"EARTHQUAKE"

CHAPTER TWO

     The next day, Diego was at work in the secret cave that was hidden beneath the de la Vega hacienda.  He glanced up briefly from his lab table when Felipe entered the cave.  The young man walked over to see what he was doing.  Diego held up the strange contraption he had just finished making.  Felipe leaned closer to inspect it.

     It was a horseshoe that had been fixed into a block of wood so that it stood upright, rounded edge up.  A long, thin, needle-shaped piece of wood was held in a vertical position by a wooden peg that had been driven through the wooden base.  But it still was movable. On either side of the horseshoe, Diego had fastened a small cup.  Each cup held a small metal ball.

     Felipe finished his study of the device and shook his head.  He looked up at Diego with a puzzled expression on his face.  Diego had to chuckle.

     "Strange looking, isn't it?" he said.  Felipe nodded in agreement

     "It is an ancient Chinese earthquake detector," Diego explained. "I saw a picture of one once in a book about Marco Polo's adventures.  Here, let me show you how it works."

     He set the apparatus back down onto the table.  Then Diego moved the needle slightly from side to side.

    "When the ground begins to tremble like it did yesterday, this little lever detects the movement and sways like this.  And the stronger the quake. . ."  He moved the lever harder, ". . .the stronger it moves."

     He struck one of the cups with the needle, causing it to tip and making the metal ball fall out.  It rolled toward the edge of the table.  Diego caught it neatly just before it dropped off onto the floor.

     Felipe was nodding now, understanding how the odd contraption worked.  Diego smiled as he put the ball back into its cup.

     "We will be able to use this to measure the severity of any more earthquakes there might be," Diego said.

     Felipe signed with his hands, his question plain on his face.

     "Yes, Felipe," Diego replied.  "Usually earthquakes come together in groups.  A couple of small ones to start with, then a large one followed by several aftershocks.  I have been doing a little research on the subject and I think that Los Angeles might be located on or near a small fault line."

     When Felipe looked still puzzled, Diego continued.

     "A fault is a fracture in the earth's crust," he said.  "It is where the trembling originates."

     Felipe, satisfied with that explanation, leaned over once more to look at the earthquake detector.  He began to move the needle back and forth.

     "If you are in the cave alone," Diego was saying as Felipe played, "I want you to keep a close eye on it."  He glanced up above his head at the cave ceiling.   "I'm not sure about the stability of this cave.  You might have to get yourself and Toronado out of here safely and quickly if there is a major earthquake."

     Felipe nodded seriously, an alarmed expression on his young face. When Diego saw it, he patted him on the shoulder.

     "Don't worry, hijo," he said reassuringly.  "I just want you to be prepared for the worst."

     They both turned their attention back to the earthquake detector. They both looked up and then at each other when they heard Don Alejandro calling for Diego.

     "Diego!  Diego?"  His father's voice carried all the way into the cave.

     "I had better go see what he wants," Diego said.  "Remember what I said."

     Felipe nodded as Diego made a swift check through the viewing hole.  Seeing it was clear, he headed out of the cave.

     He emerged into the library through the fireplace panel.  Then Diego quickly went over to a bookcase and grabbed the first book he put his hand on off the shelf, not paying any attention to its title. Sitting down hurriedly in the nearest chair, he pretended to be deeply immersed in the book.

     His father, Don Alejandro, came into the room then.  "There you are, Diego," he said, a bit perturbed.  "Well, are you ready?"

     Diego glanced up from his book with a blank expression.  "Ready? Ready for what?" he inquired.

     "The ranchers are forming a livestock association," Don Alejandro explained.  "Remember, I told you about it last night."

     "Oh, it must have slipped my mind," Diego said.  "But why?  I thought Zorro captured the cattle rustlers."

     "He did," his father said impatiently.  "But we want to be prepared in case something like that happens again.  I want you to come too.  Someday you will be running this estate and I. . ."

     Diego interrupted him.  "Yes, I know," he said.  "I did want to finish this book though."  He laid the volume on the small table next to his chair and stood up.

     Don Alejandro turned his head to get a look at the title.  He glanced confusedly at his son.  "Since when did you start reading the dictionary?"

     "I-I. . ." Diego had no explanation for his father.  He had not realized what he had been reading.

     "Well, let's go," Don Alejandro shook his head in disgust.  Sometimes his son acted very strangely.

     They were in the stables, helping the groom saddle their horses when another small tremor occurred.  It lasted a few seconds longer than its predecessor the day before, but it still was very minor.  It took Diego, Don Alejandro and the groom a lot longer to calm down the nervous horses.  When the animals had finally settled, father and son prepared to depart.

     "We have had quakes like this before," Don Alejandro commented as they rode away from the hacienda toward the pueblo.  "One time before you were born and another about ten years ago."

     "I don't remember any. . ." Diego started to say, but then he realized something.  "Ten years ago?  That must have been during my first year at the university.  You never mentioned it in your letters."

     "Oh, it was very small," his father replied.  "I just hope these quakes don't get much stronger."

     "I have been doing some reading on the subject," Diego mentioned.

     He was about to say more but his father interrupted him.  "What good will reading about earthquakes do?" Don Alejandro asked.  "Unless you can figure out a way to stop them, all the books in the world can not help you survive one."

     With that, he spurred his horse forward, taking off ahead of his son.  Diego sighed, wishing he could change his father's opinion of him somehow.  But there was nothing he could do but urge his own mount to catch up.

     At that same time in the garrison jail, Sergeant Mendoza was bringing lunch in to the prisoners.  He was carrying two heavily loaded trays as there were four occupants to feed.  The three rustlers Zorro had brought in the day before and the town drunk.  Señor Hector was an older fellow the Alcalde threw in jail occasionally to sober him up.

     Mendoza had to set both trays down on a bench so he would be able to unlock the cell doors.  Then he passed the plates of food into the men in the cells.

     "What is this garbage?" the leader of the rustler sneered as he looked at his plate.

     "Garbage?" Mendoza echoed in a shocked voice.  "This is not garbage.  These are the best enchiladas in the territory.  Try them and you will see."

     "Still looks like swill to me," the man complained.  He and the other bandits sat down reluctantly to eat their meal.  Señor Hector was already digging in to his plate.

     Mendoza shut the barred doors and then went to pick up the trays. But in trying to balance the trays and get out his keys, he only partially locked the doors.  He continued on his way out of the jail.

     "Some people just do not appreciate good food," he muttered to himself as he left the cell area.
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     The tavern was filled with many of the local ranchers who were there for the meeting by the time Diego and Don Alejandro arrived.  The elder de la Vega  immediately went over to a table where several of his friends were seated.  Diego, instead of joining him, made his way up to the bar.  There Victoria was busily pouring orange juice into several glasses.

     "Buenos dias, Diego," she said pleasantly.  She put the filled glasses on a tray.  "I did not think you would be interested in joining a cattleman's association."

     "My father wants me to start taking more of an interest in running our rancho," Diego explained, sighing heavily, as though it were an unavoidable burden he had to bear.  "I must admit I have a lot to learn about such things."

     "I would say you were right," Victoria agreed with a smile.

     She came out from behind the bar with the laden tray.  As she walked by Diego with it, he quickly took one of the glasses of juice off of the tray.  When she shot him a disapproving glance, he just smiled innocently back at her.  Then he wandered over to sit with his father.

     He exchanged pleasantries with the others at the table.  The arrival of two more ranchers drew their attention momentarily.  Don Alejandro, scanning the room, stood up.

     "Quiet, por favor," he said above the din of talking.  He had been asked to get the meeting started because of his status in the community.  The men all turned their attention to Don Alejandro then.

     "Gracias," he said.  "Now, let's get down to business. . ."

     Whatever he had been going to say next was lost as the room started to tremble and shake as the pueblo was hit once again by another earthquake.  This time, however, it did not stop after just a few seconds, but instead grew stronger.

     Diego jumped to his feet.  "Listen to me!" he shouted.  "Get under a table.  Everyone, get under a table."

     He pushed his stunned father under their table.  Then crouching down, he looked around as the other ranchers were scrambling to get beneath their own tables.  Dust was drifting down from above as the quake still rumbled.

     Then Diego noticed Victoria, still holding her tray, standing in the center of the room.  Men were running on all sides of her and she had no chance to get to safety.  Diego instinctively glanced up at the ceiling above her and saw that a large piece of it was about to fall down upon her lovely head.

     "Victoria, look out!" he shouted.  He rushed over to her, grabbing her around the waist.  He then hurled both her and himself under the nearest unoccupied table.  No sooner than they moved, the chunk of ceiling came loose and went tumbling to the floor.
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     Back in the cave, Felipe had been putting some fresh hay into Toronado's stall.  He had his back to the earthquake detector so he did not notice it when the needle began to sway back and forth.

     As the quake grew stronger, Felipe turned to look at the device. He watched in horror as the lever knocked both of the small metal balls from their cups.  Debris started to fall from ceiling before he could take any action.

     Felipe tried to lead Toronado out of the cave to no avail.  The frightened stallion kept rearing up on its hind legs whenever the youth attempted to get near him.  So Felipe gave up and headed for the cave exit that led back to the hacienda.  Just as he entered into the narrow tunnel, the tremor shook a little harder and loosened several large rocks from the ceiling.

     Felipe lifted his arms above his head to shield himself.  But one of the rocks still hit him full force on the head,  knocking  him to the ground.  The earthquake began to subside as Felipe laid unconscious in the tunnel, blood seeping from a cut the rock had made when it landed on his head.

     The cattle rustlers were shouting and making a great fuss in their cells as the quake rattled the pueblo.

     "Help!  Let us out of here!" they shouted.  They were all on their feet, hands grasping the bars in terror.

     They kept up their yelling until one of the cell doors popped open.  The combination of the tremor and Mendoza's inattention brought smiles to their homely faces as they looked at each other.

     "This must be our lucky day," one of them said.

     The two men whose door had come unlatched rushed out quickly. The leader tried the door of the other cubicle and it came undone easily as well.

     "Come on, let's get out of here," he said.

     The rustlers all made a hasty departure.  The town drunk just sat there on the cot on his cell, shaking his head.  Then he decided to leave as well.

     The three ex-prisoners went first through the Alcalde's office which was empty.  They each helped themselves to a rifle off of the gun rack mounted on the wall.  Then the escapees ran out into the plaza as the trembling started to die down.

     It was still chaotic outside.  People were running around trying to find cover even though the quaking had now stopped.  The rustlers glanced around, searching for soldiers.

     No one seemed to notice them.  Several buildings in the pueblo had sustained some damage and the townspeople were more concerned about that.  The leader saw several horses tied to a hitching rail.

     "Come on," he motioned to his compadres.  He went over and untied himself a horse.  The others came up and did the same.

     Hector, the drunk, stumbled out of the Alcalde's office just in time to see his former cell mates riding off on the stolen horses.

     Inside the tavern, the dust was finally beginning to settle.  Most of the caballeros had crawled out from under the tables, brushing themselves off when they stood up.  A few of them hurried outside to see what had happened while others checked on their friends still inside.  A good sized portion of the tavern ceiling had come down and crushed one of the rancher's legs.  Quite a few men were helping remove the plaster chunks.

     Diego and Victoria were still lying beneath their table.  The force with which Diego used to remove Victoria from harm's way had knocked the breath from both of them.  They each remained still while they recovered.  Slowly Diego realized he had his arms around Victoria's slender waist and that he was holding her very close.  Her face was mere inches away from his own.  He had to summon all the restraint he had to suppress his desire to kiss her.

     Victoria stared unseeingly at him, still a bit stunned.  Then she became aware of the fact she was being held tightly in Diego's arms.  It was odd, her befuddled mind thought, but she felt very safe there. She gave her head a little shake as she regain her senses.

     "You can let me go now, Diego," she said unsteadily, trying to move away from him.

     "Oh. Sorry," a startled Diego said.  He let go of her immediately.

     He climbed out from the shelter of the table, then held out his hand to assist Victoria to her feet.  They both dusted off their clothing.  Victoria launched into a coughing fit as she accidentally inhaled some of the grit.

     "Are you all right?" Diego inquired solicitously.

     "Yes, Diego, I'm fine," she answered when she had recovered.  She looked up at him, placing her hand on his arm.

     "Diego, if it had not been for you," she said as she glanced over at the ceiling chunk sitting in the middle of the tavern floor.  "I want to thank you."

     Diego looked from her lovely, smiling face to the huge piece of debris that could have killed her.  Closing his eyes, he sent up a prayer of thanks.  Then he opened his eyes.

     "You are most welcome," he replied, a bit embarrassed and very conscious of the touch of her hand through his shirt sleeve.  "It looks as though you have quite a mess to clean up," he added.

     Victoria surveyed the damage to her tavern, really noticing it for the first time.  A good deal of the ceiling had come loose and was now lying on the floor.  Some of it had crushed several tables and benches.  Behind the bar, many bottles had shattered on the ground which was now covered with broken glass and pools of wine.

     But thankfully, no one save the one rancher had been seriously injured.  The other men had freed his leg and were preparing to take him to see Doctor Hernandez.

     They were on their way out of the tavern, when Señor Hector ambled in.  He gazed around in confusion at all the mayhem.

     "Hector," Victoria called to him when she saw him.  "What are you doing here?  I thought the Alcalde locked you up for a week."

     "He did," acknowledged Hector.  "But the earthquake unlatched the cells doors, so we all just walked out."

     Don Alejandro upon hearing this bit of information strode over to where Hector was standing.

     "Just whom do you mean by 'we'?" he demanded.
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"EARTHQUAKE"-CHAPTER THREE