A Time to Reflect

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

 

 

Tony woke up shivering as he had off and on throughout the night.  But the light of a new day shone in the east.  It was time to look for Doug.  The night had been filled with nightmares of past and future failures, beasts and humans who tried to kill or capture him and Doug, and the seeming infinity of their wanderings.  It was time to do something constructive.  If he could find Doug, figure out where they were, maybe find a safe place to hole up and rest for a few days, then things would look better.  

He leaned forward, massaging a spot where the rough bark of the tree had dug into his lower back, then he gingerly stood up on the wide limb.  Soon the sunlight rose over the hills and struck him in the face.  It felt so good feeling the warmth, the golden light.  He held up one hand and felt as though it was bathed in light.  He suddenly remembered a time when his father took him up to the top of the mountain above the harbor.  It was shortly after they had arrived in Hawaii.  He forgot the name of the place.  He had forgotten a great deal of that time of his life.  Except the pain of his loss…. 

Tony had grumbled the entire way up the slope, not having wanted to get up at the unholy hour of four thirty in the morning.  His father had been so adamant, though, that at times Lt. Commander Newman had carried his son up the path.  While Tony had been only seven, he wasn’t a really light child. 

But they had arrived.  It had been dark and cool; the stars twinkling overhead and lights in the harbor shining below.  “Look up, Tony,” Dad had said softly as the sun rose in the east.  Reluctantly, Tony had watched, first indulgently, then in growing awe as the bright sun shone in his face.  He had to squint at the brilliance of the golden orb and held his hand in front of his face.  In amazement, it almost appeared as though he could see his bones through the skin.  He felt the sunlight pour in and through his body until he felt as though he might be able to float toward the magnificent sphere in front of him. 

“Tony,” his father had said.  “This is life.  It’s joy; it’s the past and the future.  This sun shone on your mother, looked down on your ancestors.  It will look on you when you are a man.  It is the benevolent hand of God.”  Then he grew quiet.  “And when I am gone, feel this sun and remember that as this light fills your soul, so, too, will I fill your memory, your heart.  I will always be there.”

“And mom?” little Tony had asked after several moments.  He had dismissed the idea of his father ever being gone.  His dad would be with him forever.

“I feel her here,” Dad had said, very softly, his voice almost a whisper.   Tony could almost imagine hearing a soft voice singing the notes of a bedtime song in his ear and he continued to hold his hand in front of his face and let the sun envelope him in its comfortable warmth.   Then his father broke out into a song that he had recently learned—a Hawaiian song of greeting.  He had coaxed Tony to learn it, too, and the boy’s high tenor had complimented his father’s lower tenor perfectly.  His father had made a big deal out of the fact that little Tony would someday be better than he was.  His aunt had made him sing in the youth choir as he grew up and she had told him the same thing.  He remembered practicing a special Christmas song with his dad before his world fell apart on December 7th.  There had been other songs over the years, but never again had he sung that one. 

Their trip to the mountain had been only five months before his father had been lost to him forever.  That time of terror that had been labeled by the president as ‘a date which will live in infamy’.  Until recently, Tony hadn’t known.  He had had no idea what had happened to his father.   Over the years, he had thought mockingly of his father’s words, ‘the benevolent hand of God.’  Benevolent?  Ha!  For several agonizing months little Tony had held on to the optimistic boyish hope that his dad would show up in a hospital or someplace like that.  Finally, though, his aunt had taken him stateside and eventually Tony had come to the realization that his father was dead.

Tony took in a ragged, shuddering breath and tried to shake the memories from his mind.  This wasn’t the time or place.  ‘….I will fill your memory, your heart,’ Dad had said.  “Are you here now, Dad?” Tony whispered.  Slowly he lowered his hand and shut his eyes, letting the warmth bathe him.  There was nothing else.  No comforting presence, no assurance or hope; only the need to get down out of the tree and find his friend.  Well, that was a good start, Tony thought.  Get out of his pity party and find Doug.

Tony’s stomach rumbled and he licked his dry lips.  A clear stream, a hearty breakfast would be nice, too, Tony thought, but only after he had found his partner.  And besides, it was dangerous for he and Doug to be separated so long.  Carefully, he slid down the tree and began walking in the direction he had seen firelight the night before.  The sun continued to rise and warm him. 

As he walked toward the west, he found a stream and paused to take a drink and to clean up.   When he continued, he felt better, more confident that he would find someone, anyone who could tell him where he was or help him find Doug.  He continued even as the sun rose high above him.  Occasionally he thought he saw movement on the distant hills to the north or south, but whoever was there obviously didn’t see him and it was too great a distance to traverse for something so tenuous.  By midday, Tony was beginning to feel exhausted.   He had to find something soon.  Lack of adequate sleep and food wasn’t leaving him much in the way of reserves of energy. 

Dragging himself up to the top of a hill, Tony was amazed to see a quaint little town, early eighteen hundreds, he thought, lying before him.   It had a lively sense of purpose and he watched for only a few moments before he began to walk toward the village.  What he had observed only strengthened his conclusion that this was the Spanish or Mexican West.  And he felt that more specifically, it was southern California.  No matter, it was still civilization. 

Tony continued walking down the hill and into the village, a bit disconcerted by the abject stares that followed him down the widest street.  He walked into a small shop and approached the merchant.  “I am looking for a doctor,” he said.

The man looked around, as though checking to see who might be listening and then beckoned him forward.  “There is a doctor just down the next street to the right, señor,” the merchant, a short, stocky, dark-haired man said quietly.  “But I would suggest that when you go down the street to see Doctor Avila, you continue on out of the pueblo.”

Tony was puzzled.  “Why?”

“Foreigners are not welcome here,” the man replied and then grabbed his broom and began sweeping. 

Tony recognized a brush-off when he saw it and turned to leave.  But he also saw something else.  The man’s eyes held fear and Tony tried to remember what he knew about the southwest during the Spanish/Mexican tenure.  Not much.  “What pueblo is this?"

The man darted another look toward the door, then said tersely, “Los Angeles.”  He began sweeping even harder, making the dust billow in clouds. 

Nodding, Tony left.  At the first street, which looked more like an alley, Tony turned to the right and walked between low walled adobe buildings.   Not too far along this road, he saw a sign that announced the office of Dr. Avila.  He knocked on the door and entered when a voice answered.  The room was lit by a single window in the front and a lantern.  Dr. Avila, a slight, gray-haired man, turned at his entrance and then gazed at him in amazement.  Then just as quickly, he regained his composure.  “What can I do for you?”

“I was hoping I would find my friend here.  He wasn’t feeling well before we got separated and I thought he might have sought out medical care,” Tony explained. 

Dr. Avila shook his head.  “Is he a stranger like yourself?”

“Yes, although I would think that would make no difference to a doctor,” Tony replied, feeling a bit perturbed by the seeming xenophobia here. 

“Of course it doesn’t matter to me,” Avila said.  “But these are hard times and with the Spanish law forbidding the incursion of foreigners, I am afraid that you and your friend are not only unwelcome here, but probably in danger.”

Tony was flabbergasted.  “Why?”

“It is just the way it is,” Avila told him.  “We are a very friendly people, believe me, but our government has been betrayed by so many countries professing their friendship that all foreigners are suspect.”

Tony hadn’t remembered that from his history, but it made a vague kind of sense.  Defeats by the British, intrigues by the French, distrust of the land greedy Americans.  Yes, it made perfect sense.   But how was he going to find Doug?  “Who might be the best person to help me find my friend?” he asked.

The doctor chuckled.  “I guess that would be Zorro, but how to locate him….”  Avila shrugged. 

“Zorro?” Tony asked, again amazed.  Zorro was fiction, wasn’t he?  “You are kidding me, right?”

“Kidding?”  It was Avila’s turn to look surprised. 

“Joking.”

“No, of course, not.  Zorro seems to have ways of knowing almost everything that goes on around the pueblo.”

“Well, I’ll be,” Tony muttered.  That something he had always believed to be fictitious was actually based on a real person was amazing to him.  But like the doctor said, how did someone find this elusive Zorro?  Oh, well, Doug wasn’t here and it wasn’t safe to stand around and wonder what to do next.  Best to get out of town and think of the next move from the safety of the vast hills.  “Thanks,” he said and turned to leave. 

“Vaya con Dios, my friend,” Avila said.    

“Thank you,” Tony said over his shoulder.  He walked out the door and into the arms of two soldiers.  

“You are under arrest by the orders of Capitán Juan Luvisto,” a portly, (portly, hell, this man is huge! Tony thought), sergeant said. 

“What for?” Tony asked, although he already knew the reason.

“You are a foreigner and are subject to arrest,” the sergeant answered.  “Now come peacefully or we will be forced to use drastic means.”

Tony looked briefly at the two men, glanced down the alleyway and saw no other recourse than to follow them to the main street.  “All right,” he said with a sigh.  At the corner of the alley, another man stood, one in a much more lavish uniform, complete with braid and gold buttons.  Luvisto, Tony figured.  There was something in the man’s eyes; something very malevolent that didn’t bode well for the American. 

“Take him to the carcel,” the capitán barked.  “I will decide how to interrogate him later, after he’s had a chance to rethink his desire to spy out our lands.”

Tony was appalled.  Sitting in a jail would certainly not allow him to find Doug.  He had begun to worry that his friend might still be out there in the arid landscape with no water, no food and probably ill.  No, he couldn’t allow himself to be locked up.  Glancing surreptitiously to one side, Tony noticed a horse standing nearby, the reins looped over a hitching post.  Shoving the smaller soldier aside, Tony rushed past the commander and toward the horse.  The large sergeant was so taken by surprise, that he only had time to reach out with one pudgy hand, which Tony easily avoided.  Jerking the reins from the post, he grabbed the saddle horn with one hand and threw himself into the saddle without even using the stirrups.  He kicked the surprised horse in the sides and it galloped down the street.  The bellows of the captain followed him and there were shocked cries from both sides of the street. 

Tony leaned forward to lessen the wind resistance, and fairly flew out of town.  It was a different street than the one he had walked up when he had arrived, but as soon as he was far enough out of the pueblo, Tony turned the horse’s head toward the east.   It was late enough that the sun was behind him and he kept that as a reference as he continued riding away from Los Angeles.  He couldn’t help a wry smile.  This was a far cry from the traffic jams of Los Angeles in his day, he thought.   After he had ridden awhile, Tony slowed the horse down, noticing that it was becoming a bit lathered around the saddle blanket.  He didn’t want to wear out the poor animal.  It was a bit bedraggled and had the appearance of being very well used.  Quickly, Tony looked behind him and was dismayed to see, in the distance, a small group of soldiers pursuing after him.  And they appeared to be gaining.

 

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Before earnestly searching for the American’s friend, Zorro examined the area of the creature’s kill.  Amazingly, most of the steer was already gone and by the looks of the prints, totally by the large lizard.  Even as large as it was, how in the world could it consume so much?  But then, that could be an advantage, the masked man thought.  If like a snake, it ate a large meal and then was supine for an extended period of time, he would be able to more easily kill it. 

Ignoring the buzzards squawking their displeasure nearby, Zorro dismounted and examined the place of the kill.  He saw the large claw marks of the creature where it had continued to the hills after its feast and then he scanned the horizon, looking for some other sign of the lizard.   There was none, but the tracks also bore out what he surmised.  The creature wasn’t on the run anymore.  Mounting Tornado, Zorro followed the tracks, listening for the weird sound of the lizard while watching the trail. 

Occasionally the animal trod on rocky ground and he lost sight of the tracks, but it seemed to be going in one direction, so Zorro was always able to pick up the trail again.   The sun rose higher and higher and still the masked man continued following the predator.  What had the American called it?  A carnosaur?   Zorro knew that there was water in the direction he was going and he assumed that was what the animal was after, too.   It was a stream that issued from an opening in the rock and spilled into a clear pond.    As he got closer and closer to the area, Zorro became more wary.  He pulled out his pistol, making sure it was cocked.  His long, sharp knife, the one that he had used to kill the last such creature, was loose in its scabbard.  Tornado’s nostrils flared and he slowed. 

He was right, Zorro thought.  This was where the carnosaur was holed up, digesting its great meal.  Halting, the masked man dismounted, ground tying the stallion.  With almost discernable steps, he continued up the hill.  The musty smell of the creature became evident and Zorro crept forward even more cautiously.  At the crest of the hill leading down to the pond, he spotted the carnosaur napping just under the overhang of the rock from which the stream flowed.  It appeared asleep, but he couldn’t get a clear shot of it the way it was laying.  Zorro stepped forward—closer and closer, and still the animal slept.  Closer and the brownish hide quivered and the carnosaur wheezed in half sleep.   Another step and it snorted, bringing its head up in complete wakefulness.  Its yellow eyes stared unblinkingly at Zorro for a moment and then with a squeal of anger, it lumbered to its feet. 

Zorro took aim as the animal drew itself up. Then as it gathered itself to spring at him, Zorro fired.  The shot tore through the carnosaur’s chest and it hissed and then squalled its anger and pain.  It leaped forward and Zorro crouched with the knife in his hand, wondering if he would have as good luck as he had the night before.  At least this time he was able to see death bearing down on him….

 

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“How many did you send back, Ray?” Kirk asked, his voice tight with tension. 

“One, I believe.  I couldn’t send any more.  The tunnel’s been stretched to its limit,” the scientist explained, his voice displaying exasperation.  “There was also too much chance of the carnosaurs ending up someplace other than their home.” 

“But they are out of place where they are,” Kirk argued. 

“I realize that, but at least in the arid climate the remaining creatures are in, they will have a much harder time of it.  From what little we’ve been able to pick up, one of them has already been killed.”  Ray Swain took a deep breath.  “And we have to keep what tenuous links we have on Tony and Doug.”

Kirk nodded.  “How many got through, then,” the general asked, his anxiety in check now. 

“Three,” Ann answered, her green eyes showing the intensity of her concern.   “That means there are still two out there.”   No one needed to explain the implications of her last statement.

 

 

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