For Wolfdaughter, who asked the right questions in a review of 'Nightmare,' and who refused to give in to my ravings. If not for her, this sequel wouldn't exist. Thanks.
Don Alejandro rode quietly on the trail towards the hacienda. The ruts that wagon wheels had made to the dusty tracks could easily trap a horse's hoof at an odd angle, so the two riders with him knew better than to gallop their mounts full out to reach the comforts that home provided a little faster. Diego and Felipe cantered along silently beside him, and none of them spoke about the strange scene that had just taken place in the tavern with Victoria and Diego. She had been so distressed when Alejandro had arrived with Felipe, so tormented over her fight with Zorro and so upset that none of the de la Vegas could help her locate him to apologize... until Diego spoke to her, that is, until Diego's personal brand of comfort had calmed the tortured woman so much that she was able to serve food again by the end of the lunch hour. The transformation had been like the difference between night and day. What had he said to her? Alejandro wondered on that silent ride home. What had his son done that no one else in the pueblo seemed capable of doing? Alejandro didn't know for sure - no one did - but he suspected plenty. He remembered the vague suspicion he'd had about his son, Diego, and about Victoria, and about the mutually rotten moods he had witnessed from them all day, and about how Diego and Victoria had come from the kitchen seemingly cured of those moods...
Alejandro looked at Diego out of the corner of his eyes. Neither Diego nor Victoria had behaved any differently towards each other while she had come to their table to collect the dirty lunch dishes, but Diego had grown more and more preoccupied as they neared home. He hadn't spoken ten words on the entire ride, and Alejandro couldn't help but think of his own suspicions that Diego and the legendary Zorro were one and the same, hence explaining Victoria's surprising turnaround in mood. So much would be clarified by the hidden duality... So many unaccountable things suddenly explained... Yes, there was definitely something going on, and Alejandro was determined to get to the bottom of it.
Diego? His father started his questioning in a quiet
voice so as not to frighten the younger man into concealing the
truth yet again.
Diego galloped until he was abreast of the older caballero.
Yes, Father? he dutifully asked.
Alejandro gave Diego one last opportunity to speak the
I was wondering if there was something you wanted to
tell me? he began without a preface to soften his words.
But Diego, it appeared, could be just as stubborn as his
I don't think so. Why?
Alejandro decided to play along with the game that Diego had
begun. He shrugged.
Oh, it's just the ramblings of an old man,
perhaps, the suddenly 'seeing of the truth' that has been in
front of his face for years, he mentioned nonchalantly.
Diego smiled a little.
First, you're hardly an old man,
and second, what do you mean by 'seeing the truth?'
Was that a bit of concern in his son's voice? Inwardly,
Alejandro chuckled. Outwardly, he shrugged once more.
could be nothing. But let's just say that, with you gone and
speaking to Victoria in her kitchen, and Felipe, here, the
strong, silent type... He paused to see if the young servant
seemed to show a spark of interest in what his patrón was saying
that might mean he was reading lips on the sly again. But Felipe
had his head turned to the side, either interested in the passing
countryside, or pretending to be interested in it, because he
wasn't paying a bit of attention to his older patrón. Alejandro
It gave me plenty of time to think.
Oh? What did you think about? Diego definitely sounded
worried now, despite his cool, questioning tone.
I wondered... well, I noticed that both you and Victoria
came out of the kitchen remarkably whole and in much better moods
than when you went into the kitchen... It caused me to wonder,
and to think... What did you say to her, Diego, that so clearly
helped her get over her heartache enough to serve again by the
end of the lunch hour?
Who, me? Diego asked as he tried to laugh off his father's
Why, nothing, really, Father.
No, truly, what did you say to her? Alejandro repeated
innocently, though he was really far from innocent. He just
liked to see his son squirm a bit after keeping his own father in
the dark as to his hidden identity for all those long years that
Zorro had been riding in the pueblo. He didn't yet know what he
thought about his son keeping such a secret from his own father,
but he certainly knew what he intended to do with the new
knowledge; watch Diego grow more and more concerned, that's what.
It was Diego's turn to shrug now.
Honestly, Father, I just
told her that things have a way of working out, and if she and
Zorro had a disagreement, then they were no different in that
respect than any other couple in the world. That's all.
Nothing extraordinary that you want to tell me? Alejandro
shamelessly inquired, changing the subject a bit to ask the
Diego shook his head.
No, nothing. And nothing happened,
either, if that's what you're worried about.
Alejandro sighed, then glanced quickly around. No one was
out and about for miles, so he pulled his white horse, Dulcinea,
to a halt. Diego and Felipe were forced to stop as well or run
into him. Alejandro sighed again, a loud exhalation of breath,
and quietly said,
Now, we both know that isn't quite true. I
saw the twinkle in yours and Victoria's eyes when you emerged
separately from the kitchen. Now for the last time, what did you
say to her, Diego?
For a moment, Diego looked like a little boy whose britches
had fallen down. He was too horrified, though covering it
adequately, to speak. Then he tried again,
Don't you say 'Nothing, Father' to me, Alejandro gently
This time I want the truth. I know what I saw.
And I saw the eyes of two people who were suddenly
something other than best friends; I noticed, and that made me
wonder. Out with it, Diego. What's going on?
Diego blankly stared again. He took in his father's no-nonsense expression, and knew that the usual excuses wouldn't work this time; his father was being far more astute then normal. It was amazing, really, that no one else in the pueblo had noticed the different moods with which he and Victoria had emerged from the kitchen. He turned towards Felipe for just a second, and was startled by the hand that was reaching kindly out to pat him on the arm.
Felipe signed that it was expedient of him now to tell Diego of the strange, knowing look that had passed across Don Alejandro's face while at lunch, and of the closed expression that had immediately followed, that very day when he was supposed to have been eating.
Well? Alejandro prompted.
Without warning, Diego suddenly sighed and appeared to wilt
right before Alejandro's eyes.
You're not imagining things,
That's good to know! Alejandro exclaimed with some relief.
I'm certainly old enough where seeing things is of great
There's no reason for alarm, Diego soothed, his voice
strong, yet low and softer than normal. He kept glancing around
as if he expected someone to jump out at him from the bushes that
weren't anywhere near their halted position. Alejandro had
chosen his spot of inquiry well. They would see someone
approaching for as much as fifty feet before anyone was upon
them. Plenty of time to stop whispering and start talking aloud
in the middle of an alleged conversation meant to throw anyone
off from suspecting the real topic under discussion.
it's time to consider some matters of great import that I have
disregarded for far too long.
It's good to finally hear you say that, Alejandro noted
quietly, though not judgmentally.
Diego looked around one last time, then lowered his voice
even further. His father had to lean over towards him in the
saddle just to hear him.
What I'm about to tell you may come as
a bit of a surprise...
Alejandro interrupted him.
You're Zorro, aren't you? he
... or not, Diego finished with a stunned look of his own
surprise chiseled onto his handsome face. His cheek twitched
once. Even Felipe appeared astonished.
How did you know?
Diego asked, just as quietly.
As I said, I had time to think while in the tavern eating
lunch, Alejandro explained.
I noticed your rotten mood,
Victoria's rotten mood, then your good mood, then Victoria's good
mood, put two and two together, and wham, it hit me like a ton of
adobe bricks. The fact that I saw you fight the Emissary helped
Diego was unimpressed with his father's use of his logical
skills. He sighed.
What disturbs me is that the Alcalde saw a
bit of that sword fight, too.
Not to worry, Alejandro vetoed.
The Alcalde was more
concerned about stealing my horse and shooting my son in the back
than paying attention to what my other son was doing at the time.
I wouldn't worry about him if I were you. But you did answer one
of my questions at least, he stated
Oh? What was that? asked Diego.
Whether or not my suspicions are true. They are,
Alejandro now stated much more firmly.
My Diego, my own son, is
the legend of the pueblo.
I'm no legend, Diego negated uncomfortably. His horse
shied a step to the right, and he self-consciously pulled her
back in line.
Sure you are, said his father unequivocally.
much a legend as Toronado is. Here, Felipe made the motions of
laughter, minus the accompanying sounds of it.
And I can guess
that Felipe can hear and has acted as your liaison between you
and the pueblo all these years, he said in a voice that
indicated that he expected no argument to his deductions.
Diego continued to stare, amazed that his father had guessed
so much of the disguise hidden to most Angelenos.
all that from watching my mood? he inquired a bit incredulously.
That, and a little figuring out of past
events, he explained.
Now, what did you say to Victoria?
What? Nothing about how his own son had kept this news a
secret from him for over four years in his own house? Diego
brushed his thoughts aside and opted for a bit of reality in
answering his father's inquiry.
I told her the truth, he said.
Didn't hit me over the head with one of her cooking
utensils, as I anticipated her to do. It's much more within her
character to hit me than to listen rationally to every word I had
to say, Diego said with a grimace.
All these years, I thought
she'd be angry with me... But she surprised me.
Again, Alejandro interrupted.
Hit you over the head?
That's not like Victoria.
Yes, it is, Diego argued.
But she didn't react like that
What did she say? Alejandro prodded once more.
Thank God, Diego answered.
Don't blaspheme, Diego, Now is not the time for it,
Alejandro noted almost habitually. It was the voice of parental
discipline issuing from his mouth.
Diego lifted his shoulders in a shrug.
Well, you wanted to
know her reaction.
Yes, but.., Then, he understood.
She said that?
It was Diego who nodded this time.
She did. She also
wanted to talk about her inheritance...
Diego looked surprised for a moment.
Her inheritance. You
didn't hear about it?
Must have slipped by me, Alejandro remarked.
She inherited 10,000 pesos from an aunt in Spain who died.
Victoria knew of her, but had never met her.
10,000! Alejandro said reverently.
Diego looked uncomfortable again.
Yes. She's worth more
now than even I am. If I were dead, that is.
10,000, Alejandro whispered again in awe.
That's what our argument was about last night, Diego
explained more readily.
She wanted to offer the money to DeSoto
in exchange for my freedom from governmental retribution.
I bet she did.
I told her that the system doesn't work that way. She said
it had better, or she would never be allowed to settle down and
get married. I said that her inheriting money had nothing to do
with our eventual ability to marry. She proclaimed that she only
intended to be around those who were serious about marriage.
That's when she threw me out. Diego grimaced again at the
But you made things right again? Alejandro questioned as
if he wanted to make sure of the smooth running of his world.
Yes, I did, Diego nodded.
Or, we did. Then he looked
I don't know, now that I think about it. Does getting
married constitute as fixing things?
Alejandro whitened like a stone statue.
What? he asked in
That's what we did, Diego said, as if he wasn't telling of
some revolutionary news.
You what? Alejandro was so surprised that he forgot to
talk in a whisper.
Diego grinned, then, like he'd just given a huge present to
As you've always wanted, you now have a
Alejandro's mouth fell open and he glanced around, his gaze
landing on an equally as astounded Felipe.
Did you know?
No, Diego replied for him.
The wedding was today, over
Alejandro was silent for the next several moments. Then he
You talk about it like it was lunch.
Diego shook his head.
No, it was far from that, I assure
you. There was nothing light about this decision to get married
in spite of it's speed, he insisted.
I only knew that there
was no life without Victoria in it. If there wasn't a life, I
might as well marry her, now, and secure her forever, before the
struggle for justice in the pueblo comes to an end. I'm truly
delighted that I felt that way. She was vindicated to know she
had been right all along in wanting to marry, he admitted.
just didn't know she wanted to marry me.
Alejandro tried to swallow. It sounded like the movement
Diego's eyebrow rose.
Well, you saw Padre Benitez
afterwards. Was he in an unusually good mood?
Were Victoria and I in good moods when we came through the
curtains from her kitchen?
Diego's other eyebrow rose to match his first one.
you have it.
And while the padre was making his rounds, you were..?
In the kitchen, kissing Victoria, Diego responded readily.
You were..? Alejandro spluttered and interrupted himself.
He closed his eyes and swallowed again. This time, it definitely
looked like the action hurt.
What about DeSoto? he gagged when
he could speak again.
Yes, well, he's something we'll have to
think on tonight.
Alejandro was amazed at his son's seeming nonchalance about
his old enemy.
Don't you think he deserves a little more than
mere pondering? he asked a tiny bit accusatory.
What if he
figures it out like I did and hangs you?
Diego appeared uncomfortable again,
Yes, well, that's a
possibility, but a life with Zorro but without Victoria is no
life at all, he announced.
It was either lose her or marry
her. I chose the only option I technically could under the
circumstances. He thought for a moment, then said,
it's like the option of telling you of my secret identity; no
Alejandro balked, a move that traveled from him through his
saddle to the ever-patient Dulcinea, who jumped three steps. His
hand automatically went out to pat her neck in a soothing motion.
Why didn't I know of this? he asked next, curious.
A sad little smile crept across Diego's features.
I don't want you to hang with me for knowing. Because I never
want you to worry when I ride out.
Worry? I won't... Diego hushed his father's protest with
nothing more than as admonishing look.
You're right, Alejandro
I will worry, especially now that I know it's you, my
only son, being shot at by every lancer in the pueblo.
Now you know why I never said anything, Diego explained.
I don't want you to see anybody but the masked man, he said,
certainly don't want you to see your only son.
Alejandro remained silent. Finally he looked away, over the
rolling land of dry, blowing grass. At last he claimed,
understand, but knowing was my choice, and you took that away
from me by your silence.
That's what Victoria claimed, too, Diego said softly,
admitting something of his own. He looked down, as if he were
battling feelings of guilt.
Good, Alejandro thought, feeling uncharitable now. He
wanted his son to suffer a bit from the decisions he had
peremptorily made in the past without consulting those his
decisions affected the most. The move was understandable, even
forgivable, but not easily forgotten, Alejandro noted almost
dispassionately. Then his thoughts switched, and he finally
allowed himself to experience the joy of knowing the son he truly
had. It was a slow knowledge that crept up on him.
him since you came home from Spain?
Since the beginning, said Diego, hiding nothing now.
I've always been him.
And you carried out this disguise right under my nose?
Right in my own hacienda? Diego nodded, Felipe joining him
after pointing to his own chest in an unmistakable gesture that
indicated he was in on the deception as well.
Alejandro shook his head in awe.
I don't know, he declared.
I only know
what's going to happen tonight tonight.
Diego readily replied this time, as if he knew precisely
what was going to happen.
I plan to ride to the tavern and make
sweet love to Victoria until either she, I, or both us can't see
straight. He sounded determined.
Too determined for his father. Alejandro didn't want to
hear about such plans!
Diego! he hissed.
Don't tell me that!
I might feel obliged to stop you.
Then I'll run right over the top of you, Diego promised.
I'll go even if I have to tie you up. There wasn't a hint of
apology in his voice.
Victoria and I have been waiting over
four years, and now there's no one who can claim that what we
want is wrong or soiled or impure. We married, after all, he
It's almost expected. Thank God.
It was the last statement that Alejandro chose to latch
There's that blasphemy again. Diego, I have to wonder
where you learned that from.
Diego answered immediately.
From four years of combating a
corrupt government, that's where. Diego patted Esperanza.
government whose learned nothing from my lessons. His voice
turned hard at the end.
Which means? Alejandro was almost afraid to ask.
Diego looked around again, scanning the road that ran before
and behind them. All that was visible were Felipe, his father,
Zorro will die somehow. I just don't know how,
yet, he whispered.
Any ideas? Both men, young and old, shook
I'll think about it, Alejandro promised.
But in the
meantime, promise me that you won't do anything rash.
Diego chuckled at that.
I can promise that easily enough.
After all, Victoria will flay my hide if I'm caught now. Not
when we're finally married.
She may not be the only one, Alejandro muttered under his
breath, but he wisely chose to keep his thoughts to himself. He
only urged Dulcinea into a canter to complete the journey home.
The two other horses followed.
Z Z Z
It was the following morning when Alejandro rose from his bed and sauntered in to the library to check on the smooth running of his house and his ranch. Both were flowing along according to any plan that had been devised, if he could judge by the smells of cooking coming from the kitchen and the lack of paperwork spread across his desk in the sitting room. He noted also the conspicuous lack of his son waiting in the library, as Diego usually did before breakfast just prior to leaving for mass on Sunday morning. But, for the first time, Alejandro didn't really want to know where Diego was at that moment. If he wasn't in his room - and he wasn't, his father had checked - and he wasn't in the library, then he must still be at the tavern with Victoria...
His son's wife, the older caballero allowed himself to think about that for the first time. His own daughter-in-law. Nothing could please him more, he granted, than to have Victoria become a true relation to the de la Vega family. He didn't know yet how he felt about the secrecy surrounding such a marriage... Diego and Victoria had a lot more to contend with than normal newlyweds, he realized. He wondered if they understood that as well, and suspected that they didn't. Ah, well, he thought, I would have spent the night at the tavern with my new wife despite the dangers, too. But he acknowledged the fact that he would be more than glad that morning to see Diego whole and unharmed with his own eyes...
Diego didn't arrive at the hacienda for breakfast, and
Alejandro was forced to meet up with him in Los Angeles. He
strolled calmly from behind the tavern as a large amount of
citizens were in the plaza, walking to the mission as it tolled
its bell to call everyone to worship. The expression of relaxed
bliss on his face told Alejandro all he wished to know, but still
he whispered under cover of the trampling feet of the crowd,
Well, you're alive I see. How'd it go?
Slowly, Diego smiled.
I'm going to like this, he said in
an answering whisper, but refused to say more while they were in
town and surrounded by people.
When they exited an hour later, the sun was hot, Diego was craning his neck to look for Victoria so he could walk with her to the tavern in seeming innocence, and Dons Ernesto and Carlos had cornered him with Padre Benitez to discuss in whispers the political problems facing the tiny town. When Diego ran up to the group to announce his plans to assist Victoria with the cleaning of the tavern, Alejandro suspected that more than cleaning was on the agenda for the afternoon's activities.
But I don't need you at home for anything specific, Diego,
It's fine with me, as long as she promises to
feed you lunch, too. That promise was unnecessary, he knew.
Victoria was sure to feed lunch to her new husband.
Lunch a la Escalante? Don Ernesto boomed, and Alejandro
had his first exposure to his friends speaking of his
daughter-in-law without using her proper title of Doña. He
didn't like it. It made him angry at the unforgivable, yet
perfectly understandable, social slight. He grew even more
determined to rid the pueblo of DeSoto, the political scourge
that made such concealment necessary.
You lucky man! Don't let
this opportunity slip away! Don Ernesto was saying.
Fortunately, the Alcalde chose that moment to leave the mission and enter the plaza. It was clear that that particular political scourge was listening in on the conversation of his fellow parishioners. The obviousness of the move made Alejandro's stomach twinge in annoyance. Suddenly, he wanted nothing more than for Diego, DeSoto's sworn enemy, to spend the day at the tavern right under DeSoto's nose, tending to his wife. It may have been an uncharitable feeling, but Alejandro felt exonerated from his original thought just for defying DeSoto.
Diego, enjoy yourself, Alejandro encouraged.
I certainly will, Diego said with a covert look of
puzzlement sent his father's way.
But I doubt cleaning the
tavern will be that enjoyable! he remarked loudly. DeSoto
Diego's waylaying suspicion, Alejandro realized, and admired the smoothness with which the redirecting of the conversation was done. Who knows how many other countless times his own son had redirected the energies of the people he had wanted to divert. Perhaps he had even done it to himself. If so, his own father had never known it, he confessed to himself, but kept silent on the nature of his thoughts.
The group burst out laughing at Diego's last comment, and Alejandro joined in on the merrymaking, not wanting to call undue attention to the group by not joining in. It worked; the Alcalde never realized anything was going on.
Alejandro suddenly comprehended how very much happened despite DeSoto's interference in the pueblo as his son loped back to Victoria's side on the tavern's porch. Alejandro watched him go. The pueblo of Los Angeles may have been under martial law, may have been so for years, but it wasn't the military who truly ran things. The legendary Zorro could take the credit for capturing many of the bandits in the past, thus ensuring the continuance of peace in the small town. Pride for his son's accomplishments soared in Alejandro, but he realized that he couldn't say anything about the feeling to the men around him. Such behavior would be suicide for Diego, and Victoria would never forgive him, he knew. So he listened to the conversation, which had turned to the much more innocuous topic of cattle prices, pretended interest, and all the while watched from the corner of his eyes as Diego disappeared with Victoria into the relative safety of the tavern.
But all the while Alejandro thought, How did Diego do this for all those years?
Z Z Z
That night was the busiest at the hacienda in decades.
First came a surprise visit from Sergeant Mendoza.
you seen Señorita Victoria? asked the round sergeant as he and
Alejandro stood in the front doorway.
I haven't seen her all
day and I'd love to ask if she plans to make her special beans
for tomorrow, and for the recipe she uses to make them. I doubt
that the garrison chef could duplicate her directions, but... I
thought I might give it a try, and since I was in the area and
she's not at the tavern, I would try here.., he admitted in a
soft voice full of apology.
No, Sergeant, I haven't seen Victoria since mass this
morning, Alejandro said. At least that was the truth as far as
he was concerned.
Perhaps she went for a walk, he suggested.
Or perhaps she and Diego... He didn't finish his thought.
She'll reappear in no time.
As you say, perhaps she will, Mendoza responded.
had to check, Don Alejandro, since you and she are such good
Ah, said Alejandro.
You thought she was a guest tonight
for dinner? Well, no, we had no plans, but perhaps you would
like to take her place?
Mendoza smiled even as he shook his head.
Oh, no, Don
Alejandro, I didn't stop by here in hopes of getting an
Alejandro came forward, closer to the door the sergeant was
Oh, of course not, Sergeant. But I insist.
And so would Diego, if he were only here. Alejandro couldn't
quite stop the thought from shooting through his mind. He
managed to halt the indescribable anger when he thought of his
son, working so hard just to see his wife... The anger
dissipated as he considered the situation with his dispassionate,
Please, come in, come in. Alejandro motioned
for Mendoza to enter, and suddenly the idea of having a dinner
guest didn't seem so unwelcome to him.
But the second he shut the door on the Sergeant, Felipe
entered looking as if he had spent the afternoon in the garden,
pulling weeds. Mud streaked down the right side of his face.
Felipe, called Alejandro.
We'll be having Sergeant Mendoza
for supper tonight. Please see that the table is set with an
Felipe nodded and disappeared to clean up before supper, and Alejandro had just opened his mouth to request that he and Mendoza retire into the library to wait for the food to get done when Diego pushed his way through the front door.
Father, Diego called, then halted the moment his eyes
rested on Sergeant Mendoza's.
Oh, hello, Sergeant. What brings
you here at this hour of the day? he asked as if he'd spent the
entire day in the stables rather than with Victoria and he was
just now coming inside.
It was clear that Diego had something to tell his father,
and now Alejandro regretted having an extra guest at the supper
table who would surely dampen the conversation. For the first
time he understood what it was to have something he wanted to
talk about, but couldn't, not with the sergeant there to hear
every word and possibly report back to the Alcalde.
Mendoza has agreed to join us for supper, Alejandro explained as
he shifted nervously from one foot to the other.
The expression of delight that crossed and settled on
Diego's face was inscrutable and quick. Alejandro beheld the
look with silent amazement. Diego really had become quite an
actor over the years. If he didn't know that Diego was less than
thrilled at having dinner guests to perform in front of, he would
never have guessed it judging by Diego's aspect.
Diego said enthusiastically.
Alejandro wondered if his son met his new wife with equal
enthusiasm, but he quickly turned his mind to other things.
Perhaps we should wait for dinner in the library? he suggested.
They all turned, entered the room, then found seats. They had
all barely settled themselves when Alejandro commented,
Sergeant, here, was out looking for Victoria, Diego, to ask for
her recipe on beans. Perhaps you know where she is?
The double meaning in those words was unmistakable if a
person knew what to listen for. Diego knew. But he couldn't
enlighten his Father while the sergeant was there.
I don't know where she's gone this evening. We took a walk
together after we finished cleaning the tavern, but...
You took a walk together? Mendoza checked.
Yes, we were gone quite a while, Diego answered.
were you looking for us?
I was, Mendoza said,
but it can wait. I'll find her some
other time, tomorrow perhaps. But by the ravenous look of
curiosity that passed across his features, Alejandro knew two
things; one, it was smart for Diego to give a false alibi to the
friendly sergeant, for it was clear that he had come here for the
express purpose to find out Victoria's whereabouts, and two, that
a walk as the supposed alibi was already turning the sergeant's
gossip wheel, which he would then report to the Alcalde, which
would go far in further removing his son from the name of the
masked man, and Diego would successfully begin a rumor concerning
himself and Victoria, not Zorro and Victoria. The added benefit
was purely accidental, though all the political aspirations of
the move gave Alejandro a headache. Who knew that the simple
rumor of a walk could have so many ramifications? Especially
since the truth of the matter was that Diego and Victoria had
surely been ensconced in her room, doing who knew what, and they
simply hadn't heard the sergeant's knock on the tavern's front
doors. As he thought about this scenario, Alejandro's temple
pounded harder and he fought against the sensation of being sick;
he really didn't want to know how his son had spent the
But Diego only smiled passively at the mention of Victoria.
hiding his true feelings, and asked of his father,
already spoken to Felipe about setting a plate for the
Just now, Alejandro said.
Diego nodded in a show that he had heard.
He turned to Mendoza.
Tell us, Sergeant, how is everyone at the
cuartel? Everything's all right, I hope?
Oh, he was good, Alejandro decided in further amazement. If he didn't know Diego so well and that he knew Diego had other things he wanted to discuss, he would never have guessed that his boy wasn't perfectly content to talk to Mendoza all night. Diego sat back in his chair, settling into the cushion for what promised to be a long talk.
Oh, we're all fine, Don Diego, though not especially...
Mendoza was cut off when a servant, Miguel, interrupted him.
Supper is ready, he announced.
Diego rose, saying,
Go on, Sergeant.
Mendoza continued with his tale of a man in the garrison
whom Diego apparently knew who was coming down with a slight
It's not bad, but Dr. Hernandez has ordered him to stay
in the infirmary. He chuckled and pulled out a chair to sit on
at the dining room table that was completely covered in food;
Sunday night supper at the de la Vegas was a sight to behold.
Too bad he's not here; he could take part in putting away this
Indeed, Diego said encouragingly.
I don't suppose you could pass the beans, Don Diego?
Mendoza asked immediately.
Diego didn't say a word but he sent his father a long-suffering look over the bowl of beans he passed.
Alejandro gave an understanding grin.
Beans, Diego, he
said, and shrugged a smile.
Z Z Z
Sergeant Mendoza stayed through dinner, but said he really
had to leave soon after finishing off the dessert of a rare fruit
I really should be going, Don Alejandro, explained
I'm supposed to be on patrol right now. If I don't get
back soon, the Alcalde will send a search party out for me, and
he would be very angry if he found me shirking my duty. Neither
Diego nor Alejandro persuaded the military man to stay. In fact,
Diego all but ushered him out the door; he clearly had something
on his mind.
The moment Mendoza was out the door, Diego met his father in the library.
You thought of something? Alejandro whispered, trying to
discourage any eavesdroppers with a lowered voice.
Diego's easygoing demeanor instantly changed. He leaned
forward now, intent.
No, Victoria did, he whispered back.
Here's the idea; I capture bandits in the coming weeks, convince
DeSoto to say that he captured them, then have him send his
reports to the military garrison at Santa Barbara, which is
responsible for all the military transfers and promotions. I
make him look so good by capturing all these men that DeSoto will
obviously be the next in line for a transfer to a better
garrison, where the threat of Zorro won't get in his way of
running a garrison. Then, he leaves, which also allows Victoria
and myself to be much more open about our marriage and
Alejandro wrinkled his brow.
But won't that be taking
credit for your work?
DeSoto already takes credit for what I do, Diego insisted,
still in a low voice.
It's just that he's always sent his
reports to Spain. I plan to 'encourage' him to send them to
Santa Barbara instead.
Can he do that? Alejandro asked.
He was appointed by the
I don't see why he can't send his reports
to wherever he wants. It's just that none of us ever thought to
have him send them to Santa Barbara before.
Now Victoria has, Alejandro repeated in his whisper.
What a simple, wonderful plan.
I bet he'll be gone in six weeks, Diego predicted.
There was silence as both men considered the plan. But then
Can it happen that quickly?
I hope so, Diego said, showing for the first time his
concern over the idea that DeSoto might discover who he was.
has to, or I might be hung sometime in the future.
That's not an option, stated Alejandro.
No, it's not, Diego agreed.
I think I have my work cut
out for me.
Diego surreptitiously headed for the library fireplace, for
reasons known only to him, when Alejandro placed a hand on his
shoulder to stop him. Instinct told the older caballero that if
he didn't say something now about what had been nagging at his
mind all day, events would unfold and keep him quiet for the
Diego, if I can have a word..?
Diego turned just as he was reaching out a hand towards the
fireplace mantel. He appeared distracted already. Yet, he
Yet what Alejandro had to say seemed stuck in his throat.
Finally, he made his voice work around the lump obstructing it
through sheer force of will.
Diego... He looked to the floor,
then glanced back up.
I've said some things in the past...
Said some things! The shame he was suddenly feeling threatened
in an instant to consume him.
I know they hurt...
Diego shuffled his feet uncomfortably.
It's all right,
Father, he said quickly, cutting off his father's attempted
I understand. I always did.
Still, Alejandro had to say this.
I did hurt you, he said
regretfully. He drew in a deep and painful breath.
I want you
to know that I never intended to hurt you or cause you pain... I
was frustrated because I was trying to make you into something
you're not. He paused, then couldn't help the grin that spread
across his face.
Though you really are.
Diego still looked uncomfortable with the sight of anyone
attempting to humble themselves before him, but he also appeared
You don't have to worry about that, he said in a
It's all forgotten. Now, please, I need to... He
didn't finish what he was going to say.
Alejandro's whisper stopped him from accomplishing whatever
he planned to do.
But won't you be tempted to come to the
defense of the people as yourself if this all works out and Zorro
retires for good? He took a breath that sounded in the room
like a sigh.
I don't know about you, but I think that now is
not a good time for you to be getting caught and hung. Not just
because of me and what I know, but because of Victoria. He
wasn't trying as a last attempt to dissuade Diego, but he had to
admit to the thrill of fear that shot straight through him at the
imagined sight of DeSoto catching Diego, a recognized passivist,
at suddenly becoming a much more passionate man.
Diego paused again with his hand on the mantel. He peered
around his shoulder at his father.
I think it's time for me to
become the son you've always wished you had, don't you?
Alejandro couldn't quite hide the pride that pulsed through
him at those words.
Absolutely, he honestly replied.
Diego smiled slightly.
I have way too much to live for now
to be anything else. The look in his eyes added even more
meaning to what he'd said.
Surprisingly, Alejandro felt the sting of tears irritate his
eyelids. He hadn't cried since his wife, Elena, died.
I ever get a son like you? he asked, being completely candid for
Diego's smile widened.
Luck, he swiftly answered.
really do have to go or I won't be back till morning.
Alejandro shook his head to fling away the emotions that
were holding Diego at his side.
Good luck, he whispered.
Thanks, Diego whispered back a bit disparagingly.
think I'll need it. Then he pushed some hidden switch that must
have been imbedded on one of the fireplace's decorations, and
disappeared through the door that swung open in the rear of the
Alejandro waited a few moments, then reached forward, and
after making sure that no one was watching, pushed in the same
place he'd seen his son push, and the door silently swung open
again. He prodded the decoration once more, and the door swung
shut to seal seamlessly with the other stones at the back of the
hollowed out fireplace.
Amazing, he muttered to himself.
Z Z Z
The following few weeks were tense. Every time Alejandro and Diego rode into town, Victoria shook her head minutely to show that she had heard nothing about DeSoto's hoped-for transfer out of Los Angeles. For all they knew, the military man wasn't even sending his reports to Santa Barbara, despite the fact that one day, Diego'd had a conversation with him endorsing the idea. But to bring up the concept too often would look suspicious, so all they could do was hope.
Then, one bright autumn morning when Alejandro was sitting
alone in the tavern while Diego checked on something or other in
The Guardian office, DeSoto stepped into the nearly-empty room
and immediately moved to the green bar.
I wonder if you could
tell me what I have on my account, please, Señorita.
Alejandro leaned forward imperceptibly. He didn't mean to eavesdrop, exactly, but a gut feeling told him to listen to the conversation.
Victoria did her best to ignore her father-in-law sitting
just behind the Alcalde. She pulled a ledger down from a shelf
behind her and professionally flipped the pages. At last she
found the page she was hunting for.
Twelve pesos, she
answered, then closed the book and returned it to its shelf.
Why do you need to know? It's not payday at the garrison, is
it? she inquired, sounding so natural that no one knew that she
was fishing for information.
Victoria's attempt at luring the Alcalde into conversation
wasn't in vain.
Of course, responded DeSoto. Then, in a loud
voice so that everyone in the room could hear, he continued,
you must know, I've just received this letter, and he pulled a
piece of paper from the inside packet in his jacket,
hurries me to finish any business I have in town, as I've been
transferred to Guadalupe.
Transferred? yelped Alejandro, while Victoria stood rooted
behind the bar with her mouth hanging open.
DeSoto turned to face Alejandro.
Yes. That military
commander in Santa Barbara has heard of my success at capturing
so many of the outlaws in the area. It took every ounce of
willpower in Alejandro not to gag at the words. He coughed
politely instead. DeSoto never even noticed the interruption.
I've been ordered to take the post of alcalde in the much larger
pueblo of Guadalupe. He smiled.
It seems that the bandits are
particularly bad in that area.
There was silence for a moment to greet this announcement,
then Victoria recovered, asking in a slightly stunned, soft
When are you leaving Los Angeles?
DeSoto thumped his fist once on the bar.
Today, if I can
wrap up all my accounts in town. He spread coins across the
surface of the bar.
Twelve pesos. He nodded his head an her.
I thank you for such quick service, Señorita. Then he was gone
from the tavern in a swirl of his pink necktie, heading in the
direction of the bank.
Alejandro carefully rose and joined Victoria at the bar the
second DeSoto was out of sight. He smiled and said,
news. The words he didn't dare say sounded much more loudly
between the two standing at the bar.
Victoria leaned across the bar and whispered,
suppose he's using the reward money for Zorro to pay up his
Alejandro maintained the grin on his face.
I wouldn't put
it passed him, he whispered back.
Z Z Z
Diego tried to remain impassive when he found out the news of the transfer, but it was difficult, since the absence of the government man meant the most to him. What he really wanted to do was whirl Victoria around the tavern and shout Our plan worked! but he stayed solidly in place and continued to pretend indifference, like the actor he was. The rest of the pueblo's citizens tried to look sad as well, but it was even hard for them to look suitably dismal when everyone truly wanted to celebrate DeSoto's removal. For the party that everyone wanted to attend, but no one could even throw, Victoria offered an especially delicious lunch of a choice of three entrees instead of the more normal two.
Finally the momentous occasion arrived at one o'clock that
afternoon. DeSoto sat on his horse, Mariposa, outside the
tavern, most of his belongings in a rented wagon, as the stage
didn't come into Los Angeles on that day.
It's a pity that I
never managed to capture and hang that masked fiend, Zorro, he
Diego tried to cover a yawn behind a polite cough. The job
of apprehending bandits often kept him out all night, and only
the promise of breakfast with Victoria kept him going in the
long, cold, dark hours before the dawn. Yet he couldn't
Yes, a pity, he pretended to agree.
But we can't be expected to do the impossible, DeSoto
Perhaps the next alcalde will pick up where I left off,
Over my dead body, Alejandro thought, but he kept the
unpleasant phrase in his head.
Perhaps, he said aloud.
Alcalde, it won't be the same without you in the pueblo. That's
for sure, he thought with a sidelong glance towards Diego. It
will be better.
I'll still be in the territory, DeSoto moaned.
that as it may, I already have plans for the garrison at
I'm sure you're particular brand of genius will be
appreciated there, Diego quipped.
Yes, said the completely oblivious DeSoto.
Keep up the
work you've been doing on the newspaper, Don Diego, but try to be
Diego enthusiastically proclaimed,
Oh, I will.
Well, it's time I was off. DeSoto said, shifting in his
saddle for the long ride that was in head of him.
citizens, he called to the group that had gathered in the plaza
to see him off. The sound of Mariposa galloping out of the
pueblo obscured the sound of the people calling back to him.
A quiet moment went by. Sergeant Mendoza took off his hat
and held it in his hand while his other hand ran through his hair
as he stared in the direction his old commanding officer had just
ridden. He waited another moment for good measure, then turned
to the de la Vegas and grinned.
I think I should celebrate the
eventual coming of a new alcalde, he said.
And I should start
my celebration right here in the tavern. He turned and walked
into the business establishment, passing by Victoria on his way
Victoria crept out of the building and onto the porch in the
Is he really gone? she asked as she stopped
beside Alejandro and Diego.
Alejandro turned towards her.
Yes, he's gone, disappearing
into the sun, if you can believe that.
Diego held his arm out for Victoria, and she began the many
surprises she and Diego had in store for the citizens of the
I can't believe he's gone, Diego said at last.
Victoria suddenly gave a grimace and rubbed at her stomach
as if it ached.
I, for one, won't miss him at the tavern, she
firmly announced despite her apparent malady.
Alejandro eyed Victoria.
What's wrong, my dear? he asked.
Too many tamales at last night's celebration?
Victoria grimaced again, but it was Diego who quietly
answered as he threw an arm over Alejandro's shoulder and slowly
led them all back to the tavern.
Father, do you know how you've
always said you wanted grandbabies..?
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