Diego was determined not to let Zafira see how much Felipe's departure affected him. He had seen her gloating expression as he had left the hacienda to escort the lad and Señora Derenoso to the pueblo. And he had noticed her smug smile as she sat on a settee in the library, reading a book, upon his return.
So, she had finally got what she wanted, he thought acrimoniously. She had detested Felipe since the moment she had first laid eyes on the youth. Diego still was not convinced that she had not somehow plotted with the señora. It was just too coincidental an occurrence.
But surely, Zafira was not that petty. To deprive him of the friend whom he had come to think of as a son. . . Diego shook his head.
Pointedly ignoring her, he sat down at the piano and began to play a lively tune. Diego glanced over at his wife and saw her staring at him with a inscrutable expression on her face. His fingers glided over the ivory and ebony keys as he lifted his right eyebrow. She lowered her gaze back down to the pages of her novel.
[parts of the following scene taken from "Family Business" written by Philip John Taylor]
A half an hour later, there was suddenly a loud and insistent knocking on the front door. Realizing he was closer to the door than any of the servants, Diego started to rise from the piano bench. But before he could get to his feet, the door flew open and Victoria Escalante stepped inside the hacienda.
She was breathing hard and holding her left side. Diego wondered if she had run all the way from Los Angeles. "Señorita Escalante?" he inquired, a bit worried as to why she was there.
"Don Diego," she gasped out. "Felipe is in danger. I know it."
Zafira set her book aside and got up from the settee. She came over and stood beside her husband. "What nonsense is this?" she asked stridently. "The boy is with his mother. . .where he belongs."
Victoria shook her head. "No, I don't believe she is his mother," she stated. "My brother, Francisco, says that Felipe is almost identical to the son of a friend of his who is the president of a bank in Mexico City."
"Oh, yes," said Diego, trying to keep the panic from his voice as Señora Derenoso's plan now became obvious to him. "I forgot Francisco is here for a visit. I'll have to drop by and see him before he leaves."
"Felipe, the son of a bank official?" queried Zafira with a sneer. "Surely not. . ."
"Perdóne, Señora," interrupted Victoria crossly, "but that's not what I said."
"Then why are you bothering us?" Zafira asked testily. "The boy is with his family. Everyone is happy."
Victoria glanced up at Diego and he saw her eyes fill with compassion. "Not everyone," she said quietly.
Zafira stared at her with a look of loathing. "Mind your own business, Señorita," she said nastily. "I'm sure your. . .customers are missing you." She went back into the library and resumed her place on the settee.
Diego glared at her. How dare she imply that the patrons of the tavern were there for more than innocent reasons. Forcing his temper to cool down, he led Victoria away from his wife.
"So this twin of Felipe's is the son of a bank president?" he inquired, returning to the reason for the innkeeper's visit.
Victoria nodded. "Francisco says they are like two peas in a pod."
"What an incredible coincidence," Diego remarked casually, knowing deep down that it was far from it. She was right, Felipe was in grave danger. He would be facing prison time, or worse, if he was to be used to help rob a bank.
"Oh, it is more than a coincidence," contended Victoria, "and you must do something about it."
"Yes, yes, of course," agreed Diego noncommittally as he and Victoria walked through the still open front door. "I'll start searching right away. Although they're probably many miles away by now. Heaven knows which road they took."
"Diego, you have to try and find him," Victoria pleaded. "I think she means to use him to rob that bank. If only Zorro knew of this."
She placed her hand on Diego's arm. And it still affected him even though his skin lay beneath his linen shirt and his woolen jacket. Victoria looked up and their eyes caught for a moment. He saw, just for split second, longing in her dark brown eyes. Diego quickly averted his gaze.
"I must go," Victoria declared uneasily, snatching
her hand away as if it had been singed. She turned away from him
and practically ran through the hacienda gate. Diego watched her
leave, feeling his face contort with anger at the knowledge he had foolishly
allowed Felipe to walk into a trap.
Z Z Z
Less than three hours later, Zorro was riding Toronado alongside a wagon that was being driven by Felipe. The lad's supposed mother, and her male coconspirator, were tied and gagged in the wagon's bed. The man in black nudged his stallion into the horses pulling the conveyance and it came to a halt on the outskirts of the pueblo de Los Angeles.
Dismounting quickly, Zorro reached into one of his saddlebags and extracted paper and quill. He wrote swiftly, outlining who the captives where and their crimes. After attaching the note to the man's back, the masked man walked up to where a despondent Felipe sat, patiently holding the reins.
"Take these two to Sergeant Mendoza," he said slowly, pretending he didn't know that the youth could hear. "Do you understand?"
Felipe nodded. Zorro was taken aback by the defiant look in the boy's eyes. Figuring he must be seeing things, he deliberately added, "I've jotted down an explanation for you to give the good sergeant." He patted Felipe on the leg. "Adios."
The young man flicked the reins and the wagon started rolling down the road. Zorro waved mockingly at the pair of kidnappers as they passed by where he stood. Then he went over to where the Andalusian was grazing on some nearby bunch grass.
"Come on, old boy," he said affectionately, patting the horse's neck before swinging himself back up into the saddle. "We have a very brave and very beautiful lady to thank."
He urged Toronado in the direction of the tavern's back door.
[parts of the following scene taken from "Family Business" written by Philip John Taylor]
It was some time later before Zorro and Toronado headed back to their hideout in the hillside behind the de la Vega hacienda. The man in black smiled wryly as he let his mind drift back to the events of just a few minutes earlier, after Felipe had delivered his kidnappers to Sergeant Mendoza.
After Francisco had tried to turn Zorro over to the Alcalde; then, after finally listening to his sister, switched sides and fought alongside the man in black against Ramón and his lancers, eventually locking them inside their own cuartel. To the conversation he had had with Victoria. A conversation that keep bouncing around in his head.
"You will take Felipe back to Don Diego?" Zorro had asked the lovely innkeeper. She nodded as she brushed her hair from her eyes. "You were a very brave lady to defend your brother with your life."
If he had had any doubts about her courage, they had been dispelled that afternoon. She would have laid down her life for anyone she loved. And it was a bit unnerving that included him, someone who was so unworthy of her devotion.
Victoria had smiled up at him. "Oh, it just wasn't for my brother."
"I know." He gazed down upon her, his heart aching with love and desire. He had seen the expectation in her eyes, had known what she wanted him to say. He glanced about the crowded plaza, where people were still buzzing with excitement and where they were the center of attention.
"Perhaps another time," he had suggested, hoping she missed the insincerity in his voice as he had no intention of declaring his love as long as he was a married man, "when we don't have an audience."
Victoria's expression had looked so sorrowful. "Is it so difficult to say?" she begged unhappily.
Yes. "No," he fibbed. "But it must not be said until this mask is removed forever."
She nodded, her eyes full of disappointed understanding. Zorro reached down and took her left hand, holding it in both of his before he brought it to his lips for a lingering kiss. It was so frustrating, he thought bitterly, that this was all he could have of her. That her hands were the only part of her that he could ever touch. Dragging his mouth away reluctantly, he gazed into her eyes.
She was looking back at him with the same face that she had earlier when she had come to warn Diego about Felipe. That same look of longing she had shown his unmasked self. Hearing loud shouts and banging noises coming from the garrison, he had seized upon them as an excuse to escape her company.
If only he could abscond from his wife's presence so easily, he thought darkly as he rode his black stallion through the narrow tunnel to the secret cave. It seemed that Victoria had brought Felipe back to the hacienda and the walls were reverberating with the sound of Zafira's displeasure at the boy's return.
He swiftly stripped off his black costume and changed back into his white linen shirt and brown trousers as his wife's shrill voice carried on with only infrequent lapses of silence. A quick peek through the viewing hole told him that his usual way out of the cave was blocked as the two women stood near the entrance to the library. And however intense their discussion might be, he was sure at least one of them would notice him emerging from a secret panel in the fireplace.
Instead, he utilized a passageway that he and Felipe had used only once before and exited from the fireplace in his father's room. An egress that was normally too dangerous to use but since the elder de la Vega was away. . . He walked purposefully into the foyer where his spouse was trying to browbeat answers from Victoria, who, to his delight, was not backing down an inch from Zafira's tirade.
"I told you to mind your own business," his wife yelled at the innkeeper. "He doesn't belong here. He never did."
"That's not true at all," Victoria retorted, flicking her eyes over at Felipe, whose head was hanging down as he pretended not to hear what was being said about him by the two women. "This is his home. Don Diego and Don Alejandro have made it so. Who are you to say otherwise?"
"Who are you to even interfere?" demanded Zafira. "You are nothing but a cheap. . ."
"Felipe's back?" interjected Diego, not having to fake the surprised happiness in his tone. The lad looked over at him only after the women had directed their attention his way and a smile crept over his young face.
Diego held out his arms and embraced the boy he had thought never to see again. "You're back," he reiterated as he pulled back and looked into the youth's happy face. He glanced over at Victoria. "What happened? Where is Señora Derenoso?"
Victoria quickly filled him in on all the details he already knew. "I knew she wasn't his mother," she declared once again.
"And you were right," Diego agreed gratefully. "Gracias, Señorita."
Zafira glared from Diego to Victoria. "Fine," she snarled before leaving in a huff. They all started, even Felipe, as she slammed shut her bedroom door. Fortunately, all of Victoria's attention was focused on Diego.
"I'm sorry, Don Diego," she began earnestly. "I didn't mean to cause any strife between you and Doña Zafira."
"It's not your fault," he reassured her. And it wasn't. His wife had begun turning away from him almost from the day they were married, even before they had reached California and he had fallen in love with Victoria. "Zafira. . . Well, she's still having difficulty adjusting. . ." He trailed off as his excuse sounded lame even to his ears.
"Si, of course," murmured Victoria politely. She stepped over to where Felipe stood in the entrance of the parlor. "I'm glad you're back home," she said carefully before enveloping him in her arms. The boy's face glowed bright red over her shoulder as Diego grew envious of the sight of the lad in Victoria's embrace. Both men cleared their expressions as she moved away from Felipe.
"Well, I have to be getting back," she stated. "Francisco is leaving and I need to say goodbye before he goes."
"Tell him I'm sorry I missed him," Diego said truthfully.
"I will, Don Diego." With those words, Victoria turned and walked out of the hacienda. Diego watched her until the front door closed firmly behind her, not even bothering to keep the wistfulness from his countenance.
Felipe passed in front of him on his way to the library where he immediately went over to the fireplace and tripped the panel that opened in its back. He had disappeared before it even registered with Diego what he had done.
He found the boy running a currying brush over Toronado's gleaming black coat. "What's wrong, Felipe?" he asked in confusion. The mutinous look he had seen earlier that day had returned to the lad's face.
After the youth had tossed down the brush, he used his hands to sign his answer. "Why did I let you go with her?" asked Diego, wondering if he had translated correctly.
Felipe nodded, an angry expression stealing over his face.
"Felipe, it was your choice to leave," stated Diego. "I wanted you to stay. I didn't want you to go."
Another flurry of gestures had Diego shaking his head. "Felipe, stop," he interjected, holding up his hand. "I know you're mad at yourself at being duped. I feel the same way. I'm sorry this happened but you mustn't blame yourself for. . ."
The lad made a couple of quick signals, breaking into Diego's speech. "You blame me?" Diego inquired, taken aback by the venomous look in the young man's eyes. "Felipe, I don't understand. Why do you think it's my fault?"
Felipe signed his response then looked down at his feet. "You think Zafira influenced me?" interpreted Diego. He reached out and touched the youth's arm. "Nothing could be further from the truth. It's true though she doesn't want you here," he said quickly as the lad's head had snapped up to glare at him. He sighed.
"I know, I should have asked for more proof from the señora," he said guiltily. "But there was a resemblance and she did sound genuine. I just wanted you to be happy, Felipe," he stated. "I know how much you miss your family."
Felipe shook his head violently then pointed at Diego then himself then launched into a flurry of signs.
"I did not give you away to the first person who came along and claimed to be related to you," he replied, slightly injured at the boy's accusation. He shook his head, feeling wrung out by the emotions that had churned through him that day. "Felipe, let's not argue about this now. The wounds are still too fresh. Just let me say I'm very sorry and I am very glad that you are back home."
The young man stared at him with narrowed eyes
for a few moments. Then he held up the middle finger of his right
hand before turning and stalking out of the cave, leaving an astonished
Diego, his mouth hanging open stupidly, to stare at the empty entranceway
and to wonder where Felipe had learned the vulgar gesture.
Z Z Z
"CADENAS DE AMOR" - CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN