A loud crash woke Diego from a deep sleep.
Diego sat straight up.
Father? he wondered. He checked himself and found he was the same as the day before.
He ran downstairs and saw the same sight which had been facing him five times.
"Look who's up," Don Alejandro huffed. "It's about time you got out of bed."
"I'm sorry I overslept, father, but yesterday was a busy day."
"And today will be just as busy. Do you know what this is?"
"It's - taxes. How did you know?"
"What else would the alcalde be sending."
"Yes. He even plans to tax the cattle we sell."
"I suppose you want to go to the pueblo to protest."
"Why not? This is an unfair tax. It needs to be contended."
"I agree, father, but shouldn't we - "
"What? Write letters? No, the alcalde needs to hear our protests now."
"What about Zorro?"
"What about him?"
"I'm sure when he gets wind of this, he'll see the alcalde."
"We can't rely on Zorro for everything. There comes a time when the citizens of Los Angeles speak for themselves. Today is that time."
"But, father, we need to look at this calmly."
"What has gotten into you?"
"You don't want to go to the pueblo to protest this unjust tax. You'd rather stay here and waste time with letters."
"Letters can't hurt and I would like to stay home. There's something important which I need to do."
Don Alejandro's eyes narrowed as he looked at his son.
"No!" he slammed his hand down.
Diego jumped and looked at Felipe. They both wore a look of surprise.
"No?" Diego asked.
"You are coming with me to the pueblo."
"But - "
"No buts. It's time you took an active role in the community."
"But I do. Writing - "
"Ha! Writing doesn't do us any good when action needs to be taken. You are coming to the pueblo. The least you can do is show your support. That's final."
"Yes, father," Diego answered.
But Don Alejandro left before Diego could say the words. Diego watched him go with wonder. Rarely had he seen his father this upset. He didn't dare risk arguing, but motioned to Felipe to get his jacket.
The ride to the pueblo was quiet, but the silence was strained. Diego took this moment to reflect on his father's outburst this morning. Is the stress on father beginning to take its toll? he wondered. I know he thinks I'm weak, but he's never acted like this before. Perhaps I should tell him I'm Zorro.
The gates of the pueblo finally came into view. A small crowd was lined up outside the alcalde's office.
I'll let everything happen as it did on the first day, Diego thought. Perhaps there was something I overlooked.
He silently watched the greeting by the dons and the exchange between his father and the alcalde. When the alcalde left, Diego slightly shrugged and motioned Felipe to the tavern. He noticed Felipe's questioning glance, but he'd have to explain it later.
He sat in what would be considered a bored stupor while the dons started talking. He was upset because he wanted to find out what the argument was between the alcalde and his sister. The next day, he reminded himself. Meanwhile, he'd sit back and take it easy. Then the conversation of the dons caught Diego's interest.
"That's what I've been told," Don Fernando was saying.
"You're sure?" Don Alejandro asked. "You have to be absolutely positive about this."
"Yes. Apparently, the alcalde's office was cleaned out months ago. They've already shipped most of it to him, but there were some old documents they somehow missed on the first shipping. They're on their way here as we speak."
"What kind of documents?" a don asked.
"I don't really know. My source wouldn't say, but it is incriminating."
"Incriminating wasn't the word my source used, but it's enough to cause suspicion in our alcalde."
"My source said I'd figure it out when I get the documents."
"Who is this source?" Don Alejandro asked.
"I can't tell you. I would get this person in serious trouble. As it stands now, this person has risked a great deal by telling me about these papers."
The other dons nodded.
"So once we get these documents, we can take them straight to the governor?" Don Alejandro asked.
"That's right," Don Fernando grinned. "But we have to get it now. If no one is there to meet the messenger this afternoon, the documents go straight to the alcalde's office."
"Where they'll be destroyed," Don Alejandro stated. "One of us will be there."
So that's what's going on, Diego thought.
"I volunteer," Diego said.
The table of dons looked at Diego in confusion and doubt.
"Son, this is a very serious matter," his father said.
"I know. I want to do this, father."
"Very well," Don Alejandro nodded, the look of confusion was quickly replaced by pride.
"You know where it is?" Don Fernando asked.
"Puente?" Diego leaned forward and whispered.
"I know it."
Puente was a bridge where smugglers often met since it's location offered privacy. It was far enough from Los Angeles to keep prying eyes away, but short enough so the distance was not too great for a ride. Those who had delicate papers being delivered to them also used this meeting point. Especially if such papers didn't go trough the regular mail route for fear of being lost or stolen.
"It's settled then," his father said. "Diego will pick up the documents. Tomorrow, Don Fernando, Don Antonio, Don Miguel, and I will go to see the governor."
Victoria walked up to the table with a pitcher in her hand.
"Allow me," Diego said, quietly took the pitcher from her.
But instead of pouring, Diego placed the pitcher on the table. Victoria looked at him questioningly, but before she had a chance to ask anything, Roberto came into the tavern. He made his announcement and Victoria turned pale. Diego caught her before she fell.
"Thank you," she whispered.
The moment she recovered, she rushed to Roberto to get the story. Diego sat back down and poured his lemonade. While he drank, he thought about the conversation of the dons. This sounded almost too good to be true. Now would be a good time to get them while they were dealing with Sergeant Mendoza's body.
He motioned for his father. After several attempts he finally got Don Alejandro's attention.
"I'm going to get the papers now."
"Very well," Don Alejandro nodded, but his eyes gleamed as his voice lowered. "I can't tell you how proud I am that you're doing this."
"You said I should take a more supportive role in the community."
"Yes, I did."
Diego motioned to Felipe and they quietly stole outside.
Once they were on the trail, he told Felipe of the past four days. Felipe shook his head in disbelief.
"How is it possible?" he signed.
"I don't know. I've been racking my head trying to figure it out. I was so sure it had to do with the pass to the San Gabriel Mission. Apparently that's not the case. I think it has something to do with Rosalie, yet Roberto and Maria keep entering the picture. What does it all mean?"
"There's the hand-off point. We'll discuss it when we're finished here."
They had reached the hand-off point for messengers. A messenger was already waiting for the rider. He watched them approach with curiosity.
"We have a package from Spain," Diego said and threw him a bag of coins.
The messenger hefted the bag in his hand and grinned. "So you do."
A rider rode up and looked at the three men.
"They have a package from Spain," Diego messenger told the rider.
The rider reached into his bag.
"It's for Alcalde Ramon," Diego said.
"Usually he sends a lancer or the sergeant," the rider stated.
"Sergeant Mendoza died today and the matter is too delicate for a lancer."
"Oh, sorry to hear about that. Here," he handed the packet to Diego.
They arrived at the hacienda before Don Alejandro. Diego checked the time and calculated where his father would be.
"We have some time to look at the documents," he told Felipe.
He opened the satchel and quickly scanned the papers inside it. When he finished, he placed the papers on the desk and put his head in his hands. Felipe tapped him on the shoulder.
"I don't quite understand it. It appears to be some kind of legal document. The only thing I got out of it what our alcalde did something for or with a Señora Margaret Montello. Don Fernando said he'd know what the papers are about. As soon as my father gets home, I'd like to go with him to Don Fernando's to discuss it."
Felipe signed a question.
"He should be home in a little while," Diego answered. "In the meantime, we can discuss the past four days in more detail. I need to find out what the Americaños are doing here and why they are attacking the pueblo and anyone riding on pass to the San Gabriel Mission. Sergeant Mendoza said they kept repeating the same word in battle: Revenge."
Felipe's eyes grew wide.
"But revenge for what?"
Felipe shrugged and shook his head.
"I don't know either. I really wanted to find out what the alcalde and his sister were arguing about. The next day I'll listen in."
"The day will repeat?" Felipe signed.
"I believe so. It has so far. Today is exactly like the first day, except for picking up the papers. It starts off the same." Diego rubbed his face. "The ending is what's different. The only thing I've been able to learn so far is the alcalde has a sister and there are Americaños pretending to be Indians. But I don't know why they're doing that, how long they've been here, what they want, or where they're hiding. I know it's on a reservation, but I keep losing their trail."
Felipe's eyes widened again. Diego nodded at the boy's expression.
"I run into several different paths they could take. When I did find their trail, it disappears under another trail. They know their way in the land, especially California."
Felipe's hands flew as he made a comment.
"Perhaps they've been here before?" Diego's brow furrowed. "That's very possible. Sergeant Mendoza said they were speaking in Spanish. I believe you're right. Padre Benitez might know, but he's not here. I wonder if Padre Jose would know anything about them."
Felipe made a sign.
"The Indians? Yes, they would know, I'm positive of it, but I'm not sure if they would tell me or Zorro anything. When I was at the reservation the other day, it seemed deserted, only Maria was there."
"Why?" signed Felipe.
"I'm not sure," Diego said after he thought about it. "Roberto keeps saying her mother fell ill and she's gone of to take care of her."
Felipe looked at Diego in disbelief and signed, "not true."
"What do you mean?"
"Maria's mother died a few years ago, while you were away in Spain," Felipe signed.
"Then why are they lying about it and why doesn't anyone else seem to recall her death?"
Felipe's hands moved in explanation. He had been helping Padre Benitez one morning when Maria came to him, crying. They stole across the garden out of earshot from anyone and talked.
"You were eavesdropping?" Diego asked.
Felipe blushed and slightly shrugged. He explained he had just learned how to read lips. He was curious as to why she was upset. Alcalde Ramon had just arrived and he was afraid the reason was him. Many people had been going to church about the new alcalde. But as soon as he found out it was about her mother's death, he turned away. Yet he had not "heard" any more about Maria's mother or a funeral.
"The Martinez's are poor people, so it must have been a quiet service," Diego said. "But why the secrecy?"
"Perhaps Zorro can help. Roberto seems reluctant to talk about it and he gets upset whenever someone mentions Maria."
Diego looked at the clock. "My father should have been here by now. What could be keeping him?"
He rang for service and Consuela answered.
"Has my father arrived?" Diego asked.
"Let me know as soon as he does."
Consuela left and Diego started pacing the floor. Images flashed as he wondered where his father was. He knew he wasn't at the tavern, he'd taken home Roberto. He was nowhere near the alcalde and the Americaños. But still what if the Americaños had changed tactics and were on the same road as his father. Diego couldn't bear the thought of losing his father again.
"Felipe, let's go," he said. "I want to find my father."
They started for the door, but Don Alejandro met them.
"Father," Diego embraced him. "Thank God your safe."
"What do you mean?"
"When you didn't show up, I started to worry."
"Worry about what?"
"Well, when you were late - "
"Late? Diego we had to pick up Sergeant Mendoza's body, then I took Roberto Martinez home."
"I know, but it shouldn't have taken you this long."
"You know? How could you have known?"
"It's what the de la Vegas do," Diego stated, hoping his adlib worked. "We care about the people in Los Angeles, do we not?"
"Yes, you're right."
"Uh, why were you late? It's not that far from Roberto's place."
"Did you know Maria left him?" Don Alejandro asked.
"What?" Diego's eyes went wide, but now certain things made sense. "They've been married for years."
"Did he say why?"
"Apparently they had a fight yesterday and Maria left him then. He thought she would come back in the morning. Yet she didn't and now he believes she's not coming back."
"I'm sure she will. Do you know what was the fight about?"
"He was so distraught, he wouldn't say."
"Perhaps I'll speak with him tonight."
"I don't think so, son. There are times when a man needs to be left alone."
"Yes, father. Oh, I got the documents."
"But I'm afraid I don't understand them."
"Hm. Let me see."
Diego retrieved the papers and handed them to Don Alejandro. Don Alejandro sat down to read them.
"I can't make sense of it either," he confessed, setting the papers down.
"Perhaps we should see Don Fernando," Diego suggested.
"I agree," Don Alejandro put the papers back in the satchel.
Don Fernando looked over the papers then set them down.
"Well?" Don Alejandro asked.
"I can't be sure, but it looks like Luis Ramon tried to extort money from Señora Margaret Montello."
"Then that's good for us," Don Alejandro exclaimed. "What better suspicion could we ask for than this?"
"Don Alejandro, let's not get too excited. I said it looks like it, but I'm not sure."
"But you did study law in Madrid?" Don Diego asked.
"Yes, a little," Don Fernando admitted. "I only studied enough to handle the affairs of my father's hacienda. He was having some legal problems then and I figured if I knew more about the law, I could help him."
"Yes, I remember those times," Don Alejandro said. "You did help; not only your father, but others as well."
"But, this" - he indicated the papers - " is more than what my education taught me."
"Would the magistrate know about this?" Don Diego asked.
"Yes, I believe he could explain exactly what this is," Don Fernando answered.
"Then let's go see him," Don Diego suggested, picking up the papers.
"I'm so sorry, but the magistrate left this morning for Santa Catalina."
"Santa Catalina?" Don Fernando asked the servant. "What business could he have in Santa Catalina?"
"I'm sorry, señor, he did not say. A messanger came early this morning and spoke with the magistrate. Then magistrate announced he was leaving."
Another dead end, Diego thought. What is it with this one day? It acts as though it doesn't want to end.
"Gracias," Don Fernando told the servant.
"Sí, señor," the servant bowed then closed the door.
"Now what?" Don Alejandro asked.
"I still say we see the governor about this," Don Fernando held up the satchel. "It does look incriminating."
"Agreed. I'll meet you and the other dons as we discuss earlier. Buenas noches."
"This is an interesting turn of events, Felipe," Diego said once they were in the cave. "Who called away the magistrate and why? I'll find out the next day. The only trick is going to be getting away from my father."
Felipe made a sign.
"No, he won't be going to see the governor tomorrow, because tomorrow doesn't come. Each day is a repeat of the first day and I don't know why. If I can find out what is causing the day to repeat, then I can end this. In the meantime - "
Diego started putting on the Zorro costume. Felipe asked a question.
"I'm going to find out what's wrong between Roberto and Maria. I've had a feeling something was bothering them. Maybe tonight I'll find out what the fight was about. Don't wait up for me."
Zorro approached the Martinez's hut cautiously. He heard noise from inside and tried to determine what was going on. He heard furniture breaking and decided to peek inside.
Roberto had just broken a chair and was looking at it. Anger clearly shown in his eyes, but Zorro knew anger masked a lot of feelings. He had to know which one Roberto was hiding. Roberto had picked up another chair when Zorro spoke.
"What's wrong, Roberto?"
Roberto turned around in surprise and dropped the chair. "Zorro?"
"Yes, I was passing by and heard the commotion. Is there something you'd like to talk about?"
Zorro looked around the small hut. "Where's Maria?"
"Maria!? What do you know about her?"
"I know she left you. Why?"
"What do you care?" Roberto shouted and stumbled backwards.
"Roberto - "
He lost his balance and fell in a heap on the floor. As Zorro approached him, he could hear Roberto sobbing.
"She's gone," came a muffled reply. "Who cares - "
"I care," Zorro said. "That's why I'm here."
"And that's why Maria left me."
"I don't understand."
"Neither do I."
"What happened between you two?" Zorro asked.
"Last night, Maria told me she was leaving to take care of one of the Indians."
"That's all she does when she has time. Why doesn't she stay here with me? She says she cares about the Indians, but does she care about me?"
"I'm sure she does."
"Then why doesn't she show it? Why does she go running off everytime one of the Indians has a cold? Don't I matter?"
"You asked her this?"
"Sí and she got upset. So I told her to choose between me and the Indians."
Zorro silently groaned. "What did she say?"
"She said, 'fine.' Then left. I was sure she would come back the next morning, she has before. But when she didn't show up by mid-morning, I knew she wouldn't come back."
"And you were going to go to the tavern to drown your sorrows?" Zorro asked.
Roberto nodded. "She doesn't love me anymore. Fifteen years of marriage and the love is gone."
"Do you still love Maria?"
"Sí, as much as the day we married," Roberto sighed.
"And did you tell her you love her?" Zorro asked.
"She should know I do; I'm her husband. Fifteen years, why do I have to tell her I love her?"
"Women need to hear it, just like you need to hear that you matter to her. I'm sure if you talk it out, things will be better."
"But how? She won't talk to me and I don't know where she is."
"Don't worry, I have an idea of where she might be."
"You would do this for me?" Roberto asked hopefully.
"Sí. love is one of the more nobler forces on earth. It would be an injustice to see two people throw it away on a misunderstanding."
"Gracias, Zorro. I don't know how I'll ever be able to repay you."
"Tell your wife you love her."
"If you can bring her back, I will tell her every day."
Zorro rode Tornado down the path of the first night. He slowed down once he hit the area where he found the alcalde. He listened a moment and heard a faint grown.
"Alcalde," Zorro parted some branches.
"Zorro! Get away from me. Let me die in peace."
"You're not going to die, at least not tonight. Let me hlep you up."
"I don't want your help - "
"Alcalde, you're not helping your wound by fighting me and it's easier to deal with you while you're still conscious."
The alcalde raised his hand to make a point then stopped. "You're right."
Zorro helped him to Tornado and they continued on the trail. He saw the village and went to the same door. Maria opened it up on the first knock.
"Señora Martinez, the alcalde has been injured. Can he rest here?"
She looked carefully at the alcalde before stepping aside. "Sí."
"Is he hurt badly?" she asked as he lead the alcalde to the straw bed.
"No, but the heat hasn't helped his cut. He'll need to rest here for the night."
"How did he get injured?" Maria asked.
"Americaños," the both said at once.
"How did you know?" the alcalde asked, looking at Zorro.
"It's a long story and one which you probably wouldn't believe anyway. But speaking of stories, perhaps you would like to tell me one of Señora Margaret Montello."
"I have nothing to say," the alcalde clenched his teeth.
"Very well, I'm sure I'll find the answer in time. Señora, I'd like to speak with you privately."
"Me? We can speak outside."
"I just spoke with Roberto," Zorro told her once they were alone.
"He wants you to come back to him."
"He can come and tell me himself," she crossed her arms and turned away from Zorro.
"He would but he doesn't know where you are."
"You found me. Tell him where I am and he can tell me what he has to say to me." She turned around and pointed to herself. "Other than that, I have nothing to say to him."
"You weren't even going to tell him 'good-bye' or tell him why you were leaving?"
Maria covered her face. "I - no."
"Why do you want to leave Roberto?"
"But you plan to."
"Oh, Zorro," she looked around and he could see she was holding back the tears. "I love him so much, but he doesn't understand me. Did he tell you we had a fight?"
"Did he say what it was about?"
"He said you went to help an Indian and he didn't want you to go."
"Sí. I was going to help someone because no one else will and - and Roberto got mad at me for it. He claimed the Indians mean more to me than he does. It's not true, but he is so jealous of my helping them. I couldn't take it this time and I left."
"How long have you been helping the Indians?"
"As long as I've been able to. When I was very young, my mother fell ill. I was unable to help her, I didn't know how and my father had died a few years before. We were alone; no one to help us. Then one day when an Indian came by our hut and heard my mother in pain. She came to see what the problem was and helped us. She would come to us everyday with herbs for my mother and some food. I never forgot her kindness. That's why I decided to learn from her; to get all the knowledge I could to help others in need."
"But Padre - "
"Zorro, the padre can't help these people. They don't want to live in the mission and no one will come out to see them. They're are too many for Dr. Hernandez to look after and the Spanish government wants no part of them. I'm doing what I can for them and my husband resents me for it."
"Have you tried to explain why you do this?"
"Many times, but he won't listen to me. So this time, I decided to stay with them."
"I'm sure Roberto will come around in a few weeks. He really does miss you."
"I'm sorry Zorro, a few weeks will be too late."
"What do you mean?"
"The Indians are leaving California this week."
"These Indians don't migrate."
"No, but there's a chance for a better life for them elsewhere and I'm going with them."
"But where? How?"
"It doesn't matter, Zorro. As much as it pains me, I'm leaving Roberto."
"But you love him."
"Sí, yet love isn't always enough. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll attend to the alcalde while I'm still here."
Zorro watched as Maria went back inside the hut. Today had been full of surprises, but he now felt he had a direction to go in. The next day many questions would have to be answered.