Fox of a Different Color

Parte Tres

Christina D. Smith

Felipe rode straight to the secret cave. He knew the alcalde was putting a plan in action. Time spent spying and listening to Diego explain the alcalde's actions had taught him what to look for.

Tornado whinnied at the pair as he led his pinto down the path. He tied his horse to the railing next to Tornado then rushed to the makeshift library in the cave.

Moments later he returned with a journal and sat at the table. He scanned for Lopez's name. When he finally caught sight of it and began to read the events.

April 4

Ran into a bandit after helping the Indians. He said his name was Paco Lopez and I remember seeing his picture in the alcalde's office. I gave him a warning to stay away from Los Angeles and he left. Hope he doesn't come back.

April 7

Ran into Paco again. He was robbing one of the dons. Thankfully, I was able to stop him. Gave him another warning, although I doubt he will listen.

April 12

It was Paco causing problems in the village. He was taking their food and other things for him and his band. I was so upset with what he was doing, I threatened to carve a 'Z' into his heart if I saw him again. I pray this is the last time I see him.

That was the last entry with Paco's name in it and Felipe couldn't recall hearing more reports of him in the area, so the warning must have worked.

The alcalde must have gone to Paco, Felipe thought. But why? To draw out Zorro somehow?

Felipe was positive that was the reason. But again Felipe was caught in a dilemma. He didn't dare ride out as Zorro. Paco and the alcalde would tear him to pieces. Yet, he couldn't sit by and let innocent people get hurt.

But I'd better find the real reason why the alcalde went to see Paco, Felipe told himself. I have to think before I act. I'll get the information and then decide what has to be done.

He looked at the two horses and realized he'd have to take Tornado on the trip to the pueblo. His pinto would stick out in the night. And he doubted he would get away with taking another horse, especially at night. This mission had to be completed with the utmost secrecy.

With that decided, Felipe closed the book and rose to return it. His hand accidentally bumped into one of the glasses for Diego's experiment.

He quickly grabbed a rag and mopped up the liquid and dried off his hand. After he put the journal up, he untied his pinto and left the cave. Once he arrived at the hacienda and took care of his horse, he headed off to his room to take a quick siesta. He was going to have a busy night.

The sun had almost set when Felipe rode to the pueblo. He was thankful there was no moon out. It was going to be tricky enough getting in and out of the pueblo with Tornado.

He decided against wearing Zorro's outfit and wore his darkest pants with a brown pancho. He hoped his disguise worked and people would pass him off as a peasant's child running home late.

When he could faintly make out the outline of the pueblo he dismounted and led Tornado to some tall shrubs. He tied the reins on the branches close to some grass. He gave Tornado a quick pat and trotted into the pueblo.

To his relief, there weren't too many people around. He made it to the garrison and frowned as he counted the lancers. He knew there were supposed to be more men on duty. Sergeant Mendoza was also missing.

He could be in the tavern, Felipe thought, then shook his head. If he was, then there would be fewer lancers out here than there were now.

He noticed the light in the alcalde's office was lit. He waited for a few moments, but there was no movement inside. He thought a moment as he scratched his hand. He decided to get a little closer and try to eavesdrop on the lancers. They were complaining about not being relieved for duty.

"I hope the alcalde returns soon. I'm starving," one lancer said.

"Don't you dare try to sneak off to Victoria's Tavern. Remember what happened the last time you did that?"

"A few minutes longer, he never would have known I had gone."

"Still, we all got punished for your mistake. You'll just have to wait until he returns."

"When will that be?"

"When he gets back."

"Where'd he go anyway?"

"Who knows? He didn't say. Just be ready for when he does return."

Felipe retreated from his listening position.

I'm too late, he scolded himself. Now what do I do?

Felipe sighed and turned back the way he came. Absentmindedly, he scratched his hand as he pondered his problem. He could ride to all the villages, but that would take too long, never mind the risk he would be taking.

He reached Tornado and picked up the reins. But before he could mount, Tornado started stomping.

Not again, Felipe watched the horse dance. Very well. Just come back to the cave - alone.

He wrapped the reins loosely on the saddle horn and stepped back as Tornado raced off.

Good luck, Zorro, whoever you may be.

Alcalde Ramon looked at the small area he chose Paco to attack. He had been very careful when he picked it. The village had to be big enough to be noticed, yet small enough to be quickly forgotten. Location played a key factor. It was just on the top of his jurisdiction. If things went well, it looked good on his file. If they went bad, then he didn't have to claim responsibility for the attacks.

Either way, Zorro couldn't refuse the bait. And when he bit, Luis would be waiting to reel him in.

"Do you think Zorro will show, mi alcalde?" Sergeant Mendoza asked looking around.

"Not hardly," Luis replied. "Zorro doesn't know about tonight's attack."

"Then why are we here?"

"So we make sure Paco and his band don't foul this up. I don't quite trust him."

Sergeant Mendoza nodded.

"Let's spread out. Remember Paco's coming from the south so steer clear of the direction."

"Sí, mi alcalde."

Sergeant Mendoza took off with his set of three lancers. Luis looked to the south, but the horizon told him nothing.

"You two stay here," he ordered. "You come with me."

The two lancers hid and the third turned his horse in the alcalde's direction. After several yards, the alcalde signaled to stop and they dismounted. They tied their horses to a bush and crouched down. Luis looked again to the horizon. This time he faintly saw some movement and smiled. Paco was right on schedule.

Paco and his band tore through the small village. Overturning carts and baskets. People slowly came out of their huts. Some screamed and waved their fists, while others huddled together.

This is going better than I had hoped, the alcalde thought right before he lost consciousness.

Paco was having fun. So far he liked the alcalde's plan. Maybe he wouldn't mind of Zorro showed up after all.

"Paco!"

The voice roared over the noise he and his band were making. He gulped as he looked in the direction of the speaker. Zorro sat calmly atop Tornado. Paco couldn't see Zorro's face, but he felt the anger of Zorro's stare burn into him. For a brief second he was glad he couldn't see Zorro's expression.

Paco looked nervously around and felt the weight of his band's eyes on him. He knew he had to make a command. Then he smiled as he remembered the alcalde and his men were surrounding them.

"Attack!" he cried.

His men sat still for a moment. They recalled Zorro's last meeting, too.

"Fools! De alcalde's here wid 'is lanc'rs. Attack!"

"I'm afraid the alcalde or his men won't be helping you. They're tied up at the moment."

Paco's eyes widened. This wasn't part of the plan. His men looked to him again. He dared not lose face with them.

"I's one man. How har' can one man be?"

"Bu', Paco, i's Zorro."

"Yeah, las' time we fough' wid Zorro 'e said - "

"I knows wha' 'e said," Paco fumed. How could he possibly forget? "If ya won' take 'im, I will!"

He turned his attention back to Zorro, but Zorro was gone.

"See? 'e's gone. Scar'd 'im off."

"Not likely," a cold voice said from behind Paco.

Paco gulped as the blade touched the back of his neck. His men looked at Zorro in horror before riding off. Paco knew he was trapped, but he wanted to go down fighting.

"I'll ge' ya, Zorro!"

He swung around fast, but the blade clinked to the ground. He saw the bushes sway and realized the trick played on him. He looked around carefully, trying to find where Zorro could be hiding.

Shadows jumped around him and he flinched at each one. The people of the village watched in silence; either too scared or too smart to say anything.

"Come ou' an' figh' like a man!" Paco shouted.

"I would, but that would require the person I'm fighting to be a man," a shadow replied. "Somehow, I don't think you qualify."

Paco heard the crack of a whip and his horse reared up. He tried to control his horse, but the night's events had taken its toll on the animal's nerves. The horse bucked wildly and the villagers cleared the way. Finally Paco fell from the horse and landed in a heap before Zorro. Once the horse realized it's rider was missing, it galloped out of the village.

Paco panted and tried to clear his head of the dizziness. But before he was successful, he felt the point of the blade again, this time at his throat.

"Wha' do ya wan'?"

"Why were you attacking these people?"

"T'was de alcalde's plan. 'e said if we attack'd people ta bring ya out, 'e'd give me a pard'n an' my rew'rd."

"And you believed him?"

Paco nodded and saw the hat move side to side.

"For shame, Paco. But you are going to have to give retribution to these people. You can help by fixing the damages you caused."

Paco sighed. Sadly, it was the best deal he'd had all week. He nodded and picked himself up and started to work.

Zorro walked over to one of the men of the village.

"Watch him carefully and make sure he does a good job."

"How can we ever thank you, Zorro."

"By releasing the alcalde and his men when Paco's done. It'll give me a head start."

"Of course," the man nodded.

Zorro whistled for Tornado and the black stallion was at his side in a matter of seconds. He saluted to the villagers and rode off into the night.

Paco grumbled as he worked. Once Zorro was gone, he tried to sneak away, but the villagers weren't having it. They guarded him as if they were lancers and there was no hope of him escaping. He briefly thought of his men, but they wouldn't come back for him. He'd lost his leadership through his disgrace. He'd leave Los Angeles and start some place fresh, he decided. A place without Zorro.

"Done," he growled.

The man in charge nodded his approval. "Untie the alcalde and his lancers," he said to two others. "They'll deal with you."

"Oh no dey won'," Paco replied and pushed the man out of the way. No one tried to stop him as he ran out of their village and disappeared into the night.

The villagers laughed and went to find the alcalde and his men. They found Sergeant Mendoza first. He and the lancer with him had been gagged and tied back to back. They were still unconscious as the villagers released their ropes. When they were finished, they woke up the sergeant.

"Huh? What happened?"

"Zorro was here," one explained.

"He stopped Paco," a second told him.

"Zorro said to release you and the alcalde," the first said.

"Zorro's here?"

"No. He left a while ago."

Sergeant Mendoza sighed. "I'd better tell the alcalde. Release the others while I find the alcalde and tell him what happened."

The lancer nodded and they broke up. Sergeant Mendoza found the alcalde and the lancer tied to a tree.

"Mi alcalde," Sergeant Mendoza went to untie them. "Zorro was here."

"I 'ow," the alcalde's voice came out muffled through his gag.

Sergeant Mendoza stripped the gag off of him.

"I saw him ride off. When I get my hands on Paco - "

"You won't be doing that any time soon."

"Why? What do you mean?"

"The villagers said Paco left right after he was done cleaning up the damages."

"This just ends a great night," the alcalde grumbled and rubbed his wrists.

That had mounted their horses again and were heading back to the pueblo when Sergeant Mendoza spoke.

"Now how do you suppose Zorro knew Paco was going to this village tonight?" Sergeant Mendoza asked.

"What?"

"Zorro. How do you think he knew Paco was going to attack the village tonight?"

Luis Ramon looked at Sergeant Mendoza. For the first time the alcalde could recall, the sergeant actually said something smart.

"Yes," the alcalde nodded. "How did he know?" His head snapped in realization. "Of course. Zorro has an accomplice!"

"An accomplice?" Sergeant Mendoza asked.

"Yes, it's all clear now. I told you about our plan and who did you tell?"

"Just the six lancers we brought with us."

"Ah, but where did you tell them?"

"In the garrison, but I don't think anyone heard us."

"That's the problem - you don't think," the alcalde commented. "Never mind, now that I know Zorro has an accomplice, we can change tactics."

Sergeant Mendoza felt a lump in his throat. "How do you mean?"

"Catch his accomplice and we've got Zorro," the alcalde grinned.

Felipe was close to the hacienda when he heard the sound of hooves. He turned and saw Tornado trotting up to him with an empty saddle. Felipe let out a sigh of relief and took hold of the reins.

I suppose I'll hear about the adventure tomorrow, he thought while he led Tornado to the cave.

Once inside, he removed Tornado's tack and was brushing him down. He wondered who the Zorro imposter could be and why did Tornado take off to help him. Surely, it wasn't Diego or he would have shown up at the cave.

He stopped to scratch is hand in thought when he looked down. His eyes went wide as he saw his hand. It was puffy and red.

When did this happen? he thought.

His mind raced over the events of the last day. At first he thought it was the bushes were he left Tornado, but one look at the horse's unmarked hide told him otherwise. He finished brushing Tornado then sat down at the table. He looked briefly at the table top and stopped when he saw it was slightly stained.

I wonder... he thought and reached for Diego's notes.

...be careful; if you spill any on your skin, it will act as a rash. There will be some swelling and itching. Don't worry, it won't last long, around one day, but it will be uncomfortable...

I was right, Felipe thought as he read.

...If the itching is too much, there some salve in one of the drawers, it should help...

Felipe rolled his eyes. Diego always seemed to know what trouble Felipe would get into. He put the ointment on and the itching slowly went away. Felipe was heading upstairs when the thought struck him. He hurried back downstairs and read the notes again, this time more carefully. It was as he had hoped. Now he had a way to determine who was the Zorro imposter.

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To be continued...