"CADENAS DE AMOR"
"PERCHANCE TO DREAM"
[parts of the following chapter from "An Explosive Situation" by Philip John Taylor]
Eight months had passed before anyone in the pueblo gave more than a stray thought to the medium and her companion again. Eight months that saw Diego and his wife grow even more estranged, even as their second wedding anniversary rapidly approached. Eight months filled with bandits, rustlers, and the Alcalde's evil plans of taxing the people of Los Angeles into oblivion.
Which made it so odd that Ramón would hold a birthday party at the tavern for his sergeant. Diego had been suspicious of the invitation from the moment it had arrived two days earlier. Even so, he and Felipe had bought Mendoza a present that they knew the soldier would enjoy very much.
Diego wished now that he had paid more attention to his misgivings about the birthday celebration. Sitting on the floor of the tavern's kitchen, gagged, with his ankles bound together and his wrists tied above his head, he; along with his father, Victoria, the Alcalde, and Sergeant Mendoza; was about to be blown to bits, thanks to Ricardo Quintana. The con man had escaped from prison and had returned to Los Angeles to seek his revenge.
Diego was sincerely sorry that the medium, Mayatana, had died in prison. But as Don Alejandro had pointed out, she and Ricardo had cheated the people of Los Angeles out of thousands of pesos and they had deserved the sentences they had received.
Clearly, Zorro was not going to be able to help out this time, he mused as he struggled futilely against his bonds. In his head, Diego heard Quintana's parting words: "You have fifty minutes. I could make the fuse shorter but I want you to suffer, as Mayatana suffered. Knowing there is no possibility of escape, knowing that all your hopes, everything you wanted from life will never happen now. Never. I want you to die thinking of Ricardo Quintana."
Their only hope was that Felipe would realize something was amiss and come to their rescue. It was such a thin thread to cling to, but it was all he had at the moment.
He smiled a bit sadly as he thought of the boy he had come to think of as his own. Despite the fact that Zafira wanted nothing to do with the lad, Diego still wanted to adopt him. He closed his eyes and let his mind drift. . .
He was being handed a sheaf of papers by
a faceless, nameless man. Felipe and his father stood on either side
of him. Diego glanced down at the papers in his hand. Words
like ‘adoption' and ‘official' sprang up off the parchment as his eyes
misted over with tears.
Tears that he could also see in Felipe and Don Alejandro's eyes as they all embraced. Diego didn't know where Zafira was nor did he care. The dream of adopting the mute orphan was one that even she couldn't crush.
Pictures sprang into his head of Felipe wearing the clothes of a caballero; of him waving from the deck of a ship as he sailed away from the port at San Pedro.
Then Diego was at the university in Madrid, where he and his father were sitting with hundreds of other people as young men walked across a stage. The chancellor of the university was handing each of them a diploma. Diego clapped loudly as he watched as Felipe received his sheepskin then shook the dean's hand. Then the ceremony was over and Diego was embracing his handsome young son.
"You have made me very happy, hijo," he said.
"Gracias, Father," Felipe replied, saying the words that Diego would never grow tired of hearing. "I owe it all to you."
"Now you can go back to California and begin your career as a lawyer," said Don Alejandro, his lined faced beaming.
"Si, that has been my dream," the young man stated, "ever since I regained my power of speech."
"Just think, top of your class," said the elder de la Vega. "But I always knew you were a bright lad."
"We're both so proud of you, Felipe," Diego said.
Felipe reached out into the crowd of people and grasped a feminine hand. "I want you to finally meet my fiancée," he announced.
The loud thud of a cabinet landing on the floor near his feet brought Diego out of his reverie before he had a chance to see the face of his adopted son's intended. His father and Ramón were staring at the piece of furniture with disappointed faces. They had obviously thought it would have been tall enough to land on the trail of gunpowder, putting out the flame before it reached the keg of powder on the other side of the room.
Diego looked over at his father, who was a picture of frustration because his attempt to save them hadn't succeeded. He thought of the man who was a hard working rancher, a pillar of the community, a faithful husband, the best of fathers, and who had been a dashingly brave soldier. Diego had tried all his life to live up to the elder de la Vega's example, and it pained him that his paternal parent had deemed him a disappointment.
Alejandro de la Vega wanted a son who was an audacious fighter; not the timid pacifist Diego feigned to be. He didn't want a son who excelled in poetry, music, painting, and the sciences. It obviously didn't matter that much to him that Diego was a good and loyal son. He wanted a son like Zorro.
How ironic, thought Diego, that his father admired the masked man, praising him in front of his son at every turn, not knowing they were one and the same. And as much as the constant comparisons hurt him, Diego had come to hope that the elder de la Vega would respect him for what he was and not just because he was Zorro. Diego closed his eyes again.
He stood on a dais in the middle of the plaza. The faces of everyone in the pueblo seemed to swim before him. A trio of distinguished looking gray-haired gentlemen stood to his right. The one closest to him handed Diego a certificate, then pinned a medal to the lapel of his jacket.
The man unrolled a scroll then began to read aloud from it. "We present this award to Diego de la Vega, for his scientific endeavors in discovering a cure for the common cold." The gentlemen on the dais then all shook Diego's hand as the people in the plaza cheered and clapped.
Another of the men stepped forward and handed Diego a silver plaque. He too unrolled a parchment and read from it. "This award is presented to Don Diego de la Vega, whose most recent book of poetry is the best selling volume in all of Spain and its territories. This is to honor him for all the joy his words have brought to thousands around the world."
Again the people of Los Angeles applauded. Many of them held up thin black books on which Diego could see his name imprinted in gold lettering.
The third man waited until the noise had died down before coming forward. He held up a gold framed painting that Diego recognized as one of his own. "This is just one of the paintings," the man said in French accented Spanish, "of Señor de la Vega's that have been chosen to hang in the Louvre museum of art in Paris."
Out of the cheering crowd, Don Alejandro appeared. He walked up onto the stage and embraced his son excitedly.
"Please forgive me," requested the elder de la Vega earnestly. "I take back everything I said about your fiddling with pointless experiments, that you were wasting your time on poetry and painting." He pulled himself away from Diego then patted him on the shoulder.
"I'm proud of you, son," the old don declared. "No one could ever ask for a better son."
"What about Zorro?" Diego asked.
"Bah," said Don Alejandro. "He would make a lousy son. Always running about the territory being heroic. Sure, he's saved a few lives here and there. But they're just a drop in the bucket compared to the millions your cure will save. And he could never make as many people happy as you have with your poetry and paintings."
He hugged Diego again. A faint pounding noise intruded into the feeling of euphoria Diego was feeling. He opened his eyes to realize that the knocking was coming from the barred front door of the tavern. A quick glance in the direction of the inn's back door told him that it too was locked. Anyone trying to enter the building would have to find another way in. A little more hope died inside of him as the rapping stopped.
Diego watched as the burning fuse inched ever closer to the keg of gunpowder. Morbidly, he wondered how painful being blown to pieces would be. Would it hurt only for an instant? Or would he and the others linger for awhile before succumbing to their mortal injuries?
His stomach roiling, he looked over at Victoria. Her eyes were closed and judging by the blissful expression on her lovely face, she was thinking of something much more pleasant than her impending demise.
Dios mio, Victoria. She was the biggest regret of his life. He cursed himself; and not for the first time; for impulsively marrying Zafira. A day didn't go by that he wished he had returned to California a single man. A man who could pursue the woman he had fallen in love with the moment he had laid eyes on her again.
Now it was just a tangled web of lies and deceit, pretending to care for his wife while he truly loved the lovely innkeeper. And it wasn't any consolation that Victoria had fallen for his alter ego, whom she thought could court her to his heart's content.
How he wished he had resisted Zafira's now faded charms. Diego wasn't sure why she had married him, but he knew now it wasn't because she loved him as she had claimed. His mind drifted back to their first meeting. He had been out with Miguel, strolling through the weekly mercado near the university. Zafira had literally ran into him. He frowned as he remembered how they both had been full of apologies as he helped her back onto her feet.
He and Miguel had taken her to a nearby café for a cup of coffee. But all of Zafira's attention had been focused on him. She had charmingly flirted with him, totally ignoring Miguel.
Looking back upon it now, Diego realized that it had been very strange indeed that Zafira had fixated on him. Miguel had always been the one to whom all the señoritas had thronged. That Zafira hadn't even spared him a second glance had been very unusual indeed.
Shaking his head, he opened his eyes and glanced over at Victoria again. He loved her so much. Shutting his eyes again, he envisioned the day he had stepped into the tavern and saw her again. She had been so beautiful, her dark eyes flashing with anger that had changed to sparkling awareness when she noticed his presence.
Diego wished that there hadn't been a crisis in the pueblo. That Ramón hadn't been a petty tyrant bent on bleeding Los Angeles dry. That he had been able to pursue Victoria, to have asked for her hand in marriage.
They could have been married for almost two years by now. Diego groaned silently as he thought of her, dressed in a virginal white nightgown, as she came to him on their wedding night. He would have slowly removed the thin cotton garment, baring her lovely golden body. He could feel the silken texture of her skin beneath his as they kissed and caressed each other as he made her his.
And children. . . They would have had a least one child by now, he surmised. A sturdy little lad with dark hair and his mother's brown eyes. Or perhaps a little niña with raven curls and dark eyes.
He could see in his mind's eye the picture of him and Victoria holding hands as they stood of the doorway of the hacienda courtyard and watched as their half a dozen or so children played. The air was ringing with laughter. . .
The sound of a muffled shout from Victoria shook Diego from his reveries. Her eyes were wide with panic as she stared at the burning fuse, which was now less than a foot away from the keg of gunpowder. Diego could see that the other men were alarmed as well although they were doing their best not to let it show.
He turned his head away, not wanting them to see the fear etched on his own face. A cork sitting on a table to his right caught his eye. His gaze traveled upward and he saw an opened bottle of wine situated next to it, close to the table's edge.
Diego looked over at the fuse then back up at the wine bottle and quickly calculated the distance and the angles. If he could just reach the leg of the table right next to him. . .
He stretched his legs as far as he could and hooked the toe of his right boot around the table leg. He glanced again at the fuse then moved the table toward him a couple of inches. Then Diego drew back both legs and pushed the first table into the second one, where the uncorked bottle of wine sat.
The bottle toppled over and the white wine it contained spilled out of it, directly onto the burning fuse. Its flame was snuffed out mere inches from the powder keg. Diego sagged back against the wall, his body weak with relief.
He smiled despite his gag as he heard his father laugh and Victoria giggle. They all looked at each other, including the Alcalde and the sergeant, whose faces also reflected his own elation. Everybody then turned their attention to the loud pounding coming from the front door of the tavern.
Diego's heart leapt as he recognized Felipe rushing into the kitchen, followed by two other men from the pueblo. The youth immediately made his way over to his mentor and began untying the cloth that covered his mouth.
"Well done, Felipe!' exclaimed Diego as soon as he could speak.
Ramón stared indignantly at him as his gag was being removed by one of the men. "Well done? The boy was five minutes too late! Bah!"
"The Alcalde is right," Mendoza said a little more appreciatively as his hands were untied. "If it wasn't for Don Diego, we would all be meeting our maker."
"You were magnificent, Don Diego!" added Victoria, a beaming smile gracing her beautiful face.
The admiration he heard in her voice caused Diego to pause as he reached down to free his feet. He glanced over at Victoria, his heart welling up with love.
"Yes, my son, magnificent." His father's voice cut into his overt ardor of the lovely innkeeper. "Even Zorro couldn't have done it better."
Diego couldn't stop the huge grin that spread across his face. He lowered his head and finished untying the rope that bound his ankles together. He looked up when he felt a hand on his shoulder and saw Felipe's happy young face. He got to his feet and gave the boy a hug.
As they moved apart, Felipe made a quick ‘Z' as he glanced up at Diego questioningly. Diego gave him an almost unperceptive nod before patting the lad on the back. He then went over to help his father to his feet.
"All this excitement," he began as the elder de la Vega brushed himself off. "It's left me quite fatigued. I think I'll go home and lie down for a while."
A pair of eye rolls from his father and Victoria and a knowing smirk from Ramón greeted his pronouncement, a grim acknowledgment of his acting ability. Diego tried to brush the bitter thoughts from his mind as he and Felipe left the tavern.
It was nearly dark by the time Diego, accompanied by Don Alejandro and Felipe, strolled through the front door of the hacienda. Zafira ran up to them instantly. "Where have you been?" she demanded stridently. "I expected you back hours ago."
His father began to fill in his daughter-in-law
of the harrowing events of their afternoon. Felipe, after seeing
the hostile glance Zafira had shot his way, glanced up at Diego then headed
off toward the kitchen.
Diego paid little attention to what Don Alejandro was saying, having little desire to relive the experience.
"And Diego's quick thinking saved us from being all blown to bits," stated the elder de la Vega proudly. He patted his hand on his son's shoulder.
Zafira looked up then at Diego and he saw the loathing in her eyes directed at him. There was no doubt she was not at all thrilled that he had returned home in one piece.
"Si, I'm sure he was quite the hero," she replied, her voice dripping with sarcasm. She slipped her arm through the old don's. "Well, I'm glad you're safe and sound. You must be exhausted."
"No, not at all," his father said as she began to lead him away. "I feel as though I could eat a horse though."
His wife's twittering laughter echoed bitterly in Diego's ears. At least Quintana was in jail, he thought, thanks to Zorro. Hopefully the madman would never bother any of them again. His mind recalled that besides his father, Victoria and Mendoza had also been grateful for both his and Zorro's actions that day.
Then he chuckled as he remembered the sergeant's reaction to the present (a box full of beans) that he and Felipe had given him, even though they now knew it wasn't the soldier's birthday.
Evidently Diego hadn't been the only one
who had been deliberating over his hopes and desires it seemed. Sighing
again, he turned and followed after his wife and father.
Z Z Z
"CADENAS DE AMOR" - CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE