It was very dark that night, with only a small sliver of the moon visible in the sky.  A lone coyote could be heard howling off in the distance.  The alcalde of Los Angeles sat alone at his desk, busily writing out a list of all the preparations needed for the next day.  Several candles had been lit and were making flickering shadows on the walls of his office.

    De Soto was so absorbed in his task, he did not notice the silver flash of a blade as it reached out and tapped one of the candles.  It retreated quickly as the flame was extinguished.

     The Alcalde glanced up from his desk as the room grew slightly dimmer.  Not seeing anything out of the ordinary, he shrugged and resumed his work.

     Zorro smiled sardonically as he hid in the darkness.  It had been almost too easy to enter the pueblo, then the garrison, unnoticed.  Maybe Ignacio was not as clever as he thought he was or else it was part of the ambush that had most certainly been set for him.

     Again his sword darted out, snuffing out another candle.  This time when de Soto's head came up, he saw a small plume of smoke rising from the blackened wick.  "Who's there?" he demanded, shooting upward out of his chair, half frightened, half irate.  Receiving no reply, he went to sit back down when the masked man emerged from the shadows, proceeded by the long blade of his saber.

     "Buenos noches, Alcalde."

     De Soto reached for his own weapon but Zorro jabbed the point of his sword against his throat before the other man's hand could even grip its hilt.

     "Let her go," growled the man in black.

     The Alcalde did not bother to pretend he did not know about whom Zorro was speaking.  "I will, now that she has achieved my purpose," he stated excitedly.  "I just knew you would come to her rescue even though she is married to another man."

    "She is an innocent in all this," declared the masked man.  "You continue to sink to new lows, Alcalde."

    The commandante ignored the insult.  "Do you surrender, Zorro?" he asked boldly, considering the other man had him at his mercy.

     Zorro whisked his blade away, sliding it into its scabbard.  "I will surrender," he replied, "but only if you agree to two conditions."

     De Soto laughed derisively.  "Only two?" he inquired.  "You are hardly in a position to ask for favors, but go ahead.  Let me hear them."

     "First I want your solemn promise that you will release Señora de la Vega and never bother her again as long as she lives," stated the man in black.

     "Since you will be dead, I have no further need of the señora," the Alcalde conceded.  "Si, you have my promise.  But be warned, Zorro," he added, shaking his finger, "if you try to escape, her neck goes back in the noose."

     "Si," the man in black said through gritted teeth, then continued.  "Secondly, I wish that no one removes my mask but the governor.  I believe he would want that privilege for himself."

     "Hmm, you do have a valid point."  De Soto stroked his beard as he mulled it over.  He really wanted to rip the black silk from his enemy's face that very instant.  But if doing so incurred Aguila's wrath. . . "Very well.  Only the governor will remove your mask.  Hand over your weapons, Zorro.  You are under arrest."

     He had a hard time concealing his giddiness as the masked bandit laid his sword onto the desk.  Next came the black leather whip, followed by the dagger pulled from his waist band.  The Alcalde snatched up his keys and unlocked the door leading to the jail.  He opened it wide, motioning for his captive to step through it.  "After you, Zorro," he invited with mock politeness.

     Zorro walked down the steps.  He could see in the darkness that Victoria was asleep on the narrow cot in her cell.

    "Doña Victoria," de Soto called out.  The keys rattled in his hand as he found the one that opened the barred door.  "Wake up, Señora."

     As soon as the cell door swung free, Zorro pushed past the Alcalde.  He knelt down on one knee beside the cot.  "Victoria," he said softly, brushing his gloved hand against her cheek.

     She slowly opened her eyes, at first not remembering where she was.  Seeing the masked man there beside her made her realize what he had done.  Her eyes filled with tears.  "Zorro, no," she pleaded as she sat up.

     He took her hands in his.  "I had to, Victoria," he explained gently.  "I could not allow you to hang in my place."

    "But. . ."  She was rudely interrupted by de Soto.

    "Enough," he snorted impatiently.  "Doña Victoria, you are free to go.  I will get Mendoza to escort you home."

     Zorro assisted the trembling woman to her feet.  She immediately threw her arms around and pressed herself close against him.  "Diego, you promised," she whispered into his ear, the anguish plain in her tone.

     He smiled sadly then kissed her passionately.  They were oblivious to their audience as their tongues entwined, the fire igniting between them.   The commandante cleared his throat irritably, causing the couple to reluctantly move apart.

     "As touching as this may be," he sneered.  "Señora de la Vega," he spat out her last name, "you must leave.  Now."

     She did not heed him.  "No, wait."  Victoria begged for more time.  She gazed up at the masked man.  "Please, D. . .Zorro, I have to tell. . ."

     "That is quite enough," the Alcalde cut in again.  He grabbed her slender arm and yanked her roughly from the cell, then slammed the door shut.  Zorro leapt forward, grasping the metal bars with his leather clad hands.

     "Ignacio, if you ever touch her again," he growled in a low, menacing voice.  "I will kill you."

     De Soto threw his head back and laughed loudly.  "You are hardly in a position to threaten me, Zorro," he managed to say.  Then he narrowed his eyes.  Only one person in Los Angeles called him by his given name.  What an absurd notion, he thought, there was no way he could be Zorro.

     He jostled Victoria's arm.  "Come along, Señora.  Mendoza will return you to your naive husband."

     "Don't bother," she replied tersely.  "I will stay at the tavern."  She pulled her arm from de Soto's grip and rushed up to the cell.  "I love you," she whispered.

     "And I love you, querida."  He gently touched her cheek.  Victoria abruptly turned and walked out of the jail.  She did not want him to see the tears that began to stream down her beautiful face.
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     The sun was just beginning to peek over the eastern skyline as the Alcalde sat sleepily at his desk.  He had not slept a wink all night.  Every hour he checked to see if Zorro was really still locked up in his cell.  That plus the excitement of finally having the masked menace behind bars caused his insomnia.

    De Soto passed the time envisioning all the awards and promotions sure to come his way.  He would now be able to leave this dry dust hole that had been his home for far, far, too long and return to his beloved Madrid.

     He wearily got to his feet, going to spy on Zorro once more.  Seeing the masked man, fast asleep on the small and uncomfortable cot, stirred his ire.  "Like he hasn't a care in the world," he muttered bitterly.  He collapsed tiredly into his chair, his adrenalin rush finally wearing off.  Leaning over the desk top, he supported his head with his hands.

     Ignacio just closed his bloodshot eyes for a quick catnap when Sergeant Mendoza came stomping noisily into his office with an irate Don Alejandro following closely on his heels.

     "Don Alejandro here to see you, sir," announced the sergeant in a loud, booming voice.

     Or at least it seemed that way to the exhausted commandante.  His head jerked up and he scowled at the intruders.  "I can see that, Mendoza."  He turned viciously on the old caballero.  "Just what do you want, Señor?"

     "I demand you release my daughter immediately," declared the elder de la Vega forcefully.  Por Dios, if his son wasn't man enough to save his wife, then he would do so.  He had slept poorly, tossing and turning until he decided to take this course of action.  Victoria meant more to him evidentially than she did to her own husband .  He'd be damned if he'd watch her hang.

     "She has already been freed, Don Alejandro," stated de Soto.

     "You don't expect me to believe Zorro fell for your stupid trap of arresting Victoria?" an incredulous Don Alejandro asked.  "He is too smart for that."

     "It seems that Zorro isn't as intelligent as you think he is, Señor," the Alcalde paused to chuckle.  "And your son needs to keep a tighter rein on his wife from now on."

     "What's that suppose to mean?" demanded the old don.

     "Why don't you go ask ‘your daughter'?" countered the commandante.  He glared malevolently at the furious old man.  "Is there something else?" he asked, noting the other man's reluctance to leave.

     "Yes, there is," remembered the elder de la Vega.  "I have a speech I wish to give while Governor Aguila is here."

     "No," de Soto flatly denied the request.  "What do you think I am, loco?"

     "As a matter of fact, I do," Don Alejandro replied calmly.  He pumped his fist and spun on his heel, exiting the office.
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     Victoria placed the striped rebozo atop her raven locks as she entered the dim interior of the mission church.  Dropping several coins into the provided box, she lit one of the votive candles in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary.  Then she knelt, crossed herself and began to pray.

     "Santa Maria, Madre de Dios," she whispered.  "Please, do not let him hang.  He is a good man, a good husband."  Tears flowed unchecked down her cheeks.

     "Oh, please, I love him so much."  Victoria bowed her head and prayed silently as she vainly tried to wipe the wetness from her face.  "Dear God, do not take him away.  He cannot die now.  I need him so much.  I don't know how I will go on without him, especially now. . .  Oh, Dios, I love him. . ."

     She turned and looked expectantly when she heard the church door creak open, desperately hoping her appeals had been answered.  She couldn't hide her disappointment as Felipe and Ana Maria walked up the aisle to kneel beside her.

     "Oh, Victoria," whispered the young woman.  "I am so sorry."

     "Gracias," replied Victoria as Felipe squeezed her hand.  She glanced up at him perceptively.  "She knows?"

     Felipe nodded.  He had been up all night, agonizing over what would take place today.  His sweetheart had known something was wrong the second she had seen him that morning.   She could not understand why he would be so upset about Zorro's death unless. . .

     Ana Maria flung her arms around the older woman as she started weeping, remembering how she had felt when she thought Felipe was going to hang.  The young man did the best he could to console the two women he cared for the most in the world, but truth be told, he wished he could cry along with them.

     The unhappy trio emerged from the church a short while later.  As they made their way to the tavern, several small boys came running into the plaza.  They had been lying in wait at the outskirts of the pueblo, each hoping to be the first to detect the governor's arrival.

     "He's coming!  The governor is here!" they announced loudly.  They spread their message throughout the plaza as a splendid coach rumbled through the pueblo gate.  The vehicle was surrounded by twenty soldiers dressed in white uniforms, mounted on horseback.

     People stopped whatever they were doing to watch the conveyance came to a halt in the middle of town, raising a large cloud of dust.

     Sergeant Mendoza immediately headed toward the coach.  The Alcalde stepped from his office, attired in his most spectacular uniform.  The garrison's lancers assembled in formation as the governor alit from the coach.

     He brushed the dirt from his magnificent garments.  They too were white but were trimmed with so much gold braid and so many gold buttons, it was nearly blinding.  The front of his jacket dripped with medals.  His ensemble was completed by gleaming black knee high boots, a red satin cape and a black hat with a large white ostrich plume.

     "So that is where all our tax money goes," remarked Don Alejandro as he joined Victoria and the others on the tavern porch.  "And we thought our alcalde was a spendthrift."  They observed as the pueblo soldiers smartly saluted Governor Aguila, who looked down his long nose at them.

     The Alcalde bowed formally.  "I am Don Ignacio de Soto, the Alcalde of the pueblo de Los Angeles."  He straightened as he continued.  "Welcome to our most humble garri. . ."

     "I know very well who you are, de Soto," Aguila interrupted brusquely.  "I see the gallows have been prepared.  I take that to mean you have finally captured the rebel bandit Zorro?"

     "Yes, indeed, Governor," the Alcalde replied proudly.  "At this very moment, that masked traitor is in my cuartel, awaiting his execution."

     Citizens who had gathered near the coach gasped loudly.  Groups of people began to whisper animatedly.  Several of the town's matrons cast speculative glances Victoria's way.  She held her head high, but out of sight, her knuckles were white as she grasped Felipe's hand.

     "Where is Diego?" asked Don Alejandro.  He sighed with exasperation.  "This is so typical of him.  Whenever there is trouble, he is nowhere to be found.  I cannot believe what a coward my son has turned out to be."

     "Do not say that, Don Alejandro."  Victoria instantly jumped to her husband's defense.  "It is not true."

     Her father-in-law shook his head wearily.  "I am afraid it is, my daughter."

     The Alcalde led the governor and his entourage to the waiting gallows, then turned to Mendoza.

     "Sergeant, bring out the prisoner."
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