Los Tres Amigos

 

by Patricia Crumpler

 

 

 

 

The people in the coach were bored.  The young bearded dandy's head bobbed with each bump in the road, while the elderly caballero struggled to read. A middle-aged lady whose hair was pulled back so hard it strained her face stared at an unknown place on the opposite wall, but the fourth passenger, a young, handsome man, watched the scenery from the windows with interest. When the young man heard a bump on the roof of the stage he leaned out the open window only to hear a sharp crack and feel the quick gust from a whip no further than an inch from his face.  He turned his gaze upward to see the whip wrap around a pistol, which then snapped from a brigand's hand. The young man looked forward to see two horsemen on each side of the lead horses trying to stop the speeding animals.   Looking back he saw a figure dressed in black overtaking the coach.  A flip of raven silk touched his cheek as the masked rider passed by.  As the coach came to a halt, he looked forward again and saw the dark figure engaged in conflict with the two horsemen.  Swords were drawn and the masked swordsman fought like a demon.  He could have handled three opponents with ease.   Soon one contender was left still on the ground and the other was grasping his bleeding wrist.  When the young man again looked up, he saw the driver holding a pistol on the bandit who displayed a very red welt on his arm.

"Thank you, Seņor Zorro!" shouted the stage driver.   "You are in as good a form as ever!"

The champion in black touched his hat with a flair.  When Zorro saw a man on horseback hiding behind a boulder he called to him.   "Tiranda!   Give it up.  You will not line your pockets today!"  Zorro turned to the driver, "Can you handle this from here?"

"Oh, yes.  At least two outlaws will see bars tonight.   Thank you, again."

"Con mucho gusto!" said Zorro.  He raised then lowered his legs with force against the flanks of the ebony mount.  A cloud of fine sand appeared, and the horseman was gone.

"Are we there?" asked the older caballero, closing his book.

"Hey, I was sleeping," growled the dandy.

"What is going on?" asked the pinched-faced lady.

"Nothing, now," answered the young man, who smiled.

When the stage reached Los Angeles, there was the usual activity of dispensing luggage, mail and small cargo.  There was extra activity when the soldiers helped the bound men from the roof of the stage.

"Two more of Tiranda's gang.  Ho!  That makes six in three weeks.  Zorro?" asked the sergeant.

"Of course," answered the driver without surprise.

As the observant traveler looked around at the town he made his way to the tavern.  Picking a table near the window, he ordered water, saying to the innkeeper,   "I am very thirsty.  A glass of water before anything."  As he sipped the water a tall man walked through the door.  He knew that man.

"Diego!  I knew you lived in Los Angeles.  I was hoping to see you!"

"Teo?  Teodoro Romano?  Is it really you?" said Diego de la Vega in disbelief.

"It is I, my old friend.  And in one piece, thankfully, with all my belongings intact."

"Oh, yes, I heard.  The highwayman El Zorro was busy today," commented Diego.

"Highwayman?  He seemed to be more of a hero, to me.  Who knows what would have happened if he had not been there.  I had heard of El Zorro.   Now I have seen him."

"Well, I'm glad you are here and safe.  Would you like some refreshment? This tavern has wonderful sangria.  It chills in clay jars in the cellar. I highly recommend it!"  Diego summoned the tavern keeper.   "Sangria, por favor.  What are you doing here, Teo?"

"I am on business.  I have been many places.  Just recently I was in Mexico City, then San Diego, now here.  I may have to travel to Monterey and even San Francisco, perhaps.  But while I was here I definitely wanted to see you again.  How long has it been?  Four years.  Such a long time.  So many changes.  Not so for you, though.  You look as if you left school only a month ago, Diego. What are you up to?  Do you have a family?  Tell me all."

Diego smiled as he received the glass pitcher of sangria and poured it for his friend.  "Oh, there is not much to tell.  I live on our hacienda where my father tries his best to make a gentleman land owner of me, but I enjoy quieter pursuits."

"You?  Quiet pursuits?" said Teodoro, genuinely astonished.

"Four years, such a long time.  So many changes," repeated Diego.  "I am happy.  I spend time reading philosophy and poetry.  I have not yet met the seņorita right for me.  I attend to things as they come along.   Speaking of coming along, you must stay with us at the hacienda.  My man will bring your bags.  If he ever gets here.  Where could he be?"  Diego leaned slightly and checked the door when he saw his efforts were rewarded. Bernardo walked in with a parcel under his arm.

Diego made a few hand movements that asked Bernardo if the parcel was what he was waiting for.  Bernardo barely wrinkled his nose as he handed Diego the package.  "What?" said Diego testily.  Bernardo just pushed the package a little closer.  Diego pulled a silver penknife from the inside pocket of his short jacket.  Two cuts made the strings pull away, and the paper started to open on its own.  As the paper parted, Diego made a momentary face then he smiled.   "Oh, it is just what I wanted!  Look at the color and the extra lace on the lapel.  The seed pearls are such a nice touch.  What do you think, Teo?"

Diego held up the mustard colored suede suit so his friend could get a better look.

"Uh, well... it is lov... interesting!  Yes, most interesting, Diego."

"Oh, it is so special.  I shall wear it today, and then put it up for important occasions."

"It will make a good impression, Diego, I am sure."

"Would you care for more sangria or shall we go back to the hacienda, now?" asked Diego.

"Yes, I would like to have more wine, just a little, then to your home, amigo," answered Teodoro.

Diego and Teodoro reminisced late into the night.


The next day while lunch was served in the paneled dining room, Alejandro asked questions about Spain and Mexico.  As they talked they learned Teodoro was a wealth of information.  When the diners began the second course, they heard horses at the front gate.  A servant announced the arrival of a detachment of soldiers.

"It's lunchtime.  Let us wager about the first person to walk through the door," said Diego.

A tall, corpulent man showing sergeant's insignia lumbered into the dining room.

"Sergeant.  Welcome.  Will you join us for lunch?  We have only just started," invited Alejandro.

"Oh, no Don Alejandro.  Thank you.  I am not feeling well.   I think I ate something that did not agree with me this morning," the big sergeant reported.

"How can that be?" asked Diego.  "Never have I met a man who got along with food so well as you, Sergeant!  And so often!  Perhaps cook can make you some peppermint tea?"

"No, Don Diego.  I have come to advise you that the stage is due in this afternoon, and I am afraid that Tiranda will try to rob it again.  He has not had much success and I fear he is willing to take more risks, perhaps even attempt to rob a rancho or hacienda.  This brigand is a nuisance.  He must be stopped before he actually kills someone.  I am stationing my men at different stops along the stage road.  Adios, good people."

"Vaya con Dios," said Teodoro.

"Teo, my father has a marvelous library.  Would you like to see it? Please, come this way," suggested Diego.

Teodoro followed Diego into a room lined with bookshelves.  It was, indeed, a marvelous library.

"Wonderful.  I shall enjoy the afternoon.  You must hurry, now.  Be gone!"

"Why are you saying 'be gone'?" asked Diego.

"You must help the soldiers, Zorro.  But, time is wasting, so go."  Teodoro answered in a low voice.

"But..." stammered Diego.

"No time, go now.  We'll talk later. Go."


On this day's stagecoach sat a young man in religious garb, his wide hat moving up and down with the rhythm of the road.  Suddenly, the priest heard pounding hooves and the shouts of riders.  As the vehicle stopped, his hand moved up to his heavy gold cross.  Of the five riders thundering towards them, one rider slowed, then held back, while the other four surrounded the stagecoach.

"Get down," one bandit said to the driver.  He turned to the passenger.  "Get out."

The young priest saw one more rider approach.  The rider was advancing swiftly, masked and dressed in black.

"Again?  Do you not understand?" said Zorro to the would-be robbers.

Agile and lithe, Zorro dismounted and kicked the pistol from the short bandit's grasp.  The felon with the shaggy mustache received a blow with the hilt of the sword after a lightening parry.  The thin, tall bandit stood disarmed, holding his shoulder while the fourth man with the ragged hat galloped away.  Zorro called to a last thief who had stayed back. "Benito Tiranda.  Coward!  If I can't catch you, I shall put you out of business by attrition.  How many of your gang do you have now?  Buy a farm! Do an honest day's work!  Leave good people alone!"

The passenger watched in amazement and thought to himself it was bound to be an interesting trip.


When Diego returned, he found Teodoro in the library just as he had left him.

"Teo.  I do not know what to say," said Diego with consternation.

"Diego, you and I were roommates for three years.  We were fencing competitors the whole time.  The people who see you every day have not seen you like I have.  I use to watch each motion while you fenced.  It was my goal to best you.  I learned your every move, every pass, facial expressions, and, especially the smile with which you easily upset me time after time.  I knew what you would do just by watching you twitch your lips, but it was to no avail.  You were too fast, too good.  The man I saw in black yesterday moved like you did.  I knew you lived in Los Angeles.  It had to be you.  The only person who even came close to your level of skill was Bartolome."

Bernardo walked in with wine and cheese on a silver tray.  He sat down near Diego and folded his hands as if bored in his quiet world.

Diego listened with a stressed on his face as Teodoro continued.

"Diego, what you are doing is wonderful.  Much more like the young firebrand I knew in school.  I could not believe this milk-toast, sissy appearance you have been showing me.  The world of drama has missed a stellar performer.  And, may I say that although I think you have chosen well your goal in life, I do not agree with your 'interesting' taste in fashion...  Seed pearls?"

Diego had been feeling like an over wound clock since he had left the house.  Teodoro's levity about that horrible suit was enough to break the tension. Diego lost his aristocratic self-control and let out a loud belly laugh.  He laughed so long, he hardly drew a breath.  Teodoro began laughing, too.  Soon, Diego put his arm against his side, as if to hold it in.  Diego dabbed his handkerchief at his nose to absorb a tiny bit of wine.  He looked at the stained handkerchief and broke out into peals of laughter anew.

"Oh!" he said, between guffaws, "It hurts!"   Finally, he slid off the chair backward onto the floor.  Bernardo quickly turned towards Diego and assisted him up.

Once more Teodoro commented.  "And, although I believe your faithful friend here, does not speak, I do think he hears a little better than most people realize!"

Once again Teodoro Romano caught his friend off guard.  Diego managed to stay on the chair for this segment of laughter.  Bernardo laughed hardest, in his own silent way.

"What am I to do, Teo?  This must remain a secret."   Diego said quietly and seriously.

"Trust me."  Said Teodoro.


The next day Alejandro sent Diego and Teodoro into town to check on supplies.  As always, Bernardo accompanied his young master.  As the buggy slowed, the two friends saw a man in robes cross the street towards the church.

"Diego, remember when I mentioned Bartolome yesterday?"

"Yes, of course, Teo."

"Well, speak of the devil!" said Teodoro mockingly, and he pointed.  "That is Bartolome."

"Not exactly an appropriate analogy, no?" said Diego.

"Oh, perhaps not.  But is this not a coincidence?  Now, the three amigos, together again."

"Bart!  Bartolome Aviendo!  Ho!" shouted Diego.

"Diego!  How good to see you!  It is Father Bartolome, now.   But still "Bart" to the two of you."

Diego and Teodoro came down from the buggy.  The three men hugged each other, shook hands, and slapped backs.  It was a happy reunion.

"You must stay at the hacienda, please," said Diego.

"I can not stay.  There is much to do.  But, I would very much enjoy dinner and the use of a horse and buggy, perhaps?"

"Whatever you wish, my old friend. Dinner, the best wine, cigars, tell me your pleasure.  Six o'clock this afternoon?  It will give us time to catch up, no?" said Diego happily.

"I look forward to it, surely.  Diego, Teo, your servant."   He bowed and walked into the church.

Diego turned to Teodoro.  "Who would have thought Bart would have become a holy man?"

"Four years, such a long time.  So many changes," said Teodoro.


Teodoro was enjoying siesta when Bartolome arrived at the de la Vega home. Diego and Bartolome sat in the patio to chat about their school days together.

"What a coincidence that you and Teo would come to Los Angeles at the same time.  How fortunate," said Diego.

"Diego, I don't know if it is a coincidence, or fortunate, for that matter."

"Bart, explain," Diego said in a questioning tone.

"Diego, the reason I am here is somewhat complicated, but I will attempt to simplify it. I am a special emissary for the Monsignor of Madrid.  The King has obtained a small relic of great importance.  It is a piece of the True Cross.  The piece itself is no bigger than my finger, and the glass that surrounds it is only slightly larger.  The King sent the glass to the New World gold mines to create the most wonderful reliquary ever designed. It is beyond description.  It is travels on a specially made caisson, guarded by a half score of handpicked soldiers.   Its cover is encrusted with jewels and there is also a golden statue of Our Lady, with a crown, rings and jewelry adorned with huge emeralds.   The King wants the reliquary to tour some of the cities so the people can view it."

"Oh, yes, what a wonderful use of the gold and gems.  Now all the people can see how Spain cares for them," Diego said tersely.

Father Bartolome continued.  "All has gone well.  The tour is kept a secret.  A message is sent to the head of each church in the next city, so the church can prepare for the display.  That is what I do.  When the precious article appeared in Mexico City, some of its jewels vanished. With each city more of the gold and jewels disappeared.  It just so happens that each time the reliquary lost a part, Teodoro Romano was in that city, also."

"You don't think Teo would steal, do you?  Especially from the church?  No, no, no.  When the three of us roomed together he was the one who insisted on prayers.  He was the one who kept us in line.  We would have never made mass if he had not pestered us constantly.  I do not believe it.  No, no."

Father Bartolome's eyes narrowed.  "You must not trust him, Diego."

"When will the reliquary come to Los Angeles, Bart?" inquired Diego.

"In one week.  I feel the thief will strike heavily this time.   Even though there are many guards, I feel something terrible will happen.  I pray for assistance and guidance, my friend."

Diego said with assurance.  "I believe the reliquary will be safe in Los Angeles.  I do."

Alejandro and Teodoro joined the two men in the garden.

"Dinner will be served in ten minutes, shall we go into the house, now?" advised Alejandro.

During an animated supper conversation Bartolome looked deep into his wineglass and said, "Although I have completely resigned from fencing, I would so like to see a lively match between the two best swordsmen I know."

Diego shook his head,  "My interests in fencing have greatly changed, Bart. I have no desire to compete with my friend."

"Nor I," said Teodoro.

"What a shame.  So many changes," said Bartolome wistfully.


In the morning Diego took Bernardo aside.  "Bernardo, Teo has asked me for the loan of a horse.  Do you think you could follow him discretely and let me know where he goes?"

Bernardo accepted the task.

"Be careful, Bernardo, something is up, but I don't know what it is yet.

Within an hour Bernardo returned.

"Did you see where he went, what he did?" Bernardo shook his head.  "Did you lose him?"  Bernardo looked sad then nodded with self-revulsion.  "It is all right, friend.  If Teo did not want to be followed, it would not happen."  Diego patted Bernardo's shoulder.  Teodoro left the hacienda alone each day with regularity.  Not once was Bernardo successful in following more than a mile or two.  With equal regularity Bartolome dined at the hacienda for the evening meal.


Isidoro greeted his brother.  "Benito, I have a message for you."  Tiranda read the note and mumbled.  "I am not sure about this, but we will see." That night Tiranda and two of his men stood on the top of the hill waiting for an appointment. The meeting occurred at the chosen time.

"This is just a sample of what you can have," said the stranger holding up a bar of gold and a huge gem.  The men did not need the bright moon to see the value of the items.

"Oh, seņor, you are so very stupid to come alone with these," chuckled Tiranda.  "Aren't you worried that you will lose them, or, perhaps, your life?  We have seen you for miles.  We know you are alone.  And we are three."  The short man pulled out his sword.

The stranger smiled.  "No, I am not worried.  Number one, this is only a fraction of the wealth you can have, you would naturally want more.   And, number two."  In a flash the stranger had buckled the swordsman's knee and grabbed his sword.  It took a few seconds after he called, "En garde, seņors!" for the other two men to respond.  The swords glittered in the moonlight and, within minutes both opponents were disarmed and each had a point at their throats as the stranger held a sword in each hand.

Benito grinned widely. "Oh, seņor, we would be so happy to work with you. Tell us your plan."


Just after sunrise on the day the of the reliquary's arrival, Diego left the hacienda.  Alejandro did not question the absence of his son. Alejandro also left for town early for business because he felt as the caisson approached, many people would stop their affairs to see the procession.

As the parade approached one end of town the people, as predicted, came from their houses and businesses to watch.  No one seemed to notice the hay wagon coming in from another road.  No one noticed, or cared, about the four soldiers and Father Bartolome who walked beside the ragged cart.  The townsfolk did notice, however, when shots rang out.  As the old wagon halted, the remaining five members of Tiranda's gang surrounded the hay wagon.  The soldiers raised their hands high as commanded.  The tall, thin member of Tiranda's gang bound up the side of the wagon, unseated the driver and began to slap the reigns.  A masked rider dressed in black halted the current coachman.  Zorro drew his sword that flashed and sang its metallic tune.

Just then the stable boy ran to the crowd.  "Father, muy pronto!   There is a man tied up in one of the stalls!"

Several men ran into the stable to see Diego in a stall, bound and gagged. The men freed him and assisted him to the street. When Diego saw Alejandro in the crowd watching something with great interest he ran to his father's side. Alejandro was astonished to see his son walking toward him.

"Diego!  What?  What?  Who?"  Alejandro looked back to see El Zorro besting Tiranda's men.

Diego observed closely.  "I think I know who that is," he said.  After Zorro disarmed the last bandit he mounted Tornado.  As he sped away, a man standing on the side shouted.  "This is for you, Seņor Zorro!"   A pistol shot was heard, but it was not Zorro who fell.  Bartolome lay on the road, his robe beginning to turn red.  Diego ran to him and kneeled,  supporting Bartolome's head on the top of his knees.  Within minutes Teodoro was kneeling also.

"I will die," said Bartolome with fear.  "I have been wicked and I shall see Hell tonight."

Teodoro's tone with soothing.  "Confess your sins and you will be in the presence of the Maker.  All can be forgiven, my friend."

Bartolome struggled for breath.  "I met the real Father Bartolome on the ship from Spain.  He was old and could not withstand the rigors of the voyage.  From his effects I learned about his mission.  I posed as Father Bartolome.  I hired Tiranda to steal the reliquary.  The guards did not know I switched it to the hay wagon."  All three men looked at the wagon.

The dying man continued. "When you are consumed with greed, you suspect everyone else.  Teo, when I saw you here in Los Angeles, I thought you had designs on the treasure.  I lied to Diego to cast doubt when I told him you had been following the riches.  I am sorry.  Diego, I was wrong about you, too. When I saw Zorro fight, I was sure it was you.  Tiranda's men caught you and put you out of the way.  Please forgive me."

Bartolome was barely hanging to life and he forced each word.   Teodoro began reciting Last Rites in low tones. "Diego, Teo, I...have...hidden," The two men bent over him but could hardly make out what he was saying. "in...cave...green valley in."

The rest was indistinguishable. Bartolome closed his eyes while the last breath audibly left his body.

Teo bowed his head and looked up at Diego.  "The real Father Bartolome was my mentor in Spain.  I was to meet him in Mexico to assist with the tour of the reliquary.  I have been tracking the impostor for months.  I did not know who it was until I came here.   I will finish the mission and return to Spain with the reliquary."

"Teo," Diego said.  "About Zorro..."

"As God has directed me, He has directed you also.  Who am I to interfere with God's plan?  Your secret is safe.  A long time, so many changes.   Good changes, mi amigo."

 

 

 

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