"A FOOL AND HIS MONEY. . ."
[parts of the following scene taken from "The Unhappy Medium" by Bruce Lansbury]
Los Angeles's only inn was bustling with activity as Diego walked into the crowded building. His eyes immediately found Victoria, who was behind the bar, resting her face in the palm of her right hand. She didn't look happy and he wondered if the mystical medium upstairs had anything to do with her gloom. He darted a quick glance upward before strolling over to the bar.
"Victoria.," he said, capturing her attention. "Why such a long face? The place is nearly bursting at the seams with rich caballeros."
"But they don't eat, they don't drink," she replied glumly." They just sit there, waiting for an audience with that woman." She glared angrily at the balcony. Diego looked up as well. "It's strange that only the rich can speak to the dead, isn't it?" added Victoria thoughtfully.
He tilted his head in agreement. It was amazing to him how many people were willing to part with their hard-earned pesos just on the off chance they would be able to speak with a departed loved one. And it made him ill to think how much his father would pay to be able to talk with his mother again, emotionally as well as financially. Diego glanced upward again and saw Sergeant Mendoza walking proudly across the balcony, carrying his hat, a smug expression on his round face.
Diego turned to look at Victoria. "Why do you suppose the good sergeant is walking like that?" he inquired.
"Maybe because he said ‘adios' to all his life's savings," answered the lovely innkeeper cynically.
The soldier wasted little time informing Diego and Victoria that the clairvoyant had told him he was a descendant of wealthy landowners from the Guerrero Province. That he had spoke with the father he never knew, a wonderful hero who had fought beside Father Morales during the Battle of Acapulco. Mendoza strutted out of the tavern, puffed up with self-importance.
Diego noticed the incredulity in Victoria's beautiful brown eyes and knew that it reflected his own. Everyone knew the good sergeant had been an orphan since he was a baby. A man walking down the staircase caught Diego's eye then.
"Attention," the man called out after stopping about half way down the stairs. "Your attention, please." He held up a small brown velvet bag. "A special gift from the Lady Mayatana to you, the good people of Los Angeles."
The man finished coming downstairs then opened the bag, pouring out a plethora of brightly colored stones out onto the nearest empty table. The room was filled with ‘Oohs' and ‘Aahs' as people hurried over to look.
"Stones of uncommon value and uncommon power, which for a ridiculously small price, will bring you protection. . ." announced the man, continuing on as Diego glanced over his shoulder at Victoria.
"So," he commented skeptically, "the miraculous Mayatana takes her hundred pesos from the rich and this person. . ."
Victoria cut in, her voice full of distaste, ". . .is Ricardo. All I know is that he has a nasty temper and he travels with her."
Diego nodded before completing his observation, "Further empties their pocket by selling them magic stones." He lifted up his hand as he stepped toward Ricardo and his table covered with what were no doubt just nearly worthless rocks. The con man looked at him warily as he approached.
Spying a bluish green pebble, Diego plucked it off the table and held it up. "Señor. Tell me what stone is this?" he asked with mock innocence.
"Turquoise," Ricardo responded superiorly. "The Arabs called it ferris; the lackey stone."
It was just as Diego had thought.
The man had no true idea what the stones actually were and was just making
up his information. Diego decided this fellow needed enlightenment.
"Ah, you're mistaken," he stated. "This is not turquoise. This is a copper pyrite that's turned green to look like turquoise."
Diego watched as Ricardo's face contorted with anger at being told publicly he was wrong. "You are too sensible a man to call someone you've never met liar, Señor." he said in an barely restrained tone.
"I'm only known for the truth, not for being sensible." remarked Diego flippantly. He lobbed the pyrite back to Ricardo.
"Señor, you should take it," offered the charlatan, holding out the stone to Diego who put out his hand so Ricardo could drop it into his palm. "The turquoise also warns its owner of approaching death," declared the other man, his affable voice belying the threatening undercurrent only Diego detected.
He closed his fist around the contested object and said sarcastically, "Oh, thank you." Diego turned and walked away then but was waylayed by one of his father's old amigos, Don Arturo, who told him of all the things that his deceased father had revealed to him through the woman upstairs. Just as the older man was asking him to join him in a drink, Zafira appeared in the tavern's entryway.
Diego graciously declined Don Arturo's offer and hurried over to where his wife was standing impatiently. He threw a glance in Victoria's direction as he strode past the bar, seeing that she still wore the same disheartened expression on her face as when he had first arrived.
A small smile touched his lips as he recognized that she was just as suspicious as he was of the psychic. Even though her parents were both gone, she didn't believe that this Mayatana would be able to contact them. His countenance sobered, however, as he walked up to Zafira and saw the hostile look in her eye.
"I want to visit the medium," she declared challengingly. "I want to find out if my brother is dead."
"You can't be serious," Diego responded after a few seconds. He took her arm and led her out onto the tavern porch. "The woman's a fraud, Zafira." He glanced at his wife's fuming face. "And you don't even know if your brother was killed in the fighting or not."
"No, thanks to you," she spat out. "If we had stayed in Madrid instead of coming to this godforsaken place, I might have been able to go to him." She jerked her arm out of his hand. "But no, you had to drag me here and now I'll probably never know if. . .if Ricardo is alive or not."
Diego sighed wearily. They had had this argument more times than he cared to remember. Zafira made him feel as though he was the one who pulled the trigger that ended her hermano's life.
"Well, this Mayatana woman isn't going to help you find out," he said jadedly.
"How do you know?" she asked. "You don't know everything."
He just shook his head, conceding her point.
"Besides," Zafira continued, "I have my own money and I can spend it on whatever I please." She glared at him petulantly. "I'm going to make an appointment."
"Very well," said Diego, tired of the conversation. "I'll wait by the carriage."
His wife went back inside the tavern. Diego just shook his head again before walking across the plaza where he had left the carriage. Zafira came back out about twenty minutes later.
"She'll see me tomorrow at two o'clock," she announced as he helped her into the vehicle. Once she was settled in, Diego flicked the reins and they headed back to the hacienda.. Again, the distance was traversed in silence between the married couple.
[parts of the following scene taken from "The Unhappy Medium" by Bruce Lansbury]
Much later that evening, Zorro rode Toronado
through the hidden entrance of the cave and into the direction of the pueblo.
He was soon scaling the side of the tavern, the side where Mayatana and
her companion had their rooms. Close scrutiny of both dorms showed
that the couple were absent.
The masked man made his way over to the front of the tavern in time to see Ricardo and Mayatana walk out its front door and across the plaza to the garrison. Zorro hurriedly scrambled from rooftop to rooftop until he reached the cuartel. Zorro climbed down the side of Ramón's office using his whip. When he reached a window, he flipped upside down before observing what was going on inside.
Money was exchanging hands. The man in black watched as the Alcalde picked up piles of coins and bills and hid them away in his wall safe. Most enlightening. Obviously the commandante was receiving a cut of the couple's ill-gotten takings.
The conversation that followed confirmed Zorro's suspicions. Ramón was providing the medium with information about her clients but was now having second thoughts about continuing to assist the pair of charlatans. His father's name was mentioned as a fat cow yet to be milked.
The discussion turned to Zafira's visit the following afternoon. "I really can't tell you much about her," declared the Alcalde, pulling out a thin file from a pile on his desk. "She has been married to Don Diego de la Vega for over a year now. He brought her here from Madrid, where he had been at university."
"Any family?" asked Mayatana.
"Her parents are deceased, I believe," Ramón replied. "If she has any more family, they would be in Spain." He glanced at the woman sitting before him. "Señora de la Vega keeps to herself most of the time. She has few, if any, acquaintances here in Los Angeles.
"Surely you must know something more about her,"demanded Ricardo. "Mayatana must be prepared for her appointment with the señora tomorrow."
The commandante furrowed his brow thoughtfully. "She did suffer a miscarriage several months back," he offered after a few minutes.
"Ah," the mystic said knowingly. She got to her feet. "Thank you, Alcalde. You have been most helpful."
She turned to leave. Ricardo glared
at Ramón threateningly before following her out the door.
Zorro also departed, clambering back up onto the roof and over to where
a patient Toronado was waiting. He jumped down onto the stallion's
back then headed back to the cave.
Z Z Z
A perturbed Diego returned to the hacienda where he found his father in the study. "Ah, son," said Don Alejandro, standing up from behind his desk. "Zafira told me about her appointment tomorrow. She said I should make one too."
"Father, you know my thoughts on this," Diego remarked. "I just don't see what good. . ."
"It will do me a world of good," countered the elder de la Vega. "I want to hear this message from your mother. Who know? It could be very important."
Diego shook his head, recalling the scene he had just witnessed in the Alcalde's office. "I doubt it," he declared. He looked over at the old don and saw the resolute expression on his lined face. "You're determined to do this, aren't you?" he asked resignedly.
"Si," Don Alejandro replied. "I am a grown man, Diego. I can make my own decisions. . . And my own mistakes," he added as Diego started to open his mouth to say the same thing.
"Very well," Diego conceded. "Buenas noches, Father."
"Good night, son."
Shaking his head, Diego walked out of the study and toward his bedroom, although he doubted he could sleep. No, he needed to discover just how Mayatana was altering her voice to deliver the supposed tidbits of knowledge from the dead. And, he mused, he needed to come up with a way to publicly expose the medium and Ricardo as the frauds they were. Evidence that was undisputable.
He turned to his right and headed for the library. Within seconds, he was inside the secret cave.
By dawn, he had come up with solutions to both of his dilemmas. The first he tried out on Felipe, nearly scaring the poor lad to death. The second involved either his father's or his wife's cooperation. Diego decided that his parent would be the one to approach, although both of them wouldn't listen to common sense.
Fortunately, the elder de la Vega agreed to the test Diego had devised for the false clairvoyant. Since Felicidad de la Vega had been a devoted patroness of the arts, a deliberately incorrect statement about the subject seemed to be the best way to trip up the medium and her companion. Diego dutifully drove Zafira into the pueblo for her meeting with Mayatana. Don Alejandro came too, even though his engagement with the medium wasn't until several hours later.
Diego and his father walked over to a table in the tavern and sat down as Zafira made her way up the stairs to the second floor. Victoria came over to them, carrying a tray containing two glasses of lemonade and a worried smile on her face.
"Who is Doña Zafira hoping to speak with?" she asked politely.
"Her brother," replied Diego. "Even though we don't know for sure that he is dead."
"Oh." The curiosity was clearly written all over the innkeeper's lovely face.
"He was part of a rebel group trying to remove King Ferdinand from the throne," Diego explained. "He was involved in a siege in Segovia just before Zafira and I left Spain. We didn't know it had occurred until we were already at sea."
"That's terrible," Victoria sympathized. "It is such a horrible feeling, not knowing whether a loved one is alive or not." Tears began to form in the corners of her eyes. Diego realized she was speaking of her father, who had run off and joined the rebels here in the New World. There had been no word of Señor Escalante's fate for several years. And Victoria had had to endure it all by herself, he thought compassionately.
It was nearly an hour later before Zafira came downstairs. Her expression was unreadable as she walked over to the table where her husband and father-in-law sat.
"Well, what did she say?" inquired Don Alejandro anxiously. "Did you speak with your brother?"
"No," Zafira replied as she sat down next to him, "I spoke with my mother. Mayatana said she had a message for me."
Diego looked over at his father and wondered if the old don recognized the same announcement that the psychic had used on him. Obviously not, as the elder de la Vega pressed his daughter-in-law for details.
"My mother said that Ricardo was alive," declared Zafira. "And that I would see him again very soon."
"But that's wonderful news!" Don Alejandro exclaimed. "But why are you so troubled, hija?"
She glanced over at Diego then back to the old don. "My mother also said that she had a miscarriage too. She told me not to worry. That I would have many children. That Diego and I would. . .
Zafira jumped up and ran out of the tavern. "Zafira!" Don Alejandro called after her as he rose to his feet. He then looked over at his son. "What's the matter with her? She's still not upset about the baby, is she?"
Diego wasn't sure how to reply. No, he was sure that his wife was over losing their child and had been for some time. No doubt it was the thought of having children with him and that she would have to sleep with him for that to occur, was what was distressing her so. But he could hardly inform his father of that little fact.
"She must still be," he lied. "I thought she was better, but. . ." He shrugged his shoulders.
Don Alejandro shook his head knowingly. "It's just harder for women," he stated. "Maybe you should go talk to her, son. Cheer her up a little."
Diego had long ago stopped trying to appease Zafira. No matter what he did for her, it wasn't what she wanted. He smiled grimly at the elder de la Vega. "No, Father," he decided. "I think she's wants to be left alone right now."
"Well, you know best," said his father, obviously thinking the opposite. He took out his pocket watch and looked at its dial. "Only a two more hours until my appointment," he commented.
[parts of the following scene taken from "The Unhappy Medium" by Bruce Lansbury]
Diego waited apprehensively while the elder de la Vega was upstairs with the mock medium. After nearly an hour, Don Alejandro appeared at the balcony.
"It's a fraud. It's all a fraud!" he called out below to the tavern full of people.
Ricardo came rushing out of his room, an
angry scowl on his face and a scuffle ensued that Diego ran upstairs to
join. Diego got the worst of it as Ricardo tackled him from behind,
causing him to fly over the balcony railing and crushing a table below.
Diego laid there, stunned for a moment as the breath had been knocked from his body. His situation didn't improve as Victoria crouched down beside him and touched his arm. The same jolt of pure desire that happened every time they came in contact with each other shot through him. Glancing into her eyes, he saw a fleeting glimpse of confusion before an expression of concern crossed her face. He replied that he was fine to her query asking if he was all right.
Diego got to his feet as she went over to the Alcalde, demanding that he step in. Not likely, Diego thought as he brushed himself off. He was a bit surprised when Ramón actually got up from his table. But his disbelief turned to exasperation when all the commandante managed to do was to goad Ricardo into challenging Diego into a duel.
Well, his father had been assaulted by the con man. But Diego disliked public displays where his valor was called into question. The elder de la Vega shouting that his son was no swordsman did little to boost his ego.
No, Diego thought, Zorro was going to have to fight this duel for him. He told Don Alejandro that he was heading back to the hacienda and would be back at the appointed time. In reality, he headed to the pueblo's livery, where an excited Felipe awaited him with Zorro's costume and the money that had been fleeced from the citizens of Los Angeles that the youth had nicked from Ricardo's room.
Everything went according to plan. Zorro bested Ricardo in the plaza, Mendoza made sure that everyone got their money back from the fraudulent psychic (with a little prodding from the man in black). When the Alcalde instructed the stout sergeant to arrest Zorro, the masked man had disappeared.
He had gone around the back of the tavern and entered through the kitchen door. An unusually pensive Victoria came into the kitchen, carrying a couple of dirty glasses which she set down on the table. He touched his black-gloved hand to her arm. She spun around with a little gasp that turned into a smile when she saw him.
Zorro took her right hand into both of his. Earlier, during the fight with Ricardo, she had saved him from getting stabbed in the back by the cheating cad. She was not unlike a guardian angel, he thought gratefully.
"Once again I have you to thank for my life, Señorita," he stated before bringing her hand up to his lips to kiss.
"Don Diego has more to be grateful for," she said, her brown eyes searching his. "He would have been no match for Ricardo."
Zorro closed his eyes as the pain her words caused gripped his heart. He hated this. He hated that she saw Diego as a weakling, as a coward. Little by little, it was eating him up inside. Gazing upon her lovely face, he plastered a false grin on his.
"I take it you have no regard for Don Diego," he commented, wanting to hear her answer.
"Oh, he's a fine man," she said quickly. "But he's not a fighter. He is a man of peace." She glanced away before adding, "I feel sorry for him. His wife, well. . . I just feel sorry for him."
Zorro shook his head. Pity was definitely not what he wanted from her. Sighing inwardly, he brought her hand to his mouth once again and bestowed a light kiss upon it. "I must go, Señorita," he declared, tipping his head as if he overheard voices outside. "Adios."
He climbed up the wall of the kitchen and
hopped over a short wall onto the second floor. His heart heavy,
he rode out of the pueblo on Toronado, as the people cheered.
Z Z Z
"CADENAS DE AMOR" - CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR