Juan's Christmas Gift
Chapter Two - Zorro Visits the Magistrado
The new local Administrado, Rudolfo Diaz, while under the authority of the magistrado of Alta California, held virtually unlimited power over the area, which included Los Angeles. The Administrado, while for the most part a fair man in judgment, was also extremely pious, (and some said pompous), and frowned upon all the festivities that surrounded the once solemn observances, such as All Souls Day and Navidad. He felt the Posada and the Dia de Los Reyes should be more solemn, and unaccompanied by the frills of fiesta, gifts and gaiety. For the most part the citizens of Los Angeles and the surrounding area put up with the dour old man, mainly because his judgments were not excessive. But lately an undertone of complaints had been noised around the pueblo.
It was customary for those who had committed less serious crimes to have their fines or imprisonment reduced or commuted during this time of the year, but it seemed that lately, Administrado Diaz had decided to make breakers of the law examples to the citizens of the pueblo. As the season of Navidad seemed to edge closer and closer, the fines and jail sentences seemed to become even harsher.
Sitting in the tavern several days before the first Posada, Sgt. Garcia voiced what many in the pueblo were already saying. "Don Diego, it would seem that the deeper the frown of Señor Diaz, the harder the sentence that is rendered."
"I agree. It would also seem that the closer we come to Navidad, the more dour the man becomes. He is like a bear awakened out of its hibernation before spring, growling and snapping at anything nearby," Diego added. They both took sips of their wine in silence. It bothered him that anything would mar the happiness of this season, and he was determined to see what he could do to remedy the situation.
As if on cue, the man in question came storming through the door of the tavern, looking for all the world like a thundercloud. His flashing eyes searched among the patrons, and several seemed to cringe as his glare fell on them. As soon as he caught sight of Garcia, he boomed, "Sergeant, clear an area, we are going to convene a court in thirty minutes," he said.
Sighing, Garcia began to comply. Diego took his leave and was soon riding out of the pueblo toward home.
Forty minutes later, a black clad figure was hiding silently in a tiny alcove directly behind the Administrado. This little room had served a similar purpose many times before, and Zorro was very grateful for its continued usefulness. The hastily convened trial had apparently not started on time, which further soured the Administrado's bad humor.
"End the excuses, Señor Zavala! Your son, for whatever reason, destroyed part of the citrus crop of Don Alfredo de la Guerra. He must be punished," Diaz pronounced sonorously.
"I will be happy to cover the damage, but a jail sentence seems a bit harsh, especially at this time of year," came a voice that Zorro recognized as his father's. A prison sentence! So that was what had caused the young man's mother to cry. Zorro felt a small flare of anger building inside.
"No, Señor de la Vega. I repeat, this youth's act of vandalism needs to be punished and his punishment needs to serve as a witness to those who would think of doing the same thing. I do not think that a bit of time in the carcel would be a bad example." Not a small amount of murmuring accompanied the announcement.
Zorro sighed. Silently drawing his blade, he slid it between the draperies and let it gently prod the back of the Administrado. "Señor Administrado," he whispered. "The punishment most fitting for the recalcitrant youth would be to work in Don Alfredo's orchard; replanting, pruning, harvesting, and whatever else the hacendado would need for the boy to do for restitution. I would suggest that you reconsider your decision, Señor." The outlaw poked the point of his sword against the Administrado's back a bit more in order to highlight his suggestion.
Hearing the swift intake of the judge's breath, Zorro knew that he had been heard. A pause followed, and the masked man prodded him with the sword again.
With a release of breath, the Administrado finally spoke. "I have reconsidered the verdict. I believe that the best punishment would be for the boy to work for Don Alfredo to make restitution for the destruction that he caused. Young Jorge Zavala, you are hereby sentenced to work for Don Alfredo until the time that he determines you have worked off the amount of money you owe him for the loss of the four trees," the Administrado intoned. Zorro smiled and sheathed his sword. He was gratified to hear sighs of relief from the boy's parents.
Suddenly the material between them was torn down and Zorro stood facing a lividly angry man with a pistol in his hand. "I am not as afraid of you, Señor Zorro, as I may have sounded. You are now my prisoner and YOU will stand trial. Come out of there very quietly and slowly."
As he complied with the order, Zorro watched the pistol in the hand of the Administrado, and looking into the man's eyes, he realized Señor Diaz was only looking for an excuse to fire the weapon. Right now, the outlaw would follow directions explicitly, and not make any sudden moves. Out of the corner of his eye he was surprised, though, to see Juan slowly approaching from his left side.
"Señor Administrado, what good would it do you to kill an unarmed man?" Juan asked softly. Everyone in the room seemed to be waiting breathlessly for the outcome of this confrontation. It wasn't very often that Zorro was actually taken prisoner. Alejandro's eyes were wide with fear.
"Unarmed?" Diaz laughed shortly. "What about that sword that was prodding me in the back a moment ago."
"It is in its sheath, and that effectively renders Señor Zorro unarmed. Besides, Señor Administrado, a sword cannot win against a pistol ball. Would it not be best to put El Zorro in the carcel and wait for the trial you suggested?" Juan asked.
The Administrado suddenly realized that the young priest's helper had rightly guessed his desires, and he colored slightly. "Who said anything about killing Señor Zorro? Move slowly toward the door, bandito. Sgt. Garcia, take two lancers and make sure this outlaw gets the room in the jail he so richly deserves."
Diaz shoved the pistol barrel against his back and that was when Zorro felt he had the best opportunity to escape. Pretending to stumble, the outlaw kicked back with his right leg and connected just below the Administrado's kneecap. Yelping in pain, Diaz jerked the hand holding his pistol downward as Zorro spun around and grabbed the official’s wrist. With a loud report the weapon discharged, the ball glancing just slightly across the outer part of Zorro’s right thigh.
His steel grip on the Administrado's wrist became even tighter and the useless pistol clattered to the floor. Simultaneously, Zorro's sword was out of its sheath and at Diaz' throat. Looking quickly behind him, the masked man was fearful that his attempt to escape might have resulted in injury for someone else, because he knew he had heard someone behind him.
Zorro saw Juan standing sedately behind him, a look of concern on his face. "Señor, your fears of anyone being injured are unfounded. As you can see, the ball passed through the material of my trousers and harmlessly away, although it could have been otherwise." Zorro blanched, seeing how close the bullet had come to passing through Juan himself, and not just his clothes.
Feeling a tiny trickling of blood down his leg, Zorro knew he had to leave before it became evident that he had been injured, slight though it was. Turning back to the Administrado, he said, "Señor Diaz, your beliefs on the way the observance of Navidad should be held must have no bearing on the judgments you render. The reason I have not visited you before is because up until recently, your verdicts have been, for the most part, fair. I will leave now, but remember what I have said, and let the people have a reason to celebrate this most glorious season."
Looking around, Zorro didn't see Juan, but did see the door to the storage room of the tavern standing open. Not being one to overlook such fortuity, Zorro gratefully dashed through the door, realizing just how lucky he was that no one else took this opportunity to try and capture him. Running out the back door of the tavern, he almost ran into Juan, who was quietly holding Tornado's reins.
"Señor Zorro, if you wish to ride to the church, I can tend to your wound there," the priest's helper said in a low voice. Dumfounded, Zorro could only nod. Swinging up on the stallion's back, he held his hand out for Juan and let him swing on as well. Just as the voices of Sgt. Garcia and Cpl. Reyes began sounding louder in the back rooms of the inn, Tornado galloped through the open gate of the tavern yard, and across the plaza. Soon the horse had carried the two men to the back of the church.
Juan jumped down and waited for Zorro to join him. "Let us go in where I can take care of your wound without interruption."
Zorro again nodded, and making a sign for the horse to hide in the nearby brush, accompanied the church worker into the priest's quarters. No doctor had ever cared for him with a gentler or surer hand. The outlaw was aching to ask this man several pointed questions about his background, but felt he couldn't without compromising his identity, since some of his observations had come earlier in the day. "Gracias, Juan, you are very kind."
"Thank you for your compliment, Señor Zorro. You know, I realize that what you do is for a greater good, but please beware of anger and complacency. You could have been killed in the tavern tonight, and that would have been a great loss," Juan said quietly.
Looking into Juan's eyes, Zorro saw only solicitude in them. "I appreciate your concern, Juan. And I doubly appreciate your help in the tavern. You diffused a potentially dangerous situation."
"I know, very dangerous for you. You have become a thorn in the side of many officials over the past three years, have you not, Señor?" Juan laughed as he finished tying the light bandage around the outlaw's leg.
Zorro laughed softly with him. "Juan, are you by chance a doctor? You are very good."
"No, I am not, although I have served under a master physician in my younger days. There, Señor Zorro, this should make it more comfortable for you to ride to your hacienda. Remember to be very careful when you ride in the mask. Vaya con Dios," Juan said.
Still perplexed, Zorro mounted Tornado and was halfway home before he realized that the priest's helper had referred to him as a hacendado. He felt a small bit of alarm, but for some reason he trusted the stranger explicitly and so he squelched his anxiety.
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