A/N: Thanks to all who review. I appreciate everything said. And yes, this takes place between the seasons…after the Eagle and before Monterey. I did invent a new magistrado later in the story. He is no one in particular.
CHAPTER FOUR – The Sergeant's Dilemma
As Garcia reached out to touch the mask, Zorro's hand shot up and grabbed Garcia's wrist.
"Sergeant, don't you dare to ever try to unmask me again! If you ever found out who I was…I would… probably have to kill you. I would not like to do that."
"You would kill – me, Senor Zorro?" Garcia looked mournful.
"You would execute me, would you not?" Zorro cocked his head to one side in an attitude of mild defiance.
"Si, that is my duty. But to kill me just because I unmasked you…that is murder, Zorro. I do not think you are a murderer. You would not kill someone in cold blood."
Although Zorro's grip on Garcia's wrist was still strong, his voice lost its harshness. "No Sergeant, I wouldn't. But others have pulled the mask down, and met with fatality that I really had nothing to do with. I would be afraid that would happen to you. And – I thought we had a truce."
Garcia was embarrassed at getting caught. "We do."
"You have a funny way of showing it." Zorro released Garcia's hand and raised himself up to a sitting position.
"Zorro, it is my duty to try to capture you. And when you were unconscious, well, it was too good an opportunity to pass up."
Zorro shook his head. "I can hardly believe that you would take advantage of me when we had a truce! Can I not trust you, Sergeant?"
Garcia lowered his eyes. "I am sorry, Senor Zorro. Of course you can trust me, but can I trust you?"
"Have I given you any reason not to trust me since we started this truce?" Zorro was a bit disappointed.
Garcia lowered his head. "No, you have not." He opened his mouth to say something else, then closed it.
Zorro broke the awkward moment. "Come Sergeant. Let's go. And…let's forget this happened, all right?" Zorro playfully slapped Garcia's arm.
Garcia smiled from ear-to-ear. "Gracias, Zorro."
Eventually, they made their way to a rocky overhang. As soon as they sat down underneath, they promptly fell asleep from exhaustion.
The morning sun made its way under the overhang, and into Zorro's eyes. He awoke with a start, but as soon as he moved, his foot shot with pain. "OW!" he cried out without realizing it.
Garcia grunted, but as soon as he moved, his head exploded with pain. "OH-h-h!" he groaned out loud.
Zorro spoke first. "How is your head this morning, Sergeant?"
Garcia moaned. "Oh, Senor Zorro, do I have a head? It feels like it fell off. How is your foot?"
Zorro winced. "I think I will live. But, I may need to cut my boot off at some point. It's possible that the circulation is being cut off, but yes, I will live." He smiled. "I will live to be chased by you another day, eh Sergeant?"
Garcia laughed out loud. "Si! And I will live to chase you! Ah Senor Zorro…I wish I did not have to chase you. Can you not give yourself up to me so I can collect the reward?"
It was Zorro's turn to laugh out loud. "Sorry, Sergeant. I don't think I can do that. I value my head far more than the reward that is on it. But, I give you permission to keep trying. Did you sleep well? You seem alert."
"Si, I think so."
"Then let's get going. The sooner we get started, the sooner we'll get home, and things can get back to normal, eh, Sergeant?" He playfully slapped Garcia's arm.
"Senor Zorro…I hope I didn't offend you last night. I didn't mean to."
"To what are you referring, Sergeant?"
They walked along in the daylight as they had the night before. They'd walked about two hours when Garcia broke a sort of comfortable silence – as each man concentrated on walking without falling.
"Well, you asked me if I was ordered to execute my best friend, Don Diego, would I be able to do it. I feel that offended you, Zorro. I felt something changed…"
Zorro turned to Garcia and smiled. "No offense taken, Sergeant. I think both of us may have been on edge, exhausted, hungry, and in pain last night. I know that you have your duty. I was trying to see if you could look past it. I hope not, but someday, you may have to choose between duty or friendship. Duty may promote you, but a friend will always be there."
Garcia thought a moment. "Si, and Don Diego is my best friend. I hope he will always be there to help me when I need him."
Zorro nodded. "I hope he will, too." Zorro paused a moment, then changed direction. "There has been talk…maybe you've heard it, of Mexico's independence from Spain. If that happens in the near future, California, and Los Angeles will certainly have a change in governmental structure. How would you feel about that, Sergeant?"
"I don't concern myself with politics, Zorro. You know that. All I know is the military. If Mexico takes over California, they might send me back to Spain…but I am not sure I would want to go. I like California. I like Los Angeles. It is my home now."
"They might send you back to Spain, but they might give you a choice. Have you ever given any thought to what you would do if you were not a soldier?"
Garcia's eyes lifted up as he allowed himself to daydream. "Oh, I think I would like to own a tavern. I love wine. Even though you have told me to stay away from it, I find it very hard to do. There are so many good wines. I would like to try them all.
"My best friend, Don Diego, buys me wine whenever we are in the tavern together. But that is not the only reason he is my best friend. He explains things in a way I can understand. He helps me to think of things I would not have thought of. He is kind and considerate of others. He is generous, almost to a fault. Even when I…disappoint him, he is very forgiving…"
Garcia remembered that last time when Don Diego was so angry…not very long ago.
Diego was anxious. "You – gave the note to Old Juan all right? There were no questions?"
Garcia smiled, no problem, then got that 'uh-oh' look on his face. His eyes opened wide.
"Oh. I was just on my way to…deliver the note when I ran into Corporal Reyes. He had taken some food from the kitchen, so naturally, I had to…"
Diego fixated on the note as Garcia pulled it from his waist sash. Diego took the note from Garcia. He was trying to control himself, but he was livid.
Through gritted teeth, Diego said, "A simple thing like delivering a note – and you cannot do it right?"
Garcia hemmed and hawed.
"I know Don Diego, but…"
Diego exploded. "BUT! BUT BUT BUT BUT! IT'S ALWAYS BUT WITH YOU, SERGEANT! Right here tonight, you may see some of your friends die because of your negligence – BUT! This is not important is it?"
Garcia was crestfallen. He reached for the note. "Si, it is very important. I will give him the note the minute he returns."
Diego tore it up. "IT'S TOO LATE FOR THAT NOW, Sergeant!"
"Please, Don Diego. I did not mean to do something wrong. I did not know…"
Diego was furious. "What do you mean, you did not know? I told you that the whole future of California was at stake! I could not have said it any plainer than that!"
"What can I do? I will do anything to make up for this."
Diego tried to maintain control, but was beginning to lose it. "The only thing you can do Sergeant, is to get out of my sight – and STAY out of my sight!"
Garcia turned and left Diego's bedroom. He felt terrible. There must be some way of making up for this. He had to figure out what.
He had found the way. He had stopped the Eagle's henchman, Manuel, from killing Don Alfredo. Zorro happened on the scene and saw what Garcia had accomplished. That's when he said, "You're a good man, Sergeant." After that, Don Diego wasn't angry anymore.
Garcia smiled, and it lit up his whole face. "Si, Don Diego is my best friend…and si, I think I would like to own a tavern someday when I retire from the Army. I like being around people, and a tavern is a good place to be when I am lonely. It is not just the wine or people I love about taverns. It is also the food!"
"I seem to remember encouraging you to buy a tavern, didn't I?" Uh-oh, Zorro thought. Why did I say that? It was Diego that encouraged him, not Zorro. He watched Garcia carefully to see if he remembered.
"Si, Zorro. Wasn't it when Administrado Varga had taken over the de la Vega hacienda?"
"I believe so. I think…" Zorro laughed at the memory. "I think I encouraged you to chase me, for the reward, did I not?"
"Si, Zorro. But you have been able to elude capture. How do you do that?"
Zorro laughed. He wiggled the pointing finger on his free hand back and forth. "Trade secret, Sergeant." He laughed again.
Garcia smiled at Zorro's laugh, then got on a quizzical look. "Zorro…what is a trade secret?"
Tornado whinnied. Bernardo jerked his head up as he awoke. He had stopped for only a moment, dismounted, and tied Tornado to a tree. He sat down and leaned his back against the trunk of the tree. He fell asleep immediately. He quickly got up, ran his hands over his balding scalp. He petted Tornado, then remounted, and continued their ride.
Don Alejandro woke up and stretched. He put on his robe and looked in Diego's room. It was empty. He went downstairs for breakfast and smelled the breakfast burritos cooking. As he entered the kitchen, he smiled. "Has anyone seen my son this morning? I know it's early…"
The head cook turned to Alejandro. "No Patron. We have not seen him. Will he be here for breakfast?"
Don Alejandro was concerned. It wasn't like Diego to be gone so long without telling him. "I doubt it. Has anyone seen Bernardo this morning?"
The cooks shook their heads, and got back to their work.
"Sergeant, do you see that? Is that a stream up ahead?"
Garcia's vision was clearing. "Si Zorro, it is. Do you know which one?"
They both began a slow, awkward, and laborious 'run' towards the stream. Zorro hoped there would be fish in the stream as well, fish for breakfast.
"No – I am not sure."
They lumbered along until they reached the stream's edge.
When they reached the stream, they were both out of breath. They dropped down on their stomachs and drank greedily from the stream with bare cupped hands. Garcia sprinkled water on his head, and washed his face. It helped his alertness. Zorro rolled into a sitting position after splashing himself and taking a few drinks with cupped hands.
As Garcia rolled himself to a sitting position, he got dizzy again. Zorro stuck out his hand and Garcia grabbed it until the dizziness passed.
Zorro rubbed his eyes with his wet fingers. He wetted his handkerchief and dabbed his neck. His left foot had throbbed earlier, but was tingly and numb now. "Sergeant, I need to have my boot cut off. Will you do it? I think my circulation is being cut off."
Garcia rolled over and got to his knees. "Are you sure, Senor Zorro? Won't it hurt worse? Once all the blood rushes into it…"
Zorro thought a moment. "Si, maybe…but I think in the long run…I do not want to get gangrene." He handed Garcia the small knife.
Bernardo searched hours for some sort of tracks. Finally, he found the two sets of tracks at the arroyo. He recognized Zorro's boot tracks. The other set puzzled him, because it looked like the wide stride of a lancer's boots. He followed them carefully about two hours before he came across the rocky overhang. He dismounted again and let Tornado rest.
Bernardo wondered who the other set of boot tracks belonged to. It was possible they belonged to Sergeant Garcia. But if that were true, why would they be walking together. He noticed the stick-like impression imbedded in the dirt next to Zorro's left foot print. He wondered if Zorro had hurt himself and had made a crutch or a walking stick.
After resting a while, they continued on. It had been the policy from the beginning, that if Zorro and Bernardo met in public, they would pretend to have only a passing knowledge of the other person.
When Bernardo saw the stream ahead and saw Garcia and Zorro sitting aside it, he had to think fast, before he was seen. He weighed his options. There had to be a way to let Zorro know Tornado had only found him because Bernardo had ridden him there. He searched his pockets for a handkerchief to tie to Tornado's saddle that Zorro would recognize.
Garcia unsheathed the small knife, but paused. Zorro braced himself. He closed his eyes, but opened them when he felt nothing.
"What are you waiting for, Sergeant? Do it! But don't cut my foot. I'm rather fond of it."
"Oh si, Zorro. I will be very careful." As Garcia slipped the knife under the top of the boot and began cutting. Zorro bit his lip from the seesawing, jarring action. He put the back of his fist to his mouth.
"I am sorry, Senor Zorro…" Garcia hesitated a moment.
"Why do you stop? Go ahead, cut it! Do not worry if I cry out. Do it anyway!"
"But Zorro, I do not want to hurt you! Maybe you had better do it." He held the knife out to Zorro.
Zorro shook his head. "No Sergeant. You do it. I'm not going to die from a little pain."
Garcia paused a moment and cocked his head. He turned his head as he heard horse hooves running their direction. "What – what's that?"
Zorro turned his head. He saw Tornado and whistled. He let out a deep, long breath. As he struggled to get to his feet, he saw two things. He saw Garcia's countenance fall and Bernardo's handkerchief tied to the saddle horn. He removed the handkerchief and stuffed it in his shirt. He looked around for Bernardo, but couldn't see him.
Zorro held Tornado's reigns in one hand, and patted his cheeks with the other. "Ah, Tornado. It is so good to see you, my boy. You left me in a lurch last night. While you were off gallivanting around the countryside, I was…well never mind. All is forgotten. I am glad you found us."
Garcia frowned. "But Senor Zorro, Tornado is only one horse. I do not think even Tornado could carry both of us." This was another time Garcia wished he didn't weigh quite so much. The horses he rode were larger framed animals that could carry his three hundred plus pounds.
"No, he can't, but he can carry one of us. You'll have to trust me, eh Sergeant? Believe me when I tell you I will go to the pueblo and send the lancers back for you?"
Garcia thought a moment. He had a serious decision to make. Zorro could see the dilemma written all over his face. Was this the end of the truce?