By Linda Bindner
A/N 1: Not beta read - every mistake is all mine!
A/N 2: This story is complete with 11 chapters
The sun beat unmercifully down on the dry, dusty streets and alleys making up the Pueblo de Los Angeles. The small California town was enjoying the final throes of a heatwave that made the air seem even more stifling than during the visit from Emissary Risendo months earlier. Citizens sweated, lancers drooped, and stray dogs panted noisily beside the mission. Even the flies could only find the energy to buzz lethargically on the streaked adobe walls. The plaza of that coastal town was just beginning to empty as everyone moved purposely towards the one spot in the entire pueblo that promised to be invitingly cool, the tavern.
Judging by the noise of the rowdy lunch crowd, Victoria was soon going to have her hands full with a stream of lunch orders and thirsty customers. Sitting at an inside table out of the sun, Diego sat reading some poetry and drinking orange juice that was beginning to warm in its glass. Apparently even Victoria had a hard time keeping things cool on such a hot day.
The noise from the crowd increased yet again, and he glanced up from his book to see if any one particular part of that crowd was causing such a loud ruckus, but didn’t expect to witness anything of interest. Therefore, when his gaze landed on the one thing he never thought he would see again in Los Angeles, he was shocked into a bout of stupid blinking.
Then it hit him like a boulder rolling downhill in a rockslide.
He was staring at Bishop!
Bold as brass, the gambler sat at one of Victoria’s tables beside the door, his controlled grin half hidden by long blond hair. He stared straight at Victoria with an avidity bordering on craziness, completely missing Diego’s sudden scrutiny.
Vividly recalling the gambler’s last visit to the Los Angeles pueblo, Diego cringed. Bishop had shot Victoria while she defended Zorro, his original target. Diego had then spent the worst week of his life anxiously waiting for Victoria to regain consciousness. There had been no guarantee that she would ever wake, either, so the fact that she had was a miracle he felt he didn’t deserve.
To make matters worse, the moment she did regain consciousness, Diego discovered that his father meant to fight a duel with the gambler. As Zorro, he intervened in time to stop Don Alejandro from courting certain death at Bishop’s hand. The trouncing Zorro then gave Bishop had been as public as it had been complete. He’d finally threatened to kill him if he ever showed his face in or near Los Angeles ever again.
But that had been several years ago. Diego never thought he’d actually have to carry through with that threat. Yet, here the gambler was again, in spite of Zorro’s promised retribution.
The tavern owner was of course oblivious to the danger she was in as she stood right beside the bar, facing the open front doors, happily chatting with one of her few female friends, Señorita Estancia Caldone (Tansy to her friends and family). A bottle of wine obviously meant for some thirsty customer lay cradled in her right hand as she gestured animatedly to Tansy with her left.
Grinning his sick grin of intent focus, Bishop carefully aimed his gun straight at Victoria.
Reacting without thought, Diego threw his book with all his might straight at Bishop’s gun.
Diego’s aim was as true as Bishop’s would have been. His book collided with the gun at the exact moment Bishop pulled the trigger. The gun exploded with a tremendous roar that immediately shocked the noonday crowd into silence. The bottle in Victoria’s hand exploded into a million pieces, flaying her hands with shattered glass and spraying red wine onto both señoritas. Bishop’s gun flew away to skitter crazily across the tavern’s scuffed tile floor as Diego’s book simultaneously slid into a darkened corner near the door. In the following breath, Diego hurtled in a mad leap onto Bishop, sending the two men tumbling to the floor.
Diego’s leap gave him the momentum to roll Bishop several times before they smashed into a random table bench. Bishop was the first to recover, using the ball of his hand to whack the bottom of Diego’s chin in a quick first strike.
But the purposeful action, however malicious, was nothing compared to the righteous fury that gripped Diego. Only one thing reverberated continuously in his mind; this man had almost killed Victoria. In reaction, after years of tight control, Diego lost his temper.
Even as Bishop’s punch landed on his chin, Diego managed to straddle him when the bench halted their wild roll across the floor. The gambler instantly punched him again, wriggling insanely. “Get off me! Alcalde, I demand--”
Diego instinctively sloughed off the hits to his chin to punch the man in the jaw, punch him again, then slam Bishop’s head into the floor.
Diego’s blows successfully stunned Bishop, but only for a second. With a mighty heave, Bishop forced them both to roll once more, landing on top of Diego this time. Now it was an upright Bishop who plowed his fist into Diego’s jaw, then viscously kneed him in the ribs.
Diego would have doubled over if he’d been standing, but his prone position helped his fast recovery. A mighty heave of his own sent the two men rolling one more time, Diego landing on top once more. Not wasting such an opportunity, he sent a punch directly to Bishop’s right temple.
The gambler’s head snapped to the side with the force of the blow, but Bishop immediately turned the energy of his head snap to roll them yet again. This time though, he miscalculated his own strength, ending up once more straddled by the furious caballero. Before Bishop could recover his equilibrium, Diego’s fourth punch landed squarely on his left rib cage.
The calculated blow knocked the man into a daze, and Diego lost no time taking advantage of such dullness. He none-too-gently flipped the gambler onto his stomach, firmly pressing a booted foot into the middle of his back to render him as motionless as possible. Then he roughly yanked the man’s hands behind him, tying them deftly with a length of material torn from one of the tavern’s colorful decorations. He didn’t trust Bishop not to make a wild escape attempt if given the opportunity, so he made the knots as tight as possible, tying his feet together in a similar fashion. Finally, Diego rolled Bishop onto his back again, jerked him into a sitting position, and thrust him against the nearest roof support pillar, where he used his sash to secure him.
He was on the verge of gagging Bishop to stop his annoying yells of pain when all of a sudden, hands dragged him forcefully up and away from the gambler. Diego fought against them, unmindful of the many people who launched themselves between him and the would-be assailant. Straining, Diego almost broke away only to be jerked back a second time. Then someone ruthlessly slapped him.
Stunned, he could just make out an unfamiliar voice through the ringing in his ears. “Hold him! Tie him up if you have to!”
But Diego was like a man gone wild. He felt sure that Bishop would take this tempting opportunity to escape if they allowed it. “He’s going to kill Victoria!”
A second slap was his only answer, followed by a cascade of water soaking him from head to toe. Stunned anew, Diego didn’t shake off his following confusion quickly enough to stop another punch from cracking into his jaw.
Bones aching, water dripping from the end of his chin, Diego stood heaving air, helpless to stop the lancers from quickly surrounding him.