A Time to Reflect

 

 

 

Chapter 6

 

 

After a lengthy silence, in which Zorro could see Luvisto pondering the events of the last few minutes, he asked again.  “Will you allow this man the medical attention he needs?”

“He risked his life to save mine.  A foreigner,” Luvisto finally murmured, looking at the unconscious man at his feet.  “He could have escaped while the creature attacked and killed me, but he didn’t.  Why?”  He looked back at Zorro, his face puzzled.

Zorro didn’t say a thing about the fact that he and Luvisto, a man who had sworn to see him hang in the plaza, were having a civilized conversation within an arm’s length of one another.  But he had to know what Luvisto would do with Tony.  If the American was going to end up in the carcel, then Zorro would take him now, chance a hasty and bumpy journey and leave him in the care of Father Felipe.  He tried to choose his words carefully, hoping that the comandante’s heart would soften.  “Simply because he couldn’t leave you to whatever this beast would have done to you,” Zorro replied softly. “It was not within him to do that, Capitán.” There was silence for a while. Luvisto seemed to be struggling within himself. 

“But he is an Americano. We know about them…” Luvisto argued, but it seemed to be a feeble argument.  The comandante’s voice trailed off.

“Do we?” Zorro asked softly. “Do we truly know the hearts of everyone of those whom we consider enemies?  Are they so different from us?” 

Luvisto looked up at Zorro sharply, but didn’t say a thing for a moment.  He only seemed to be studying the face of the person he had been chasing in vain for the past several months.  Zorro didn’t know how long he could wait here.  Finally, the comandante nodded and said tonelessly. “Perhaps they are. I don’t think I would have tried to save him.”

There were shouts in the distance.  Both Zorro and Luvisto looked around and saw Sergeant Garcia and several of the lancers hailing them from the far end of the valley.   Zorro looked back at the comandante, hoping he was judging this situation correctly.  “I have to go now.  I appreciate your willingness to forgo my capture for a few moments.”  He got up, whistled to Tornado, but then stopped.  “It is the season of the Nativity,” Zorro reminded Luvisto quietly.  “Please take care of him,” he added, nodding to the unconscious man.  The great black horse pranced. “I will search for any more of these creatures,” he added, saluting Luvisto.  The man nodded, and Zorro wheeled Tornado and galloped toward the narrow end of the valley. 

Soon the outlaw was out of sight and the comandante gazed back down at the injured foreigner. The season of the Nativity.  When was the last time I went to a Christmas celebration?  It was with Maria Isabella.  More than ten years ago. “It is Navidad,” he murmured, feeling as though he was coming out of a fog. He looked up in annoyance as the dust from the approaching lancers swirled around him. How he hated it here! If only Maria Isabella’s father had liked him. Luvisto almost laughed aloud. Marquee Juan Diego de Callisto would have loved him like his own son had he been possessed of the money required to buy his daughter’s dowry. To buy him, Luvisto thought bitterly. His mistake had been in continuing to love Maria Isabella after he had been told not to. Somehow, Luvisto had thought that the girl had loved him, and would eventually wear her father down, but Luvisto had sorely overestimated the power of young love and of Maria Isabella’s influence with her father. Suddenly the young lieutenant had been given orders to the new world and he had been gone from Spain. Gone from everything that had meant anything to him. He had received one short letter from his “love” and then there had been nothing. She would join him in Mexico, it had said. They could live in the new world together. But after ten years there had been nothing else. No letters and certainly no Maria Isabella.

Luvisto got up and checked the unconscious lancer.  The man had a large lump on one side of his head, but there seemed to be no broken bones and there was no blood.  The lancer would wake up with one very painful headache, Luvisto thought, with a sigh.  He sincerely wished he had something better to work with here in Los Angeles than these bedraggled, lackluster and, in most cases, half-witted men. 

The foreigner moaned softly and opened his eyes.  The comandante returned to him and knelt down beside him.  There seemed to be more exhaustion than pain, but Luvisto didn’t doubt that there was considerable pain.  It had appeared that the beast had slashed the Americano along the right thigh from the hip almost to the knee. The man was fortunate to be alive. Luvisto kneeled down beside him. 

“Thanks,” Tony murmured.

“For what?” Luvisto demanded. 

“For helping to save me,” came the answer. 

Luvisto was taken aback, but before he could reply the deep voice of Sergeant Garcia interrupted. “Do you want us to pursue Zorro, mi comandante?”

Luvisto shook his head, than gazed up at Garcia. “Isn’t the Torres rancho near here?”

“Sí, Capitán, but the Salazar rancho is nearer,” Garcia answered. “Did you wish us to take the prisoner there?”

“No, I want one of the lancers to go to Don Fernando and requisition a carriage so we can transport this man to the pueblo.  To Dr. Avila.” Garcia looked puzzled and opened his mouth to ask a question. “Sergeant, send a lancer out now.” Garcia quickly ordered Lugo to do as the comandante had requested and then turned back to Luvisto.

While Garcia looked visibly relieved, he still appeared as though he was ready to ask several questions. Hastily, before Garcia, in his incredible naivety, asked something Luvisto didn’t want to bother answering, he said, “I was mistaken.  He is not a foreigner, just a stranger to the pueblo.”

Garcia looked dubious, but a look from the comandante silenced him. 

Then the stranger smiled softly. “Mojave,” he said in a low, strained voice.  

Garcia’s expression changed to incredulity. “Mojave? You come from one of those ranchos?”  The injured man nodded. Garcia just shook his head.

“Sergeant, you go into the pueblo and let Dr. Avila know that he will soon have a patient.  By dark, hopefully,” Luvisto said.  When the sergeant nodded and remounted, the capitán turned to the next lancer. “See if you can find my horse, but do not go too far afield.  If you cannot find him within an hour, return here.”  That soldier nodded as well and was soon galloping away.  Garcia was still watching from astride his horse.  “Well, Sergeant?” Luvisto asked. 

“You will be alone, mi capitán. What if there is another of these beasts?” Garcia asked, his voice filled with worry.  

Luvisto squelched a quick pang of irritation. The sergeant was technically right, there could be more of these evil beasts. “Ride around the valley, listen and look.  See if there is evidence of any more of these creatures,” he said curtly.  Garcia nodded and then rode off slowly, his hand shielding his eyes against the bright afternoon sun. 

“If there had been anymore, I think they would have attacked together,” the foreigner said.

“How do you know they hunt in packs?” Luvisto growled.

“Because my friend and I were hunted down by four of them before we came here.”

“Just who are you?  And where do you come from?”  Luvisto couldn’t help himself. As much as he wanted to be angry with what was going on; as much as he wanted to be angry that he was indebted to a stranger, as well as to Zorro, he couldn’t muster up more than anger at himself.  And he couldn’t even understand anymore just why he was angry. Only that he was.

“Tony Newman.  And you would not believe me if I told you where I come from.”

Luvisto frowned. “I lied for you,” he said tersely.  “And you will not even give me the courtesy….”

“No, you did not lie for me,” Tony interrupted.  “I was born in California. We moved when I was very young.  I just do not remember any of my . . . time here.”

“To the United States? You have the demeanor of an Americano,” Luvisto ventured.

“Yes.” Tony gazed at the captain.  “Do you have something to drink?” he asked, after a moment’s silence. 

Luvisto shook his head.  “My water bottle was with my horse.  When Sgt. Garcia returns, he should have water.”

Tony nodded and closed his eyes.  Soon he was asleep.  Not too much later, Sgt. Garcia returned, as did the lancer searching for Luvisto’s horse.  A short while after that, the lancer with the carriage arrived.  Luvisto rode the lancer’s horse at the head of the small entourage as the sun touched the edge of the western horizon. 

 

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Diego straightened his shirt collar as Bernardo stood nearby with a burgundy colored banda in his hands.  “I think it would be wise to go into the pueblo and find out what is happening with our American friend.”

Bernardo placed the banda in his master’s hand and then began signing.   His facial expression helped accentuate the absurdity of what Diego had previously related to him.   He couldn’t believe that Luvisto would possibly feel any compassion for anyone.

“Bernardo, I truly believe that Tony will be properly cared for.”

‘But you are not positive,’ Bernardo signed with a slightly smug expression. ‘I think the proper care will be the carcel.’

“Yes, you are right, I am just worried enough that I want to ride into Los Angeles and make sure,” Diego replied, tying the banda so that it hung just so over his left hip.   Then he looked at his mozo and grinned. “You know me too well.   Regardless, we will be back before Father returns from Santa Barbara tomorrow.”

Bernardo nodded and then motioned Don Alejandro talking, talking, talking about the new stock from up north and how it would improve the cattle here in Los Angeles. ‘I will go and make sure the horses are ready for us,’ he added.

“Good.  I will be right down.”  Diego wondered about these two travelers; wondered if their outrageous tale could be believed.  Señor Phillips spoke as one who believed what he was saying.  But how could such a thing be?  How….   Then Diego just shrugged.  Until these two men were in better shape to talk to him, he would not do anything but try to keep an open mind.  The second traveler, Tony, worried him.  The wound had been serious, he had lost much blood; the fact that he had lost consciousness so quickly was evidence to his tenuous condition.  If the comandante did anything but take him to the doctor, or if he did it roughly, then the Americano wouldn’t live long enough to answer anybody’s questions.  

Still pondering all that he had learned in the past day, Diego stepped out of his room and down the stairs.  When he walked through the back gate, he saw Bernardo with two horses.  Diego noticed as well, that there were pistols in holsters, attached to the saddles.  He nodded his approval and then mounted.  Soon they were on their way toward the pueblo.  The sun was just touching the edge of the western horizon, but Diego knew that they would be in Los Angeles before it grew too dark.  He listened for the squealing/hissing challenge of the carnosaur, but heard nothing out of the ordinary.   Phillips had said there were three, maybe four that might have come through.  Three had been killed.  The odds were in the favor of the local residents, he thought with some satisfaction.  But somehow, he felt that they had been very lucky and that these creatures could wreck a great deal more havoc than they had been allowed to.

The two men rode into the pueblo to the sounds of merchants hawking their wares and the smells of outdoor vendors cooking tortillas, tamales and other delicacies for customers’ dinners.   Pinatas and paper lanterns hung from poles in front of a few stores, advertising wares for the upcoming posadas.  It was comforting, but Diego had work to do.  He and Bernardo rode to the mouth of the small street where the doctor lived and worked and then dismounted.  They tied their horses to the hitching post and walked down the rapidly darkening street to a door over which a lantern and a sign hung.  Diego knocked and at the doctor’s call, entered. 

“Ah, Don Diego,” Dr. Avila said with a slight smile.  “It is good to see you.  I hope you are not ill.”  His eyes flicked to Bernardo and then gazed more intently on Diego.

“No, no, Doctor,” Diego said affably.  “I have occasionally had problems sleeping and came by for a sleeping potion.”

Avila chuckled.  “If you would keep better hours, I would not have to give you anything.”  Then he shrugged.  “If you can wait a while, I will get you what you need.  Right now, however, I have just received a seriously injured patient.”  He sighed and turned away.

“Is there anything we can do to help you?” Diego asked, having helped the doctor in the past, mainly with periodic outbreaks of sickness. 

Avila seemed to be considering for a few seconds, then he nodded.  “Yes, I think you can, Diego, but it will be messy.”

It was Diego’s turn to shrug.  “I have been known to get my hands dirty on occasion, despite what some people think.  What is wrong with your patient?”

“He was attacked and clawed by some kind of large creature.  I have to clean the wound and then try to close it up,” Avila explained, while Bernardo helped Diego remove his chaqueta and vest. 

Diego felt relief.  Luvisto had come through.  He had brought Tony here as Diego had hoped would happen.   “What would you like me to do?”

“Mainly hold the man still.  Hand me tools,” Avila said.  “I am going to give him a small dose of sleeping potion, but I hesitate to give him as much as he probably needs.  He is too weak for a large dose.”

Diego nodded and rolled up his sleeves, following the doctor into his surgery.  Tony, ashen faced and still, lay on a large, wooden table, his trousers’ leg and some of the makeshift bandages cut away from the wound.  It looked even worse than it had back in the valley.  He worried as Dr. Avila gathered tools and bandages.  Bernardo motioned to Avila and then carried the materials to a smaller table near the patient.  At a gesture from the doctor, Bernardo also brought several lanterns closer to the table.

 

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“What is he going to do to Tony?” Jerry, one of the younger scientists, asked no one in particular.   He had been on the second shift, giving Dr. Swain, Gen. Kirk and Dr. Ann McGregor a much-needed break.   That break had been recently cut short, though, with these newest developments.  Jerry had finally called his superiors a few moments ago.  “Dr. Michaels?” the younger scientist asked, turning to an older man standing behind him. 

The doctor, one whose expertise was in surgical procedures and internal medicine, watched intently, just as he had been for the past hour. “Tony is too weak to bring through the tunnel—even if you could guarantee you would get him here, which, of course, you can’t.  If this doctor is even slightly competent, and he appears to be for his time, then Tony is better off in his care,” Michaels said, his eyes not wavering from the view showing through the tunnel.  “The thing I most worry about is infection.  They didn’t have the right antiseptics to clean wounds then.  Didn’t have antibiotics at all and were only vaguely aware of the correlation of the causes of infection and fever.”  He continued to watch, not even turning when the staccato of footsteps sounded behind him.  “Good,” Michaels murmured with a nod of approval.  The doctor at the other end of the tunnel was washing his hands with a lumpish bar of soap in a bucket and giving the young man helping him instructions on holding various instruments over a flame.  “If I could only give him some antibiotics.”  Finally, he turned and looked into the face of Kirk, Swain and MacGregor, who stared at the scene in the tunnel with varying degrees of fear.

“Why didn’t you send for us sooner?” Kirk thundered to the young man at the controls. 

“Jerry did as much as he could do under the circumstances,” Michaels said soothingly.  His eyes belied the calm tone of his voice.  Those who had been manning the controls for the past two hours knew just how anxious everyone was, including the doctor. 

“We have to….” Ann began and then stopped, knowing how inane a suggestion of bringing Tony back would be.   She turned to the doctor. “What can we do?”  Kirk and Ray waited for the doctor’s recommendations before they began asking questions.

“Is there any way to send out supplies and instructions?” Michaels asked.  “The doctor there seems to be at least as good as can be expected, but I am afraid that with all his expertise, Tony’s wound will most likely develop serious infection.”

“We sure as hell can try,” Ray said. “Gather what you need and get it here as fast as you can.” Michaels nodded and then gestured to a technician to whom he gave a quickly scrawled list of needed materials.  Turning to Jerry, Ray asked what the trio had wanted to know since they had entered the command center and seen Tony laying on the table.   Jerry gave them a quick run down and then added, “The locals have killed the three carnosaurs, but are worried about more.”

“We should let them know that they don’t have to worry about any more,” Ann suggested.

Nodding, Kirk agreed.  Within fifteen minutes, the doctor had all the gathered materials and his instructions in a box that resembled an ammo container.  Kirk added a note of his own in rough Spanish, then he carried it to the tunnel. “Get the power up.  We want this in that doctor’s hands before he begins working on Tony,” he called over his shoulder.  He laid the box down and then backed out of the tunnel.  Almost as soon as Kirk was out of range of the tunnel’s power, a humming began, increasing in intensity until it was almost painful to the ears.  Then with a crash of sound and several puffs of smoke from within the power grids of the tunnel, the box disappeared.  

 

 

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