A Matter of Time
His vision cleared and Harriman looked out of the
observation windows. Everything
seemed as before. The sky was
blue and almost cloudless and the sea was calm.
“Injury and damage report, Mr. Morton?”
Morton called over the intercom for both.
“No structural damage,” came the answer after a moment to check
systems on the computer. After several more moments, it became apparent that the
uncomfortable effects were manifestations of a temporal displacement or
the attempt at one.
Nelson strode into the hub of the control room
with Starke right behind him. “Any
indication of when we are, Chip?” he asked.
He had attempted to set the watch for a hundred thousand years in
the past. It would at least
be easier to check to see if they had actually gone anywhere . . . or
“No sir, although the instruments are picking up
more activity in the ocean,” the executive officer reported.
“And there is absolutely no radio, or any other kind of activity,
on the airwaves, sir.” He
was smiling his pleasure.
It probably echoed what he was feeling, Harriman
readings of the ocean floor, Kowalski.”
“Working on it, Admiral,” the rating reported,
almost immediately. “From
what I have seen so far, it would appear that you did it, sir.
We are in the past.” He,
too, was grinning. “The
contours of the ocean floor are different as are the coastline features I
can make out.”
“You did it, Harriman.
You did it,” Starke said, his voice hushed in awe.
He turned and looked outside the observation windows.
The part of the window that was underwater showed shadowy distant
objects slightly more exotic, perhaps larger than he was used to seeing in
his own time. Several of
those objects came closer. Sharks.
And there were differences!
Nelson could only nod.
“Let’s crack the hatch topside.
I need a breath of fresh air.”
Several of the men rushed to do his bidding and soon Nelson and
Starke were standing on the conning tower breathing in air untainted by
factory emissions or other pollutants.
“My congratulations,” Starke said softly as he
watched his friend light up a cigarette with slightly trembling fingers.
“Thanks, Jiggs, but I suspect that we have just
done the easy part. Now we
have to figure where to look.”
Starke didn’t bother to correct Nelson’s use of the word ‘where.’ They both knew what was ahead of them. What Starke was worried about was whether they could figure out the answer before the funds ran out. If not? Mentally shaking his head, Starke decided not to even go down that path right now. If anyone could find the proverbial needle in a haystack, it would be Harriman.
Alejandro and Bernardo had escorted Diego up the
steps to the secret room and practically forced him to the bed to rest
while they gathered belongings for a trip.
Despite his best efforts, Diego was unable to stay awake.
Alejandro announced, “I think it would be wise if we left now.”
His voice sounded odd, almost fearful and Lee could only think that
the old don had figured out the same thing that he had.
“We?” Lee asked, not having heard the older
man say he was going.
“Yes, I have decided, as I had discussed with
Diego several days ago, to go with him to Santa Barbara to check out the
new bulls and stallions,” said Alejandro with a tight smile.
“We have done this before, so it is not unknown.”
At Bernardo’s touch, Diego stirred and sat up,
groggy, not only from the injury, but also from lack of sleep. He was soon on his feet, though, standing quietly while
Bernardo buttoned on a clean shirt. He
reached for his vest, but the mozo motioned for him to sit down and allow
him to do the work. The vest
came next, then Bernardo brought out an appropriate pair of calzoneros,
easily slipped on because the buttons were all undone.
The outer jacket was last and then Bernardo pulled on the boots.
“Go down and tell the servants to quickly pack
pouches food for us,” Alejandro finally said to the manservant. “And to saddle horses for three of us.”
“Four of us.
These hats hide facial features and if there are patrols out, it
would be better for me to be with your party rather than alone,” Lee
said matter-of-factly. There
was another reason for his strong suggestion.
Somehow, he didn’t think they were going to get away so easily.
Alejandro’s countenance grew stormy again.
“And being caught with Diego would further implicate him.”
“True,” said Crane, “Unless you had the
right alibi. And I believe I
“Captain, when Diego said you should accompany
us to Santa Barbara, I thought that meant you would be joining us later,
not ride with us.”
“You will have to trust me on this one, Don
Alejandro. I think it will be
much better this way than if I was wandering alone in the wilderness,
which I would be. I don’t
know your country.”
Diego, like his father, didn’t like the idea of
Lee coming with from the hacienda. It
would bring more attention to the American, but the captain had brought
out a very viable concern. He
wondered just what Lee’s plan was, and was uncomfortable with unknown
factors, but right now he was just too tired and their time was too tight
to ask. “He’s right, Father,” Diego said as the two men
seemed to be trying to stare each other down.
The young don could see the captain’s command presence in his
bearing as well as in his assertive and self-confident words.
“Lee has been sequestered for almost a month and unable to become
familiar with our area. We
could give directions that are totally familiar to us, but would be
meaningless to him."
“Harumph,” grumbled the older man, before he
threw up his hands. “All
“By the way, Don Alejandro, you might want to
look like you have been up and freshly dressed for this trip,” Lee
suggested as Bernardo turned to leave.
“And I will do the same.”
The hacendado gazed at his rumpled and stained
clothing and shook his head at his oversight.
He left the room and the two men heard the door of his bedroom open
and then close. Lee quickly
shaved and then looked into Diego’s wardrobe.
“Any of this something you haven’t worn for a while?” he
Diego pointed out a suit that was not quite as
flashy as what he was wearing, but sufficiently dashing enough to let Lee
pass as a caballero. That,
too, would fit with what he had in mind.
Despite his frustration with all the buttons on the pants, Crane
was soon dressed.
Even as Diego stood in front of the mirror, they
heard Alejandro’s door open again.
The don joined them and he and Diego hastily put together a story
that would also explain Lee’s presence.
Then Alejandro left again to make sure everything was ready.
Diego smiled as he brushed his hair left-handed.
“So far we have been fortunate,” he said, as he finished and
put the brush down.
“I hope it continues,” Lee murmured, feeling
the pinch of anxiety that he experienced whenever he began a mission.
A mission…. Somehow, he felt that this was indeed a mission; no
less important than any he had done for the ONI.
He only hoped that he was reading the signs and interpreting them
correctly. Everything was so
foreign and his own knowledge so limited.
However, he would trust to luck and hope that his efforts would
negate what his carelessness had done.
“Shall we go, Captain?”
opened the bedroom door and watched as Diego made his way out and toward
the head of the stairs. While
his steps were more deliberate, he seemed sure and confident and Lee’s
estimation of the young rancher rose higher.
Don Alejandro was waiting.
“Ah, Diego, Leandro,” he said in a pleasant tone of voice.
“The horses are ready and the day could not be more perfect.
Come, before it becomes too hot.
We should be able to get to Don Ari’s hacienda before
mid-afternoon if we start now.”
Lee smiled inwardly.
Their hastily prearranged show for the servants was seemingly going
off smoothly. And he thought
Don Alejandro’s rendition of the admiral’s first name was a nice touch
as well. “Uncle will be
awaiting your arrival,” he said with a slight smile.
They mounted, Diego still able to continue the
pretense that nothing was wrong and then rode along the trail that would
first take them toward the pueblo and then north to Santa Barbara. Ironic, Lee thought, that they were going toward his home,
but not for another hundred and sixty years.
It was dry, but not yet hot, even though the sun had been up for a
couple of hours. The air was
filled with sounds that carried far beyond what they would have in his
day, even if they could have been heard over all of the modern hubbub.
The tiny rustle of ground squirrels was only slightly muted by the
soft clopping steps of the horses’ hooves on the dusty trail.
A hawk called above them, another seemed to answer from far off.
Still the sounds of the hacienda behind them came to his ears—the
singing of the cook, the protest of the horses left behind, a rooster
crowing too late to serve any purpose other than his own vanity.
The leather gear creaked and the bits jangled.
Crane had, at times, stood in the observation room
of the Seaview and listened to the sounds the Gray Lady made during
her more quiet moments and it sometimes seemed he could almost follow them
along the lines of the boat to the next sound and the next, all the way to
the mighty propulsion units that allowed the sub to speed through the
water. It almost seemed that
way now, except these were sounds he had never really known before.
A fly buzzed by his ear with startling clarity and then flew ahead
to pester his gelding.
Still they continued, now in a trot, until they
had left all the sounds of the casa grande behind them.
Just as the sounds of the pueblo began to come to their ears, they
approached the road that would lead toward Santa Barbara.
When they turned onto the more northerly route, they saw their way
blocked by a contingent of eight soldiers, Capitán Ruiz at their head.
“Going visiting, Don Alejandro?” Ruiz asked
with a pleased smirk, urging his mount toward them.
“As a matter of fact, we are, Comandante,”
Alejandro said easily. Lee
could tell from beneath his lowered hat brim, though, that the older man
was nervous. “I have been
planning for some time to go to Santa Barbara and check out several new
stallions and bulls. If you
will let us pass, señor.”
Ruiz shook his head.
“And you, Don Diego, you do not usually go on these buying
Diego’s palomino snorted at the approach of the
large military stallion. “Usually,
you are right, Capitán,” Diego said, his voice pleasant, but his eyes
hard. “However, this time I
decided to go and visit some friends as well as help my father choose new
Ruiz was now almost side-by-side with Diego.
The young don noticed how uncomfortable Sgt. Garcia appeared and
wondered how they would get out of this one.
He had a ready lie to tell, but no one to back it up.
Lee had said something about trusting him with an idea, but
somehow, Diego figured it would entail the young American exposing himself
“Come now, Don Diego,” Ruiz said
sarcastically. “I can
understand the visiting part, but helping your father?”
He was now right next to the hacendado by now.
“It couldn’t be because you have been doing something
traitorous, would it, and you were trying to run from the consequences?”
Then like the strike of a snake, he reached out and punched Diego
in the chest.
Diego frowned, but didn’t flinch. “Capitán, what cause have you to treat me this way?”
Without saying anything more, Ruiz grabbed
Diego’s right arm.
Diego hissed in sudden pain, but still didn’t
pull away. “Unhand me,
Comandante,” he said quietly.
Lee continued to be impressed, even while feeling
the anxiety build. If he
hadn’t come to know Diego well the past four weeks, he would not have
caught that slight change of facial expression.
Alejandro started to protest, but Ruiz waved him off.
“Something wrong with your arm, Diego?” Ruiz
asked, his voice also snakelike.
He loosened his grip, then clasped higher, tightened his grip for
several minutes longer and then suddenly let go.
With a feral smile he pointed to the small stain that now appeared
on Diego’s jacket just where his hand had recently gripped.
“I arrest you, Diego de la Vega, for being the bandit, Zorro.”
Diego had been reining left-handed, something not
normal for the right-handed man. Ruiz
had apparently realized that too. The
time had come, Lee thought. He
began to chuckle, then he laughed out loud.
Everyone gaped at him, except Ruiz who continued to study Diego,
his eyes flint-hard.
Finally as Lee continued to laugh, Ruiz’s steely
stare turned to him and his eyes narrowed.
“Who are you and why do you laugh?” he barked.
“Because what you propose is so outrageous,”
Lee replied, still laughing. Even
the soldiers, including Sgt. Garcia, were snickering.
“Don Diego is many things, but Zorro?
You are telling a very good joke, señor.” He slowly pulled his glove from his hand and wiped his eyes
as though wiping away tears of mirth.
“Besides, why would a wound that I accidentally inflicted on my
friend be reason to accuse him as Zorro?”
“You inflicted?” Ruiz roared, still staring at
Lee. “What are you talking
about? My patrol reported
wounding Zorro last night, noted blood on the ground.
De la Vega stands here wounded.”
“Capitán, I was trying to teach Diego how to
shoot the pistols. He was
hopeless,” Lee continued his tale with an apologetic glance at Diego.
“And when I was showing off, I am afraid that I got careless.
But today he said he was well enough to ride back with me to my
home in Santa Barbara, so here we are.”
Lee paused and then looked directly into the captain’s eyes.
“He said the atmosphere would be much more conducive to recovery
there.” The last was
delivered with a tone of deep sarcasm.
“You are lying.
You never answered my question!
Who are you?” Ruiz’s face drew even closer and then his breath
hissed between his teeth in surprise.
“The Americano! So
now I can arrest all of you!” He
swung around to face Don Alejandro. “You,
Señor Alcalde for harboring a criminal!
Zorro—your son—helped him escape and you have been hiding him
“Don Diego is not Zorro!
Don Alejandro was only doing what was best for his government and
his people, Capitán Ruiz. Something
more than you thought of doing when I first appealed to you for help out
there in the wilderness,” Lee said, his voice deepening to his more
commanding tone. “He knew
that torturing and eventually killing a foreign citizen, especially a high
ranking officer like me, might very well lead to hostilities with a
country that has great military resources.
Zorro knew that, too. He
left me near the de la Vega hacienda and Don Alejandro and his son took me
in and nursed me back to health.” Lee drew himself up.
Diego found himself at a loss for words at
Crane’s audacity. What did
his new friend have in mind and how would that help them?
Yes, what Ruiz had done to Lee was extreme and uncalled for, but
not something that he would be necessarily censured for in Mexico City.
The Mexican government distrusted the young United States and many
thought with good reason. So what Ruiz had done was not totally out of order.
It may have been cruel, but not without merit, at least in the eyes
of many of the politicians in Mexico City.
So what was Lee Crane trying to do?
“I am a Commander in the United States Navy.
Until I was shipwrecked, I was captain of a great vessel with a
large complement of men,” Lee declared.
The American’s voice was one that Diego figured
would make any sailor cringe. Even
Garcia and his men were gaping in awe.
It now took on a deadly tone.
“I am an officer and a gentleman. You, Capitán Ruiz, are an officer, but you are no
gentleman.” Lee took
the glove and slapped Ruiz across the face.
“I demand satisfaction!” he thundered.
“On the field of honor!”
For a moment, even Ruiz couldn’t say a thing.
|A Matter of Time One|