"Felipe, I want you to meet Señor Pedro Ybarra," Don Ernesto said, indicating the man at his side. The señor was a peasant in his late forties, with a lined face and troubled eyes. "This is Felipe de la Vega, one of my apprentices."
"Buenos dias," Felipe greeted the other man as he shook his hand. He looked from the farmer to his employer questioningly.
"De la Vega?" Señor Ybarra asked with curious excitement. "You are not the one who was Z. . .?"
"No." The young man quickly disabused the man of that notion. "That was my father."
"Señor Ybarra is here on behalf of himself and several other freeholders," Don Ernesto stated. "They have concerns that their property lines are being encroached.
"Si, that is correct," the man agreed. "It seems like every time I ride out to check the fences, they have moved. Several other farmers have noticed the same thing happening on their holdings. My amigo, Ricardo Vargas, he found some unfilled holes where his fence used to be. It was moved at least 10 meters."
"That's outrageous," declared Felipe. He now knew why Don Ernesto was giving him this assignment. This was the kind of law he wished to practice, to fight injustice and right wrongs.
Don Ernesto glanced at Felipe. "Do you think you can help Señor Ybarra and the other farmers?"
The young man nodded. "I will certainly try." He had to suppress a smile. This was the sort of thing Zorro had fought against all the time. Helping these freeholders should be an easy task.
Calderon handed him a piece of paper then clapped him on the shoulder. "Bueno. Let me know if you need any assistance." He turned to leave.
Felipe sat down at the table and invited the farmer to do the same. "Do you have a copy of your property deed?"
"Si, right here." Ybarra withdrew a well-worn piece of parchment from his waistband. Felipe took the paper and perused it carefully. He didn't like what he saw.
"Señor," he began, "forgive me, but can you read? Do you know what this says?" He was sure of what the answer would be. The man had signed the document with an ‘X', meaning he couldn't even write his own name.
"No," the farmer admitted ashamedly. "I cannot read or write."
Felipe shook his head. The land had been granted to Señor Ybarra upon the death of his patron, Don Enrique Cavallo five years earlier. The caballero had died without heirs so he had given his tenants the acreage they had worked for so many years.
But one stipulation was that if the land lay fallow for a period of one year, it could be annexed by the adjoining landowners. Felipe scanned the paper to find out who would benefit from such a provision. There were two names listed, a Don Vicente Murillo and. . .Don Lorenzo Salazar?
But he had met the man, he was their landlord. How had Salazar and Murillo persuaded Cavallo to add such a devious condition to his will? Instantly Felipe became concerned. What kind of arrangement had Don Lorenzo gotten Don Alejandro to make? The young man hadn't liked the fact that his grandfather had already signed a lease for their house before he could look it over. On the surface, it appeared well enough, thirty pesos a month until the end of the year. Then Felipe and Ana Maria would return to Los Angeles, where he would study for, then take his bar exam.
Felipe needed to see that lease. He would have to write to the elder de la Vega as soon as he could. But right now, he had to interpret Señor Ybarra's deed to him. The man's frown grew deeper as Felipe told him just what the document entailed.
"But that is not right," Ybarra complained. "I have been using all my land. Nothing has been lying vacant. They are stealing my property."
"It would seem so," Felipe agreed. "But right now, it is your word against theirs. We need proof."
The farmer looked the young apprentice up and down, taking in the white linen shirt and the green brocade vest Felipe wore. "Why do you want to help us anyway?" he asked a little belligerently. "You are one of them."
"No, Señor," the young man disagreed this time. "I was born a peasant, just like you. I learned from my adopted father that all men are created equal, if not in the eyes of the law, then in God's."
Señor Ybarra eyed him speculatively. "Your father, he was truly Zorro?"
"All right," the older man declared, deciding that this young caballero could be trusted.
"I will need to do some investigating," Felipe explained. He held out the parchment. "May I keep this?"
"Si y gracias." Ybarra stood and shook the hand Felipe extended to him.
Felipe sat back down in his chair after the other man had left. Don Ernesto had given him a list of the other freeholders who had complaints against the two dons. He would need to visit all of them and look over their documents and property as well. Speaking with Don Lorenzo probably wouldn't be a bad idea either. He sighed as he thought of all the work ahead of him.
At least he didn't have to be so worried about his wife. In the past two weeks since Ana Maria's outburst at the church, she had seemed to calm down. She would talk with him about mundane subjects; the weather, household concerns and such. She would still shy away from his touch and this concerned him greatly. There were still two weeks left of the abstinence the doctor had imposed. Felipe realized his hopes of them resuming the lovemaking they had shared before the miscarriage were nothing but broken dreams.
Most nights he spent in the spare bedroom, especially when he came home late. When he did lie in the same bed as Ana Maria, it felt like torture and he slept poorly. He didn't do so well in the other room either but at least she wasn't lying there beside him, mere inches away and off limits.
They had also received a letter from Diego and Victoria saying that they were planning to visit in a month's time. Felipe didn't think it was a good idea, especially since they wanted him and Ana Maria to keep an eye on Alfonso for a few hours on their anniversary. He wasn't sure how Ana Maria would react around the infant. And he didn't really want to find out.
He closed his eyes and leaned his head back. He wished he had a cigar, even though he knew he was becoming too dependent on them to relax. He and Juan had to smoke theirs either outside or at the tavern since Don Ernesto had the same attitude towards them as Diego and Ana Maria did.
Sighing more wearily than a twenty-two year
old man should have to, he rose, intending to get started on the undertaking
his patron entrusted him to do.
Z Z Z
Diego walked through the doorway of his and Victoria's bedroom. He stopped in his tracks at the sight of his wife, sitting in the rocking chair, their son at her breast. His greedy suckling made his father smile. Alfonso was such a healthy little lad. It was hard not to be proud of him, although he was a bit envious of the little fellow at the moment.
Victoria looked up at him and smiled. He then remembered why he had sought her out. Removing the letter from its envelope, he knelt down beside her.
"It's from Felipe," he answered the question he saw in her eyes. "He doesn't think our going to Santa Paula next month is a good idea."
"Why?" asked Victoria. "Is something wrong?"
Diego shook his head. "He doesn't mention anything significant." He glanced up at his beautiful wife. "I think maybe they are still recovering from their loss. Seeing Alfonso might not be the best thing for them."
Victoria scanned the letter then looked up at her husband in dismay. "I think you're right. There's a lot he's not saying, isn't there?" She handed the missive back to Diego.
He smiled wryly at his wife's perceptiveness. That was the impression he got as well. Something was very wrong with his son's life. The unhappiness of it was clearly written between the lines of the short note Felipe had penned.
"Ana Maria hasn't written to me since before. . .it happened," Victoria stated. The last letter she had received from her ‘sister' had been so full of hope and joy about the baby. She imagined the young woman was devastated.
"I wonder if I should go by myself," Diego mused aloud. "Maybe he would confide in me face to face." He hated the idea of leaving his wife and child for even a few days. But his oldest son was hurting and what kind of father would he be if he didn't try to help him?
The same thoughts were going through Victoria's head. "I think you should," she concurred. "Although I did have my heart set on spending our first anniversary in Santa Paula."
Diego kissed her petulant lips. "You were just looking forward to a certain outlaw's visit, don't deny it," he declared with a laugh as she was about to do just that. Zorro did not ride out anymore to fight criminals and injustice, but he did call on a certain señora from time to time. And he hadn't been able to visit her for two months since she was recovering from the birth of their child.
He bent down to whisper in her ear. "Perhaps he could call on you tonight, Señora de la Vega?"
Victoria chuckled. "But what would my husband think?"
"I don't think he would mind, do you?"
"No." Victoria laughed. Actually she would have welcomed him several weeks earlier but Diego had insisted on waiting the entire two months the doctor prescribed. She kissed him eagerly.
It took several minutes for Diego to regain his senses. He recalled the letter he held in his hand. "I think I'll go next week," he decided. "Father should be back from the cattle drive then."
Victoria nodded then glanced down at Alfonso. He had fallen asleep, her nipple still in his mouth. She gazed at her husband and smiled.
He had to grin as well. Lifting the
baby from her arms, he put him over his shoulder and gently patted his
son's back until the desired belch was produced. Diego then placed
Alfonso in his cradle. Victoria joined him as they both watched their
little son sleep. Then they looked at each other and embraced, realizing
how very lucky they were.
Z Z Z
Felipe had had a very busy week. He had spoken with the other five freeholders on his list. They all had land grants similar to the one Señor Ybarra first showed him. He had ridden the property lines bordering Don Lorenzo's rancho with the men. Except for a couple of holes on Señor Vargas' land, there was no evidence that the fences had been altered.
This was going to be harder than he thought. He realized now how effective the mask had been for Zorro. He could challenge wrongdoers with no fear of retribution. It was quite different trying to fight injustice as a lawyer. Don Lorenzo was his landlord. To be tossed out of their house would be all he and Ana Maria needed. They had enough problems already.
Felipe and Juan were riding out to Don Ernesto's hacienda. Once a month their patron and his wife invited them, along with other prominent citizens of the pueblo, to dinner and tonight was that night. Usually Ana Maria attended these gatherings but since the miscarriage, she refused to come with him. But then she rarely went anywhere these days, he mused.
He had the feeling that something was about to break between them. Just what, he didn't know. And it frightened him. He groaned as he thought of the morning two days earlier.
Felipe had once again spent the night in the spare bedroom. As it had been a Saturday, he was sleeping in a little bit, having been out late the night before with Juan. They had played chess until midnight and probably drank a little more than they should have. His amigo was despairing over getting a certain señorita to notice him. Felipe had met the young lady and didn't know why Juan was being so stupid over her. She was clearly interested in his friend.
He had been lying on his stomach when suddenly the door flew open and Ana Maria walked in. "Felipe, I need the bedding," she declared. "Luisa is here for the laundry." She tugged on the cotton sheets and pulled them from his body. Then she gasped in shock.
It had been so warm when he had collapsed into bed, Felipe hadn't bothered with his nightclothes. When she withdrew the coverings from him, he had rolled over onto to his back. His arousal was hard to ignore.
"What. . .?" the bleary eyed young man said before focusing on his wife's face. He noted where she was staring and belatedly tried to cover himself with a pillow.
"No," Ana Maria said, her eyes never leaving him. "Don't."
Felipe was thoroughly confused. "Querida?" he queried hopefully. "Do you. . .?"
The rest of his question stuck in his throat as she took a step toward him. He closed his eyes. Madre de Dios. He had seen the look on her face, one of longing and desire. He opened his eyes as she took another step. His breathing grew heavy and his heart was pounding. She slowly reached her hand toward him. Then she snatched it back.
"No," she moaned as she shook her head. She grabbed the bedding and ran from the room.
Felipe groaned at the memory as they arrived at the Calderon hacienda. He didn't know how much more he could take.
A servant led Viento and Juan's horse away to the stables as the two young men made their way to the front door. They only had to wait a few moments before the door was opened by another of Don Ernesto's servants. They were ushered inside to the sala where their patron and his other guests had gathered.
It felt as though all the air had been sucked from Felipe's lungs. Standing before him was one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen. She had glossy black hair slicked back into a tight bun, which made her almond shaped green eyes even more exotic looking. Her violet-blue dress showed off her voluptuous figure to perfection. Her rosy red mouth was twisted in a bemused smile as she glanced up at him.
Felipe couldn't take his eyes from her. She noticed his regard and moistened her luscious lips with the tip of her tongue, letting him know she was interested in him as well.
Oh Dios mio, he thought.
Z Z Z
"SUEÑOS ROTOS" - CHAPTER SEVEN