Zafira did not reappear at Don Alejandro's bedside the rest of the day.  Victoria, however, made several visits, and even the Alcalde had stopped by the hacienda to see how the elder de la Vega was doing.  Diego was concerned though, by Ramón's insistence that Zorro had somehow played a part in the old don's shooting and the theft of the payroll.  But he didn't have time to dwell on it.

[parts of the following scene taken from "Honor Thy Father" written by Adam Tyler]

     Much later that evening as Diego sat by his father's bed, Don Alejandro began to stir restlessly and murmuring words that Diego couldn't quite catch.

     "The post. . ." the elder de la Vega said then drew a deep breath.  "The cat. . .cattle."

     Diego stared worriedly at the old don, wondering what was going through his unconscious mind.

     Don Alejandro began grow agitated, moving his head from side to side and stirring his legs.  "Open the. . .  Open the gate."

     "The cattle in the north section are fine, Father," stated  Diego, grasping his father's closest hand.  "They should bring a good price at market."

     Victoria walked into the bedroom as he spoke, carrying a napkin covered tray.  She set it down on the bureau then turned to look at Diego.

     "Don Diego, you know he can't hear you," she said in slightly scolding voice.   "He's delirious with fever."

     "There's a chance that he might," declared Diego, hoping deep down he was right.

     Shaking her head slightly, Victoria indicated the tray on the bureau.  "Would you eat something?" she asked.

     Diego didn't even look up.  Food was the last thing on his mind at the moment.  And now that it had been mentioned, his stomach began to roil.  "No," he replied as he watched as his father stirred restlessly under the thin cotton sheet.

     He felt a jolt of desire as Victoria rested her hand on his shoulder.  "You need some sleep.  It's important that you stay strong," she suggested.

     "Sleep I can have anytime," said Diego, trying to ignore the effect she had on him.  "I don't know how long I'll have him."

     "He has a good son in you, Don Diego," she stated gently.

     He brought his head around to stare up at her then got to his feet.  The urge to hold her in his arms and kiss her was almost overwhelming.  He knew now more than ever that he should have married her instead of Zafira.  But it was too late, he had made his own cold and lonely marriage bed.  Plus he knew that Victoria would not welcome his embraces not only because he was a married man but because she was in love with Zorro.

     "You're a good friend," he finally said, still gazing into her liquid brown eyes.   "Thank you for staying to help."

     Victoria smiled up at him, her expression, however, a little uncomfortable, before leaving the bedroom.  Diego watched her go, then glanced down at the now peacefully sleeping man on the bed.

     "A good son.  A good son would not keep things from his father," he acknowledged.  He walked down to the end of the bed.  "There would be nothing between them."  Then he looked over at his father.   "I've kept something from you.  I am not the man you think I am.  I have a secret life.  The time has come to share it with you."

     Coming back up to the head of the bed, Diego then sat down in the chair beside Don Alejandro.  He took a deep breath before continuing with his revelation.

     "Father, I am Zorro," he declared undeniably.  "Perhaps it was wrong to keep this from you.  But as Zorro, I have not always obeyed the written law.  That is why I could never tell you.  It would endanger you as well.  I know that what I have done is right.  Deeds you would have been proud of.  Things you might have done yourself when you were younger."

     He swallowed hard as the sorrow of possibly losing his father hit him hard.  "What is important now it that you stay with me," he implored.   "As Don Diego, I have not always made you proud.  I am Zorro.  But I still need you.  I still need a father."

     Diego reached for the old don's hand and bowed his head over their clasped hands.  "And there is something else, Father," he stated.  "My marriage, Zafira. . ."  He shook his head.  "I don't love her, I don't think I really ever did.  And I'm quite sure that she despises me.  I should have waited to marry until I came back to California.  I should have waited until I saw. . ."

     He sighed heavily as he realized he was rambling.  "Father, I am in love with another woman, a woman who is not my wife."  He rose up out of the chair and walked to the foot of the be again before turning then gazing down on the elder de la Vega.  "Father, I love Victoria Escalante.  I fell in love with her as soon as I returned from Spain.  I should have never married Zafira.  It was a huge mistake."

     Putting his hands on the footboard, Diego braced himself over the end of the bed.  "I'm sorry, Father, but I didn't want you to know, I didn't want you to be hurt.  But now. . ."

     Diego moved back over to the chair and sat down again.  He held his face in his hands as he resumed his vigil over his gravely ill father.
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      Don Alejandro was on his feet less than two weeks later, thanks to the retrieval of the stolen payroll and other contents of the saddlebags by the masked outlaw Zorro.  The maguey sap was one of those other items and its healing properties had worked their magic on the elder de la Vega.

     It was an enormous relief to Diego that his father only vaguely remembered the confession he had poured out when he had thought the older man was dying.  The old don thought it had all been a dream.  Diego realized he couldn't risk his father knowing the truth about Zorro.  And he knew it would break Don Alejandro's heart if he knew that his son and the daughter-in-law he was so proud of didn't love each other.

     Zafira had stayed in her bedroom, the door firmly locked until the day Don Alejandro had been allowed out of bed.  Then she had become a model of solicitude.

     "Another pillow, Father?" she asked as she fussed around the elder de la Vega as he sat on the settee in the library.  She plumped up a pillow and forced it behind the old don's back before he could even answer.

     "I'm fine, dear," he declared.  He looked around the room.  "Oh, it's wonderful to get out of that bedroom.  I thought I would have to spend the rest of my days in there."

     Diego had to look away.  That was what he had thought as well, that his father was going to die, in the same room in which his mother had passed away.  He had to swallow back his sorrow.

     "How about something to drink, Father?" inquired Zafira in a voice full of anxious concern.  "I believe Maria just made some fresh lemonade."

     "That sounds lovely, my dear," the old don replied before closing his eyes.

     "I'll go fetch it," Zafira offered.  She left the library and headed toward the kitchen.  Diego stared balefully at her receding back.

      Don Alejandro glanced up at his son then shook his head.  "I'm sure she means well, son," he said with a chuckle.  "But I must admit, she's a bit wearing."

     "Indeed," Diego responded with tight lips.  He didn't want his father to know how bad things were between him and Zafira.  Like the fact they could barely stand be in the same room together.  Or how he literally hadn't touched her in over six months.

     He sighed as he recalled his parents' marriage, how close the two of them had been.  When his mother had been alive, a day hadn't gone by without him witnessing the two of them kissing, or touching each other, or merely just gazing at each other with love filled eyes.

     Diego had wanted the same kind of marriage for himself.  And he had thought he had found the woman to share it with him in Zafira.  He shook his head.  The revelation that she was the wrong wife for him had been swift and powerful the moment he had seen Victoria Escalante again.

     "Here you go, Father," called out Zafira, her overly concerned voice breaking through Diego's musings.  She carried a tray holding a tall glass of lemonade and a small plate of biscuits.  "I thought you might like a little snack." she explained.

     "Gracias, my dear," the elder de la Vega replied graciously.  He took one of the biscuits and bit into it before picking up the glass then taking a sip from it.  He then indicated the plate to Diego and raised his eyebrows in a silent offer.

     "No, thank you," said Diego politely.  "I've seemed to lost my appetite.  Con permiso."

     He bowed to the old don then to Zafira who had settled down on the settee next to his father.  She tossed him an acerbic glance before he turned and left the room.
                                                   Z                                                   Z                                                   Z

     It was about a month later when Diego was trying to make his way through the plaza on his horse, Esperanza.  A large crowd had gathered at the entrance of the tavern, jostling each other to see what was going on inside.  Diego was dismounting his horse as a man and woman were shoved out the front doors of the establishment.

     What in the world?  He wondered if all the commotion had anything to do with the battalion of soldiers he had noticed riding past the hacienda earlier.  Diego dodged his way through the throng of people and made it to the edge of the porch before the amassed assembly prevented him from going any farther.

     He could hear, however, Victoria and the Alcalde shouting at someone, along with a man whose voice Diego did not recognize.   "What's going on?" he asked an older man who was standing next to him.  "Who's in there?"

     "Colonel Palomarez," the man responded excitedly.

     "Palomarez," repeated Diego.  He brought up his hand to rub his chin.  "Not the Colonel Palomarez from the Yucatan?"

      "That's him, Don Diego," said the man.  "The Butcher of the Yucatan."

     "What's he doing in Los Angeles?"

     The man shrugged his shoulders.  "I think he's after Zorro."


     "Si," replied the man.

     Diego turned and worked his way back to the edge of the crowd to where his horse stood nervously.  So the famous Colonel Palomarez had come to California to capture Zorro.  He threw a glance over his shoulder at the tavern's porch as another man was pushed out of the front doors.  Gathering up Esperanza's reins, he led her around to the back of the tavern.

[parts of the following scene taken from "A Deal With the Devil" written by Suzanne Herrera]

     He walked through the rear door just in time to observe Sergeant Mendoza back his generous behind into a knife that had been left near the edge of a table.  The stout soldier cried out in pain.

.     Be careful, Sergeant," Diego advised unnecessarily.  "That's sharp."

     Mendoza turned and stared at him.  "What are you doing here, Don Diego?"

     "Well, I saw the glorious Colonel and his men approaching and I decided that discretion might be the better part of valor," replied Diego.  "It certainly would have been for the Alcalde."

     "And what is the Alcalde going to do about Palomarez?" Victoria inquired as she glanced over at Diego who shrugged.

     "What can he do?" asked the sergeant.  "Palomarez is a colonel under orders from the king."

      Victoria spun around and glared at Mendoza.  "So we're just going to let a madman take control of the pueblo?" she demanded angrily.

     "Believe me, the Alcalde would like nothing better than to have Palomarez gone," said  Mendoza nervously.  "But until Zorro's capture, what can he do?"

     Diego shook his head and let out a deep sigh.  Victoria turned her gaze to him again.  " Don Diego, this  Palomarez says he's going to hang a person everyday until Zorro surrenders himself."  She walked up to him and he could see the trepidation in her beautiful brown eyes.  "He's going to pull the first name out of a hat tonight at midnight.  We have find some way to stop him."

      He shrugged his shoulders.  "Until we know what Zorro will do, there's nothing any of us can do," he said vaguely.

     His heart clenched as he saw the look of disgust cross the innkeeper's face.   He hated this part of his charade where he had to appear weak and ineffective.  Diego quickly departed after saying his goodbyes to Victoria and Mendoza.

     On the way home, it hit him that it could someone very near and dear to him whose name was pulled from Palomarez's hat.   Diego's countenance grew steely at the thought of his father, Felipe, or Victoria dying because of his masquerade.  He pledged then and there that he would sacrifice himself to save them.

[parts of the following scene taken from "A Deal With the Devil" written by Suzanne Herrera]

     That evening, a few minutes before midnight, a large crowd had assembled inside the tavern, with many more waiting outside.  Diego had had a tough time convincing both his father and Felipe to stay home.  He wanted them to spend as little time as possible in the cuartel jail if one of theirs was the name that was drawn.

     He glanced at the woman standing next to him.  He didn't want her to spend time in the jail either but since it was her tavern where the lottery was being held, he could hardly stop her from being there.  Diego closed his eyes and said a silent prayer that no one he cared for would be the name that was chosen that night.

     Ramón and Mendoza stood on either side of Palomarez.  "Colonel, I beg you to reconsider," pleaded an unusually passive Alcalde.

     The colonel turned to sneer at him.  "Sniveling will not bring me Zorro."

     "But summary executions?" queried Ramón.   "Not even I would conceive of such a thing."

     "It is brilliant in its simplicity," stated Palomarez with a smirk.  He turned to address the gathering of people.  "I am here to draw the name of the individual who will face the gallows at sunrise," he announced.

     "This is not justice," said Victoria indignantly.  "This is murder."

     "Bring Zorro to me before dawn," drawled the colonel, looking down his nose at her, "and only he will face the hangman's noose."

      Diego decided to divert the madman's attention away from the beautiful innkeeper.  "Señor. . ."

     "Be careful, Don Diego," warned Mendoza sotto voce.

     "Do you have particular knowledge of Zorro, Señor?" Palomarez demanded, fixing his eyes on Diego.

      Zorro is a very difficult man to know," said Diego casually. "We have always been protected by his secret identity.  And it has kept us safe from the excesses of the military."

     The Alcalde tossed Diego a glance that contained both guilt and anger.

     "It's true," Victoria chimed in.  "We do not know who he is or where he is.  So your threats of violence will not help you find him."

      "Well, I certainly think it's worth a try," the colonel drawled.  He reached with both of his hands into his hat and began stirring up the little pieces of paper that were inside it.  "The first person to die under the curse of your Zorro is. . ."  He pulled out a piece of paper and read that name that was written upon it.

     "Doña Zafira de la Vega."
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