Chapter 4

        Five silent minutes later, Don Alejandro suddenly burst into the jail.

        “Diego!” he yelled, and Diego jumped up from his bunk to meet his father at the cell door.  Alejandro wrapped his fingers so tightly around the bars that his knuckles turned white.  “I heard what happened from Sergeant Mendoza.  The Alcalde wouldn’t let me in to see you until now, and I could only induce him to let us visit for a few minutes.  So talk fast.”

Diego didn’t waste breath on a greeting after he heard that.  “This man was going to shoot Victoria, and… I couldn’t let that happen.”

“Of course you couldn’t!” Alejandro exclaimed, looking both pained and proud at the same time.  “You’re a true de la Vega.”

Diego was astonished to hear such an admittance from his exacting father.  “I don’t think you’ve ever said that.”

“Victoria’s safety comes first, no matter the situation.  Of course you couldn’t abandon her just when she needed help the most.”  Don Alejandro threw a lip-curling expression towards Bishop in the other cell before turning back to Diego.  “But what’s this I hear about you being Zorro?”

Diego blanched.  “Oh, that.”

“Yes, that.  De Soto said something about hanging you in a few days.”  Alejandro’s voice rose with his increasing anxiety level.  “I’ve never heard anything so preposterous!”

Diego didn’t know if his father thought his claim to be Zorro was preposterous, or the idea of hanging a de la Vega was preposterous, but he didn’t ask.  “I said what I had to say at the time.  De Soto wouldn’t believe that I did what I did otherwise.”

“And what did you do?”

Bishop sneeringly interjected, “He threw a book at me, the nerd.  As if a book can stop me!”

Diego balefully eyed Bishop.  “It was enough to stop you today.”

“That didn’t stop me,” Bishop brusquely argued.  “It ruined my aim, that’s all.”

The breath rushed out of Diego.  “It was enough to save Victoria, and that’s stopping you in my book.  Now shut up; I’m speaking to my father.”

The astonished Alejandro automatically supported his suddenly assertive son.  “You did exactly what you should have done, definitely what the situation called for.”  He sent another scathing glance Bishop’s way before beaming at Diego.  “Victoria’s life is certainly worth a little jail time.”

“But this is going to be more than a little jail time,” Diego mournfully corrected, referring to the overall situation.  “I’m so glad you’re here!  Can you get a message to our lawyer?”

Alejandro sighed in resignation.  “I’ll try, certainly, but it will be hard to get a message out; the Alcalde already has the hacienda under guard.”

What?  Why?”

“He says it’s for our protection, but I think it’s some hairbrained scheme of his to capture Zorro’s accomplices.”

Diego infused his voice with as much disbelief as he could.  “He really does think I’m Zorro.”

Don Alejandro eyed his son.  “Perhaps claiming that you’re Zorro was not the wisest thing you’ve ever done.”

But Diego was adamant.  “I did what I had to do.  Victoria’s worth it.”

Alejandro stared at him out of wide eyes.  “What happened to my studious son?  You developed the makings of a hero over lunch!”

Abashed, Diego shook his head.  “I’m no hero.  All I really did was throw a book.”  Now was not the time to relate how he’d then jumped the gambler, beat him senseless, and proceeded to tie him up like a trussed chicken.

Alejandro grunted, then said to Bishop, “I always knew there would be trouble if you ever came back to this pueblo.  You certainly found it.”

Bishop sneered for the millionth time, not remotely moved by the family reunion going on right before him.  “I’m here for Zorro, not this puppy.”  He threw Diego a contemptuous look.

Alejandro could not let an insult like that go unanswered.  “The de la Vegas are no puppies!  You’ll--”

“Father,” Diego interrupted.  “Don’t give him the satisfaction of even noticing him.”

“But he’s the man who killed my friend Don Carlos!”

Bishop curled his lips.  “And I’m going to kill your son, too, old man!”

Moving so that his father had to turn his back to the gambler in order to see his son, Diego regained his attention.  “Father, I need your help.  We both know De Soto.  I--”

And that was when De Soto himself sauntered into the jail, followed by Victoria.  White bandages entirely encased her right hand, and a few more loosely wrapped the shallow cuts on her left, leaving it protected, yet mobile.  It still made it impossible for her to grab the bars as Don Alejandro had.  But to Diego, seeing her alive and more or less healthy was like a gift from God.

“You certainly do need help, de la Vega,” the Alcalde said in confident tones.  “Or should I call you Zorro?”

Before Diego could even formulate a reply, Victoria showed her own support.  “Of course Diego’s not Zorro!  He’s too… not Zorro!  Why can’t you see that?”

Diego didn’t know if he should be hurt by Victoria’s dim view of him, or grateful for the timing of her words.  Either way, Bishop aggressively overrode any comment.

“He threatened to kill me!”   The gambler pointed a finger shaking with rage at Diego.  “By all rights, you have to do something, Alcalde!”

De Soto sauntered over to Bishop’s cell to casually regard him through the bars.  “I don’t know what to think of you.”

Diego firmly said, “He tried to kill Victoria.  What more do you need to know?”

“That’s just it.”  De Soto gave his goatee a thoughtful rub.  “Many witnesses at the tavern swear they heard a gunshot this afternoon, but we can’t find the bullet.  Until we do…”

Victoria snarled, “He shot at me.  If not for Diego, I’d be dead.  You should hang him!”

Diego was slightly astonished at Victoria’s bloodthirsty leanings.  “Victoria, I don’t think--”

“And you, saying you’re Zorro!”  She whirled on Diego.  “Have you gone crazy?”

Diego calmly confronted the tavern owner.  “You’re worth any repercussions.”

“But he’ll hang you!” she yelled, aghast, and tried to grab the bars with her right hand only to be stymied by her bandages.  Instead, she pawed the bars with her left as a look of absolute agony twisted her features. “You can’t possibly think I’m worth that!”

Diego transferred his fingers to wrap around as much of Victoria’s bandaged hand as he could in one of the few times he’d actually touched her.  “You’re worth anything, least of all a rare book or a hanging decree.”

Victoria was speechless by this bald admission, but De Soto wasn’t.  “If you’re not Zorro, you’re certainly doing your best to sound like you are.”

Alejandro faced the Alcalde, glaring.  “Meaning what?”

De Soto glared back.  “Meaning that only Zorro would dare say such things to the Señorita.  She’s his, as Diego well knows.  Either he’s suddenly decided to play with fire, or…”  He wheezed his disbelief.  “Diego de la Vega really is Zorro.”