As Felipe took the reins, the masked man jumped down. "Pablo is safe," he announced.
Allison leaned against the wall, weak with relief. She exhaled a long, slow breath. Todd grinned broadly.
"The alcalde was going to hang him and several other farmers," Zorro explained, as he took off his hat and untied his mask. "Fortunately, Zorro was able to persuade him to change his mind, and to let them go free. My father paid the cattle tax for every farmer, so the alcalde has no excuse to arrest them, now. Furthermore, he’s rescinded that tax."
"I’m so glad," Todd said. Felipe and Allison nodded agreement.
When Don Diego had changed clothes, the children grabbed their backpacks and followed Diego and Felipe into the library. "I wish you could have a good alcalde," Allison said.
Don Diego sighed. "I wish we could, too." He glanced back at the cave. "I hope and pray that, one day, we will. For the sake of the poor farmers, especially; they suffer the most when the alcalde levies a new tax. Their lives are hard enough without that." Silently, Allison agreed. She and Todd had seen for themselves how hard a farmer’s life was.
The front door clicked open and slammed shut. Don Alejandro shouted, "Diego!"
"In the library, Father!" Don Diego called out.
Don Alejandro stormed into the room, his face frozen with outrage. "The nerve of the alcalde!" He shook his fist. "No sooner did he rescind the cattle tax then he ordered the rest of the mission Indians taken as slave labor! Even the children!" A vein pulsated in his neck. "He says he’s going to show this pueblo who’s in charge, one way or another."
Don Diego, Felipe, and the children stared at him in shock. "Do you have any idea where the soldiers have taken them?" Don Diego asked.
Don Alejandro shook his head, his lips pursed into a hard line. "No one does. The alcalde has hidden them to prevent Zorro from finding them. He was furious at Zorro for freeing the farmers and forcing him to rescind the cattle tax—that’s why he did it."
A heavy silence reigned for a few minutes. No one spoke.
Don Alejandro looked at Todd and Allison. "And that’s not all. The alcalde is still determined to find the americano children. If I were you, Diego, I’d disguise Todd and Allison so the alcalde and his soldiers won’t recognize them. As long as they wear those clothes, they’re in mortal danger of being spotted and recognized."
Don Diego looked at Todd and Allison, and nodded. "I will, Father."
Don Alejandro stormed out of the library. Don Diego looked grim. "Zorro is going to find and rescue the mission Indians."
Todd scowled and clenched his fists. Allison curled her hands into tight balls. She felt so angry. The alcalde was the meanest man in the whole world!
"Poor Rosita!" Allison moaned. "Poor Elena!" She sighed. "I played with them, just three days ago. Why did the alcalde have to take them?" In response, Don Diego patted her shoulder and sighed.
"Is Don Alejandro always so concerned?" Todd asked.
Don Diego nodded. "My father cares about people."
"You do, too, don’t you?" Todd asked. "You and Don Alejandro sure are good. You’re so kind."
Don Diego smiled and squeezed Todd’s shoulder. "Gracias, amigo."
"What does ‘gracias, amigo’ mean?" Allison tilted her head.
"It means ‘thank you, friend.’"
Allison nodded. "Can we help, Don Diego?"
Don Diego gazed at her, then at Todd. "Zorro also means to keep you children safe from the alcalde. That’s my first priority."
"The alcalde can’t find us if you disguise us," Todd said. "I want to help, too."
"I want to help Elena and Rosita," Allison said.
Todd frowned. "Why is the alcalde so mean? Why does he want to hurt people?"
Don Diego sighed. "The alcalde wants two things more than anything else: money and power. He wants to have all the nice things money can buy, and he wants complete, total control of everyone in the pueblo. He has no scruples about inflicting harm on innocent people if he can achieve his goals by doing so. Whether it means taxing the poor farmers into complete destitution, or enslaving Indians."
"How can we stop him?" Allison ran her fingers through her hair.
Don Diego ruffled her hair. "The first thing to do is to find out where the alcalde’s keeping the mission Indians. Felipe and I must make a trip into town to do that."
"Can we go, too?" Todd asked.
Don Diego paused to think. "I don’t really think it’s safe to take you to town," he said. "But if the alcalde sends the soldiers out to search the haciendas for you again, neither will it be safe to leave you alone here." He paused to think some more.
"All right," he said, at last. "But we’re going to have to disguise you, first. If the alcalde or his soldiers recognize you children, you’ll be arrested and thrown back into jail. Felipe, I want you to borrow some clothes from the other servants for Todd and Allison."
Felipe nodded and left the room. "What are we going to wear?" Allison asked.
"You’re going to dress as the children at the mission do." Don Diego frowned and leaned toward her. "Allison, what is that you’re wearing on the side of your head?"
"This?" Allison reached up and fingered her hair clip. "It’s a barrette. A hair clip."
"Well, give it to me, for now. Nobody else here wears such things. And while you’re at it, give me your timepiece and necklace." Allison removed her Mickey Mouse watch and her necklace, unfastened her barrette, and gave them to Don Diego.
Felipe returned with some peasant outfits. Don Diego took the children to a couple of guestrooms. In one of them, Allison laid her backpack on the bed, then put on a dress that consisted of a blue cotton blouse and a bright-red woolen skirt. She slipped a pair of woven leather sandals onto her feet and draped a yellow woolen shawl around her shoulders.
She unzipped her backpack and removed the doll Padre Benitez had given her, then stepped out into the hallway. A minute later, Todd joined her. He had on a soft white cotton shirt, a pair of white cotton trousers, a light-brown woolen sash, a pair of sandals, a dark-brown poncho, and a light-brown straw sombrero. He held his Walkman in his right hand.
Don Diego smiled at the Walkman and shook his head. "Todd, I’m not sure I should let you take that contraption to town. No one in Los Angeles has ever seen one of those things."
"I’m not taking it to show people," Todd said. "I’m taking it to help Felipe spy on the alcalde. This is a Walkman tape recorder, and it records sounds. Listen!"
He pressed the play button, and said, "Hi, Don Diego."
"Hola, Todd," Don Diego replied.
Todd pushed the stop button and rewound the tape. He pushed the play button again. Todd’s voice said, "Hi, Don Diego."
"Hola, Todd," Don Diego’s voice answered.
Don Diego and Felipe gaped at the Walkman. "Well," Don Diego finally said, "your age is destined to be filled with marvels; that, I can see. If you’ll keep the Walkman well-hidden under your poncho, we’ll see what use we can put it to."
He glanced at his shiny gold pocket watch. "Now, it’s time to go. Felipe, get the carriage and meet us out in front."
Minutes later, Don Diego, Felipe, and the children were on their way to Los Angeles.
"It’s been almost six days," Allison said. "What if we never get back?" She squirmed at the thought.
Don Diego put his arm around her shoulders. "Let’s not borrow trouble, all right?" he advised her. "Let’s just concentrate on the work that lies ahead. When the weather conditions are right, Felipe and I will take you back to the time cave. That’s a promise."
"What day is it?" Todd squirmed.
"Friday. June 19."
When the carriage pulled up in front of the tavern, Don Diego said, "Children, Felipe, stay in the carriage till I return." He climbed out of the carriage and entered the tavern. A moment later, he returned to the carriage.
"I’ve told Senorita Escalante you’re here, and she’s agreed to keep your secret." Don Diego opened the carriage door, and the children stepped out. "Felipe, you go to the alcalde’s office and see what you can find out. The children and I will wait for you in the tavern."
"Wait! Here’s my Walkman." Todd handed Felipe the cassette recorder and turned to Don Diego. "Can I go with him?"
Don Diego shook his head. "That would be too dangerous, Todd. The soldiers would probably recognize you if they saw you up close. You’ve already helped a great deal, loaning Felipe your Walkman. You stay with Allison and me."
Don Diego took the children inside. Victoria took them to a table in the back corner. "Lemonade for Felipe, the children, and myself," Don Diego said. Victoria nodded and winked at the children.
While Don Diego and the children waited for Felipe, they drank their cold lemonade. Don Diego sipped his, and the children took bigger gulps. As they did, Todd and Allison looked around. A flight of wooden stairs led to the second floor, which consisted of a fenced-in ledge. Doors lined the wall on the other side of the ledge. On the right wall on the first floor stood a doorway over which a blanket hung, and a bar.
Gentlemen and peasants sat everywhere, eating, drinking, and talking. Two caballeros sat at one table, playing chess; four others sat at another table, playing a card game. Two waitresses moved from table to table, serving drinks and food.
"This tavern is also used as an inn," Don Diego explained. "Travelers sleep in those rooms upstairs."
Before long, Felipe joined Don Diego and the children.
"Did you get the information we need?" Don Diego asked him in a low voice. He nodded.
"Good. Have a glass of lemonade, then we’ll return to the hacienda."
A half-hour later, at the hacienda, Felipe played the cassette for Don Diego and the children. "Sergeant Mendoza, you go back to Red Rock Canyon and make sure the Indians stay there," the alcalde’s hard voice said. "No Indian is to leave until I have the new copper mine dug. I’m putting you in personal charge until further notice."
"Si, mi alcalde," Sergeant Mendoza’s voice answered. "What about the children?"
‘The women and children will serve as water carriers and lug away the mounds of dirt the men dig up. Any Indian who slacks on the job is to be flogged!"
"Si, mi alcalde." The sergeant sounded sad.
"How dare Zorro interfere with my cattle tax?" The alcalde sounded furious. "Who’s in charge of this pueblo, anyway—that masked bandit or me?! Well, I am, and it’s high time he understood that! That fox has interfered with me for the last time! Until further notice, every mission Indian will work for me, not the padre!"
Felipe turned off the cassette recorder and handed it to Todd. With a sigh, Don Diego trudged toward the library and gazed out the window.
"Red Rock Canyon adjoins the one Zorro’s cave is located in," he said, at last.
"What’s ‘adjoin’?" Allison tilted her head.
"It means, the canyon is next to ours." Don Diego frowned and shook his head. "And I wish it wasn’t; it’s much too close for comfort. Unless we can come up with a diversion, chances are the soldiers will track Zorro back to his cave." He sighed. "Somehow, I must rescue the mission Indians, lure the soldiers in the opposite direction, and still make it back to the cave."
He turned back to the children. "Amigos, will you do me a favor? Bring your backpacks to the cave and empty them out. I want to see your contraptions."
The children darted to the guestrooms and snatched their backpacks. A few minutes later, as Don Diego and Felipe watched, Todd and Allison laid their backpacks on the desk in the lab, unzipped them, and removed their toys, one by one. Felipe picked up each toy and gazed at it, open-mouthed.
As the children held up their toys, they described their functions. "This is my popgun," Todd explained. "It’s just a toy gun, but it makes a loud noise." He pulled the trigger; a loud pop! Made Felipe jump. Don Diego automatically took a step back, then chuckled.
"This is a walkie-talkie." Allison held hers up. "Todd has one just like it."
Todd took out his walkie-talkie, then he and Allison switched them on. "Go in the tunnel, Allison," he directed.
Allison raced to the secret passage, and darted around the corner into the tunnel. She leaned against the cold, bumpy cave wall and held her walkie-talkie up to her mouth. "Todd, where are you?" she asked.
"I’m right here with Don Diego." Todd’s voice came out of the walkie-talkie. "Felipe’s got his mouth wide open!" Allison giggled.
She switched her walkie-talkie off and returned to the lab. "Watch this!" As Don Diego and Felipe gazed over her shoulder, Allison removed her CD player and inserted a compact disc. She handed the player to Don Diego and slipped the headphones over his head. She pressed the play button.
For the next five minutes, Don Diego listened to the music, a stunned expression on his face. He then handed the headphones to Felipe, who listened, open-mouthed.
At last, Felipe handed the CD player back to Allison, who turned it off and slipped it into her backpack. Don Diego shook his head. "Your age will certainly have some most interesting marvels. I feel privileged to have been given a foretaste of some of them." He gazed at Felipe, who nodded agreement. "And what is that book, Allison?"
"The Babysitters’ Club. Kristy’s Great Idea." Allison grinned. "It’s a neat book. I love it!"
"And what’s it about?"
"It’s about these girls who like to babysit," Allison explained. "They get together and form this club, so if anyone wants a babysitter, they can call them—on a phone—and get one."
"That’s just stupid girl stuff," Todd scoffed. "See what I’ve got, Felipe! Don Diego!"
Todd handed Felipe his Batman and Robin comic books. For the next several minutes, as Todd watched, Don Diego and Felipe read them carefully. Frequently, they paused to ask Todd to explain some word or action they couldn’t comprehend. Todd did his best to explain in terms they would understand.
At last, Felipe handed the comic books back to Todd, who stuffed them into his backpack. "Your comic books are most interesting, amigo, but unfortunately, they are no use to Zorro." Don Diego sighed. "We have neither the knowledge nor the gadgets your Batman has access to, nor do we know how to use the devices in your backpacks. If Zorro is to rescue the mission Indians, he must rely on the knowledge and devices he already has."
He paused to think. Felipe rubbed his left arm and fidgeted. Allison leaned against the desk; Todd pressed his finger on the desk and rubbed it.
"Hey, I know how we can divert the soldiers!" Todd hopped on one foot.
"You have an idea?" Don Diego sat down at one of the long tables.
Todd grinned. "You don’t have that knowledge, but I do! A little, anyway. We will use the stuff Allison and I brought. We’ll use them for you and Felipe, Allison and me; we know how."
He began to outline a plan. Allison, Don Diego, and Felipe listened attentively as he spoke.
When the group had formed and refined the plan, Don Diego led the way into the library. The children lugged their backpacks back to their rooms. Don Diego and Felipe then took the children on a tour of the ranch and introduced them to some of the ranch hands.
At one point, Don Diego and Felipe gave the children horseback rides. They led the horses’ reins while the children clutched the saddlehorns. Then the children and Felipe went to Felipe’s room and played with his toys. All the while, Todd hoped they could find and rescue the mission Indians.
That evening, following supper—which the de la Vegas called dinner—they met with their servants in the family chapel for evening devotions. Don Alejandro read aloud 1 Corinthians 13, first in Spanish and then in English, so the children could understand. The aged don then led the household in praying the rosary. Todd and Allison silently prayed directly to God.
After devotions, Don Diego gave Todd a chess lesson in the library. Todd, who had never played chess before, listened attentively as Don Diego explained to him some basic chess moves.
In the drawing room, Don Alejandro held Allison in his lap and told her a story about an event of his boyhood. As Todd awaited his turns at the chessboard, he half-listened to the story.
Suddenly, Felipe entered the library with a light-brown Chihuahua puppy wriggling in his arms. "0hhh!" Todd cried, sitting up straight. "A puppy!"
Don Alejandro and Allison entered the library as Felipe pointed at the puppy, then at Todd and Allison.
Don Diego smiled. "I have no objection to your giving the puppy to the children, Felipe. Along with the toys the padre gave them, the puppy will make a nice souvenir of their stay here."
Felipe handed the squirming puppy to Allison, who cuddled it against her chest. She then held it above her head for a second. "It’s a girl." She giggled as the puppy licked her cheek. "How old is she?"
"The puppy is six weeks old," Don Alejandro told her. He hugged Allison to his side, chucked the puppy under the chin, and smiled at Todd. "You are fine children, and I’m so glad we’ve gotten to know you. I’m certainly going to miss you when you go." Todd and Allison grinned at him.
Don Diego glanced at his pocket watch. "All right, children, we’ve got much to do in the morning, so I want you to get a good night’s sleep, now. You, too, Felipe."
"Yes, sir." Todd stood up. "Good night, Don Diego. Good night, Don Alejandro. Good night, Felipe."
The de la Vegas hugged the children good-night, and Don Diego kissed Allison on the forehead. "Will you tuck me in and hear my prayers?" Allison asked.
Don Diego smiled at her. "Certainly."
"I’ll hear Todd and Felipe’s prayers." Don Alejandro laid his hand on Todd’s shoulder and led him toward his guestroom. Felipe trotted on ahead toward his own room.
After Todd had put on a white cotton nightshirt and had said his bedtime prayers, Don Alejandro hugged him good night again, and left the room. Todd hugged the puppy, which licked Todd on the face. "We’re going to help the Indians," Todd whispered. "And then we’re going back to 1998. And you’re going with us." The puppy licked Todd’s chin in response.
Todd wiggled onto his back. For a while, as he snuggled between the shiny, smooth, snow-white silk sheets, he thought about the events of the last few days. He thought about the fear Allison had expressed of being stuck in 1820 forever.
The puppy licked Todd’s right cheek. Todd smiled and hugged the puppy. Nice puppy! He thought.
A moment later, Todd frowned. "What if Allison’s right?" he whispered to the puppy. "What if we can never go back? And what if the alcalde finds us?" A knot formed in Todd’s stomach at the thought. As if to comfort him, the puppy licked Todd’s cheek again.
Todd thought back to the moment his dad had said good-bye to him and Allison at the Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City. Allison had snuffled as her father held her tightly. Todd had not been far from tears, himself.
"I don’t want to go! I don’t want to go!" Allison had clung to her father, as tears had streamed down her face. "What if we never see Mom again? What if she dies?"
Her father had knelt in front of her and wiped the tears off her face. "Sweetie, listen to me. Both of you." Mr. Bennett had cleared his throat. "Your mom is going to be just fine! She needs to rest in the hospital so she can get better, that’s all. And you two need to stay with someone who can take care of you while I take of your mother."
He had hugged Allison tightly and ruffled Todd’s light-brown bangs, just as their flight was announced over the intercom. "Time to go. Mustn’t keep Aunt Alice and Uncle Ted waiting."
Todd shivered as he remembered that moment. He pulled up the bright-blue satin bedspread up around his chin. What if he and Allison never did see their mother or their father again, as Allison had feared? Or Aunt Alice and Uncle Ted, either? What if the children were stuck in the 1800s forever? Their folks would be so worried about them; their grief might make them sick!