The Irish Colonel

 

by

Eugene Craig

 

 

 

DAY SIX

 

Chapter 24

 

The day dawned bright and sunny with not a cloud in the sky. The sparrows and bluebirds glided from branch to branch, chirping or calling sharply as men passed by below the heavy limbs of the shady oaks. The street dogs raced after each other or followed a stray townsman, begging for a handout, then leaped into the air to catch the tossed morsel. 

As both men and beasts approached the wide plaza, each seemed to sense something in the air. The dogs halted, sniffed the air, and became cautious. The men heard the sound of wood being hammered and the clink of chains. There was some small commotion and then came the sound of course laughter. Pedestrians headed toward the sounds. They came from in front of the cuartel.

The tall wooden, iron-bounded gates of the cuartel stood open. On the outside, facing the plaza, a row of stocks had been erected. Soldiers were escorting six men out to the stocks.

One of the men stumbled and fell. A soldier kicked him. "Still falling over?" he shouted. "Still drunk after all night in the cells?" A few of the others laughed. A crowd began to gather. 

Each man was lined up in front of the stocks. Most of them had their chins on their chests. One was a vaquero in leather pants and boots, another was a coach driver. The rest were peons and two were Indians with long hair and leather sandals. 

Capitán Enrique Monastario came out of his office. As usual, his dress was impeccable and his manner austere and commanding. As the men were lined up in front of the stocks, he strode out of the gate accompanied by Sergeant García. He halted as the soldiers came to attention. He regarded the prisoners with contempt. 

Sergeant García then handed the comandante a document in a formal way. Enrique Monastario took the document and lifted to read it to those assembled. 

"By the authority vested in me, as Comandante of the pueblo of Los Angeles, by His Gracious Majesty, King Ferdinand VII, and by the Spanish Army, I hereby condemn the following men to three days in the stocks for ignoring the local ordinances against public drunkenness and for violation of the curfew," he began. 

While he was speaking, two peons rolled a cart filled with garbage and rotten fruits and vegetables to a respectable distance away in order not to offend the noses of the captain and sergeant. They waited. 

Patrick O’ Leary heard the commotion from inside the inn where he had just finished breakfast and strolled out to see what was going on. From the porch of the inn, he watched the proceedings as more townspeople gathered before the cuartel. He decided to join the crowd in order to hear what the prisoners’ punishments would be. 

As he moved into the crowd, Capitán Monastario handed a document to García. The sergeant stood at attention and announced further punishments. 

"The men you see before you have violated the law on numerous occasions. They have learned nothing from having been jailed for a few days. It is our intention to make them remember their punishment so that they will learn from their crimes and wish to avoid it in the future. 

"It is hereby decreed that the public shall join in their punishment and show that they, too, uphold law and order. We invite you to join in and teach these men that not only are their crimes unacceptable to all, but that everyone agrees with their punishment." 

The big sergeant paused and turned half–way toward the cuartel. "Within the walls of the cuartel are two other mis-cree-ants," he stumbled over the words as if he had not rehearsed them very well. "These men are guilty of gross violation of the curfew, of disrespect to their betters, of repeated insubordination to the lawful established authority, and of sedition." 

He stopped and looked up at the crowd. He saw the Irishman standing in the crowd, shaking his head. Capitán Monastario had to prompt him. "Go, ahead, Sergeant," he said. "Continue reading." 

"For these more serious crimes, these two men are condemned to 100 lashes for two days. This will be followed by a sentence of seven years of hard labor. The first one hundred lashes will start this morning." With that, the sergeant finished reading the document, rolled it up, and handed it back to the captain. Both then exchanged salutes. The captain then headed back into the cuartel with a satisfied look on his face. 

Sergeant García then gestured the two peons with the garbage carts forward. When they got about ten feet away from the men in the stocks they halted. García paid each of them with a few coins. 

Two soldiers donned some old gloves went to the cart and picked up some rotten fruit and began to throw it at the prisoners. They laughed and continued doing so for several minutes, turning and encouraging some small boys in the crowd to do the same. Some of the boys hesitated, then grinned and picked up rotten tomatoes and a few eggs and threw them at the prisoners. Their laughter began to fill the air along with ‘splot,’ splot’ as the food and garbage found their targets. A few other townspeople came forward and joined in the spectacle. Most of the crowd watched and then slowly dispersed. 

Paddy O’ Leary made his way over to the sergeant who stood next to the open cuartel gates with a glum look on his face. "’Morning to you, Sergeant," he said in a sarcastic tone of voice. "I trust you are enjoying yourself today." 

The big man looked very uncomfortable. "Don’t blame me, Colonel O’ Leary," he replied. "This is not my doing. I know some of these men. They are not really bad men." 

"It is one thing to lock men in the stocks," the Irishman fumed, "but it’s another thing to put on a show like this. This is disgusting!" He shook his head. "What did you say those two men inside were sentenced to? One hundred lashes for two days in a row?" 

"Sí, Señor Colonel," sighed García. "Capitán Monastario thinks in big numbers, not small ones." 

"If you don’t mind, I’d like a word with him," O’ Leary said with some heat. "One hundred lashes by itself is a death sentence." 

A few moments later, the colonel was ushered into the comandante’s office. Capitán Monastario was looking out the window observing the two men being tied to the lashing posts. He smiled when the Irishman entered the room in an agitated manner. "What’s troubling you, Colonel?" he asked. 

"I think you know very well what it is I have to say, Enrique. Sentencing men to the stocks for three days is a fine provocation by itself, but then it’s getting rather messy and smelly out there for the public. The smell might just blow in here as well." 

"Is that all, Paddy?" 

"Damn your eyes, man," he exploded. "Sentencing men to one hundred lashes for two days in a row? What do you want? Corpses? A hundred lashes is a death sentence!" 

Enrique Monastario raised his eyebrows as if in surprise at the Irishman’s rebuke. "Calm yourself, Paddy. You and I both know that dead men serve no purpose." He smiled. "Besides, if word of the two hundred lashes can send you charging in here, just think how well it will lure Zorro." He smirked. "Let me get you a drink." He picked up a glass. 

"No thanks," replied the Irishman. "Save it for later tonight." 

The captain put the glass back down. "Very well, Colonel. Why don’t you just come by after our operation is over with. There are other things to discuss as well." 

"Other things?" asked O’ Leary, raising his own eyebrows. "Just what did you have in mind?" He didn’t like the implication of the captain’s words. 

"Let’s say that it involves a man whose future you seem interested in," Monastario replied. "But let’s leave it at that for now. I am sure that you have much to attend to today, and so do I." He opened the door for this guest. "We will speak again this evening. Good day, Colonel."

 

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After the Irishman left the cuartel, one of the soldiers knocked at the door of the comandante’s office. Capitán Monastario opened the door. "Are you finished?"

"Yes, Capitán," the man replied. "Both men have been secured."

The officer stepped out into the cuartel and walked over to the two men who had been tied, each between two rounded timbers. He looked over the first man who had lowered his head at his approach. "So, you still have nothing to say?" Monastario mocked him. "Perhaps a taste of the whip will make you a little less forgetful." 

"Please, Capitán Monastario," the man began in a quavering voice, "I do not know the answer to your questions. I wish that I did. I would tell you if I knew, but I don’t. What could I possibly say to convince you?" 

"But, you do know," insisted the officer. "And a taste of the whip has always restored the memories of some men. When we finish, I want you to tell me about everyone and anybody who could be connected to this case." 

The man groaned softly in anticipation but Monastario only smiled. He walked over to the second man. This man was defiant. He looked the officer in the eye and did not avoid his stare. "And what does this pig have to say to me?" Monastario asked sarcastically.

The man was not only defiant but he gave the captain a look of infinite superiority. Monastario knew the look well. He had seen it in the faces of hundreds in Peru and Venezuela: the men who thought that they were morally superior to the Loyalists, that their beliefs, their actions and even their lives were answerable to a higher calling. One of his superiors had called them "the True Believers" and said that they would rather die than turn informer or live in the shame that they had talked. They were not only dangerous, they had to be dealt with. This is why he had been appointed comandante. And he would deal with them. 

The man gritted his teeth and spat at the feet of the officer. "I have nothing to say to you, Capitán - not now and not ever. I defy you." 

Monastario smiled. He spoke softly. "By the time I get through with you, you will wish that you had cooperated. There is nothing worse in this world than treason against His Majesty. You may have gotten away from us in México, but here in Los Angeles you are a cornered rat. We know who you are and who your friends are. You are just the first and you will not be the last." 

With that, he turned to the soldier who stood waiting. He walked away so that the prisoners would not overhear his instructions. "Let them sweat a bit in anticipation. Don’t begin the treatment until it gets hot," he told the soldier. Then he added, "Just twenty lashes for that one. A little pressure and he will begin babbling anything." The soldier nodded. The officer indicated the defiant prisoner. "Give that pig the full treatment." 

 

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Paddy O' Leary walked the streets of Los Angeles and watched the people come and go from their humble quarters as well as others from their finer homes. His mind was on one thing: his visit to the general store. 

He thought out various scenarios: his entry, looking for a gift, meeting the man and, at first seeing a man, like any man, just a storekeeper, a refugee. Then, there was another scenario - he would enter the store, the man would see him and either fight or flee. They would battle and he would kill his adversary. Perhaps neither would recognize the other, and perhaps he would be looking through the goods and the man would appear from behind the curtain, a pistol in his hand and then…Paddy stopped himself. Stop speculating, he admonished himself. Nothing is certain in this world. Rosita would want me to think differently - that it's all been some kind of strange coincidence. But something in the very marrow of me bones tells me that this is the time and place of final reckoning.

He turned his footsteps back toward the plaza. Before he even had time to think any more about it, he was walking through the entrance of the store. The merchandise passed by him in a haze and his eyes sought out a man. There were a few customers in the store already, both men and women. He had not thought of the bystanders, but they would not matter. 

One of them greeted him from behind and he turned to see the smiling face of Señora Pastora who had missed the church auction but was now much recovered from her illness. "Colonel O’ Leary," she said in a cheery voice. "How very nice to see you again. I was just talking to Padre Felipe and he told me how well the auction went Saturday and what a fine bookkeeper you are." She noted that he had a pistol in his belt. "Oh, my," she observed, "are you traveling out of town today? I have heard that there are bandits in the hills. It’s a good thing you have some protection."

Paddy smiled in good humor, as if death were the last thing on his mind. "How observant you are, Señora Pastora," he told her. "Yes, I’m traveling out of town this afternoon and I might not be back until quite late." 

"Are you looking for something special today at the store?" she continued conversationally. 

Roberto Cárdenas was headed to the front of the store, when he heard O’ Leary’s voice. He stopped in his tracks and listened to the conversation from behind the drawn curtain in the hall that separated the back of the store from the front. He put down the folded shirt he had found for a customer and placed it on a small table. He heard Isabel arranging some items. He ducked into a small alcove used for more storage that had a long piece of cloth covering it. 

After several minutes, one of the customers called out, "Señor Cárdenas? Oh, Señor Cárdenas, are you back there?" 

Isabel heard the woman call. She looked up. "Roberto? Roberto are you still back here?"

There was no answer. She walked out of the back room, down the hall and emerged through the curtain. Out in the store, she looked around quickly for her husband. He was nowhere to be seen. She saw that customers needed waiting on. She came forward. "Hello, can I help you?" she asked. 

After she passed, Roberto quickly made his way to the staircase that took him to their living quarters on the second floor. He closed the door and saw his son playing with some wooden soldiers on the floor. 

"Hello, Papa," the boy greeted him. "Did you forget something?" 

Roberto went over to the boy and sat down on the floor with him. "No, Pedrito. I just wanted to come and lie down a spell. I feel very tired." He was quiet a moment. "What kind of game are you playing? It looks like the soldiers are lined up for action. Are you playing the Spanish against the French again?" 

Down below in the store, Señora Cardenas was at a loss to explain where her husband had gone. She found the shirt on the table in the hall and took it back to the customer who was very pleased and bought it. Then she waited on Señora Pastora and finally turned to the Irishman. "How good of you to come by," she told him. "I mentioned to Roberto that you might come by today and that you would be looking for a special gift for someone. He was here just a few moments ago. I can’t imagine where he might have gone. It must have been quite sudden. He should be back at any moment." 

When O’Leary told her that it was not that important, she insisted on helping him. "What is it that you are looking for?" 

"I’m looking for a leather sheath for an old knife," he told her. "It’s very special, though, and it’s quite old." 

She looked through their merchandise and found knives but nothing he could identify that would fit the description of his blade. "Perhaps the leather maker could fashion something special for you," she suggested. "He does very fine work as a saddle maker, too."

 

Paddy was quiet, his mind on other things. When he saw that she was eyeing him rather curiously, he perked himself up. "Perhaps you are right. I just want to look around a spell to see if anything else suits me. Thank you for looking." 

Isabel smiled and turned to the next customer. How odd, she thought. It seems as if his mind were leagues from the store. She shook the thought away and was barely aware of his wanderings up and down the floor. She didn’t even notice when he left the store.

 

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Capitán Enrique Monastario smiled at his reflection in the mirror and thought that his plan was a good one. He told Sergeant García to prepare King, his white stallion, and to make sure his boots were polished. It was true that traveling by carriage would be more appropriate for making social calls, but the carriage he had ordered with the Spanish coats of arms painted on the outside, had not yet been finished. He was very impatient for its arrival. The leather-padded seats would be very comfortable and the hangings were to be top quality. Such a coach would be seen as the very symbol of his authority and power. Ah, but he would have to wait just a little while longer. And it would be well worth the wait. When he traveled the roads outside Los Angeles in the future, there would be no doubt among the multitudes who their master was. 

"Is there anything else, mi Capitán?" asked García as he watched the captain adjust his belt and attach his sword. 

"Yes, García," the officer replied as he reached for his hat. "Just be sure to start the whippings when it gets hot." 

"Sí, Comandante," the sergeant replied reluctantly, trying not to reveal his feelings. 

"And Sergeant, when I get back late this afternoon, I want to find that these orders have been carried out."

 

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Paddy set out on Erin for the Torres’ hacienda in the late morning. He took a number of detours alongside the road, scouting out possible tree groves that would make a good hiding place at a moment’s notice. He took note of the gullies that could be used for the same purpose, and thought that Zorro had to have a hideout that was far enough away to be secure, but close enough that he could show up fairly quickly. 

The colonel had found out, in his many conversations, that Zorro had been seen riding the El Camino Real as well as making his way down the hills in numerous locations. Some of his passages would have put him on some of the lands of the rancheros and hacendados like the Villas, the De la Vegas, and a few others. He could be a vaquero of any of these landowners or he might even be a landowner himself. Paddy had been impressed with the man’s manner of speaking, something that bespoke intelligence, thoughtfulness, education, and likewise, cunning in the field. 

The sun was high overhead when he decided that the time was right to call on Elena Torres. He might be a little early, but he would take his time and enjoy the plants and the cool of the hacienda and to think further on his unavoidable encounter with Roberto Cárdenas.

   

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She opened the door herself and a smile spread across her face. She wore green again and it was a green that matched his eyes. He smiled in appreciation and bowed.

"How good of you to come today, Don Patricio," Elena Torres told the red-haired man and gestured him inside. "I made some fruit juice and Ana will bring out a little bite to eat." 

"It is a beautiful afternoon. I trust that your parents are well," he responded, looking around for the master and mistress of the house. 

"Mother and Father will be here in just a little while," she explained. "I am glad you came by early because it will be a warm afternoon." 

While the juice was being poured, Paddy started thinking about how Roberto Cárdenas managed to disappear at just the right time. His wife seemed genuinely puzzled by his absence. Then, on the other hand, maybe it was coincidental. But on the other hand, there were too many coincidences taking place. 

"Don Patricio," he heard her say as if she was repeating herself. She had a concerned look on her face. 

"I’m very sorry," he answered. "I’m afraid I was distracted by a thought for the moment." 

She smiled, nonetheless. "It happens to the best of us. You know, Don Patricio, I have the feeling that something is troubling you. I wish I could be of some help." 

"Is it that obvious?" he asked. "If so, then I’m embarrassed. I came out to see you today and I only wanted to think about you and your fine family." 

She poured him some more juice. "You know, you help people so much. You care about people, Don Patricio. You are a man after our own heart - and mine. But you might need some help, too." 

He sighed. "You are right. There is something that has been troubling me lately. I don’t wish to burden you with anything that happened in the remote past, but I have an old wound from the war." 

When she expressed concern about that, he thanked her again. "It’s not a physical wound," he explained, "but a memory – a memory of a great wrong that was done to a great many men. I have found a big piece to the puzzle that has eluded me for many years. At least, I think I have found it." 

"Is the key to the puzzle here in Los Angeles?" she asked. 

He nodded. "I believe it is the key at long last, but I need to make sure. I would not want to wrong an innocent person." 

"Don Patricio," she asked hesitantly, "does this wrong have to do with…. with Capitán Monastario?" 

"I wish it were that simple," he replied. "No, he is not involved in this situation. Oddly, though," he mused, "it seems to be such a small world that we find ourselves in, where men are linked by events from the past, even the comandante. How strange, that in this place, our histories cross and crisscross again. It makes you wonder if there’s some grand design in all of this." 

Elena watched him sip the juice and put the glass down. He was quiet a while as if lost in thought again. She felt a wave of compassion for him flow from her inner being and was very conscious of it. It was because he was a good man, she thought. "I would like to think that perhaps there is a purpose to all this," she said softly, "for all things come full circle sooner or later. And when they come, we must face them and resolve them." 

"You’re very wise for your age," he smiled. 

She blushed slightly. "I can only blame my parents for any wisdom I might have."

"You don’t give yourself enough credit," he observed. Then he stood up. "Would you forgive me if I leave early? I would like to come back again when I am more myself." 

"Of course. Let me see you out to the patio." She was disappointed that he was leaving so soon. 

Out in the patio, the red geraniums spilled out of their pots and the white lilies reached their long stalks up toward the sun that peeked at them through the limbs of the oak tree that shaded the entrance to the hacienda. He was almost at the gate, when he turned back towards her. "Elena," he began, almost hesitating, "forgive me, but…" 

She stood only a foot away from him. She looked up into his troubled eyes in expectation. "Yes, Paddy?" she responded. 

He put his arms around her and hugged her for a long moment, pressing her head against his chest. She put her arms around him and hugged him in mutual embrace. She then looked up at him. He smiled gently and kissed her lightly. She returned his kiss without hesitation and then smiled back at him. 

Neither of them noticed the door to the patio opening. In the doorway stood a slim figure in a military uniform with a sword at his side. The bright blue eyes took in the scene before him and he frowned. A sudden gust of wind slammed the gate shut as if to announce his presence. 

 

 

 

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