A loud crash woke Diego from a deep sleep.
"Felipe!" his father yelled. "Why did you do that? Why am I yelling? You can't hear me."
Diego sat up and stretched, feeling surprisingly rested. He rode as Zorro last night, but the ride was short and he got home early.
"Better see what happened," he got out of bed.
When he arrived in the sala, he saw Felipe cleaning up some coffee. He saw the pot and cups on the table in disarray. Diego guessed the rest.
"Good morning, father," he sat down at the table.
"What is so good about it?" he glared at Felipe.
"It was just an accident. Nothing was damaged."
"All right," he tapped Felipe. "I'm sorry I yelled at you."
Felipe nodded and signed to Diego.
"He accepts your apology."
Alejandro looked at his son. "You're up early."
Diego sighed inwardly. It wasn't his sleeping habits Alejandro was complaining about. Something had happened in the pueblo.
"What happened?" Diego asked.
"This!" he slammed a piece of paper on the table.
Diego picked it up and started reading.
"It came first thing this morning. Do you know I was awakened out of a sound sleep for this?"
"Hmm? I didn't hear anything. I slept like a baby."
"So did I, but to woken up for this. It's plain ridiculous."
Diego could see why his father was so upset. The alcalde was up to his tricks again. The letter stated he was going to raise taxes on all merchandise coming into and leaving Los Angeles.
"Including the cattle we sell," Alejandro fumed. "Can you imagine the nerve of the man?"
"He can't do this," Diego put the paper down.
"Your right, he can't. As soon as you finish your breakfast, we're going to the pueblo."
Diego ate quickly and before long they were on their way. When they reached the alcalde's office, they found a group of dons already there.
"Alejandro," Fernando said. "So glad you came. Your voice will give us more power."
"Of course. Any time there is trouble, the dons can count on the de la Vegas for support." Alejandro looked at his son. "In one way or another."
Guards lined the alcalde's door, rifles at the ready. Suddenly the door opened and the alcalde strode out with Sergeant Mendoza right behind him. He slightly smiled when he saw the dons.
"Good morning," he said. "I see you received my notice."
"We received it," Alejandro replied, making his way to the front of the crowd.
"Don Alejandro. Why am I not surprised?"
"You scoundrel," Alejandro climbed the steps. "You won't get away with this. You will be stopped."
"Ah, yes, Zorro," Ramone pulled on his gloves. "I'm sure he'll stop by tonight. Until then, I have other business to attend to."
The alcalde motioned Sergeant Mendoza to follow as he walked down the stairs. The guards cleared a path for them as they made their way to their horses.
"How do you like that?" Victoria said as the alcalde mounted and rode off. "He raises our taxes and then rides off."
Victoria threw up her hands and walked back to her tavern. Diego looked back at his father and saw Alejandro had gathered the dons and they were also heading towards the tavern.
"Let's go to the tavern," he told Felipe.
The dons sat at one table. As they talked about the alcalde, Diego thought about the alcalde's strange behavior. The alcalde's early departure disturbed him. Usually Ramone liked to stay and gloat over his latest scheme. Afterwards he would follow them to the tavern or retreat to the safety of his office. Zorro would definitely ride tonight.
"It's settled then," he heard his father say. "Tomorrow, Fernando, Antonio, Miguel, and I will go see the governor."
"Why are you going to see the governor?" Diego asked.
"Diego, haven't you been listening?"
"Sorry, I was lost in thought."
"Fernando, Antonio, Miguel, and myself are going to make the trip because we are the only ones who have someone to look after the lands while we are gone. The governor is the only one who can bring up charges for these higher taxes."
"But Zorro - "
"Yes, Zorro will come and change the alcalde's mind, but this is different."
Alejandro smiled. "You'll see."
Diego had a bad feeling about his father's plan. He decided he would try to get the information from him on the ride home.
Victoria walked over with a pitcher, ready to refill Diego's drink. He always wondered how she knew when he was ready for another drink. Yet before she began, the tavern door opened and a vaquero, Roberto Martinez, rushed in. His eyes were wide as he looked around. He breathed heavily. Everyone fell silent, waiting.
"Sergeant Mendoza," he said at last. "He's dead!"
The pitcher slipped from Victoria's grip. The room remained silent before breaking into a cacophony of sound. People rushed Roberto, all asking questions.
"Quiet," Alejandro shouted.
Once again the room fell silent.
"Roberto," Alejandro addressed the young man. "Please, tell us what happened."
"I was coming into the pueblo when I heard shots. I turned my horse to the noise and saw the alcalde and Sergeant Mendoza riding as fast as they could. There were men chasing them, but I couldn’t tell who they were."
"Bandits?" someone asked.
Roberto shook his head. "I don't think so, it looked more like Indians, but I can't be sure. They were shooting at the alcalde and sergeant. Then I saw Sergeant Mendoza fall from his horse."
"Why didn't the alcalde go back for him?"
"Because he's a coward!"
The room broke into a bombardment of questions and accusations. Roberto raised his voice above the noise.
"The sergeant and alcalde had no weapons. They were powerless."
The room clamed down again and Roberto continued.
"They rode past the sergeant and once they were gone, I rode out to him. He was badly hurt and when I tried to help him, he stopped me. He told me he was going to die and there was nothing I could do for him. Then he died."
The room was quiet then Diego spoke up.
"Did he say where they ere going or what they were doing?"
"Sorry, Don Diego, there was not much time to find out."
"Do you know where the alcalde is?" someone asked.
"No, I haven't seen him since."
Diego walked up to Roberto and put his hand on the young man's shoulder. "We'd better tell someone in the garrison so they can retrieve the body."
"I'll go with you, son," Alejandro cut in.
Diego motioned Felipe to follow them and Roberto. All four walked to the alcalde's office and told a corporal the grim news. The corporal immediately got a wagon and six lancers ready.
"Where did this take place?" the corporal asked once the wagon pulled up.
"On the pass to the San Gabriel mission," Roberto told him.
Diego lifted his eyebrows. More and more questions were being raised.
"Maybe we should return to the tavern," Diego suggested.
"Yes, we will wait until they return with Sergeant Mendoza's body," Alejandro agreed.
When they walked back into the tavern, people started crowding Roberto. Victoria shooed them away. She then led Roberto to the kitchen. Once he was inside she turned to the crowd.
"Everyone leave Roberto alone. He's been through enough as it is."
"We'll take him back home when we leave," Alejandro told her.
"Very well," Victoria looked at everyone sternly then started to tend to her customers.
Alejandro went to talk to the dons again. Diego knew he should join them, but he also wanted to talk to Roberto. He looked at the kitchen and thought about heading in that direction when Victoria showed up with a pitcher.
"Oh, no, you don't," she warned.
Diego lifted his arms in protest, but said nothing. He knew better than to argue with Victoria. He settled down at the table and poured his thoughts into his lemonade. He wanted to break away and talk with Felipe. Perhaps Felipe could help him figure out this puzzle. He looked around and wondered if he should risk sneaking out with Felipe, but decided against it. He would just have to wait until they got back home.
The time seemed to pass slowly, then someone ran into the tavern. The person didn't have to say anything; they already knew. Everyone got up and walked outside. The wagon was at the entrance to the pueblo. The corporal rode in front and two lancers rode on either side.
As the small procession passed through the pueblo, people started walking behind them. The wagon stopped at the garrison and the corporal rode to the front of the crowd.
"Today, Sergeant Mendoza gave his life in the line of duty. He will truly be missed by the military and the people of Los Angeles. His funeral will be in three days from today."
The corporal turned back to the wagon and saluted as did the other lancers. Some of the people crossed themselves while others had their rosaries and were running the beads through their hands. Diego started looking for Roberto and was surprised to find him right next to him. The young man just stared at the wagon. He couldn't imagine what was going through the young man's mind. The wagon pulled away and the crowd started to break up.
"Come, Roberto," Alejandro said. "We will take you home now."
"Gracias, Don Alejandro. It's hard to believe he's gone."
"I know," Alejandro put his arm around the young man and led him away.
As they traveled another route to Roberto's house, no one said anything. Each person was lost in his own thoughts. When they arrived at the house, Diego noticed it was quiet.
"Where's Maria?" Diego asked.
"She's with her mother," Roberto replied. "Her mother has been very sick lately; she's gone to take care of her until she's better."
"I suppose I'll have to tell her what happened when she returns." Roberto shook his head, then dismounted.
"If you need anything, don't hesitate to come to us," Alejandro told him.
Roberto nodded as he lead his horse to the stable. The three turned their horses towards the hacienda. The trip was slower than Diego would have liked. He was eager to see where the alcalde and sergeant were attacked. The hacienda finally rose into view after what seemed like an eternity. They rode up and servants quickly took the horses.
"I'd like to be alone for a while," Alejandro said.
"Of course father," Diego replied. "I'll take care of everything here."
Diego explained to the servants what happened and gave orders that his father was not to be disturbed unless it was urgent. Once the servants left, Diego walked to mantle and pressed the hidden button. Felipe went in first and Diego followed.
"It's very strange," he told Felipe once they were inside. "Ramone seemed so unconcerned about Zorro. And I kept asking myself where could they be going?"
Felipe shrugged his shoulders then signed a suggestion.
"To meet someone?"
"But who? And why the San Gabriel mission? More importantly, who attacked them? The Indians have always been peaceful."
Felipe shook his head.
"So many questions, so few answers. Perhaps we need some help."
Felipe grinned and nodded.
Zorro rode as fast as he could to the San Gabriel mission. He needed to hurry while he still had sunlight. As it stood now, he had maybe an hour before the sun would set and his search for clues would be futile.
He rode until he found the spot where he thought the attack took place. The ground was littered with hoof prints. He raced Tornado in the direction of the tracks. They had chased the alcalde for several miles, then the tracks stopped.
Zorro slowed Tornado. He studied the ground carefully. Apparently they had caught up with the alcalde and forced him down. Zorro looked more closely at the ground. What he saw did not make sense.
"Boots?" he thought aloud. "Indians don't wear boots."
"How right you are," a voice said from behind.
Zorro turned around, his hand on the hilt of his sword. He saw Ramone leaning against the tree, holding his side.
"They left me for dead," Ramone laughed. "But it will take more than a mere sword wound to kill me."
Ramone stumbled forward and Zorro caught him.
"Don't save me, Zorro. I couldn't live with myself if you did. But if you insist on saving anyone in the Ramone family, then save - "
"Save who?" Zorro asked. But it was too late, Ramone had fainted.
Zorro looked around trying to determine where they were. He recognized the road and remembered there were some houses close by. He placed the alcalde carefully on Tornado and lead Tornado in the direction of the houses.
He let out a sigh of relief when the first one came into view and he saw a light inside. He knocked on the door and a woman answered.
"The alcalde has been hurt. Please, can we come in?"
The woman seemed to hesitate, but then she stepped aside. "Yes, come in."
Zorro rushed into the small house and looked for a place to put him.
"Over there," she pointed to a pile of hay.
Zorro placed him on the pile and examined the wound.
"How is he?" the woman asked.
"The cut's not deep, but the exposure to the heat has weakened him. He'll live."
"Too bad for you," Ramone said weakly.
"As much as we are enemies, I do not wish you dead."
"I said earlier - "
"Yes," Zorro replied. "You said not to save you, but someone else. Who?"
"Surprised?" Ramone asked.
"You never mentioned a sister." Zorro answered.
"I never mentioned a brother. You never knew Vincente until he came to Los Angeles."
Zorro knitted his eyebrows. "Your sister is here?"
"Yes, she's here and I'm worried about her." Ramone took a deep breath. "I know we are enemies and there is no reason for you to help me, but I'm asking you to help her for her sake."
"You know I will."
"Don't think for one moment that if you help one Ramone all Ramones are indebted to you. I'll kill you the first chance I get."
"I expect nothing less." Zorro's brows knitted again. "Do you have anything your sister gave you?"
"What?" Ramone looked at Zorro, but his hand went to his waist pocket.
Zorro grabbed the alcalde's hands and pulled out a pocket watch.
"Rosalie gave that to me!" An enraged alcalde told him.
The alcalde nodded.
"Bueno," Zorro placed the watch in his sash. "She'll recognize it when I show it to her. Don't give me that look. If I know you, you've told her how bad I am and she won't come with me. Am I correct?"
Ramone nodded, but didn't look happy.
"How did you find me? Did Sergeant Mendoza make it back to the garrison?"
"No. Sergeant Mendoza is dead."
Ramone became quiet. "I'm truly sorry to hear this. You don't believe me?"
"I didn't say that."
"You didn't have to. Even with your mask, I can see your skepticism. I don't blame you. To everyone in the pueblo, I'm a cold-hearted alcalde who cares for nothing but himself, money, and power. Not always in that order. I won't deny it. I'm cruel. I truly don't care what happens to the people in the pueblo, least of all you. But the soldiers are my responsibility. Though Sergeant Mendoza did a lot of things which warranted a court-martial, he did not deserve death. Of all the lancers I ever had, he was the most loyal. Why would I wish him dead?"
"You have a point. Do you know who was chasing after you? We thought they might be Indians."
"No. They were Americanos. They were dressed like Indians. I didn't know they weren't Indians until they had me cornered."
"Did they say what they wanted?"
"No," Ramone took a deep breath. "Zorro, please save my sister!"
Zorro stood back a little. "Your sister means a lot to you."
"Yes, now please go after her."
Zorro ran out of the house, mounted Tornado, and sped off towards the mission. As he rode he thought about what Ramone told him. He was eager to tell Felipe and see what Felipe would say about the whole thing. He reached the mission and found a light on inside. He dismounted and rushed into the church. From the doorway he could see a woman at the altar.
"Rosalie?" Zorro asked.
The woman turned around and Zorro was stunned into silence. She had long blonde hair and bright blue eyes.
"Yes?" she looked around. "Who's there? Padre?"
"No," Zorro stepped out of the shadows. "I'm Zorro."
Rosalie gasped and took a step back.
"Zorro?" she whispered. Then her eyes narrowed. "My brother has written to me about you."
"I'm sure he has and he told you we are enemies."
"It's true we are enemies, but I'm here to help you."
"And why should I believe you?"
Zorro held up Ramone's watch. Rosalie looked at the watch Zorro swung in his hand.
"Luis?" she looked worriedly at Zorro.
"Your brother is fine, but he's been wounded."
"We must go to him then," Rosalie walked up to Zorro. "Please, take me to my brother."
"Of course," Zorro said, a little surprised by her compliance.
He led her to Tornado and she mounted without his help. Once he was behind her, he turned Tornado to the house.
"How badly is he wounded?" she asked once they were on their way.
"He's been stabbed with a sword. It's a small wound and the heat has gotten to him, but he'll live."
"When did this happen?"
"Late this morning."
"This - morning?"
"I believe so, I wasn't there when it happened."
"Then why are you coming for me now?"
"I didn't know you were here until I found your brother. He was attacked by Americaños pretending to be Indians. Did you notice anything different today?"
"No. Then again I just arrived late last night. Once I woke up, I sent a letter to my brother announcing my arrival."
"Hmm. Where was Padre José?"
"He heard a noise and stepped out to investigate. I thought you were him when you came in."
Zorro wanted to ask her more questions, but the house came into view and decided it could wait. As soon as he stopped Tornado, he dismounted and helped Rosalie down. They walked to the door and the woman opened it.
"Zorro," she stepped aside. "I'm glad you're here. He's being very unreasonable."
Rosalie pushed passed the woman and scanned the room. She let out a sigh of relief when she saw Ramone lying in the hay.
"Luis!" she cried out as she ran to him and embraced him.
Ramone opened his eyes and looked relieved to be held by his sister.
"What have you been up to?" she asked when she pulled away.
"I was coming to get you when I was - "
"Ambushed!" She gave him a stern look, then shook her head. "Of all mama's children, you gave her the hardest time. The problem with you is you act before you think. I told you in my letter I would be there the next day. Why didn't you wait for me?"
"Well, I was just - so eager to see you again," Ramone answered.
"Luis, I know you love me, but sometimes you're a little overprotective. Now see what it's gotten you," she sat down beside him. "I'm not a little girl, Luis, I can take care of myself." She looked at his wound. "And you, too." She turned to Zorro and the woman. "I must thank you for saving my brother and for bringing me to him."
"De nada, Señorita Ramone," Zorro bowed.
"Of course. My house is your house," the woman replied.
"Luis, aren't you going to thank Zorro?" she eyed her brother.
"Yes," Ramone looked at Zorro then took a deep breath. "You have my tha- tha- grat-ti-tude."
Zorro smiled. How often did a person get a thank you from the alcalde?
"But this changes nothing," the alcalde warned.
"Of course," Zorro bowed again, then headed for the door.
He mounted Tornado and turned him back to the mission. He didn't really want to go back, Tornado was showing signs that he was getting tired. Yet the trip was necessary.
As Tornado headed back to the mission, Zorro noticed there was hardly any light which would make searching for clues difficult. The stars were extremely bright, but they still didn't give enough light to suit his purpose. But he didn't notice a star streaking across the horizon.
He pulled up once more to the mission. The light was still on and he hoped he would find Padre José inside.
"Who's there? Rosalie, is that you?"
Zorro heard the voice as he dismounted.
"No, padre, it's me, Zorro."
"Thank the saints. Have you seen a young woman - "
Padre José nodded.
"Yes, I took her to her brother a little while ago. Luis has been injured."
"Madre de Dios," the padre crossed himself. "He is all right?"
"Yes, so is Rosalie. But I'm afraid Sergeant Mendoza died this morning."
Padre José crossed himself. "I'm sorry to hear that. But I'm thankful Señorita Ramone is well. I was worried when I came back and found the señorita gone."
"When I told her about her brother, she was anxious to see him. I should have looked for you first. I'm sorry I worried you."
"Quite all right, as long as I know she is safe."
"Padre, the alcalde was attacked by Americaños pretending to be Indians. Have you noticed anything unusual today?"
"No," the padre put his hand on his chin. "I haven't noticed anything different. But I'll be sure to keep my eyes opened."
"Gracias," Zorro mounted Tornado. "One more thing. Rosalie said she arrived late last night."
"Yes, she did."
"She sent word to her brother she would arrive the next day. Do you know why she didn't go to her brother today?"
"I don't know. She didn't mention going to Los Angeles, she was going to stay here a few days before continuing her trip."
"Trip to where?"
"Sorry, Zorro, she didn't say."
"Hmm. Did she go anywhere today?"
"Yes, she left for a few hours this morning. But I didn't ask where she went. She's very quiet and didn't seem to want to talk about her journey."
"Very well. Again, gracias."
Zorro led Tornado away from the mission. He decided to keep Tornado at a slow walk, the trip had been rough on the horse and he needed to cool down. He wanted to follow the track of the attackers, but the lack of light would make it next to impossible. He would have to wait until tomorrow before he could come out here and investigate.
It was a while before he came upon the cave and led Tornado inside. He found Felipe asleep in the lab. He gently tapped the young boy and Felipe jumped out of the chair.
"Things must have been quiet while I was away," Zorro said.
Felipe nodded as he rubbed his eyes.
"There have been many mysterious events taking place outside the hacienda," Diego said as he pulled off his mask.
Felipe walked over to Tornado and started taking off the saddle and brushing the horse down. While Felipe took care of Tornado, Diego told Felipe what happened during his ride. When he finished, Felipe looked as confused as Diego.
"So many questions, so few answers," Deigo said and Felipe nodded. "We had better get to sleep, today has been a long and eventful day. But there is one good thing about it."
Felipe looked at him questioningly.
"Today's over," Diego explained. "Once the day is over, you know tomorrow will be a brand new day. Come, let's go to bed."
Felipe went to his room leaving Diego with his thoughts. He sighed as he got into bed. While he drifted off, he suddenly remembered he forgot to find out his father's plans. Tomorrow, he thought, I'll find out everything tomorrow.