The Irish Colonel

 

by

 

Eugene Craig

 

 

DAY TWO

 

Chapter 12

 

Capitán Enrique Monastario stood before the mirror and carefully brushed his hair. He put the brush down and picked up a comb and gave the same attention to his moustache and goatee. He looked himself over carefully and felt satisfied by his appearance. His uniform was clean, his medals shined, and his boots were polished. Only O’Leary, the Irishman, kept himself in such immaculate condition and Monastario welcomed such attention to detail. What a relief to have a man like him around after the slovenliness of Sergeant García, a man who seemed to have a penchant for and revel in untidiness. 

There was a knock at the door of the comandante’s office and Monastario stepped out into his office from his private quarters. "Enter," he responded. 

The door opened and Private López saluted him. "I delivered your message to Colonel O’Leary as ordered, Comandante." 

"Very well, Private." The officer paused. "By the way, did you notice if the colonel was engaged with anyone?" 

The soldier still stood at attention. "Colonel O’Leary was seated at a table with Don Diego de la Vega, mi Capitán. They were sharing a bottle of wine." 

"Anything else, Private?" asked Monastario.

López thought a moment. "I heard only a little of their conversation as I approached their table, mi capitán. They were discussing religious issues." 

"Religious issues? How interesting," commented the captain. "What kind of issues?" 

"Something about salvation and resurrection, Señor Comandante," the man replied. "I did not hear anything else." 

"Very well, you may go," Monastario returned the man’s salute and turned back towards his desk. He thought that Patrick O’Leary was having one too many conversations with De la Vega and he could only imagine what kind of slander the spoiled ex-student was telling about him and his command. On the other hand, perhaps the colonel was milking young Vega for all he was worth on the issue of el Zorro. He doubted that the man who slept late into the day and spent his time idling his life away had much to contribute in terms of information, but O’Leary was famed for his meticulous intelligence work and Monastario knew he would be thorough. 

There was another knock at the door of the office and Enrique Monastario knew who had arrived. He went to open the door himself. Outside stood Patrick O’Leary dressed as if he was going on parade. The comandante smiled and welcomed him in. "Welcome, Colonel. You look prepared for a very special event." 

The Irishman nodded. "I like to look my best for my last night on Earth," he said jovially. 

Monastario grimaced to himself, but smiled nonetheless. "Your funeral, then?" 

"My death, funeral, and wake, all of which I will attend to me self," O’Leary said proudly, as if it were a major accomplishment. 

Monastario was amused. "And you will, undoubtedly, see to your own salvation and resurrection on the morrow," he responded, cleverly using the theme to gauge the colonel’s reaction.

But O’Leary gave no indication that he noticed the subtlety of the officer’s message. "The new phoenix shall arise from the ashes of the old and your wish for my transformation shall come to pass." 

"I could not ask for more." Monastario bowed ceremoniously. "But before we go to the inn for dinner, I would like to share some information with you. You may find it of interest."

"And in what regard is it?"

"A personal matter - of yours, Patrick," responded the captain. "Veterans of the War for Independence." 

O'Leary tensed up. "What have you learned?" 

Monastario smiled and gestured toward a chair. "Have a seat, Patrick." 

O'Leary corrected him. "It's 'Paddy,' Enrique." 

"Alright," responded Monastario and stood behind the leather chair a moment as O'Leary sat down before walking back towards his desk. He turned suddenly and rather dramatically in front the Irishman. "Paddy, I had a conversation with the Alcalde this afternoon. Nothing very serious, just some routine business matters between the civilian and military administrations. In the course of our conversation, I just happened to mention your service with Espoz y Mina. The Alcalde became interested. He told me that there are a few veterans of those battles right here in Los Angeles. Naturally, I did not mention anything that you told me, but I do have their names." 

"Naturally. What else did you find out?" 

"That both of them are rich rancheros. People with a past do not often speak of it and sometimes they will pay others to keep their silence."

If Monastario was expecting a smile from O’Leary, he was gravely mistaken. Instead, the Irishman’s face clouded with anger. "I think you misunderstand me, Enrique," O'Leary said harshly. "I have no interest in having men pay me for keeping silent for any past treason that they may have committed. I am only interested in retribution. Money has never and will never have anything to do with this case." 

O'Leary's face grew redder with each passing moment. "Listen to me and listen well. Were I bare bones and dying of the plague, I would still exact the only 'payment due.’ Death is the only reward for treason and dishonor. That man dishonored himself, his friends, the regiment and Spain by his actions. And because he was of my blood, he dishonored more than just himself. He dishonored me, and he dishonored every decent Irishman who had stood by him, who died that day and every day afterwards because of his treason!" The Irishman took a deep breath. "In conclusion, a bloody pox on your money." 

Monastario's blue eyes burned into O'Leary. In his own way, he felt closer to the man than he ever had before. "May I ask you a question, Paddy? If it's too personal, then don't answer it." 

"Go ahead." 

"Of what relation was this man to you?"

The Irishman was impressed. "You're sharp, Enrique, mighty sharp. But then, you always were." 

"Am I to presume that we share a commonality in this regard, then?" 

"We do indeed, old friend." 

Monastario wagged a finger at him. "You do understand, of course, that I do not guarantee that either of these men is the one you are looking for. All this means is that they are two out of thousands who served in the same theatre of operations." 

"I understand." O'Leary had now calmed down. "Funny. It's like the good old days when we speak like this, isn't it? But this old wound - after all these years, the wound festers, but does not heal."

"But, if it turns out that either one of them is the man you are looking for, then I still expect you to fulfill your side of the bargain on my local problem, once you have settled your own affairs, that is," the capitán insisted.

"I believe we have an agreement to that end, Enrique." O'Leary stood up. 

"Yes, we do," Monastario affirmed as he picked up his hat and gauntlets. "And I would like to offer you some drinks tonight in addition to dinner. There are a few more details to cover. But I would not want to keep you here too late. The dancer makes her debut in a few minutes and we had a bet over her appearance." He smiled. "You will find that I will win this bet." 

"Oh, I'm not so sure about that," O'Leary rejoined as they left the room. "Just remember that your description of her is open to debate - in all its details."

 

************************************************************************

 

The innkeeper, Señor Pacheco, was looking very anxious. He had kept a table reserved for the comandante of Los Angeles and a guest, but neither of them had yet appeared. His customers were clamoring for a free table and, as usual, there were more clients than tables. But the innkeeper knew better than to not hold the table. The capitán would never forgive him for giving up the place, even if he never showed up. And keeping in the comandante's good graces was a practical matter of survival. So, it was to his great relief when Capitán Enrique Monastario came through the door followed by none other than Colonel O'Leary. The innkeeper was particularly gratified to see the Irishman, a man who not only paid in cash, but who made any incident seem trivial compared to the amount of business he gave the bar. Besides, the new dancer, Señorita Rosita Flores, might profit handsomely from his generosity. 

The innkeeper hurried over to see to the needs of the two officers in person, waving to a barmaid to join him. He had the dancer delay her number till after the two men ate, for nothing makes a man happier than a full stomach and a mug or two of wine to top it off. 

The two guitar players came out and sat in chairs. They warmed up the audience with a few variations. As they finished their last duet, O’Leary finished the last of his meal and elbowed Monastario. "Ah, now’s the time to up the stakes of our bet, Enrique. You have one last chance to take back what you said about Señorita Flores before she appears." 

Enrique Monastario smiled. "I prefer to keep our bet, how should I put it, ‘philosophical.’" 

"Surely you can afford to lose a few pesos on this one," O’Leary teased. "Or aren’t you the sporting type?" 

"I do not wish to take advantage of you, knowing your present economic circumstances," rejoined the officer. 

"Oh, but I intend to improve upon that," the Irishman insisted. "But you’re making it hard for me to do so because you are so stingy. I’ve never known a Spaniard not to love to make a bet over a woman." 

"It all depends on the woman, " Monastario responded thoughtfully. "Ah, here she is. What did I tell you?" 

Señorita Rosita Flores stepped out into the room and there was a hush that came over the crowd as the guitars began to play. She was dressed in cranberry red with pink skirts underneath that she flashed as she danced, exposing slim ankles and legs. She was, as Monastario described, small and dark – a petit Moor. The red dress accented her dark features. The hair was long and black, the eyes two dark orbs, but expressive and flashing in the bright, candle-lit room. As she whirled and her eyes passed over the crowd, she spotted the two officers who sat near the great fireplace. Her steps took her across the floor in their direction. As she approached their table, snapping the castanets, the two men saluted her with smiles and their mugs. She whirled, the intertwined red and gold necklaces flashed, and her red arm bracelets rose and fell with her arm movements. She swayed her hips provocatively in front of them and gazed at them with long looks and a wink before she moved on. 

Monastario smiled broadly at her flirting and nodded in approval. O’Leary sat back in his chair and watched her as if contemplating her inner being. He looked highly amused. He turned to his table companion. "You failed to mention her ankles and legs, Monastario, so you’ve already lost part of your bet." 

"You cannot fault that which is not written into a contract, O’Leary," he remarked off-handedly. "Find another misrepresentation." 

"You also said she won’t look you in the eye. She has no problem making eye-contact either, a rather bold wench at that." 

The two men continued in a similar vein until the dancing came to an end and the dancer made a dramatic finale. The audience cheered politely and tossed her coins for her efforts. O’Leary turned back to the table and poured out some more wine. "Not bad. I’ll concede only that she needs a bit more polish, but she doesn’t do too badly for such a young performer. She’ll need many more performances to make it worth the trip here, however. How long will she stay or did she say?" 

Monastario gave a sly look of his own. "That depends on whom she pleases. However, I’m generally amendable to requests for extending the length of a tour. She has potential at this point, but little else." 

"What do you know about her?" O’Leary probed. 

"She performed in Lima, Ciudad México and Guadalajara. The two men traveling with her are cousins. The older woman is her grandmother, a widow, and her guardian and protector." The capitán paused. "They are a little desperate for work and do not mind making the effort to please the authorities with an expression of their gratitude." 

"You seem to have an angle for pulling in cash every way you can, Enrique," remarked the Irishman. "Are you sure that you are a pure-blooded Spaniard? You don’t have some Gypsy blood lurking in there, do you? Tell me, since your intelligence is so good, why the devil do you need me? I take it that it’s not out of pity." 

"You don’t merit pity, O’Leary," remarked Monastario seriously. "It would be a crime not to utilize your experience and abilities when and where they are needed or required. You do not take yourself seriously enough."

"We Irish have a saying about that," Paddy answered as he poured himself some more wine. "‘A man that can’t laugh at himself should be given a mirror.’" 

Monastario did not reply. He watched O’Leary drink the wine, then turned his attention to the clients in the bar. He made a mental note of who was who, who drank with whom, how long they stayed and what condition they were in when they left. Such information amused him as well as being useful for future purposes. 

The red-haired man observed the fact and commented, "You haven’t answered my question, Capitán. You are so good at finding out so much, why do you need my help with this highwayman?" 

"Zorro is not an ordinary criminal, Colonel. He mocks law and order, ridicules lawful authority, and undermines the security of the state. These offenses rank under the title ‘treason.’ He is unusually lucky and as clever as the devil himself. But this is not why I need your help. The problem is that there are misguided people here who regard this bandit as a ‘hero’ and they protect him." 

"And why do you think they do that, Enrique?" 

"There are trouble makers here, Colonel. They are rebellious and full of spite. All the years before my command, they practically had free rein to do as they pleased and this brought in all sorts of lawless ideas and behavior. Some of them are practically republicans – just like the French, just like the rebels who are proclaiming ‘independence’ from Spain in the southern colonies. They defy authority, although they cannot live without it. Really, it makes no sense. People cannot be civilized without the weight of authority, law and order, and discipline - which can only be provided by the forces of the Crown which represent His Majesty. It is my duty, as well as my imperative, to put an end to this for the sake of stability, for King and for Country. One of the most effective methods is to behead the leaders of rebellion. I do not hesitate to do so." 

"You know, Enrique, I myself might fit your description of such a rebel," the Irishman pointed out. "After all, I raised myself against the lawful authority of the English king and English rule in Ireland; I took up arms against the state; I propounded rebellious ideas that were called ‘banditry,' 'rebellion,’ or ‘treason.’" 

"You know, Paddy, you have quite a propensity for playing the Devil’s Advocate," remarked Monastario in an amused manner. "How could you possibly compare yourself to such rabble? Your own country is under foreign occupation, just like Spain was from France. You understand this very well. That is why you fought with us like a brother. That is why Spain has supported your cause for centuries." 

"If California is just an extension of Spain, then why the iron fist, Enrique? The same ideas that these rebels propound here are no different from those being debated in Spain right now. Yet, the government there sees no need to ‘behead the leaders of the rebellion.’ 

"You’ve drunk too much, Paddy. You should have seen the banditry here before I came – cattle rustling on a level that threatened the economy of Los Angeles; the establishment of ‘town meetings’ that debated the laws of the King rather than enforced them; and worse than that, the introduction of ideas undermining the monarchy and all that our civilization stands for. These rebels have even suggested that the savages here have the same ‘rights’ as whites. You should have seen their blood-drenched temples in México where they cut out the hearts of men in sacrifice to their gods. And what have they ever achieved in terms of civilization?" 

Monastario’s voice became full of disgust. "They live worse than the barbarians of old – no books, no writing, no art, no music, no arts of warfare, and they’ve done nothing with the land they occupy. As to our religion that we gave them – why it’s no more than a thin veneer that they use to trick us. In México itself they merely adapt our saints’ names to their old heathen gods and pretend to be Christians. Would you ever trust such creatures?" Monastario became quite impassioned. 

"But don’t you think they are still men, just as we are?" asked O’Leary quietly. 

"Bah!" replied the young officer. "They may look human, but they’re not. We Europeans are the forces of civilization and it is our destiny to be the masters of the world. These chattels will never be anything but a race of slaves. To think otherwise is to be deluded." 

"How about the little ‘Moorish’ girl, then? Does she not have beauty, talent, and charm?" asked the Irishman. "Yet she could be called a half-breed. Where does our humanity begin and where does it end? How do we determine who will be treated with generosity and kindness, and who will be whipped?" 

"I see you have been having many conversations with De la Vega," remarked the capitán. "We should not become confused by the arguments of pseudo philosophers and idlers who question the natural order of things. Of course, the girl is human. Not only does she have Spanish blood, but her ancestors came from the Arabs who achieved great things despite the falseness of their religion. They’re different, but admirable in their prowess as warriors and as the builders of great empires. I don’t need to tell you this, Colonel. Those who embrace civilization and who wish to be uplifted from the mud by us are those treated with generosity and kindness; those who choose to oppose us are the ones given the whip. It’s as simple as that." 

"Ah, my very arguments to De la Vega," lied the colonel, wishing to end the conversation. 

"Good!" replied Monastario with a smile. He waved over the innkeeper. "Another bottle, Paddy?" 

The Irishman looked very pleased. "There’s always room for more." He grabbed the innkeeper by the arm as the man began to walk away from the table and whispered in his ear. The innkeeper nodded and hurried off. 

Monastario raised an eyebrow, but the Irishman just smiled. "A little surprise for us." 

A few minutes later, Señorita Rosita Flores approached their table. She had not yet changed her dress and it was obvious that she had just had a little supper in the back.

"Colonel O’Leary?" she asked while nodding at the capitán. 

Both men stood up and bowed. "Thank you kindly for joining us here at the table," the Colonel said and pulled out a chair for her. She sat down daintily and smiled demurely. "Would you care for a glass of wine or a cup of tea?" 

"Oh, a small glass of wine would be nice, Señor," she answered in a soft voice and looked up as the innkeeper arrived with a glass for her. 

O’Leary filled her glass half way, then poured more in his and Monastario’s mugs. He smiled at her and she smiled back. 

"And what kind of toast do you have for such a lovely señorita?" asked Monastario gallantly. 

"Perhaps not a toast, but a blessing," replied O’Leary. All three raised their mugs as he intoned:

 

"Three things are of God

And these three are what Mary told to her Son

For she had heard them in heaven:

 

The merciful word

The singing word

And the good word.

 

May the power of these three holy things

Be on all men and women of Erin – and Spain –

For evermore."

 

Señorita Rosita Flores sipped the wine. "Thank you, Colonel O’Leary. I hear many toasts, but no one has ever given me a blessing. That’s very special." 

O’Leary beamed. "It takes a special lady to bring out the best in me," he replied. "I only wished to express appreciation of your performance here tonight. It takes hard work and dedication to travel so far in the world. The reward at the end of the rainbow is knowing that there is always someone who appreciates your efforts." 

The young lady looked over at Enrique Monastario who was watching her closely. "It is also especially nice to find someone in charge, like Capitán Monastario, who has made generous arrangements for our stay here at the inn. He has been of great help in seeing that we also get invited to several local fiestas during the next two weeks." 

Monastario smiled benevolently. He liked to be thought of as generous by others. He was nonplussed when O’Leary pulled a gold coin from a little pocket and gave it to her, saying, "I hope that in Los Angeles you will find good character and generosity. But, in case you don’t, take this and keep it for a rainy day when you can use it to be generous to the ones who love you best." 

Rosita gazed at the coin in awe, turning it over. "Oh, Señor Colonel, you are so generous, too. However can I thank you? I will remember you in my prayers for a very long time." 

Enrique Monastario felt upstaged at that point and became very annoyed. But he respected how the Irishman thought out his strategies like a chess grandmaster – many moves in advance. But he would not leave it at that. "The Colonel is known for his generosity to the ladies," he remarked, "and I salute him. Let me assure you that your stay here will be rewarded with both generosity and good fortune." 

Rosita understood the implications of this statement well. "Nothing could make me happier, Señor Comandante," she gushed. "You are like a dream come true." She sighed in contentment, then added, "Oh, I hope you will excuse me now. My grandmother asked me to read to her tonight. It helps her go to sleep." 

Both men stood and bowed as she curtsied and left, but O’Leary caught her eye and winked. She smiled and glided away. "Nice girl," he said as he sat down.

 

 

Chapter Thirteen
Chapter One
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