Pacific Odyssey:

Book I

 

 

 

   

Chapter Twenty-four 

Zorro Plots Revenge

 

 

When the China Star finally sailed into the harbor, Diego was amazed at the huge trading community that had built up there.  There were numerous warehouses and business offices.  Bowman commented that when he had been in Singapore just under two years ago, it had only been a stopping off point to get fresh water and food.  Just recently the British East India Company had decided to establish a trade community to make it easier to conduct business in Asia.  Diego was astonished at the rapid growth that had occurred in such a short time. 

There were many strange little flat-bottomed vessels with large lateen, or somewhat rectangular sails and what appeared to be living quarters built into the aft section of the ships. “Those are called junks, Diego.  Most of the people who live here are either Malay or Chinese,” Bowman explained patiently. 

“There are children on these junks,” said Diego, his eyes trying to take in everything at once.  “And that boy has a barrel tied onto his back.” 

Bowman laughed.  “Whole families live on these ships.  The junks are their homes.  And the barrels protect the children from drowning.  If the child falls overboard, family members can just pull him back aboard and no harm done.” 

After the China Star anchored, many of the sailors went ashore, reveling in their short-term freedom.  The captain left with them, and Diego fervently hoped that it was to arrange passage back to California.  

“We will only be here for a day and a half and most of the time we will be on board.  We have to unload some of the cargo to make room for the goods that we will purchase in China.  We also have to restock supplies.  That was a long trip here, with few food stops, and we need to stock fresh fruit and other provisions,” Bowman told him. 

Diego nodded his agreement.  Even the beer had been sour and the taste of beef was just a memory, covered in salt and infested with maggots.   Only by fishing occasionally from the railing, did Diego feel that he had kept his stomach somewhat happy. 

“Diego,” the cargo master said as they leaned on the rail gazing absently at the burgeoning little city.  “When we were in San Diego harbor, seemingly so long ago, I heard a tale that at the time seemed too fantastic to believe.”  He paused to see if Diego was paying attention to him.  His assistant gazed at him with curiosity in his eyes.  “It concerned a bandit from somewhere near Los Angeles that the peons called El Zorro.  He dressed in the darkest clothes, black, I was told, wore a mask to cover his features, and rode a magnificent black stallion.   It was said that he rescued those in need and made sure that peons and hacendados were treated justly.  Many people felt this man was their hero and could never be killed.”  Bowman looked at Diego, who was paying very close attention now.  “Have you heard of him?”  

“Yes,” Diego told the old man evenly.  “He has even saved me a time or two.” 

“Well, it occurred to me that this man is playing a very dangerous game that could someday cause his death.” 

Diego nodded.  “Perhaps he believes in his cause so much that he is willing to risk death.”  

“I wonder, though, what his death would mean to those close to him?”  Bowman mused, staring at the waves lapping gently against the hull of the ship.  He then walked slowly back to his cabin to work on the manifests.

Diego was left wondering whether Bowman was making small talk or if he had some idea of his nighttime clandestine activities.

 

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As Bowman had surmised, they were kept busy during most of the day.  Later when all was secure below decks, Diego and Bowman had a little free time to go onshore. 

The street vendors were mostly Chinese, but like street vendors around the world, they shouted against each other in order to get buyers to pay attention to them.  Several vendors’ children pointed blatantly at Diego, who felt like he was a display piece at a bullfight.  Bowman explained that because he was considered somewhat tall even by European standards, he appeared gigantic to these children.  Diego just shrugged.           

But the assistant supercargo was insatiably curious about what was going on around him and Bowman spent most of his time explaining the customs of the people with whom they were trading. The old man couldn’t help but feel that his assistant was trying to assimilate as much as he could before being released from his indenture.  The old man felt a jiggling of concern in the back of his mind.  He sincerely wanted to believe the captain, when Beatty had told Bowman recently that he might send the Californianos home from Singapore, but he also knew how unpredictable Beatty was.  The old man hoped that Diego didn’t do something drastic if Beatty decided not to release them from their indenture.          

Both men saw items that interested them.  Bowman found a pair of soft, black leather gloves, and he asked Diego to try them on for him.  They fit the Californiano perfectly and felt better than any he had ever worn before.  Bowman haggled with the merchant and paid the agreed upon price.  At which time, he handed them to Diego.  “I noticed the swordsman you bested had a pair of gloves similar to these.  I presumed you might need some,” Bowman said.            

Gracias, my friend,” Diego said softly.  “I wish I had something to give you.”            

“Ah, Diego,” Bowman told him with fondness.  “Never feel you need to give me anything material.  Your companionship has been all that this old man could ever want and whatever happens in the future, I will treasure it.”           

Later that evening, all hands returned to the ship.  When the captain came on board, he glanced at Diego, but said nothing.

 

 

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Diego was furious.  Earlier in the day, the China Star had set sail for Canton, with a hold full of sandalwood and opium-- and a compliment that included the eleven Californianos.  It was all he could do to hide his emotions from the watchful eye of the captain.  In fact, when it had been time to set sail, Diego had been more than willing to help loose the sails, even though it was another group’s turn.  The activity helped to take his mind from his rage a bit.  He went from yard to yard, working steadily with the others until all of the sails were loosed.  When they had been set, he stayed behind the others for a while, watching the eastern skies, before slowly climbing down the ratlines.            

Bowman called him into his cabin.  When the Californiano came in, the cargo master motioned to his assistant to close the cabin door and sit down.  Diego looked blackly at him, but complied without comment.  The cargo master then addressed him quietly in Spanish, which surprised Diego.  “The captain mentioned to me the other day that he had been feeling a bit of conscience about the indentures of you Californianos and might possibly send you home when we got to Singapore.  Can I assume that the blackness of mood you are exhibiting might spring from hearing the same thing?” Bowman asked him gently.             

Diego nodded.  “I had hoped the captain would release us and I would be on my way home now,” he explained.  “If he had released us from indenture himself, then you would not be hurt by my departure.  Of course, there would be the fact that I would miss you terribly,” he added.           

“And I, you, Diego,” the old man sighed.  “I would have said something to you, but I know how mercurial our captain is, and I didn’t want you to get your hopes up too much.  You know, I was a little surprised about his offer to send you all back in the first place.  The indentures of the others are in the right; yours was the only questionable indentureship, you having been kidnapped and not being a prisoner at all.  If the captain had done anything, I would have expected him to send just you back to California.”           

All of Diego’s pent up emotions burst out in an expression of anguish and despair.  “I am not part of this world.  My world is California; the land, the sun, the horses and cattle, the people. You have been like a father to me and I am very grateful, but your world is not my world, and I will never be able to totally fit in.”  He paused and took a deep breath.  “And I do not believe that most of my countrymen would either.”           

Bowman nodded his head sadly.  “I know that, Diego, and you know that I will do everything in my power to help you get home.  There is not much I can do for your fellow countrymen, but just the other day I offered to pay your indenture off.  I was told I didn’t have enough.”  He sighed, hurting for his assistant.  “I’m so sorry, my son.”  Oh, Diego!  How I wish now that I had done more to encourage you to jump ship when we were in the Sandwich Islands, Bowman thought in anguish, Then you would be home now.           

The chance that Bowman had taken was not lost on Diego.  Now the captain might have reason to distrust the cargo master, knowing they were close friends.  He said as much to his mentor.           

Bowman just waved his hand in dismissal of the thought.  “I am too old to be hurt by a captain’s distrust.  In fact, very little can hurt me anymore,” he replied.  “Now shall we get to work on the latest cargo manifests, before Captain Beatty asks what we have been doing with our time.”  Neither one of them mentioned the incident again.  There was no need to.

 

           

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Zorro once again paid a visit to the captain, this time only an hour or so before dawn, because he had figured that Capt. Beatty would have probably tried to stay up in wait for him.  He figured right.  With a pistol held laxly in his hand, he found Beatty sitting up in his bed, asleep, still in his uniform.   Zorro again relieved him of his weapon with the point of his sword.

This time he woke Beatty up with a scratch on his cheek.  The man almost hit the beam above his head; he jumped up so fast.  Zorro had his sword held just under the Englishman’s chin, and the captain was transfixed with terror at the sight of the cold, angry eyes that bored into his own.  “You disappoint me, John Beatty,” Zorro said in a voice as cold as ice.  “I should split you open right now, but that would be too quick and I have a better way to exact vengeance.  I will hurt you, John Beatty, as you have hurt the Californianos.  Not with a physical punishment, but in other ways,” the avenger promised.  “Look over your shoulder constantly, Captain.  Look above you, look below you, my punishment may be waiting for you.  The flames of my anger will be awaiting you,” he hissed.  “I will not return to visit you again.  You had your chance, and you chose not to take it.”

“But I tried,” the captain cried.  “It cost too much.  I had to pay for my cargo,” he added, his voice rising in his fear.  “I wanted to send them home, especially the one who had been kidnapped, I really did.  Please don’t hurt me.”           

“Shut up,” Zorro pressed the sword a little closer to Beatty’s jugular vein.  The man shut up.  “The time for excuses is past.”  The outlaw made a slight cut on the other cheek.  “Remember that you had a chance.”  And with that, Zorro dashed out the window and to his own cabin.  Amazingly, the avenger had reached his cabin by the time the captain found his voice.  Slipping into the pitch-black room he quickly changed out of the costume.  Just as the volume of the captain’s voice reached a level high enough to wake the supercargo, Diego had thrown on his other clothes and feigning sleepiness, asked Bowman what, by all the Saints, was going on.          

Bowman went out onto the quarterdeck and found Capt. Beatty berating the watchman.  Diego came out a moment later, after he had finished hiding the costume in his sea chest.  Bowman commented, in astonishment, on the two cuts the captain had on his cheeks.  By this time the other officers and some of the sailors had come up to the quarterdeck to investigate the commotion, too.            

Diego was amused at the description attributed to him.  Captain Beatty described a demon-like avenger who had been threatening him for some time.  The avenger ended up being taller, bigger and more powerful than Diego would ever come close to being.  The captain ended his tirade by describing how he had fought it off, but had received the two cuts for his efforts. It had then flown out the window on big black wings.  If not for the cuts, everybody would have thought the captain had been pilfering rum from the cuddy saloon.  As it was, many of the men still thought the captain was becoming unhinged.  Beatty ordered three more sailors to stand watch for what little was left of the night.

Patiently, Diego waited for two days to implement the next phase of his plan.  When the captain saw that he really wasn’t going to be visited again, he relaxed his guard somewhat.  In the quiet hours after midnight, Zorro climbed out of the gallery window and carefully made his way along the tiny ledge to the cabin where the opium was stored.  Cavanaugh’s room did not have a gallery window, but it did have a shuttered port, larger than a regular porthole, but small enough to make him work for his access. 

Patiently, carefully, Zorro pried with his fingers and a knife at the edge of the square wooden port cover, all the while conscious of the roll and movement of the huge ship.  The port opened outwardly, but obviously, he thought in amusement, it wasn’t intended to be opened from the outside.  Finally, the little door swung out and down and Zorro held it carefully to keep it from banging against the hull.  Now the tricky part, he thought, mentally measuring the dimensions of the oversized porthole against those of his shoulders.  It would be tight, but it was possible.  Feet first, he slid in and with his arms over his head, Zorro squeezed into the cabin.  Darkness prevailed, but he could not chance lighting a candle.  Slowly his eyes adjusted to the tiny bit of light that the open port allowed and he looked over the chests.  

With satisfaction, Zorro noted that the individual chests had no locks.   Apparently Beatty figured that the locked cabin in proximity of the officers’ quarters was deterrent enough against theft.  With a smile, the dark avenger remembered that the captain was in this room at least twice a day; usually just taking enough time to make sure that nothing had been disturbed.   Well, nothing will be, at least on the outside, Zorro thought grimly.  His only concern would be replacement.  What could he use to replace the contents of the chests as he tossed the opium overboard?  Then the masked man smiled broadly.  He remembered loading two chests filled with cannon shot in this cabin after the death of the first mate.  Quickly, he checked and found them still in the corner where they had been stored.  Each was twice the size of a packet of opium, but many times the weight.  He would use that in the chests nearer the door and simply empty the ones further away. 

In another twenty-four hours the moon would be full and then he would have a short period of time in which to work in the dark room.  Hopefully, if he worked quickly, it would only take one night to mete out his vengeance.  Grinning in anticipation, Zorro squeezed his way back out of the port and quietly closed the cover.  Spray covered him as the ship wallowed forward through the seas, but he soon made it back to his own cabin and the hammock that awaited him.  He fell asleep quickly.

 

 

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Beatty unwrapped the package in the chest in front of him and gazed at the yellow-brown cake of opium that lay in his hands.  With the poppy leaf and cotton cloth wrappings hanging down it looked almost like a flower, a moon flower.  He could almost imagine it glowing.  My freedom!  My passage out of this endless life at sea!  I can live like a duke, a prince, he thought.  Small bits flaked off and fell to the ground.  

“It will damage the merchandise if you continue to unwrap and fondle the opium, Captain,” Mr. Hackley said, somewhat deferentially. 

Beatty started.  “Um, yes, I was just checking it.  For some reason, I have had strange feelings that something might happen to it,” he murmured.  

“What could happen?” Hackley asked, then quickly added, “Begging the Captain’s pardon, but you have the only key to this room.” 

“Yes, that is true.  And it is always on me,” Beatty answered.  “Yes, you are right.  I am being overcautious.” 

“Sir,” a voice behind him said.  “Mr. Bowman asked me to bring this to you.”  

Beatty looked up and saw the tall Spaniard in the doorway.  That damnable aristocrat.  Soon I will have wealth that you have only dreamed of, my fine shanghaied prince.  “Very well, sailor.”  Beatty glanced at the private manifest for the chests of opium.  “Tell Mr. Bowman that I appreciate his promptness.”  The assistant supercargo bowed slightly and left. 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-five
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