Et Tu, Brutus
Chapter Two - The Encounter
When he arrived at the pueblo, Zorro decided that Corporal Reyes might be his best source of information in the matter of who was inspecting the passenger's luggage, but luck was not with him this night. Reyes was not on guard duty, at least not yet, so the outlaw made his way to the back of the tavern. There was one room, which the innkeeper normally set aside for his more prominent guests, and presumably, if there were anyone in it, they would most likely be prodigiously wealthy, and therefore a target for the bandits.
Silently going over the wall, Zorro opened the back gate and motioned to Tornado. The horse quietly entered and walked over to a spot just under the balcony. Climbing on the stallion's back, he grabbed the wrought iron railing and pulled himself over. He stood at the doorway listening for any noises and heard the soft, gentle breathing of a sleeper, probably a woman. Not hearing more than one person, he assumed that the sleeper, if a woman, did not have a dueña, or chaperone, in the room with her, and therefore was probably a married woman.
Zorro was uncomfortable with the situation, either way, but he had to have the information, in order to stop the robberies. So far, only valuables such as money and jewelry had been stolen, but if unchecked, the outlaw suspected that lives would soon be lost.
Slipping into the room, Zorro left the balcony door open for light (and his own peace of mind), and quietly approached the sleeping form. Putting his gloved hand over the sleeper's mouth, he whispered, "I will not hurt you." The next thing Zorro knew, he was sprawled on the floor, the side of his head smarting from the application of the handle of a riding crop.
A very young woman had jumped from her bed and had the small whip drawn back for another blow, but Zorro leaped up and pulled the weapon from the woman's grasp.
The woman's dueña, grabbed him by one leg, almost dumping him back on the floor. "Señorita, I only came to ask questions, although I can understand your fears." The dueña kept trying to jerk his leg out from under him. Throwing the whip into the corner of the room, he planted his feet as best he could against the efforts of the older woman, and pulled out his sword. The señorita gasped.
Hilt first, he handed the sword to her and said softly, "I am very serious about not being here to hurt you. Here is your protection, in this most awkward situation, if you feel the need." The young woman looked curiously at the weapon in her hand and nodded.
"Tía, you can let go of our guest." She sat down on the bed, and still holding his sword, stared at him in amusement. "May I assume that you are the bandit, Zorro that I have heard about ever since I came into your pueblo?"
"Sí, Señorita, and I do apologize for coming into your room at night like this. If the matter were of less importance, I would never have considered such an unconventional and questionable action. And before we continue, please allow me to retire to the balcony while you don more suitable attire." The dueña had let go of his leg, and moved around him to sit next to her niece. At his last statement, the older woman smiled her approval.
"Señor," the señorita laughed at his discomfiture. "I am chaperoned, but you are right, give me a moment to put on my robe, and then we will be able to talk."
While he was waiting on the balcony, he noticed Tornado still standing patiently underneath. "Tornado," he hissed. "Vamos, go over there." It would also not do to have anyone see his horse underneath a señorita's window. The dueña indicated that her niece was more presentable now. Zorro chuckled. This was certainly not like any other meetings he had ever had with a single woman, as Don Diego or as Zorro.
When he returned to her room, he saw that the señorita had lit a candle, the glow of which accentuated her features. Zorro had thought earlier in the half-light of the moon, that the woman was lovely, but he realized now, that was an understatement. The señorita's face was lit by a life-loving smile and her light brown hair flowed around her shoulders like a waterfall. Her large, hazel eyes were her most striking feature, though, and they were boring into his with abject curiosity. If this lovely señorita were not just passing through, Don Diego would be coming to call on her, he thought in bemusement.
Bringing himself, reluctantly, back to matters at hand, he said, "Señorita, let me get right to the point. There has been a rash of stage robberies in the last few days. They appear to have been random, but whoever the thieves are, seem to know to the last detail, who is carrying valuables and who is not. I am trying to find out who these people are and stop them."
"I had heard of the robberies. That is why I had my riding crop at hand when you woke me. I hope I did not hurt you, señor," she said with a smile as she handed him his sword back.
Only my pride, Zorro thought to himself as he sheathed the blade. He chuckled and said, "No, but you are most resourceful, señorita, as is your dueña. May I ask, to whom I am speaking?"
"I am Isadora Magdalena de Vaca y Chevar, daughter of the Viceroy of Cuba. This is my aunt, Maria Anita de Vaca, sister of my father. We were visiting relatives and traveling through California and Mexico, before returning to Cuba," she said, watching a flicker of astonishment cross his face. In the candlelight, she had noticed that despite the mask, this outlaw Zorro was a handsome man, with the most charming smile she had ever encountered. She thought it was too bad that her suitors in Cuba were not this pleasant or polite.
Recovering from his amazement quickly, Zorro bowed and then continued, "Donna de Vaca, may I ask if anyone from the cuartel examined your baggage when you arrived?"
"Sí, Señor Zorro, but I have no idea who it was, and may I ask that you continue to call me señorita? Donna sounds so old," she said with a smile. "The baggage was taken into the comandante's office and returned a short time later," she continued. "Nothing was missing, but I definitely could tell that things had been opened and checked," she continued. "I wish I could have given you a more helpful answer. I thought at the time that it was a most strange procedure, but customs are sometimes slightly different from place to place."
"Who took the baggage to the comandante's office. Can you describe him?" Zorro asked.
"A man of medium height, with a mustache and black hair." She pondered a moment. "Yes, he said that his name was Corporal Reyes and he had been given instructions to take the baggage for inspection."
Reyes! Zorro thought with a start. Surely the corporal would not be involved with these robberies. "Did you come on this evening's stage?" he asked. She nodded. Apparently the thieves were still operating, even though Sgt. Garcia was back from Santa Barbara. They must have gone through the passengers' belongings while the sergeant was at the de la Vega hacienda. "Which stage will you be leaving on?" he queried.
"The morning stage to San Diego," she answered. "And to anticipate your next question, I do have valuables with me, which undoubtedly were seen when the luggage was gone through. I very purposefully looked for those immediately after receiving my personal effects back."
Zorro smiled broadly. "Then perhaps we will meet again in the morning, Señorita." He bowed, made a flourish of his hands to his hat and raced to the balcony, where he softly whistled for Tornado and then climbing down, jumped on the stallion's back. Galloping through the tavern gate, Zorro guided the horse around to the back of the cuartel. Climbing over the back wall, he quietly slipped into the comandante's office in an attempt to find any clues to the identity of the thieves.
A small candle was all Zorro could afford to use, but it was enough to see what was on the papers spread across the desk. One note, in particular, caught his eye. On it was written a list of valuables, and it appeared that Señorita de Vaca, traveled somewhat lightly, but did have a few items of great value. On the back of the note was another list, which Zorro presumed was for the stage heading north. Both sides of the note were marked with x's in the corner and he could only assume that it was an indication of which stage was going to be robbed.
So, thought Zorro. Whoever was getting the information at the cuartel, has hired accomplices to do the dirty work. While he was pondering the implications of this development, he heard voices outside the door of the comandante's office. Leaving everything as it was, Zorro had just enough time to hide under the desk.
From the sound, it appeared that Cpl. Reyes and another soldier had entered the room. "But Juan, why would Sgt. Garcia want something at this time of the night?" Zorro heard Cpl. Reyes complain to his companion. The outlaw did not know each of the soldiers by name and was unfamiliar with Juan, but he studied the voice to be able to recognize it the next time he heard it. "I have no idea, but I was told to get it. Ah, here it is," Juan said. "I will take it to him right now, you go ahead on out to your post."
"Gracias, Juan," Reyes said. "He is as grouchy as an old bear when I have to wake him up at night." The candle was blown out and the two men left the room. As soon as Zorro heard the click of the latch, he came out from under the desk, relit the candle, and looked among the papers. The list he had been looking at was gone just as he suspected it would be. And Cpl. Reyes appeared to be an unwitting accomplice, unaware of the scheme going on under his nose.
Slipping out the back window of the comandante’s quarters, Zorro quietly made his way to Sgt. Garcia's room, and then stopped. Telling the sergeant at this time might not be a very good idea. Too much could go wrong between now and the departure of the morning stages to San Diego and Santa Barbara. Pondering, he decided on another course of action and, smiling, slipped over the back wall of the cuartel to where Tornado was waiting.
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