Zorro Hunts A Jackal
By Johnston McCulley 1933
Page 3 of 8
A Change of Identity
Dusk came to Reina de Los Angeles, and lights glowed in the buildings, smoke issued from chimneys, and odors of burning wood and cooking food filled the air.
At the presidio, the troopers were eating and attending to their duties; and in the private quarters of Capitan Torello, the latter held speech with Felipe Garzo, who had been the guest of the capitan for the evening meal. They were conversing in low tones, so that not even the guard in the corridor could hear.
“He took the bait,” Felipe Garzo was saying. “His manner was mild enough, but he could not keep the flame out of his eyes. I grabbed the native wretch in front of the door of the inn, and beat him soundly so this Don Diego could not but hear and see.”
“I feel certain that he is this Señor Zorro,” the capitán said. “If we win in this, Felipe, our fortunes are made. The man’s proud father is a thorn in the side of the governor. If this Don Diego Vega is unmasked as Zorro, either dead or alive, the family is shamed—and His Excellency will be well pleased.”
“And what to do now?” Felipe Garzo asked.
“You will sleep in the guest house, as usual. Perhaps this Zorro will come to punish you during the night. Three troopers will be on guard and within call. If he comes, he walks into a trap.”
“I itch to hold blade and face him!” Felipe Garzo said fiercely. “He treated me as dirt beneath his boots,”
“He has treated me in a similar fashion—and his proud father also. But Zorro is clever with a blade. If he bests you—”
“Give me a chance at him!”
“Help will be near at hand,” Capitãn Torello said, smiling slightly. “If Señor Zorro visits you, there must be no slip. He dies, or is captured—and I care not which.”
There came a discreet tap on the door, and the capitán called permission to enter. One of his troopers opened the door and made salute.
“Don Diego Vega to see the capitán,” he said.
“Don Diego Vega—here?” Capitán Torello betrayed a measure of astonishment. “Usher him within, and at once.”
“Now, what do you suppose—?” Garzo began softly.
“Hush! Let us talk of horses,” the capitán whispered. He raised his voice. “I have told you the price that I am allowed to pay, señor. And the horses must pass strict inspection. My troopers are entitled to the best in horseflesh.”
“Mine are prime animals,” Felipe Garzo replied. “I can assure you—”
“Ah! Don Diego Vega!” Capitán Torello was on his feet, bowing as Don Diego stepped through the door.
“Your pardon, Capitán Torello, for this intrusion,” Don Diego said.
“It is an honor!”
“I have a favor to ask. If it is against your policy to grant it, do not hesitate to say so.”
“It is granted already, Don Diego, if within my power. Is it something secret and personal? I am discussing business with this horse dealer, but he can retire-”
Don Diego lifted a hand to stop him. “It is nothing that cannot be spoken openly. Scarcely an affair of state. I ride out to the Pulido place to make a social call. It is a dark night, and the servant who usually attends me is ill. My father is out at his hacienda—”
“Ah! And you desire an escort?” the capitán put in. “You may have one, surely. There are highwaymen and cutthroats abroad these nights.”
“If I may have that big sergeant of yours, Pedro Gonzales, it will please me. He has an amusing chatter.”
“I’ll issue the order immediately, Don Diego, and Sergeant Gonzales will be ready as soon as he can saddle his horse. If you will partake of wine— “Your pardon if I do not at this time,” Don
Diego said. “You are an officer, and you have business to transact. In your line of duty, you must consort with many queer folk. —But there is nothing, capitán, which compels me to breathe the same air as a man who plays at dice and cards with natives.”
“How now—!” Felipe Garzo cried, and sprang from the stool upon which he was sitting.
“Be silent, señor!” Capitán Torello snapped at him. He bowed to Don Diego again. “Some other time, the wine,” he said. “I can well understand your situation.”
“I wait in front for the sergeant.”
As Capitán Torello struck the gong to summon his orderly, Don Diego retreated through the corridor. They could hear his boot-heels tapping the hard floor.
“The fiend!” Felipe Garzo gurgled angrily. “He gets under my skin! To run him through would be a pleasure!”
“Quiet!” the capitán begged. “If he is Zorro, you may have the chance. Otherwise—a caballero such as Don Diego Vega need not fight such a man as you are posing to be.”
Garzo sank upon the stool again. “Now what?” he asked. “If he is going visiting, and taking along one of your troopers for escort—”
“If he is Zorro, that would be like him. He will return, pretend to be fatigued and go home and to bed. Then he will put on his costume and mask, and as Zorro he will come back to the presidio. It is but an elegant gesture—asking for an escort. Or, perhaps he wished to learn whether you are at the presidio”
“I’ll have his blood!” Felipe Garzo fumed.
“Keep your own cool, and your head also. The angry man is always at a disadvantage,” Torello warned...