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.”
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?”
“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
“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
“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,
“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
“That is good.” His
eyes glittered in anticipation. “Manuel,
you said your cousin is a soldier in the presidio?”
Do you wish me to talk to him and make things ready for our
“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.
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.
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
“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 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
“Sí, 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.
“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
“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.
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
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
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?”
“Sí, 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
“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
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.
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
minutes the men were gone, leaving behind the eerie silence of death.