“Gomez, that’s enough!” Sergeant Mendoza exclaimed.
“But he’s out of control!”
Mendoza scoffed, “Don Diego’s less likely to lose control than you are!”
A moment of awkward silence went by while the enthusiastic Gomez paused in his attack. They all took the unscheduled break to glance around Victoria’s tavern.
This corner of the inn was all but destroyed. Tables lay in splinters on the floor. Broken dishes littered every corner, and food splashed all the crevices. Dripping material draped over upturned benches, and the remains of several checkered napkins punctuated the chaos. Unmoving peons and caballeros gazed in wordless astonishment as the lancers continued to hang onto Diego’s arms.
But Diego had eyes only for the targeted Señoritas. After Bishop’s attack, Tansy Caldone was shocked, but still standing. Covered in wine stains just like Victoria, her riding gloves had saved her hands from the flying glass. Except for the spreading stains on her skirt as well as being frightened to death, she was unhurt.
It was Victoria who had once again sustained the more severe injury, but thankfully hadn’t been shot. She’d been completely surprised when the bottle had exploded in her hands to spray her with wine and flay her with the flying glass. She’d then tripped on a displaced bench and fallen over backwards to land in an undignified pile on the floor. However, other than enough cuts on her exposed skin to make her look like she’d taken a bath in glass, she appeared only stunned by her fall.
Still, Diego didn’t want to take any chances. “Don’t touch her!” he shouted as several people drew near her. “She might have wounds we can’t see. Someone get Dr. Hernandez!”
“I’m right here, Diego. Everyone, move aside!”
Dr. Hernandez gave individuals gathered around Victoria several rough shoves to get them out of the way. The earlier babble of voices was now a hush as the old doctor assessed the Señorita’s injuries.
“What happened?” Dr. Hernandez brusquely asked while quickly taking Victoria’s pulse.
Diego pulled uselessly against the lancers detaining him, but they refused to release him to go to her, so instead he breathlessly answered, “Bishop tried to shoot her. I threw my book at him to spoil his aim.”
“Remarkably fast thinking,” Hernandez replied, running his hands over Victoria’s arms now, feeling for those possibly unseen wounds that Diego had mentioned. “What happened then?”
It was Victoria who groggily answered, “Something hit the wine bottle I was holding. It just blew up.”
“Right onto your hands by the look of it,” Hernandez judged as he critically studied Victoria’s bloodied right hand. He pulled a liquid vial out of his medical bag, then shook its contents onto rag he carried. “This will sting a bit.”
Victoria’s yelp of pain heralded the arrival of Alcalde De Soto as he crashed through the tavern’s front doors.
The military man instantly took in Señorita Caldone leaning against the green bar, saw Victoria lying on the floor as the doctor cared for her, then noticed the bound form of Bishop. A bedraggled Diego de la Vega stood in the grips of several unapologetic lancers, anxiously looking on. “What happened here?”
Mendoza instantly said, “It all happened so fast, mi Alcalde, that--”
“Mendoza, report!” De Soto obviously didn’t want extraneous details.
The effect of the familiar bark was immediate. Mendoza drew himself up, gave his military tunic an official tug, then pointed at Bishop. “That man shot Señorita Victoria!”
De Soto’s forehead wrinkled in confusion. “I see no gunshot wound.”
Mendoza explained, “He shot her two years ago, right after he gambled, cheated, or swindled everyone in town. He was warned never to return to this pueblo again.”
“Warned… by my predecessor?”
“Zorro!” De Soto scowled. “One bandit threatening another - that’s rich!”
Mendoza shuddered. “It wasn’t like that, Alcalde. Like I said, he shot Señorita Victoria. Zorro told him to never come back or he would kill him.”
De Soto barked a second laugh as he took in Bishop’s bound form. “As a threat, it obviously didn’t work.”
Bishop, now recovered from Diego’s loss of temper, writhed against his bonds, tightening them further. “I would have succeeded, too, if not for the likes of him!” He sent a scathing sneer in Diego’s direction.
More in charge of his faculties as the anger drained out of him, Diego thought to keep a low profile now that the Alcalde had appeared. “He would have shot Victoria if I hadn’t stopped him.”
In spite of his wishes, Diego’s statement brought De Soto’s glare directly onto the caballero. “How is it that a poet brought down an experienced criminal?”
“I threw a book at him.”
Another barking laugh burst through the tavern. “A book! I should have known.”
“Actually,” Diego added in hindsight, “I threw it at his gun, hard enough for the bullet to miss Victoria. It must have hit the bottle in her hands instead.”
“How did he get tied up?”
Diego was just realizing what he might have unintentionally revealed by fighting Bishop. “He was going to shoot Victoria! It was awful the last time it happened. So I did what I had to do.”
“I jumped on him, he lost his balance, we fell to the floor, he punched me several times, in the chin, I think. I bit my tongue. Then I punched him, knocked his head against the floor to stun him, flipped him over, and tied him up.”
“All by yourself?” De Soto looked amazed.
Affronted, Diego scowled. “Of course by myself!” The Alcalde’s incredulous stare prompted him to add a dismissive shrug. “I’ve seen Zorro do it hundreds of times.” A weary glance across the tavern cemented the image he was trying to enforce. “I hope I find my book; it’s rare.”
“Yes, you surely lost your page.” De Soto’s disdain was enhanced by his natural sarcasm.
Diego again took on an affronted look. “The man intended to shoot Victoria. Surely that warrants some jail time!”
“Indeed it does,” De Soto said. “Mendoza, take him to the cuartel. De la Vega too. Lancers!”
“What?” Diego gasped as the soldiers roughly yanked him towards the door. He planted his feet to stop them.
“Diego didn’t do anything!” Victoria loudly objected. Diego was grateful for such vocal support, but the Alcalde was determined.
“He has admitted to being in a tavern brawl, Señorita,” De Soto impatiently explained. “To say nothing of his confession of actions closely resembling those of your ‘friend,’ Zorro.”
“And that means that I’m Zorro? That’s ridiculous!” Diego automatically yelled as the lancers once more hauled him two steps farther before he was again able to halt their movement. “What was I supposed to do? Let the man shoot Victoria because doing anything to stop him might make me look like Zorro?” He stood up to his full height, a move that almost pulled the detaining lancers off their feet. “If that’s the case, then I’ll gladly say I’m Zorro!”
“Diego, don’t be stupid; he’ll hang you!” Victoria hollered, propping an elbow against the floor to help her sit up.
Diego stared avidly at Victoria. “I saved you.”
De Soto quickly added, “And only Zorro does anything to save the Señorita, so you must be Zorro.”
Diego shook his head at the governmental man’s twisted logic, but the fact that Victoria looked truly distraught at the idea of his arrest was the most heartening thing Diego had witnessed in years. “If saving you means declaring I’m Zorro, then that’s what I’ll do.”
“I won’t let you!” she yelled back.
“How touching,” De Soto growled in disgust. “However, you clearly aren’t in a position to allow anything, Señorita.” The Alcalde gave a jerk of his head to his men. “Let’s go!”
Mendoza and several lancers converged on Bishop to untie him and lead him to the jail, but halted after only a few fruitless minutes of fiddling with the sash.
De Soto quickly lost his patience waiting for them. “What’s taking so long?”
Mendoza pulled again on the knotted sash. “I’m sorry, mi Alcalde, but… I can’t untie him.”
De Soto roughly shoved the milling crowd aside. “Let me do it.”
Mendoza moved away just as De Soto drew abreast of him, or he would have been unceremoniously shoved aside, too. The Alcalde then spent the next several minutes uselessly tugging at the intricate knots. Finally, he stood up to glare at Diego. “What did you do? I can’t fix this mess!”
Diego moved an irritated step forward. “I’ll do it.”
The Alcalde gave an ill-disguised snort of humor, obviously thinking that the tight knots were a mistake. “Be my guest.”
Knowing exactly what to do, Diego loosened his sash securing Bishop to the pillar and hauled him to his feet by grasping the material holding the gambler’s hands pinioned behind his back. Bishop wriggled furiously the entire time. Unimpressed, Diego muttered, “Hold still, Señor, or I will club you unconscious.”
More lancers subdued Bishop while Alcalde De Soto gaped at Diego. “How did you do that?” His eyes narrowed in speculation. “Are you Zorro?”
“You think everybody’s Zorro,” Diego casually noted. “But in this case, it’s all in the wrist.” He gave a flick of his delicate wrist right under De Soto’s nose. “All I did was untie a knot.”
“A damned elaborate knot!”
“That doesn’t make me Zorro.”
“You just admitted you were that outlaw!”
“For Victoria, yes.”
“Untie his feet so he can walk to the cuartel.” Challenge glinted in the Alcalde’s eyes.
“Untie him yourself.” Diego met Victoria’s gaze, silently telling her that he would be all right, then stalked out of the tavern straight to the cuartel gates and his future incarceration.