Cupid Wears Black

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

As Diego and Bernardo rode in sight of the little house, they saw the wolf/dog lying motionless in front.  Jumping off his horse, the caballero dashed into the house, and finding nothing went back out to the porch, while Bernardo checked on Joe’s companion.  Quickly noting the left behind clothes and the tracks of several horses, Diego came to the only conclusion he could; Joe Crane had been captured. 

“Bernardo, stay here.  I will be right back.”  The servant made a swishing sound and Diego nodded, swinging onto his palomino.  Quickly he turned the horse’s head and galloped in the direction of the de la Vega hacienda.

Within an hour, Zorro was traveling swiftly back to Carlotta’s house, where he was met by Bernardo and a fully recovered Lobo.  The wolf/dog growled softly, but stopped when Bernardo reassured him with a pat on the head.  “Have you found any other clues as to where Señor Crane was taken?”  

Nodding, Bernardo signed his discovery that four men had ridden away on horseback with another on foot.  He pointed to the animal and indicated the wolf/dog’s desire to follow the trail.   Zorro glanced in the direction Bernardo was pointing and nodded.  “Yes, that is the direction of Don Carlos’ hacienda.  They cannot have gone too swiftly, with Señor Crane on foot.”

Bernardo made more signs.  “No, my friend, if Don Carlos had wanted him dead right now, his body would have been laying next to his companion’s.”  Zorro looked at the wolf/dog and then back at the trail.  “I have the inkling of an idea.  Now go into the pueblo and get the señorita, her father and Padre Manuel, and take them to Don Carlos’ hacienda.  Wait nearby until you see my signal.”

Bernardo had an idea of what his patrón was thinking and he smiled broadly.  After giving him a few more instructions, Zorro watched the mute mount his horse and ride back to Los Angeles.   Turning back to the wolf/dog, he looked the animal in the eyes and rubbed around his ears.  The wolf whined very softly in his throat, continually looking in the same direction. 

“Ah, boy, that is what I want you to do.  Find your friend, Joe Crane.  Find him. Find Joe.  Go!” he commanded and let the animal go.  Like a ball from a musket, the wolf/dog shot down the trail, silently but steadily.  Swinging on Tornado, Zorro followed.  After a quarter mile, the outlaw was assured of Joe Crane’s destination.  Whistling to the panting animal, he halted the stallion and waited for the wolf to come to him.  With a whine, Joe Crane’s friend dropped to his haunches and gazed at Zorro.  Another whistle and Lobo leaped onto the front of the masked man’s saddle.  Tornado snorted, but was otherwise calm.  Soon they were galloping along the trail once more. 

Angrily, Zorro noticed signs of Joe Crane’s struggle to stay on his feet.  Small spots of blood dotted the route and signs that the mountain man had fallen were evident as well.  But amazingly, the Americano seemed to have fallen very seldom.  As they approached the ridge overlooking Don Carlo’s hacienda, Zorro noticed a rope being thrown over a large branch of a massive oak.  Joe Crane was sitting against the trunk, his long handled underwear brown from the dust of the trail, his feet bloody and swollen, but his eyes still defiant and full of anger.  The wolf/dog growled and started to jump down.  “No, Lobo.  Wait.  You will get your chance.”

Reaching back into a small saddlebag, Zorro pulled out a short length of rope and tied it around the wolf’s neck, hanging on to the other end.  “Tornado, wait here,” he said, dismounting and lifting Lobo down.  Calling softly to the wolf, he made his way quickly toward the oak tree that was near the front of the hacienda.  “Shh.  Stay,” he admonished the agitated animal as they waited behind brush near the tree.  A vaquero patrolled very near their position and Zorro waited until the man was within arm’s length.  Then he reached out and grabbing him around the neck, pulled him toward him, using a rock to render him unconscious.  His ambush of the vaquero was masked by Don Carlos’ triumphant laughter.  A pistol was jerked from the man’s sash and Zorro pulled the hammer back and aimed. 

The other vaqueros had put noose around the Americano’s neck and sat him on a horse.  The other end of the rope had been tied off on another branch and Don Carlos stood behind the horse, a switch poised to strike the animal’s rump.  Swish, and the horse squealed with sudden fright, bolting.  A pistol shot rang out, the rope parted and Joe landed heavily on the ground, the severed rope hanging loosely against his back.  “Get him, boy,” Zorro cried, pointing to Don Carlos, and jerking the rope from around the wolf’s neck.    

Wolf and man, in shades of black and gray, dashed into the knot of men and began laying into them.  Lobo unerringly leaped for Don Carlos and knocked him to the ground, growling and snapping in his face.  Screaming for help, Don Carlos went white with fear.  The wolf’s teeth came closer and closer, and hot saliva dripped onto the hacendado’s cheek.  Zorro knocked one man unconscious with the hilt of his sword.  Señor Crane, it would seem that your El Lobo is acquitting himself very well,” Zorro said with a laugh. 

Joe Crane was struggling with his bonds, with limited success.   “Well, I would do pretty well myself, if I wasn’t all tied up.”  Zorro worked his way over to the mountain man, and with a slight motion, sliced one of the strands of rope binding him.  Giving a mighty heave, the Americano yanked the rest of the ropes off and leaped into the fray.  With a howling cry, he grabbed a vaquero around the neck with one arm and hit him over the head with his fist.  The man dropped like a stone. 

Zorro engaged Marco, their blades flashing in the late afternoon sun.  As they circled each other, their feet stirred up tiny puffs of dust.  Marco leaped toward the outlaw in a lunge that would have dispatched a lesser man.  But Zorro was not a lesser man.  With a laugh, he danced nimbly out of the way, his blade barely nicking the seat of his opponent’s trousers as Marco barreled his way past.  Growling in rage, his opponent came at him again.  Again the outlaw jumped to the side and again the tip of the sword found placement on material, twice this time, before the vaquero was able to pivot around.   

Remotely, Zorro heard the loud, deep laugh of Joe Crane and glanced over to see him leaning against the tree, arms folded, watching, with two vaqueros lying unconscious at his feet.  “Well done, Señor Crane.”

“Well, if you two boys get done playing with those pig-stickers of yours, we can get out of this place, find Carlotta and get the padre,” Joe commented wryly.    

Zorro didn’t answer immediately; Marco was advancing furiously, alternating thrusting and slashing motions.  Ducking as the blade whistled overhead, the outlaw reached in with his saber and jerked the sword from Marco’s hand, sending it flying through the air to land in the nearby bushes.  The point of Zorro’s blade was immediately resting against the vaquero’s jugular vein.   “Is this fast enough for you, Señor Crane?” he asked, chuckling.

Sí, Señor Zorro.  If you ever get restless and want to see the mountains, I do believe you and I could make a good match at the mountain rendezvous.  By the way, I like the little monogram in the seat of that boy’s pants,” he said, laughing again.

“I thought you were going to marry Señorita Carlotta?” Zorro asked.

“That I am, but a man must make a living to support such a wonderful wife, and trapping and trading is all I know,” Joe answered.

“Does Carlotta understand that?” Zorro asked.

“Yes, Carlotta does understand that, Señor Zorro,” a soft voice answered from behind them.  Turning, both men saw Carlotta, Bernardo, Carlotta’s father and Padre Manuel riding into view.  “I knew that Joe would spend time in the mountains trapping and hunting, but I understand.  Just as he understands that his home is here when he is not trapping and hunting.”  

“Yes, sir, gentlemen.  That Carlotta is quite a woman,” Joe exclaimed, swinging his love from her horse.  She handed him his clothes, which he quickly took behind a bush and put on.  He grunted appreciatively at her foresight in bringing him a pair of comfortable moccasins, at the same time noticing that she was wearing a fine lace-trimmed dress and wearing her hair up in a fancy comb.

“Would someone please get this beast off me!” Don Carlos screamed.  Lobo had been very quiet during the fighting; only growling softly whenever the caballero moved. 

“Kind of depends, Don Carlos,” Joe said.

“Anything, anything…”  

“If you leave me alone long enough to let me and the lovely lady, here, get married,” Joe commented.

“And if you let them use your hacienda in which to do it, Don Carlos,” Zorro added, a sly smile on his lips.   

“What?” Don Carlos cried out.  “You cannot believe that I…” Lobo growled menacingly.   “All right, all right, you win.  Use the patio.” 

“No, señor.  Two people in love should have the benefit of that sala you are always bragging about,” Zorro told him.  Don Carlos claimed to have furnishings and artwork, the likes of which could not be seen anywhere except in Spain.  

Don Carlos closed his eyes, still felt the wolf’s hot breath on his cheek, and sighed.  “All right, the sala, but the dog stays out.”

“No, sir, he don’t.  He is part of the family, too.  He will be part of this wedding,” Joe said vehemently.  Carlotta was laughing behind her hand, enjoying the discomfiture of the hacendado.  She still resented his treatment of her fiancée the first time he had come to Los Angeles, as well as his treatment today.  

Opening his eyes only to see the glittering yellow eyes of Lobo convinced Don Carlos.  “Very well…”

“You had this planned all along,” Joe said to Zorro, laughing heartily, and slapping the outlaw on the back. 

Zorro found it hard to keep his feet after such a blow.  Sí, Señor Crane, it was in my mind for things to work out this way.”

“Much obliged, although, if you don’t mind, I think the patio would suit me better anyways.  I always pictured getting hitched in the open,” Joe explained.

“Hitched?”

“Married,” Carlotta elaborated for the outlaw.  “And I would be happy to be ‘hitched’ outside.”  Don Carlos sighed a hearty sigh of relief as Lobo slowly got off his chest.   Bernardo finished tying up the last of the unconscious vaqueros, as well as Marco, as the party entered the patio. 

Señor Zorro.  I just realized something.  I ain’t got a best man.  Seeing as how you have saved my hide twice, uh, maybe you would like to stand by me as I marry this sweet señorita,” Joe said, almost at a loss for words. 

“Of course, if the good padre feels it would be proper for an outlaw to be a witness to the nuptials,” Zorro answered. 

“I see no problems, my son, especially if we have Don Carlos here as the other witness.  No one would dispute the word of such a fine and upstanding caballero as himself,” Father Manuel said evenly, looking meaningfully at the hacendado.  “I have not seen you at confession for quite some time either, señor,” he added softly. 

Don Carlos nodded, sighing in relief that his sala was spared.   Sí, I will witness.”

His shoulders slumped in defeat. 

“Don Diego wanted to be at the wedding,” Carlotta said, remembering the earlier conversation.

“I asked de la Vega to arrange for residency status for Señor Crane, since he is marrying one of our local citizens,” Zorro said hastily.  “Even though he was a bit disappointed, he was very quick to see the need for such a move and asked me to invite you both to a fiesta tomorrow at his hacienda to celebrate your nuptials.  After the wedding mass, of course.”

“A wedding party for us?” Joe asked.  Zorro nodded.  “Why, that’s nice of the young feller.  Why sure, and I s’pose he will have plenty of that frog juice you call liquor?”  

“I’m sure he will,” Zorro answered with a hearty laugh.   The priest called all of them over and he began the ceremony.  As soon as it was finished, Joe let out a howling cry, accompanied by one from Lobo, grabbed his new wife and, crushing her to him, kissed her long and deep. 

Señora Crane, my congratulations,” Zorro said, taking Carlotta’s hand, kissing it and then backing away.  “Don Diego has also arranged a place for you to spend your first night of marriage.  If you will follow the de la Vega manservant, he will show you.”    

Zorro rode with the little group for a short ways before leaving them to watch from a slight rise.  Lobo followed along behind the happy couple.  As the newlyweds rode out of sight, he thought how strange were the paths of true love.

 

 

Happy Valentine’s Day, 2000

 

 

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