A Matter of Time

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 6

 

 

Bernardo tried to get Crane to leave, but the American shook him off.  He dashed down the steps and began to examine Diego’s wound.   Alejandro sucked in an enraged breath, and pushed him away. 

“I can and will take care of my son!”

“I know you can, Don Alejandro, but sometimes we all need a little help to take care of those we care about,” Lee said.  He felt the guilt of Diego’s injury as much or more than he had ever felt on Seaview over a crewman’s injury, mainly because he knew his actions had directly and deliberately brought his new friend to harm.  However, he would not let that or the older man keep him from doing what he knew he could do to help right now.  “I know some first aid from my time.  I can help with Diego’s wound.” 

“I do not know what or who you are, anymore, seńor.  Your actions have brought my son to great harm, more than you can imagine.  It is fortunate that Bernardo was able to obliterate some of the blood that my son trailed here, or the soldiers would already have him in the carcel.  Leave me to take care of Diego.”

Lee was undeterred.  He saw that Diego’s wound wouldn’t be life threatening unless, of course, they couldn’t stop the bleeding.  He turned to the angry patriarch.  “I offer no excuses for my part in what has happened, sir.  I do offer my services to help Diego overcome his injuries.   Or do you have a trusted doctor who can come and care for him?” he asked point blank. 

There was a momentary pause.  Alejandro was almost shaking with rage, then he visibly deflated.  “No, I do not have a trusted doctor.”

“Father, they simply got lucky this time,” Diego said suddenly.   “This was no different than any of the other times I have gone out as Zorro.  Let Lee help.   It is not life-threatening; it’s just my arm.”

“Maybe not life threatening,” Alejandro growled.  “But it will be when Ruiz hears about this.  He has already been suspicious and nosing around like some tenacious dog.   I think he figures you to be Zorro, Diego.”

“I know.”  Diego’s answer was part sigh, part resignation.  Lee knew that it was not all a reaction to the effects of his wound. 

“I did not,” Lee said tersely, carefully pulling away the bloody material near the top of Diego’s right arm.   From the condition of his shirt, Crane could see that his friend had bled quite a bit on his ride home.  No wonder the mozo had to go out and hide evidence.   He remembered his own wound when he was in Venice.  The worst of his had been the infection he had received from having to swim in the dirty waters of the city canals.  “But first we have to take care of your wound and then we can figure out how to deal with Ruiz.”  The ball seemed to have penetrated from the back and exited from the front.  He said as much and then turned to Bernardo.  “Hot water, Bernardo.  Boiled if you can get it that way.  And clean bandages.  What do you have in the way of cleansing agents?”

Bernardo nodded and indicated that he would gather what he could. 

Lee turned his concentration to the still bleeding wound.  Not an artery, thank goodness, but still….  Diego looked pale and seemed lethargic, though thankfully, not shocky.  He felt along Diego’s shoulder and upper chest.  The younger man sucked in his breath in pain, but didn’t flinch. 

“What are you doing?” Alejandro asked, still belligerent, but not unaccepting of his help. 

“Diego has bled quite a bit already.  I am trying to find a pressure point in case we cannot stop the bleeding with direct pressure to the wound.  Are there any clean bandages to use while we wait for Bernardo?”

To his credit, Alejandro only paused a second and then sprang into action.  “I will get a clean shirt from Diego’s room.”

“Good,” Lee said, holding a lantern closer and examining the wound.  The worst of the bleeding was coming from the back of Diego’s arm.  When Alejandro was gone, Lee asked, “Can you move your arm, Diego?  When I checked, it didn’t feel as though any bones were broken, but I couldn’t be sure.”

“That was the first thing I wondered about, but my arm seemed to move fine when I was riding back home, although it hurt considerably.” 

“Hmm, that is one good piece of news.  Now what did your father mean about Ruiz?”

“Evidently there are notes from previous comandantes.  Ruiz has asked several people about my activities or whereabouts when Zorro was around.  I guess if the soldiers suspected I had been shot, the capitán will be out here in a flash to see if I am wounded.”

“Did they give any indication that they knew?” Lee asked, concerned.

“Yes, one of them shouted something to the others about hitting me.  I did not think he was that close, but then there was no ricochet sound to indicate otherwise.”

This is not good, Lee thought.  That damned Ruiz is a bulldog.   He remembered his own experiences with the man.  He had been in this time and place for almost a day before he came across the patrol—the one with Ruiz in personal command.  The shock of the time transfer, lack of water and exposure to the heat had made Crane realize that he would not survive very long without some kind of help.   His feet had already been bruised and bleeding, he not having had his shoes on in the transition.   When the men had approached him, Lee had realized from the dress and language an approximation of where and when he probably was.  Still, he figured that he would get at least minimal consideration.  He had been wrong.  From his somewhat meager command of the Spanish language, Lee had picked up that Ruiz had considered him some kind of vagrant or bandit.  He had to pause and mentally laugh at that one.  No complete uniform, no sidearm, tired, sore, sweaty and totally wiped from the heat of the sun and Ruiz thought he was some kind of bandit?  What a joke!   When the comandante had started slapping him around, Lee clammed up and only gave his name, rank and serial number.  That had been a mistake, he realized quickly.  If Ruiz had thought him a threat before, he really loved the idea that he was some kind of spy or something equally dangerous.   While the interrogations from that time on seemed amateurish compared to what some of the despots of Lee’s day could do, they nevertheless began to take their toll.  Lee had come to realize with painful clarity what a cat o’ nine tails could inflict upon a man.  When Diego/Zorro came and rescued him, he had not been sure how much longer he could last….

“When you three get me bandaged, it will probably be better if I simply leave,” Diego said, breaking into Crane’s reverie.   “It would be a buying trip to San Diego or Santa Barbara.”

“You are not going anywhere.   At least not for a while,” Lee growled, knowing that Diego needed at least a day or so to recuperate from the blood loss—and any possible infection.   “We will worry about Ruiz if we need to.  In the meantime, we will get you cared for.”  He glanced up the stairs, wishing he could hurry the two men up.  With no warning, Lee placed his hand against the worst part of the wound and pressed. 

Diego hissed in pain, but didn’t say anything.  Lee explained.  “Pressure to try to control the bleeding.  I would prefer to have a bandage, but hopefully this will help,” Lee explained.  “I knew it was risky for you to be Zorro and to constantly dance with danger like you do, but I was unaware how close an enemy had come to figuring all of this out.  I am sorry, Diego, for pushing you to take me out like that.  I can’t imagine why I was so irresponsible.”

“Lee, I have continually wondered how I would react if I was snatched from my home and time, my family and friends, and placed somewhere totally foreign and strange,” Diego said softly, even as Lee continued to apply pressure to the wound.  “And I think I would not have done as well as you have.  I have never adapted well to confinement and this cave would be confinement if I had to stay in it long.”

“Gracias, Diego,” Crane murmured.   “Still, we have to think of a way to neutralize Ruiz.”

Before Diego could respond, Alejandro came clattering down the steps, a small bundle of white in his hands.  “A shirt,” he puffed.  “It is clean.”

Crane nodded.  “If you could tear it into wide strips and then fold two of them into bandages, I would appreciate it.  That will do until Bernardo can bring down his supplies to clean the wound.  Infection is what I most worry about.”  He looked at the two men.  “I have gone through this myself.”

Alejandro raised an eyebrow.  “You have?”

Lee took the bandage that the de la Vega patriarch handed him.  “Yes, I have been in a bit of trouble during my Navy days.  Made a few enemies, too.”   Carefully, he pulled his hand away and then, with Don Alejandro’s help, pressed bandages, front and back and bound them on with another strip, making it tight enough to control the bleeding, but not so tight as to be overly restrictive.

Within an hour, Bernardo had come with medicines and bandages and the wound had been cleaned and rebandaged.  Diego rested quietly against the stone wall of the cave fighting sleep. 

“I have to agree with my son.  Leaving, as hard as it would be on him, would be best.  And quickly, as it is already daylight.”

Lee had been pondering while helping Bernardo clean the wound.  “I don’t think so.”  All three men looked at him. 

Diego pulled himself from his lethargy to study his American friend.  “Why do you say that, Lee.  I have done it before and then Bernardo has appeared as Zorro to allay suspicion.”

“But has it entirely allayed suspicion?” Lee asked pointedly.  “First, I think you should be in bed, my friend, then I have a theory on a way to take care of Ruiz.”

“Short of assassinating him?” snorted Alejandro.  He had calmed quite a bit since his initial bitter outburst. 

Lee smiled.  That would solve most of the problem, but that wasn’t his style and despite their jokes, he knew it wasn’t Diego’s and Don Alejandro’s either.  “No, but you will have to trust me on this.”

Diego frowned.  He didn’t have any idea what the Americano had in mind, but there was something in Crane’s amber brown eyes that he didn’t like.  “No, I will do this my way.  I will go and prepare for a trip.   The servants will see me leave in the greatest of health.   Lee, I think that you should join me on the trip to San Barbara.   That way we can both stay out of the comandante’s reach.”

Lee doubted that Ruiz would be undeterred.  Somehow, he also believed that if the Mexican captain thought that Zorro had been shot, he would be at the de la Vega hacienda as soon as he could.   He didn’t say that, though, and he didn’t argue the point.  If Ruiz did what Crane thought he’d do, it wouldn’t matter. 

 

 

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

   

SSRN Seaview

 

“So what you’re saying, Harriman, is that you want Seaview released from future missions until you can test the time device and locate Captain Crane,” Starke said with a shake of his head.  “I like the boy as much as you do, but you know you can’t use up government expenditures on something so tenuous and risky as that.  You also know that the Naval department won’t give you funds for unexplained excursions and you won’t release any information on this device.” 

“I can’t, Jiggs.  This type of technology is beyond dangerous and if someone else caught wind of it, and snatched it, the balance of power would be skewed all to hell.  Just think what one of our enemies could do with this.  Pem almost did.”  He paused.  “But I have to at least make an attempt to find Lee.” 

Starke paced the width of the observation deck.  “I know and I don’t blame you.  I wish you could take a hammer and smash that thing right now after what you told me.”  Nelson started to say something, but Starke cut him off with a wave of his hand.  “Harriman, I know.  I can give you a month, maybe two.  You’ve been refusing assignments and requests for the past couple of months anyway, so Seaview is carrying a lighter workload than usual.  You also realize that two months of operating the boat from your own pocket will almost bankrupt you.  Even with the scientific work going on at the Institute, Seaview is your cash cow as well as your crowning achievement.”

Under normal circumstances, Nelson would have bristled at Starke’s assessment of his Gray Lady, but in a crude way, it was true and right now he didn’t feel up to arguing the little points anyway.  “It doesn’t matter, Jiggs.  It really doesn’t.  I wouldn’t be able to carry on with anything if I didn’t at least make an attempt.”  He took a tired breath.  “And I don’t think the crew would either.  Several of the crewmembers have already told me that they would waive their pay on any missions to find Lee.”

Starke nodded as he gazed intently into his friend and colleague’s eyes.  “I only ask one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“You allow me to join you on your quest.  I have a couple of months of accrued leave and I would like to be part of this.”

Harriman smiled wanly and laid his hand on Starke’s shoulder.  “Thanks, Jiggs.  It would be a privilege to have you by my side.  But there are no guarantees.  This is still a very risky endeavor.  We could blow ourselves up rather than travel through time.”

“Well,” Starke said with a soft chuckle.  “I can’t think of a better way to go.   The first thing I want you and your exec to do, though, is to go and get some serious sack time.”

“Aye, aye, sir” Nelson said, his eyes showing more humor than they had since the day Lee had disappeared months ago.  It felt good to have someone to help, even if it was only moral support. 

 

Two days later, the three men again sat in the observation room, their heads bent over the charting table, mugs of cold coffee holding down recalcitrant odds and ends of paper. 

“So what do you have, as far as ideas where to take the first ‘trip?’ ” Starke asked. 

“Not much, although I tend to think that Pem wouldn’t have had time to get really creative as to a place.  I think he would have been nasty enough to make it close geographically, but still inconvenient or downright dangerous for Lee to survive.”  

“So you are thinking United States?”

“The land mass, anyway.”

“Inhabited or non?” Starke asked like a schoolteacher giving a quiz.

“Going pretty far back if we say non-inhabited, but that is a thought.  Difficult to stay out of reach of some of the animals that are thought to have lived during those eras,” Nelson replied.  He almost cringed as he said the words.  When they did get into the temporal vicinity of where Lee was dumped, would they find him still alive?   “Well, right now, we just need to test my job of watch repair and then we can continue brainstorming.”

“Orders, sir?” Morton asked, straightening up. 

“Take us out ten miles and then bring us to the surface, Chip,” Nelson responded. 

“Aye, aye, sir.”   Everyone quickly responded.  The tension was palpable; Nelson had already apprised the crew as to what was happening, giving anyone who wanted to the opportunity to stay ashore.  Not one of the men chose to do so. 

When the giant submarine was rocking gently on the surface of a calm sea, Nelson did his final checks.  This time he would only take the Seaview back in time, not displace her geographically as Pem had done.  At least that was what he hoped would happen.  During the reassembling of the timepiece, he had learned a great deal and felt he could separate the two actions. 

“Ready, Harriman?” Starke asked quietly at his shoulder.

Nelson nodded and pulled the watch from his pocket.   Placing it in the cradle he had made for it, one that also provided a direct conduit to the power of the reactor, he looked back at Chip, manning the con and waiting for his orders.  “General quarters, Mr. Morton.  We’re going to test it.”

“Aye, sir,” he said, almost inaudibly.  Then louder, “Sound general quarters.”  Claxons blared, but Harriman ignored them as he worked the controls of the timepiece.  Suddenly they were jerked as though manipulated by a giant hand, a feeling of nausea swept through him along with a seemingly oppressive change in gravity.  Nelson grabbed onto the edge of the table and hung on as his vision swirled and darkened. 

 

 

 

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