Chapter 3

        Two hours later, Diego admitted to himself that he was growing bored.  His wet clothes quickly dried in the warm California air, and once fairly comfortable again, the boredom became just as suffocating as the hot air.  Now that he was in jail, occupying one cell while an irate Bishop occupied the other, the adrenaline that had flooded his body during the altercation with the gambler had vanished in a rush.  He had felt weak at first, shaky with leftover energy, then relieved, and finally bored out of his mind.

        Diego crossed his arms as he leaned against the stone wall beside the bunk in his cell, calmly regarding Bishop, who paced his cell like a caged tiger.

        At long last, Diego couldn’t stand it any longer.  “Sit down, Señor.”

        Bishop’s sneer was immediately in evidence.  “Or else?”

        “Or else the Alcalde will knock you down.”

        “That overgrown preener!  He doesn’t scare me.”

        Diego rolled his eyes at the predictable bravado of Bishop’s reply.  “He should scare you.  Ignacio De Soto may be a preener, but he does not suffer foolish bandits for long.”

        “I’m no fool.  I’m no bandit, either.”

        The predictability of this man was truly appalling.  “Your shooting attempt today proves otherwise.”

        “Ha!  If you want to talk about bandits, you’re the one who said he was Zorro.”

        Diego let his blandest expression settle on his face.  “Do I look like Zorro?”

        “You sure punch like him!”  Bishop rubbed his jaw for dramatic effect.

        “I didn’t just punch you,” Diego casually replied.  “I knocked your head into the floor.”

        The rubbing now transferred to his head.  “Yeah, and that hurt!  Might have crippled me for life.”

        “I clearly didn’t hit it hard enough to knock any sense into you.”

        “Your Alcalde will never trust your word over mine; he thinks you’re Zorro.”

        “I’m not Zorro, I’m a caballero.”

        “‘Caballero’ just means you’re a rich thug!”

        “If I’m a thug, what does that make you?”

        Bishop’s following smile was as icy as his open hostility.  “I’m just an honest gambler passing through.”

        Diego jerked forward at the word ‘honest.’ “You’re a common criminal who almost shot a good friend of mine!”  His eyes narrowed again in barely controlled fury.  “Don’t expect me to easily forget that.”

        “Don’t threaten me, Caballero!”

        “Are you going to shoot me next?”

        Bishop’s disdain was obvious.  “I would make short work of you.”

        “Making short work of anyone in this pueblo will just bring out Zorro.  You’ll find dealing with him is not so simple.”

        “I’ve already dealt with him, and it was easier than you think.”

        “As I recall, you were thrashed within an inch of your life, then hounded out of town.”

        Bishop’s twisted smile was particularly unnerving.  “Threatened,  thrashed, run out of town… but not killed.  Zorro never kills; everyone knows that.  So I’m perfectly safe.”

         Stunned, Diego’s nonchalance cracked just a fraction.  He attempted to recover quickly, but having one of his personal life mottos thrown in his face was rattling.  “He may not have killed yet,” Diego choked, “but you can never know when he might turn his threats into reality.”

        A guffaw blasted out of the gambler.  “Zorro might threaten to kill, but to actually do it?  Don’t make me laugh!”

        Internal balance restored, Diego eyed him coldly.  “So certain of that, are you?”

        “You bet I am.  I wouldn’t have returned if I wasn’t sure I’d be safe.”

        “How does threatening to kill Señorita Escalante make you safe?”

        The gloating look returned.  “I can threaten all I want.  In fact, I can do all I want.  Zorro won’t do anything to me.”

        Could this man really be that stupid?  “You’re saying that you can do any audacious thing you want, that Zorro won’t give any reprisal?”

        Now Bishop’s smile grew smug.

        Diego crossed his arms in a show of unconcern when he was secretly very concerned.  “So you’re really saying that because it’s a well known fact that Zorro doesn’t kill, every criminal in the Los Angeles area, including you,  feels a certain amount of…”  What was the right word?  “... freedom?”

        Bishop’s smile was downright condescending.  “You’re finally seeing the light, de la Vega.”

        Diego felt as if he was indeed seeing the light.  In all his years as Zorro, not once had he thought to view the Zorro legend through the eyes of the criminals he brought to justice.  He was finally beginning to understand why Los Angeles seemed to be a mecca for every bandit in California: they all knew they needn’t fear death at Zorro’s hand.  True, they could be captured and hung, but the lancers of the Los Angeles garrison were ineffective at best, inept at worst.  The risk to life and limb was minimal compared to what they could accomplish by plundering the pueblo of Los Angeles.

        “There’s one hole in your theory, though, Bishop,” Diego noted at last.

        Arrogantly confident, Bishop continued to smile his aggravating smile.  “And what’s that?”

        Diego pushed himself off the wall he leaned against to stand up straight and tall, lending weight to his words.  “There are things worse than death, Señor.”

        The smile grew lopsided as Bishop considered Diego’s words.  “I think I’ll take my chances.”

        Diego gave a melodramatic sigh.  “You better hope you’re right.”


        “Meaning: have you ever seen the inside of a prison such as Devil’s Fortress?”

        “There isn’t a prison that can hold me.”

        Diego snorted a laugh.  “That’s easy for you to say.  I’ve been to Devil’s Fortress.”  He didn’t elaborate as to how or why.  “The prisoners who had been there for twenty or thirty years once thought as you do.  Now they know differently.”

        But Bishop was adamant.  “Zorro doesn’t kill, and I only shot at Señorita Escalante.  They don’t do more than keep you in the local jail for taking pot shots at someone.”

        Diego sighed, indicating his shortening patience.  “Zorro isn’t exactly logical when dealing with someone who threatens the Señorita.”

        Bishop’s amused bark was nothing less than galling.  “The worst he’ll do is give me to the lancers, who will throw me in jail.  No jail or prison has ever held me for more than a month, so I have nothing to worry about.”

        Diego’s nonchalance was more frightening than if he had yelled.  “Maybe, but Zorro does capture an impressive amount of banditos.”

        “Like I said before, capture doesn’t frighten me.”

        The man’s bravado certainly seemed genuine.  Either he was the bravest man Diego had ever laid eyes on, or the dumbest.  “Zorro may not kill the average criminal, but you’ve knowingly targeted his--”  He’d been about to say ‘his fiance,’ but Victoria’s and Zorro’s engagement was hardly common knowledge.

        “She’s his girlfriend,” Bishop finished for him.  “His lady love, his paramour, his--”

        Diego held up a hand to stop him.  “Yes, yes, I get the picture.”

        “She’s the one thing sure to get his attention.”

        Alarmed again, Diego tried to restrain his growing dismay at the target that Victoria represented.  “And why would you possibly want to gain his attention?”

         “Because once I’ve got it, I plan to kill him.”

        “Just like that, eh?”

        “Yeah, just like that.  He’ll never see me coming.”

        “Really?” Diego drawled in narrow-eyed disbelief.  “Do you think he’s stupid?”

        Again came Bishop’s spine chilling laugh.  “Señor de la Vega, I’m counting on it.”

        Using more nonchalance to cover the fact that this was truly disturbing news, Diego stifled a yawn to show how bored he’d grown and laid down on the bunk, stretching the length of the bed.  “You’re braver than I am to call the attention of that man.  I sure wouldn’t use Victoria against him, either.”

        “Then it’s a good thing you’re not me.”

        “Maybe.”  Diego didn’t sound convinced.  “But nothing makes Zorro angrier than someone trying to harm Victoria.”

        “An angry man makes mistakes.”

        “That’s true.  However, the past shows that when that man is Zorro, anger only makes his justice that much more deadly.”

        “I have nothing to fear from a man dressed in a mask.”   The way he said it, wearing a mask was a definite sign of a weak individual.

        “Whatever.  Your blustering is giving me a headache.  Zorro will either kill you, or he won’t, or you’ll wish he had.  It has nothing to do with me.”

        Bishop’s amusement was equally disparaging.  “I have as much to worry about from him as I do from you.

        Diego gave Bishop an amazed stare.  “Are you really that dumb?”

        Bishop started up at the slur to his character.  “Watch your mouth, Señor, or I’ll watch it for you… right off your face.”

        As threats went, Diego had heard far worse as Zorro.  “You simply don’t wish to face the obvious.”

        That fully irritating sneer was back.  “What’s the obvious, Señor?”

        Diego closed his eyes in complete disregard.  “That if he doesn’t kill you, I will.”