Pacific Odyssey

Book III: The Journey Home

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-three

 

One Last Complication

 

   

 

Alejandro sat quietly in the sala, his shoulder bound tightly by Bernardo.  The manservant had appeared almost as exhausted as Zorro, but he had insisted on going out in the pre-dawn and watching for Diego from a nearby hill.  With only a few servants in the casa grande and most of those asleep, it seemed almost ominously quiet.  The early morning sun shone out on the patio, the warmth of the dying fire made him sleepy and despite his resolve to stay awake for Diego’s arrival, Alejandro found himself dozing.  He didn’t see the furtive figure slipping thought the patio gate, peering through the sala window.  The front door creaked softly, but Alejandro heard it distantly in his subconscious.  He only woke when he felt the cold barrel of a pistol pressed against the side of his neck.  His eyes flew open and he found himself staring into the cold blue eyes of a stranger. “Who….?” 

“Say nothing, old man, except your name.” 

Alejandro hesitated.  The pistol hammer clicked back, now cocked and ready to fire.  

“I am not patient.  Do not try what little patience I have left,” the stranger said.  The accent indicated someone of foreign birth.  

“Alejandro de la Vega.  What do you want?”

The foreigner laughed.  “Good.  Good.  The directions were correct.  Something is finally going right.”  The intruder drew back and looked Alejandro over, his eyes feral like that of the mountain cat.  

The pistol still pointed ominously at him and the caballero sat perfectly still, waiting, wondering what this disheveled man wanted.  The eyes were a hard, crystal blue.  

Alejandro almost shivered.   

“So the wolf did not come out of this unscathed.”  He motioned with his pistol.  “Get up!”

“Who are you?” Alejandro demanded, not moving.  The man’s accent, he wondered.  English? 

“I am Death, old man.  Your death if you do not get up now.”  The voice was as cold as the eyes were. 

Stiffly, Alejandro stood up, wincing at the stabs of pain in his shoulder. 

“Does that door lead to the stable?” the man asked. 

He wants a horse, Alejandro thought hopefully.  Aloud he said, “Yes.  Through the kitchen and out to the stable yard.”

“Good.  Let’s go.”  The man poked him in the back and Alejandro had no recourse but to go through the little hallway.   

In the kitchen, Crescencia looked up from her breakfast preparations and gasped.  Pepito, who was by her side building up the fire, cried out. 

“If you value the life of your master, you will do nothing,” the stranger hissed, motioning with his pistol for them to precede him and Alejandro out the door.  Crescencia nodded.  She and Pepito walked out the door, followed by Alejandro.  “Old woman, you will tie the boy’s hands.  I do not trust him to act with restraint.  And then you will sit quietly next to him.”  Crescencia followed his instruction, sitting next to the bound boy and glaring at the stranger.   He directed Alejandro to the far stall where the kegs of powder still sat, unexploded, but deadly.  The foreigner shoved him against a stall partition beam nearest the kegs and began to tie him to it, all the while keeping an eye on Crescencia.  

“What are you doing?” Alejandro asked, alarmed.  He cried out in sudden pain as the man jerked his hands behind him. 

“Setting a trap for your son, Señor de la Vega.  Your son who ruined everything I have worked for.”  The foreigner laughed again.  “But it would appear that he left me the means I need to finish my job here,” he added, gazing thoughtfully at the powder.  

Then it dawned on the old don.  This man was the one Diego said he had impersonated in San Diego.  He tried to test the ropes holding him prisoner, but intense pain kept him from any movement at all.  

The assassin picked up the smaller keg and examined it.  He paused only long enough to wave the pistol at Crescencia.  “Do not force me to shoot you.”   She had moved away from Pepito, slowly edging toward a pitchfork, but she quickly scooted back beside the boy.   The foreigner cleared a narrow path from the larger keg to Alejandro’s feet.  Taking the cork bungs out of the tops of both kegs, he tipped the larger one on its side, letting a small amount of powder flow into a tiny, but deadly hill.  The small keg, he used to lay a trail to Alejandro, along the path that he had just made.  Crescencia continued to sit quietly, watching for a moment of inattentiveness.   

In chagrin, the old man realized this was almost exactly what he was going to do the night before, until Diego had told him of the change of plans.  The assassin finished and tossed the nearly empty keg back into the stall with the larger keg.  Both barrels lay innocently in a nest of fresh straw.  

“Get up, old woman,” the foreigner ordered Crescencia, waving the pistol menacingly.  She did.  “Now, go into the kitchen.  I will be following closely.”   

The housekeeper glanced over at Alejandro.  He nodded.  “Do as he says, Crescencia,” he told her softly.  

, Don Alejandro,” she replied.

The pair went into the kitchen and soon came out with a lit candle.  As he turned to take the candle to the stall where the hacendado was confined, Crescencia leaped upon him, her fingers clawing at his face.  With a growl, the foreigner jerked her off of him, slapped her and then threw her to the ground, where she lay stunned.  He pointed the pistol at her still form and cocked it.  

Señor, por favor.  She is only a woman!” cried Alejandro in despair, leaning against the ropes, despite the pain.   “Please do not hurt her.” 

“I warned her, as I warned all of you.” 

“But your vengeance is against me and my son, not a servant, a woman,” Alejandro said anxiously. 

Laughing, the stranger released the hammer.  “You have a point.  This would be a waste of the bullet.”  He turned and gazed quickly at Alejandro.  “And I wouldn’t want to warn anyone who might be coming,” he said meaningfully.   “And your son is coming home soon, isn’t he?” 

Alejandro said nothing.  Yes, Diego would be coming home soon.   Coming home to this.  He almost wished he could goad the foreigner into shooting him.  Then Diego would be warned and he would be saved.   “You coward!” he hissed, looking up and staring his captor in the face.  The eyes of neither man wavered.   

Crescencia stirred at the stranger’s feet, but a wave of his gun caused her to freeze in place.  “You dishonorable and despicable coward,” Alejandro continued.  “You talk as though you were important, but you gloat over old men and women and boys, arrogantly proclaiming your superiority.”  Alejandro let the heat of his anger flame and fuel itself.  “You let the powder do your work for you, killing innocents, and for what?  A few pesos?  He spat in the straw near his feet.   “You disgust me even more than those so-called revolutionaries.” 

The foreigner laughed softly, cocking his head and gazing thoughtfully at his prisoner.  “And you, what about you?  Sitting in your grand haciendas, at the top of a world that consists of starving peons living in leaking hovels.”   He turned back to Crescencia.  “It would seem that this rich, arrogant land owner feels loyalty toward his servants,” he said with a cold smile.  “You see, old woman, he is pleading for you and now he is attempting to save you by making me angry at him.   But I am not angry with him.  I am angry with his son.  Only his son.  Never have I been thwarted in my assignments, never.  But he will pay for causing my failure.   Now get back over there with the boy and do not try my patience anymore.”  

Again, Crescencia looked toward Alejandro and again he nodded.  She did as she was told, sitting close to Pepito.  The boy’s eyes were angry and hard, but there was nothing he could do.  

Turning back to Alejandro, the stranger said, “Now you will be quiet, or the end of this pistol will silence you, and not with a bullet, old man.  No, I will save my bullet.  I will not take a chance of warning he whom I so badly want to meet again.” 

Alejandro looked into the man’s eyes and saw that he meant it.  In despair, the caballero realized that it was now up to Diego to resolve this dilemma.  Diego and God.  Would it never end?  Is there no peace for either one of us?  Dios, why are you punishing us?  What have we done that makes us so deserving of this pain and suffering?”  Alejandro bowed his head and prayed for some kind of intervention, but all he heard was silence and then the soft mocking laughter of the vengeful foreigner.   

The sound of horses caused Alejandro to jerk his head up and his heart skipped a beat when he heard Diego’s voice from the patio, calling for him.  He also heard Sergeant Garcia.  Horror gripped him, paralyzing him.  He should call out a warning, but his voice wouldn’t work.  

“Call out to him, old man.  Tell him to come out here,” the assassin hissed an order.   Alejandro pressed his lips together.   “Do it!  Do it, or you will not live long enough to see your son!”  

Still Alejandro refused.  He would not call Diego to his death.  Never!  He raised his eyes and gazed resolutely into the assassin’s eyes.  “I will not.” 

The foreigner turned slightly and pointed the gun at Crescencia.  “Yes, you will, or he will come at the sound of a gunshot and see this old woman twitching in death on the ground.”   The pistol remained on Crescencia, who was staring at them in horror, but making no sounds.  The eyes, however, bored into Alejandro’s and the caballero knew that the man meant just what he said.   There was no bluff in those hard blue eyes. 

With a sigh that was almost a sob, Alejandro acquiesced, praying at the same time for some kind of miracle.   “Diego,” he called. 

“Louder,” the assassin murmured, prodding Alejandro with the end of the pistol. 

“Diego, my son.  I am out in the stable yard,” he called louder.    Alejandro heard Diego’s happy cry and heard him coming through the patio.  Within a moment, Diego burst through the gate between the patio and the stable yard, a great smile on his face.  Bernardo had skillfully applied a false beard, but the lines of exhaustion and the bruises and cuts of his gargantuan battle could not be so easily hid.  Diego looked ready to drop, despite his happiness to be home.  Alejandro saw all this in the same instant that Diego saw him and then his captor.  Only for a second did the smile light his features, then shock set in, followed by fear and anger. 

“You!” he said.  “Richard Patterson!” 

“Yes, I said you were soft, and you are.  You should have killed me in San Diego, Diego de la Vega.  Now you will suffer for your weakness.”   Carlos, Bernardo and Garcia had followed the young man to the stable yard, but were motionless with shock.   “The rest of you will continue to stand with your hands where I can see them,” Patterson ordered them.  “Because no one knows just who will get the bullet in my pistol, do you?”  Then he began to chuckle.  “But I think that the bullet would take out your friend, after all.”  His icy blue eyes bored into Diego’s.  “We get to see just how loyal your friends are, de la Vega.”

“Let my father go. Your argument is with me,” Diego stated.  He could not believe what was happening.  Why could he not just come home?

“This is so typical and so pathetic, this plea for leniency.”  Patterson smiled malevolently.  “But perhaps I will let him go, eventually.”   Pausing, his smile broadened.   “But you are right in one regard . . . my argument is with you, and I will make you suffer for what you have done to me.   No quick death for you, de la Vega.  No, you did not give me a quick death.  You left me to rot in a jail in San Diego, you left me to think and to plan and to let my thirst for revenge grow,” Patterson said, stepping away from Alejandro, transferring his pistol to his left hand and drawing his sword. 

“He is unarmed,” Carlos said, the desperation palpable in his voice.  

“But you are not,” Patterson said tersely.  “Give it to him.” 

“No, no, Don Diego,” Garcia began, but was cut off by a gesture from Diego.  

Diego took the sword from Carlos.  “My friend is a good teacher,” he said to Garcia, his eyes narrowing.    The sword felt heavy, he could hardly hold it up.  He felt his exhaustion like a heavy blanket, but he had to do this, had to accomplish this one last thing.  “Now let my father go,” he ordered.  

“Oh, no.  Not yet, my friend,” Patterson said, with a laugh and then he lunged forward in a move so fast that it surprised everyone. 

Diego’s reflexes were so slow and sluggish that he barely parried the thrust and almost dropped his sword.  Patterson lunged again and again.  Diego was scarcely able to hold the Englishman off.  I have to succeed!  Despite the fatigue, despite his energy sapping fight as Zorro, despite the stress of the past four days, he had to win this battle.  His father’s life depended on it.  Why did I not kill this man?  Why? he asked himself accusingly, as he stepped away from another of Patterson’s advances.  I am soft, he thought as he lunged toward Patterson in a half-hearted advance of his own.  Gone was any semblance of the vigor and finesse of the black masked outlaw.  

“Personally, I would say that your friend is a terrible teacher,” Patterson taunted as he kept the pressure on Diego.  

Usually Diego kept anger out of his duels, knowing that the emotion was usually counter-productive, but this time he did not.  He let his growing anger feed the tiny bit of strength he had left.  There was still little power in his blows but he pressed Patterson back a step or two.  Then the Englishman advanced with renewed fury forcing Diego back across the stable yard, away from his father.  Suddenly the sword dropped from his leaden fingers and Diego felt the sharp point of Patterson’s sword against his throat.  “I don’t know how you managed to defeat me before, de la Vega.  You are a weakling,” Patterson growled.  

Suddenly, Diego was pushed aside, falling to the ground, and Carlos grabbed up the sword, engaging Patterson in lightning fast moves that took the Englishman by surprise.  “Of course a sick man is going to be weak.  Coward!   Take on someone who is well and able,” Carlos cried out in anger.  As he sat there trying to regain his breath, Diego saw that Carlos had learned well.  After several moments Patterson also saw that he had an opponent who could beat him, and he stepped back, continuing to parry Carlos’ thrusts, but slowly backing up towards Alejandro. 

Meanwhile, Sergeant Garcia was helping Diego to his feet.  The younger man saw a pistol in the large man’s bandoleer and glancing surreptitiously at the duelists, pulled it out.  “Shh,” he said to the startled sergeant.  Diego had a suspicion that Patterson was getting ready to use his father again as a hostage, but before he could say or do anything, the assassin had acted, grabbing the candle and dropping it onto the end of the powder.  Then he placed the point of the sword at Alejandro’s neck.  In horror, everyone hypnotically watched the string of powder flaming inexorably toward the large keg of powder.  The hot sparks began catching the dry straw along the way.

 

 

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter One
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