Pacific Odyssey:

Book I

 

 

 

Chapter Five

 

Horrible Revelation

 

   

As he made his way to the carriage sitting on one side of the plaza, Bernardo smelled the new leather aroma of the bridle hanging over his shoulder.  He also juggled what seemed to him to be innumerable packages in his arms, trying desperately to avoid dropping them all onto the dusty road.  There were several books for Don Diego, shaving soap and writing supplies for Don Alejandro, cinnamon sticks and cacao powder for Crescencia, cloth the seamstress had ordered for Don Diego’s new shirts.  It seemed to the mozo as though everyone had just been waiting for the threat of the bandits to end before venturing forth to buy more than necessities.  Or, in his case to send him to buy these little things.   

Bernardo thought about the bandits and wondered if they were truly gone.  It would seem so; but if not, what were they doing now?  Since the terrorists had struck almost every day up until the kidnapping of little Marguerita, and had done nothing since, everyone felt they had to have gone away.  Even Don Diego was convinced.   Bernardo thought about that day after the return of the little girl.   The smile that his master carried with him all day was contagious and he, too, smiled in remembrance.  Don Diego had every right to be proud of this accomplishment.  To have snatched the child out of the jaws of enslavement and possibly death was quite a feat, and Bernardo was proud for him.  That would have been a great blow to whatever the bandits had in mind, too.   Whether it was a conspiracy, as Don Alejandro had thought, or simply very methodical and vicious bandits, since they had, on occasion, robbed some of their victims, Zorro’s actions had to have been a bitter disappointment to them, even to the point of discouraging them altogether.  

For almost a week, Don Diego had gone out as Zorro and had found no sign of the men who had so systematically terrorized the area.  He had, therefore, come to the same conclusion that most of the people in this area had arrived at.   Bernardo had no reason to question his master’s findings and conclusions.  

Laying the packages in the back of the carriage, Bernardo wondered.  There was something deep down inside that kept him from totally accepting that.  Why? he asked himself.  Perhaps he was just being paranoid.   He had always worried about such things.  Even as he had shopped, he had watched for anything suspicious.  But there had been nothing.  It was very busy in the plaza’s open market and in the shops, everyone trying to buy what they wanted or needed before the heat of the sun became too oppressive.  And it was also Doctor Avila’s saint’s day.  There were a few musicians near the church singing their happy tunes, not only for the doctor but also for the centavos that were occasionally tossed their way.  Several vaqueros had enticed a few eligible señoritas to dance with them in the plaza.  But Bernardo had ignored most of it, only happy for other’s happiness.  He was too busy watching; it had become a habit, this watching.    

As he straightened up, Bernardo did think it strange that he had not seen Don Diego at all since they had arrived in the pueblo.  Could there have be a problem in finalizing the sale of the bull? he wondered.  Ah, but no, he is in the tavern with Don Marcos, toasting the finalization of the sale before taking the animal out to the rancho.

Briskly, Bernardo walked across the plaza and into the tavern.  He saw that it was almost as busy as the plaza, but even so, he could see no sign of Don Diego, Antonio or of a richly dressed stranger who would be Don Marcos.  He felt slight tendrils of alarm in his mind, but dismissed them.  Don Diego had gone to the stable, most likely, and he had not seen him.  Walking up to the bar where Tio was setting out bottles of wine for the barmaids, he waved his hand to get the innkeeper’s attention. 

The round-faced innkeeper looked up and Bernardo signed.  Tio appeared a bit harried, but he put down the bottles in his hands and signed back.  ‘Don Diego went to the stable.’

Ah, thought Bernardo.  Just as I thought.

‘How long ago?’ he signed.

‘Two hours ago,’ Tio answered and then shrugged to indicate that he wasn’t totally sure of the exact time.

Bernardo frowned, wondering what the men could be doing all that time.  Perhaps Don Diego felt the need to simply go on to the hacienda with the bull, knowing that Bernardo would follow in the carriage when he was done.   Don Diego had brought his horse, after all.   He pushed the tendrils of his worry aside by consoling himself with that thought.  But he was going to check the stable anyway.  With a smile and a nod, Bernardo hurried out of the tavern.  The bull could be recalcitrant after his long journey in the wagon, the magistrado could be assessing the tax on such a purchase, the men could be discussing the easiest way to transport the animal, any number of things.   But his worry grew and his pace quickened as he headed down the road that led to the stable that sat on the edge of the pueblo. Bernardo noticed Don Diego's and Antonio's horses standing placidly at the hitching post, but that did not alleviate his concern He was almost running as he approached the closed door of the stable.  Reaching for the door handle, Bernardo suddenly realized how quiet it was.  There was no sound from a restless bull, of horses waiting to be shod, no voices, no sound of a hammer striking an anvil, nothing.  It was eerily silent.  

As the mozo opened the door and stepped inside, he felt the almost cloying presence of death.  In the moment that it took his eyes to get used to the change from sunlight to the dimmer interior of the building, he saw three forms lying on the floor.  SANTA MARIA! he mentally cried out.  This cannot be!  No, Don Diego!  NO!  You cannot be dead!  His breath constricted in his throat, choking him, and his heart seemed to fill his chest, beating thunderously loud.  No!  Not my master.  Oh, Dios, help me, please.   He threw open the stable door to get more light and rushed over to the first body.  Even before rolling it over, Bernardo knew it was Antonio, the vaquero.   The second body was that of a stranger.  Don Marcos, the mozo concluded.  The other dead man, the one further away, was the blacksmith and stable master, Juan Maria Verde.  There was some tiny measure of relief, but the panic continued to grow in his breast.  Where is Don Diego?  He rushed around looking in every stall, every corner of the stable.  The bull lay dead in a pool of its own blood, but there was no sign of his master.  He rushed back to the doorway and saw numerous prints in the dirt.  Studying them, Bernardo concluded that there had been several other men here, but he could not determine just how many.  He saw the marks of a struggle, he thought, but he couldn’t be sure.  Bernardo looked back at the grisly scene, the horror on the faces of the men who had suddenly had their lives snuffed out by a knife blade.  Only the bull looked sedate in death.  But where is Don Diego?  His heart beat so hard that his chest hurt and his head throbbed.  

Thoroughly terrified, Bernardo did the only thing he could think of, he ran as fast as he could to the cuartel, pushing past knots of people that were still out in the late afternoon.  He was so agitated that the guard at the gate wasn’t able to understand his signs.  When Bernardo tried to move past him to go see the acting comandante, the guard stopped him.  Taking a deep breath, the manservant calmed down and indicated that someone had been stabbed.  He pointed in the direction of the stables.   As he was signing, the awful truth burst in his mind.  The bandits!  It had to be they who had done this horrible thing and they had kidnapped Don Diego.  That was it; that was why there was no sign of his master.           

The guard seemed to comprehend him a little this time.  “Someone has been stabbed?” he asked going through the same motion.  “Your patrón?” he asked, not signing.   

Bernardo was so frustrated. Can’t you understand anything, you idiot?! he wanted to scream.  But he had to pretend that he didn’t understand, so he tugged at the man’s sleeve to get him to follow, alternating with signs to indicate his concern over Don Diego.            

Realizing that something serious had happened, while still not totally understanding the mozo, the guard called into the cuartel.  “Felipe, get Sergeant Garcia out here immediately.  I think that we have a stabbing on our hands,” he shouted.  “I am going to follow the deaf-mute and see what he has found.”   

Bernardo was nearly dancing with anxiety as he led the way to the stable where the macabre scene of death had been played out earlier in the afternoon.  Several people looked after them, asking questions, but both men ignored them.  When they arrived at the stable, the lancer almost dropped his musket in shock.  “Santa Maria!” he cried out, crossing himself.

Acting Comandante Demetrio Lopez Garcia arrived only a few minutes behind Bernardo and the guard.  His heart began beating a fearful rhythm in his rib cage as he surveyed the carnage before him.  His fear rose; he didn’t want to go in the stable.  He didn’t want to have to touch the bodies of these men so horribly and viciously murdered, but he was the acting comandante.  He had to investigate. With a shuddering sigh, he entered and approached the bodies.  There were three: one was a vaquero in the employ of the Rancho de la Vega, one was the visiting hacendado and the third, the blacksmith.  In the stall, the bull lay dead also, its throat slit.  Corporal Reyes and the other lancers searched the other parts of the building, finding no more than Bernardo had found.  Garcia turned back to the manservant and made signs to indicate Don Diego.  “Little one, where is Don Diego?” Garcia asked as he signed.  Although he was relieved at not finding his friend among the dead, he still feared for him.  His fear caused his stubby fingers to make motions without making signs.  He tried several times before the servant laid a hand on his arm and stopped him. 

When he had Garcia’s full attention, Bernardo signed to him.  ‘Don Diego was supposed to be here, too.’

“But where is he now?” Garcia asked, more calm and able to make the signs.   

Bernardo shrugged and then pointed out what was left of the prints that he had found before.  Garcia gazed at them for a few minutes, letting his eyes shift here and there for more clues.  He sighed and looked back at the manservant.  “There were more men here,” he said to his lancers who were still standing with shocked looks on their faces.  Bernardo saw that several people had noticed the commotion and had followed.  They stayed back, muttering in fear and shock.   

Tapping on the big man’s sleeve, Bernardo made more signs.  ‘The bandits.  They must have taken Don Diego.’  Garcia stared at him, not comprehending right away.  Bernardo made signs for the little girl who had been kidnapped.  ‘Don Diego was also kidnapped,’ he concluded.    

Finally comprehension dawned.  Sergeant Garcia stepped back as though he had been slapped.  “Oh, little one, what terrible times these are that such a good friend as Don Diego could be so cruelly taken,” Garcia said sadly, forgetting to sign to the manservant.  He patted the mute consolingly on the arm. 

Bernardo gazed at the rotund man sorrowfully, because even if he really hadn’t been able to hear, he would have comprehended the intensely sad countenance of the kindly sergeant.   And he understood perfectly; he felt as though his own heart was breaking.   But what if Don Diego was still nearby?  They shouldn’t be here looking sad.  They should be looking for him.

As Bernardo was about to sign that thought, one of the lancers looked up from the body of the man he was examining and said, “Sergeant, I do not think this man had been dead too long.  Maybe no more than an hour or two.  Could these murderers still be in the pueblo?” 

, they could be,” Garcia said.  He turned to the two lancers who had accompanied him and ordered.  “I want you to scour the pueblo,” Garcia explained to the guards standing nearby.    “Leave no stone unturned.  Check every building, whether it is a peon’s shack or the church.  I believe this is a kidnapping, just as the last crime was.  The kidnappers may have hidden Don Diego somewhere until we stop looking,” he said grimly. 

“Maybe we will be fortunate and Zorro will help us solve this one, too,” Corporal Reyes suggested.  

“Yes, Corporal, Zorro saved the little girl.  Surely he can save Don Diego,” Garcia agreed.            

Bernardo, alone in the group, knew how impossible that would be.  Even though he had hope that his resourceful master could escape from the kidnappers, Zorro would not be riding to this rescue.   He dreaded telling Don Alejandro what had happened.   The patrón would be devastated.

“Little one,” Garcia said to Bernardo, tapping him on the shoulder to get his attention.  “Get your horse and let us go to the hacienda to tell Don Alejandro.”  The statement was accompanied by gestures and Bernardo nodded his understanding.  The mozo was grateful that he didn’t have to tell the old man alone.  Just facing Don Diego’s father and seeing his grief was something that he didn’t think he could handle by himself.

 

 

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