in his injured arm, but Diego was obdurate and would not concede to the man’s wishes.   It would not be that long before the Englishman was more comfortable in a carcel.   He then went to the inn where Bernardo, Carlos and George were staying.  Slipping into his servant’s room the same way he had left his own, he found Carlos with Bernardo.           

“Have you ever thought of being an actor?” was Carlos’ first comment when Diego came through the window.  They both laughed.  

“Have you, my friend?” Diego asked.   “That was a very good performance, especially considering that it was totally unrehearsed and unplanned.”            

Diego looked at Bernardo, who had a bemused look on his face, so he signed, asking if he were all right.  Bernardo nodded.  Diego then indicated his pleasure in the manservant’s performance by bowing to him and Bernardo did the same for Diego.   Diego looked around.  “Is George asleep?”  Carlos nodded.  “Good.  You can relate what he needs to know tomorrow.”

Diego looked at each of his friends and sighed.  “I really need the help of each of you,” he said, also signing for Bernardo’s benefit.  

“You know you can count on me, Diego,” Carlos said.  

“I know, Carlos, but this is where it can get very dangerous.”           

“I would not miss this for the world, Diego,” Carlos said brightly.  Diego looked sternly at him, seeing himself, just a few years younger.          

“Please be aware this is very serious business,” the caballero said.  “If this works, then it should finish the terror that began just before I was kidnapped.”  Carlos nodded, nonplussed by Diego’s stern looks.  Diego sighed.   “Now Carlos, would you be able to meet me at the stable closest to the harbor, tomorrow at noon?” Diego asked.            

, Diego,” he answered.            

“That is where the chests are, containing the gifts I received in China,” Diego explained, continuing to ‘sign’ for Bernardo.  “Those chests are suddenly going to include explosives.”  The others looked incredulous.  Continuing, he explained, “Actually, that is what I want Jorge and his gang to think.  The assassin I am impersonating is an explosives expert.  The chests are actually going to contain letters of instruction that will need to be carried out explicitly.  One will go to Sgt. Garcia at the cuartel of the Pueblo de Los Angeles and the other to the Hacienda de la Vega.”  Diego pointed to Carlos.   “I want you to make sure that Sergeant Garcia gets his at the cuartel and follows the instructions to the letter.  Be aware that Sergeant Garcia is a man with a very good heart, but he is not terribly bright.  You must make sure that he does everything that the letter says to do.  And do not get too exasperated if it takes a bit of time to get him to understand everything.” 

“Wait a minute, Diego.  How can the delivery of a chest of explosives make them go off and do the damage that you want the revolutionaries to believe you can do?” Carlos questioned.  

His eyes glittering with a mischievous gleam, Diego replied, “There were several flint lock type devices in Patterson’s baggage that not only made me feel that this man is an explosives expert, but also gave me the idea that would make this scheme work and keep Jorge from becoming suspicious.”  Diego took a piece of paper from the stationary set that lay on a small table and began drawing as he explained.  “This is what I think was supposed to happen,” Diego explained.  “You have one of the devices attached inside the chest.  It is in two parts, the separate parts fitting together when the chest is closed.  When the victim unlocks the chest and opens the lid, the two parts rub as they pull away from each other, causing sparks that light the powder.”  Diego lifted his hands dramatically.  “BOOM!” he said.   

Carlos looked at the diagram and whistled appreciatively.   “Boom, indeed, my friend.  You have a very devious mind.”

“I didn’t think it up, my friend, I just figured it out.”  Diego held the paper over the candle flame and let it blacken and then break into flame, finally dropping it to the floor and stamping on it before the fire reached his fingers.  

“And I suspect you are right, Diego.”           

Diego turned to his mozo.  “You will take care of the one going home,” he explained in sign to Bernardo.  “When Father finds out that I am in the area and have not come home yet, he will probably want to explode, but I want you to make sure he gets the letter that I will write for him.  It will explain everything.”  Diego sighed and rubbed his tired eyes.  “I need to go now and presumably get some explosives ready for transport.  I will have the letters ready and placed in the chests by the time we meet, Carlos.  Have George arrange for the rental of two carriages and horses.  And tell him not to forget to haggle.  And both of you continue to act as though recovering from injuries,” he said, eyeing his mozo’s arm, which was in a sling.  “George will ride with you, Bernardo,” he said as he signed. He paused and then gazed meaningfully at Bernardo.  Continuing, he said, “Tell Father that I will do my best to get there in time to see him before the trap is set for the revolutionaries.”  Bernardo nodded.   Turning to Carlos, he said, “When we meet tomorrow, someone might be watching so do not be surprised by anything I do.”  

“Just don’t hit me,” Carlos said, with a grin.   Diego scratched behind his ear and then returned his friend’s smile with one of his own.

 

 

                                             =========================

 

           

The next day, at midmorning, Diego went to the shop indicated by Patterson’s paperwork.  As he expected, it dealt with the selling of gunpowder and firearms.  He bought two kegs of gunpowder and then two chests.  Putting a keg in each chest and dragging them just outside the back of the shop, Diego then ordered the storekeeper to hire a peon to take his chests to the blacksmith shop.  While he was waiting, Diego took the devices that Patterson had been carrying and attached them to the inside of the chests.  If he was being watched, and the young caballero did not doubt that he was, he wanted for Jorge and his men to see him for exactly what he was pretending to represent, an assassin preparing for his kill.  While he was working, the shopkeeper came close and attempted to watch him.  “Go back to your shop, señor,” he growled and fixed the man with a hard, cold stare.  The shopkeeper left quickly.  Soon a small wagon arrived, and Diego and the peon were rattling to the stable, the chests secured behind them. 

When the chests were unloaded just inside the stable, Diego turned to the blacksmith.  “Do you have many customers this time of day,” he asked.  At the man’s nod, he said, “Then I will wait.  I need someone to take these to Los Angeles for me.”   The man nodded again and returned to his work.  

When Carlos walked in and saw him, he turned as though ready to retreat.  “Wait, señor,” Diego said, a reassuring smile on his face, while his eyes remained impassive.  “I wish to apologize for my behavior last night.  It was a long journey from Mexico and the robbery had me nervous.  I hope you are all right.” 

Carlos gazed at him suspiciously and then slowly nodded.  “I suffered no lasting hurt,” he said evenly. 

“I would like to do something to atone for my actions to you and your friend,” Diego suggested. 

“That is not necessary, señor.”

“Oh, but it is,” Diego insisted.  “If you are interested, I can pay you handsomely to do a job for me.” 

Carlos feigned mild interest.  “What kind of job and how much?”

“One hundred pesos to drive a carriage to someone in Los Angeles.” 

Carlos looked very interested.  “One hundred pesos?” he repeated.  “Just to deliver something?  Why not use the mail service?”

“It is too large and heavy.”  Diego paused and rubbed his chin.  “I would have thought a young man like you would be very interested in making that much money, but I must be mistaken.”   He turned and began to walk away.  

“Wait, señor,” Carlos called after him.  Diego turned back to face the younger man.  “I only have to deliver this thing to Los Angeles?  Nothing else?”

“Nothing else.” 

“Very well.  I can do that,” Carlos said.  

“Good.  Now do you have someone who might be able to take another carriage with a similar package to someone else in Los Angeles?” Diego asked. 

“I could take both,” Carlos said eagerly, as though seeing the possibility of added profit. 

Diego frowned.  “No, the cargo must go to separate places, in separate carriages.   But if you know such a person, I can add twenty pesos for your help.”

“Yes, I have two servants.  They can take the other carriage,” Carlos said quickly. 

“Very well,” Diego said and then handed Carlos a pouch.  “If the other drivers are servants, here is the full amount.  You may divide it up as you wish,” Diego said, handing the Filipino the bag of coins.  He pointed out the chests.  They shook hands for anybody who might be watching and Diego walked back to his room at the inn.   Shortly thereafter, two rented carriages left San Diego heading northward in the direction of Los Angeles.   

And a small non-descript man began walking around the stable, the store and other places that Diego had been, asking, watching and then reporting back to his master.           

Throughout the remainder of the afternoon, Diego waited in his room, dozing, unable to fully relax.  When the evening shadows had lengthened, he rode out to their meeting place.  There he found Jorge and Salazar waiting.  

“I have arranged for the transport of the explosives,” Diego said and then began laughing.  That seemed to take the two revolutionaries by surprise and they waiting with puzzled looks on their faces.  “I happened to run into the man who took issue with me yesterday.  He still walks stiffly, but he was happy to take my chest of ‘imports’ to Los Angeles for a price.  He seemed to think he was getting the advantage of me.”

“And he did not suspect anything?” 

“No,” Diego said.  “He only saw the gold I offered him.  He even offered to get his friend to help deliver the second one to de la Vega.  You were right, señor,” Diego said to Salazar.  “He is soft.  In the head!  Now, where do we meet in Los Angeles?” 

“An abandoned hacienda a little to the northwest of Los Angeles.  Here is a map.”  Jorge handed him a piece of paper.  It was the old Catalan hacienda, not two miles from the de la Vega hacienda.  Not bad, thought Diego, near enough to see the explosion, but far enough away to not be connected with it.   He thanked Jorge and then rode back to the seedy wharf-side inn to gather his things, those few items that Patterson had brought with him in his carpetbag, plus a few weapons, such as a pistol, a knife and a whip.  The knife, he stuck in his waistband, while the rest were tied to the saddle.   He quietly walked down the steps, mounted and then rode out of town, presumably toward the north, but at a discreet distance from San Diego, he rode through the countryside and back to the south to check on his prisoner. 

When Diego arrived at the cave, he felt something amiss.  It was no more than a tingling between his shoulder blades, but it put him on the alert.  In the deepening dusk, he first saw that his prisoner was not there, then he felt a presence behind him.  He jerked his body to one side just as the end of a tree limb clipped the side of his head.

 

 

Chapter Sixteen
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