Pacific Odyssey:

Book I

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Six 

Lives Torn Asunder

 

 

Alejandro watched for a moment as one of the servant’s finished setting the table for the night’s supper with Don Marcos.  He smelled the aroma of roasting beef and the spicy tang of other dishes emanating from the kitchen.  They will be arriving soon, he thought. 

He walked out to the patio in anxious anticipation.  I am a silly old man to be feeling this kind of anticipation over the acquisition of an animal, he thought.  But he couldn’t help it.  He was proud of what he had accomplished.  He had one of the best ranchos in this part of California, with the finest cattle and horses.  He felt that this bull would improve his stock even more, making his steers larger and hardier. 

Juan brought him a glass of wine and Alejandro sat down, sipping it as he watched the afternoon sun travel toward the brow of the western hills.  It was then he heard the jingling of tack.  About four horses he reasoned and a carriage.  Ah, finally.  But the sound was that of men in military accoutrements, not civilian horses and a wagon big enough for a bull.  He heard Sergeant Garcia giving instructions and wondered why the acting comandante would be visiting now.  Tendrils of worry worked their way into his brain and he stood up as Pepito opened the gate.  The worry blossomed into fear when he saw the despairing look on Garcia’s face and then noticed Bernardo behind him, the mozo almost in tears.  Santa Maria!  What is wrong? He looked for Diego, but couldn’t see him.  Diego? 

“Sergeant?  What is wrong?” he began 

“I am sorry, Don Alejandro, but I have bad news.”  Garcia had his hat in his hands, wringing it in his agitation, almost as if it were a rag.  

“Bad news?”  Diego! his mind cried out.  No!  It can’t be!  Alejandro pushed past the men and looked out the gate.  He turned back to Bernardo who was making the sign for Diego.  Fear squeezed his heart.  He took a deep breath, trying to calm down.

“…Don Marcos is dead and….”

Marcos, dead?  Diego was with Marcos.  Please, not Diego!  “Sergeant!  Diego!  What about Diego?  Where is Diego?” Alejandro asked, fearing the answer.   Diego is all right.  It is something else.  Santa Maria, let it be something else. 

“Don Diego has apparently been kidnapped, Don Alejandro,” Garcia said sadly. 

“What?”  Alejandro asked.  “Kidnapped?”  His breath caught in his throat.  A horse!  I need a horse.  He looked at Bernardo, but then remembered that Bernardo had not ridden a horse, he had taken the carriage for shopping, and for bringing back Marcos.  Marcos, who was dead.  “Diego’s horse?” he asked.  

Garcia looked puzzled, then he shook his head.  “It is still in the pueblo, Don Alejandro.” 

Alejandro called out, “Pepito!  Saddle my horse!  Andale!  To Garcia, he said, “Tell me on the way to the stable.”  He turned toward the stable gate.  “What happened?” 

“The banditos killed the stable master, your vaquero and Don Marcos.  Don Diego is missing and there was sign of some kind of struggle.  We have lancers searching all through the pueblo, Don Alejandro.”

By this time, he had reached the stable.  Garcia was quick-step following behind him.  Pepito was just throwing the saddle on his horse.  Alejandro grabbed the bridle from its peg and pulled it over the horse’s head.  The boy finished cinching the saddle and Alejandro swung on.  Diego had to still be nearby.  They couldn’t have taken him that far away.  Speed was of the essence.  “Sergeant, you should have your men looking outside the pueblo.  These men may be taking Diego into the mountains or south, to Mexico, or anywhere.  But we must hurry!” 

, Don Alejandro,” Garcia said as he backed away from the older man’s horse.  As Alejandro spurred his gelding through the now open gate, the sergeant rushed back to his own horse, ordering his lancers to mount up and follow the distraught hacendado.

Bernardo stood at the gate watching, alternating between signing for them to wait and biting his nails in his anxiety.  Then he rushed back to the stable and signed for Pepito to help him saddle a horse.  Soon he, too, was speeding toward the pueblo. 

Alejandro slid his horse to a stop in front of the stable just as lancers were carrying out the bodies of the three dead men.  He noticed Diego’s and Antonio’s horses tied in front, pawing the ground, and he also noticed the few bystanders watching from several yards away, crossing themselves when they saw the grisly way the men met their ends.   He paid scant attention to them.  He jumped off of the horse and rushed inside.  The sun had set and the interior of the building was lit only by lanterns and by the slight glow of the dying coals of the blacksmith’s fire.  

Dark stains showed Alejandro where the murdered men had been ambushed.  He grabbed a lantern to help him examine the murder scene better.  So much blood! he thought.  So much.  A huge, dark mound lay in a stall and Alejandro moved toward it.  The bull.  They had killed the bull, too.  But why, he wondered?  To keep it from bellowing when everything else was happening.  He heard a small noise from the doorway and pivoted, his mind hoping it was Diego, safe and far from danger.  It was Corporal Reyes.  

“We have looked everywhere, Don Alejandro.  Don Diego is not in the pueblo.”

Alejandro looked back at the blood on the ground.  He heard someone else approach, but this time he did not look up.  

“Alejandro, my friend.  I am praying for your son’s safe return,” the alcalde said. 

Now Alejandro did look up.  Gracias, Señor Alcalde,” he said, his voice heavy.  He sighed.  Oh, Diego, my son!  There is so much you have accomplished by your prowess, there is so much strength in your soul, but is it enough to help you get away from these men?  In his heart he felt that if there were any way possible, Diego would find a way to escape.  However, Alejandro could not sit still and wait. 

“Soldiers are looking in the hills, Don Alejandro,” Reyes added.  “And I hear that many of your neighbors are gathering their vaqueros to look, too.”

“Then I can do no less,” Alejandro said, his voice soft but resolute.    As he swung on his horse, the hacendado wondered just how much time these banditos might have had.  He didn’t see Diego’s horse here, so he probably went to the tavern first.  Alejandro spurred his horse down the street and was shortly pulling up in front of the tavern. 

Walking inside, he saw Tio’s sad eyes on him.  “Don Alejandro, I am so sorry to hear….”

“Yes, thank you, Tio.  I need to ask you a question, though.”

Sí, Don Alejandro,” the innkeeper said. 

“When my son came in, how long did he stay before he went to the stable?”

“Oh, he didn’t stay more than a few minutes, patrón,” said Tio.  

“Oh?” Alejandro asked.  

, I had a message from Don Marcos asking for Don Diego to come to the stable.” 

“A message?”  Who brought this message?” Alejandro queried.  

“A vaquero. He said he was Don Marco’s man,” Tio answered.  

That is strange, thought Alejandro.  Marcos had said in his last letter that he would be sending his vaqueros back to his ranch as soon as they had arrived.  This must have been one of the bandits.  He asked Tio for a description, but the innkeeper wasn’t able to remember anything specific.

“As I told Don Diego’s mozo earlier, it was about two hours since he had been here,” Tio added.  

A great deal of time to ambush a man and get him out of the pueblo, Alejandro thought despairingly.  Diego, Diego, my son!  He sighed. “Thank you, Tio.”   He turned and left the tavern. He saw Bernardo and motioned to him to follow.  It was too dark to check for any kind of tracks leading away from the stable.  There may have been so much traffic that any such tracks would have been obliterated.  But he had to try.  Mounting, Alejandro rode out of town, riding to the western hills, then riding around the pueblo, circling it in an ever widening perimeter until Sergeant Garcia rode out to find him.  The sergeant convinced him that there was nothing to be seen in the darkness.  The acting comandante was right, but Alejandro couldn’t help but think that he needed to be out here, that somewhere Diego might be struggling for freedom and his help would be what would make that happen.  Finally, though, he looked up at the night sky, at the darkness that did not even hold the barest sliver of a moon to help him and he knew that the sergeant was right.  Slowly Alejandro rode back into the pueblo and took a room at the inn, determined to ride out again as soon as the dawn arrived. 

           

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Diego awoke with a pounding in his head that felt like horses had been running inside his skull all afternoon.  He found that his hands were bound together behind his back, making his shoulders ache abominably.  It made removing the nasty tasting gag in his mouth an impossibility as well.  Sitting up was also impossible.  Diego only vaguely remembered a rough, jouncing ride on something hard, under a scratchy blanket.   No, he remembered, it was straw.  He had awakened a time or two and felt smothered in straw.  He also remembered someone giving him something foul tasting to drink.   He struggled with the knots that bound his wrists, but was unable to make any headway with them.  His eyes felt hot and dry and he blinked, trying to focus on his surroundings.  It appeared to be a small adobe house with dirt floors and white washed walls.  The windows were covered with thick heavy blankets that only let through enough light to tell him that it was daylight.    Finally, knowing that he could do nothing now to escape, Diego settled back and tried to gather as much information about his whereabouts as he could.  It was apparent that these were the same men who had kidnapped Marguerita, and they had spent a great deal of time planning his kidnapping.  This time they seemed to have prepared for every contingency, but whatever they had in mind, Diego felt confident that he would be able to eventually escape.           

Jorge noticed that de la Vega was awake. About time! he thought.  They had kept the man drugged throughout the nearly two-day journey to San Diego as a precaution, because the revolutionary wasn’t going to let this plan fail, as had the previous kidnapping.  Even with those precautions, it had been a close thing the first night.  A rider had come within a quarter mile of the small group of men huddled around the straw laden cart.  Jorge had begun whispering instructions for an ambush of the lone horseman, but before they could be executed, the rider had turned to the east.  It had made them aware of how easily this plan of theirs could be thwarted.  Luckily there had been no further incidents that night or the next day.  Now they safe in remote adobe outside of San Diego and could make ready the implementation of the final part of the plan.  

Jorge gazed at de la Vega, wanting desperately to hear him beg for his release, to hear him offer anything for his freedom, but he would not take the gag off the spoiled hacendado’s brat to listen to him beg.  There was a chance there might be someone near enough to hear him if he called out.   However, Jorge did want to look in the caballero’s eyes and see the fear there. 

Jorge swaggered over to the prostrate man and jerked him up to a sitting position, looking deeply into the man’s eyes.  Yes, he did see concern there, but the cool stare that was returned reminded him more of a wolf assessing its prey, than a sheep in distress, and that disconcerted him. This man was most assuredly Diego de la Vega, the man who had been drinking wine and playing a guitar in the tavern several days before, but this man didn’t seem to have the demeanor that he felt young de la Vega should have under these circumstances.  It disconcerted him.

Jorge left his prisoner sitting against the wall and returned to the small group at the table in the middle of the hovel, sending Salazar out to relieve the man who had been standing guard.  This was the most dangerous part of the plan.  De la Vega was now in the attire of a peon prisoner.  Jorge’s only concern was the transfer of the hacendado to the prison in San Diego and then to the ship.  Forged transfer papers for the ‘prisoner’ were snug under his shirt and he had been assured that the guard in charge of the prisoners at the Presidio de San Diego was none other than Manuel’s own cousin, someone extremely loyal to their cause.   This time there will be no loose ends to lead anyone to our victim.  Jorge wanted the elder de la Vega to spend much time and resources looking for his precious son.  Who knows, maybe we can offer our services to look for the poor, lost caballero, Jorge smirked to himself. 

Glancing over at his prisoner again, he saw that de la Vega was still gazing intently at him.  This made him angry, and he turned to Pasqual.   “Are you sure that the ship is sailing with the morning tide?” he asked.  Pasqual nodded the affirmative.  Jorge laughed spitefully.           

Jorge went back over to the bound man and stood looking over him with a smug look on his face. “So you see, my fine and dandy caballero, you get a healthy voyage at sea on board the good ship, China Star.  I hope your studies at the university have included English, because the captain paying for your indenture doesn’t know any Spanish.  Now, that got to him, Jorge thought, as he saw the man try to struggle against his bonds, but the look in the eyes contained not fear, but rage.  Jorge just laughed it off.  “Your dear father will be beside himself, Diego, not knowing where his precious son has been taken,” he told his prisoner.  “And this time there will be no Zorro to rescue you, because you will be out of California before Zorro or anyone else knows a thing.”          

Diego knew for a fact that Zorro wouldn’t rescue him, but obviously for a different reason than the bandit leader thought.  He was enraged at the taunting reference to his father because he was well aware of the intense suffering his kidnapping would cause.   He would be at sea for heaven knows how long without means of letting Father know anything.  Now Diego felt real fear, and was glad that Jorge had turned away.  His captor seemed to want to feed on the fears of his victims, and Diego had been trying very hard to thwart him in that small measure.           

At the moment, the only thing that he could do was wait and hope for an opportunity to escape.  His captors had dressed him in appropriate clothing to fit his role as a prisoner soon to be sold, and he assumed that the conspirators had covered their tracks well in Los Angeles.  When he thought of Bernardo, he felt a small measure of comfort that the manservant hadn’t been with him in the stable, otherwise he would have been dead right along with the vaquero, and that would have been unbearable.            

At the hour before the setting of the sun, the bandits took their prisoner into the Presidio de San Diego.  Jorge had changed into the garb of a soldier as had Pasqual.  He saluted the guard at the gate and presented the forged papers to the soldier.  “This prisoner is being transferred to the presidio here.  He was too dangerous to keep in Los Angeles,” he explained, adding,  “and he had to be gagged because he is an absolute nuisance when allowed to talk.”           

For his part, Diego sat quietly on his horse.  His hands had been tied to the saddle horn and no amount of struggle had allowed him to loosen his bonds.  Pasqual had the reins of the horse gripped tightly in his hands. Grudgingly, Diego had to admit that these men were very, very good at their craft.  They have probably placed some well-arranged bribes in someone’s pocket by now, he thought morosely to himself.  

Diego’s mood had continued to blacken as the evening progressed, and it had been very hard to keep up the pretense of self-assurance and calm.  His assessment of the plans of the conspirators was affirmed when Jorge announced that he was put in charge of the prisoner until his departure on the British cargo ship.           

Diego realized that however hopeless it might be to try to escape now; he had no choice but to try.  There would be no other opportunity.  Hoping that this horse responded to leg signals, he used his right foot to kick the horse around and run into Pasqual’s gelding.  The startled man let go of the reins in order to control his own mount.  Diego continued to guide the horse in a 180-degree turn and then kicked him into a run.   With a startled cry, the gelding began galloping toward the open gate of the compound.  Diego continued kicking the horse with his bare heels, seeing hope in the square portal before him.  He began to think he might make it, that the miracle he had been praying for in his heart might actually happen, until a lancer jumped out in front of the horse yelling and waving his arms.  Diego’s horse reared and the impetus needed to get out of the presidio was halted.  The prisoner didn’t give up, though, continuing to kick the confused and frightened gelding, trying to get the animal to resume its rush away from the soldiers.  Then Jorge caught up to him, and a blow to the side of his head with a pistol stock sent Diego into painful unconsciousness.

           

 

 

Chapter Seven

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