Diego's Dilemma

Parte Quatro

Nancy J. Smith

Author's Note: This part contains some violence toward the end. However it is not graphic or gratuitous. Just wanted to give you some warning in advance. As far as ratings go, I would consider it, a PG. Don't ask me how this is going to turn out, you'll have to just keep reading! ;-)

Diego took out his handkerchief, wiped the perspiration from his face, and leaned back against the bar, and sighed. His shoulders slightly sagged, as he felt the emotional tension, slowly drain from his body. Alejandro put his hand on Diego's shoulder, and looked at him, with concern.

"Diego, are you all right?" he asked.

Diego nodded. "Yes, I'm fine!" he looked into Victoria's eyes, as he met her gaze, and sighed.

"Victoria, are sure, you're all right?" he asked, earnestly.

Victoria nodded. "Yes Diego, I'm quite all right. That was a very brave thing, that you did. Thank you, Diego!" She walked over, and kissed him on the cheek.

Diego smiled. "You're welcome." he said, affectionately. "I'm sorry that I disrupted, your tavern. I'll be glad to pay, for any damages." he remarked, amiably.

Victoria shook her head. "Diego, what you did today, more than pays, for any damages. Why don't you, Alejandro, and Felipe, sit down, and I'll bring you something, to eat and drink!" she remarked, smiling.

Suddenly, Diego remembered, Mendoza. "That would be nice, Victoria, thank you." He replied, warmly.

Victoria smiled. "De nada." she replied. As she was about to walk away, Diego gently caught her arm. She turned, and looked at him, in surprise. "What's wrong, Diego?"

Diego smiled. "Victoria, could you bring an extra plate, for the Sergeant? I promised to treat him, to lunch." He remarked.

Victoria smiled. "Of course, Diego." She turned, and walked back, to the kitchen.

Diego walked over to Mendoza, and put his hand on his shoulder, and smiled.

Mendoza looked up at Diego, "What is it Don Diego?"

"I just wanted to thank you for coming to my aid again, Sergeant. That was very brave of you!" remarked Diego, earnestly.

Mendoza smiled. "You're a good friend, Don Diego. I couldn't let that Pico, take advantage of you! Besides, as a Sergeant of the Royal Brigade, it is my civic duty, to protect the citizens, of this pueblo. I was just doing my duty, Don Diego." he stated, modestly.

Diego nodded. "Well Sergeant, you performed your duty, quite efficiently." he replied, smiling. "By the way Sergeant, why don't you join us, for lunch. After all, it's my treat, remember?"

Mendoza nodded, and smiled. "That's right! In all the commotion, I almost forgot. Thank you Don Diego!"

"You're welcome, Sergeant." replied Diego.

Diego, Alejandro, and Felipe, sat down with Mendoza, and chatted, while they waited for their lunch. Mendoza told Alejandro, all about how Diego, came to Victoria's rescue, and how he threatened Vargas, and made him, apologize. Alejandro listened in amazement, as Mendoza explained the scene, in every detail. Alejandro looked at Diego, earnestly.

"Diego, did you really threaten Vargas?" he asked.

Diego slightly blushed. "I assure you, father, it was purely, in the heat of anger. I completely lost my temper. I promise, it will never happen again." he replied.

Alejandro gave Diego a discerning look, and smiled. "I forgive you, Diego. I only wish, that I could have been here, to see you, in action." he remarked, shaking his head wistfully. "Diego, is there something, that your not telling me?" he asked.

Diego looked up, and saw Victoria, bringing their lunch.

"Ah, Victoria, that looks delicious! I'm starved!" replied Diego, smiling. "Victoria, why don't you join us, as well?" he asked, amiably.

Victoria smiled. "Thank you, Diego, I'd love to."

Alejandro shook his head and sighed. Felipe looked at Diego, and smiled. Diego gave a quick wink to Felipe, and smiled.

Victoria, went back to the kitchen, and brought out an extra plate of tamales, for everyone, including Mendoza, knowing, what a big appetite he had. She sat down with her friends, and everyone had, a wonderful lunch.

As Vargas and Pico, sat in the back, eating their lunch, and drinking their wine, it was obvious to Pico, that Vargas, was still smoldering, from his encounter, with that caballero, de la Vega. As Vargas drank his wine, he cast a sinister look at Diego.

"You will pay for your insult, de la Vega! I promise you, that!" he muttered, under his breath.

Pico laid his hand on Vargas's arm, and looked at him, anxiously.

"Shhh! Be quiet, Vargas! That Alcalde might hear you! De la Vega, too, for that matter!" he cautioned.

Vargas poured himself another cup of wine, and gulped it down. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and chuckled.

"That Alcalde is an idiot! De la Vega too, if he thinks he can get by, with what he did!" he sneered. He glanced over, and looked at Victoria smiling, and chatting, with Diego, and the others. He noticed, the way Diego looked at her, and hung, on her every word. Vargas stroked his chin, as a devious smile, crossed his lips.

"That de la Vega seems very fond, of that pretty Seņorita!" he observed.

Pedro looked at Vargas, and smiled.

"Maybe tonight, we should pay the Seņorita, a visit!" he whispered.

Vargas nodded, and smiled. "Pedro, you must have been reading, my mind!"

The two men gave a hearty laugh, then finished their lunch. They pitched their money on the table, then calmly strolled, out of the tavern. Diego briefly looked up in time to see Vargas, and Pico, walk out. He had been secretly eyeing them, as he and the others, ate their lunch. There was something about the look on Vargas's face, that left an unsettling feeling, inside Diego. He had a feeling that Vargas, was up to something.

Diego had seen that look before, on men like Vargas. That cold, vicious look, of someone who is seeking, revenge. As for himself, Diego was not afraid. He only hoped, that Vargas didn't try to exact his revenge, on his father, Felipe, or Victoria. 'That...' Diego thought, 'would be his undoing!'

When they finished their lunch, Alejandro, was very anxious, to show Diego, the new bull, he had bought, from Don Esteban. He even assured him, that Don Esteban, had given him a fair price. Alejandro, generously paid Victoria, for the wonderful lunch, and he and Diego, thanked her, as well.

Before they left, Diego looked at Victoria with concern. That look on Vargas's face, seemed to be sending him, an urgent message, that he couldn't seem, to ignore.

"Will you be all right, Victoria?" he asked, anxiously.

Victoria smiled. "Of course, Diego. I'll be fine. I'm just glad, that those two men, finally left. I guess the only good thing is, at least they paid for their lunch. I just hope, they don't come back!" she remarked, rubbing her arms, as if just the thought of Vargas, and Pico, sent a chill through her body.

Diego put his hand on her shoulder, as he looked at her, earnestly. "You're welcome, to stay at the hacienda, Victoria."

Victoria smiled, and shook her head.

"Really Diego, I'll be all right. Besides, I heard Seņor Vargas, tell the Alcalde, that they were just, passing through. So I think, that we've seen the last, of those two." She remarked.

Diego nodded. "Well, let's hope so!" he remarked in a resolute tone.

Victoria put a reassuring hand, on Diego's arm, and gazed into his deep blue eyes, and smiled.

"Diego, thank you for being concerned." She remarked, amiably.

Diego looked at her, smiled. "De nada, Victoria." he replied. He took her hand, and lightly kissed it. "Always for you, Seņorita." he said, softly, with a wink. "Adios!" he said, gently releasing her hand. He turned, and followed Alejandro, and Felipe, out the door.

Victoria pressed her hand over her heart, as she felt it pounding against her chest, as she watched Diego, walk away. 'Is it possible?' she thought. She felt herself blush, at the possibility of Diego, being Zorro. He was definitely as handsome, as Zorro, and the way he handled himself in the tavern today, dispelled any doubts in her mind, that Diego was unable to handle himself, in a fight. Today, she had seen a side of him, that she had never seen before. Maybe, as he had said, it was in the heat of anger, yet, she had witnessed, that same fire, and spirit in Zorro, as well.

"Seņorita!" a patron called out.

Victoria shook herself of her reverie, and waited, on her customer.

Night finally came, to the pueblo de Los Angeles. The de la Vegas, had just finished their dinner, and had retired to the library, for reading, and a game of chess. Alejandro read, while Felipe, and Diego, played chess. As Felipe, moved his pieces, across the board, he noticed that, Diego's mind, was not, on the game. Several times, Felipe had countered, some of Diego's more difficult moves, which normally, Diego would have prevented, if he had been concentrating. Felipe reached over, and touched Diego's hand, and signed, 'What's the matter?'

Diego looked up, and sighed. "I'm sorry, Felipe. I can't seem to get that Valentino Vargas out of my mind." he remarked.

Alejandro looked at him, with reassurance.

"Don't worry Diego. Victoria told you, that he and Pico, were just passing through. I doubt that they will come back, after what happened today. Besides, ever since that siege episode, DeSoto has added more lancers to patrol the pueblo, at night. If you're worried about Victoria, Diego, she'll be all right." remarked Alejandro.

Diego nodded. "I suppose you're right." he replied. He sighed, and finished his game with Felipe.

Victoria, had just said goodnight, to Pilar, who had stayed to help, clean the tavern. After she left, Victoria bolted the large wooden double doors, then strolled back to the kitchen, to wash her dishes. She picked up the small kettle of warm water, and poured it into, the sink. She scraped her dishes, then put them in the warm sudsy water, and began washing them. It had been a very busy day, but Victoria was glad, to have the customers. As she washed her dishes, thoughts of Diego, coming to her rescue, drifted through her mind. She too, wished that Alejandro, could have been there, to see his son, being a 'man of action.' He truly, would have been proud, of Diego! Her reverie, was interrupted, once more, as she heard a loud knocking, at her kitchen door.

"Who could that be, this late at night." She remarked. "Maybe Pilar forgot something."

She dried her hands on her apron, then walked over to the door. As she turned the key in the lock, suddenly, the door burst open, knocking Victoria, back against the wooden table. She quickly grabbed the sides of the table, to keep from falling. She suddenly gasped, as her eyes widened, in shock.

"Madre de Dios! Seņor Vargas, and Seņor Pico!" she stated nervously.

Vargas and Pico, stepped inside, with their pistols drawn, and ruthless grins, upon their faces.

"Buenas noches, Seņorita! Where is your caballero now?!" Vargas sneered.

"What are you doing here?!" Victoria asked, angrily.

Pedro shut the door, then turned to Victoria, and smiled.

"We came to see you, Seņorita, and of course, to relieve you, of your money!" he chuckled wickedly.

Victoria pushed herself away from the table, and started to run through the curtains, when Vargas, quickly grabbed her arm, and pulled her back, into the kitchen. He put his gun in his gunbelt, then grabbed both of her arms, and pulled her towards him.

"It looks like Seņor de la Vega, is not here, to stop me now!" he stated, with a venomous tone to his voice, as he leered at Victoria.

She pressed her hands against his chest, trying to push him back, but Vargas, was stronger. He put his arms around her, and pressed her hard against him. Victoria pushed hard against him, trying to break free of his forceful embrace. Vargas laughed.

"Trying to play hard to get, eh?" he smiled viciously. He grabbed the back of her head, and pressed his lips, hard against hers. Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain on his mouth, as Victoria sunk her teeth, into his bottom lip. He shoved her back, and put his hand to his mouth. As he looked at the blood on his hand, he suddenly became enraged, with anger.

"Why you little tramp!" he growled.

Before Victoria had time to react, she suddenly felt the sting, of Vargas's hand, as he slapped her across the face. Her head flew back, as she stumbled, and fell against the hard adobe wall. She brought her hand to her cheek, and slightly shook her head.

As Vargas started toward her, Victoria glanced around, and saw her butcher knife, laying nearby. She quickly lunged for the knife, and grabbed it. Victoria held the knife in front of her, and flashed a menacing look, at Vargas.

"Don't even think about it, Seņor! I will kill you, if you come any closer!" she warned.

Vargas laughed, as he wiped the blood from his mouth.

Pedro pulled back the hammer, on his pistol, and pointed it at Victoria.

"Drop the knife, Seņorita, or I will kill, you!" he stated firmly.

Vargas pushed Pedro's gun aside, yet kept a steady gaze, on Victoria.

"Pedro, go find the money! I'll take care of the Seņorita!" he ordered.

Pedro nodded, then raced into the tavern, to look for the money.

Vargas glared, at Victoria. "Where's the money, Seņorita?"

Victoria's eyes flamed, as she looked at Vargas.

"I'm not going to tell you!" she hissed.

Vargas looked at her with contempt.

"I think you will, Seņorita!" he replied, angrily. He looked around, and happened to see a small pitcher of wine, setting on the table. He walked over, and picked it up, then took a drink.

"Not bad!" he sneered. He suddenly threw the wine, in her face.

As Victoria jumped back, Vargas quickly grabbed her arm, and tried to pry the knife, from her hand. She tightened her grip, on the handle of the knife, as they struggled. As he squeezed her hand, Victoria took her foot, and slammed it hard, against his shin. Vargas cringed in agony, and loosened his grip, just long enough for Victoria to free her hand from his grasp.

Before Vargas could grab her hand, Victoria quickly turned, and plunged the knife, into his shoulder. He briefly cried out, as he felt the sharp blade, pierce his skin. He reached up, and pulled the knife from his shoulder, and threw it to the floor.

"You'll pay for that, wench!!" he growled.

Vargas, became even more enraged, as he charged after, Victoria. She made another attempt to escape, but he grabbed her again, and struck her forcefully in the face. Victoria, felt herself being hurled across the room, as Vargas's fist, connected with her jaw. She instantly felt a sharp pain in her head, as she abruptly collided, with the hard adobe brick, surrounding her oven. The room seemed to whirl, as Victoria closed her eyes, then slumped to the floor.

Pedro, suddenly jerked his head around, as he heard a loud crash in the kitchen. He quickly grabbed the moneybag, then rushed in, to see, what had happened. A dreadful look, mirrored on his face, as he saw Victoria's seemingly lifeless body, lying on the floor. He looked at Vargas with concern.

"Madre de Dios! You didn't kill her did you?!" he asked, worriedly.

Vargas leaned against the table, with his hand over his bloody shoulder, and shook his head.

"I don't think so." He replied, doubtfully.

Pedro set the moneybag on the table, then ran over to Victoria. He pressed his fingers against her neck, and sighed in relief.

"Gracias Dios! She's still alive!" he replied, wiping his brow.

Vargas picked up the bloody knife, and laid it on the table. He looked at Pedro, and smiled.

"Good! Tie her hands, she's coming with us." He stated, decidedly.

Pedro, looked at him curiously. "What do we need her for, we've got the money." He stated.

Vargas shook his head in disgust. "Use your head, estupido! That rich caballero, de la Vega, is her boyfriend. There's no telling, how much money he'll pay us, to get her back. She may be a tavern maid, but she's worth her weight, in gold!" he replied, sternly.

Pedro nodded, then found some rope in the storage room, and tied Victoria's hands. He picked her up, and slung her over his shoulder, as if she were a sack, of grain. Before he walked out the door, he turned to Vargas.

"Don't forget the money!" he reminded.

Vargas nodded. "Don't worry, I won't."

He looked around, the kitchen, until he found some paper, and a pencil. The loss of blood from his shoulder, had weakened him, as he shook his head in an attempt to stay conscious.

"Let's just hope this ransom note, reaches you, de la Vega." He remarked, sternly.

He ripped off a piece of paper, then scrawled a quick note.

To Don Diego de la Vega,

Deliver 12,000 pesos, to Red Rock Canyon at noon today, or you will never see your lovely Seņorita alive again!"

Valentino Vargas.

After he finished his note, he took the bloody knife, and plunged it through the paper, pinning it to the table. He staggered over to the sink, and grabbed a rag, then pressed it over his wound, inside his shirt. He blotted the wound, until the bleeding had finally subsided, then pitched the bloody rag on the table. A malevolent smile crossed his lips, as he picked up the moneybag, then walked toward the door.

He turned, and saluted.

"Until tomorrow, Seņor!" A wicked laugh, echoed in the empty kitchen, as Vargas, walked out the door.

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