Et Tu, Brutus
A note from the Author:
This originally appeared on Zorro's Secret Passage and I am indebted to David Nesbitt for allowing it to be on his website. Thank you.
Chapter One - The Sergeant Comes to Dinner
"What a superb meal!" Sergeant Demetrio Lopez Garcia said to Juanita, the de la Vega cook, as he finished eating the final tortilla and the last bowl of beef and rice soup. The roast had been disposed of sometime earlier in the evening. He continued to extol the virtues of the evening meal.
Diego de la Vega smiled as he stirred the thick champurrado, or chocolate, in the cup in front of him. He supposed that if Juanita would have him, Garcia would marry her in an instant. Of course, his choice of marriage partners was probably a tie between Juanita, the cook of extraordinary talents, and Maria, the bar maid with unlimited access to the wine cellar.
"Juanita, I totally agree with the good sergeant. This is, perhaps, the finest meal you have ever cooked," Diego interjected when Sgt. Garcia paused for breath.
"Don Diego, you always say that," she smiled and blushed with pleasure at the compliment.
"But it is always true. Your cooking only gets better," he said with a chuckle.
"Sí, Juanita," Garcia added. "In fact, this is soup that is capable of raising the dead." Juanita blushed even more, at the highest praise a cook could receive. "Do you not agree, Don Diego?" Garcia added.
"Absolutely, Sergeant. Just the right amount of chilies and spice. Gracias, Juanita." She and Bernardo gathered up some of the dishes, while Diego finished his champurrado and Garcia emptied his glass of wine. "Sergeant, tell me, where is your little friend tonight? Caesar usually accompanies you everywhere." Caesar was the homely little dog that had adopted Sgt. Garcia a few weeks previously.
"Sí, he does, Don Diego, but tonight, he seemed so tired, that I left him in the care of Corporal Reyes," Garcia sighed with pleasure, patted his prodigious stomach, and handed his glass to Bernardo to be refilled. "That was a long trip from Santa Barbara."
"Um, yes, I would imagine that a little dog like Caesar would easily get tired, sleeping in the saddle bag that distance." Diego remembered that as soon as the horse would start moving, the dog, like a small child in a carriage, would immediately fall asleep and remain sleeping until the horse stopped. "Tell me, Sergeant, how was your niece's wedding?"
"Wonderful, Don Diego. She looked so beautiful and the young man was so handsome. Ahh, it was enough to make a person cry with pleasure."
Bernardo stood behind Sgt. Garcia, making signs of the sergeant crying and blubbering. Diego motioned for him to go away before the mute's signs caused him to laugh. "Did you know that the young man, Don Mariano Aguayo, is from San Juan Capistrano? His father has a nice hacienda and owns many wonderful hunting dogs."
"Is that so? I would imagine that you and Señor Aguayo had much to talk about then, since you, too, are a dog owner," Diego commented with a smile.
"No, I am afraid that the only thing Don Mariano said about poor Caesar was that he needed to be watched or he might mistaken for a rat. Señor Aguayo claimed he was only joking, but I think Caesar's feelings were hurt," Garcia said with a sigh. "But they were most interested in my adventures with the bandit, Zorro. Constancia had told Don Mariano and his father about the outlaw and they were most curious to hear more."
"So naturally, you told them everything you knew?" Diego asked innocently.
"Sí, Don Diego, all of the times that I have almost captured him, including the time that Caesar helped me catch the rascal. To think that I almost had him," Garcia sighed, pondering the two thousand pesos that were almost his. "And you know, they seemed to have a new respect for my little friend. Then they told me about some new hunting dogs that they had just recently acquired from Europe and claimed that with only one of those dogs, they could catch Zorro in just one night! Imagine that."
"But, Sergeant, did you not say that Caesar had captured the bandit, and that was in one night," Diego reminded him, with a wry smile.
"Sí, Don Diego, but Zorro had been pinned under a fallen tree when Caesar found him," the sergeant admitted.
"In other words, Zorro had been captured by a tree rather than a dog," Diego said drolly.
Sgt. Garcia laughed heartily at Diego's joke, although behind him, Bernardo rolled his eyes and made gagging motions to indicate his opinion of the caballero's joke. The whole conversation had become so ludicrous that Diego began laughing at Bernardo's signs rather than his own statement.
"What was really funny about the idea of a dog tracking Zorro, was the type of dog they were talking about," Garcia said between his paroxysms of laughter. "They said they could catch Señor Zorro with a foxhound. I have never heard of such a thing. A foxhound to catch a fox." He laughed even more heartily. "Constancia was so incensed that they finally had to stop discussing their plans in front of her. In fact, she was so angry with them, that she threatened to call off the wedding, because she said that Zorro had saved her and her dowry."
"Did that end the idea of catching Zorro with a dog?" Diego asked, having gained control of himself.
"Sí, Don Diego, I think so, Don Mariano loves Constancia very much and thought that would be a silly reason to stop the wedding," Garcia told him.
"I agree, Sergeant," Diego told him. "But let me ask you before you return to the pueblo, what have you found out about the recent stage robberies?"
"It is most mysterious, Don Diego," Garcia sighed. "It is almost as if these robbers are able to read the minds of the passengers, knowing who has anything worth stealing and who does not. Even the most secret shipments of tax money seem to be known to the thieves. Zorro has not been able to find out who these men are, either."
"Yes, I heard. What is more mysterious is that the holdups began a week to the day after you left. I suppose that now you are back, the passengers will be safe," de la Vega said with a slight smile.
"Why, yes, Don Diego, as usual, you are right." The sergeant finished his wine and rose from his chair. "Please give Don Alejandro my greetings when he returns from San Fernando. And thank you for this wonderful welcome home dinner," Garcia said as he strapped on his sword and headed for the door.
"By the way, Sergeant, did you put anybody in charge of checking the passenger's luggage, while you were away?" Diego asked.
"No, Don Diego, to be honest, I forgot to. Buenos noches." Garcia made his way out the door. Bernardo accompanied the sergeant to his horse.
Diego walked out to the patio, sat down on a wrought iron chair and gazed at the stars sprinkled across the heavens. He spent a few minutes doing what many in the pueblo thought that he did most of the time, languidly lazing about, dreaming. Bernardo came back from seeing Sgt. Garcia off and stood looking curiously at his patrón.
"Bernardo, Herr Professor von Beulow, one of my instructors at the university, said some things to me that I felt were very profound. Looking at the stars made me think of them again. I am afraid that I was not doing well in his astronomy class and when I went to see him about it, he asked me a question. 'De la Vega, did your father send you to Madrid to fail?' All I had been concentrating on was fencing, to the exclusion of all else. I thought about Father, here alone, after sending me to Spain, and realized what a sacrifice it was for him. Then I asked von Beulow what I should do to improve in his class, and his only comment was, 'Work harder. To solve problems, we must work harder.' "
"I believe, Bernardo, that this problem with the stage robberies will be solved if I work harder," Diego said. Bernardo looked puzzled and signed a statement to the effect that the caballero had been out all night for the past three nights.
"No, Bernardo, I meant think harder, that is the kind of work I am talking about."
Bernardo nodded, pondered, and signed about Sgt. Garcia's statement, that no one had taken his place in the inspection of the luggage. With a serious look on his face he signed that the innkeeper might know of rich passengers staying at his inn and the stable master, who took care of the mail, might know of shipments of monies, but who, he queried, would know about both?
"The assumption that we have been making, Bernardo, is that no one was inspecting the luggage. And maybe that was true, for the first week that Sgt. Garcia was gone, but apparently someone in the cuartel has recently taken it upon himself to do these inspections. I think it is time to ride into the pueblo and ask a few questions." Bernardo looked at Don Diego with a smile and made the sign of a "Z." Once action had been decided on, the caballero quickly dashed up the stairs to his bedroom and through a hidden door to a tiny room, built a long time ago as an escape route in case of attack. Now it was used to hide the accoutrements of El Zorro. Bernardo quickly followed and helped his patrón into the costume.
|The Caesar Chronicles|