Pacific Odyssey

Book III: The Journey Home

 

 

 

Chapter Seven

The Flames of Revenge

 

 

Alejandro lay quietly in the dimness of his room.  Dr. Avila had recently left with the admonition to take the medicine that lay on the little stand next to his bed.  But he didn’t want to take the laudanum.  There was pain, but he didn’t want to sleep, as the medicine would make him do.  Sighing, Alejandro listened carefully.  He was worried about Bernardo.  The manservant had ridden as Zorro, but had not yet returned home.  If he had, the mozo would have been by his side, even as the doctor had been. 

Could he have been shot?  Could he be lying, bleeding and dying, somewhere alone?  The old man tried to push such thoughts from his mind, but they returned even more forcefully.  He lightly touched the newly applied bandage on his arm and then shifted, trying to get comfortable.  He dozed but always the throbbing pain and his worry woke him up. 

Then he heard a slight rustling in the corner of his room, near the secret entrance to his room, and he jerked up.  “Bernardo?” he whispered, and then suddenly realized that if it was not the servant, his query was totally inane.  It is anyway, he thought.  Bernardo cannot answer me.  

Like the shadow he so closely resembled, the mozo materialized by his bed, a tired smile on his face. 

“Gracias a Dio,” Alejandro breathed.  “I was worried about you.”

Bernardo signed with one hand.

“Many riders,” Alejandro repeated and then paused, noticing the torn shirt for the first time.  “Bernardo, were you shot?”  Without waiting for an answer, Alejandro sat all the way up in his bed and lit the little candle on the bed stand.  The dim glow showed a makeshift bandage.  Alejandro paled.  “I must send for the doctor!” he exclaimed. 

Bernardo signed.  ‘And tell him what?’ 

“Yes, yes, I know.”  Alejandro sighed.  “Come closer, let me see if the bullet is still in there,” Alejandro ordered, pointing to the edge of the bed.  

Still signing, Bernardo complied, sitting gingerly on the edge of the older man’s bed.  Alejandro gently pulled the torn parts of the shirt away from the servant’s arm, slowly peeled away the bandage, and examined the wound.  It was awkward one-handed, but Bernardo helped as much as he could.  “Good.  The bullet went through, missing the bone,” Alejandro murmured and then he realized that Bernardo had been signing that very thing.  “We will do the best we can, but if it doesn’t heal well, then we call on the doctor and offer a suitable explanation.”  

Bernardo nodded and Alejandro helped the injured man off with the bloody black shirt.  Using the ointments and fresh water left by Dr. Avila and the servants, the hacendado carefully cleaned the wound, wiping away encrusted blood and the dust of the trail.  With Bernardo’s help, he wound a strip of clean cloth around the wound.  Then he began chuckling.  Bernardo gazed at him quizzically.  “Between the two of us, we ought to make one good two-armed man,” Alejandro explained.  Bernardo smiled.  “Somehow, though, I doubt it,” he muttered as he used his teeth to keep one end of the bandage taut.  Finally the job was done.  

“Is that too tight?” Alejandro asked, concerned about the wan-faced man standing by his bed.  “Are you feeling any pain?” 

Bernardo signed that it was minimal.  ‘I am mostly tired,’ he signed next.

“Yes, I am, too.”  Alejandro paused.  Then he wiped his hand across his eyes.  “How did Diego do this?” he asked.  “How much longer can we do this?” 

Bernardo signed.  ‘As long as it takes.’

“Where is he?” Alejandro asked in anguish.  “Where is my son?   When will he come home?” 

Bernardo shook his head, signing only that he knew that Diego would return.  Alejandro felt his heart squeezing into a hard knot in his chest and his emotions welling to overflowing.  Oh, Diego, my son, my son!  Where are you?  Are you all right?  Are you on your way home even as I am thinking about you?  Are you still alive? Dios mio, I do not think I can take this unknowing much longer!  Even while willing them to stay put, his tears welled and overflowed, runneling down his cheeks and dripping off his beardless chin.   “Oh, Bernardo,” Alejandro cried.  “If I only knew how Diego was, where he was, when he was coming home!” 

Bernardo walked over the dressing table and picked up a handkerchief, bringing it back and handing it to Alejandro.  The ranchero wiped his face and then blew his nose.  The mozo signed, ‘God will bring Diego home and He will watch over him.’ 

Alejandro nodded.  “Yes, He will watch over my son.  It is just so hard.  So very hard.”  He paused and then smiled as he remembered a time long ago, a little boy with skinned knees sobbing as he sat on a dark-haired woman’s lap.  Isabella handed Diego her handkerchief and he blew his nose and wiped his eyes.  “My dearly departed wife did the same thing for Diego,” Alejandro said, indicating the handkerchief.  “Thank you.” 

Bernardo smiled in return and signed again.  Alejandro watched carefully.  “Watch incoming ships?  For Diego?” Alejandro asked.  Bernardo nodded, signing and pointing to his arm.  “Ah, Bernardo, you will watch for incoming ships while your arm heals,” Alejandro repeated.  “That is a good idea.  As soon as you can ride, do that and make sure you take enough money to live on for an extended stay.  It will take at least two weeks, maybe more, to fully heal.”  

Bernardo nodded and then signed again.  

“Me?  I will be all right.  You must be careful, though, and watch for infection,” Alejandro admonished.  Bernardo nodded.  “But while you are down there, perhaps you can listen for news from Mexico as well as watch for Diego.  You will be my eyes and ears to the south.”  

Again, the servant nodded, remembering Don Diego saying something very similar, seemingly so long ago.

                   

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

 

 

Jorge paced the confines of the small room, frustration, rage and sorrow evident in the cold hardness of his features, and in the stiff gait of his walk.

“Jorge, stop pacing.  You are making me nervous,” a man said, one sitting nearby at a rickety table.  His dark eyes kept flicking to look out the dark doorway where dusk had deepened to the velvety ebony of night.  Suddenly, he found steel fingers around his throat and he jerked, trying to free himself from the choking hand. 

“Jorge!” he gasped, clawing at the vise-like fingers. 

Seeing what he was doing, Jorge instantly slackened his grip, but his anger was still flame hot.  “They killed Pasqual.  Those old men and their servants killed Pasqual!” 

“I know that Jorge,” the revolutionary said, rubbing his neck.  “I guess it was Pasqual’s time.”  Jorge glared at him.  “And I know you and Pasqual were close.  But we must plan for revenge, like we always have planned for our raids, and not let our anger make us stupid.” 

Jorge sighed.  “I know.  And we need to wait for Ramirez, too.  He said he was coming.  Manuel is bringing him here.”  He started to pace again, but he stopped himself and then looked down at his fists that kept opening and closing, almost convulsively.  “I am sorry, Enrique.  I . . . should not treat my compadres in such a manner, but it is hard.  Pasqual was like a brother to me and I miss him.” 

“As do I, Jorge,” Enrique said softly.  “But we will exact our revenge.  I promise.”

“I know, my friend.”  Jorge put his hand on Enrique’s shoulder.  “I will get great pleasure in doing that chore myself.  Everyone who was at that meeting will pay with their own blood.” Jorge’s face was hard with his anger and his resolve.

“You will not get that opportunity, Jorge,” a smooth voice sounded from the door.

“What?” Jorge asked, pivoting to see the speaker.  When he recognized the speaker, he relaxed, but when he thought about his visitor’s words, he visibly bristled. 

Miguel Ramirez was stocky, but not fat.  His gray eyes glanced around the room taking in all who were there.  He saw that Jorge and several of his closest compadres were in attendance, but there were one or two who didn’t seem to be there.  Ramirez took pride in the fact that he could remember events and people with razor sharp clarity.  He noted that Jorge’s closest companion, Pasqual, was not in the group.  Most likely, this was the revenge that the two leaders were talking about when he entered the room.   If there are fewer men to deal with that is so much the better, he thought.   He just wanted to get this odious job done, so he could go back to Mexico City and continue to try salvaging his political career.  It galled him greatly that this little experiment of his had backfired.  If it hadn’t been for that meddlesome Californiano complaining to the government, no one in Mexico City would have been the wiser and he would have had a suitably compliant Alta California to hand to Señor Presidente when the succession from Spain became official.  But no, these landowners were stubborn and independent and had somehow found out about Mexico’s involvement in all of this.  And El Presidente was furious.  Personally, Ramirez felt he was more furious that the subterfuge had been discovered rather than the fact that it had been devised in the first place.

He frowned, wondering just who it was who had talked to the hacendados.  This was supposed to be so simple.  Send in a group of terrorists, soften up the locals, make them more than happy for any change in government that would bring stability-- have the absolute sympathy of the peons so they would clamor for change.  Terrorize the landowners so they would abandon all loyalties to the King of Spain, including economic loyalties, in favor of the new Mexican government.  At least that had been the plan.  

“You will not have the chance because the operation is over.  You will be leaving this area,” Ramirez said slowly, but distinctly, his tone indicating that no argument would be tolerated.  He got one anyway. 

“NO!”  It is not over!”  The hacendados are still defiant,” Jorge cried out.

Ramirez fixed him with a hard stare.  “It is over because someone in your organization talked.  It is over because one of these defiant landowners visited with El Presidente’s secretary.  For some reason, my government does not like being tied to terrorist operations.”  Pausing, Ramirez gazed over the group, trying to see which one might be the individual who was in league with the local rancheros.   He saw no one even flinch.  “I was able to reassure this Californiano that such was not the case before he left Mexico.  And I was able to reassure my leaders that I was not the one who had come up with this plot.  But I was given orders to end this as quietly and quickly as possible.   And that is what I am going to do.”

Ramirez remembered how he had managed to save the situation, and his own neck, too.  He had been careful enough to have not affixed his signature or name to any orders that had gone out to Jorge.  His secretary had been the go-between, and his secretary had been the one who had taken the blame for the creation of this covert operation.  Ramirez had only waited long enough before setting out to California to attend the small funeral for the disgraced government official who had unfortunately ‘killed himself’ in despair.

“But I want to know who gave these local rancheros the information in the first place. This whole project was supposed to look like the previous problem of the rebatos, something local to California.”  Again, Ramirez paused.  “Who was captured?  Who could be working with the local authorities?  I see, mmm, two of your men absent from your meeting.” 

“Pasqual and Paco are dead.  Several of our new recruits are dead as well,” Jorge retorted.  “My men are loyal to the cause and none have been captured.  They have also been very careful.”  

“Except for Paco and Pasqual.”  Ramirez gazed calmly at the seething Jorge.  He waited a moment before speaking again.  “Regardless, it seems that the local rancheros know the origin of this operation.”

“Yes, some days ago, Salazar overheard the fat acting comandante and a local hacendado, Alejandro de la Vega, talking.  They know exactly who we represent.  I do not know how they found out but they did and it’s dangerous for them to live,” Jorge said.

Ramirez nodded.  Jorge was right in that regard.  It was dangerous for anyone to know too much, including the men in front of him.  “Yes, it is dangerous.  But the general populace doesn’t seem to know.”  Ramirez pondered, recalling the speculation he had heard regarding the most recent raid, the one in which hundreds of men were repulsed from the Nacho Torres hacienda.   He smiled at the exaggeration, but was puzzled as to why knowledge that the landowners and the acting comandante knew hadn’t filtered down to the peons. 

“No, the hacendados have kept much of this to themselves.  But it is only a matter of time before everyone knows the information,” Jorge insisted.   “It is amazing that the fat sergeant has kept this a secret thus far.  He likes to brag and exaggerate his imagined exploits.  It is dangerous for him and de la Vega to remain alive.” 

Ramirez considered.  “This de la Vega . . . he is the leader among the landowners?” 

“Yes.  He seems to be the leader among those living in the Los Angeles area.  He was the leading voice against those who had threatened this area before.  We had thought when we kidnapped his only son, that such an act would cause him to crumble, leaving the other landowners confused and easily frightened, but such has not been the case.  After a short while, he has opposed us even more strongly.   He is very dangerous, for all that he is old.”

Ramirez was forced to agree, it was dangerous for anyone who knew the depths of this operation to be left alive.  He nodded.  “Very well, I will take care of this.”  

Jorge smiled an evil smile.  “We can deal with them.” 

“No!  You and your men will retreat to San Diego and wait for further instruction,” Ramirez said vehemently.  He glared at Jorge.  “I said I would take care of this.  I have someone in mind.”

“Who?” Jorge asked, irritated.

“Someone I can trust explicitly and someone who can work discreetly.  You will wait quietly until I give you further instructions.” 

Jorge glared, his eyes flashing in anger, but he said nothing for a moment.  “One man cannot take care of all the hacendados in de la Vega’s band of vigilants.   He must have at least ten landowners who are close to him.”

“I will keep that under advisement.  I do not doubt that another raid is in order, but you will wait until you hear from me.”

Jorge nodded, not trusting himself to say anything at the moment.

“Good, you will be ready to leave this area by tomorrow morning,” Ramirez said, putting on his hat and stalking out of the dusty hovel. 

Jorge waited until he heard hoof beats and then he spat on the dusty floor.  Pero!”   He looked at the other men.  “We will wait in San Diego, but while we wait, we will prepare.”  He paused and then smiled.  “And there will indeed be a last reprisal, one the likes these Californianos have never seen.”  He began laughing and the others joined in.  Finally, after wiping the tears of laughter from his eyes, he said, “Hurry men, we must be ready to leave in a few hours.”

 

 

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