Chapter 1: What the Actual Heck
Well, I’d wanted to travel, so I shouldn’t complain. Not that it will stop me; I’m pigheaded. The last thing I remembered was staying up to get some writing done. Then I found myself on some wreckage just off the coast of someplace or other. It was sunny, roughly mid-morning at best guess, and the coast was to my east and looking more arid than any part of Maine, let alone Somesville. A good half of my brain started gibbering, but the other half just growled in annoyance and let me start assessing my situation. I was too far out to swim to shore, but there was other wreckage nearby that I could use as oars, so that was good. And… either I was in a nightgown, which was unlikely, or I was doing some sort of Regency re-enactment. I couldn’t tell you if it was muslin or linen, but it was fairly light-weight, which was a good thing if I ended up in the water. I wasn’t wearing my watch, which was another point in the re-enactment column. In fact, there wasn’t a single anachronism on me anywhere. That could be inconvenient.
It occurred to me that it could be a dream, which would also account for the memories which weren’t mine. Apparently I had been on my way to marry some schmuck my parents, who weren’t my actual parents but were for whatever this was, had chosen for me. Joy. Suddenly the shipwreck didn’t seem quite as horrible. I felt a little guilty about that; people had died, after all. And I still could if I didn’t get my ass in gear.
I’m not really a survival expert, although I am a registered Maine Guide, but I’m also not an idiot and I did have some kayaking experience. I grabbed a bit of broken board out of the water and started paddling toward the coast, trying to watch for currents that might help and keeping an eye on the surf patterns. I’ve never surfed in my life, and I didn’t want to start like this.
The next few hours sucked beyond telling. My arms hurt, I could feel the sunburn, and dehydration was a major concern. But I got closer to the coast, and had enough luck to be doing it somewhere around low tide. And there were buildings visible, which meant people. I reached the shore, very happy not to be re-enacting a certain Longfellow poem, and headed for what I hoped would be the part of the rescue I couldn’t do myself.
As I reached the place, which wasn’t much bigger than the village I’d grown up in, I realized that I really did not blend. I mean, even leaving off the whole shipwrecked bit. I know traditional Spanish/Hispanic/Latin American garb when I see it, even if I can’t get much more accurate than that. And the people matched the garb. For the record, I can almost blend into a crowd anywhere in the British Isles/northwestern Europe. But not here. So people were staring at me for pretty much every reason imaginable.
Then someone, a woman, spoke to me and I knew I was thoroughly boned. Because, of course, he spoke Spanish. Which I do not. I took French in school because that was the sensible option when you live a couple of hours from the Canadian border, especially since our school taught Quebecois French. So I said the most intelligent thing that came to mind.
“Oh, bugger a hedgehog.”
The woman blinked at me, then turned to a man and spoke rapidly before turning back to me and speaking slowly and carefully, indicating that I should follow her. I understood “senorita”, which was me, and “taberna”, tavern, and “doctor”, because duh. Under normal circumstances I’d have told her to take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut, because what woman with sense would follow a stranger to a bar, but whether or not this was a dream, normal had taken a hike long ago and was replaced by get me out of this fucking sun before I pass out. So, yeah, I followed her.
The tavern was cooler than outdoors; adobe walls are good insulators and outdoors wasn’t really as hot as it felt after hours in the sun. Alarmed voices sprang up everywhere, but the contrast between the bright sunlight and indoors meant I couldn’t see a damn thing. Which is when it occurred to me that my glasses had gone down with the ship. Give me a break, I was distracted and my prescription's not that strong. But gentle hands guided me to a seat and put a mug in my hands. I took a careful sip, then a slightly larger one as I realized it wasn’t alcoholic and therefore less likely to try to kill me. I’m not sure what it was, but it felt good right then. I wanted to chug the whole thing, but I knew that was a bad idea.
“Excuse me, miss, but Don Andres said you spoke English when Senorita Escalante addressed you.”
“Prob—“ I winced at the croak that came out, took another sip followed by a few breaths, and tried again. “Probably because I did. And if I spoke anything remotely like decent Spanish, I’d thank her for getting me here and finding a Canadian to translate.”
“…Canadian?” I swear I could hear him blinking. Okay, I’d gotten that wrong.
“You sound Canadian. I’d apologize, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I have family in Canada.” Did that even make sense? Probably not; I was pretty out of it by then.
“Ah, yes, of course. Permit me to introduce myself: I am Don Diego de la Vega, and you are in Pueblo de los Angeles. I suspect we will need to have a more in-depth conversation at some point, but now is clearly not the time.”
“I'm Rusty MacDonald, and is it because I’m heading for a truly epic crash and burn sometime soon?”
“I wouldn’t have phrased it quite like that, but, now that you mention it…” My eyes were adjusting, and I could see him grin. But I didn’t need to see him to know what he looked like; my aunt was a huge fan of the show, had every episode on VHS and then DVD, and had indoctrinated me when she babysat me. So this was a dream, or I’d landed in a self-insert fic. Or I’d gone nuts. At the moment, the part of my brain that would care had shut down for repairs. Then I heard a loud voice outside the building and saw Don Diego/Zorro wince. “Oh, dear. Senorita, I apologize on behalf of the entire pueblo for what is about to occur.”
“And I apologize on behalf of the entire me for what I’ll do if that jackass keeps bellowing.”
He might have replied to that, but in barged Alcalde Luis Ramon, which told me I was in one of the early seasons. I didn’t understand what he was saying, but I remembered his character enough to guess that he was accusing me of something. Don Diego said something quiet, garnering a few chuckles. That set off another rant, and this time two words popped out: “espia” and “bruja”. Spy and witch. I am not the most even-tempered individual in the world, and just then I was hurting, headachy, and probably in the midst of sun/heatstroke. In short, I was fed right the hell up. I took a bigger sip to make sure my throat was well lubricated and stood up, cutting the jerk off mid-sentence.
“You, sir, are a rude, over-bearing, paranoid-delusional halfwit,” I said, projecting the way I had at that job where the intercom didn’t work half the time; opera training is useful in the strangest ways. “A woman staggers into your town half-dead, and the first thing you do on hearing this is to come and yell at her? Who does that? I stand out too much to make a decent spy, and if I was a witch, do you really think I’d have let myself get this sunburned? I know it’s a strain, but for god’s sake think for a change! Seriously, why are the cute blonde guys always crazy? …I just said that, didn’t I. You know, I really think I need to sit down again…”
I suspect I passed out to keep my mouth from getting me in more trouble.
Chapter 2: The Explanations Begin
I did take one liberty here: The Musketeers episode aired after Devil's Fortress, but Diego mentions the Alcalde being away for three months, implying it happened before. In light of that, I'm setting it just before Whistling Bandit because that made for a good introductory episode.
If you’ve ever had heatstroke, then you know what my next few days were like. If you haven’t, then you don’t want to know. It was roughly a week before Don Diego and I had a chance to talk, between recuperating and trying to find a moment when someone wouldn’t overhear us. It might have been longer, but I got impatient.
They’d taken me to the de la Vega hacienda while I was out of it because they worried that the Alcalde might try to arrest me even though I was sick. Convenient, wasn't it? That meant I was in a place that I knew had a very private location for a chat, and when Don Alejandro went into town I went over to a wall sconce I remembered from the show and pulled on it. The fireplace opened, and Diego gaped at me.
“We need to talk, and we need to do it without risking eavesdroppers. Can you think of a better place?”
“No, but I’d like to know why you can’t either, Senorita Rusty.” Diego looked slightly fuzzily worried (still no glasses, dammit), but he followed me, closed the door behind us, then took the lead. Felipe, who was down in the cave feeding Toronado, gaped at us. He shot a look at Diego that even from a distance I could tell was incredulous, and Diego’s shrug was very expressive.
We took a few minutes to get settled, then Diego turned to me.
“Well, senorita, I think we both have much to explain. Ladies first.”
“Thanks. This is the part where you decide I’m a thundering loony, but remember I knew how to get into Zorro’s secret lair, that you are Zorro, that Felipe is your assistant, and that he isn’t really deaf. Not that he’s fooling many people; try watching who doesn’t bother making sure he can read their lips even when they aren’t trying to be obnoxious.” That got their attention. Yeah, the explanation was lazy acting/directing, but if I was in their world, then that wasn’t it. I took a deep breath and a sip of tea (which I don’t care for, but I was being polite) and continued. “Right. So. You know I’m not from around here. Well, I’m even more not from around here than you think. My full name is, and I swear I'm not making this up, Muriel Amaryllis MacDonald and I was born in 1992 in a world where your adventures were a series of tales."
Apparently the cave had crickets.
After a few seconds, Diego stood up and went to a cupboard. He came back with three glasses and a bottle and poured us all a drink, knocking his own back in a single gulp and refilling it. Felipe took a swig and choked on it, distracting all of us for a few seconds. I didn’t touch mine.
“You’re from the future,” Diego said a little too calmly. "And another world."
“I’d kinda like an answer to that myself. I don’t do self-insert. Much. Okay, there's that story that a couple of friends and I are writing as a joke plus the RP threads and… wow. I’m babbling. I don’t babble, except… yeah, I kinda do. Wow. Okay. Shutting up now. What the hell?”
“You may want that drink now,” Diego said, sounding amused. I shook my head.
“A world of no. Still recovering from heatstroke; I don’t need to be violently ill on top of that, and that’s how alcohol affects me. How are you not freaking out?”
"Uhhhhh..." Right. Early-19th-Century speech patterns. I'd have to dredge up my memories of old-school slang. Although that might not help either, since it was slang from Regency England, not colonial Spanish California. "I'm honestly not sure how to translate that."
"I think I can guess your meaning, at least. And the reason I am not freaking out is because there must be a rational explanation for this. People are not simply displaced in time... for no reason."
"Well, if there is a reason, nobody's bothered to tell me what it is yet. And there's another problem: I seem to have regressed in age a few years and I have memories of a life here as well."
"Do you?" Diego frowned, but he was thinking about what I'd said rather than just escorting me out of the cave and calling for the doctor. I knew he wasn't fully buying into this yet, and really, why would he? I still wasn't really convinced, and I was living it. But he wasn't done talking. "This isn't exactly the same situation, but are you familiar with the concept of reincarnation?"
"Yes, and... well, I don't disbelieve in it. I'm not one those idiots who thinks something has to be recreated in a lab... sorry, laboratory, to be real, but I'm also not one of those idiots who jump on each new fluffy-bunny spirituality theory that gets popular. Reality is just too weird for the first and I'm too cynical for the second."
"Fluffy-bunny?" This time I could see his grin as he shook his head. "I think I can understand that one as well, and I rather like it. And you are quite observant as to the state of reality; I've noticed some rather odd happenings myself from time to time. I can't say I'm entirely convinced that, for example, ghosts are real, but I can no longer be as certain as I once was that they are not. What can you tell me that could convince me that you are what you claim to be?"
"When you were in university in Madrid, you had some serious hero-worship for an older student named Ignacio de Soto. You studied fencing under Sir Edmund Kendall and were his prize student. You didn't have the chance to tell your father that when you first got home, and once it was necessary to become Zorro, you simply let him assume otherwise. If I'm remembering the timing right, last Christmas you began to wonder if you hadn't done more harm than good by donning the mask until one Don Fernando showed you otherwise. And..." I broke off as several incidents that wouldn't have happened yet popped into my mind. "Have you been to France yet?"
"I had just returned a week before you arrived." Diego had turned pale, and Felipe was frozen in his seat; I think I broke him. "What else?"
"You met descendants of the original Three Musketeers, one whose family had emigrated to the States, one whose family fled to England during the Revolution, and one whose family had stayed in France. The lot of you helped restore the Musketeers legacy and overthrow a corrupt... I don't remember what his title was, but his associate and probably his mistress was a Comtesse, if I remember right. Has Palomarez returned yet? Okay, good; I doubt you'll see him again but I won't swear to it. Let's see, what else... That fake medium who scammed the Pueblo-- I don't know if this has happened yet, but she died in prison and her lover is going to try to kill everyone even remotely involved in their arrest."
"That was last year." Diego shook his head, eyes closed. "This should not be possible, and yet I can't deny you know more than you should. Some of this you might have learned normally, some a good spy-- forgive me, senorita, but I must consider the possibility-- a good spy could have learned. But even the best spy couldn't have learned so much and arranged for a convenient shipwreck in such short order. And I know your illness was quite real, which would mean you had even less time to prepare for this moment. Is there anything you can think of in the near future that would prove your claim beyond a shadow of a doubt?
"Has the Whistling Bandit hit yet?" The blank looks told me everything. I grinned. "There are three visitors due in town soon. Two are not what they appear. If anyone's life was in danger, I wouldn't mess around, but the worst anyone gets out of this is a headache and some hurt feelings, so... do you want me to tell you everything I remember, or just enough to prove myself while still allowing you to figure it out?"
"For now, I think just the basics." Diego looked a little sympathetic, I think. After all, how often do you get a chance to predict the future? I think being a bit cryptic is mandated by law. "However, it it looks as though it may get more serious than your memories indicate..."
"I'll tell you immediately. All right, then: the visitors arrive on the same coach, which will be attacked by bandits. One is a scientist, either a botanist or an ornithologist. One is the pianist who is to introduce Beethoven's Ninth Symphony to the Pueblo. And one is the Alcalde's cousin Hermelinda, who will instantly fall in love with Sgt. Mendoza, who isn't having any."
"Having any..." Diego's face went through some interesting contortions. "Senorita..."
"He's really, really not interested but too scared of both her and the Alcalde to run screaming."
I heard Felipe snicker, and Diego relaxed, chuckling.
"I admit I would enjoy watching that. And we should have the proof of your claims soon; Senor Aragon is due to arrive in a few days. You are sure that nobody was badly injured?"
"I believe the worst injury was to your father's pride; he's the one who ends up with a headache. I repeat, he came out fine."
"In one scene, the Bandit hits him on the head with... it might have been a bookend. It's been a while. In the next, he's ranting about the Bandit and trying to get up and track the thief down himself."
"Yes, that does sound like him. All right. We'll wait and see, and if we can prevent that part, I would prefer to."
"I think it should be possible, but I'm not sure. I've read time-travel stories, but this is my first direct experience with it, so I can't be sure if the standard rules really do apply."
Diego inclined his head, smiling for a moment before a perplexed frown took over.
"I honestly don't know which outcome I wish for. Either my view of science is completely wrong, or..."
"Or a crazy lady knows your deepest secrets. I think shooting for wrong is your best bet here."
Diego laughed, shaking his head.
"I can't say I often hope for that, but you are right. And you are also overdoing it; I can see that you are getting tired. Let's get you out in the fresh air and we can continue this conversation after I catch this Whistling Bandit."
It took a few minutes for us to get organized, then up through the passage and back into the parlor and through to the garden, where Diego made sure I was situated with a glass of some fruit concoction and a shawl (because invalids always had shawls just in case they got chilly in the 80-degree weather). Maria, the housekeeper, tried to scold him when she found us, but I said I’d wanted to see if I could push myself a little harder today and that’s he’d kept an eye on me the whole time. She beamed like a proud mother, and I could just see the shipping goggles appear.
I probably should have considered that I don't speak Spanish before offering to get involved. It wasn't easy keeping track of everything, but I managed fairly well; well enough that I didn't make a fool of myself, at least, which was good enough. Thankfully, more of the Pueblo spoke English than I would have expected, but then, I knew the world in the show didn't necessarily conform to the world I'd lived in. Back home, the average early-19th-Century Spanish citizen had no reason to know English; here, it seemed like half the Pueblo did. Gotta love TV's habit of convenient coincidence.
The next three days went mostly well, other than that minor difficulty of the language barrier. Don Alejandro insisted on provding me with a few dresses, since I'd lost everything in the shipwreck. I did hesitate a bit, but he and Diego pointed out that the necessity of me having decent clothes far outweighed any social stigma attached to an unmarried woman accepting clothes from men she wasn't related to. It did give me a bit to think about, mainly how I'd support myself once I was well enough, but I couldn't spend too long on that because my awake time in those three days was spent getting used to life in this time and place while also recovering from heatstroke/exposure. I wanted to do some serious prep work, but I was still prettly wobbly no matter how much I tried to pretend otherwise.
Then the fourth day came. It started pretty much like normal, with me getting up later than I would back home and immediately getting swarmed by all the female staff at the hacienda, who were determined to make me beautiful enough to catch Diego's eye. Since they couldn't make me look like Victoria Escalante, it was an uphill battle. I couldn't tell them that, of course, and the pampering made a nice switch from my usual routine. It would get annoying if it lasted too long, but for now... Luckily, they weren't insisting I stay in bed all day or even half the day anymore; that got old real quick. They did fuss over me if I tried anything more strenuous that a slow stroll, but since I hadn't completely shaken the dizzy spells yet, I couldn't blame them. My own fault; I did manage to overdo it most days, which delayed my recovery. Still, I did convince them I was healthy enough to get up and sit quietly in the library, or play the piano. Which is where Diego found me just before lunch. I was sitting playing some Kate Bush when he came up beside me and perched on the piano bench.
"An interesting tune. Has it been written yet?" he asked quietly. I grinned.
"The composer's grandmother hasn't been born yet."
"Of course." He sat quietly for a few moments before continuing. "Robbers attacked a coach this morning. Three passengers: Andres Bolanos, a botanist; Señor Aragon; and the Alcalde's cousin Hermalinda. You rather understated her... qualities."
"I thought it best if you went in with as few preconceptions as possible."
"Of course you did." He wasn't fooled, but I hadn't expected him to be. "I must admit, any one of the three would be believable as a thief, even her. An abrasive, loud demeanor would be an excellent cover; who would suspect she could be quiet and subtle enough to be a successful thief?"
Anyone who watched TV, but I wouldn't tell him that. Let's face it, I was cheating here; I had the advantage of almost two hundred years of fiction to draw on. There were tropes that hadn't even been created yet, but were cliches in my time. Diego was fairly genre-savvy in the show, but there were limits to what the writers could get away with. I didn't have that problem. I'd be able to see issues that wouldn't even occur to him, which was only fair, because he knew this era and culture a lot better than I did and would be able to warn me before I did anything that was too out-of-period to pass for eccentricity. Plus the guy was scary-smart and could pick up on hints pretty quick. On the whole, we were balancing out.
"Have you thought of a way to get your father to stay in his room the night of the theft?"
"Perhaps, but I can't say it's an idea I like." Diego looked sour for a moment, then resigned. "It would be quite easy to drug him, and he'd probably not notice. But it feels... I'm not sure what the right word is."
"Slimy. Even though you're doing it to protect him, it's still abusing his trust in you. I don't like it either, and he isn't even my father. Okay, if it was my father I wouldn't have any qualms, but Don Alejandro's a decent enough guy. But unless you come up with a better idea, it's either that or risking that in this timeline, she'll hit harder." I scowled at the piano, although it wasn't its fault I'd hit a wrong note in my distraction. Diego frowned too, probably not liking that at this point, I was right. I really hoped he came up with a better plan, but we only had until a couple of days to come up with one.
The next day passed quickly, beginning with a debate with Diego about me being present for the Bandit's unmasking. He wasn't sure I was up to it yet, but after a bit of convincing, accepted my promise that if I did feel off when the time came, I'd sit it out. We both knew I had no intention of missing the fun and that I was getting better by the day, but the promise was a good compromise. Then there was the arrival of Aragon, but that was just amusing. I was playing the piano when he arrived, Gilbert & Sullivan this time, and he unbent enough to grant that I had more talent than most debutantes he'd been subjected to. A bit patronising, but probably true; I'm pretty good and he'd probably had to listen to a lot of simpering one-percenter girls more interested in looking good for potential rich/noble husbands than in studying music back when he was teaching to make a living. I didn't understand a word of what was said when the Alcalde's cousin showed up, but I dimly remembered some amusing snark in the episode. After that, we began to divert from the script.
I was returning from walking Señor Aragon to the door when Diego looked up from his conversation with Hermelinda with a bland smile. I was immediately suspicious.
"Ah, Señorita MacDonald, we were just discussing your predicament. I'd been thinking of a new suit, but your need is considerably greater than mine at the moment. No, no, don't argue; it's Father's and my duty as your hosts to help you restore yourself to your proper station."
Oh, he was going to pay for that. But with Don Alejandro standing there beaming with pride, what could I say? I thanked him gracefully with a smile that he didn't know me well enough to worry about and went off to be measured and fitted by the Whistling Bandit.
Chapter 4: The End of the Easy Part
I'd done theater in high school and college, so I knew about getting fitted for costumes, but this was my first time being fitted for a custom outfit. Luxuries like that went to my stereotypically skinny blonde sister and equally stereotypically spoiled brother; I got off-the-rack, as befitted my (you guessed it) stereotypical middle-child status. Still, I did know the drill. Getting measured wasn't as tedious as it might have been though, since I was trying my hand at detective work. Hermelinda was a completely different person when she was working, all that forceful personality concentrated on making the best possible garment for her client. She muttered about fabric and trim, measured everything at least twice, frowned absently at the birthmark that splodged across the edge of what would otherwise have been quite nice cleavage.
"Neckline a bit higher than fashionable, I think. You clearly aren't bothered by it, but I doubt you have patience with the stares and whispers. Ladies such as us become accustomed to them early; still, there's no reason to give them fodder for their ill-bred gossip." She wasn't wrong. At 5'8", I was above average height back home and 200 years earlier I was just plain tall. And like her, not what anyone would call slim. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind being a sturdy girl, but a lot of people would think my hourglass figure had a bit too much sand in it. "Now, I don't think satin would suit you, but I have a few silks that would drape nicely, and the colors would not be inappropriate for a young lady. Perhaps this blue..."
In what I still kept thinking of the Real World, making a custom full-length silk gown would take a minimum of a week. I know Diego's suit was ready in about a day, so my gown would probably do the same. I was curious as to how she managed both it and robbing at least three different places in such a short amount of time, but couldn't think how to ask. We chatted off and on about nothing much while she finished up, but I just couldn't get anything really useful out of her. I was not having a good start to this detective work.
I reported as much to Diego, who didn't seem too upset.
"Keep in mind, she has been a successful thief for quite some time, and you are not just new to investigating but this time period as well. You may be expecting too much of yourself, señorita."
"Eh, probably. Wouldn't be the first time. But I did have an idea of how to keep your father safe, and I'm a little embarrassed neither of us thought of it earlier."
"And what is that?"
"I ask him to walk me around the garden after dinner, so that he isn't in the room when the Bandit strikes." I smiled a bit as both Diego and Felipe facepalmed. It really was an obvious solution, which is why it took so long for us to think of it. Let's face it, everyone misses the obvious; it's the obscure we tend to get quickly.
"Why did I not think of that? Well, at least I know what to do later," Diego shook his head, his own faint smile beginning to appear. "However, if you do not think it will affect the outcome, I would like to switch out my mother's cameo for something as valuable but not, perhaps, as precious to my family."
"Don't see why it should; she was looking for small, easily resold items; there was no indication she was deliberately targeting personal items. Now, there's one more problem we need to deal with, and we might as well start now. I know you need to create some separation in people's minds between your reputation and Zorro's, but that's no reason for you to let yourself be a..." I broke off, because I don't think the word "buttmonkey" would translate well. But he guessed where I was going.
"I admit, it would be nice to have some degree of respect from the Pueblo, but it may be too late for that. My reputation is perhaps too well-established."
"Ain't no such animal. Any reputation can be changed, either by a big revelation or a series of smaller ones. Trust me; I've watched it happen." I didn't think he needed the details of various elections or #MeToo, but the principles were what mattered. Diego thought about that for a minute, and Felipe started to look hopeful; he probably didn't like how Diego was treated either.
"I don't think a big revelation would be a good idea, but the smaller ones... yes, we can work with that. And we can start at the concert. Señorita, would you be willing to help? Or is that a foolish question?" Diego's faint smile slowly became a grin, and Felipe and I matched him. "Now, it's still best if I'm considered, maybe no longer ineffective, but still not a fighter. Or at least, a highly reluctant one. And I believe I know how to accomplish that, even if it means dredging up an incident I'd rather forget. That, however, can wait. Now, here's what we need to do..."
It went easily after that. Alejandro and I went for a walk in the cool night air, returning just in time to spot the Whistling Bandit making her escape. Don Alejandro gave chase, but she had a horse ready and escaped. It was dark enough that he couldn't say anything more about the horse than "no visible white marks", so we wouldn't be able to identify the horse and thereby the rider. Because of course it couldn't be that easy. Diego returned to find the household in turmoil, just as expected, but was visibly relieved that nobody had been hurt. I made a point of telling him in front of several people that the Bandit had been whistling Beethoven's newest symphony; we'd begun our setup for the big reveal at the concert.
The night of the concert, Alejandro, Felipe, and I headed into the Pueblo, two of us anticipating more of a show than the third. The initial conversation went much the same as in the episode, although some translation did need to be done, since Mendoza didn't speak English and I hadn't had enough time to pick up more than a few words of Spanish. I must admit, I did get a giggle out of seeing that pompous ass Aragon fall on his ass thanks to the rigged stool, and then I sat back and watched the rest of the fun unfold, waiting for my cue. Aragon pounded through the Ninth Symphony, making me wonder how sad the state of music was in Europe that such a ham-handed plunker was considered a genius, Hermelinda jumped up and screeched like a demented banshee when Aragon hit the rewrite, Zorro made his dramatic entrance, etc, etc, etc. I also have to admit that I clutched Alejandro's arm pretty hard when the swordfighting started; it's one thing watching it on TV, but having it happening a few feet away was something else. Finally, Zorro beat both lancers and Alcalde before plucking Hermelinda's reticule off her wrist with the tip of his sword. The Alcalde looked stricken for a moment, and I have to admit I felt a bit sorry for him, but I had a part to play and I wasn't going to mess it up.
"Excuse me, but could somebody kindly explain just what in the name of Adam's off ox is going on here?"
"It appears we have caught the Whistling Bandit, Señorita MacDonald," Alejandro said, sounding just shy of blowing his stack. That wouldn't help anybody, so I decided to blow mine first. I knew he wouldn't be able to resist telling me to calm down, which would be enough of a distraction to get him to calm down a little. I turned on Hermelinda, taking a deep breath.
"You are the one who robbed the woman who first assisted me when I stumbled into this town, half-dead from a shipwreck? And the family who took me in and helped me regain my strength? ..And you hit your cousin on the head, but that's understandable so I'll let that pass." I heard more than one stifled snicker at that and only one indignant yelp, but kept going. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't forget that I'm a lady and snatch you bald, paint your head blue, and ship you off to Guam?"
"Because then she could not stand trial in Madrid." Señor Bolanos stepped forward, and the business continued the way it needed to. So maybe I didn't need to ad-lib, but better not to take the chance. As Hermelinda was led away, Aragon returned to the piano and those familiar notes thumped out again. I waited for Zorro to deliver his line so I could ask the question we'd planned out.
"Such an arresting melody," he said. Aragon's answering grin was the most human I'd ever seen him and I hated to break the mood, but it was time.
"Señor Zorro, is it? I've been hearing about you since my arrival and it's quite an honor to finally meet you. I had heard you were quite the dashing swordsman, but I did not realize you were a gifted composer as well; the tune you crafted was quite believable as one of Beethoven's."
"She's right, you know," Aragon conceded. "It was almost perfect. Perhaps you should give up that mask and come to Europe as a composer."
"I thank you, but it was Don Diego who composed it," Zorro said, as calmly as though he was only a casual acquaintance. There was a gasp from the onlookers, although I noticed a few simply nodded after thinking about it. Not, of course, Don Alejandro.
"My son wrote that? When? And why?"
"I stopped in at your hacienda last night, investigating, and Don Diego was waiting for me. It was from him that I learned the exact tune being whistled, and he wished to help bring the thief to justice. Together, we concocted this plan and he provided the music. He regretted missing the concert, but was not sure he would be able to conceal his knowledge of what was to come."
"Hm, yes, well, I doubt I would have been able to myself. But I'm surprised; Diego rarely involves himself in such matters."
"Perhaps he has reason." Zorro looked Alejandro in the eye. "Have you ever asked him?"
Alejandro opened his mouth, then closed it, slightly shame-faced. Good. He wasn't a bad man, but his impetuosity and snap judgments caused more problems than necessary during the run of the show.
"Well, if he won't, I will next time he visits the tavern," Victoria said. "I know Diego used to be so bold before he went to Madrid, and I've wondered what could have happened to change him. I should have asked long ago, but I wasn't sure I should."
"He would never refuse a friend anything, senorita, and I think he might be relieved to have the truth finally be known."
"Do you know, Señor Zorro?" Mendoza asked, eyes wide. At least, I think that's what he said; it was in Spanish, but the context made it obvious.
"Oh, yes, I know. I'm used to asking questions that are perhaps none of my business." The two sentences weren't actually connected, but anyone not in the know would assume they were; very clever. "And now I had best take my leave before the Alcalde--"
"Such a noisy family," Zorro sighed, shaking his head. Mendoza snickered, turning towards the source of the bellow long enough to let Zorro escape out the back. When the sergeant turned back, he did his best to look innocent.
Now that I understood.