PART TWO: "TRIAL BY FIRE"
Dearest Ana Maria,
I hope and pray you read this letter with an open mind and an open heart.
I love you too much to let you
go without a fight.
I feel nothing toward Señorita Bautista except annoyance and pity.
It is true, she has been pursuing with
me for several weeks. I tried to avoid her as much as I could without hurting her feelings. But she obviously
misunderstood my intentions.
What you witnessed the other day was her taking advantage of an opportunity
I stupidly allowed to occur. I
was repulsed by her kiss, it was unwanted and unwelcomed.
Your lips are the only ones I want touching mine; your arms are the only
ones I want to feel around me. I love
you, Ana Maria and only you. You must believe that.
I hope we can forget the past two days and go on as before. Please
querida, find it in your heart to believe me.
I will do whatever you ask, whatever it takes to win you back.
Yours forever, Felipe
Ana Maria had read Felipe's letter so many times she had it memorized. She had been so wrong about everything. If only she had listened to her heart instead of her head and her friends.
She cried herself to sleep the evening before and her eyes were red and puffy the next morning. Her mother spared little sympathy for her daughter that morning. They still had many orders to complete and Leonora needed Ana Maria's help. Actually the girl had more talent with a needle that she did, she admitted to herself.
Ana Maria was lost in thought as she worked when a knock sounded on the door of the shop. "I'll get it," Leonora said as she set aside the dress she was hemming.
She opened the door to reveal Sergeant Mendoza. He removed his hat and automatically slicked down his hair. "Jaime, how wonderful to see you," she greeted him with a smile. But then she noticed his disconcerted face. "What's wrong?"
The stout sergeant quickly related the news of the murder and Felipe's arrest. He spoke softly, sneaking peeks at Ana Maria while he talked.
The seamstress was horrified that her daughter was involved in something so sordid. She imagined the de la Vegas were appalled as well.
Ana Maria knew something was amiss by the way her mother and Mendoza kept glancing her way. Straining to hear their conversation, she overheard Leonora say Felipe's name.
Had something happened to him, she wondered worriedly. She rushed over to the doorway. "What's going on?" she asked anxiously. "Did something happen to Felipe?"
"I am so sorry, Señorita," Mendoza began apologetically, "he has been arrested for the murder of Don Alonzo Montoya."
"Dios mio," the young woman whispered in shock. Her knees buckled slightly but she held onto the doorframe so she would not collapse. "No, it's not true."
"I cannot believe it either," her mother said once she got over the jolt of the announcement. She draped her arm across her daughter's shoulders, trying to comfort the stunned girl.
"I need to see him," Ana Maria murmured. She looked up at the sergeant with pleading, tearful eyes. "May I?"
Mendoza's heart was filled with sadness at the pain he knew the young woman felt. He also knew the Alcalde was being badgered by Don Miguel to severely punish his son's murderer. Surely the commandante would let Felipe have visitors, especially since he meant to hang the young man.
"Come with me," he responded to her plea. "I will see what I can do."
He placed his hat back upon his head and
adjusted the chin strap. Then he and the heartbroken young woman
made their way through the plaza to the cuartel.
Z Z Z
Diego dealt with the unpleasant task of inspecting Alonzo's body alone. His father and Victoria had gone on to the tavern instead, not wishing to view the gruesome sight. What he had learned was interesting. Hopefully the information could be used to set Felipe free.
He saw the sergeant and Ana Maria entering the garrison. Surely he was not arresting the young lady as well. Diego decided to see if that was indeed the case.
Tears were streaming down Ana Maria's face as Mendoza unlocked the door to the cells. De Soto was not in his office so he could not ask permission for what he was doing. The stout soldier presumed he would get in trouble but he did not care.
"Felipe," the young woman said as she entered the jail. "I am so sorry." She rushed over to his cell.
He had looked up when she called his name. Getting to his feet, he could see in her eyes that she had faith in him once again. Felipe reached out his hand to her, which she seized fervently.
"Can you forgive me?" Ana Maria asked contritely. "I was so foolish. I should have trusted you, Felipe. I love you so much."
'I love you too', he mouthed back to her silently. Then he kissed her through the metal bars. Reaching into his pocket, Felipe extracted the braided silver ring and held it up to her, the question plain on his handsome young face.
"Of course I'll wear it again," she replied eagerly. He slipped it back onto her finger and they kissed again.
That is how Diego found them as he was ushered into the cell area by the good sergeant. The tall caballero smiled benevolently at the young couple. Maybe their reunion would give Felipe more hope and he would not sink into the depression Diego knew might happen. His son was a true pessimist, tending to see the dark side of every issue.
Diego cleared his throat to bring attention to his presence as the pair were oblivious to anything else but each other. They drew apart slowly, smiling shyly.
"I take it everything is all right again?" Diego asked. Felipe and Ana Maria both nodded. "Felipe told me what caused the fight. I want to hear from you about what occurred last night, Ana Maria."
She related the events that happened at the fiesta and by the river. It was exactly the same as what his son had disclosed to him.
Diego wished to tell Felipe what he discovered after examining the murder scene and body, but not in front of Ana Maria. She was distressed enough already.
Unfortunately de Soto burst into the room in a raging temper. "What is going on here? This is a jail, not a tea party. Who let you two in here?"
Neither Diego nor Ana Maria wanted Mendoza to get in trouble, so they both just shrugged their shoulders with mock innocence. Then Diego scowled defiantly at the uniformed man. "You cannot deny him visitors, Alcalde. Until our lawyer get here, I am acting as his counsel. I need to consult with him."
De Soto laughed contemptuously. "If he were actually being treated as the peasant's son he truly is, his neck would have already been in the noose. Since you claim him as your ‘son'," he paused to sneer disdainfully, "I am allowing him a trial. You should be grateful for that, de la Vega."
"Oh, I am," Diego replied sarcastically. People like de Soto made him furious, worrying about class distinctions and believing one was above the others. The peons were still human beings and deserved the same rights the caballeros enjoyed. Zorro tried to balance the scales of justice but sometimes it was tough fighting against centuries of prejudice. "I just hope it is a fair trial."
The Alcalde glanced away, since that was not a part of his plans. He did not want to reveal that to Diego though, deciding to let him remain deluded. "Very well," he conceded. "He can have visitors. But," he pointed his finger at his old schoolmate, "no more than two at a time and for only half an hour. Is that clear?"
"Si," Diego agreed. De Soto frowned at him, then angrily pivoted on his heel and departed the cell area.
Seconds later, Mendoza poked his head through the doorway. "Ana Maria, your mother is waiting for you," he advised. She nodded and gave Felipe another kiss before she left.
The portly sergeant held the door for her, then stepped inside. "Gracias, Don Diego," he declared gratefully. "If the Alcalde knew I let you in here." Mendoza made a slashing motion across his throat.
"De nada, Sergeant," Diego replied, suppressing a chuckle.
The soldier grinned and exited into de Soto's
office. Once the door closed, Diego commenced to describe what he
had discovered that morning. The young man listened solemnly and
the two of them began to plot Felipe's defense.
Z Z Z
Don Alejandro had toyed with the idea of dispatching one of the vaqueros to fetch his lawyer, Don Ernesto. But after deliberating most of the night, he decided to go himself. Since Diego adopted Felipe, he considered the young man his grandson and wanted to do whatever he could to help him.
Plus he had some money in the bank at Santa Paula. Not enough to get the lad out of jail, but maybe they could persuade the Alcalde to lower the bail if they could raise at least half of it.
He was preparing to leave the next morning for his journey. Diego was up early as well, with plans to check up on his son.
Alonzo Montoya was to be buried that afternoon. Diego did not think he would attend the funeral at the Mission church. The young man had been universally disliked so Diego doubted if many others in the pueblo would be present either.
He could understand Don Miguel's need to avenge his son's death. Montoya had traveled half way around the world, seeking a new life and then his only son was murdered. He had to admit he would feel the same way if he was in the Spaniard's place. His chest tightened at the thought of anything happening to Felipe. He had to make sure his son did not hang for a crime he did not commit.
"Adios, Diego," his father's voice breached his thoughts. "I'll be back tomorrow," Don Alejandro added as he mounted his horse, Dulcinea.
"Goodbye, Father." Diego waved as his father nudged his mare northward. He got astride his own mount and headed toward the south.
Practically the first person he observed as he entered the pueblo de Los Angeles was Victoria. She was taking a napkin covered tray to the garrison. Obviously Felipe was going to be very well-fed while he languished in the cuartel.
The lovely innkeeper smiled brightly when she noticed Diego dismounting in front of the Alcalde's office. "Hola, Diego. You're up rather early this morning."
"I've come to see how Felipe fared during the night," he replied. "I have to admit, I'm worried about him."
"Of course," she nodded. She was anxious about the young man's welfare also. "Maybe you can get him to eat something. He barely touched his supper last night. I had to let Mendoza finish it."
"I'm sure it was a hardship for the good sergeant," Diego commented wryly. He opened the door for her as they both entered the office.
Half an hour later, they reemerged, Diego carrying the now empty tray. He walked with Victoria slowly across the plaza to her tavern.
"Oh Diego," she said, the anguish plain in her tone. "I can hardly stand to see him in there." She glanced up at her companion. "I have some money saved," she stated cautiously, "which I will gladly lend to help with Felipe's bail." The de la Vegas were proud men and did not accept charity graciously. She just hoped she had not offended the man beside her.
Diego's pride was indeed pricked. Both he and his father were embarrassed they could not just toss bags of pesos onto de Soto's desk and take Felipe home where he belonged. He smiled reassuredly at her, however, not wishing her to guess at his true feelings.
"Gracias, Victoria," he began, "I'll keep that in mind, but we are going to try to manage on our own."
She smiled also, relieved that he wasn't upset by her offer. "Well at least Felipe ate his breakfast," she said, changing the subject. "I was afraid I might have to give it to Mendoza again."
They both laughed as they remembered the disappointment on the stout soldier's round face. Their merriment carried them to the front porch of the tavern.
"I appreciate all you are doing for Felipe," Diego said once they became serious once again. "You are indeed a good friend."
"It's the least I can do," she replied. Victoria placed her hand on his arm. "I have to get back to work, Diego. There's still breakfast to get through and then lunch to get ready." She sighed wearily. "I would not be so busy if Marta had not quit."
"Marta quit?" repeated Diego, the curiosity apparent in his tone.
"Si," she responded. "Her brother Martin came by yesterday to tell me. He just said she cannot work here anymore."
"He didn't give you a reason?" queried Diego. She shook her head in reply. "How odd." He rubbed his chin as he puzzled over it for a moment. "I have to get back to the hacienda. With Father gone for the day, I have to oversee the spring planting. Adios, Victoria." He smiled as he handed her the tray he still held.
"Adios, Diego." She stayed on the porch, watching as he mounted his horse and rode away.
"How touching," Don Miguel sneered as he came up behind her.
Victoria jumped, nearly dropping the tray. "Excuse me, Señor," she said as she attempted to move past him. He reached out and grabbed her wrist.
Montoya was angry, angry this woman had rejected him, angry his only son was going to be buried this afternoon. He needed to lash out at someone. "It would not surprise me if my son's murder was plotted by your novio and his son," he ground out bitterly, "getting rid of their romantic rivals. Should I be worried I'm next?" He laughed derisively. "I sincerely doubt Don Diego could commit such a crime of passion though. He might have to exert himself."
"Felipe did not kill your son, Señor," Victoria snapped at him, wresting her arm from his grasp. "And Diego would defend me with his life if need be." She glared at the arrogant don. "I am sorry about Alonzo, Don Miguel, but the Alcalde has arrested the wrong man."
"I think he has the right one," Montoya
replied emphatically. "And I am going to make sure the boy pays for
my son's death with his own life." He bowed mockingly and stepped
off the porch, making his way to the church.
Z Z Z
"HEARTS ABLAZE" PART TWO: "TRIAL BY FIRE"-CHAPTER THREE