"FOR BETTER OR WORSE"
[parts of the following scene taken from "The New Broom" written by Philip John Taylor]
Six Months Later
Diego stood on the tavern porch with his father, Zafira, and Sergeant Mendoza as they waited for the arrival of the new alcalde of Los Angeles. Diego bounced the nine-month old Isabella in his arms, smiling at her as she bubbled with happiness.
"Pa," she gurgled. "Papapapa."
"That's right," Diego replied, tickling the little girl under her plump chin. "I'm your papa."
Zafira glanced in their direction and rolled her eyes. Diego could never figure out if she was jealous of the close bond he shared with their daughter or if her lack of interest caused her to be disgusted by the outpouring of affection he showered on Isabella.
He sensed rather than saw Victoria's entrance onto the porch as his father and Mendoza exchanged their opinions of what the new commandante would be like. Zorro had been true to his word and had stayed away from the lovely innkeeper. Actually, it had been easy, since the masked man's presence had rarely been required the past six months. At first she had seemed upset but lately she seemed to have come to terms with the distance the man in black had put between them.
Victoria came up beside him, causing a frisson of awareness down his spine. But she only had eyes for the child in his arms, sticking out a finger in Isabella's direction. "She gets bigger every time I see her," she commented as she gazed at the niña wistfully. The infant grabbed her finger and shook it. "Pa," she said. "Papapa."
Diego chuckled. "And here I thought I was special," he stated. Victoria laughed as well and suddenly a image of the three of them, together as a family, flashed through his mind. He groaned inwardly as a pang of longing the vision created rose up within him.
He was grateful for the sight of Felipe running up to the tavern, drawing everyone's attention as did the rumbling of the stagecoach as it rolled into the plaza. Mendoza stepped off the porch and looked upward, signaling to the musicians on the tavern's balcony. The trio started playing as the coach shuddered to a halt in front of the inn. The sergeant ran over to the conveyance and opened its door.
"Welcome to Los Angeles, Alcalde," he said in his most authoritative voice. Everyone was stunned as a man dressed in dirty old clothes stumbled out of the coach. "You're not the new alcalde!" Mendoza shouted accusingly. "You're Juan the coach driver!"
The man sitting in the vehicle's driving seat chuckled. "He was the coach driver," he declared, his face covered by the old hat he wore. "He should have been pensioned off years ago. After we were passed by a burro and two tortoises, I decided to take the reins myself."
Diego stared up at the man curiously as the townspeople laughed. Something about him seemed familiar. The pueblo had been given no clue to their new official's identity, just a message informing them of when he would arrive.
Diego hoped this alcalde would be a reasonable man and the masked man could retire forever. And he wanted to get off on the right foot with the man, appearing to be a happily married family man with his wife and child by his side. Not someone that would be suspected of being a wanted outlaw with a price on his head.
Diego watched as the man on the stagecoach stood up and flung off Juan the driver's dusty old coat, displaying the military uniform beneath. "I am your new alcalde," he announced.
Madre de Dios! Diego stared up incredulously at the face of Ignacio de Soto, an old classmate of his from the university. Of all the twists of fate. . .
"Ignacio?" Diego stepped forward as he looked up at his former schoolmate in disbelief.
De Soto stared down at him, the surprise evident in his eyes.
"Diego? Diego de la Vega?" The new alcalde placed a hat adorned with a fluffy white feather on his head before jumping down out of the driver's seat. "Diego de la Vega, after all these years," he said as he extended his white-gloved hand. He then indicated Isabella. "And who is this?"
"Oh, forgive me," Diego apologized. He put his hand on Zafira's back and moved her up to his side. "This is my wife, Zafira," he declared, "and this is our daughter, Isabella."
"Ah, a family man, eh, Diego?" de Soto asked rhetorically. Diego introduced him to his father and Victoria. The commandante lingered over Victoria's hand as he placed a courtesy kiss upon it. Diego remembered that Ignacio had considered himself quite the ladies' man while at university. But that knowledge did not alleviate the jealousy that rose up in him as the other man held onto Victoria's hand.
After de Soto had called the garrison together for his inspection, the others questioned Diego about their new leader. Diego tried to recall what he could about the upper class man who had been in his senior year when he had been a freshman. They had had only one class together that common year, drama. And Ignacio had played Judas to Diego's Jesus in an enactment of the Passion Play.
"Come on, Diego, you've met him before," his father said impatiently. "What kind of man is he?"
"Ignacio was on a scholarship," stated Diego, suddenly remembering that bit of information.
"He was a charity case?" asked Zafira. She glanced over at de Soto who was addressing his new charges. "No wonder he's trying so hard to pretend he's like the rest of us." She threw a scornful look at Victoria.
Diego ignored his wife's comments. He hadn't realized she was such an elitist. Evidently the group of revolutionaries that her brother had been involved with had only been fighting for the concerns of the upper classes. "His father was a farmer, I believe," he said. "He succeeded through sheer ability. He should be very sympathetic to the problems of the poor."
"Or he might distance himself from what he once was," Victoria said worriedly. "Some people forget where they came from."
"That's true," agreed Zafira. She stared coolly at the innkeeper. "Some people overreach their position and think they're better than they will truly ever be.
Diego saw that Victoria was about to figuratively, if not literally, unleash her claws on his wife and decided to intervene, stepping in between the two women.
"We might finally have the right man for the job,"
he announced confidently as he observed his old classmate follow Sergeant
Mendoza to the cuartel, not knowing that later that evening he would be
eating those words.
Z Z Z
[parts of the following scene taken from "The New Broom" written by Philip John Taylor]
The evening had started out pleasant enough. The elder de la Vega had invited the new alcalde and about twenty of the pueblo's leading citizens to dinner at the hacienda as a gesture of welcome. The meal had been superb, roast beef and pheasant, walnut mousse, and a corn salad that was the de la Vegas's housekeeper's speciality. Victoria had contributed several pans of her excellent flan.
After everyone had eaten their fill, glasses of wine and other drinks were passed around as the guests mingled. De Soto, of course, was the guest of honor and did his duty, chatting politely with all present. That was, however, until he and Don Alejandro exchanged heated words about the deceased former alcalde and the new commandante made his stunning pronouncement.
"Your former alcalde suspected everyone in this room at one time or another with being in league with Zorro," announced de Soto loudly so everyone in the room could hear him. "Therefore, no one shall leave this hacienda until Zorro is apprehended."
All the guests gasped in shock. Don Alejandro, who had been arguing with the Alcalde, recovered his composure first. "You can't hold us indefinitely," he stated boldly
De Soto shook his head. "Oh, no, no, no," he replied. "You misunderstand, Don Alejandro. I can do anything I want to do. Madrid is eight thousand miles away." He grasped the hilt of his sword that for the moment remained in its scabbard. "I am the only law here! And this pueblo has been nothing but trouble to the Spanish Crown."
Diego walked up to his old classmate, standing directly in front of him. He felt as though the other man had betrayed him. All his dreams of a simple life blew away in a cloud of smoke. "You really don't understand, do you?" he asked impassionedly. "The people of this pueblo will not be a stepping stone for corruption, ambition, or greed.
Ignacio glared at Diego, an icy warning in his pale eyes. "You will all be free to go once Zorro is apprehended," he proclaimed. He looked around the hacienda challengingly. "Until that time, I suggest you make yourselves comfortable."
He turned toward the front door. But Zafira impeded his progress.
"What do you mean, we can't leave?" she demanded a bit hysterically
"I mean, Señora de la Vega," de Soto answered calmly, "nobody goes out, nobody comes in."
"But I need to go for my ride every day," Zafira whinged.
"Then I suggest you pray that Zorro shows himself quickly," the Alcalde advised with a sneer. He then moved around the woman in his path and marched away, calling out "Mendoza!"
Don Alejandro came up beside Diego's left side and Victoria to his right. "Well, Diego," he said with more than a little sarcasm in his tone, "you still think your ‘friend' is the right man for the job."
Diego felt ill. "No," he responded dully. "He's obviously nothing like the student I knew in Madrid."
"He can't be serious," Victoria chimed in. "We all can't stay here. I mean, no offense, Don Alejandro, but this hacienda isn't large enough to hold everyone here tonight."
"No, you're right, my dear," the elder de la Vega conceded, grimacing at being reminded that he was now the host of twenty overnight guests for who knew how long. "It will take some doing, but I think we can make it work." He grasped Diego's left shoulder. "Find Maria. Tell her to make sure all the guest rooms are prepared and to lay her hands on whatever bedding and blankets she can find."
"Si, Father." Diego, glad to have something to do, immediately went in search of the de la Vega housekeeper.
The next several hours were spend in the flurry of activity of getting everyone settled in for the night. Diego hadn't seen either Zafira or Victoria for the past hour and wondered where they were. He had gone to the nursery to tuck in Isabella for the night. The niñera, who was going to sleep on a pallet on the floor next to his daughter's crib since she had given up her tiny room to some of the guests, told him that the señora had not been in all evening.
Diego was hardly surprised. Zafira rarely checked on their child, saying that she was in good hands with Señora Batido. Again, he shook his head at her unnatural behavior as he walked down the corridor to his bedroom. He opened the door and was greeted by a high pitched squeal.
One of the female guests, an older widow, stood next to his bed, clasping a blanket to her still clad bosom. He glanced over to the other side of the mattress and his eyes nearly popped from their sockets. Victoria, dressed only in a chemise and petticoat, stared back at him, her eyes round with surprise.
At the sound of his wife's sharp voice, Diego tore his gaze away from the scantily clad Victoria and turned to look at Zafira.
"Didn't anyone tell you that your room would be otherwise occupied tonight?" she queried, her brows arched questioningly. He realized he still held the door knob in his left hand and that the door was still wide open. He quickly closed it.
"Obviously not," he replied, a bit vexed. "Where am I supposed to sleep then?"
Zafira smiled at him charmingly. "With me, of course."
Once more, Diego was flabbergasted. It had been a year and a half since that night Isabella had been conceived. And it had been over four years since they had actually spent the night together in the same bedroom. Or in the same bed for that matter.
His body, already aroused by the sight of Victoria in her thin cotton undergarments, grew even harder. He followed his wife as she entered her room. It was then that he noticed that she had already changed into her nightgown, which was covered by her robe.
Diego then saw the blanket and pillow on the floor next to Zafira's bed. He glanced up at her abruptly.
"What's this?" he demanded more forcefully than he meant to.
"Your bed for the night," she replied, looking him in the eye. He saw no trace of malice nor humor in her expression. She was smiling benevolently at him.
"But I. . ." He broke off what he had been about to say, that he thought she wanted him to sleep with her. Rolling his eyes upward, he scolded himself for getting his hopes up where she was concerned.
But it was getting so frustrating. He was trying to be a good husband and remain faithful to his marriage vows. Deep in his heart, he knew he didn't love her. But he still cared for her. She was the mother of his child. He had married her for better or worse.
He just wanted to know when it was going to be better. The lack of affection and physical contact was getting tougher for him to bear. There had been many times he could have found both elsewhere. It actually surprised him how many women were willing to overlook the fact he was married in order to satisfy his baser needs.
Diego noticed that Zafira was gazing at him with an odd expression on her face. "Good night, Diego," she murmured as she lifted her quilt and slid into her bed.
He stared at her then at the pallet on the floor. He had planned to introduce Zorro to the new alcalde the next day but since it was obvious he would never be able to sleep now, he might as well take care of Ignacio and his delusions of grandeur that night instead.
He started to leave the bedchamber. "Where are you going?" Zafira asked. Diego turned to see her sitting up in her bed, still wearing her robe.
"I'm going to read for awhile," he answered. He gave her a lopsided grin of apology. "Don't wait up."
Ignoring her quiet protest that he stay,
Diego left the room and went in search of Felipe. He had a lesson
to teach his old school chum, although he doubted de Soto would heed the
excellent advice Zorro would dispense.
Z Z Z
As Diego had suspected, de Soto possessed a stubborn streak as deep as the ocean and a mind shuttered to reason along with an unhealthy obsession with Machiavelli and an impressive collection of silk cravats. If anything, Zorro's visit to the new alcalde had only further resolved his aim to capture the masked man.
Diego had been worried for a brief moment when he had fenced with the other man. He couldn't remember if Ignacio had also been a student of Sir Edmund's since they had never trained at the same time. But he had been concerned that de Soto might have recognized the Englishman's influence in Zorro's style.
Fortunately the new alcalde had remained clueless to his new archenemy's identity. Diego had sighed with relief. He and Ignacio had never been more than acquaintances really. Just two actors in a play. Although there had been one point where de Soto's Judas had had to kiss Diego's Jesus's cheeks in the ultimate act of betrayal. That scene had always unnerved Diego as he always thought that Ignacio had seemed rather eager to turn him over to the Roman soldiers.
He couldn't help feeling a certain sense
of déjà vu.
Z Z Z
"CADENAS DE AMOR" - CHAPTER FORTY-THREE