Chapter Four - Zorro Goes on the Offensive
"Doctor, what do you have in this cabinet that is highly flammable?" Diego asked.
"Nothing, but in the credenza over there, I keep the more dangerous substances. Why?" Cortez asked.
"I need to impress a few people, including Señorita LeMay," Diego said cryptically. "She sways her followers partly by magic tricks, I believe that I can do a few of my own."
"It is my understanding that she is a very dangerous woman, Diego. I heard that Doña Antonia died a bit sooner because of her ministrations."
"Sí," Diego agreed. "And Marie LeMay needs to be stopped before she succeeds, either accidentally or on purpose to kill someone else," he added vehemently, glancing over at Bernardo, who appeared to be resting much more comfortably.
"Let me show you something, Diego," the doctor pulled out a few vials of powder and lit a candle. Taking one pinch of powder at a time, he sprinkled it on the flame. As each bit of powder hit the candle, it puffed up in brilliant colors, a different color for each powder.
"By the Saints, Doctor, that is precisely what I need. May I purchase some of this?" Diego asked, brightening visibly.
"Diego, you may have all that you need, gladly, as a gift from me. If you can break the hold that this woman has over the people of this pueblo, then it is worth it," Cortez told the caballero with a laugh. He looked at Diego de la Vega in wonder, seeing not the languid son of a wealthy hacendado, but a son who would defend his family to the death. It was an interesting contrast.
Diego took a little of each of the powders and prepared them to make the most effective showing. Then he went over to Bernardo. "My friend, rest comfortably, I will return shortly," he murmured. Then Diego stalked out of the room and back to the inn.
Stepping into the tavern, Diego saw Marie and Louis and several of her initiates at a large table, laughing. Walking up to their table, he saw with gratification that there was a candle lit in the middle of the table. Flicking his fingers imperceptibly, Diego caused a puff of green smoke to rise toward the ceiling.
"I am warning you, Marie LeMay, leave my family alone." Another flick, red smoke. "And heaven help you if my servant dies, or if my father is hurt in any way." Another flick, blue smoke. "Leave Los Angeles while you yet have at least the one follower." Only Louis had remained by her side. The others had scooted their chairs back a foot or two, looking at Diego in shock. The last flick of his fingers and a small, but dense cloud of grayish-black smoke drifted lazily toward the ceiling.
"What will you do, Señor de la Vega if any of those conditions are not met? What dire consequences do we face?" Marie looked up at him and smiled derisively.
Her taunt made Diego realize the mistake he had made in coming to the tavern and showing a willfulness that was so unlike the role he had adopted. Sighing, and looking irresolute, he turned on his heel and stalked back out of the building, laughter following him out the door.
Diego met his father in the plaza and told him all that had transpired. "By the Saints, Diego, we must let Sgt. Garcia know about this."
"No, Father, Sgt. Garcia is totally charmed by this woman. She has some kind of talent to sway others to her way of thinking. The good sergeant will not be able to help us, but if you will accompany me to the doctor's office, I have a few thoughts on how to break the señorita's hold here in Los Angeles."
Alejandro listened with rapt attention to his son's ideas, sometimes chuckling and sometimes gasping at the audacity of the schemes that Diego presented to him. "May I make a suggestion, Diego?" Alejandro said as they reached the doctor's residence.
"Anything, Father," Diego said.
"Tomorrow is All Saint's Day and the next day is The Day of the Dead. Why not have the spirit of Doña Antonia visit Señorita LeMay, not to be friendly, but to give warning."
With a laugh, Diego agreed. "I suppose that you will be the ghost?"
Alejandro nodded. "You will be busy and we cannot count on Bernardo."
Both men went into the little office and found the manservant looking at them, with a wan smile on his face. Diego quickly walked over to him and signed his concern. Bernardo just pointed to the doctor and indicated that he was much better. Grabbing hold of Diego's sleeve, he pulled himself up, and signed that he wanted to help to fight Marie LeMay. Not seeing the doctor in the room, Diego murmured an answer. "We shall see, Bernardo. I am just glad that you are going to be all right."
Doctor Cortez returned from the back room. "Ah, your manservant is doing much better as you can see, Don Diego. Did you make an impression on our resident witch?"
"No, not on her, but I startled her new group of followers. I thank you again for the powders," Diego told the doctor with a laugh. After Bernardo had been examined one last time, he was declared fit enough to go back to the hacienda to rest. Just to be safe, Bernardo rode behind Diego, while Alejandro led the servant's horse.
At dinner, Diego served Bernardo, much to the latter's consternation. "Hush, Bernardo, and enjoy it while you can. I think we will all be busy tomorrow and the next day," Alejandro chided.
Zorro's first visit of the night was to the tiny bakery that mainly catered to the tavern's clientele. This was the only time of the year that the baker made confections, as sugar was scarce in California and had to be shipped from Cuba. When the outlaw slipped in the back door, the baker's son almost dropped one of the trays of little sugar skulls, made especially for the upcoming Day of the Dead.
"El Zorro!" the boy gasped.
"You had better put your tray on the table, muchacho, before you drop the sweets on the ground," Zorro laughed. "I need to talk to your father about a special order. Get him quickly, but without alerting anyone else to my presence." The boy nodded, padded out of the room, returning soon with the baker.
"What can I do for you, Señor Zorro?" he asked.
"Does anyone in your household follow the order of Señorita LeMay?" he asked bluntly. The man and the boy made the sign of the cross without hesitation. The outlaw looked closely into their eyes and saw no deceit. He was satisfied. "I need to ask you to make two larger sugar skulls, with the names of the two strangers on them. Can you do this and also keep quiet about it, not even telling anyone else in your family?" Zorro asked.
"Sí, Señor Zorro," the baker smiled. "I will gladly do it. Perhaps that will scare the devil's spawn away from our pueblo."
"Hopefully it will help," Zorro answered. He gave several pesos to the man. "This should be ample reimbursement for the sugar that you use. I will return tomorrow afternoon for them. Adios."
Zorro's next stop was the hacienda of Don Carlos Rivera. The outlaw had heard that Don Carlos had trapped a badger, keeping it for whatever sadistic pleasure he could think of. Peering down from the roof into the small patio, Zorro saw a servant coming out of a storage room. From the scratching and hissing noises emanating from within, he surmised the poor creature was inside.
The stars wheeled slowly along their orbits and patiently the outlaw waited for the hacienda to settle into somnolence. When all was quiet and still, Zorro slipped into the tiny room and examined the crate in which the badger was imprisoned. The animal was heavy, but not impossible to carry and soon the outlaw had manhandled the crate outside the hacienda to a waiting cart. After a short drive, the badger was settled in a secluded corner of the secret cave, with a meal of dried beef to help keep it happy.
Tornado rolled his eyes at the strange animal and snorted from time to time. The badger grumbled a bit and then chirruped happily as it gnawed at the meat. Taking a moment to check on Bernardo, Zorro found himself in a gallery of the macabre when he walked into the library. The mute was sitting on the floor, happily scooping seeds from pumpkins and dumping them in a pile. Nearby was a group of the hideously carved pumpkins, with faces that would scare the devil himself. Glaring eyes and pointed teeth were predominant, but some also had nose slits and leering grins, minus teeth. "What nightmare did you have to inspire this, Bernardo?" Zorro asked, incredulously.
Laying down the spoon, Bernardo signed a reminder of a classmate in Madrid, who on the eve of All Saint's Day, carved a spooky face into a large turnip. "Oh, Edward, from York shire, who managed to charm his way into General de Silva's fencing school." Zorro peered at the different faces more closely. "Bravo, Bernardo, I think this will be of immense value in the battle against the voodoo queen. I am assuming that is the purpose." Bernardo nodded and continued scooping seeds.
"Can you make a couple that resemble snakes' heads?" Zorro asked. Bernardo shrugged and indicated that he would try. Then he took the stub of a candle and placed inside one of the finished pumpkins, lighting it with a taper.
The effect was powerful, the outlaw not ever having seen such a thing before. "By the Saints, Bernardo, wonderful," Zorro said softly. "I would venture to say that these will frighten Marie LeMay's acolytes away, at the very least."
Bernardo beamed with pleasure. "Well, Bernardo, it will soon be dawn, I must go and get the next group of denizens to keep Tornado happy,” he said wryly. “I will also ride by the old Santa del Rios church and deliver my own 'curse,' and then go into the mountains. I should be back no later than noon."
Bernardo nodded as Zorro slipped behind the secret panel into the corridor leading to the hidden cave.
Zorro was not as artistic as Bernardo, but it didn't take him long to create an effigy which he felt the voodoo woman would recognize as herself. He attached a note to it with a pin and then swung on Tornado. When he arrived at the abandoned building, he stealthily slipped in the window. He was unnoticed by the occupants, because of the noise of their weird ceremony. Music was provided by a violin, (fiddle, he corrected himself) and drums, and wailing chants from some of the participants. Many were dancing in shuffling motions, seemingly without rhythm and the smoke from several braziers clouded the room.
The old church had been decorated since his last visit. On the walls now were straw and paper mâché effigies of what appeared to be enemies and different animals. Copious amounts of straw had been strewn on the floor as well and the feet of the dancers made swishing sounds as they moved across the room. Fabric of dark red hung over the alcoves where statues of the Virgin Mother and the Saints used to reside.
Sitting silently on the windowsill, it was perhaps fifteen minutes before Marie LeMay was aware of his presence, and she turned and stared directly into Zorro's face. The voodoo queen stood statue still, her eyes boring coldly into his. The music ebbed eerily and soon everyone in the room was as still as death, watching the clash of wills. Marie blinked and stamped her foot, realizing that this Zorro had a presence every bit as powerful as her own, though different. The outlaw laughed and threw the crude effigy at her feet, disappearing into the predawn darkness.
Señorita LeMay stared at the 'curse' effigy for a moment, before she realized that she had an audience and then she picked it up with a forced laugh. Glancing at the bandit's handiwork, she threw it into one of the braziers, where it smoldered a minute before flaring up in a quick, hot flame.
Proceeding to a cave in the nearby hills, Zorro waited quietly under a scrub pine for the full dawn to arrive. As the sun began to rise above the mountains at his back, he heard the rustling of thousands of leathery wings and a momentary darkness settled over the side of the mountain. Soon the noise ceased and the sun made its full appearance across the entire western slope. It had been a long night and Zorro rose stiffly to his feet, brushing the trail dust from his costume. Picking up the two large bags of heavy material, which he had brought with him, the outlaw walked into the cave's mouth. A small torch illuminated his way.
A hundred feet into the cavern, Zorro began pulling the somnolent bats from the walls and low ceilings, figuring he had enough when there were two dozen of the rustling creatures in the sacks. Riding back to the de la Vega hacienda, Zorro hung the bags on hooks in the cave and retired to his room, where he changed. Then he went downstairs to the patio to join his father for lunch.
Alejandro raised one eyebrow. "Father Miguel asked about you this morning at mass, and I am afraid that the only excuse I could think of was that the poison was still affecting you."
"You were not lying, Father. The poison did affect me, just not physically," Diego commented wryly. "How is Bernardo?"
"Much better, although a night spent carving pumpkins is not the most intelligent thing to do when one has been ill. He is still asleep," Alejandro quipped. "How are you, my son?"
"Tired, but ready to finish this affair with the voodoo," Diego stated vehemently. "It will end tonight when All Saints' Day slips into The Day of the Dead."