Pacific Odyssey

Book III: The Journey Home

 

 

 

Chapter 16

 

Race to Los Angeles

 

 

 

Diego jerked his body to one side just as the end of a tree limb clipped the side of his head.  Dazed, he nevertheless stayed on his feet and swung around to meet his antagonist.  He jumped back as Patterson swung again.   This time the club missed him.  Diego shook his head trying to regain his equilibrium before Patterson struck again.  Despite the pain, Diego had to take the upper hand now.  He focused on the club and the movements of the Englishman.  He felt the dizziness subside and he moved into a wushu stance that would prepare him for Patterson’s next move. 

“I do not know what you did in my name, but I will kill you for what you have done to me,” Patterson spat out as he leaped toward Diego, swinging his weapon.  The Californiano took one step back and then moved two forward, blocking Patterson’s arm with his own, putting his weight on one foot and kicking out with the other.  His heel struck the Englishman in the ribcage, causing him to stagger back and drop his club.  Diego stepped forward again, this time his kick caught Patterson in the stomach, causing the Englishman’s breath to woosh out explosively.  Patterson dropped to the ground, gasping.  Diego just stood quietly watching, taking deep breaths to allow his own pain to recede. 

The frayed ropes lay on the floor of the cave and Diego slowly bent to pick them up.  Wound or no wound, the Englishman was determined and resourceful and he needed to be restrained.  As he stood back up, Diego felt a slamming force throwing him to the ground.  Twisting in the Englishman’s grasp, Diego freed one arm and hit Patterson along side of his neck in a close-fisted punch.  Patterson jerked back and jumped to his feet, a knife in his hand.  Diego had to give the man his grudging admiration.  In his own complacency, the Californiano had allowed his enemy to take his own weapon from his waistband.  He shook off the cobwebs of his smug self-satisfaction that had settled on him from the moment he had set foot back on California soil and felt a fierce determination and vivid sense of reality set in. 

“You thought this would be an easy task. You are a soft Spaniard.”  

“Perhaps, señor.  However, I think I simply underestimated you.  And I think you will find that I am not as soft as you think I am,” Diego said evenly, his eyes hardening with his resolve. 

Patterson lunged toward him, the dagger aimed at his midsection.  Diego stepped nimbly to one side and kicked out, following that with his fists under the man’s chin. The Englishman’s head snapped back and he staggered in the confines of the small cave.  Desperately, Patterson swung the knife back and forth before him, trying to keep Diego at bay, but the Californiano blocked one such lunge with his arm and his fist connected again and then again as he held onto Patterson’s knife arm.  A kick to the side doubled the assassin over, but the man still struggled, and Diego kicked again, this time connecting just below Patterson’s ear.  

The assassin dropped the knife as he sank to his knees.  Diego’s knee to his nose elicited a sharp howl of pain before the man sank unconscious to the ground.  The Californiano gazed down at the battered Englishman guiltily, and then reminded himself that this was the man who had planned on killing his father and Sergeant Garcia, along with any number of other people who might be in the way.  

Diego tied Patterson’s hands and feet securely, not wanting a repeat of what had just happened.  Blood streamed from the assassin’s nose and his face was already swelling.  Dragging the inert man out of the shallow cave, Diego threw him over the horse’s saddle and then mounted behind him. 

The darkness was complete by the time he rode away from the cave and toward the pueblo.  Just outside of San Diego, he quickly composed a note on the back of one of Patterson’s documents and stuck it in his prisoner’s vest pocket.  Spurring his horse into a gallop, Diego rode to the front gate of the presidio where he pushed Patterson off.  A surprised lancer stood gaping at the man lying in the dust at his feet, totally ignoring his musket until Diego had already wheeled the horse and galloped away. 

Private Ortega looked up at the retreating rider and realized that it would be futile to shout or fire now.  Instead, he bent down to examine the body.  In surprise, he noted that the man was still alive, but appeared to have been on the losing end of a fight.  Crusted blood on his face indicated a broken nose.  He noticed a paper sticking out of the man’s pocket and pulled it out.  He looked at it one way and then turned it to the other, having problems making out the words in the dark. 

Ortega shrugged, this was not for him to decipher.  He called out.  “Pedro, come here!”

Another soldier cracked open the gate and peered out.  “What is….?” his voice trailed off when he saw the body heaped in front of the presidio gate.  “Is he dead, Manuel?” Pedro asked. 

“No, but he should have stayed home, from the looks of him.  He certainly did not win this fight,” the lancer said with a wry smile.  “We need to get him inside and report this to the comandante.”

“Now?  Capitán Montego will not be happy if he is awakened this time of night.”  Pedro handed Manuel his musket and grasped the unconscious man’s jacket, dragging him inside the gate. 

“There was a letter in his pocket,” Manuel Ortega said.  “It looked official or important or something.”

Pedro took the paper from his companion’s hands and gazed at it.  He turned it around and gazed at it again, letting the light of the moon shine on it.

“Stupid!” Manuel growled.  “It’s upside down.”

“I know that!” Pedro snapped, thrusting the paper back into Manuel’s hands.  “I still say this can wait until the comandante awakens.  We will leave this man in a cell and tell Capitán Montego first thing in the morning.”

Manuel nodded.  “You are probably right.  A few more hours will not matter that much.”

With another glance at the unconscious man, the two soldiers dragged him to a cell and laid him on a rickety cot.  Manuel stuffed the letter back into his shirt. 

   

 

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Diego rode at a ground eating canter, occasionally stopping to let the horse rest.  The moon traveled to the western horizon just as the sun rose in the east and still he continued toward Los Angeles.  The sun continued on its journey, shining bright and hot on the determined traveler.  In the middle of the afternoon, Diego came to the way station mid point between San Diego and Los Angeles.  There he ate lunch and then traded horses, paying several pesos more for one that appeared well rested and sturdy.  He continued his journey once more as the late afternoon sun shimmered on the hills around him.  The heat made it necessary to slow his pace, but Diego still felt that he was making good time. 

At a time that Diego judged to be around midnight, when he was nearing Jorge’s meeting place, he felt the horse beneath him begin limping.  Cursing softly, he slowed his pace to a walk, then he dismounted and led the horse.  Being close to the abandoned Catalan hacienda, Diego decided to reconnoiter while the horse rested and then he could give more information to his father before meeting at the rendezvous point with Jorge and his men.  He tethered the horse in a small gorge a quarter of a mile away from the revolutionaries’ encampment and then sneaked closer.  He finally found a vantage point above the ruins and watched the comings and goings of the revolutionaries. 

To his horror, he saw many men moving about, fixing their dinners, resting, grooming their horses.  There appeared to be at least forty men.  Jorge had been recruiting heavily since that last raid on the Torres hacienda.  Most of the men, whose features he could see, were not from the Los Angeles area.  They had to be from San Diego or even from Mexico.  He watched as Jorge, Salazar and several other men rode into the encampment.  Their horses appeared lathered and worn and he assumed that they had just arrived.  He had to get closer, had to hear more of their plans.  Bernardo had overheard Jorge’s comments about raiding other haciendas, an action that Diego felt the explosions would trigger.  He had written that information to his father and Sergeant Garcia in the letters he had sent, but he still had to find out the details.  If he could find out specifics, then he could get that information to his father, who would, in turn, relay it to Sergeant Garcia.

Diego crept closer and then closer yet, smelling the campfires, hearing the joking laughter and then the individual conversations.  He strained to hear Jorge as several of the camp gathered around him.  Diego crept even closer, keeping a pile of fallen adobe between him and the conspirators. 

“This time, there will be no one to stop us.  Ramirez’s man will take care of de la Vega and that pig of a sergeant and his men, and we will take care of the others when the signal comes,” Jorge explained.  There was an undercurrent of conversation that kept Diego from hearing anything distinct.   Who? he thought.  Who else are you going to attack?  He strained mightily to hear more. 

“We are hungry!  Bring us some supper,” Jorge ordered. Diego heard the clinking of utensils against iron pots and then the satisfied sighs and slurping of the eaters. 

“What is going to happen, Jorge?” a voice asked. 

“When I’m finished,” Jorge said around a mouthful of food. 

Diego gritted his teeth in frustration, but he had to settle back and be patient.  As he heard the men eating and joking, he felt his eyelids grow heavy and he fought to stay awake.  It had been several days since he had enjoyed more than a few hours of deep sleep.  Suddenly he jerked awake and realized he had dozed off.  Chagrined, he strained to hear Jorge and Salazar. 

“He’s sending the explosives with special couriers to the fat sergeant and to old de la Vega.” 

“How is it going to explode if he isn’t there to set it off?” 

“I do not know exactly how it happens, but I do not doubt it will happen,” Jorge answered.  

“And when it does, we ride,” Salazar exclaimed.

“Whose haciendas do we raid first?” a voice asked.

“Torres first and then I will give assignments to the groups raiding the others,” Jorge said tersely.  

“And we keep what we find?” another voice asked.

“Of course,” Salazar answered with a laugh. 

“And de la Vega is mine, if he is still alive after that explosion,” Jorge growled. 

“I doubt there will be much left,” Salazar remarked with a laugh.  He poured himself some wine and drank it, describing the wonders they would find when they pillaged the different haciendas. 

Even though Diego didn’t have as much information as he had wanted, he needed to leave and warn his father and the other hacendados.  Men wandered around the camp and he knew there were men guarding the perimeter of the encampment.  Some were already settling for sleep.  Several came close to his position, heading toward Jorge, presumably reporting in.  Diego kept close behind the pile of rubble, not moving, willing himself invisible.  This was when he wished he had his costume; anything but this light colored shirt he was wearing.

After what seemed an interminable time, and after he had caught his eyelids drooping again, Diego was able to creep away from the now mostly sleeping camp.  He made his way slowly back to the arroyo where he had hidden the horse.  The dawn was not far off and it was dangerous to be seen here during the day, especially with a lame horse, but there was no help for it.  Hopefully, the rest had helped the animal and he would be able to ride him.  When he reached the gelding, it nickered and pawed at the hard ground.  Diego ran his hand down the horse’s legs and felt it wince when he touched a spot above the front fetlock.  Riding this animal was out of the question.  He took off the saddle and bridle, hiding them, and then he let the horse go.

Diego gazed back at the camp and saw the hobbled horses.  Then he shook his head.  No, he could not take the chance of anyone seeing him or anyone deciding that the camp had been infiltrated.  By his guess, each man had only one horse.  There were no extras, none with which he could switch the lame horse.  However, if all went well, he could still reach the hacienda in a few hours.  

 

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Patterson awoke in the dark, his head throbbing with the pain of his broken nose.  His lips were crusted with dried blood, as was his cheek lying against a moldy, foul smelling pillow.  His face felt swollen, his throat was dry.  How long have I been laying here?  Where is ‘here’?  He felt stiff and sore, every muscle seemed to ache and he thought back to the confrontation with the man who had stolen his identity, who had been impersonating him.  Who is he?  That he was a Spanish California national; he had no doubt.  But what was his agenda?  Why did he do this?  Who was he, Patterson wondered again.  

The Englishman looked around without moving his body.  Where am I? he asked himself again.  The moonlight showed through bars.  A jail!  Curse that man!  Patterson saw a guard pacing nearby.  He was in the presidio.  Locked in a jail in the Presidio de San Diego.  But not for long!  I will escape, Patterson thought.  The man who did this to me will pay.  He will regret not killing me outright.  The Englishman lay quietly considering how he would accomplish that feat. 

 

 

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