Pacific Odyssey:

Book I

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three

The Plan

 

 

When word of Marguerita’s rescue reached the ears of a small group of men who were residing temporarily at the posada of San Fernando, near Los Angeles, they were a great deal less enthusiastic than everyone else in the area.  The six men were gathered in one of the rooms of the inn to discuss the news of Zorro’s exploits.    “That thrice cursed Zorro,” exclaimed the leader of the group, Jorge Brazas by name.  His dark eyes burned with an intense fire, a fire fueled by hatred.  “How did he find out where the girl was?” he asked to no one in particular.  It was a question that had consumed him for almost five days.         

One of the men lounged in a chair, seemingly unconcerned by recent events, his long legs perched on the table, a cigar clamped between his teeth. “Could one of the Indians talked?” he asked.  While his body seemed relaxed, his next words were chillingly terse.  “It is still my opinion that murder is the best way.”            

Jorge irritably dismissed the comment with a wave of his hand.  Idioso, murder is not a lasting solution.  Think about it, Manuel.  Maybe it strikes fear into the hearts of the idle landowners for a short while, but eventually murder only serves to incite the relatives and their friends to revenge.  Then they stir up everyone else.  That is not good for the cause.  We must not allow our victims to become martyrs.”  He paused, paced for a few minutes and then turned to his men, his eyes shining.  “Occasionally, killing a hacendado here or a merchant there will keep the Californianos anxious and tense, but there are other things we can do, things that will keep people wondering about those who are supposed to be protecting them.” 

“What do you propose?” Manual asked languidly as he used the point of his knife to clean from beneath a fingernail.  “Zorro interfered with our kidnapping attempt.”

“We have to plan something that even Zorro will be too late to prevent.  We have to strike a blow that will stagger these rich pigs here, and then we have to strike again and again.  Different things to keep them fearful and make them angry at their government for not protecting them.  And there is something else to consider, something that I noticed after the kidnapping of the little girl.  Her parents were frantic, her father spending his time looking for his daughter.  When one is searching for one’s child or parent, then that one will be too busy to interfere with our campaign.  If we are careful, we could cripple those who are considered leaders, crush their spirits,” he explained.  Jorge paused and looked at each of the men.  “Our plan with the girl was perfect.  Did you not see how fearful the people were during that time before she was found?  We just had the bad luck to put her in a place where she could be found.  We have to make better arrangements next time.  And we need to make sure that this time nothing can go wrong.”

“Most of the people are saying that Zorro drove us away,” Manuel growled.  “I say we do something quickly, something to show just how wrong they are.”

“I know.  And we will do something, Manuel, but we will do it carefully.  We will strike in a way that will cause the most fear and chaos.”  Again he paused for a moment before continuing.  Jorge was an intense young man, considered handsome by many of the señoritas of his home village not too far from the arid country south of San Diego.  At the present time, however, he had no time for the frivolities of courting.  He was totally dedicated to the cause he had embraced.  Marriage would come later, when he had land of his own to raise cattle, horses and grapes for the fine wine that was famous in these parts.  

Jorge was also a mestizo, a peon of mixed blood. His father, the arrogant, oldest son of a Spanish immigrant, looked over the Indian servant girls as though they were cattle or horses, and then chose the prettiest ones for himself.  His grandfather was descended from court nobility, a younger son whose title meant very little in Spain, but who had used it in the new world, along with a great deal of money, to get large holdings of land, great herds of cattle and power in the local government. 

Jorge’s mother, having freshly come from the teachings of the local mission, had been intensely unhappy with the arrangement.  But she was indentured and could do nothing.  Who would believe the word of one whose heathen parents had lived together in the vilest sin?  And Don Ramon Francisco Cadrille had paid for her schooling.  He had probably looked her over in the mission school when she was still a child, Jorge thought bitterly. 

And since he was the bastard son of such a union, there was nothing for him.  No land, except a small piece of someone else’s land to work, no home, except an adobe hovel that leaked during the rainy season and was infested with vermin all year round.  As soon as his mother had finished her indenture, lengthened by her young child, who took her, however briefly, from the household duties she had been bought for, she left.  She had preferred to work in the tavern, earning at least a little bit of money that she could put aside.  That was where Father Juan Diaz had found him.  The priest had taken him under his wing and taught him to read, to write and to see a greater future than sweeping the tavern floor.  An under-priest of the great Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, he had passed along his intense hatred of the callous Spanish-born aristocrats to the impressionable young mestizo.   

Jorge found that it made no difference where one lived.  In San Diego, where he grew up, in Mexico, where Father Diaz had lived, or in Los Angeles, it was all the same.  Those of part Indian blood, such as he was, seemed to always be relegated to second or third class status.   Because of that Jorge had developed a deep and bitter hatred for the pureblooded Spanish descendants, who seemed to own all of the land, run the government, hold all of the money, make all of the rules.  His dark brown eyes glittered with satisfaction when he thought of the hated hacendados whose lives he had already disrupted, and those lives he would affect in the future.   He thought of the hacienda near San Diego, the one that he would someday own, the one where he had been born on the hard-packed earthen floor while his father sipped Madeira in an ornate tile-floored sala.        

Someone else spoke, breaking Jorge from his self-indulgent bitter remembrances.  “If we had sold the girl as a slave or an indentured servant somewhere away from here, she would have been out of the reach of even Zorro.”          

Jorge turned his head quickly, gazing at his friend intently.  “Pasqual, I think you have the right idea,” he said, suddenly energized.  Slight tendrils of ideas formed in his mind.  Excitement caused him to chuckle happily.  “If we plan more carefully, the next victim will be well out of the reach of his family forever.  At the very least until our leaders are able to finalize their plans to include a very compliant California as a colony of the soon to be independent country of Mexico.  A colony where we will be the leaders, where we will rule and not the bloated rich; the fat pigs who benefit from the labor of the poor.”        

“You know, I once heard of a man who was fiercely hated by his brother,” Pasqual explained.  “He was hated so much that the brother made an agreement with the captain of a foreign ship.  The man indentured his own brother for the duration of a three year voyage,” he said, pausing to let the implications sink in.  “And it is sad to say that the young man’s mother died shortly thereafter of a broken heart.”  Pasqual paused again, before letting a feral smile cross his features.  Suddenly, he began to laugh.  “And the father spent half of his fortune looking for him.  He, too, died a heartbroken man.”  The others laughed with him.

“What happened to the rich young man?” one of the others asked. 

“He was never heard of again,” Pasqual replied with a smirk.         

“Pasqual, you are a prince among revolutionaries,” Jorge congratulated him, a huge grin spreading across his face.  “This is an idea that will work.   I feel it,” he said.  “Of course we can’t use this method too often, but if we plan well, a few missing sons will do wonders for the morale of some of the wealthy King’s men in this area.”  He called one of the other members of the group over.  “Salazar, ride quickly to the port of San Diego and watch for foreign ships.”  He looked at each of his co-conspirators before continuing.  “This time we will carefully plan and take our time so that nothing will interfere.  But we must be ready to act when a foreign ship sails into San Diego.”  He returned his gaze to Salazar.  “If you ride hard, you can get there in a little more than a day,” he told the man, throwing a small pouch of coins to him.  “Use this to exchange horses if you need to.  And make sure the ship you choose is going to be docked for at least a week before you come back with the information.” 

“San Pedro is closer.  San Diego is far away.  Something could go wrong with having to travel that kind of distance,” another revolutionary said. 

“How many foreign ships do you think sail into a small harbor like San Pedro?   No, we will have better luck in a larger pueblo like San Diego.  And also, if we kidnap a hacendado’s son from this area, someone in San Pedro might recognize him if we use that harbor,” Jorge explained.  Everyone saw the wisdom in Jorge’s words and nodded in agreement.  Salazar took the pouch, put on his hat and left.                

Jorge gathered the remaining men around him.  “The local people think that Zorro has frightened us away.  We will continue to let them think so.  It will be all the more devastating when we do strike.  Now it is time to pick our next victim,” he said.  “What families are on our list from this area?” he asked Pasqual, who pulled out a folded sheet of paper.          

“We have one from San Fernando, another from San Juan Capistrano, two from Los Angeles and several others from more remote haciendas,” Pasqual reported.         

“Forget the more remote hacendados for now.  We do not have time to arrange the kidnapping from a remote area. It must be close,” the leader told his followers.  “And Don Armondo was from San Juan Capistrano, so let us now concentrate on the Pueblo de Los Angeles.  It should make a more lasting impact if a wealthy son from that more populous area disappeared.  Tell me the names.”           

“Rafael Hernandez and Alejandro de la Vega,” Pasqual read.  “Of the two, de la Vega seems to be the more vocal in defense of the King and Spanish rule.  He was even a leader in the efforts to stop an insurgent from taking control of California almost a year ago.  And, besides, Hernandez has no heirs at present, except for a two-year-old son, while de la Vega has a son of the perfect age for a sea voyage.” After a slight pause, Pasqual began laughing.  The others quickly joined in, also seeing the humor in his statement.         

Jorge looked over Pasqual’s shoulder at the information on the page.  Each entry had terse but pertinent notes beside the names of each of the possible victims.   “Diego de la Vega, recently returned from Spain after several years absence.  Yes, he will do nicely,” Jorge hissed with pleasure.  “The old man will be paralyzed with concern and anxiety, especially after his only son has already been away from him for that long.”  He motioned to two of his men.  “Go to Los Angeles and scout out the best possibilities for a kidnapping,” he said.  “Check out the de la Vega hacienda, the pueblo and anywhere in between.  Also look for any places near the pueblo that we might make our headquarters, someplace remote.   Come back at this time in two days.”  With a nod the two men left. 

 

                                         =================

                                         

At the same place and at the designated time, all of the men met together again, except Salazar, who had not yet returned from San Diego.  Jorge looked at the two men, whom he had sent to Los Angeles.  “Carlos, tell me what you and Paco found out about Alejandro de la Vega and his son, Diego,” he said.            

“Alejandro de la Vega is the richest ranchero in the area.  His son is an excellent choice.  If we pick the right place, Diego de la Vega will be easy to kidnap.  He is not a person who relies on physical prowess, in fact, he seems very weak in that area,” Carlos said, laughing in derision. 

Paco added, “It is said that he does almost anything to avoid physical confrontations.  He is congenial and has a pleasant personality, and is well liked, but there are those who are contemptuous of his passive attitude.”           

“Good,” Jorge said.  “A coward.  At least that part of our plan will be easy.  Did you find out anything that might help us decide how we are going to kidnap de la Vega?”          

“Only that the caballero goes into the pueblo often to socialize or do business, or both, as the case may be,” the young man explained. “Oh, and the de la Vegas are acquiring new breeding stock from a hacendado up north, someone named Don Marcos.  I heard the actual purchase would be in three days.”          

Jorge felt a great sense of elation as he pondered the news for a moment, seeing several possibilities that would take closer scrutiny.  “God is blessing us with success this time,” he murmured, almost to himself.  Then he said to the others.  We will go into the Pueblo de Los Angeles tomorrow morning, even before Salazar returns with his report.  I am sure he will soon find what we are looking for.  The omens are right for this venture.  Carlos, did you find someplace where we can hide until we kidnap de la Vega?”

, Jorge.  It is an old, abandoned hacienda only five miles south of the pueblo.   It is in decay, but still suitable and it’s far from any other dwellings.”

“Good, my friend.  We will move there when we go into Los Angeles tomorrow,” said Jorge, his smile broadening in anticipation.  “Carlos, you will wait here for Salazar and then come to Los Angeles with him as soon as you can.”  Jorge rubbed his hands gleefully.  “I think that within a week, we will be celebrating a great victory.”          

The next day Jorge, Pasqual, Manuel and Paco rode casually into the Pueblo de Los Angeles.  They looked like ordinary vaqueros, and were ignored as such.  The trio circulated around the town, in the inn, around the plaza and in the shops.  Sometimes they walked in pairs, but most of the time they walked separately.   Jorge saw a richly dressed man whom Paco told him was told was Diego de la Vega.  Jorge discreetly followed him into the tavern and surreptitiously watched de la Vega while sipping a glass of wine.  The young caballero was drinking wine with the acting comandante.

“Don Diego, do you think Zorro discouraged the bandits so much that they went somewhere else?” the fat sergeant was asking.  Jorge listened intently while gazing into his wine glass.   

“That seems very probable, Sergeant.  They haven’t been seen for over a week now,” de la Vega answered. 

Jorge smirked to himself.  Good, let them become complacent.  He watched as the sergeant finished his wine and looked mournfully at the bottom of his glass.  With a laugh, de la Vega motioned to the bar maid to bring another bottle of wine.  Jorge took a sip of his own wine to hide the snort of derision that almost escaped his throat.  Santa Maria, he thought.  What arrogant indulgence!  Indeed, this will be simple. 

While the sergeant helped himself to the new bottle of wine, de la Vega picked up a guitar that had been lying near his feet and began strumming it.  Soon his rich melodious voice joined the soft notes of the guitar.  Once the hacendado looked up from his playing and glanced at him.  Jorge immediately affected an appreciative smile and raised his glass to salute him and de la Vega smiled in return and continued playing. 

Jorge was momentarily taken aback.  There was nothing arrogant in the man’s demeanor, nothing superior about his acknowledgement of Jorge’s presence.  But he is still an indolent pig!! Jorge thought, throwing off any thoughts that would take his mind from the task at hand.  Here he is sitting, drinking and playing a guitar while others do his work for him.  It would be a pleasure to rid California of this self-indulgent rich man’s son.  Jorge was so disgusted that he left before finishing his wine.  Shortly thereafter, he rode out of town.  Manuel saw him and nodded imperceptibly.  It was a prearranged signal and Jorge knew the men would be at the meeting place within an hour.

 

 

 

 

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