Et Tu, Brutus
Chapter Four - The Chase
Diego motioned to Bernardo and the pair left the tavern. As they walked across the plaza to their carriage, the stage from San Diego rolled in. The driver managed to get the stage stopped before slumping down in his seat. Rushing over, Diego noticed that the man had been wounded, and while he and Bernardo were helping him down from his seat, they heard the passengers telling of a lone bandit who blocked the highway and then robbed them.
Sgt. Garcia had received word and was soon at their side, questioning the driver. "Go get the doctor," he ordered a watching peon. Diego backed away from the gathering crowd and motioning to Bernardo, returned to their carriage.
"Bernardo, I believe that Juan enjoyed his role as a bandit and has taken it up as his livelihood," Diego told the manservant. Bernardo made a sign of a 'Z' and then took the reins, flicking them against the horse's rump to start towards home.
"Sí, Bernardo, it appears that there will be little rest tonight. Zorro must ride," Diego agreed. Forgotten were the foxhound and the wager.
Tornado was very nervous as they approached the place of the robbery a short while later. Zorro kept reassuring him as they rode near the highway, at the same time wondering what could be bothering the stallion. When he reached the location of the holdup, the outlaw dismounted and examined the area by the light of a newly risen and almost full moon. Hanging on to Tornado's reins, he crouched down to examine the tracks of Juan's horse.
Suddenly a dog burst out from the brush. Zorro jerked his head up in alarm and Tornado screamed a warning. The noise of several horses and men, now reached his ears from a slight distance away and Zorro vaulted onto the prancing stallion. "Señores, this foul trick may cost someone their life," he shouted as he spurred the great horse into the rocky hills.
The sound of his voice was lost in the noise of the foxhound barking and the shouts of the accompanying men. Glancing back, it appeared that there were only two men, but the dog had already gotten enough of a scent of Tornado and himself that it was streaking along their path of retreat, even as he stared. "Come Tornado, if we must participate in this chase, then let us make it one that these men will remember," Zorro murmured to the faithful horse.
Going up trails and down ravines, Zorro was testing the abilities of the dog as much as he was trying to elude it. After a period, which felt to be about two hours, Zorro halted Tornado on a ridge and let him rest while he reconnoitered his back trail. He could not help but admire the ability of the dog, as Brutus finally came bounding over the far ridge and started toward him, barking joyfully when he caught the scent of his quarry so very close.
Zorro realized that he would have to quickly figure out a way to elude the dog in order to go home. The foxhound was every bit as good as Don Salvadore had said. With a wry grin, he swung himself back up on the stallion and headed him towards an even more rocky area.
Smiling, Zorro urged Tornado toward a cliff and prepared him to jump. The stallion sailed over the chasm and landed squarely on the cliff just opposite. Not even waiting to see what the dog would do in this situation, the outlaw kept riding for a short distance until he could watch without being seen. Tornado enjoyed the short reprieve, while his master lay on a boulder spying out the position of his enemies.
Brutus stopped short at the cliff and barked his disappointment. The two riders showed up not long after, glaring across the chasm and muttering under their breath. Don Salvadore called the dog over and dismounting, picked Brutus up, putting him across his saddle.
His companion laughed, "Don Salvadore, you have lost the wager that you would get Zorro tonight. It is a good thing that de la Vega did not take you up on your offer or you would be destitute."
"There is always the next time, Señor Alvarez. Brutus has done very well, but the townspeople are right. This is one tricky fox," Salvadore said. "And he knows the area." Zorro watched them ride away, confident that they had quit for the night. Nonetheless he waited for another hour before mounting Tornado and returning to the spot of the robbery.
After an hour of trying to trail Juan, Zorro had to admit that the bandit was not going to be caught tonight, either, and he returned to the secret cave, where Bernardo was waiting, his concern showing plainly in his countenance. Wearily, Zorro dismounted and handed the reins over to the mute. "I was the quarry tonight, not Juan," he said simply and headed to his bedroom.
When the manservant finished taking care of Tornado and went upstairs, he found Don Diego already asleep. In bemusement, Bernardo realized that his patrón had just taken off the outer part of his costume before lying down on his bed. Diego only half awoke as Bernardo got his shirt and sash off and then covered him up with a blanket.
The next morning, Cpl. Reyes came by the hacienda inquiring of a house servant if anyone on the rancho had seen a stranger in the vicinity. The morning stage had been robbed and the perpetrator had been seen nearby. After Reyes left, Bernardo pondered the news and then went upstairs to wake Don Diego.
Bernardo quickly conveyed the news he had learned. "So Juan is trying to strike while the iron is hot, eh, Bernardo?" Diego asked. "I suppose that I must ride. You should have let me remain in costume, I seem to be living in it recently," Diego quipped as he dressed. "You go saddle Tornado for me."
This time when Zorro approached the scene of the morning's robbery, he was more cautious and surveyed the area before dismounting and checking the tracks. As he swung back up on Tornado, he listened carefully, but heard nothing that would indicate that Brutus was near.
Riding easily along Juan's trail, Zorro saw that it led into the northeastern hills, somewhat toward San Fernando. Keeping Tornado to a trot, the outlaw was able to make good time and keep the tracks in view.
This changed abruptly, when from behind him, he heard the barking, howling noise of Brutus on his trail. Wishing he had Don Salvadore's neck between his hands at that moment, Zorro urged Tornado ahead at a gallop and studied the countryside through which he was passing.
It was a more verdant area, with many large oaks and lots of brush. Certainly no ravines or chasms to jump over, Zorro thought to himself. There were also no large lakes or rivers, but many small ones. With a growing sense of irritation, Zorro realized that this time he was in countryside that favored the persistent dog.
Keeping Tornado to a steady cantor, he kept ahead of the foxhound without overly tiring the stallion. Slowly he circled the great horse back toward the pueblo. The landscape would not change much, but maybe a few tricks would discourage Salvadore Aguaya. About midmorning he startled a contingent of soldiers practicing drills in the plaza when he rode through their neatly organized formation.
Then he sent Tornado through a meat vendor's stand. The dried meat scattered everywhere and the meat vendor glared at him. Stopping just beyond the demolished stand, he shouted to Sgt. Garcia, who had been calling out the formations.
"Sergeant, I am so sorry to have interrupted your exercise. Please continue, you were doing so well." He laughed and brought Tornado up on his hind legs. To the vendor, he said, "Señor, I am truly sorry for the inconvenience, but I will amply repay you for the damage. I had to use your meat stand to show Don Salvadore how the foxes run in this part of California."
"Lancers to horse! Señor Zorro is in the plaza!" Garcia cried. He seemed almost in shock at Zorro's blatant entrance. Caesar cocked his little head, looking curiously at the black clad outlaw.
The peon looked at Zorro with sudden understanding and taking the rest of the meat, he scattered it in all directions. Zorro laughed and saluted him. "Gracias, Señor." Then he wheeled Tornado and raced out of the plaza to a place where he could watch unseen.
Shortly after that, the lancers rode out of the pueblo, obliterating Zorro's tracks. Sgt. Garcia bellowed out orders to the remaining soldiers and they returned to their formations. The sergeant had not even bothered to mount and follow, because catching Zorro he always said, was like 'trying to catch the wind.'
Fifteen minutes later, the formation was again broken up, this time by the noisy arrival of Brutus, who followed directly along the path laid by Zorro. Townspeople who had been watching the first arrival, laughed anew at the arrival of the foxhound and the embarrassment that it caused Sgt. Garcia and the lancers. Those who had bet on several days or more for the capture of Zorro cheered and hooted.
Brutus cast around the square for well over a half an hour before finally giving up and returning to his master. So many people had walked or ridden through the square, that Zorro's trail was impossible to locate. The dog, ordered to continue the search, tracked through the ruin of the meat vendor's stand and seeing Caesar there helping himself, followed suit. Don Salvadore was livid and dragged the foxhound away from the free meal, while spectators laughed at his retreating back.
Seeing the countenance of the dog's owner, Zorro decided it was time to retreat. Outside the pueblo, he found a fairly large stream and urging Tornado into it, Zorro followed it for over a mile before finally going up on the bank and making a circuitous route through the rocky hills and back to the secret cave. As a precaution, Bernardo took it upon himself to take brush and sweep away any prints left by the stallion.
Diego decided to take a late lunch at the tavern. Bernardo wondered about his patrón showing up around Brutus after the dog had acquired his scent as Zorro. The caballero reassured him that cleaning up and changing should do no more than confuse the dog. Arriving in the early afternoon, the pair sat down at a table near the window and ordered the specialty of the house, a hearty beef stew.
Don Salvadore and his friend were sitting across the room. The former looked glumly at his lunch. Brutus was lying quietly on the floor under the table, but raised his head and stared at Diego when he heard the hacendado’s voice. Rising up on his sturdy legs, the dog padded over to Diego and sniffed him, snuffling for a few minutes and whining. Diego reached down and rubbed under his chin and around his ears, and Brutus' inquisitiveness changed to intense pleasure.
"Is Brutus bothering you, Señor de la Vega?" Salvadore asked. "I did not even notice that he had gone over to see you."
"He is fine, only being friendly," Diego told him, continuing to find scratchable places on the hound's anatomy. "I hear that although Brutus is a wonderful tracking dog, our fox is a bit smarter."
"Brutus will catch El Zorro in the end and you and everyone else will be a few pesos poorer," Salvadore snapped and then called Brutus back to him. The dog was prompt in his obedience, but as he lay under the table, he whined slightly under his breath.
When the stew came, Diego and Bernardo slowly savored each bite. The establishment also served the most wonderful tasting bolilos and a plate of the crusty rolls was savored as well. Finally after an hour of congenial chatting with other customers, mostly about the foxhound and its quarry, Diego casually laid his pesos on the table and sauntered over to the table where Don Salvadore was morosely finishing a bottle of wine.
"Salvadore, you seem a bit depressed. Would you prefer that I withdraw my bet?" Diego asked mischievously.
"No, Diego, I would not, because I am going to collect from you if from no one else," he retorted. Diego shrugged and with a smile, calmly walked out the door. Bernardo followed discreetly behind.
Late afternoon found Zorro waiting in concealment on a ridge overlooking the King's Highway north of the pueblo. As this was the first stage coming into town, he felt it most logical that Juan would be on hand to rob this one first. The ridge opposite his position was the best location for an ambush within five miles of Los Angeles. The soldier seemed to be trying to get as much as he could, as quickly as he could get it. Zorro could only surmise that after a certain period of time, Juan would leave the area. However the outlaw wanted him captured before anyone else got hurt.
Soon Zorro's patience was rewarded when he saw Juan galloping up the highway from Los Angeles. Dragging a tree limb across the highway, which was narrowed at this point, Juan waited in the rocks nearby. Soon afterward, the stage drove into view and stopped. Jumping down, the driver started to move the limb, but was stopped by Juan, who pointed a loaded pistol at him.
Holding his breath, Zorro hoped that the driver would at least be restrained enough to give him some time to get down to the stage. Slipping between boulders and around brush, the black clad figure got within range to use his whip before the driver tried to make a move on Juan. The whip snaked out and jerked Juan's right arm back before he could fire his pistol. The weapon flew from his grasp.
Seeing his opportunity for success increase, the driver made a leap at the soldier/bandit and drove him to the ground. Zorro followed up by stepping on Juan's left wrist and keeping him from using his second pistol. "Señor, get some rope and tie this bandit up. He is the last of the gang that was victimizing stages for this past week. You can turn him over to Sgt. Garcia in Los Angeles."
"Gracias, Señor Zorro, for your help," the driver said. Juan was soon trussed up and hauled to his feet by the driver. Mounting Tornado, whom he had called, Zorro leaned down and smiled at Juan. "Señor, you should have continued your career as a soldier. The chances of getting to retirement were much greater." Waving a farewell, Zorro wheeled Tornado around and headed toward the pueblo, but as he rounded a bend in the highway, he saw Salvadore, his companion and Brutus coming toward him.
With a shout, Salvadore dropped the dog to the ground and ordered him after Zorro. "Andale, Brutus, after him." Brutus shot toward him and Zorro had no recourse, but to head Tornado into the hills at full gallop.
The direction in which he was heading would take him to a fairly large lake, one that had filled with recent rains. A goodly coating of mud would take any discernable scent from Tornado, although Zorro was beginning to think that if Don Salvadore did not give up his quest soon, he would lose what little equanimity he had left and take more drastic measures against the man and his dog.
Running Tornado at full gallop enabled him to get some distance ahead of his pursuers by the time the lake came into view. It was a fairly large body of water and the banks gradually sloped into the water, making the opportunity to get muddy very easy. Even as surefooted as he was, Tornado slipped as he entered the lake at the urging of his master.
Going all of the way out, Zorro slid off the stallion's back and hung on to his tail as the horse crossed the lake. The outlaw decided that he might as well wash his scent off his clothes as well.
The setting sun cast an orange tint over everything, including the lake, which looked as though it were on fire. As Tornado and Zorro waded out on the far bank, a piece of submerged driftwood caught the stallion's right foreleg, cutting it. Snorting in fright at the object that had seemed to grab him, Tornado pranced until Zorro was able to calm him and check the wound.
The outlaw did not think it was more than a slight cut, but he was not about to ride the horse until he knew for sure. "Tornado, go home, get Bernardo," he urged the stallion, as he tied his cape a certain way on the saddle horn. Watching the horse gallop away reassured him that the cut was not too serious, but on reflection Zorro realized that his situation probably was.
Wading out of the water, on the muddy bank was precarious and he slipped twice before he could get onto dry ground. His boots sloshed and his wet sleeves felt heavy around his arms. Jogging as fast as his waterlogged boots would allow him, Zorro managed to get to a grove of trees before Brutus and the two men reached the far side of the valley.
The trees were large oaks and the outlaw climbed into the first and using the massive limbs as a roadway, he went from one tree to another as long as they grew thickly together. He reminisced on his days as a youth when he and his friends would try to see who could race the fastest from one end of a grove of trees to the other. Chuckling at the memory, he recalled that he usually won. In the middle of the little forest, he paused and rested, waiting to see what his pursuers would do.
Fortunately, there was no breeze and when the men and the dog passed nearby they were unable to see him owing to his dark costume. After a great deal of grumbling and muttering, Salvadore called the dog, and putting him on the saddle, rode back to the pueblo.
After waiting a reasonable time, Zorro climbed down out of the tree, emptied the water from his boots and started walking home. The cool evening air began to feel chilly on his wet clothes, and after many hours, he was limping on feet that hurt from the combination of the unaccustomed walking and sodden boots. By the time Bernardo found him, his mood had blackened almost to that of the night sky.
|Caesar Chronicles Introduction|