The Return of the Fox
As the laughter continued to follow him out of
the smoky tavern, Diego seethed, smoldering like one of the volcanoes
that he had seen smoking in the distance when they had sailed in. Unmindful of his surroundings as he was walking, Diego
suddenly found himself on the beach, the gentle waves almost lapping at
the toes of his shoes. He
watched the waves, each one nearly identical to the last.
A wave would come, sink into the sand and make way for another.
He watched as a dying wave pushed a piece of driftwood slowly
toward the shore. First it
was shoved across the sand and then jerked back out to sea before being
tossed back toward the shore again. I am like that piece of driftwood, Diego thought, pushed
cruelly toward a ray of hope only to be jerked back into this morass
that is my reality.
Finally the waves brought the wood close enough
for him to pluck it up from the water.
Diego felt the smoothness of the gnarled piece of wood.
There was a simplistic beauty in the flotsam and absolutely no
irregularities. The waves
had patiently worn any roughness away.
He looked at the waves in a new light.
They appeared gentle, capricious and aimless, but they exerted
enough force to not only carry the wood about but to shape it as well.
Am I so helpless that I am unable to exert any kind of
influence on my own fate? Diego asked himself.
Always before he had been able to do something even in the
most desperate circumstances.
But what can I do now?
Reaching into his pocket, Diego felt the pouch
with his winnings of twenty pounds. He had the equivalent of probably
two hundred pesos, by his best reckoning.
It was not a great deal when he was a rich caballero in
Los Angeles, but it was an exorbitant amount now.
With a sigh, he thought that it might well be worth twenty centavos
for all that it was helping him now.
He sighed again. If only I could become Zorro and pretend to be the captain’s mysterious avenger, I could convince him to let me go home. Diego recalled how such intimidation had worked back in California. Looking up, he gazed at the numerous shops and warehouses. They sold everything here, even cloth and leather goods. If only he could find someone who could make him a costume in a day and a half. And maybe boots, too. Hope ignited again. He felt the smooth wood under his thumb. Diego smiled. It was worth the effort. Maybe he could exert pressure on the captain as the waves had on the piece of wood. Maybe he could influence his own fate.
He shoved the wood into his pocket and strode
purposefully toward the shops. There
was so much that reminded him of the plaza back in the pueblo,
despite the fact that many items were strange and exotic.
Some merchants were selling food and he began to automatically
catalog each type of food into that which would be good for the long
voyage and that which was for immediate consumption.
There were native traders with shells, birds and beads; there
were foreign traders with cloth and woodcarvings, jewelry and trinkets.
Feeling his excitement growing, Diego asked for directions to a
trader who might have silk, satin and wool cloth.
He was delighted when he was told there were also tailors in the
little harbor town. He
quickly sought one out that was reputed to be honest and fair, as well
as quick and explained his needs.
The man’s jaw dropped and then he stared at
the younger man, a shrewd look on his face.
“What you ask for will be a hard thing.”
“If within reason, I am willing to pay for the
job to be done quickly,” Diego said.
“It is a good thing that I am used to these
kinds of demands,” the tailor, who appeared to be Asian, said with a
smile. “You sailors and
your tides have made my sons and I very fast workers.
But it will cost you an extra three pounds to do an outfit such
as you have described. That
will be six pounds altogether.”
“If the cloth does not cost me too much, I will pay it.” The man nodded.
Diego then went into a building where goods from China were stored, some of which were available for purchase. Diego was drawn to a display of materials where lay several bolts of cloth of pure black, some with a smooth feel of silk to his touch. He made an inquiry to the trader. “Is this suitable to be made into a cape and a shirt?”
The man was eager to extol its virtues. “Sir, this is a tightly woven and sturdy cloth. It can indeed be made into clothing such as you desire,” the man said. “It is the best on the market. And in case you are wondering, the dyes are the finest available.”
Diego nodded. “Good, and would such be suitable for trousers as well? How many yards do you think would be needed to make the items I mentioned?” The man told him. “How much would that cost?”
“Two pounds,” the man declared.
“Two pounds!” Diego declared, in mock anxiety. “That’s robbery!” He glared at the man. “But if you will throw in another yard, I will pay you your two pounds.” The trader evidently was still making a profit, because he quickly agreed. The cloth was cut and bundled.
Back at the tailor shop, Diego made rough
sketches of what he wanted. “I
want the larger pieces of material returned to me when you are
finished,” Diego admonished the tailor.
“I understand,” the tailor said. “But why do you wish such an outfit? Such does not seem to be of any use to a sailor.”
“It is for my own purpose, and I have paid you liberally enough. All I ask is that you do as I have directed without undue questions,” he told the tailor. “And don’t give the finished product to anyone other than myself, or even discuss it with anyone else. Do you understand?” The man nodded. “Good,” Diego said. “I will be back tomorrow evening. Do you know of a boot maker who can work as fast as you and your sons?” The tailor nodded again and pointed to a shop nearby.
Diego went to a boot maker and made arrangements for a pair of black soft-soled leather boots made to his specifications, adding an extra three pounds to have them finished by the next evening. He chuckled to himself, thinking that these craftsmen must have gotten together to decide on their prices. Then he went to another trader and procured a sea chest with a lock. This he took back to the ship with him after he and the supercargo had finished their buying for the day. Bowman looked at it curiously, but said nothing, other than to point out a corner where Diego could put it. The young man was gratified to see that it was very near to where he usually hung his hammock each night.
Later that evening, the two friends relaxed on
the quarterdeck of the nearly empty ship.
“Mr. Bowman, may I ask you a question?” Diego asked.
“Of course, Diego,” came the answer.
“One of the sailors told me a little bit about
the captain’s avenging angel,” Diego began, “But he seemed to feel
that the captain was imagining things, or that he was delusional.
What would cause the captain to see or think he saw something
like an angel in black?”
“I’m really not sure, Diego, but rumor has it that the
captain is subject to apparitions or delusions from time to time.
I don’t know if it’s because of fevers or sour wine or
something else, but occasionally he will make reference to some kind of
avenging angel or demon. All
I ask is that you don’t make any allusion to him about it.”
“And this demon or angel is usually black?”
Diego further inquired.
“From what I have been told. Captain Beatty does not take me into his confidence very often,” Bowman replied. Diego just nodded absently. He was deep in thought.
The next morning, following Mr. Bowman’s
instructions, Diego, along with several crewmen, wandered through the
trader’s area, this time earnestly watching for the best deals.
His mentor was buying food supplies for the crew, while Diego had
been given the responsibility of buying provisions for the Captain’s
table. Laid out
before him, he saw great varieties of fruit, all more familiar to him
now, selling for prices that varied but little.
His job would be to find that which was in the best condition and
would last the longest during the lengthy trip to Singapore.
In barely discernable English, a trader began
extolling the virtues of the fruit stacked neatly in front of him, but
for the moment Diego ignored him, instead choosing to lightly feel,
smell and look for himself. Finally,
he looked up and with finger motions told the trader how much of the
fruit he wanted and how much he was willing to pay.
The trader gazed at him in shock and then began arguing, his
fingers flying with figures of his own.
The trading began in earnest.
The two men dickered for several minutes until Diego threw up his
hands in disgust and began to walk away.
The native cried out and Diego turned back around.
The trader shrugged and nodded his agreement for Diego’s last
“Take these to the ship,” he said to Roberto and José. “And then return. I will need to buy some livestock and will need everyone’s help getting them to the ship.”
With some distaste, Diego gazed at the pigs,
trying to determine the best ones.
Pigs were not common in California and he understood why,
wrinkling his nose at the puff of foul odor that wafted his way.
Following the custom of choosing beef for slaughter, Diego felt
along the sow’s back and down her ribs.
She grunted, but protested no further.
He felt several others, picking a half dozen that not only seemed
to be the healthiest, but also were the most docile.
Again, the dickering began, sometimes getting quite heated.
Diego finally settled on the compromise price and directed Samuel
and John to take the swine to the ship.
Diego moved along, sometimes haggling, often just assessing what was available. After he had sent the last of his companions to the ship with more fresh fruits and vegetables, he decided to look at the cattle. They would need steers to slaughter for the captain’s table on the long stretch between the Sandwich Islands and Singapore. He leaned against a fence, watching about ten steers milling restlessly about.
“Mr. Cavanaugh, I
do not wish to have dinner with you.
I do not wish you to be my suitor.
I wish you to leave me alone.”
Diego recognized the voice. Turning, he saw the first mate trying to steer Victoria
Meachem in the direction of a small inn.
She pulled back and Cavanaugh reached for her again. It appeared that he had been drinking. Martha Ann began to cry, her eyes fearful.
His purchases forgotten, Diego sprinted toward
the woman. As Cavanaugh
reached for Victoria again, Diego said loudly, “Mr. Cavanaugh, the
lady said she did not wish to go with you.
Leave her alone.” Diego
wanted nothing more than to punch the oaf in the mouth, but
realistically, he knew the consequences of a sailor laying hands on one
of the officers of a ship. He would have to play this one out as best he could without
resorting to anything physical.
Cavanaugh turned to him and sneered.
“How dare you tell me what to do!
I’ll have you whipped!”
Suddenly, with a speed belying his semi-drunken state the first
mate rushed him, his fists flailing.
Diego easily sidestepped the attack, leaving his foot out just enough for Cavanaugh to trip over. With a roar, the first mate jumped up and rushed him again, and yet again, Diego allowed the man to trip over his foot. When Cavanaugh got up again, he gazed at Diego before charging him. This time he stepped to the side at the same time Diego did and caught the supercargo’s assistant with a fist to the side of the head. Staggering back, the Californiano shook his head and then gazed at the first mate.
“I will kill you, you Spanish pig,” Cavanaugh shouted, drawing a pistol from his belt. In horror, Diego gazed at the barrel, saw the man drawing back the hammer, then saw him collapse to the ground as Victoria hit him over the head with a coconut.
“Perhaps you had better leave, Diego,” she said softly. “Now. Before he wakes up.”
“I know that such would be the most prudent thing, but I
don’t want to leave you alone . . . with him,” he said, nodding
toward the unconscious man.
“I will be all right, now, Diego.”
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“Yes, I am. I see Mr. Sharpe over there,” she said, pointing. “I will get him to stay with me until a few of the sailors are available to carry Mr. Cavanaugh back to the ship. And I will vouch for you as well.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Meachem.
I think I will most likely need all the help I can get.”
Diego finished purchasing the steers, occasionally looking back to make sure that the Englishwoman was all right. He smiled with amusement as several sailors had to half carry, half drag the first mate to the ship. But I will catch hell later, he thought as he directed Roberto and his companions in driving the steers to the ship. Diego shrugged, knowing that the die was cast and no amount of worrying could change the outcome of this incident. By the time the sun had set, he had finished everything he was required to do, so Diego decided to pick up his costume.
He first went to the tailor’s shop, where the man let him try on the outfit in a tiny private room. The man is very, very good, Diego thought, in satisfaction, as he looked at the image in a polished metal mirror. The fit was perfect and the craftsmanship was every bit as good as anything that Bernardo had done. All I need is the mask and a hat and it’s complete. But despite those things, the image that he saw was Zorro. Now he could begin his half-formulated plan, dangerous though it was. The costume was bundled in a cloth sack.
Next, Diego tried on the pair of boots he had ordered, and found that they, too, fit perfectly. Expressing his compliments to the boot maker, he paid him and carried his belongings back to the ship. He had spent almost all of his money, but was very pleased with the results. He still lacked the hat and gloves, but he had obtained those things most important to his plans.
As he was locking his new purchases in his chest, he received orders to report to the captain. Sighing, Diego climbed the short flight of stairs to the roundhouse area and knocked on the captain’s door. Cavanaugh was sitting on a chair near the captain’s desk, glaring venomously at him, while Beatty was scowling at him from behind the desk.
“Sailor, it is my understanding that you
attacked my first mate,” the captain said sharply.
“No, sir. I did not. He attacked me,” Diego said calmly.
“That’s a lie!” Cavanaugh shouted.
“I am not lying,” Diego replied. “Mr. Cavanaugh tried to get Mrs. Meachem to go eat dinner with him and when she refused, he grabbed her. I told him to leave her alone.”
“You gave an order one of my men?” Beatty asked, his voice low and cold.
“Captain, if I had been in California and a
man grabbed a woman against her will, I would have done more than order
him to leave her alone. Women
are not allowed to be molested in my country,” Diego replied, trying
hard to keep the anger that he was feeling out of his voice.
“I did not touch Mr. Cavanaugh, because I do know the penalty
for striking an officer.”
“That is another lie!” Cavanaugh screamed. “All
you have to do is feel the lump,” he added, pointing to the back of
“I am the one who gave Mr. Cavanaugh the lump
on his head,” Victoria Meachem said from the captain’s doorway. “I did it with this coconut.”
She held out the hard fruit in her hand. “I saved it for evidence.”
“Did Mr. Cavanaugh lay his hands on you, Mrs.
Meachem?” Beatty asked.
“Yes, he did,” she said tersely. Then she told the entire story. Beatty glared at Cavanaugh and then at Victoria
and then at Diego.
“Mr. Cavanaugh, while a part of my ship’s
compliment you will deport yourself like a gentleman, or you will be
left ashore. Is that
understood?” Beatty said coldly.
“Yes, sir,” Cavanaugh said.
“But what about the Spaniard.
He gave me an order! Me!”
“I will deal with this sailor, Mr. Cavanaugh. I want you to return to your cabin and finish sobering up. I will need a full and capable compliment of men when we sail tomorrow evening,” Beatty instructed. Cavanaugh opened and closed his mouth several times, but said nothing, finally turning and leaving the cabin.
“De la Vega, while what my first mate did was reprehensible, a sailor never threatens an officer in any way,” Beatty’s eyes bored into Diego’s, but the latter’s gaze never wavered.
“He did not threaten Mr. Cavanaugh,” Victoria cried out. “And he was protecting me!”
“Mrs. Meachem, please leave. This matter is now in my hands,” Beatty said, his voice
soft, but his tone brooking no argument.
She glanced quickly at Diego, who stood impassively, and then she
“Sailor, you will stand watch above the
mainsail for two nights and a full day after we leave this harbor,”
Beatty pronounced, glaring at him.
Diego somehow felt that Beatty would have loved to give him an
even harsher punishment. “You
“Yes, sir,” was all Diego said as he turned and left.