Diego's Dilemma

Parte Cinco

Nancy J. Smith

That morning, Pilar trotted her brown mare up the tavern, and pulled back on the reins. As her horse came to a stop, she dismounted, then tied the reins the hitching post. As she walked up to the door, she noticed that it was still locked.

'That's odd.' thought Pilar. 'Victoria usually has her doors open by now.' She pounded on the door, and called out to Victoria

"Señorita Escalante?" She waited for a moment. Then when no one answered, she knocked on the door again, and called out.

"Victoria?"

Still, there was no answer. 'Maybe she's in the kitchen.' thought Pilar.

She walked around to the back of the tavern, to the kitchen door. As she prepared to open the door, she suddenly jerked her hand back, and gasped, as she noticed the dried blood on the doorknob.

"Madre de Dios!" exclaimed Pilar. She noticed that the door was slightly opened. She pressed her hand against the wooden panel of the door, and pushed it open. As she stepped inside the kitchen, a grim feeling flowed through her, as she gazed in horror at the sight before her. Broken plates, and glass littered the floor, as well as pieces of pottery, and a container of flour that had overturned, covering the terra cotta floor in soft white powder.

"Madre de Dios!" she gasped again. "What happened?!" her eyes widened, as she looked around, and suddenly saw the bloody knife firmly planted in a piece of paper on the table. She hurried over to the table, pulled out the knife, then picked up the piece of paper. Her heart sank, and tears came to her eyes as Pilar read the note Vargas had written.

"Oh Dios! Victoria!" she exclaimed. "I must get this to Don Diego!" she stated, wiping the tears from her eyes. She looked around the room until she found a small cloth sack. She picked up the bloody rag and knife, then put them inside the sack. She carefully folded the note, then slipped it into the pocket of her skirt. She picked up the sack and ran out the door. She quickly untied her horse from the post, then put the sack into her saddlebag, then mounted her horse, and immediately rode to the de la Vega hacienda.

As Alejandro and Diego ate their breakfast, Alejandro dabbed his mouth with his linen napkin, then looked over at Diego, and smiled. Diego briefly glanced up from his plate, dabbed his mouth, with his napkin, then looked at Alejandro acutely.

"Is there something wrong, father?" he asked earnestly.

Alejandro shook his head.

"No Diego. I was just thinking about what Sergeant Mendoza said yesterday. He said that you really put up quite a fight, defending Victoria. I'm really proud of you, Diego." He replied.

Diego leaned back in his chair, and smiled.

"Thank you father. It was really nothing. Besides, you know how Mendoza tends to exaggerate." He remarked, somewhat reserved.

Alejandro nodded. "Even so Diego, it's obvious that you really made a big impression on him, not to mention, Victoria." He remarked with a discerning smile.

Diego slightly blushed, as he took a drink of his juice. He was granted a quick reprieve, as he and Alejandro suddenly heard someone pounding on their door. Juan their house servant strolled up to the door and opened it. Before he had a chance to welcome their guest, Pilar shoved her way past him and raced into the foyer.

"Señor de la Vega! Don Diego!" she cried frantically.

Juan quickly grabbed her arm, and looked her sternly.

"I beg your pardon, Señorita! But you can't just barge in here like this! Wait here, and I will announce you!" he stated.

Diego and Alejandro quickly rose from their seats, and walked into the foyer. Felipe had been dusting some furniture, and glanced up in time to see his patrons walking to the door. He lay his feather duster down, and followed.

Alejandro gave Juan a strict look as they approached him.

"Juan, release the Señorita, por favor." he ordered.

Juan nodded, and looked at Alejandro as he released Pilar from his grasp.

"I'm sorry patron, but she forced her way in here before I could announce her." he replied.

Alejandro noticed the worried look on Pilar's face, then looked at Juan earnestly.

"It's all right, Juan, I'll take care of this." he replied. "You may go."

Juan nodded ", patron." he replied. He turned and walked back to the kitchen.

Alejandro put a reassuring hand on Pilar's shoulder, as he looked at her with compassion.

"What is it Pilar, what's wrong?" he asked with concern.

Pilar wiped the tears that were welling in her eyes. Felipe pulled out a handkerchief from his sash, and handed it to Pilar.

"Gracias." She smiled, as she took the handkerchief and wiped her eyes and nose. She looked at Alejandro worriedly.

"I'm sorry Don Alejandro, Don Diego. I have some terrible news Señores. It's about Señorita Escalante." she replied anxiously.

An uneasy feeling suddenly flowed through Diego as he looked at Alejandro. He managed a calm appearance, despite his feelings. He turned to Felipe.

"Felipe, get Señorita Pilar a glass of water, por favor." He said. Felipe nodded, then walked back to the kitchen. He looked at Pilar warmly.

"Let's go to the Library, and sit down. You can tell us about it there." He remarked, motioning to the Library.

Alejandro nodded in agreement. They walked into the Library, then sat down.

Diego looked at Pilar with concern.

"Pilar, what about Señorita Escalante? What happened?" he asked earnestly.

Pilar dabbed her eyes and nose again, then reached into her pocket, and pulled out the note.

"This morning when I arrived at the tavern, I noticed that Victoria had not opened up for business. When I knocked on the tavern door, and she didn't answer, I went around to the back of the kitchen. The first thing I noticed, was blood on the doorknob, and the back door was opened. When I walked in, the whole kitchen was in shambles, and that's when I saw this note, stuck to the table with this knife." She stated handing the note to Diego. She reached into her sack, and took out the knife and rag, then handed it to Diego as well. "I also saw this rag on the table too." she added.

Diego took the knife and rag, then read the note. Felipe presently returned with Pilar's water, and handed it to her and smiled. Pilar took the water, and smiled.

"Gracias." she said.

A somber look mirrored Diego's features as he finished reading the note. He stared at the bloodstained rag and knife, and shook his head.

"My God! Victoria!" he said softly with a critical tone to his voice. He slowly rose from the chair, and handed the note to Alejandro. Alejandro took the note and read it.

"It's Vargas! He's kidnapped Victoria." stated Diego, angrily. He looked at the knife and rag once more, then laid them on the table. He looked at Pilar, anxiously.

"Pilar have you told the Alcalde what happened?" he asked.

Pilar shook her head. "Not yet, Señor. Since the note was addressed to you, I wanted you to see it, before I told anyone else." she replied decidedly.

Diego slightly smiled. "Thank you Pilar, I appreciate that." he replied warmly.

Alejandro stood up and eyed Diego steadily. "Don't worry, Diego. We'll take Pilar back to town, then I'll go to the bank and get the money. We'll also tell the Alcalde what happened." He stated.

Diego shook his head. "No. We can't get the Alcalde and his men involved in this. If Vargas sees us riding up with soldiers, he and Pico may kill Victoria. We can't take that chance. I'll have to do this on my own. Besides, you know DeSoto doesn't make deals with criminals." He stated firmly.

Alejandro looked at Diego anxiously. "Diego, regardless of what the Alcalde says about dealing with criminals, the fact remains that this Vargas is a dangerous man. It would be better if we at least had some help." He stated resolutely.

Diego gave Alejandro a crucial look. "Father please! You're just going to have to trust me this time! Victoria's life depends on me following Vargas's orders. Take Pilar back to town, then go to the bank, and get the money. Meet me at Boulder Creek, and I'll take the money to Vargas." He stated decidedly. He turned to Pilar.

"Pilar when you get to town, tell everyone that Victoria was not feeling well, and she asked you to be in charge of the tavern today. Do you think you could do that?" he asked.

Pilar nodded. ", I will do that, Señor."

Alejandro looked at Diego curiously. "What's going on, Diego?" he asked.

"We have to convince the Alcalde that there's nothing wrong. We can't take a chance on him, bringing his lancers out there, and jeopardizing Victoria's life." he stated resolutely.

Alejandro nodded, and sighed. "All right, Diego. However, I would feel better if Zorro knew about this." he stated anxiously.

Diego sighed in relief, and smiled. "Don't worry father, I'll make sure he gets the message." He replied.

Alejandro sighed. "I think it would be better if Zorro took the money to Vargas. He would know how to deal with this man." he stated firmly.

Diego nodded. "You're right, he certainly would!" he replied sternly. He pulled out his gold pocket watch and observed the time.

"I still a few hours until I have to meet Vargas. That will give you time to get the money, and meet me at Boulder Creek. We have to hurry." Diego stated.

Alejandro nodded. "Be careful Diego. Remember, wait until Zorro shows up, then give him the money." He stated.

Diego nodded. "Don't worry, I will."

Alejandro called for one of his servants to saddle his horse, then he and Pilar, walked out the door.

Diego picked up the bloody rag and knife, then gazed at them once more. He could feel the anger and hate inside him as he saw Vargas's face in his mind.

"If this is Victoria's blood, Vargas will rue the day, he ever set foot in Los Angeles!" he threatened.

He picked up the sack, and put the knife and rag back inside. He took the note and carefully folded it, then put it inside his pocket inside his vest.

"Let's go Felipe, I've got to save Victoria." He tapped the wooden panel under the mantle of the fireplace, then he and Felipe quickly stepped through the hidden doorway.

While Felipe prepared Toronado, Diego quicky dressed as Zorro. He took the note, and cloth sack, then grabbed his sword, whip, and some extra rope, then mounted Toronado. Before he left, he gave Felipe instructions to meet him at Cielo Ridge and bring an extra horse and his clothes. Hopefully he could save Victoria, and bring her back in time to meet his father as Diego. And possibly bring back Vargas, and Pico as well.

Felipe nodded, and smiled. He watched Diego turn Toronado around, as Toronado pressed the wooden pad with his hoof, and paused as the cave door swung open. Diego gave one last wave good-bye, then he and Toronado were gone.

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