A Matter of Time
As he and Bernardo returned to the hacienda after
a visit with Sgt. Garcia that was most productive in amount of information
gleaned, but not pleasing as to its content, Diego noticed the approaching
storm with something akin to horror.
The yellow sky to the south and west turned dark within the space
of several heartbeats. This
was much more ominous than the previous storm a week ago and he knew that
Lee would not have had a chance to get back to the harbor.
He turned to Bernardo, who had apparently come to the same
conclusion and ordered Tornado saddled the moment they reached the casa
grande. When they arrived,
the mozo rushed to the secret cave to do his bidding.
Diego changed quickly. Bernardo
had glanced at him as though he was a crazy person and perhaps he was, but
he would try to get help for Lee. In
a situation such as this, Tornado would be the more sure-footed and
speedier horse and Zorro was more effective in recruiting help than Diego
would be. He did not don the
cape, as it would be a detriment in this kind of weather.
He mounted and in spite of the rain that was now coming down in
sheets, Zorro began to fight his way toward Los Angeles and ultimately San
He only made it to Los Angeles before he admitted defeat. As he watched from the doorway of an old, unused stable on the outskirts of town, Zorro could only pray for his friend.
Lee realized almost immediately that it was too
late to ‘out run’ this storm and make it to the harbor.
The swirling winds were wrecking havoc on his sail.
They were coming from the southwest and if he continued in that
direction, he would have no sail at all.
Nor would he have a mast.
He fought the tiller and turned about toward Santa Rosa Island.
He could take refuge there until the storm blew itself out.
Seaview II bucked and then slammed down on a cresting wave.
Water slapped him in the face, but he ignored it.
The sailboat hurtled toward what he guessed to be the island’s
shoreline and Lee hoped it was the sandy beach and not the rocky shoreline
he had seen during some of his explorations.
Fighting the tiller, he was able to keep what he
presumed to be a steady course toward the island.
The rain blinded him and tension caused the pain in his leg to
redouble itself. He felt,
rather than heard the sail give way and he knew he was at the mercy of the
buffeting waves. Still,
he kept a steady grip on the tiller, hoping to keep the rudder long enough
to get to shore. Remotely, he
wondered at his almost obsessive need to return here this day because
somehow he knew that he wasn’t going to be able to keep that old sextant
with its inscription, or the still intact captain’s watch.
brought his mind to a terrifying thought.
The timepiece!! He
always stowed it in a tiny cabinet beneath his seat when he was diving,
feeling the need to always have it with him.
While still grasping on the bucking tiller with
one hand, Lee reached below him and groped.
The cabinet was still closed, but water was coming in the boat
quickly. He had to get
to land and find shelter. Then
he wondered just why he continued to protect the damned watch.
He knew his place was now here—in his past. Right now, the most important thing was to preserve his life.
That too, gave him pause. Would
his life here, change what his life had been, indeed, what others lives
had been—would be—in the future?
Lee shook his head, feeling he was confusing himself.
He needed to concentrate on the here and now.
Suddenly, he saw rocks looming ahead of him to his left and he jerked the tiller to force the craft starboard. The sailboat resisted and slammed along the side of a tide-smoothed rock. Lee felt the port side of his beloved sailboat caving in, the waves hurtling her over and throwing him out into the boiling surf. He took a breath and dove under the wave that was reaching to claim him as its own.
The pen dropped and then rolled to the side of the
desk. Nelson gazed at the
number on which the red point had landed and made its mark. 1825. Not
too far into the Mexican period of Spanish California.
Still, he had determined to let fate determine this one last jump.
Harriman picked up the mike without saying a word
to Starke. “Chip,” he
began, knowing that the XO was on duty in the control room.
“Yes, Admiral,” Morton’s voice replied
“Ready us for one more jump.”
And the orders came over the intercom.
Nelson had the timepiece in its cradle in front of
him, and began setting the little control stem.
July 4, 1825. Then
he pressed the stem. There
was the jolt of transfer, the sub shuddered slightly and then it was
still. He picked
up the mike again. “Chip,
secure the boat. I’ll be
“Aye, aye, Admiral.”
“July 4th, Harry?” Starke asked.
Nelson only shrugged.
“As good a day in this year as any other.”
“I guess it is.”
Starke followed him out the door.
They entered the control room and saw the turgid
water boiling against the observation windows.
“Storm?” he asked, surprised.
We’re taking her down to a hundred feet and will wait it out.”
“Kowalski, you watch for any readings,” he
told the sonar man.
Already begun. I did
pick up some little brief blip, but it hasn’t reappeared.”
Nelson was immediately intrigued. That was more than they had had in any of the other jumps.
“A single ping that I would have missed had I
not been watching the screen closely.
That’s how faint it was.”
“Did you mark its position?”
“Not accurately, sir.
It came and went so fast, I wasn’t able to get a pinpoint
reading. It appeared to
be on the ocean floor, though.
Shallow though. Really
hard to tell for sure, Admiral.”
“Hmmm,” Nelson murmured.
He hadn’t thought of the possibility of Lee being transferred
into the ocean, but it was certainly possible.
Hopefully if that had happened, he had been close to shore.
Lee was a strong swimmer.
When this storm let up, he determined that this time he would go
ashore with Rojas and Morales. This time they would try Los Angeles, since it was a bigger
It took several hours before Chip felt it was safe
enough to surface. Even then
the wind was still gusting fitfully, blowing spray into their faces. The afternoon sun was weak but the lookouts could see hints
of golden blue skies to the south.
“Break out a skiff,” Nelson ordered.
“Lt. Rojas?” he turned to the young man beside him.
“I am coming with you.
What would you suggest, based on your previous experiences, that I
“Sir, I think you could wear the outfit that
Seaman Morales wore the last time, since you two are close in size. It is a tradesman’s costume, if you don’t mind that and
the hat will hide your hair color in case the people during this time here
in Los Angeles have a fear of foreigners,” Rojas replied.
“And Ned?” Nelson asked, referring to Morales.
“We had a couple of extra sets of peon’s
“Good. I would like
to get underway as soon as possible.
It would be better, I think, to go in under the cover of the
tail-end of this storm.”
“Commander,” he continued as Chip came topside
to join him. “When we leave, I want you to stand off one of the islands
between here and Santa Barbara.
If possible try to find where that signal came from.
We will have communicators.”
“Aye, sir,” Chip replied.
“I’ll go and have the skiff made ready for the landing
When Chip and Rojas had left, Starke joined him.
“Do you think it really wise to go with them, Harry?”
“Maybe not, Jiggs, but if this is the last
stopover, I want to see it for myself—and I want to be able to tell
myself that we did all we could do. I
want Seaview to make readings and take samples before we return to
our day, as well. I won’t
be able to publicize them, but I will be able to use the readings to
satisfy myself and show me where I need to concentrate my conservation and
Starke knew that his colleague was covering up his
emotions with his bantering, but that was all right, too. He just grunted his agreement and continued to watch the
scudding clouds above them and the distant line of land starboard.
“I had better get ready myself,” Nelson said
and went below. Within an
hour the small party had set out in the skiff, all three men paddling
toward the distant shore.
In the skiff, Nelson sat quietly, watching the
distant, cloud enshrouded shoreline become more distinct and detailed as
they closed the distance. The
two Hispanic crewmen were quietly efficient.
“Lieutenant, I will leave all the talking to you as my Spanish
skills extend mainly to understanding, not speaking.”
He held the wide-brimmed straw hat with one hand as an errant gust
of wind tried to snatch it from his head.
“Admiral, what if we have to identify
ourselves?” Rojas asked.
Nelson thought a moment and then it occurred to
him. “Just use my name. They might think I am related to Horatio Nelson who beat the
French forces in the Battle of Trafalger.”
“Sounds good, Admiral.
I hope we are successful this time.”
Harriman didn’t answer, he could only wonder if this last attempt, this thrown to the winds effort would have greater success than the others. With a sigh, he continued to watch the shoreline come closer and closer. Where the hell are you, Lee Crane?
Zorro mounted Tornado and rode out into the
remnants of the dying storm toward San Pedro.
A half-hearted growl of thunder sounded behind him, and a strong
breeze tried to whip his hat away, but he continued on.
It would be dark in only four or five hours and that time was
precious if anyone could be coaxed to go out into the ocean toward Santa
Rosa Island to look for Lee. He
rode into the small port town along a lesser-used, narrow road parallel to
the main road leading to the docks. He
quickly reached the barn-like structure that served as the Costa’s fish
house. It was here they
cleaned, salted and packed the fish in heavy barrels for the large ships
that came calling. Here the
local cooks came to buy some of the fresher catches for their kitchens.
There was no activity outside and it was dim
inside. No one was working
since no boats would go out in this storm.
There was a small amount of activity at the end of the building
where boats were built and repaired.
He approached in the shadows and saw Luis Costa overseeing a few
workers repairing an older boat.
“Señor,” Zorro said softly as he drew closer.
Costa whirled around in surprise. “Zorro!” Then
he quickly recovered. “Why
are you here, señor?”
“A friend of mine is in trouble, I am afraid,
and he probably needs your help.”
“Who, Señor Zorro?”
“The American captain.
I rescued him from the former comandante, but this time my
expertise will not help him.”
“He went out this morning and hasn’t
returned,” Costa commented. “I
hope he took refuge on one of the islands.”
“But perhaps there is time to take your boat and go check. I happen to know where he has been sailing recently.”
Costa hesitated a moment, then nodded.
“Yes, it has calmed enough to go out.
Where is this place?”
“Near Santa Rosa Island,” Zorro informed him.
“Even though it is late, we should go.
Will you accompany us?”
This time Zorro hesitated, but he trusted Luis and
was extremely anxious about Lee. “Yes.”
The door burst open and one of the other Costa
brothers dashed toward Luis. Zorro
melted back into the shadows.
“What is it, José?” Luis asked.
“There are strangers asking about an Americano.
I did not know if they were friends or enemies of Capitán Crane,
but told them you would be able to help them.
They seemed most interested in him,” José explained.
Zorro thought about that, along with the
information that Garcia had given him earlier about the arrival of a new
comandante. This was
worth waiting to find out more.
“They are on their way here?” Luis asked.
They were not far behind.”
And indeed, the door opened and three men entered.
Zorro studied them as they approached.
There was one, slightly shorter, dressed as a shopkeeper, another
as a very poor peon. The one
in the front of the group, a vaquero by the look of him, seemed to be the
leader, or at least the spokesman. The
stranger smiled and began speaking even before he reached Luis and his
brother. There was something,
though, that seemed familiar about the man, even as he realized that the
vaquero was from someplace far from here.
But what was familiar about him?
Definitely if a vaquero, he was in charge of others.
Maybe a head vaquero? Why
such a diverse group?
Then Zorro focused on the man at his side, the
merchant, who was watching and listening.
He wondered why he had suddenly been drawn to a non-descript
tradesman, if that was what he really was.
Suddenly it dawned on him—none of these people were what they
appeared to be. They didn’t
seem totally comfortable in their clothing, as though these were just
“Señor, we were directed to you because we were
told you could help us find a friend of ours,” the vaquero said.
“Who are you and why would an Americano be your
friend?” Luis asked bluntly.
Zorro knew the fisherman had come to like Lee
Crane in a sort of solicitous, big brother sort of way.
Luis saw the capitán as an equal, and yet a somewhat misguided
sibling. He had admired
Lee’s boat, was in awe of the American’s skills with it and yet shook
his head over Lee’s constant trips out on the ocean.
Zorro knew that Luis especially saw the diving excursions as
lunacy, but he had never tried to dissuade Lee, only wishing his friend
God speed each time the Americano left the harbor.
Luis was being very protective right now, almost bristling at the
possible implications of these men looking for his friend.
Zorro wasn’t sure that there was time for this, but he would wait
for another minute or two.
The vaquero hesitated slightly. The merchant, or rather the man in the storekeeper’s
guise lightly touched the spokesman on the arm and murmured something
almost too soft to hear. But
hear it Zorro did, and realized it was English.
This then; the merchant, not the vaquero, was the leader of the
group. The glimpse Zorro got
when the man’s hat slipped back a little was that of someone with ruddy
complexion and sky blue eyes. The
man was trying very hard not to call attention to himself.
Why? Perhaps it was
because he was really an American who had recruited his companions to help
him find Lee Crane. That
would mean then that….
With the signal, the vaquero spoke.
“I am Miguel Rojas, this is Jorge Morales,” he said, pointing
to himself and then to the man in peon’s clothing.
“And this is…”
“Admiral Harriman Nelson, I presume,” Zorro said in perfect English, divorcing himself from the shadows like a dark ghost to stand in front of the strangers.
|A Matter of Time One|