Pacific Odyssey

Book III: The Journey Home

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eighteen

 

Complications

 

 

 

“Sergeant Garcia, Don Diego has been through much and will do anything at this point to stop the terrorists from destroying any more lives, including his father’s and, for that matter, yours.  He wanted me to inform you of the seriousness of this situation.  He learned that these men are planning to destroy the cuartel and several haciendas.  Everything else is contained in the letter I have in my pocket.”

“But I do not understand.  How did Don Diego find this out?  He has been away and ….”  Garcia paused, scratched his chin and looked completely puzzled.  “How did he find this out?” he asked again.  

Indeed, Carlos asked himself, how did Diego find this out?  All he knew was that Diego had told him Bernardo had uncovered the plot.  But then, how could a deaf mute uncover such a thing?  Perhaps he could read people’s lips, Carlos thought.  He had heard of such things.  But to get such detailed information and so much of it by simple lip reading seemed beyond his comprehension.  Carlos pondered a moment while the sergeant continued to look confused.  Diego had a secret, something he hid from everyone else.  Could his servant also have a secret, other than the one he kept for his master?  Bernardo had been presented to him as deaf and dumb, and someone not too astute, but everything that had happened belied it.  That he was mute; there was no doubt, but deaf?  There had been the time in the inn when Diego was explaining his plans to him and George.  He had noticed Bernardo out of the corner of his eye.  The servant showed a quick reaction to something Diego had said and then his expression had changed to the passive indifference he usually showed. 

Somehow Carlos felt Bernardo could hear as well as he, himself could, but there was an answer needed to the sergeant’s question.   “When he arrived in San Diego, Don Diego overheard the ones who kidnapped him talking to each other about their plans,” Carlos said quickly, as he saw the sergeant opening his mouth to say something.  

“But would they not have recognized him?” Garcia asked.

“He came home with a very handsome beard.   But apparently they didn’t know he was around, or they would not have been talking about their plans,” Carlos replied quickly, hoping that the santos would forgive him for his lie. 

“Oh.  Yes, you are right.” 

“Please, read the letter and so we can follow the instructions,” Carlos admonished.           

Sgt. Garcia, although still somewhat confused, nevertheless took the letter from Carlos and began to read it carefully. 

“This is Don Diego’s handwriting,” Garcia said, looking up from the letter.  Carlos nodded for him to continue.   

Garcia put his finger back where he had left off and began reading again, his lips mumbling as he read.   “Don Diego wants me to set explosives in a place near the cuartel, or in it where a great deal of noise and flash would occur, but little damage.  The explosives are supposed to go off nearly two hours after dark, that part Don Diego is adamant about.” 

“Yes, I have a chest with explosives in a carriage in the stable.  You will not need any more than that,” Carlos said. 

Garcia looked up and gazed at Carlos, still puzzled.  What kind of change has come over Don Diego? he wondered, and then decided that the thought of assassins killing his father must have spurred him to action.  His friend had, on occasion taken action when necessary.  He had knocked the swordsman, Avila, to the ground when the man had struck his father.   So he supposed this, too, was possible.  Sergeant Garcia had always felt that Don Diego was a trustworthy individual and decided to trust him in this.   

“Corporal!” he called out loudly.  

Corporal Reyes stepped into the room and stood before Garcia’s desk.  He glanced at Carlos, his eyes question marks.  Sí, Sergeant?” 

“Corporal, I want you to gather the chest of powder that this man brought and place it against the farthest wall of the stable,” Garcia ordered.  

“But why, Sergeant?” 

“Because, Don….” Garcia began. 

“Because we need it to trick the bandits tonight.  But the trick will not work unless you two keep this a secret,” Carlos interjected quickly.  He didn’t think it wise for everyone to know that Diego was back.  And he felt that these two would not hesitate to spread that news around.

“The bandits are back?” Reyes asked, to clarify what he had already thought.  

“Yes,” Carlos continued.  “I found out a plot to attack your cuartel.”  He paused.  “There are two chests in the back of the carriage in the livery stable.  The larger one will need to be kept here in your office.  It is the smaller one that has the powder and must be put in the cuartel stable.”  Carlos paused to make sure the corporal understood.  “That is all you need to know right now,” he added.  

“That’s right, Corporal.  Go do what I have ordered.  And do not tell anyone why right now,” Garcia added.  Reyes saluted and left.  “We will need to tell the men later on, though, won’t we?” he asked turning back to Carlos.  

The Filipino nodded.

 

 

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Diego kept to the rocks and arroyos, hiding every time anyone rode near.  Finally, after a great deal more time hiding than he had wanted, Diego reached the secret cave.  It was early afternoon.  He’d had to constantly avoid patrols from the camp of the revolutionaries as well as some men that he was sure had been assigned to watch the hacienda.  As he stepped into the cool interior, he wearily put down the carpetbag, went over to the small stream and splashed water on his face.  He only hoped his father was home.  He could leave the warning with him and then get another horse from the stable to make the rendezvous this evening.  If he could neutralize Jorge and Salazar, he felt it would make some kind of small impact on their followers, even though the orders had already been given.  Although his plans had been tenuous and quickly made, Diego felt that everything would still come together if he could get word to the hacendados.   Sometime this evening Zorro would have to make his appearance.   That was the tricky part, Diego thought, getting away from the rendezvous and getting back here to the secret cave.  

Diego felt the heaviness of this burden weigh him down.  So many men, and those here, the hacendados like his father, had done so well to keep terror in check.  Pride filled a few of the places that were threatened by exhaustion and discouragement.  

He wanted nothing more than to take off his boots and soak his feet, then to sleep, but he had to give this information to his father.  At the very least, he would rid himself of this uncomfortable footwear, he thought, as he jerked off the dusty trail-worn boots.  He had more in his room.   A snort and rustling made him jerk around.  A dark form stood looming before him in the outside entrance of the cave.  

“Tornado?” he whispered. 

The horse snorted and sniffed at him, pushing him backward, almost causing him to stumble.  

“Tornado,” Diego repeated, reaching up and touching the stallion’s nose.  The horse snorted again and then rubbed his nose against the young man’s chest, softly at first and then harder, this time really making him lurch backward.  Diego laughed and wrapped his arms around Tornado’s neck, burying his face in the stallion’s mane.  It was so good to be home.  Tornado continued to nuzzle him, also nibbling on his shirt.  Finally, Diego pulled away.  “I must go and see my father, boy.  You wait here.  I will be back later and we will ride together,” he assured the horse.  

With a last pat, Diego turned and walked up the stairs to the casa grande.  Through the spy holes he saw that his father was not in either the library or the sala, nor was he in his bedroom.  Everyone was gone.  In his room, he saw George’s travel-worn jacket piled neatly on a chair in a corner, which indicated that Bernardo and George had arrived, but apparently they had already gone out to make the preparations for tonight.  All he could do was leave a note and hope for the best.  Dashing down the steps, he wrote a succinct letter to his father, telling him what he had learned and warning him of how dangerous these men were, even more dangerous than they had been in the past.  There were so many things that could go wrong, so many variables in all of this, but all he could do now was to leave this in the hands of God, and his father and neighbors.  Now he had to find another horse and ride to the rendezvous place.  If he had only had more time.  If the horse had not come up lame.  If only, but one could not dwell on that, Diego decided.  

He left the note in the middle of the writing table in the sala, propped up on a book and then he dashed back upstairs to his room, found some comfortable boots, slipped back downstairs where he went out through the kitchen to the stables.  He grabbed a tortilla and a chunk of roast beef on the way out, munching as he perused the stable yard.  There were only two horses left, but he picked the one he knew to be the swiftest, saddled it and rode out without anyone seeing him.  Although he doubted that there were any revolutionaries among the servants on the hacienda, he still did not wish to make his presence known until he had talked with his father.  

As he rode, Diego looked up and saw that the sun was approaching the western horizon.  Realizing that it was time for the meeting with the revolutionaries, he urged the horse into a gallop.   It was like he had never left.  It was not Tornado beneath him, but the same exhilaration was there.   He was home.  And he remembered each hillock, rock, thicket and gully that had been here before he had been kidnapped and cruelly taken from this place he loved so much.  He urged the horse along paths known only to himself, the wild creatures and vaqueros, running full out where the trail smoothed out and was flat.  As the sun was sitting on the shoulders of the western hills, Diego approached the small group at the rendezvous point.  The sun was glaring from slightly over his right shoulder so he easily recognized Jorge and Salazar, but there was another man with them, an older man he did not recognize.  This stranger was clean-shaven with dark hair and eyes and he was wearing an immaculately cut and made suit.  Diego felt alarm bells go off in his mind, but he could not turn back now.  He would have to try and bluff as he had before.  As he rode up, Jorge and Salazar greeted him, smiling, but the stranger studied him carefully, schooling his face into an emotionless mask.

 

 

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Ramirez rode at an easy canter to the rendezvous place that had been established by Jorge.  In his belt was a pistol; there was another one in his saddle.  A sword bounced easily against his thigh.  The time had come when all who stood between himself and his success would be eliminated.  As he rode up the small hillock several miles from Los Angeles, he paused and let the late afternoon sun warm his face.   It was exhilarating, this place, this wild, wide place where the cattle roamed wherever they chose and the grapes grew to exceeding plumpness.  He was beginning to see why these landowners were so fiercely protective of their adopted homes.   In a place such as this a man could carve and build a destiny that was his and his alone.  No king, no president, nothing standing in the way of prosperity.  He knew of Jorge’s acquisitions, of his secret plans to own a great hacienda, like that of his now deceased father. 

Smiling, Ramirez thought of how very easy it would be to take over ownership of those same lands.  His dreams of becoming the president of Mexico began to fade slightly.  But no, it didn’t need to fade.  California would be part of Mexico soon.  Why couldn’t the president have a residence in Alta California as well as the Presidential Palace in Mexico City?  His smile broadened.  Yes, get rid of all ties with this terrorist experiment and he could freely seek for appointments that would quickly put him in line to become the most powerful man in this part of the world.   

Two riders rode slowly up the hillside from the south.  It was Jorge and Salazar.  Ramirez watched them approach.  “Your message said that all was in readiness.  Tonight?” Ramirez asked, working to keep the eagerness out of his voice.

Sí, Señor Ramirez, Señor Patterson has arranged for the explosions to occur tonight two hours after sunset.  That is our signal to raid the haciendas of the key leaders, of those who know,” Jorge explained.  

“And where is Patterson now?” Ramirez asked, curious.  

“He is supposed to meet us here.”

Ramirez wondered where his assassin could be.  The man was noted for his punctuality.  “Did he explain how he was going to accomplish this feat?”

“He only said that opening the boxes would trigger the explosions, señor,” Jorge replied.  “He did not explain further.  In fact, he told me that I would not understand his explanations and so he would not go into detail.” 

Now that did sound like Patterson, Ramirez thought.   Then in the distance, coming from the northwest he saw a small figure on horseback.  The horseman rode fast, coming directly toward their location.  Patterson?  But Patterson was not a horseman, at least not a comfortable one.  Not that he remembered.  This man seemed to be an extension of his horse, a sure rider, at ease with his mount.  Puzzled, Ramirez gazed surreptitiously toward his companions.  They didn’t seem to be concerned.  He waited. 

The rider continued at his fast gallop, riding along his route as though thoroughly familiar with it.  He approached them quickly.

“Ah, there he comes now,” Jorge said.  

Ramirez was startled.  He had come to the conclusion that this could not be Patterson, that this was one of Jorge’s lieutenants.  The approaching rider seemed too familiar with the horse, with the trail, with riding in general.   Patterson was a man more accustomed to riding in carriages than on a horse’s back.  But then the assassin was an enigma to him, something impenetrable and imperturbable.  Maybe this was just another of the things that he didn’t know about the Englishman.   The rider approached the hill and didn’t slow down but a little, riding directly to them, the horse stopping short next to him and raising puffs of dust.

“Ah, Señor Patterson.  I was beginning to wonder where you were,” Jorge said in greeting.  Salazar raised his hand and smiled a feral smile. 

Ramirez squinted in the bright late day sun.  This man was the same height as Patterson, he was the basic same build, he had a beard and mustache and dark hair, but the eyes were hazel and they didn’t have the frigid depths that his hireling had.  No, this was not Patterson, no matter what Jorge and Salazar were told.  But if this is not Patterson, then who is he?  What is the purpose of this masquerade?  Is he working for the landowners?  The Spanish government?  My own government?  

Regardless, this man was a danger to him and his plans.  Ramirez schooled his thoughts and tried to remain passive as the man approached.  He must not let him see any kind of reaction. 

“I was reconnoitering the de la Vega hacienda.  The chest is in a safe place until just before delivery and then it will do its job,” the counterfeit Patterson said. 

Ramirez urged his horse closer.  “I am sorry.  What did you say about the chest?”

The newcomer stepped closer as well.  “I said that the chest is in a safe place until the time of delivery….”  The shadows hid Ramirez’ hand that carefully reached down and then, lightning fast pulled out his pistol and clouted the other man behind the ear.  The counterfeit toppled out of his saddle and lay motionless in the dust.

   

 

Chapter Nineteen
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