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Zorro and the Little Devil, Page 2

Peter David

  “Because I figured God was watching,” said Miguel, “and I reasoned that He would know I was not truly threatening any holy individuals, and thus would not judge me harshly.”

  “You thought He would turn a blind eye to your thefts?”

  “I would hope so, yes, because I’ve only been thieving to save my life.”

  It was such an unexpected reply that it caught Fray Felipe’s attention. “Senor Zorro,” he said, “restrain your whip, if you would not mind. I find myself curious as to this man’s situation.”

  Zorro had shrugged off the Fray’s robe that had served as a disguise and affixed his whip to its place on his holster. “As am I. But speak quickly, man.”

  Miguel gulped deeply, his protruding Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat. “I was a pirate,” he said. “I sailed with a most formidable captain. Perhaps you have heard of him: Diabolito.”

  The Fray looked puzzled, but the name immediately struck a chord with Zorro. “I have indeed. Diabolito. The Little Devil. Cuban-born, if I am not mistaken.”

  “Yes, that’s correct,” said Miguel.

  “My understanding is that he is one of several pirates who prompted President Monroe to form an anti-piracy squadron.”

  Once more Miguel’s head bobbed. “Senor Zorro is well-informed.”

  “Knowledge is power,” said Zorro with a shrug. “If you are one of the Little Devil’s crew, then you are a long way from home.”

  “I fled, Senor. When the president created that squadron, I decided that I had had more than enough of serving under Diabolito. I value my life above pirate plunder any day.”

  “And so you fled all the way to California. Quite a trip, since Diabolito typically engages in his piracy off the coast of Florida.”

  “I reasoned that the width of a country would be sufficient distance since I was deserting him. Diabolito does not exactly endorse those who abandon him. Especially,” and he shrugged, “since I helped myself to some of our treasure in order to fund my fleeing. Trains can be expensive.”

  “Indeed they can,” said Zorro. “Then why are you restocking your finances now?”

  Miguel licked his lips nervously and when he spoke again, his voice was barely above a whisper, as if he was concerned that someone was listening in. “Because I have heard that he is coming here.”

  “From whom have you heard this?”

  Miguel shrugged. “Pirates have ways of tracking what’s happening, Senor. There are threads, vines, means of spreading word. And the word has spread to me that the Little Devil is on his way here. Obviously he is searching for me.”

  Zorro frowned and beneath his mask, he raised an eyebrow. “That is a long way to come for one fleeing man.”

  “I promise you, the Little Devil never forgets and never hesitates to bring down someone who has abandoned and stolen from him. Please,” and he brought his hands together with his fingers erect, clearly as if praying, “let me leave. I swear to both of you, before God, I will rob no one else. I will leave California entirely. Do not imprison me here, because Diabolito will surely track me down and—”

  Senor Zorro raised his hand to indicate that he wanted Miguel to stop talking. Miguel immediately did so. Zorro then turned to the Fray and bowed slightly. “This is your decision, Fray. You are the aggrieved party.”

  Fray Felipe stared at Miguel for a long moment. Then he reached into a small chest that was situated on his desk and withdrew from it a handful of coins. He extended it to Miguel and said, “Leave this area at once, Senor. And if I hear of any more thefts, I can assure you I will not continue to be so generous.”

  “Thank you! Thank you!” Miguel was practically sobbing. He took the Fray’s extended hand and kissed the knuckles as if he were endeavoring to show politeness to a young female. “I swear, my days of thievery are over!”

  “You’d best attend to your oath, young man,” said the old Fray severely. “For I can very much assure you that to break a promise to a man of the church is the equivalent of breaking your word to the Almighty, and things will not go well for you if you do … neither in this life and most certainly not the next.”

  “Yes, Fray, yes, I promise, I swear.” He kept bowing and scraping until he had exited the small room, and Fray Felipe went to the door and shut it behind him.

  “Did we err by taking him at his word?” asked Zorro.

  The Fray shrugged. “I would like to think that trusting one’s fellow man is never an error. It means that we are hoping for the best. And if a Fray cannot hope for the best, than what use is all this, eh?” He gestured at the religious symbolism around him. Then he grew serious. “What of this pirate he spoke of? This Diabolito.”

  Zorro dropped into a chair and looked thoughtful. “I can’t say that I fully believe in his means of having heard this news. Nor does it make sense to me that the pirate would travel three thousand miles just to pursue one runaway member of his crew. These are pirates, not the royal navy. Their loyalty is debatable at best. Despite the fact that Miguel believes he is a target, I would tend to think that — if the Little Devil is coming to Los Angeles — he is doing so for some other cause than a wayward crewman.”

  “But then why? For what reason?”

  “I’ve no idea,” said Zorro, stroking his chin. “Perhaps simply to raid Los Angeles, as other pirates have done. Or maybe he has some other target. The governor, perhaps.”

  “The governor is in San Diego.”

  “A pirate wouldn’t necessarily know that. Or perhaps the governor is planning to come here as some sort of surprise visit and we are simply unaware of that.”

  “If only we could find out.”

  At that notion, Zorro smiled. “Oh, I believe that is going to be quite possible, indeed. Buenos dias, my dear Fray.”

  “And to you, Senor Zorro.”

  Zorro exited the room with his cloak swirling around him and, moments later, he was astride his beloved horse, Tornado, and galloping away down the road.

  Chapter Three

  A Chat with El Capitan

  The lieutenant marched smartly into the office of Captain Juan Quintero and came to a stop, standing at attention.

  Quintero did not acknowledge his presence at first. The Captain was grimacing as he read his way through yet another angry note from the governor. Finally he noticed the lieutenant standing there, remaining at attention while staring at the wall behind Quintero. “Is there a problem?” said Quintero impatiently.

  “The Captain seems annoyed,” the lieutenant said carefully.

  “Of course I’m annoyed,” said Quintero, crumbling the note and throwing it in the nearest wastebasket. “Governor de Sola is once more complaining over how I have failed to capture that damnable Zorro! He’s threatening to replace me with my predecessor!”

  The lieutenant looked utterly bewildered. “Captain Ramon? He’s dead.”

  “I know that! Do you think I don’t?” When the lieutenant offered no comment, Quintero continued, “The governor is saying that my job could be performed better by a dead man than myself.”

  “So it’s an insult, then.”

  Quintero stared at him and then sighed. “Yes. It is an insult. The governor of California has nothing better to do than insult me. And what are you doing here?”

  It took a moment for the lieutenant to remember. “Oh. Yes. Don Diego de la Vega is here to see you.”

  “What does he want?”

  “I do not know, Captain.”

  Quintero had mixed feelings about Don Diego. He was clearly one of the smartest young men in town, and could always be counted on for intelligent conversation. But his foppish manner and lack of interest in the realities that an army captain had to deal with could be most annoying.

  “Bring him in,” he said impatiently. “And bring me a bottle of wine and two glasses.”

  “Yes, my captain,” said the lieutenant. He bowed once more and then exited the room.

  Moments later Don Diego strolled in. Even watching the m
an walk was irritating to Quintero on some days. Diego was smiling his typical, broad smile and he tossed off a fey salute to the Captain. Quintero did not even bother to respond to it as Diego dropped into the chair seated opposite him. “Good day, my captain,” said Diego and dabbed at some imaginary sweat on his forehead. “I hope it is going well for you.”

  “As well as can be expected,” said Quintero. “So what can I do for you?”

  “Right to business, eh?” said Diego, who apparently thought that Quintero had nothing particularly important to do other than interact with him. “Very well. There are certain rumors that have reached my ears that I wished to run past you.”

  “Rumors?” Quintero raised an eyebrow. “What rumors could possibly have reached your ears? You do not strike me as a rumor monger.”

  “Certainly not. I leave such endeavors to various senoras who have nothing better on their hands to do aside from bandy tales around.” Diego chuckled at the thought, but then his face grew serious. “But this has more to do with the security of Los Angeles. I am wondering if pirates have been spotted in the area.”

  “Pirates!” Quintero laughed at the notion. “Certainly not, my dear Diego! Pirates know better than to try and sully our shores. My men are some of the best shots in the whole of California, and live for a moment when some foolish pirate presents himself as a target for their rifles. No, Diego, whatever you may have heard about pirates in our region, I can assure you that nonesuch have presented themselves. Indeed, I am only expecting one unusual face to present himself in the area, and it is most definitely not a pirate.”

  “Oh? And who would that be?”

  “An ambassador from Spain. He is part of Ferdinand VII’s court and is coming here to report on how I manage to keep order in our district.”

  “Order?” Diego laughed. “I wonder how he will react to reports of Zorro’s activities.”

  Quintero put a hand to his forehead, tried not to wince, and utterly failed. “Believe me, Don Diego, that thought has occurred to me. Repeatedly. So if you are busy gathering rumors, do me the kindness of listening for whatever hints you may perceive of Senor Zorro’s activities. Many are the nights I dream of catching him somewhere from which he cannot flee.”

  “My sympathies, Captain,” said Don Diego, his face a mask of sadness.

  The lieutenant walked in at that point with a bottle of wine and two glasses, as he had been ordered to do. “Join me, Diego?” asked Quintero.

  “How could I not?” said Diego.

  “Don’t just stand there! Pour it out!” Quintero ordered the lieutenant, who hurriedly jumped to obey the captain’s orders. Quintero leaned back in his chair and said, “Tell me, lieutenant: how are your ears in assessing the latest gossip filtering through the streets?”

  “I hear very little,” said the lieutenant, “but my mother, she hears everything and never fails to pass it on to me.”

  “And has she heard anything about pirates?”

  “No, my capitan, she has not.”

  “There you go, Diego,” said Quintero with an offhand gesture. “That should settle it.”

  “Indeed, the only rumor she has mentioned lately had to do with Don Alejandro de la Vega.”

  The sentence immediately ensnared Diego’s attention. He had been lying comfortably in his chair, one foot propped on the captain’s desk, but when the lieutenant made that pronouncement, he immediately sat up straight. “Something regarding my father?” said Diego, clear tension in his voice. Then, as if he were suddenly concerned about appearing too aggressive in front of Quintero, he once again slumped back in the chair and endeavored to recapture his indifferent attitude. “And what nonsense has the lieutenant heard?”

  “Why, that he has taken in a lover, Don Diego.”

  Diego laughed loudly at the suggestion. “But that is nonsense, lieutenant! When my mother passed years ago, my father’s interest in the opposite gender passed with her. Why, where would he even meet a woman, much less take her as a lover?”

  “He met her in the marketplace,” the lieutenant said immediately, warming to the topic. “She was assaulted by three bandits. Your father took sword in hand and drove them away. It was quite a phenomenal battle. So I’m told,” he added hastily.

  “My father drove away three men?” Diego could scarcely believe it.

  Quintero found Diego’s incredulity to be truly heartening. Typically the young Don managed to restrict his disbelief to Quintero’s continued inability to capture the legendary Curse of Capistrano, Zorro the Fox. But now the boot of disbelief was squarely on Diego’s foot, and this was marvelously entertaining. So much so that he was disinclined to let Diego off the hook at all quickly. “Three men, you say? And then where did he take the woman?”

  “To his hacienda.”

  “With a duenna?”

  “Definitely not,” said the lieutenant. “She was an older woman and said she had no need of an escort.”

  “So your father took an unescorted single woman back to his hacienda!” Quintero smiled for the first time in quite a while that he could recall. “My my! Certainly scandalous behavior, I would think!”

  “This is all absurd rumor,” Diego said dismissively.

  “I cannot agree with that assessment, Diego,” and now Quintero was on his feet, the glass of wine totally forgotten. “I am responsible for the morality of the people and how they conduct themselves in this district.”

  Diego tilted his head and stared in amazement at the captain. “Morality? You? I would have thought a padre or priest would be more suited for such an undertaking.”

  “The reaches of the commandant’s duties are quite wide. I believe that I should inspect this situation personally. If your father is behaving in a manner that is unsuitable for a Don, then the proper actions would have to be taken.”

  “Proper actions?” Diego’s gaze narrowed. “Such as what, exactly?”

  “Anything could happen,” said Quintero. “Understand, I would hate to have to take your father’s estate from him. But if he is not behaving in a manner akin to a Don, then he wouldn’t deserve to have it, wouldn’t you say? Think, Diego: what would your opinion be if you were hearing about a Don behaving in such a manner?”

  Diego pursed his lips and then said, “I see your point.” Now he was on his feet as well, and he bowed slightly to the captain. “So let us travel together, my capitan, and see exactly what is going on at my father’s hacienda.”

  “Lieutenant,” Quintero immediately barked at the officer who was still there. “Ready a pair of horses for us, please. It seems we are going to make a trip out to the de la Vega hacienda to see what exactly Don Alejandro is up to.”

  “Yes, sir,” said the lieutenant with a quickly snapped salute.

  Chapter Four

  Family Reunion

  Don Alejandro laughed merrily at Maria’s joke. It was indeed a long time since he could actually recall laughing at all. Alejandro was overall a very serious individual and wasn’t wont to allow anything to amuse him.

  The last person who had been able to entertain him was his late wife. Indeed, that had initially been what attracted him to her. Yes, her upbringing made her a worthy mate for a Don, but he had quickly discovered there was much more to her. He had spent many long evenings chatting with her and she was always able to find some observation to make that would prompt gales of laughter to pour from his throat.

  He realized he had not laughed since she had passed on. Nothing really brought him amusement. Not even his son, Diego, and his endless array of jests. Of course, on the other hand, there had been a reason for that. He had foolishly believed the persona Diego displayed was genuine rather than a cover for his activities as Senor Zorro. He had been exceedingly relieved when he had discovered his son’s dual persona. And who could blame him? That poetic fop as his son? Unthinkable!

  “Please, Maria, you are killing me!” Alejandro begged her to stop making a string of jests that were threatening to make him keel over from b
eing so engaged. “Enough!”

  “I am so sorry, Don Alejandro,” Maria Garcia Lopez assured him. “I did not mean to threaten your health.”

  “Oh, you most certainly did not. It’s just an expression.” He took a deep breath and then let it out slowly in order to compose himself. Then he tilted his glass slightly and discovered it was devoid of drink. The bottle next to him shared in the saddened condition of emptiness. “Bernardo!” he called.

  Diego’s servant hastened quickly toward them. For many years Bernardo had been thought to be deaf and mute, but over time and thanks to Diego’s patience, Bernardo had once again recaptured the knack of speech. And although his hearing was not especially sharp, he was able to make up for it by listening very carefully. Indeed, Diego let the others in the city believe Bernardo to still be a deaf mute since it enabled him to serve as a convenient pair of ears out and about. He was quite reliable in learning information others wished to kept secret and transfer the knowledge to Don Diego, a.k.a. Senor Zorro.

  “More wine, Bernardo, if you please,” said Don Alejandro.

  Bernardo immediately bobbed his head and walked out of the room. Moments later he had returned with a fresh bottle; so quickly did he return, in fact, that Alejandro suspected Bernardo had had another bottle in the kitchen so he was able to retrieve it without having to go down to the cellar. “Excellent,” said Don Alejandro as he held out his glass. Bernardo filled it and then went over and did the same to Maria.

  “Thank you most kindly,” she said in a low, gentle voice. Bernardo bobbed his head in appreciation. “Tell me, Alejandro … why have you remained a single gentleman for so long? If you do not mind my asking.”

  “You may ask all you wish, but the truth is that I have never given any real thought to remarrying,” said Don Alejandro. “I was actually quite fortunate to love my wife, and the mother of my son. I never thought that another woman could possibly fill the hole her departure left.”

  “I can understand that.” She reached over and patted him on the top of his hand. “I had similar feelings when my husband passed.”