"MATTERS OF HONOR"
"Buenos dias," Diego said as he walked into the tavern late one afternoon. He made his way up to the bar where Victoria was already pouring him a glass of lemonade.
"Hola, Don Diego," she replied as she slid the filled glass toward him.
"Gracias." He picked up the cup and took a large sip of the refreshing liquid. "That really hits the spot," he announced lightly.
Victoria smiled at him, a tight little quirk of her lips that didn't reach her eyes. She then lifted a tray of dirty glasses and carried it into the kitchen.
Her widowhood had became the talk of the pueblo for the past several months. Some people thought it tragically romantic. Others disapproved of the way she had gone back to running the tavern so soon after her husband's death, the day after his funeral in fact. It didn't seem to matter to some of the gossips that she wore the dark colors of mourning, which Diego personally thought made her look tired and wan.
Diego turned and leaned his back up against the wooden counter. He had taken to hanging around the inn nearly every afternoon he could spare, overcoming his guilt and shame as he was truly worried about the lovely innkeeper.
As far as he knew, she had not spoken to anyone about the day she had been married then widowed. At first, many of the pueblo's matrons had tried to draw her out, but she had rebuffed their queries. They then took to speculating amongst themselves about her and the condition of her heart.
Victoria reemerged from the kitchen, carrying two plates full of tamales. Diego watched as she wended her way through the tables and placed her burden in front of two men. Deftly she set their meals down on their table along with their utensils wrapped in red and white checked napkins.
Intrigued by how gracefully she moved, Diego's eyes followed her until she disappeared into the kitchen again. A low wolfish whistle drew his attention back to the two men, one of whom he recognized as the driver of a wagon that hauled freight between the pueblo and the port of San Pedro.
"She is a beauty," said the man Diego didn't know.
"I told you, Tomas," the driver replied, nodding his head and pointing with his spoon toward the kitchen.
"And she was widowed on her wedding day, you say," stated Tomas.
His companion recounted the story of how
Ortiz had tried to arrest Zorro before being killed by the exploding cannon.
"What a pity," Tomas replied, glancing at the curtains at the kitchen's entrance. "I'd sure like to fire my cannon off at her," he stated coarsely. Both men laughed at the crude innuendo.
Diego had heard enough. He launched himself across the room and in the blink of an eye, had Tomas pinned to the wall with his forearm pressed up against the man's throat.
"If you as so much as lay one finger on Señora Ortiz," he growled ominously into the man's dazed face, "I promise I'll kill you where you stand."
He turned his head to see Victoria standing several meters to his right, holding another tray of food. She had obviously witnessed the whole encounter, a belief borne by the stunned expression on her face For a second he pushed his arm a little harder to Tomas's neck before relinquishing his hold on him.
"Get out," he snarled threateningly to Tomas then glared over at his amigo. "Both of you."
The driver threw some coins on their table then he and his friend fled the tavern. Diego stared menacingly at them until they were out of his sight.
"My apologies," he said calmly to the room at large who sat in astonished silence. "Sorry to have disturbed your meals."
He started to leave as well but a hand on his arm halted his progress. He didn't have to look down to know it was Victoria. But he did anyway and saw her gazing up at him with a bemused expression.
"Don Diego," she said hesitantly. "Gracias."
"De nada," he replied. He tried to move away but her grip on his shirtsleeve tightened.
"I've never seen you move so fast," she declared in a stunned voice. "Or seen you so angry before."
"They were impugning your honor, Señora," stated Diego as he tore his eyes away from her face. "I could not allow that to happen."
"No, of course not," Victoria agreed. "But. . . But. . ."
"But what?" he inquired in what he hoped was a casual manner. He was more than a little bit concerned that she might be making comparisons between what she had just seen and what she had seen Zorro do time and time again.
"But nothing," Victoria replied with a shake of her head.
Diego knew she was not telling him the whole truth as he had caught the tiniest flicker of fear in her eyes. Had there been other such incidents? Had other men made obscene suggestions to her, hoping she was one of those widows who took lovers?
He glanced down at Victoria's beautiful face but she averted her gaze. A sudden, horrifying thought popped into his head. Dios, what if some man had forced himself on her? His stomach churned violently at the idea. As much as he wished otherwise, he couldn't be around all the time to protect her. That something so vile might have occurred when he wasn't there. . .
Abruptly he wondered if she was still a virgin. Diego had heard that her rushed nuptials were because the lieutenant had received an appointment in Monterey and had been due to report there, but what if that had been only part of the reason? She and Ortiz might have forestalled their wedding vows, necessitating the hasty wedding.
It had been nearly four months since she had been practically widowed at the altar. Diego's eyes quickly skimmed the length of her body, noticing that her waist was as trim as ever, if not a bit thinner. She wasn't carry Ortiz's child at any rate.
He then noticed that Victoria was staring
at him oddly. He grinned apologetically. She smiled back tremulously,
but a genuine smile nonetheless. "Gracias, Diego," she murmured
as she snatched her hand away from his arm. "I'd. . .I'd better get
back to work," she added nervously. "Adios."
"Adios, Victoria." Diego left the tavern then, shaken more than he cared to admit by what had just happened. This had not been the first time his temper had gotten the better of him, thus nearly betraying that his actions were identical to those of his masked alter ego.
And his concern about Victoria had grown tenfold. He felt so powerless to help her. He was a married man and his position as a family friend could only explain his actions so far. Already his not-so-covert vigilance was beginning to cause comments. The altercation that day was just going to trigger more talk.
He swung up into the saddle of his mare,
Esperanza, and nudged her into the direction of the hacienda. He
rode home, his thoughts weighing heavily on his mind.
Z Z Z
[parts of the following scene taken from "A Woman Scorned" written by Philip John Taylor]
Zorro sat with his back up against the cool adobe wall, for which he was grateful as the serape and large straw sombrero he wore over his usual black costume were making him sweat like a horse. If only de Soto would get on with it, he urged silently, knowing that Felipe was waiting just outside the pueblo, waiting for the Alcalde to utter the words ‘prepare to fire'. That was when the youth was to release Toronado who carried a scarecrow fashioned to look like Zorro on his back.
He peeked out from under the wide brim of the oversized hat and sighed with relief as he saw de Soto finally swagger out of his office. Sliding a glance to his right, he saw that Mendoza had the other lancers lined up, their muskets by their sides.
A blindfolded man stood up against the wall opposite the soldiers. A man that Zorro believed to be innocent of the crime he had been accused of; the murder of the man's own father.
His plan to stop the execution went off without a hitch. The masked dummy had drawn the lancer's fire, just as he knew it would, giving him the opportunity to free Jacinto Santana and scold the Alcalde once again about the folly of jumping to hasty conclusions.
Once he was mounted into the saddle on Toronado's back, he started to ride out of town. A inadvertent glance at a person standing on the porch of de Soto's office caused him to spin the horse back around to take another look.
Zorro stared at the blonde haired woman, her brilliant blue eyes gazing back at him coyly. "Buenos dias, Señorita," he murmured. Then with a salute of his gloved hand, he urged his black stallion out of the pueblo.
It was some time later, after he had secured Jacinto Santana in the old abandoned barn on the de la Vega property where he had once stashed Leonardo Montez the jewel thief, before Zorro got a chance to dwell on what he had seen earlier that day.
He closed his eyes as he and Toronado thundered over the dusty ground and conjured up the image of another blonde, blue-eyed woman. She and the woman on the porch could have been sisters, their looks and coloring were so similar.
Opening his eyes, he leaned forward and encouraged the Andalusian to go faster. An restless feeling had been stirred up inside him by the beautiful woman's appearance. He wondered who she was and why she was visiting the pueblo de Los Angeles.
He was just on edge, he tried to tell himself rationally, because the señorita reminded him of his mistress from his university days. The Condesa Magdalena del Paseo. The first woman who had truly gotten under his skin and had him doing things he hadn't dreamed himself capable of doing.
He shook his head. He had more important
things to concern himself with at the moment. Like how to keep an
innocent man from being executed for a murder he did not commit.
Z Z Z
Diego was in the library the next morning, re-reading his copy of Shakespeare's sonnets when Felipe came tearing into the room. Diego had sent the youth to the pueblo to find out whatever he could about the mysterious woman.
He got to his feet, setting aside the well-worn book. "What is it, Felipe?"
The lad began signing that a man had arrived in Los Angeles that morning. A man who looked as if he had ridden for many miles. A man who had a pistol strapped to each of his hips.
Diego didn't like the sound of that. "Come on," he said, tipping his head toward the fireplace. "I think that Zorro should investigate this stranger."
[parts of the following taken from "A Woman Scorned" written by Philip John Taylor]
Less than an half hour later, the man in black was peering down from a rooftop to the busy plaza below. His eyes quickly spotted his unknown lady from the day before as she sauntered through the market stalls. He watched her as she chatted amiably with the farmers and other vendors, noting that she was wearing a dress of blue silk that clung sensually to her shapely figure as she moved.
Groaning inwardly at the havoc she was unwittingly causing in his nether regions, he ripped his gaze away from her and search the rest of the plaza. He picked out Victoria, the basket on her arm brimming with fresh fruits and vegetables she had purchased, as she bargained with a man over a bushel of tomatoes.
Several loud gasps drew his attention back in the direction of the bewitching woman. Zorro was horrified to see a man, obviously the one that Felipe had warned him about, aiming a pistol at the woman's back. But before he even had a chance to breathe, let alone think, de Soto had drawn out his own gun and shot at the other man's hand, causing the pistol to fall harmlessly to the ground.
Deciding to stay where he was for the moment, the masked man listened as the man, who said his name was Jorge Ventura and that he was a deputy marshal from Santa Fe, announced that the woman was Señora Alberta Sinestra and that she was wanted for several crimes, including the murder of her husband.
The señora protested her innocence tearfully, telling the Alcalde that Ventura was the one who killed her husband over a game of cards. The commandante ignored her, reading instead a piece of the paper the other man had given to him.
One of them is lying. But we'll never know the truth while she's in the Alcalde's hands, Zorro said to himself. And he dismissed the notion nagging him at the back of his brain that his sympathies lie with Señora Sinestra because she reminded him so much of Magdalena. A lady's honor was at stake and he intended to see that justice was served where it was due.
He stared down, rage bubbling up inside him, as the señora was dragged away by Mendoza toward the tavern, where de Soto decided she was to held. Good, he thought as he seethed while her pleas for help were met with silence. It would make it that much easier to gain access to her and find out her side of the story.
Zorro stood and turned away, his gaze accidently falling on Victoria, who was staring unkindly at the woman as the sergeant pushed her into the tavern. Then she glanced upward and her eyes met his.
If looks could kill, he mused somewhat alarmingly,
he would have been struck dead on the spot. He wondered what he had
done to earn the innkeeper's disdain. Mentally shrugging, he darted
to the other side of the roof, where Toronado waited patiently below.
Z Z Z
[parts of the following scene taken from "A Woman Scorned" written by Philip John Taylor]
Slipping into the tavern a little after midnight had been simple, almost too easy, Zorro warned himself as he crept up the stairs to the second floor. The aroma of roast chicken filled his nostrils. Ah, Sergeant Mendoza must have drawn guard duty, he thought with a mental chuckle.
A few moments later, the portly soldier had been thoroughly threatened, although Zorro had no intention of cutting the sergeant into tiny pieces. But Mendoza didn't need to know that. The man in black stole into Señora Sinestra's room as the lancer choked on a piece of chicken.
Zorro gazed down at the sleeping woman who looked so much like his first lover. He wondered again if there was a connection of some sort, if the two women could be relatives, cousins perhaps. He stepped over to the bed and crouched down beside it.
The señora slowly opened her eyes and he was drawn into their blue depths. "Zorro," she whispered breathlessly. He saw that she wasn't frightened by his sudden appearance by her bed. She seemed to be. . .well, quite excited by the idea as she sat up and pushed away her blankets, revealing her crumpled gown that had ridden up as she slept, exposing her legs up to her knees. Tearing his eyes away from the bared flesh, he glanced upward and saw the tightened buds of her breasts protruding through the thin silk of her dress.
He immediately went hard. Taking a deep breath that did nothing to calm the tension coursing through his body, he then murmured huskily, "I heard you were in trouble, Señora."
"Alberta, por favor," she said as she offered him her hand. "I hoped you would come."
Groaning inwardly at the unintended double entendre of her words, he took her hand and helped her off the bed. They stood, face to face, only an inch at most separating their bodies. He could feel desire coming off of her in waves and knew his traitorous body was sending hers the same message.
She smiled up at him enticingly then placed her right hand over his heart which had already been beating erratically. Her touch only made matters worse. He grasped her hand with his own.
"Alberta, we must go now," he rasped out. "Mendoza won't be. . ."
His words were cut off as she pressed her
lips to his.
Z Z Z
"CADENAS DE AMOR" - CHAPTER FORTY-SIX