Author's notes:  This chapter contains several gratuitous scenes that really don't add anything more to the story but are some of my favorite scenes of the series.  The scenes between Zorro and Ramón in Ramón's office & the one between Diego and Victoria in the jail are especially my favorites.  And of course, Mendoza, the custard, and its aftereffects - totally hilarious, one of the funniest moments of the series.

"CADENAS DE AMOR"

CHAPTER TWELVE

"ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE"

[parts of the following scene taken from "Dead Men Tell No Tales" written by Philip John Taylor]

     It was nearly two hours later before Diego arrived in the pueblo with the basket of food for Victoria.  Sergeant Mendoza had stopped him at the cuartel gate and searched through the wicker hamper very thoroughly.

     Diego leaned nonchalantly against the large wooden door.  "Everything in order, Sergeant?" he asked sardonically.  "No files, no pistols?"

     "Ah, the custard looks mouth-watering, Señor," commented Mendoza, staring under the red gingham napkin.  Diego laughed.  Mendoza paid no attention to the other man's amusement.  "I'd better examine it further. There might be a weapon at the bottom." .

     He reached his hand into the basket and pulled out a large handful of the custard in question.  "No, nothing there," the soldier said after taking a bite of the custard.   He gave the basket back to Diego and led him inside the garrison, eating the custard as he walked.

     When Diego and the sergeant entered the jail, he handed the basket back to Mendoza and rushed over to the cell where Victoria was being held.

     "Señorita Escalante!" Diego called out.  It was heartbreaking to see her behind those iron bars.  She looked so young and scared.

     "Don Diego!" said Victoria as she rose up off the cot she had been sitting upon.

     "I brought you some food."  Diego indicated the basket that the portly soldier was holding as he unlocked the cell door.

     "And it is very tasty too," remarked Mendoza with his mouth full of the custard.

     Victoria snatched the basket away from him.  The sergeant closed the door, locking it once again.  Diego waited until Mendoza had departed before speaking.

     "Don't touch the custard," Diego warned as Victoria polished an apple from the basket on her skirt.  "It was make especially for the sergeant."

     She looked up at him oddly before taking a bite of the apple.

      "Why don't you tell me what happened this morning?" he asked after she had finished eating the apple.

      "You believe me, don't you," inquired Victoria worriedly.  "You and your father believe I didn't murder this Señor Morales."

     "Si," replied Diego fervently.  "I know you would never harm anyone, unless you were defending yourself."

      She glanced up at him again, her brown eyes full of gratitude.  "Gracias, Don Diego," she said.  Then Victoria's face became angry.  "Somebody needs to tell the Alcalde that.  He acts as though I killed his best friend."

      "What did happen?" Diego reiterated.  She had a point.  Why would Ramón be so upset by a stranger's death?

     "Well, it was very late last night," Victoria began her tale, "after midnight.  I was getting ready to go to bed when this man knocked on the door, asking for a room."

      Diego recalled the man he had seen riding late night when he had been observing the moon.  Were that man and the murder victim one and the same?  Had someone been chasing him?  Someone who had caught up with him at the tavern, stabbed him while everyone slept, and left the corpse for Victoria to find in the morning?

     He shook himself out of his thoughts as Victoria continued on with her story.  "He demanded breakfast at dawn.  So I had to get up earlier than normal to prepare it for him.  But when I knocked on his door this morning, he didn't answer.  So I went in and found him lying on the bed.  He had a big bl-blood stain on the front of his sh-shirt and there was a bl-bloody knife on the floor."

     "And you picked it up?" Diego inquired.

      She nodded.  "And that's when S-Sergeant Mendoza came bursting into the room and started screaming I had m-murdered the man."  Victoria shook her head before looking up at Diego.  "I didn't do it," she said again.  "But no one believes me except you."

     Diego saw the tears in her eyes threatening to spill down her lovely cheeks.   He could tell she wasn't trying to use them to gain his sympathy, like Zafira had done on so many occasions.  These were real tears of distress.

     "What did the man look like?" he queried, distracting himself from the desire to take her into his arms and comfort her.  He began to walk back and forth in front of her cell.  "Can you describe him?"

     "He was younger than your father, but he had gray in his hair.  He was very tall," stated Victoria thoughtfully.  "And very rude.  Oh, and he also had a mustache."

      Not much to go on, thought Diego as he continued to pace.  Stroking his chin, he said, "Whoever killed him certainly had a reason.  Find out exactly who this Morales was and you're closer to finding the real killer."

     He stopped in front of the cell and gazed down at Victoria.  "At least that's what my father believes," he added, not wanting her think that he was alone in helping her.

     "But how can it be done?" asked Victoria skeptically.

     "The dead man's belongings?" Diego inquired hopefully

     "The Alcalde impounded them at once," declared Victoria.   "They are locked away in his office."

     Diego looked over at the door that led to Ramón's office.  "Indeed," he said pensively.  Well, Zorro should be able to get a closer look at them tonight, he mused.

     Victoria's voice disrupted the plotting out of his plans for later that evening.  "Don Diego?"

     He turned his head to look at her.  The expression on her face was so pitiful, his heart filled with even more love and admiration for her.

     "Please help me," said Victoria pleadingly.

     "We'll do our best, Señorita," he said.  "I send Felipe by tomorrow with more food."

     "More food?" Victoria questioned archly.  "I need more than. . ."  She bit off whatever she had been about to say.  "Gracias, Don Diego," she said with icy politeness.  "You are too kind."

     His stomach churned as he saw the look of disenchantment in her eyes.  The very same look he had seen in his father's earlier that morning.  "Adios, Señorita," he said, giving her a little bow and a civil smile.

     "Adios," she said.  Diego watched as she went back and sat back down on her cot, setting the basket beside her.  His heart melted again as Victoria looked forlornly at the basket, no doubt losing whatever appetite she had had.

     Diego felt terrible as he turned and departed the jail.  Not even the sight of Sergeant Mendoza urgently running to the latrine cheered him up.

     He had to pretend to be ineffective and noncommittal, he scolded himself.  It was part of the masquerade that was Zorro.  He also had to make sure that he behaved as a happily married man around Victoria at all times.  That would make his flirtation with her as Zorro an all the more useful part of the charade.  Sighing wearily, he mounted his horse and urged her out of the pueblo.
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[parts of the following scene taken from "Dead Men Tell No Tales" written by Philip John Taylor]

     Much later that evening, Zorro climbed up the side of the Alcalde's office, using his whip as a rope.  He reached the roof and starts to walk across it.  Hearing someone cough, Zorro dove down onto his stomach.  Peering down, he saw a soldier lighting a cigar.  Zorro got back up onto his feet and walked stealthily across the tile roof.  He had to use his whip to catch one of the red tiles he accidentally dislodged when he stepped on it.

     "I wish the Alcalde would have this roof repaired," Zorro commented as he put the tile back into its place.  He continued his quiet journey across the roof.

     In a matter of minutes, Zorro was opening the door of the Alcalde's office.  Glancing around the room as he walked through it, he noticed a trunk near Ramón's desk.  Using his sword, he picked the trunk's lock and popped open its lid.  Rummaging around inside it, he pulled out the dead man's saddle bags.  He read the inscription on their crest and smiled.  He tore a blood stained piece off the shirt Morales had been wearing when he was stabbed and secreted it under his cape.

     Zorro then turned to leave.  He opened the office door and was confronted by two lancers pointing their muskets at him.  Zorro immediately slammed the door shut and latched it before they could fire.  Their bullets pierced the wood of the door.  Zorro darted over to the window where he saw three more soldiers charging the building.

     "Good evening, Zorro," greeted Ramón as he entered the room as Zorro turned in the direction of the door again.  "Those shots were a warning.  The pleasure of killing you is mine."

     Zorro grinned confidently.  "My sword says differently, Señor Alcalde."  He unlocked the door behind his back as Ramón revealed two pistols, one in each hand, he had hid  behind his back.  He aimed both pistols at the man in black

     "Indeed, a sword is no match for a pistol," commented Zorro insolently, "as your valor is no match for your mouth."

     "Choose your next witticism with care," the commandante said through gritted teeth, "for it will be your last."

     Zorro nodded his head, grinning roguishly before opening the door.  He dodged out of the way as Ramón fired both pistols and narrowly missed shooting the two soldiers who were rushing into the office.  Zorro shut the door before turning and facing the Alcalde, who had drawn out his sword..  The fight was a short one with Zorro knocking the commandante's blade from his hand after only a brief exchange.  The sword clattered to the floor as Zorro approached Ramón's desk.

     "Your office is so drab, Alcalde," drawled Zorro mischievously.  "Allow me to redecorate it."  He then carved a Z' into the top of the desk with the tip of his saber.

     "Much better," declared Zorro, leaning over to admire his handiwork.   "But such a cheap wood.  Tsk."

     Chaos ensued as the masked man made his escape.  He was fired at several times but was not hit, although a couple of the bullets came uncomfortably close.  Zorro was grinning, however, as he jumped down from the cuartel roof onto the waiting Toronado's back.

     It was nearly two hours later when Diego crept quietly inside his bedroom after he had changed out of his black clothing,  made sure Toronado had been properly cared for, and had persuaded the excited Felipe to go to bed.  He was shocked to see his wife sitting on his bed, glaring at him angrily.

     "Where have you been?" she demanded stridently.

      "Keep your voice down," Diego said in a hoarse whisper.  "Do you want to wake the whole household?"

     "Why not?" she replied in a slightly lower tone.  "They'll find out you're cheating on me soon enough."

     Diego stared dumbly at Zafira.  Did she know about Victoria?  How could she have found out?  He had thought he had hidden his feelings for the beautiful innkeeper quite well.  Then he looked at his wife's face and realized that she was just guessing.

     "I. . .I have never. . ." he began as he scrambled around his brain to find a good excuse why he had been out so late.  "Zafira, I was outside watching a meteor shower.  I must have fallen asleep."  Diego walked over to the bed and knelt down before her.  "I would never do that to you," he vowed.  "You are my wife. . . Please. . ."

     "You were just outside stargazing?" she asked a bit uncertainly.  He nodded.  "You weren't with another woman?"

     "No," he answered honestly, taking her hands in his.  Diego then was overwhelmed by her feminine scent,  which aroused his blood, which was already stirred up by the night's earlier exploits.  He brought his mouth up to meet hers and then slid his arms around her, moving into the V' her legs made.

     Diego reluctantly broke off the kiss as he felt her resistance.  "Zafira, please," he pleaded huskily.

     "It's late," she stated.  "I'm too. . ."

     "Why were you in my room anyway?" he inquired, interrupting her excuses.  Diego grinned impishly at his wife's reddening face.

     "I. . .uh. . .I wanted to ta. . ." she started to stammer out a explanation.

     "You wanted to do this," he said knowingly.  "You wanted to make love."

     She closed her eyes for a moment.  "Si, all right, I did," she acquiesced, looking at him with her blue eyes.  But, Diego. . ."

     He didn't let her finish as he kissed her again.  Zafira offered no opposition as he picked her up and placed her head upon his pillows, then laid down beside her.
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[parts of the following scene taken from "Dead Men Tell No Tales" written by Philip John Taylor]

     The next day, Felipe ran into the cave where Diego was cutting the scrap of fabric Zorro had torn from the dead man Morales's shirt.  Diego looked up as Felipe came to a halt in front of him then took several deep breaths.

     The lad must have ran all the way from the pueblo, he surmised.  He had sent Felipe into town about an hour earlier with the promised basket of food for Victoria.  The expression on the boy's face told him that the youth must have found out some bad news.  The hand gestures that Felipe made once he regained his composure confirmed Diego's suspicions.

     "Victoria will hang?" Diego interpreted the lad's signals.  Felipe nodded then waved both his arms to his right.

     "At dawn?" inquired Diego, his stomach churning sickeningly as Felipe nodded again.  How could the Alcalde hang an innocent woman without even allowing her a trial?  It had to be a trap devised to capture Zorro, he thought once again.  He just had to come up with a plan to outsmart Ramón's.

     "We've got work to do," stated Diego urgently, setting down his scissors.  He then picked up a piece of paper and showed it to the boy.  "See this crest, Felipe?  I saw it on the dead man's saddlebags."

     The lad examined the drawing that Diego had rendered from memory.  Then Diego selected a test tube  containing a clear liquid.

     "It may prove to be the Alcalde's undoing," he commented.  Felipe walked over to the laboratory table as Diego poured the liquid into a petri dish.  "Let's see if the intrigue goes any deeper."

     Diego put the scrap of shirt into the dish.  "This is a piece of the dead man's shirt," he explained to the curious youth.  "Well, let's just see what kind of blood ran through his veins."

     Felipe's eyes grew big as the liquid turned green.  He stared up at Diego, who smiled at him.

     "Now the only question is. . ." began Diego, as he poked the fabric into the liquid, causing it to turn even greener, "where is this dead man?  I think Señor Zorro just might find the answer to that question tonight."

     A huge grin came over Felipe's face as he nodded eagerly.  Diego couldn't help but smile himself at the boy's enthusiasm.
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     It was late the next morning before Diego and Felipe emerged from the fireplace and into the hacienda library.  Zorro had saved Victoria from hanging by revealing that the man she had supposedly murdered was instead alive and well and an old friend of the Alcalde's.  Ricardo Cortez was also an actor with the Calderón Theatre Company of Mexico City.  Actually Ramón's little scheme had been a good, although devious, one.

     Diego was a bit ashamed that he had used his telescope to burn Sergeant Mendoza's bottom, but it had been quite amusing as well.  He was just glad that he had been able to rescue Victoria.  The thought of her dying on the gallows made him shudder.

     He smiled at Felipe who then left to go attend to his chores.  Diego himself was at a loss as to what to do.  He was too wound up to just sit and read.  And there was no way that Zafira was going to let him burn off some of his excess energy by making love with her.

     Groaning, he remembered the lie he had told her the previous evening before he had ridden out as Zorro.  He knew that he would probably be away from the hacienda all night and into the next morning.  And he did not want a repeat of the previous night's accusations of adultery from his wife.

     No, he had told her he was going to visit one of his old bachelor friends in San Pedro and would be gone until the next day.  When she had asked if she could go too, Diego had to tell her no without arousing her suspicions.  He told her that he and his amigo, Leonardo, would probably sit around and play cards all night while they talked about old times.

      Zafira had accepted this explanation, much to Diego's relief.  But he was also getting a bit worried about how easy it was getting to lie to his wife and to his father.  And it bothered him greatly that Felipe seemed to enjoy immensely his part in the deception that surrounded Zorro.

     "Diego!"  His father's voice called out from the kitchen, breaking into his reflections.

     "Yes, Father?" he answered as he walked toward the other end of the hacienda, hoping the elder de la Vega had something interesting for him to do.
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"CADENAS DE AMOR" - CHAPTER THIRTEEN