Pacific Odyssey:

Book I

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eleven

The Search

 

 

 

After the horses had rested, Alejandro and Bernardo mounted and continued.  By mid afternoon, they had lost the trail altogether, but Alejandro kept pushing on; searching in the same direction the tracks had been going before they had disappeared.   As they rode along, Alejandro willed the westering sun to stand still so he could search for as long as he needed.  He and Bernardo checked any arroyos and valleys that could be hiding places for the kidnappers, but in his heart, the patrón did not feel the bandits would be hiding.  He felt as though there was a specific destination in mind for his son.  If only I knew what it was! the old man mentally cried.  By early evening and with the late day sun directly in their eyes, the two men reached El Camino Real, the King’s Highway.  Here they saw many tracks, of horses, carts, carriages and wagons, all jumbled and blurred together.  It was impossible to tell if any were those they had been following.  

“They couldn’t have been using the El Camino Real,” Alejandro declared.  “We have to check each side to see where they crossed the road.”  Bernardo just shrugged, but checked one side of the road, while Alejandro checked the other.  This continued until dark, when Alejandro dejectedly called the search to a halt.  As they were closer to Los Angeles than they were to a way station or mission, they rode back to the pueblo and took a room at the inn.   Although tired beyond measure, Alejandro lay awake in the bed contemplating just where Diego could be, and what those hell spawned devils were doing to him.  Finally, he fell into a fitful sleep, filled with dreams of his son.  Dreams where Diego was calling to him, but Alejandro was unable to answer or to get to him.   

The next day, they progressed further, but still found nothing that indicated a cart leaving the El Camino Real.  At supper, they reached the halfway point between Los Angeles and San Diego.  They entered the way station’s inn, ate the meal in silence and took a room.  Before retiring, however, Alejandro asked the innkeeper if he had seen several men with a cart. 

Señor, you could be talking about half the traffic on the highway,” the man answered.

Sí, señor, you speak truly,” Alejandro conceded, but he gave him Diego’s description anyway.  The innkeeper shook his head but assured the older man that he would keep an eye open for his son.  Alejandro slowly trudged up the stairs, Bernardo following. 

“How could horsemen and a cart with an unconscious passenger simply be missed or unnoticed?” Alejandro said in exasperation.  “Surely someone had to have observed something.”

Bernardo looked thoughtful.  If Don Diego was incapacitated throughout the journey to wherever the kidnappers were going, that would keep him from trying an escape and if the men had hidden Don Diego in some way he wouldn’t be noticed.  He signed his theory to Don Alejandro.  ‘What if Don Diego had been drugged?’ he added. 

Alejandro nodded.  That made a great deal of sense to him.  “Then they could keep him hidden and compliant all the way to Mexico.”  Given the direction of the tracks before they had lost them, that was the only assumption that Alejandro could make.  While California was a large colony, making the search difficult, it would be virtually impossible to look for Diego in Mexico.  The political climate was tenuous, from what he had heard, and the southern colony huge.  Even so, Alejandro thought, they could not keep his son drugged forever.  And the kidnappers would need to get supplies before they reached Mexico.  He would go directly to San Diego.  That would be the logical place for these kidnappers to supply for the long journey through the desert country north of Mexico City.  

He conveyed his beliefs to Bernardo, who simply nodded.  The mozo just didn’t know what to think anymore.   The next morning they set off down the El Camino Real, only pausing to inquire of people who owned carts large enough to carry a full grown man hidden under their goods.   It was very late in the evening when they finally rode into San Diego.  Even the post siesta crowds had dissipated.  After getting a room at the inn, Alejandro asked the sleepy-eyed innkeeper about Diego, only getting a curt shake of the head as an answer. 

The next day Alejandro walked to the presidio where he requested audience with the comandante.  Capitán Diaz greeted them warmly.  Señor de la Vega, welcome to San Diego.  What can I do for you?” 

Alejandro dispensed with formalities and came right to the point.  Capitán Diaz, almost four days ago, my son was kidnapped from Los Angeles,” Alejandro began. 

“I am so sorry, Don Alejandro.  Do you know who kidnapped your son?”  He paused.  “You are here, therefore you must have some idea of the identity of whoever kidnapped your son.” 

“There have been terrorists in our area.  They have murdered some of our citizens.  I think it was they who did this,” Alejandro said and then told the entire story. 

Diaz frowned.  “We have had some similar depredations here, but not to the extent that you have suffered in your area.  And I have not seen or heard of anyone or any group that might arouse suspicions.”  Again, Diaz paused, steepling his hands.  “However, I will most assuredly keep an eye open for your son.  Please describe him for me.” 

Alejandro complied, giving as detailed a description of Diego as he could. 

“No, there has been no one fitting that description in San Diego that I know of, although that does not mean that he has not been here.  We have not even had anything unusual happen recently, except for the docking of the British ship last week,” Diaz said, trying to lighten the mood in the room.  Seeing that he failed miserably, he continued, “Again, Don Alejandro, I will watch carefully and send you word if I find him or if there is any word of your son, Diego.”

Gracias, comandante,” Alejandro said dejectedly.  “Please do that for me.  He is my only son.  He is all I have left.” 

“Of course I will, señor.  Be aware, however, I strongly doubt that these men would have actually ventured into San Diego.  If they were going south, they would have gone into the countryside before reaching the pueblo. 

Alejandro shook hands with the comandante and walked out to the parade ground where Bernardo was waiting.  The sky seemed to echo his mood.  While he was in Diaz’ office, the skies had darkened to a dull gray and by the time they were riding out of the pueblo to look for any evidence of Diego, the clouds opened and it began raining, a steady, heavy rain that dashed any hopes of finding any more clues.  

“Let us go home, Bernardo,” Alejandro said in a heavy voice.  “There is nothing we can accomplish here.” 

Tapping the caballero on the arm, he signed, ‘Don Diego will get away and come back home.’

Alejandro nodded as the rain ran off the brim of his hat, sometimes splashing in his face.  They rode back to the tavern and when the rain had ceased, they began the journey back to Los Angeles, stopping by every way station and mission on the way home to leave Diego’s description.   

For several days after their return home, Alejandro sat morosely in front of the fire, seeing not the flames, but his son.  Crescencia could not entice him to eat more than a few bites at a time.  He simply did not have any appetite.  Oh, Diego, my son!  Where are you?  What have they done to you? were the questions that rolled round and round in his mind.  He began to wonder if Diego would be able to escape.  He wondered if his son would ever return.  He wondered and occasionally he felt the tears of bitterness slide down his weathered cheeks and into his beard.  Then he would chide himself.  Of course, Diego would be able to escape eventually.  He knew his son’s determination, the fire of his spirit.  But it was the not knowing, the uncertainty.  Where was he, he repeated over and over again?  Finally the old man went into the small family chapel near the casa grande and prayed and lit a candle for his son’s safety and his quick return. 

But after two weeks, he became ever more moody and morose.  Everywhere Alejandro looked he was reminded of Diego.  The books in the library reminded him of the discussions they sometimes had of Homer, Cervantes or Shakespeare, the sala reminded him of the chess games they had played, games that he almost invariably lost, but that he fiercely missed now.   Diego’s palomino was released into the north pasture, Diego’s room shut up.  Alejandro looked into the mirror in the mornings and saw his son reflected at various stages of growth.  Or he would see himself, his own reflection an indictment of his ineptitude, of his inability to see the kidnapping coming and to prevent it.  If only I could have been with Diego, if only…….

During these times of self reproach and recriminations, Bernardo would remind him that the kidnappers were determined and the patrón would have been dead had he gone with his son.   That would have left no one here for the young man when he did finally return.  And he continued to remind Don Alejandro that Don Diego would come home.  He would return. 

“But when?” Alejandro asked. 

‘Only God knows the answer to that question,’ Bernardo signed in answer.

Alejandro could only nod, thankful for the day Diego had chosen Bernardo to be his servant.  The man was astute beyond measure and seemed able to ascertain just when he needed some word of consolation or encouragement.   Alejandro wasn’t sure what he would have done without the mozo.  

But despite all this, at times, Alejandro felt a quiet kind of despair developing, something hard that grew in his chest, that threatened to choke him, and with it a restlessness that he could not contain.  The hacendado began riding in the hills, looking for his son returning home, searching for signs of the men who did this to him and Diego.  He could not stay long in the house that had become horribly, almost eerily quiet.  

During this time, the winery in San Fernando mysteriously burned to the ground, and in San Pedro a warehouse was looted, with many goods just recently brought from Spain, stolen. 

 

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With a well-used rag, Bernardo rubbed the saddle once more, despite the fact that it had not one speck of dirt or dust on it.  Tornado nickered from his little stall.  Laying the saddle down, the mozo walked over to the stallion and rubbed his nose.  The horse didn’t have any dirt on him either, having been curried several times a day for the past, almost two weeks.  The servant had spent any free time he had in the secret cave.  

Even as he had searched, however, the mozo felt that it was futile.   He felt that he and Don Alejandro had been right about Don Diego’s destination when they had traveled to San Diego.  This was not like the kidnapping of little Marguerita.  Don Diego was not close at hand, to be rescued by someone who was able to put the clues together.  Neither would this be resolved in a short time.  But how could you search for someone in such a place as California with so many hills and mountains.  There were so many ways a person could be taken.  Marguerita had been taken by Indians, but would the kidnapers try the same thing twice?  No.  They would not.  They would try to commit a crime that would not be traced by Zorro.  They would have no idea that by kidnapping Don Diego, they would not have to worry about Zorro.  That also meant that there were no local persons involved.  There was no one to trace, as had been the case in the little girl’s kidnapping.  Otherwise they would not have killed the stableman or the others.  But where would they hide Don Diego?  And for how long?  Would they eventually kill him?  But if so, why did they not kill him before?  Right now that was the servant’s small link to hope.   He firmly believed that they had no intention of killing him. 

Bernardo remembered the storekeeper in the pueblo earlier in the day.  “Where is Zorro?  Why is Zorro not looking for Don Diego?” the man had asked.  He had heard Sergeant Garcia wondering the same thing in the tavern a few days ago.  Such questions were on the tongues of many people.  Only he and Don Alejandro knew why Zorro had not been out.  But shouldn’t he be protecting Don Diego’s secret for the time when he comes back.  But will he?  Or do they plan to kill him after a certain time, after Don Alejandro had expended all of his energies looking for him? his mind nagged, not giving him peace.  The same questions kept rolling through his mind incessantly, always demanding answers that he couldn’t come up with.  All he had was hope. 

And Don Alejandro, after his initial optimism, was taking Don Diego’s kidnapping hard, asking himself the same questions that Bernardo had been hearing in his mind, but coming up with recriminating answers to beat himself with.   The mozo wished there was something he could do for the patrón but he had said all that he could say.  Bernardo could only pray to the Holy Mother to help both the father and the son.  Don Alejandro had begun spending every waking moment in the saddle roaming the hills, or in the pueblo talking to Sergeant Garcia.  He wasn’t eating, sleeping or doing anything to take care of himself.   Don Alejandro would soon be dead and there would be no one for Don Diego to return home to.  And he will be back, Bernardo thought, determination building again.  He will and I must be Zorro until he does.

Patting the stallion one last time on the nose, Bernardo turned and ran up the stone steps toward Don Diego’s room.  In the tiny alcove just before the secret door, the mozo pulled down the black outfit that he had used on occasion, and quickly put it on.  Pulling down the sword in its scabbard, he fastened it around his waistline, a waistline that had shrunk a bit in the past week.  Turning the round door handle, Bernardo rushed into his master’s room.  It was too quiet, too empty and in the last days had begun to take on the mustiness of a room that was not being used.  

Ignoring all that he made his way through the late day dimness and found a piece of charcoal in the fireplace.  Rushing back to the secret room where a lantern lit the interior, Bernardo used a tiny mirror and drew on a mustache that slightly resembled Don Diego’s.  The mozo smiled ruefully at himself in the mirror.  He would never take Don Diego’s place, but perhaps, he could do some small part to protect his master’s legacy until the rightful Zorro returned.  

With the preparations done, Bernardo ran back down the steps and then proceeded to saddle Tornado.  The stallion pawed with one foot, but was otherwise quiet.  When the servant had finished bridling and saddling the ebony horse, he mounted.  With assurance borne of experience, Tornado snorted and pushed through the brush barricade into the crisp clear night.   Bernardo touched his heels to the stallion’s flanks and they sped toward the pueblo.   Tonight they would simply make appearances, let the people know that their hero was still riding for them.  

And then he would pray, pray again that his master and friend was safe and would return home quickly.    

 

 

 

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