Pacific Odyssey

Book III: The Journey Home

 

 

 

Chapter 19

 

The Nightmare Begins

 

 

 

“What?  What did you do that for?” Jorge demanded.   

“This is not Patterson,” Ramirez said.   

“What?” Salazar exclaimed, his voice filled with puzzlement and anger.  

“What do you mean, this is not Patterson?” Jorge asked, leaping down from his horse and examining the unconscious man.

“It is just as I say, this is not the man I hired,” Ramirez stated.  “But the bigger question should be, who is he and who is he working for?”  

“Then this is the man who stopped the stage outside of San Diego.  And he duped us all.  He is very good, whoever he is,” Jorge said, pausing and looking up at Ramirez.  Then he looked back down and placing a toe under the imposters chest, turned him over on his back.  The revolutionary gazed at man’s face, studying it carefully.  Where have I seen him before?  Where? he asked himself.   “It would seem obvious that he is working for the rancheros here.”

“Or the Spanish government,” Salazar interjected.   

“Yes, that was what I was thinking.  But the question now, is what do we do about it?  How do we salvage this situation and turn it to our benefit?  We cannot plan another big operation like this.  We have to finish all of this tonight,” Ramirez said, gazing at their prisoner. 

“But how?” Jorge asked, for once totally at a loss for ideas or opinions.   To have been so thoroughly duped, he couldn’t believe it.   Anger began to supplant the disbelief and he drew his pistol and pointed it at the prone man.

“NO!” Ramirez shouted.  “You cannot kill him.  I need information from him.”  He waited until Jorge had put his pistol away.  “What we can do is get the men ready to ride sooner than we had expected.   Have them ready to ride so that they will hit the haciendas and the cuartel at the same time that the explosives go off.  

“But will the explosives not do the job for the cuartel?” Salazar asked.   

Ramirez looked at Jorge’s lieutenant in disbelief.  “Do you think that someone working for these people that we are trying to destroy would actually cause real damage to them?”  The Mexican laughed a terse, bitter laugh.  “No, the explosions will be a decoy.  Probably the militia has already been alerted and was planning on attacking your men at the time the powder goes off.   Our only chance is to catch them by surprise.  We must attack them before they attack us.”  

“Yes, you are right,” Salazar mumbled. 

“Can we afford to wait until this one wakes up?” Jorge asked, nudging the inert man with the toe of his boot.   

“No, we will take him back to camp with us and question him there,” Ramirez said.  “I do not think I hit him that hard.  He should be awake by the time we get to your camp.”  

“I just wish I knew where I had seen this one before,” Jorge said, his voice soft enough to be a murmur.

“What?” Ramirez asked.

“I have the strangest feeling that I have seen this man before, but I have no idea where,” Jorge elaborated. 

Sighing, Ramirez said, “We need to get back to your camp.  Tie him onto his horse.”

 

   

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Diego saw the stranger’s pistol only a split second before the weapon connected with the side of his head, but it was long enough for him to move just a slight amount to allow him to avoid the worst of the blow.  However, like the time before when Patterson had ambushed him, he felt the sharp pain and wash of dizziness that made his pretended unconsciousness not totally feigned.  He let himself fall from the horse in such a way as to avoid injuring himself and he lay inert on the ground, hoping as he did with the Chinese captain, to catch his opponents off guard.  He waited and let the pain recede.  It would do no good to try and overpower these three when he felt so unsteady.  Wryly, he thought about how tired he was of being beaten and was ready for all of this to end for that reason, too. 

He heard the exchange between the three men; he felt the jab of Jorge’s boot.  Through slitted eyes, he saw the sun sinking below the far horizon.  

“Miguel, go tell the men to be ready to ride an hour past the sunset,” he heard Jorge call out above him.  Diego felt the stab of alarm.  He had not seen the other man.  Miguel must have been waiting by the rocks when he had ridden up.  At the same time Diego heard the rider trotting off, he also felt Jorge’s boot in his side again.  He could wait no longer.  His hand whipped out like a rattlesnake striking, grabbing Jorge’s ankle and twisting it.  At almost the same instant he was on his feet, assuming the horse stance of his wushu training, his fist connecting with Jorge’s nose, eliciting a howl of pain and rage from the revolutionary leader.   Thankfully, the dizziness had gone, leaving him with only a dull headache that was forgotten in the quest to stop these men and to stay alive. 

The click of a pistol alerted Diego and he ducked under his horse, and then the stranger’s, Ramirez? he asked himself, remembering the conversation.  He came up on the other side of Ramirez’ gelding, grabbing the man’s jacket and jerking him from the saddle.  As Ramirez fell, Diego stepped back, shifted his weight, and kicked out with his right foot, hitting his opponent just under the rib cage. With a strangled cry, the older man doubled over and writhed on the ground. 

Diego ducked back under the horse, having heard Salazar behind him. 

“I will kill you, you fiend from Hell,” the revolutionary growled. 

Diego laughed shortly.  “You have to catch me first.”  Jorge was in front of him, face bloodied, but his eyes still filled with hate and determination.  The Californiano stepped into Jorge’s lunge and broke the blow with one arm while his other fist found the bandit’s stomach with the other.  Another blow brought him to his knees, gasping and choking.   Suddenly, Diego was flattened to the ground as Salazar fell onto his back and brought his arm around the Californiano’s neck, squeezing and choking him.  Raising up slightly and rolling to one side, Diego elbowed the bandit in the ribs, eliciting a grunt of pain and a slight loosening of the chokehold Salazar had on him.  Another blow from his elbow and Diego was able to squirm around enough to bring one knee close to his chest.  He thrust out with his foot and Salazar’s grip was broken.  The revolutionary rose from the ground, but Diego was quicker.  His heel of his foot connected with Salazar’s solar plexus and his opponent dropped like a rock.  The snap of a twig alerted him to someone else and he jumped back, dropping to the ground and rolling under the nervous horses once again.  A hoof narrowly missed his hand and he leaped back to his feet the instant he was out from under the horse’s belly.  He saw a pistol in a saddle holster and grabbed it. 

Someone else’s pistol went off and the ball whizzed past his feet, making the horse jerk and prance nervously.  Reaching around the horse, Diego aimed and fired at Ramirez.  With a scream, his opponent dropped his pistol, and then fell to the ground, this time clutching a leg from which blood was flowing.  Diego tossed the spent pistol to the ground and looked for Jorge.  It seemed that there was much motivating these men, just as there was much motivating him.  From his left, he saw the battered revolutionary charging at him with his sword upraised.  Diego danced to one side, thrust one hand under Jorge’s sword arm, blocking it and, forming his other hand into what the Imperial Captain called the ‘eagle’s beak,’ punched the revolutionary under his left arm, into the soft region just below his shoulder.  

Screaming, Jorge dropped the sword and clutched his shoulder.  In the dimming light, Diego could see that the left arm hung at a slightly unnatural angle and he could only surmise that the bandit’s shoulder was dislocated. Diego winced, remembering his own pain at such an injury, but there was too little time to sympathize for more than the briefest of seconds.   Quickly, he tied Jorge’s good arm to a small but sturdy tree, and tied up the still unconscious Salazar.  He also tied up Ramirez and then ripped a piece of the man’s shirt and bound up his leg.  

Then he returned to Jorge.  “You have about forty men at the Catalan hacienda.  I know that some were going to the Torres Rancho.  You were planning on sending some to the cuartel and to the de la Vega hacienda, where were the rest going to be sent?” 

Jorge just spat at Diego, but missed and moaned when the effort brought pain from his injured shoulder.   Gritting his teeth, he simply said, “I will never tell you anything, you Spanish spawn from Hell!” 

Diego reached down and grasped Jorge’s left arm.  The revolutionary gasped in pain.  “Tell me who you were going to attack.”  Jorge moaned, and then just glared at his captor.  With regret, Diego pulled the man’s arm a little tighter and Jorge screamed.   He realized that Jorge would probably also have some men already watching the cuartel, just as he had seen evidence of watchers near his father’s hacienda.   “Are most of your men down in the abandoned Catalan hacienda?” he asked.  Nothing.  Diego continued gripping the revolutionary’s shoulder.  Jorge moaned and then nodded.   “That is much better,” Diego said and he loosened his grip slightly.  “And there are some at the cuartel and the de la Vega hacienda watching, am I correct?”  Again, Jorge nodded.  “How many at each place?” 

“A dozen at each place,” Jorge hissed through gritted teeth.  

Diego was appalled.  That meant there were about sixty men total.  “Now tell me who else you were going to attack with the remainder of your men?”

“Torres hacienda, Santillo hacienda, Caldon hacienda, Esperón hacienda.”  Jorge moaned again and Diego released his grip.  He had made his point. 

“Is that all?” Diego asked. 

Jorge nodded, gazing at the man above him, the one who appeared to be capable of ruining all of his plans completely by himself.  Where have I seen this man before? he asked himself through the fog of his pain.  

“Good.  Now I must leave you.  I have very little time and much information to impart,” Diego said. 

“Who are you?” came a voice from behind him.  It was Ramirez.   “Who is it who was able to fool so many?” 

Diego stood up and turned toward Ramirez.  “I am someone your man, here, considered weak and of no consequence.  He thought I would be dead in a month.  If Jorge thinks about it a bit more, he would know who I am.”  Diego turned back toward Jorge and stared deeply into his eyes.  “Do you know who I am, Jorge?  Do you remember the weak son of the wealthiest hacendado in the region?  Do you remember the anguish that you brought upon me and the undoubted anguish that you brought upon my father?  Do you know who I am?  Do you?” Diego stopped speaking and just gazed at the man lying on the ground below him.  Anger churned within his breast and all he wanted to do at the moment was to grind his foot into the revolutionary’s face.  

Jorge thought, trying to remember through his pain, trying to latch on to the words that his captor was saying.  Weak son of a rich rancher?  Who?  Then his memory supplied a possible name and he gasped at the probable identity of this man.  NO!  It couldn’t be!

Diego gazed coldly at his prisoner. “Look closely into my face and tell me who you think I am,” he said, looking at the leader defiantly, much as he had when he had first been kidnapped.  “Come now, Jorge, who would be the last person you would expect to see in Los Angeles right now?” he taunted.  

The evening was deepening, but Jorge remembered someone looking at him like that before, looking as a wolf might and his guess became a certainty.  “Diego de la Vega!!” he exclaimed.

Diego laughed bitterly.  “How little you know your prey, Jorge.  How horribly you misinterpreted my father’s will and determination.  How terribly you misjudged my own will.”          

Jorge almost sobbed at the revelation.  “It seems that Salazar was right after all.  We should have killed you outright.  You have learned some things in the time you have been sailing with the British.” 

Diego laughed again, savoring what this revelation was doing to this man, but he knew the time of the explosions was less than two hours away.  And the men would be riding from the Catalan hacienda sooner than that.  That gave scant time to get the information to his father and then return as Zorro.  But he had to.  It was imperative.  There was one last thing that Diego had to learn, though, and that was to find out just who this Ramirez was.  He walked over to his other prisoner.  “Where do you come from, Señor Ramirez?  What is your part in this plot?”   

Ramirez, too, kept tight-lipped.  Diego bent down.  Señor, do not force me to use the same tactics that I had to use on your compatriot.”  He reached down and put his hand on the older man’s bound leg.  Ramirez winced even before Diego’s hand touched his leg.  “It felt as though it was broken when I bound it, señor,” Diego said softly. 

Ramirez shuddered and then said, “I am from Mexico City.”

“Ah, so you are the one who thought up all of this,” Diego said, the anger welling up white-hot.  “I think that I was causing pain to the wrong person, Señor Ramirez.  You are the one that should be feeling the pain.  You are the one who should pay for the pain of my father, for the pain of the parents of the kidnapped child, the families of the murdered hacendados and the merchant, the faithful vaquero.  You should feel my pain, little Margarita’s fear and pain.  You should feel it, Señor Ramirez, but there is much I must do tonight to prevent this kind of pain happening to others.  So I will leave you here for the soldiers to take care of.”  Diego stood up.  “I would wager that you will be well received by your government in Mexico when this is all over.”

“Curse you, you King’s spawn,” Jorge gasped.              

Señor,” Diego said to Jorge as he walked over to his horse.  “I have heard that Mexico has declared its independence from Spain and I assume that soon it will be given.  All I care about is protecting my homeland and trying to make sure that everyone has the right to justice in it, no matter who is at the head of the government.”  Mounting his horse, he scattered the other’s mounts and then galloped at the greatest speed possible to the de la Vega rancho, watching for hidden revolutionaries as he rode.

           

 

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