[part of the following taken from "Like Father, Like Son" episode 4.7 written by Tim Minear]

     Zorro shivered in the predawn light despite the coarse woolen robe he wore belted over his usual disguise.  He wasn't sure if it was from the crispness of the morning air or the fact that he was in his father's cell, listening to the old don's rambling confession.

    The padre whose place he had taken, Padre Santiago from the San Fernando Mission, had received an urgent message stating he was needed back at the mission immediately as it was being attacked by banditos.  A falsehood, of course, to lure the priest away from Los Angeles so he could supplant him.  And a sin for which he would hopefully be forgiven, due to the dire circumstances.

     Turning his attention to Don Alejandro, Zorro noted that the other man was not so much professing his sins as he was telling stories of his younger days in the army mixed with quotes from Don Quixote.  Just how hard had the old don hit his head anyway?  He tried to look at his father's eyes but was impeded by the hood he had pulled closely around his face.  Surreptitiously he leaned forward.

     A sudden burst of laughter from the elder de la Vega drove him back.  ". . .six of us and only three of them.  And then after we had finished trying to beat the shi. . .I mean stuffing out of each other, Frontera came up with the idea of drawing straws for the ladies' favors.  When I asked why he hadn't suggested that in the first place, he said he always liked a good fight before a good f. . ."

     "Perdone, Señor," Zorro cut in before the tale became even more graphic.  "But it will be dawn soon and . . .and you need time to complete your penance."  Which he would make only about half as burdensome as it should be.  There were just some things a son did not need to know about his father and unfortunately he had learned much, much more than he had ever wanted to know.
     "Oh, sorry, Padre," said Don Alejandro vaguely.  "I, uh." He glanced around, taking in his surroundings.  With a crooked finger, the old don beckoned him closer.  "Padre, where exactly am I?"

    "You are in the Alcalde's jail, Señor," replied Zorro, "where you are awaiting your execution."  His throat threatened to close with grief as he uttered those words.  No, he scolded himself.  That was not going to happen.  His plan was a good one.  It would work.  It had to work.

     "Why am I being executed?"  The elder de la Vega's words interrupted his attempt to boost his morale.

     "You are accused of being Zorro."

     "What?  Preposterous!" cried Don Alejandro.  "How can I be this Zorro?"  He abruptly got to his feet, puffed up his chest, then raised his fist.  "I am Don Quixote!  The Man from La Mancha!"  Groans from the adjoining cell made Zorro peek over his shoulder.  It seemed the brothers Esteban had been roused from their slumbers.

     "Shut him up!" one of them shouted.  The other one just rolled over in his cot and put his thin pillow over his head.

     Zorro also stood, placing a hand on his father's shoulder, trying to focus the other man's attention on him.  "I absolve you of your sins," he said quickly before gesturing with his free hand.  "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  For your penance, say. . .let's say three Padrenuestros and three Ave Marias."

     "Si, si, Padre, of course."  The elder de la Vega sat back down again, then kneeled on the floor, making the Sign of the Cross himself before starting to murmur the familiar words.

     Just as Don Alejandro finished with his prayers and was rising from the floor, keys rattled in the main door of the jail and Mendoza stepped through it.

     "It's time," he announced solemnly.

     The sergeant walked over to the cell and unlocked the door.  Then he signaled to the two lancers who had been standing guard.  One came forward and roughly grabbed Don Alejandro's arm.

    "Private," Mendoza said with a shake of his head.  The soldier immediately loosened his grip on the old don's arm.

     Zorro followed the others out the jail and into the courtyard, thankful that he and Felipe had made the robe he wore extra-long to cover the fact that he was wearing boots. Keeping his head down, he climbed the steps to the gallows platform where the Alcalde waited, the other man barely suppressing his glee over the thought he was ridding himself of both Zorro and a trouble-making caballero in one fell swoop.

     At least the pueblo's citizens were not taking this outrage lying down.  It sounded as if every man, woman, and child were at the cuartel gates, shouting and pounding on the thick wood.  Cries of "Free Zorro!" and  "Release Zorro!" filled the air.

     Another involuntary shudder passed through him as he watched a lancer put the noose around the elder de la Vega's neck before tightening the knot.  Then he realized that de Soto was addressing his father.

    "By the way, your son sends his regrets," the Alcalde said with a sneer.  "He doesn't wish to see his father hang."  The commandante shook his head.  "A coward to the last."

     Don Alejandro turned and glared at de Soto.  "Diego de la Vega will avenge my death," he proclaimed proudly.  "Son of Zorro, he can do no less."
     The elder de la Vega's words filled Zorro with joy even as he winced as the old don claimed to be the masked man.  And of course, the Alcalde destroyed the moment with his usual derision.

     "I'm sorry, Señor, but your son couldn't avenge a mild stomachache."  De Soto then pulled a white handkerchief from his jacket and held it aloft.

     All of a sudden, the cuartel gates gave way and people poured into the courtyard.  Chaos reigned as the crowd rushed the soldiers, who then fired shots over their heads.  A few turned tail and ran, but a large portion of the populace remained.  Zorro saw with some trepidation that Victoria had forced her way to the front and was gazing up at the scaffolding with anxious eyes.   Eyes that were worriedly searching for someone.

     Then it dawned on him she was looking for him.  Well, for Zorro anyway.  Whom she now knew to be Diego de la Vega.  He just hoped that she had the presence of mind not to call out the wrong name at the wrong time.   That would definitely make this sticky situation even trickier.

     The alcalde's mocking chuckle interrupted his tangled thoughts.  "You know, it's at a time like this, I expect. . ." de Soto giggled again, "Zorro to ride in and save the day."   The other man's amusement turned to a sneer.  "Well, expectations are one thing and reality is quite another, hmm?"

     The commandante momentarily raised the handkerchief a few inches higher before letting it go from his grasp.  As it fluttered downward, a lancer pulled on the lever that would release the trap door.

     That was Zorro's cue.  He slipped out his dagger that had been hidden up the oversized sleeves of the priest's garment and lashed out, severing the hangman's rope right above the noose.  His father fell through the opening in the platform, hitting the dusty ground with a cringe-worthy thug.  Out of the corner of his eye, Zorro watched as Mendoza and another lancer tumbled off the gallows.

     Then he felt a hand yanking him to his left.  "Padre, what did you do?" de Soto asked incredulously.

     With a twist of his lips, he flipped back the hood of the voluminous robe, revealing his masked face.  "It's Zorro!" people cheered.  "It's the real Zorro!"  The man in black slid his gaze to Victoria, who remained still in the midst of the celebrations going on around her.  Her concerned expression had not altered one whit.

    Returning his attention to de Soto, Zorro stared calmly at the now not-so-smug commandante.  "Alcalde, what crime is Don Alejandro guilty of?" he asked in a loud growl.

     "What crime?"  The alcalde was clearly flustered by this abrupt change of events.  "Well, he's. . .  He's Zorro."

     Zorro held out his arms.  "How can he be Zorro when Zorro stands before you?" he challenged.

     If the consequences had not been so serious, it would have been quite amusing to watch as the commandante's mind processed what he was hearing and seeing.  "It's a trick!" the other man declared at last.

     "No, Alcalde," the masked man replied with a shake of his head.  "No tricks.  There's nothing up my sleeve."  A truly wicked idea came to him then, a chance for a little retribution, one he found he could not resist.  He brought up his right arm and quickly glanced down into the loose sleeve then did a double take.

    "Well, look at that," he said innocently, "there is!"  He moved his arm toward de Soto, who promptly took the bait, leaning forward to see for himself what devious trick that his arch nemesis was hiding up inside the coarsely woven fabric.

     There was something deeply satisfying about the way de Soto's left cheekbone crunched under the power of his right fist.  His own knuckles were going to be sore and bruised for a while, but he truly doubted he would even notice the pain.  Zorro watched dispassionately as the alcalde also crashed through the gallows' railing, unfortunately landing on the good sergeant and the lancer who were still lying on the ground.

     He regretfully had no time to savor his vengeance of his old schoolmate's insulting comments about Victoria.  Several of the soldiers were charging up the stairs toward him, their spent weapons useless except for the sharp bayonets affixed to each rifle.  Zorro whipped off his brown robe and flung it at the approaching lancers.  It landed on top of them, momentarily blinding them.

     A few kicks dispensed the bumbling soldiers, and he neatly swung down off the scaffolding to where his father was still lying motionless.  Zorro's heart skipped a beat, as he feared the elder de la Vega was dead.  But then he saw that the old don's chest was rising and falling, and without wasting any more time, scooped him up.

     "Zorro."  The quiet utterance of his name stopped him in his tracks as he carried Don Alejandro through the cuartel gates, where Toronado stood waiting nervously in the plaza.  He turned to see Victoria staring up at him, her dark chocolate eyes filled with fear.  Wondering who she was afraid for, Zorro or Diego, he also noted that her eyes were abnormally bloodshot.  From a lack of sleep or too much wine?  Bitterly, he wasn't sure if he wanted to know the answers to either of his questions.

     With a shake of his head, he spun away from her, reaching his big black stallion in a few steps.  In seconds, he was riding out of the pueblo with his father draped across the saddle in front of him as the people cheered his escape.
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     Diego arrived at the tavern a little after noon, surprised to see that the place was so crowded.  His eyes narrowed angrily.  Evidently a near-hanging worked up people's appetites enough that they forgot they were shunning the lovely innkeeper for her immoral behavior.  Scanning the busy room, he spied the person he was looking for and made his way gracefully to his table.

     "Hola, Sergeant," he greeted the stout soldier who was digging into a large plate of tamales.  Diego had to wait for a reply as the lancer had just shoved a spoonful of his meal into his mouth.

     "Hola, Don Diego," Mendoza finally said before waving his hand to an empty spot opposite him.  "Have a seat."

     "Gracias."  Diego sat down across from the sergeant, wedging himself in between two of the other lancers.

     "I'm so happy that your father didn't hang," said Mendoza, leaning forward a little.  "It must be quite a relief for you as well."

     "Si, Sergeant, quite a relief."

     "I kept telling the Alcalde that Don Alejandro could not possibly be Zorro," the portly lancer announced.  "How is he doing anyway?"

     At first Diego thought Mendoza was talking about de Soto, whom he hoped was feeling the painful aftereffects of Zorro's wrath, but then realized that the soldier was speaking of his father.  Excellent, just the direction he wanted this conversation to take.

     "He's doing fine, except for a small concussion," he replied casually.  "We, Felipe and I that is, think he must have hit his head yesterday while reading Don Quixote and somehow confused the book's main character with Zorro."  Diego paused, watching as his words slowly sunk into the sergeant's brain.

     "Is that why he was calling me Sancho. . .Sancho something?"

     "Sancho Panza, si.  He is a character in the book,  Don Quixote's squire."

     "And is that why he thought Señorita Victoria was a horse?"

     "He thought Victoria was a horse?"  Diego wondered again just how hard the blow to the elder de la Vega's head had been if he had mistaken the most beautiful woman in the pueblo for a horse.

     "Si, Don Diego," replied Mendoza, his mouth still chewing his last bite of tamales.  "He called her Dulcinea."

     Diego chuckled.  "Dulcinea is also a character in the book, Sergeant," he stated.  "She was a peasant woman that Don Quixote thought he was in love with.  My father named his horse after her."

     "Oh."  Mendoza thought about that for a moment.  "This book sounds pretty interesting.  Maybe I should read it someday."

     "I'm sure my father will lend you his copy," Diego said politely.  He glanced at the other three lancers at the table and noticed the smirks on their faces.  What, they didn't think their sergeant was capable of reading a book?  Then it suddenly occurred to him that they often had that same slightly leering expression on their faces whenever he saw them lately.

     Dios, had it been one of the lancers who had spotted him that night?  And he had been so sure that no one had seen him.  Diego groaned inwardly.  Not only were the garrison's lancers inept and lazy, they were some of the worst gossips in the pueblo.  Well, he would certainly use their proclivity of spreading tales to his advantage.

     "Of course, my father is a bit embarrassed by all this," he declared as Pilar set a glass of lemonade in front of him and he nodded his thanks.  "Although he was quite proud of himself for still being able to wear an old scouting uniform he kept from his army days."

     "An old uniform?" the sergeant asked, somewhat incredulously.

     "Si, worn for a secret mission he still won't tell me about," Diego said with a laugh.  "I think it must have been some sort of a midnight raid or. . ."

     He was saved from any further explanation by a loud crash then a shout that came from the kitchen.  "Give that back!" yelled a slightly slurred voice that sounded a lot like Victoria's.

    "No!  You've had too much already!"  Diego recognized the worried admonishment as coming from Alicia.

     He immediately sprang to his feet, throwing aside the curtains as he rushed into the kitchen.  His entrance must have startled the serving woman for Victoria took the opportunity to snatch a bottle of wine from her.  Defiantly she took a hearty swig from it, then wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.

    It was then that she noticed Diego.  "What do you want?" she asked heatedly.  "What. . .What do you think. . .that I'll lift my skirts for you whenever you want?"  She gulped down more of the wine before swaying tipsily.

     "Victoria. . ." Diego reached toward her but she recoiled away from him.  He then turned to Alicia.  "What happened?"

     The other woman waved her hand at the obviously inebriated innkeeper.  "I don't know.  I came in to pick up an order and she was drinking. . .  I tried to take it away but. . ."  She shrugged helplessly.

     "Stop talking about me like I'm not here," Victoria demanded.  She pointed a shaky finger at Alicia.  "Go back to work.

     "And you, Don Diego de la Vega. . ."  She raised the bottle to her lips and drained it before aiming her finger in Diego's direction.  "You can go to hell."  Then she threw the empty container at his head.
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