With Friends Like These

 

 

 

What if Ricardo del Amo pulled a joke so terrible that it seriously endangered a member of Diego’s family?  How would Diego react?  The short two chapter story gives one possible scenario. 

I want to thank Kathy Green, not only for proposing this premise, but for her comments and suggestions for improvements. 

All characters in this story originated on the Walt Disney series.  I am only borrowing them for the duration of the story and I will put them back for others to play with.   Thanks also go to all my friends in Z.

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

“Ah, Diego, Don Alejandro, that was a wonderful meal, and I thank you for inviting me to dinner,” Don Ricardo del Amo stated, leaning back in his chair and patting his flat stomach.

Don Diego certainly couldn’t disagree with his friend about the meal.  Juanita, the cook had outdone herself once more, building a feast that he supposed the king himself couldn’t find fault with.

“Ricardo, now that you have dined with us, maybe you can tell us your purpose for visiting our pueblo.  It is a long way from San Francisco to Los Angeles just to be dining with old friends,” Diego prodded, not so subtly.  Although he was one of his closest friends, Ricardo had to be watched constantly.  As the caballero had learned the hard way, his friend’s jokes had an uncomfortable way of backfiring.  Not only were they embarrassing, but sometimes downright dangerous.  So far, Don Ricardo had behaved himself in Los Angeles.

“I am seriously thinking about buying land in this area and settling down.  Anna Maria broke my heart, and San Francisco is much too close to Monterey.”

Don Diego knew that his face was showing some of his emotional output right now, but he couldn’t help it.  The thought of having Don Ricardo del Amo as a neighbor was unnerving.  “Here?” was all he could find to say.

“Sí, my friend. The most wonderful fruits grow here, and the climate is to my liking,” Ricardo said, brightly.

You settling down and working the land?” Don Alejandro said, in the ensuing silence.

“Don Alejandro, you underestimate my resolve.  I am determined to live near your lovely pueblo, find a sweet señorita, and raise juicy grapes and fat cattle,” Ricardo stated, smiling broadly.

The silence that followed that statement lingered like the oppressive scent that emanated from the tannery during the spring slaughter.  Suddenly, Bernardo bumped into Diego’s shoulder, and the caballero realized that he had been gaping at his friend.  “Well, good luck to you, my friend,” the younger de la Vega finally managed to choke out.

ZZZZZ

With the letter that Don Alejandro had written the night before hidden safely in his hat, Bernardo sedately rode into town early the next morning.  It was his duty to deliver all such posts, and he did so without conscious thought.  Instead, his mind was on the conversation of the night before.  Sighing, he realized that the presence of Don Ricardo del Amo would be a continuous thorn in his patron’s side, and he wondered just how long Don Diego’s equanimity would hold out.  With a wry smile, Bernardo felt it would be until the first joke had been perpetrated.

Without warning, a small projectile whizzed in front of his face.  His horse shied, and he tightened his hold on the reins as he looked for the source of the small missile.  He knew that it wasn’t from a pistol.  It moved slower than a musket ball, and he had been able to barely make out a shape as it passed by.  Laying his heels against his horse’s sides, Bernardo felt that a hasty retreat was a much safer recourse than trying to find out what the strange thing had been.

Suddenly, it seemed as though the entire world had gone mad.  More projectiles shot through the air around him, some detonating nearby.  The mare, which had been nervous before, now exploded into paroxysms of fear, bucking and jerking around like a demon.  Grabbing the saddle horn with his left hand and trying to control the horse with his right, it was all he could do to hold on.

Fear made his heart beat like a wild thing; the saddle horn became slippery with his own sweat, and he let go long enough to grab a handful of mane.  Then one of the fireworks (for that was what he had determined them to be) blew up near his face.  The heat, smoke, and fumes hit him at once. He felt the peppering of tiny fragments of pottery into his skin.  With a final scream, the mare was able to discharge her unwanted burden, and she raced on into the pueblo, riderless.  Bernardo lay on the road, oblivious to his surroundings.  The air, pungent with the tang of the noxious fog, was nevertheless eerily silent and still.

ZZZZZ

Throughout the day, Diego sat by his mozo’s bedside, having arrived within minutes after receiving the message of Bernardo’s accident.  In the slightly darkened back room of the doctor’s office, the caballero had much time to think, and the more he thought, the less he felt that this was an accident.  One who had mysteriously disappeared after reporting the incident had discovered the servant.  The smell of his Bernardo’s clothing was strong with gunpowder, and even in the dim light, it was apparent that Bernardo’s eyebrows had been singed off.  As soon as he knew his friend was going to be all right, Don Diego determined that he would examine the place where Bernardo had been found.

Finally, a slight stirring accompanied the smaller man’s return to consciousness.  Glancing behind him, Diego saw the doctor far from the open door.  “Bernardo,” he whispered, his voice tight with anxiety.  “Bernardo, it is I, Diego.”  The servant’s hand found his arm and clutched onto it as though to a lifeline.  “How do you feel?”

Bernardo pointed to his head and made signs to indicate a headache, and then he made signs for Don Diego to light a candle so he could see.  Fingers of icy fear began to walk up and down his spine.  “Of course,” was all the caballero said.

Lighting a taper and setting it in a sconce near the bed, Diego gazed into his friend’s eyes and saw no recognition of his surroundings.  After a minute, the mute made more signs.

“Yes, my friend, I did light a candle,” Diego said softly, drawing his hand in front of Bernardo’s eyes.  There was no flinching, no recognition of Diego’s movement.

Bernardo made more signs, which in his grief, Diego had trouble following.  The signs were repeated.  “Wait, let me get the doctor,” he said.

The servant groped and found his sleeve, stopping him momentarily.  More signs.  Don Diego’s breath caught in his throat.

“I don’t know if this blindness is permanent, Bernardo.  Let me get the doctor,” he repeated himself.

The doctor could only offer hope, but nothing more than that.  “It sometimes happens that the eyes heal themselves and sight returns in time.  I think that total rest is the best thing.  I will apply a bandage to give his eyes a chance to heal, Diego,” the doctor told him.  “I am also worried about head injury.  He has quite a good-sized lump on his head.  I think that he should stay in the pueblo overnight, and then if you are careful, he can go back to the hacienda in a carriage.”

“Gracias, Doctor,” Diego murmured.  He sat quietly while the physician applied the bandage and then gave Bernardo some tea to drink.

Several hours later, after he had taken a room at the inn, Diego helped the manservant to bed and sat morosely pondering the day’s events.  When Bernardo had finally gone to sleep, he slipped out and walked down the stairs to the serving area, where he ordered a glass of wine.  Sergeant Garcia soon joined him.

“Ah, Don Diego, how is the little one?  Such terrible news, and to think that a fall from a horse could do such a thing,” the obese soldier said.

“Bernardo is as well as can be expected, Sergeant,” Diego commented.  “And it was not a fall from a horse.”

“Well, Diego, please let me offer my sympathy,” another voice said, coming from behind him.  It was Ricardo.

Diego motioned to another chair.  “Please be aware that I am not going to be good company tonight,” he said, sipping his wine.

“What do you mean, Don Diego?” Garcia asked, while motioning for more wine.  “He did not fall from his horse?”

“Sí, he did, Sergeant, but only after something with gunpowder blew up near him.  There was a strong smell of gunpowder, and his clothes as well as his eyebrows were singed.”

“Ah, maybe that would explain the pieces and bits of paper, pottery, and twine scattered nearby.  I was wondering about that,” the sergeant mused.

Don Diego stared into his wineglass.  “Paper, pottery?  Without seeing the area myself, that still sounds a great deal like fireworks.”

“Why, yes, Don Diego, that would explain things perfectly, would it not?” Garcia said, looking gratefully at the caballero for coming up with the answer to this puzzle.

“Yes,” Diego said tersely, looking up into his friend’s eyes.  Don Ricardo suddenly looked nervous.  “You were playing another joke, weren’t you, Ricardo?  Another senseless, useless, inane joke.”  The other man turned pale under Diego’s glare.

Finally, Ricardo looked down at his fingers.  “Sí, Diego, I was trying to play a harmless joke.  Bucking horses dump you and your servant into the dust.  But something went wrong.  The fireworks did not cooperate; one went too close.  I did not mean for him to be hurt.  He will be all right, will he not?” Ricardo babbled, still looking down, not seeing the dangerous glint in Diego’s eyes.  Garcia looked fearfully from one man to the other.

Ricardo also didn’t see his friend rise slowly from his chair, his fists balled so tightly that the knuckles were white.  “Sí, Ricardo, he will be all right.  He cannot speak, he cannot hear, and now he cannot see, but he will be all right,” Diego hissed, his voice dripping with white-hot anger.  “When will it ever dawn on you that you could kill someone with your idiotic pranks?” he added, his voice rising in his anger.  The other patrons stopped their conversation and stared. Ricardo looked up in alarm.

Suddenly, Don Diego’s anger and frustration were too much to hold in.  With an almost imperceptible move of his arm, the little table was swept aside, and the front of Ricardo’s shirt was clutched in a choking grasp that was like iron.  Diego shoved the other man against the wall, and the only thing that Don Ricardo could see was the flashing of rage in his friend’s eyes, a rage that he had never seen before.  It was a rage that frightened him, because it was a killer’s rage.

“Diego, I did not mean to harm your servant!  Please, you are choking me!  I am sorry, I really had no intention to hurt him!” Ricardo gasped out.

Diego continued to keep Ricardo shoved painfully against the wall while his right fist swung back for a blow.  Suddenly, the hand was caught in a vise-like grip, and several other hands grabbed at him, jerking him away from his intended victim.

“Don Diego, I cannot let you do this,” Sergeant Garcia said.  “Corporal Reyes, Private Ortega, hold him.”

Don Diego struggled, but it was no use.  Garcia and his lancers held him until del Amo was safely out of his grasp and gone from the tavern.

“Diego, my son!”  His father’s voice cut through his rage.  “Control yourself!”

Blinking and then shaking his head, Diego let some of the rage flow away.  A motion from Garcia, and the lancers fell away as well, leaving the father and son to face each other.

“Come, Diego, let us go and talk privately.”

The two men walked out into the cooler evening air until they were alone.  “Your anger and grief are understandable, my son, but you gave many people food for thought tonight.”

Sighing, Don Diego said nothing for a few minutes.  “I am sorry, Father.  I--when I think of--by the saints, what Ricardo did to Bernardo is too much to bear!  I still wish that he was near, that I could let my fist tell him how I feel--”

“Diego, will that bring back Bernardo’s sight?” Don Alejandro asked.  Then a strange thought occurred to him.  “It is ironic.  Usually, you are the one trying to cool me down, giving me logical reasons for not taking violent action.”

The rage had melted away, but there was still enough of the anger left that Don Diego didn’t see the irony of his father’s statement.  “Father, Ricardo cannot be allowed to walk away from this without any punishment whatsoever.  He has never taken seriously the consequences of his reckless actions, not even when he was almost hanged for impersonating Zorro.”

“I agree, son.  He should understand the misery he has caused people, but not by violence,” Don Alejandro said.

“I must return to Bernardo.  He might need me,” Diego said, changing the subject.

“Let me stay with him for a while.  Why don’t you ride out into the hills, and let the cool air clear your thoughts?  Perhaps something will occur to you,” Don Alejandro suggested enigmatically.  “And besides, Diego, if Bernardo is permanently blind, he must be allowed to cope with it, just as he has coped with being mute.  He must not be coddled.”

Sighing again, Diego looked up at the darkening sky.  He hadn’t realized how late it was getting.  Finally, he nodded.  “Yes, a ride in the night air might be what I need.  I will be back shortly.  Con permiso, Father?”

 

Chapter Two

 

A dark-clad figure on an equally dark horse paused silently at the crest of a hill overlooking the sleeping pueblo.  The figure was statue-still, the horse moving only slightly, waiting patiently for his master to give further instructions.  For almost an hour, the figure sat, pondering, looking out across the horizon for that which could only be seen in his mind.

Finally, he reached down and patted the ebony stallion, murmuring praise to the indefatigable animal.  “Come, Tornado, let us see what we can do.”

In a very short time, Zorro had slipped through the open window of the room that Don Ricardo del Amo occupied.  Soft snoring sounds emanated from the bed, and the masked man slowly, silently pulled his sword from its sheath.  The point rested just under the sleeper’s chin.  There was a slight urge to go ahead and dispatch the cause of so much misery, but the idea was squelched almost immediately.

“Señor del Amo,” he said softly, touching the man’s chin with the point of his sword.  The caballero rolled over and murmured.  “Señor del Amo,” Zorro repeated.

As Zorro’s voice penetrated his consciousness, Ricardo jerked upright and stared at the black-clad figure.  His right hand slipped imperceptibly under his pillow, but the outlaw was watching.  As del Amo’s hand slid back out, Zorro flicked his wrist, and the sword point found the caballero’s pistol.  Soon, it was clattering in the corner of the room.

“I came here to talk, Señor del Amo, but I perceive that you were expecting me,” Zorro said, with a cold smile.

“Yes,” came the terse reply.  Anger flashed in Ricardo’s eyes.

“By pulling that dangerous trick this morning, you were assured of my visit.  Or perhaps that was your intent,” Zorro commented, making an educated guess.

Don Ricardo started in surprise, but said nothing for a few minutes.  “This morning was an accident,” he finally muttered.

“Accident?!” Zorro hissed.  “You consider this morning an accident?!  Would you happen to be stupid as well as irresponsible?”  The voice sounded as cold as the ice that occasionally formed on the edges of the ponds in winter.

Ricardo shivered slightly.  “A poor choice of words, señor,” he said softly.

“Yes,” Zorro answered.  He continued gazing at Ricardo, saying nothing else.

Finally, the caballero could stand it no longer.  The outlaw’s gaze was penetrating, as though Zorro could read his mind.  “Well, you said you were here to talk.  Say what you came to say and leave!”

“I suppose I am waiting for an explanation, Señor del Amo,” Zorro said mildly, although not feeling that way inside.

“Of the incident?”

Shrugging, Zorro replied, “Among other things, your purpose for being here.”  He paused for a moment.  “As to your joke, do you feel any remorse for what you have done?  Any remorse at all for the ruin of a man’s life and livelihood?” he asked, his voice rising in anger.

Ricardo was silent for a few minutes.  “I tried to hide my part, but Diego de la Vega knew immediately.  I did not mean for the servant to be hurt.  It was just supposed to be a joke.  Have you never played jokes on anyone?”

“Yes, I have, señor,” Zorro replied, remembering his well-conceived plots against comandantes and magistrados.  “But never intentionally against the innocent,” he added.  “And only when it was necessary in order to save a life.”

The silence lingered.  Zorro wondered how he could say the right things to make Ricardo understand, without revealing himself.  In the past, he had threatened his friend and had embarrassed him.  Apparently, neither had worked.

“What is the real reason that you are here?” Zorro asked, looking deeply into Don Ricardo del Amo’s eyes.  He immediately saw various conflicting emotions, and suddenly, inspiration flashed.  “You are here because of me.  You set up your prank for my benefit.”  Silence again.

“Sí, Señor Zorro.  I was determined to confront you.  I finally found someone I could really love, and you took her.”

“Anna Maria?” Zorro asked, in surprise.

“Sí, Anna Maria.  She loves you, and will not even consider me.  What are your intentions, señor?”

“That should have been clear, after all this time.  I cannot marry at present.  There are too many who depend on me.  I am bound to this duty, señor,” he said vehemently, amazed at his disclosure.  “Perhaps later.  And when I do marry, it will have to be to someone who can appreciate both sides of my personality,” Zorro continued, with a sad smile for that which had been lost.

There was a look of astonishment, and then remorse, on del Amo’s face.  “For months, I have tried.  ‘Zorro will return,’ she keeps saying,” he burst out.  “And you do not even consider yourself a rival!”

“Perhaps you will have better luck in the future.  Perhaps if you acted less the adolescent and more the mature man, she would respond more favorably to you.  And there would be much less suffering of innocents.”

Looking down at his restless fingers, Don Ricardo sighed, then looked up at the outlaw, but found himself alone.

ZZZZZ

The next day, as Don Diego was sitting and conversing with Bernardo in the library, a servant knocked and entered.  “Don Diego, Don Ricardo is here to see Bernardo.”

Diego’s eyes widened.  Ricardo entered, looking carefully at Diego and then at Bernardo.  The white bandage was an indictment against both men; Diego feeling the guilt of the backfired joke intended for Zorro.

“I am sorry, Diego, I truly am.  How can I convey that to your servant?” Ricardo asked.

“We have been developing some hand signals,” Don Diego hedged, and then he made some motions in the palm of Bernardo’s hand.  The servant smiled.

Don Ricardo sighed.  “I will be returning home, tomorrow.”

Diego just nodded.  “Good luck, my friend,” he said softly.  “And I, too, am sorry.”  Ricardo nodded and left.

ZZZZZ

The next morning, several miles outside of Los Angeles, a black-clad rider on an ebony horse stopped the northbound stage.

“Señor, I desire this letter to reach Monterey,” he said, handing the driver a sealed letter and several pesos to make the effort worthwhile.

“Sí, Señor Zorro, I will put it in the mail bag now.  It will reach the one you have intended it to reach.”

Zorro nodded.  He only glanced at Don Ricardo del Amo, who was peering out of the stage.  Somehow, he felt that Ricardo would make sure the letter got safely to Monterey and to Anna Maria.

Two weeks later, the doctor removed the bandage.  Bernardo blinked, looked directly into Don Diego’s eyes, and smiled.  Diego laughed and gave his friend a heartfelt hug.  Later when the doctor had left the room, Diego said, “Ah, Bernardo, we are a team once more!”  Bernardo nodded his head vigorously.  

 

THE END

 

 

 

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