A Matter of Time





Chapter 9



Diego leaned against his horse, suddenly drained of energy.   Alejandro saw him and rushed to his side.  “Diego, my son, sit down over there in the shade of the tree." 

Although he would have preferred to stay by Lee’s side, he felt the sun beating down on him, further sucking the energy out of him.  He nodded and allowed himself to be led to a shady spot.   “Would you be able to move Lee here as well?” he asked when he was more comfortably seated in the cooler shade of the tree.

“I believe I can.”   Gently Alejandro grasped Crane under his arms and began to pull him toward the tree.  The American’s sudden cry of pain stopped him. 

With a moan, Crane opened his eyes and stared up into the old man’s face.  “What?  How?” he gasped.  “I think . . . I would have to . . . feel better to die,” he added.  Then things seemed to clarify behind the amber hued brown eyes.  “Ruiz?”

“Dead.  You won the duel.  Only the Santos know how, but you did, Capitán.”

“Huh?” Crane asked, feeling he had missed something important.  He had trouble comprehending what Alejandro had said.  “Dead?  But . . . but how?”

“He hit his head when he fell.”

“I . . . I remember that, but still….”

“He collapsed just after he struck you on the head and he just—died.”

“Oh.”  Lee had to stop and think about that revelation and its ramifications.  The heat seemed to be swallowing him up.  He was so thirsty, and yet his stomach felt queasy.  He put his hand to his head to try to ease the pounding, but that didn’t help.   Where were the soldiers?    “Not under arrest?”

“No.  Sergeant Garcia wisely realized that you had not broken any laws.  He has left you to our care,” Alejandro reassured the injured man.

“Diego?”  Crane tried to sit up to look around, but a sudden wave of dizziness prevented any more movement. 

“I am here, Lee, and I am fine,” Diego reassured him out of his range of sight. 

Crane remembered something and began to chuckle.  Even through the pain he remembered his words to Doc, told to the CMO over and over again, whenever he had been banged up.  ‘I am fine.’   “Um, right, Diego.  I have heard that before.  Often.”   He lay back down and tried to push the worst of his discomfort away.  It felt as though everything had been battered, not just his leg.  Then again, the leg was enough without the rest. 

“Bernardo has gone to get a carriage to carry you back to the hacienda, Capitán,” Alejandro informed him.  The hacendado was bent over him in such a way as to keep out the sun, which seemed to have jerked almost overhead in the time since they had met Ruiz on the road. 

“I appreciate . . . what you are doing,” Crane murmured and then darkness overcame him again. 

Alejandro looked up as he heard the clatter of a carriage or one of the light wagons.  Bernardo came into view driving a smaller wagon.  Several vaqueros followed on horses.  The older man sighed in relief, knowing that he couldn’t have moved the Americano into the carriage without help.  “Be careful of his right leg.”

“Perhaps, Father, you need to put splints on his leg before he’s moved,” Diego suggested. 

“Yes, that is a good idea, Diego,” Alejandro replied.  He began directing the men to find straight sticks, then he noticed the broken lances still strewn on the ground.  Diego slowly got up to help.  “Diego, let the men do this.  You are in no shape to do anything after that foolishness that you and the capitán did with the pistols,” he scolded, trying to keep the illusion of Crane’s alibi in the minds of any who saw Diego’s wound.  In the back of his mind was the niggling worry of what to do about the accusation against his son.   But that would have to wait.  The lances were broken to the right length and Alejandro removed his banda to tie them on.  Diego handed him his banda as well.  During this procedure, the American remained mercifully unconscious.  Gently the men lifted him into the wagon bed, which had been covered with a blanket.  “Join him, Diego,” Alejandro ordered his son who was hovering nearby. 

Diego meekly acquiesced, not only to play the part, but because he was simply too tired to argue.  Soon the wagon was back at the casa grande and Lee was carefully carried to the guest room on the ground floor.   Diego and Alejandro sat nearby, awaiting the doctor.  They didn’t have long to wait.  He ordered them from the room while he worked, only requesting a vaquero to assist him.  When he came out an hour later, he met the two caballeros in the library.   Bernardo handed him a glass of wine. 

“Ah, gracias,” Avila said with a sigh, taking several sips.  He glared at Diego.  “It is your turn.”

Diego looked at his father, slightly alarmed.  “It just needs rebandaging.”

“It needs to be looked at by a somewhat competent physician,” Avila retorted. 

“How is Capitán Crane?” Diego asked, his concern palpable.

“The break is just a little above the knee.  It was difficult to deal with.  I think I got it in place for healing, but I also think there may have been other injuries, perhaps to the knee itself and not so easy to deal with.  He will need to stay off of it for some time.  I will come by tomorrow and see how he is doing.”

“We have every confidence in your abilities, Doctor Avila,” Alejandro said softly, taking a sip from his own glass.   “I saw what a good job you did with the old governor and he was not at all easy to deal with.”

“His break was simple and he had his headstrong daughter to keep him in line.  But time will tell.  Your friend is young and he seems to be very healthy other than this idiocy of a duel that he fought.”   Avila took another sip and stared into the rosy hued liquid for a few minutes.  “Although, just between you and me, Alejandro, he did the pueblo a great service,” he added sardonically.

He couldn’t help it; Diego chuckled.  It was a mistake; the doctor looked at him and motioned for him to take off his jacket and shirt.   Of course, Diego realized that Dr. Avila would no more have forgotten to check him than he would have forgotten his medical bag.  He complied and kept still as the doctor examined his arm and shoulder. 

“Someone did a fine job of bandaging this.  Who?”

“Capitán Crane, with Bernardo’s help,” Diego said tersely, wincing at even the light handling of the wound. 

“He has talents that surprise me, but I guess it is as it should be.  He is supposed to be a former sea captain, is he not?”

“Sí, he is,” Diego said truthfully. 

“And he caused the wound, if I understand correctly, did he not?” Avila asked.

“Yes.  We were worried that Ruiz would eventually find out where he was and so I tried to help him practice with the pistols at night in case of such an inevitability.”

Avila snorted.  “At night?”

“Well, just before dawn, Doctor,” Diego said sheepishly.   “He couldn’t very well practice in broad daylight.”

“True, but . . . well, anyway.  He did a good job of bandaging.  Even Ruiz’s manhandling has not caused any more harm.  I will rebandage it and check on it when I return to check on the Americano.”  Avila finished working on Diego and then drained his wine glass.  He stood up with a sigh.  “I suppose it is time to go back to the pueblo and sign the comandante’s death certificate.”   He smiled softly.  “Somehow, I think it is destined for Sgt. Garcia to act as comandante.”  He smile turned into a chuckle.  “And I do not think it is such a bad thing.”

Diego laughed.  “I agree.  At least he dispenses justice with compassion.”  With those words, Avila left and Diego and his father sat silently.  When he returned from showing the doctor to the door, Bernardo closed the library door and turned to the two men. 

“You do know that Zorro will have to ride tonight,” Diego said with a slight smile.

“As much as I dislike you riding with that injury, you are right,” Alejandro agreed.  “So that those who still suspect will see that you are healthy.”

“Oh, no, Father, there should be some injury.  After all, the soldiers were right.”  Bernardo poured a little more wine into the glass for both men, but his countenance was one of puzzlement. 

“Diego, what do you have on your mind?”

“Simply that Zorro’s injury was to the left shoulder, not the right.   I can still use my right arm, although it is stiff and painful.  All the good sergeant needs to see is that I can use it and that I am favoring the left.”

Alejandro considered and then nodded.  “Just be careful with your wound.”

“Oh, I will, Father.  I really do not wish for the good doctor to flay me alive when next he comes to visit.”

Alejandro just chuckled and finished his wine.  “Well, right now, you need some sleep.  Bernardo or one of the other servants can watch Capt. Crane.”

“No arguments, there, Father,” Diego said with a yawn. 






He was in sickbay, but it was too warm.  Something was wrong.  The bed was wrong, the voices were wrong.  It smelled wrong.   Wake up!   He had to wake up.  Something was wrong with Seaview.    The men, were they all right?   Wouldn’t someone tell him what was going on?    Crane waded through the morass of a drug-induced mental fog into sharp pain and tight confinement.   He wasn’t on the Seaview!  He must be a prisoner somewhere.  The carcel—the past.   Then the memories shocked him into full wakefulness and he was finally able to open his eyes to see the flame of a candle on the nightstand next to him, the flickering light dancing merrily with the shadows on the walls.   He turned his head and saw, in the dim room, someone sitting in a chair next to him watching him.   He heard sounds beyond the room, but couldn’t figure just what they were.  “Bernardo?” he mumbled, feeling as though his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth.  He tried to sit up. 

The mozo leaned forward, making motions with his hands and forcing him back onto the bed.  It was just as well, he felt as limp as a wet rag.   Bernardo signed some more and Lee concentrated on what the mute was saying.   “A drink?  Yes,” he said with a nod, knowing the part that everyone who was aware of the servant’s duel role, had to play. 

Gently Bernardo lifted his head and held a glass to his lips.  It was one of the de la Vega wines, watered somewhat.  Regardless, it tasted and felt wonderful and he drank deeply.   Then he pondered the fact that he had awakened feeling drugged.  “Anything in this other than wine and water?” he asked suspiciously, then signing his query, his mind much clearer now. 

Bernardo shook his head, then he inquired if Lee was hungry.   

Somehow the question seemed inane.  Why, he didn’t know.    Crane looked over the mozo’s shoulder and saw that the door was closed.   A window stood half open in front of him.   It was dark outside.  He couldn’t hear the noise of anyone outside.  Was it only the night of this strangely upside down day or a different night to a day?   Shaking himself mentally, he stopped that confusing train of thought.    Lee felt the currents of pain from his damaged leg ripple through his body, then his stomach responded to the servant’s question in a muted growl.   Despite how the rest of him felt, he guessed he was a bit hungry.  “What time is it?” he asked softly.  “I mean how long have I been out . . . uh, unconscious?”

Bernardo motioned that it had been more than fifteen hours since the duel.  He repeated his previous question. 

“Oh, a little bit hungry, is all,” Lee said.  “But, please, I really would like to sit up a little.”   Truth be known, he felt uncomfortable the way he was laying.  Maybe it was the leg splinted and bound up to his crotch that made him feel that way.  Or maybe it was the ever-present throbbing pain that seemed centered in his leg, but had satellite offices in his head and shoulders.  Whatever, he just wasn’t happy laying flat on his back.  Bernardo motioned that he could try to put more pillows behind his shoulders.  Lee raised himself up awkwardly on one elbow and tried to push himself into something of a sitting position.  Bernardo quickly reached behind him and helped.  The pain increased, but Lee ignored it, concentrating on the task at hand.  Suddenly another hand was helping him and he was reclining more comfortably against fluffed up pillows. 

Startled, Lee looked into the hazel eyes of his friend.  “What the hell are you doing?”

“Apparently trying to keep you from harm,” Zorro answered with a crooked smile from the side of his bed.   “Giving Bernardo a ‘hand’ with you, since you were determined to move around.”

Lee sighed.  “That is not what I meant and you know it.”

“I had to give credence to the alibi that you began for Diego de la Vega.”

“Why am I not surprised?”

Zorro chuckled.  “I had a chat with the good sergeant.  Zorro has now established that he was wounded in the left arm, which gives your claim of shooting me more credence.”

“Left arm?”  Then he began to laugh, even as uncomfortable as he was.  He was able to see the torn left sleeve and the hint of bandage peeking beneath it.  “And you figured that convinced Sgt. Garcia?”

“Of course!   He was very solicitous.”  Both men laughed softly.   Then Zorro sobered quickly.  “You will be able to heal without worry of being arrested, Lee.   As will I.  I have you to thank for that.”

Lee said nothing for several minutes.  “What did the doctor say?”  He had vaguely, foggily remembered someone working on him, the leg specifically, and how he had wondered if he was back in someone’s torture chamber.

“He said you were young and should heal eventually,” Zorro said evasively.

“You are holding back, Señor Zorro,” Lee said in his best command mode.  At his elbow, Bernardo was trying to get him to eat something from a bowl, but he ignored that for the moment.   “What did the doctor say?”  

Zorro didn’t anything for a moment.  “He said it was a difficult break, not very far above the knee.  He also thought that the knee might also have been damaged, but he wasn’t able to tell.  He did say that you had your good health and youth to your advantage.”  Zorro paused again.  “Lee, you will get well.  Just do what the doctor asks you to do.”

Lee thought of Doc back on Seaview and as much as he appreciated this doctor, he would not allow himself to be caught up in medically unsound practices of the early nineteenth century.  Then an ugly thought surfaced.  What if it didn’t heal properly and what if the admiral did eventually find him.  He still wouldn’t be able to skipper her.   With a grimace, he pushed that nasty and discouraging thought away and turned to see what Bernardo offered.  



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