"A REAL HERO"

CHAPTER FOUR

     Zorro and Victoria finally broke off their kiss after several minutes.  Remaining locked in each other's arms, they caught their breath.  Then, without a word, their lips met again.  This time, a loud burst of laughter coming from the other side of the curtained doorway made them realize they were not alone.  Zorro, breathing raggedly, gained his senses back first.

   "Are you very busy?" he asked her.  "Can we go somewhere a little more private?"

     Victoria shook her head in answer to the first question then nodded to the second.  She was still stunned by both Zorro's unexpected visit and his toe-curling kisses.  Zorro started to lead her out the back door but she stopped him.

     "Wait," she said, "I must tell Pilar to close up."  She sauntered over to the archway.  "I will be right back."

     "Hurry, mi corazon," replied Zorro in a husky voice.

     Victoria's legs nearly gave out on her as she brushed the curtain aside.  Zorro leaned against the wall, a roguish smile on his face.  He did not have to wait long as Victoria soon reappeared.

     "Ready?" queried Zorro as he offered his hand to her.

     Victoria responded by taking the gloved hand.  He quietly opened the rear door and they slipped out.  Victoria then peeked up at Zorro.

     "Where are we going?" she asked, then added disgustedly, "the soldiers patrol every inch of the pueblo."

     "Ah," said Zorro, "but they do not patrol outside of the pueblo."

     "Ah."  Victoria smiled prettily and tilted her head upward.

    Zorro really had no resistance when it came to this woman.  He gathered her into his arms yet again and kissed her soundly.
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    The window that Tomas had decided as Ana Maria's did indeed belong to the young lady.  Tomas and his friends had thrown several pebbles at the glass panes, missing several times, but succeeding as well.  Juan had brought a bota filled with wine and they passed it among themselves.

     Tomas flung up yet another stone, this time with success.  It made a loud pinging sound as it hit the glass.  Tomas called out loudly, "Señorita, come out."

     Juan and Pablo snickered loudly.  They each took another long drink from the wineskin.

   "Señorita, oh my lovely señorita," exclaimed Tomas.  "Please, just open your window and let me see your beautiful face."

     His companions were now doubled over with laughter.  Tomas grabbed the bota bag, brought it to his lips and drained it.  He flung it to the ground.  Ana Maria chose that moment to open her window just a crack.  She saw the three youths standing below, two of them bent over as if in pain and the other one gazing up at her.

    "Please, go away," she pleaded in a loud whisper, not wishing to alert her mother to what was occurring outside.  "Leave me alone, por favor."

     Tomas put his hand to his chest in a mocking manner.  "You cannot mean that, my lovely angel.  You wound me terribly."

    He knelt down on one knee and outstretched his arms dramatically.  "Please, Señorita, just one kiss.  One kiss, then I swear I will leave you be," he said in a voice dripping with insincerity.

    Ana Maria let the window swing open a little further.  "No, Señor," she replied sharply.  "Please, just go away."

    Pablo and Juan were still giggling at Tomas' bold antics.  They wondered what their amigo loco would do next.  Tomas might be rude and crude sometimes but he was fun to be around.  They did not have to ponder long as Tomas rose from the ground, brushing the dust from his trouser leg.  He walked over to the neighboring building and climbed up onto the low porch roof, following the earlier route his friends had taken.

     "If you will not come to me, angel," he said, trying to keep his footing on the tile roof, "then I must come to you."

     He continued to make his way across the small archway that connected the two structures.  Ana Maria's eyes grew big as she watched his unsteady progress.

     "No, no, get down," she cried, heedless now of alerting her mother.

   Tomas had almost reached her window when his foot slipped out from underneath him.  He would have fallen the fifteen feet to the hard ground below if he had not grabbed the window ledge at the last second.

     Ana Maria let out a bloodcurdling scream as her unwanted suitor dangled from the sill.

    Zorro and Victoria broke apart abruptly when they heard the nearby cry.  The disappointment showed plainly on Victoria's face as she knew that Zorro's heroic instincts would kick in.  They still were holding hands.  He squeezed hers gently.

    "I must go, " he stated apologetically.  He gazed at her chagrined face.  "I am sorry."

     Victoria nodded her head, letting him know that although she was not happy, she understood.  His grip tightened on her hand again and he leaned down, giving her mouth a quick peck.  Then with a whirl of his cape, he was gone.

     Ana Maria had closed her window as far as she dared without pinching Tomas' fingers.  He glanced down the long distance to the ground.  He could see and hear his intoxicated friends rolling with amusement.  Tomas, seeing there would be little help from that quarter, decided to try and save himself.  He swung his legs until they hit on the roof of the small archway.  From that point, he made his way down safely.

     Juan and Pablo staggered over, still laughing.  Tomas slapped them both on the back of their  heads, intending to sober them up quickly.

     "Thanks for all your help," he said sarcastically.  He was about to launch into a tirade against them, when unfortunately, Ana Maria came around the side of the tavern.  She was clad in her nightdress, over which she had hastily thrown a blanket.

     "Why don't you just leave me alone?" she demanded of Tomas.  "You nearly killed yourself."

     Several customers had wandered out of the tavern to see what all the fuss was about.  Ana Maria's disheveled flight through the tavern had piqued their interest.

     Tomas swaggered up to Ana Maria, who now realized her mistake in coming outside.  She tried to edge away from the drunken youth and unwittingly backed herself up against the wall of the tavern.  Tomas saw his chance and seized her shoulders.  The girl struggled to get free from his hard grip, tossing her head from side to side as he leaned down in an attempt to kiss her.

     A urgent tapping on his right shoulder caused Tomas to pause a second before his lips meet Ana Maria's.  He could not believe the audacity of his friends to interrupt him at this moment.  He ignored the tap and bent again to kiss the unwilling girl, when he felt another rap, this time a little bit harder.  Terribly annoyed now, he rounded to give Juan and Pablo a stern tongue lashing.  To his utter amazement, it was not his inebriated friends standing there, but the masked bandit, Zorro.

     He stood there, his arms crossed over his broad chest.  On what one could see of his face, was a mocking, insolent expression.

     "I believe the young lady wishes for you to quit bothering her," he drawled, his eyes seemingly never leaving Tomas.  In fact, he was keeping track of his other two companions.

     "And I believe it is none of your business, Señor Zorro," replied Tomas rudely.  He was quite intimidated by the infamous outlaw, but he would be damned it he would let it show.  He slowly moved his hand to the hilt of his sword.

     Zorro duly noted the younger man's subtle movement.  He smiled confidently. "I beg to differ," he stated.  "Take your friends and go.  Now.  And stay away from the señorita in the future."

      The unspoken threat hung in the air between the two men.  Quite a large crowd had now assembled outside the tavern.  Tomas jerked his head from side to side.  He was not about to be humiliated in front of all these people.  He ripped his sword from its scabbard, pointing it menacingly at the man in black before him.

    "No one tells me what to do, outlaw," Tomas spat out viciously.  His whole body went on the defensive, waiting for Zorro to take up his challenge.

    Zorro just stood there, his arms still folded, looking almost bored with the situation.  Victoria had come around from the back of the tavern and immediately went over to Ana Maria.  The young girl was grateful for the older woman's support, leaning heavily on her.  Zorro stared at Victoria and when he had captured her attention, he winked at her.  Then he returned his concentration to Tomas and his companions.

     "Then it is about time someone did," declared Zorro.  He took a couple of steps backward, then swirled around.  When he faced Tomas again, his sword was drawn.

     Tomas charged at Zorro, who raised his weapon up just in time to ward off the youth's initial thrust.  He let the younger man attack several times, parrying each lunge at the last second.  Tomas was getting angrier with each failure.  He jabbed wildly one last time, aiming for Zorro's heart.  Once again, the blow was glanced away a mere moment before it found its mark.  Having had enough, Zorro executed a riposte which disengaged Tomas's sword from his hand.  The youth fell to his knees on the ground in front of Zorro.  Juan and Pablo, watching their friend's defeat, thought of their own necks and made a hasty retreat through the crowd.  Tomas could see them flee.

     "Come back here, you cowards!" he shouted after them.  He tried to stand up, but Zorro pointed his saber threateningly at his chest.

    "I suggest, Señor Quiñones," said Zorro, "that you turn your attentions to another señorita.  This one is clearly not interested.  And might I recommend you change your tactics in wooing young ladies.  Drunken and boorish behavior is not the way to go about it.  Now go home.  Ah, but before you go, let me leave you with this little reminder."

     Zorro's blade flashed quickly as he slashed a Z' on the youth's jacket.  Tomas looked down at it in alarm.  Zorro stepped back as the younger man got to his feet and ran off, trying to catch up with his erstwhile friends.  Zorro chuckled as he watched him depart.  Sheathing his weapon, he turned to Victoria and Ana Maria.

     "I sincerely doubt those muchacos will bother you again, Señorita Ortega," he reassured the scared young girl.

     The people who had gathered began to disperse with the excitement over.  Victoria started to lead Ana Maria back inside the tavern.  They had not traveled very far when Señora Ortega came bustling toward them.  She grabbed Ana Maria's arm roughly and pulled her away from Victoria.

    "You Jezebel!" the older woman whispered angrily.  "How dare you shame me in front of all these people."

     Zorro and Victoria stared in horror as the girl's mother flung insults and untruths at her daughter.  Victoria could stand it no longer.

     "Señora, please," she interrupted the tirade.  "Ana Maria has done nothing wrong.  Those boys were drunk and forced themselves. . ."

    Señora Ortega glared icily at Victoria.  "Enough," she cut in herself.  "I already told you once, Señorita, it is none of your business.  I know what my daughter is and I will deal with her myself.

    She tightened her grasp on Ana Maria's arm and attempted to drag the poor girl back inside the inn.  Victoria started to go after them, but Zorro laid his hand on her arm.  She looked up at him as he shook his head.

     "I know you are concerned," he said tightly.  He held up his hand as she tried to speak.  "But it would be better to wait until everyone has had a chance to calm down.  The señora does not seem to be quite rational at the moment."

    "That is true," Victoria readily agreed, rolling her eyes.  "The woman has the crazy idea that lovely girl is some sort of fallen woman."

     Out of the corner of his eye, Zorro saw two soldiers who kept glancing over their shoulders at him as they headed toward the Alcalde's office.  He took Victoria into his arms and kissed her without any warning.  Then almost as quickly, he ended the embrace, leaving her quite breathless.

    "I must go," he said, a little sadly.  She understood though, when she heard the alarm being raised inside cuartel.  She frantically pushed him away.

     "Hurry," she warned.

     He brought one of her hands up to his lips.  Then he was gone.  Victoria sighed as she heard him whistle sharply for Toronado.  The sound of the horse's hoof beats echoed throughout the pueblo, marking Zorro's escape.  Victoria smiled satisfactorily as she watched the soldiers stumbling and fumbling their way out of the armory gate.  Too late again, she thought smugly.  With her arms folded against herself to ward off the chilly night air, she walked back to her tavern.  The soldiers, seeing that Zorro was now nowhere in sight, filed back into the garrison to face their commandante's wrath.
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"A REAL HERO"-CHAPTER FIVE