Pacific Odyssey

Book I

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four

One Less de la Vega

 

 

This time, they met in an abandoned, dilapidated adobe that had once been part of a modest casa grande. Two of the walls were intact, along with a little of the roof.  Carlos had built a small, almost smokeless fire and was cooking supper.  Salazar lay sleeping in a dark corner of the house.  

Holá, Jorge,” he called out when he saw his leader.   “Is this not a grand place for future leaders of California to meet in?”  

Jorge nodded, then gazed at Salazar.  He grinned; knowing that the only reason Salazar was back would be because a likely ship was in the San Diego harbor.  

“Salazar returned this morning and we arrived only an hour ago.   He would not tell me everything, but he has good news.” 

Bueno.  Jorge squatted down near the fire and poured himself a little coffee from a pot that felt as though it had only recently been taken from the fire.   He sat down; his back against a determined sapling that had grown up in the middle of what was once the sala. 

Did you find out what you needed to know?” Carlos asked.

Sí,” Jorge answered.  “Everything.  This plan will work.”

The other men drifted in within the hour.  By that time Carlos had the food ready and all ate, joking and laughing.  There were many questions, especially of Salazar, but Jorge had put them off until after supper.  Finally, he spoke, “My friends, even without Salazar’s report, I feel the success of this venture even as I feel this knife in my hand,” he said, curling is fingers around the pearl inlaid knife he had taken from one of their victims.   “Our prey is the son of the most prominent landowner in the area, and will be easily captured.  The kidnapping will bring this part of California to its knees, especially if followed by other, well-planned acts of terror.   These people will welcome their Mexican deliverers with open arms and then will begin a time of wealth and power for each one of us.”  Jorge looked meaningfully at his men and saw much of the same fervor in their eyes that lit his own soul.  Turning to Salazar, he said, “My friend, what have you found out?” 

“I waited almost two days before a promising ship came into port.  Then as soon as I found that it was going to be in the harbor for a long enough time, I came back immediately, riding even at night,” Salazar began. 

“It must be promising indeed,” Jorge said, motioning for him to continue. 

“It is a British ship, damaged by a recent storm.  It will be in dock for another five or six days making repairs and taking on cargo.”

Jorge did some quick figuring.  “Yes, that will do nicely.  We can take de la Vega the day after tomorrow and if we immediately ride to San Diego, we will get there at least a day before this ship sails.  British, you said?” 

Sí, Jorge,” said Salazar.  “Before I left, I saw the capitán of the vessel.  He appears to be one who only tolerates his stay among Spaniards.”  Salazar grinned.  “And I heard that he was short handed and in need of sailors.” 

“Hmm,” Jorge mused, rubbing his chin.  “That will mean that he will be amenable of buying the indenture of a Californiano malcontent.”

“Yes, I heard that he was negotiating with the capitán of the presidio for the purchase of several prisoners.” 

Jorge chuckled.  “That is good.”  His eyes glittered in anticipation.  “Manuel, you said your cousin is a soldier in the presidio?”

Sí, Jorge.  Do you wish me to talk to him and make things ready for our victim’s arrival?”

Jorge nodded.  “Yes, I want you to ride to San Diego with the first light tomorrow.  You will also arrange for him to ‘borrow’ several lancers’ uniforms for us to wear as we escort this prisoner into San Diego.  Then you will wait for us at the inn.  I will send someone for you when we arrive.”   Manuel nodded, a great grin on his face. 

Soon after a little bit more discussion, all the men, except Paco, who stood guard, curled up near the fire under their blankets and were soon asleep.  

 

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Alejandro entered the library, finding Diego reading a book.  He handed his hat and gloves to a waiting servant and sat down near his son.  Diego looked up and saw his father’s happy countenance. 

“Father, you look very happy this evening.  Did Don Marcos decide to give you the bull?” he teased.

“No,” Alejandro said, chuckling.  He ordered the servant to bring him a glass of wine and then waited until the young man had left.  “I heard nothing but talk about how Zorro has rid the area of those bandits.  I am proud of you, my son.” 

Diego shrugged.  “Father, all I did was to find the little girl.  Apparently that was enough to discourage this gang of terrorists.” 

“But have you found any sign of them anywhere?” Alejandro asked.  

Diego shook his head no. 

“For almost ten days, there have been no murders and no kidnappings,” Alejandro said.  “Discouraged?  No, I agree with the alcalde, these men have decided to move to some other place, someplace where there is no Zorro.” 

“Perhaps, but I still think you give Zorro too much credit.” 

“What other explanation do you have for this sudden cessation of crime?”

Diego pondered, but for the life of him, he couldn’t think of any other explanation.  He had to admit, that as each day passed, he, too, had felt more and more assured that, indeed, the murderers and kidnappers had left the area.  Although it was possible that they could be hiding somewhere nearby since it was, after all, a large country, Diego felt they would have struck again by now had they still been around.

In the days following his rescue of Marguerita, Diego had felt a deep sense of satisfaction that came from bringing about the happy reunion he had witnessed at the Montoya rancho.  True, he had still spent most of the previous nights in the guise of Zorro, scouting for the whereabouts of the kidnappers, but there had been nothing.  No clues whatsoever.  It was as though these bandits had disappeared off the face of the earth.  Perhaps they had traveled to Mexico or gone north.  “Bernardo told me four days ago that he thinks they might just be biding their time, waiting until everything settles and people get complacent again.  And at first I felt the same way,” he suggested.  

Snorting, Alejandro just waved his hand.  “Diego, it has been ten days since the rescue.  Something would have happened; someone suspicious would have been seen.”  He stopped talking as the door opened and the servant entered with a tray of wine and two glasses.  As the boy was leaving, Alejandro said, “I propose a toast.”  He poured some more wine and handed the second glass to Diego.  

Diego smiled at the exuberance of his father.   “To what are we toasting?” he asked. 

“To Zorro, the defender of the people,” Alejandro said passionately, raising his glass.  

Diego felt self conscious, but he indulged his father and raised his glass.  He took a sip and said quietly, “But Zorro can only do so much.  It is the heart and spirit of this people that has made this land great, Father.  There is a bit of Zorro in each man and woman of this country of ours.” 

Alejandro gazed at his son and smiled.  The look was that of an intensely proud father and Diego was warmed by it.  Although he still wondered if it was best for his father to know his secret, he was glad not to have to deal with the censure that he had lived with the first months after he had returned from Spain.  

“That may be true, my son, but it was Zorro who put that spark there,” said Alejandro. 

Diego sighed, not wishing to argue with his father, and then he smiled.  “But if I had known all that the role had entailed, I would not have been so eager to take it on.”

“Ah, but if not Zorro, then it would have happened in some other way.” 

Laughing, Diego said, “I am just glad that for whatever reason, these bandits have left.” 

Sobering, Alejandro said, “As am I, Diego.” 

Diego decided to change what, for him, had become an embarrassing topic of conversation.  “I am assuming that the stable master has prepared for our new breeding bull?”

, just as Marcos had specified.  I still cannot understand why he did not just have his vaqueros bring it here,” Alejandro said with a slight frown.

“Father, you have been raising livestock long enough to know that some rancheros are as proud of their cattle as most are of their horses.  Don Marcos wants to show off this prize bull of his to the pueblo before it begins its new life roaming the hills of the de la Vega rancho and producing fine calves and heifers,” Diego answered with a laugh.

Alejandro grunted.  “I suppose you are right, Diego.  He has been bragging about how many offspring this particular bull has produced for the past three years.  I just hope the beast still has enough left in him to do the same for us.” 

“Ah, but Father, you have raised such fine heifers in the past three years that the bull is going to never miss his old home.  And if he is as fine as you and Antonio have said, then the cows will be throwing themselves at him in no time at all.”

Alejandro looked shocked and then he, too, chuckled.  “My son, what thoughts you have in your young mind!  But although crudely put, you are probably right.  We shall certainly know after we consummate the deal tomorrow.”  Alejandro finished the wine in his glass and turned back to Diego.  “Are you sure you don’t want me to come with you tomorrow?” 

“Father,” Diego said, affecting a hurt expression on his face.  “Surely you have not totally given up on this worthless, idle son of yours?”  He smiled at his father’s discomfiture.  “First of all, I am very interested in this transaction, but even though I have appearances to keep up, I still have to show at least a little interest in this rancho.  What better way than to finalize the deal?” 

“Ah, that is true, my son,” Alejandro said with a sigh. 

“Father, you are not one whit less proud of this acquisition than Don Marcos was when he had this bull brought from Mexico,” Diego pronounced, his tone still teasing.  His father just snorted softly in derision, but his eyes acknowledged that his son had spoken truly.

 

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By mid-afternoon of the fateful day, the small group of conspirators had begun to migrate toward the public stables.  Jorge and Pasqual walked inside the dim interior of the building and noticed the bull restrained in the sturdiest stall.  Paco stood by the door and watched.  Jorge realized that what they had planned to do would most likely upset the beast, therefore it would have to be killed, too.  That was too bad.  It seemed a waste to destroy such a fine beast.           

Señor, that is a fine animal you have there.  Is it intended for the pastures of a local ranchero?” Pasqual asked, making light conversation with the blacksmith, while Jorge nonchalantly looked over the finer qualities of the breeding bull. 

Sí, señor, it is for the Rancho de la Vega,” the blacksmith answered.  Out of the corner of his eye, Jorge noticed Pasqual draw a knife and quickly stab the blacksmith, who soundlessly sank to the dirt floor of his stable, his blood spreading in a pool from the body.  Jorge pulled out a large knife and drew the blade across the neck of the bull, which slowly sank to the ground with a wheezing grunt.   The pair looked at each other with wide grins at the beginning of a successfully carried out plan.            

“Go to the inn, Paco.  Tell Don Marcos that there is something wrong with his bull.  Tell him it appears to have eaten something poisonous and is bloated.  Anything to get him here,” Jorge instructed his man.  “Do it quickly!” 

Paco returned swiftly with the anxious hacendado as Jorge and the other conspirator waited just inside the half-closed doorway.  When Don Marcos crossed the threshold of the stable to check on his animal, Jorge killed him with expert ease.  The assassin bent down, calmly wiped his knife on the man’s jacket and then dragged the hacendado further into the room.  

“Now go to the innkeeper and tell him to give de la Vega a message,” he told Paco.  “Have him tell Don Diego that Don Marcos is waiting for him here.” 

Paco nodded and left.  With satisfaction the revolutionary saw Carlos and Salazar riding into the plaza.  He motioned almost imperceptively to Carlos and discreetly pointed toward the stable.

 

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Today was a gloriously splendid day, a little warm, but not oppressive.  Diego’s feelings were a total antithesis to what he had felt ten days ago.  The world was wonderful; everything was as it should be.           

When he walked into the cool tavern, followed closely by Antonio and Bernardo, Diego immediately sauntered over to the bar where Tio was setting out wine bottles and mugs in anticipation of the mid-afternoon crowd of patrons.  Buenos dias, Tio, have you seen Don Marco de Salas?”

, Don Diego, I was given a message that you were to meet him at the stable,” the innkeeper answered. 

Gracias, señor,” Diego answered with a smile. “Break out some of your finest wine for us.  As soon as business is over we will return and toast the sale.”  Tio nodded with a smile of his own.  Diego turned to Bernardo and signed for him to run some errands for him.   Then he and Antonio made their way to the stable, discussing the details of the bull’s transfer to the hacienda.          

When Antonio opened the stable door they were met by an eerie oppressive silence.  It was dim, as though it was night.  Why are all the windows closed? Diego asked himself.  The hair on the back of his neck began to stand on end.  “Don Marcos,” Diego called out.  Only the creak of the door broke the stillness, and his feelings of alarm began to clamor stridently in his mind.  As his eyes got used to the dimness, Diego saw in the interior of the stable, a form that appeared to be a body on the floor.  “Antonio, wait…” he called out, suddenly feeling they were walking into a trap.   Ignoring him, Antonio rushed over to the dead man, whom Diego assumed was Don Marcos.  The caballero’s eyes widened in shock as a knife-wielding assailant stepped out of the shadows and killed the vaquero with a swift stroke.  Diego pivoted back to the door, knowing that he was totally outnumbered by very skillful and determined assassins, but he wasn’t able to make more than one step before he was attacked.            

The instant before a blow sent him to the deepest stygian blackness of unconsciousness, Diego realized that he had been so very wrong.  So horribly, terribly wrong.  The terrorists were still in the area.  They had been biding their time and he was the next hacendado targeted by them.  Then there was sudden intense pain and then nothing.

             

“Jorge, was I not right?  Did I not tell you how easily this could be done?” Pasqual gloated.  “This one won’t last a week at sea.  His father will be searching for a son that will have long since fed the sharks.” 

“We are not in San Diego yet, Pasqual.” Jorge commented, nudging the still form with the toe of his boot.  “But I cannot help but think that you are right.  He is soft.  The de la Vega bloodline will die out quickly.  Take him out the back way.  Get him out of the pueblo before someone comes to investigate.”  Jorge kicked the unconscious body.  “Pig!  Now you will learn what it feels like to be trodden underfoot.  To have others tell you what to do.  You will know what it feels like to be less than the dirt under foot of your master,” he hissed softly.  

Suddenly, Jorge began laughing, although softly so as not to attract attention.  The revolutionaries joined in as they picked up the unconscious caballero.  They had very easily pulled this part of the plan off, and had, as a bonus, the money meant for the dead hacendado.

Sobering quickly, Jorge said, “Get him out of the pueblo swiftly before anyone comes by here and discovers us.  We do not know how long we have before someone comes by to have their horse attended to.”   

Within minutes the men were gone, leaving behind the eerie silence of death.

 

 

 

 

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