The Irish Colonel
Paddy O’ Leary sat back on his horse and watched
the battle unfold between El Zorro and the comandante of Los Angeles,
Capitán Enrique Monastario.
"A pity I don’t have me saber," he
joked to himself. He marveled at the enthusiasm with which both men
battled each other. There was an eagerness and excitement in the air,
almost like two grand beasts battling each other, each one believing that
he encompassed what was good in the world, and the other, all that was
Both men grunted with effort as they made savage
strokes, clever parries, and powerful slashes. The horses with their
riders circled each other at times or rode almost together as the blades
Monastario aimed a powerful blow at Zorro’s
head, only to find empty space as Tornado whirled out of the way. The man
in the cape laughed and it only infuriated the Spanish officer more.
Zorro’s wrist rolled and twisted, engaging and disengaging the swords
time and time again.
Monastario attempted a hard, straight thrust, but
El Zorro caught the blade and rendered it harmless. Two wrists engaged,
tried circular entrapments, feints, and strokes.
Paddy was enjoying the tournament, as he credited it. But he understood that El Zorro’s strategy was not only to out-duel Monastario, but to out-duel his horse as well. King was a fine stallion, well trained and mild. But the black stallion was younger, swifter, and more aggressive than the capitán’s. Man and horse together might decide the outcome.
As the two men clashed their sabers, their horses
danced beneath them. Closer and closer El Zorro forced Monastario’s
mount to the edge of the road and the to shallow gully that lay beside it.
Monastario made a slash at the stallion’s neck and Tornado turned his
head. But the blade made contact and cut a line straight across the great
black beast’s throat.
Tornado squealed in pain, drew up on his hind
legs, and kicked out his forelegs. El Zorro quickly turned the animal
away. No one expected the next move from the great horse.
Hoping to come in around the back for a slashing
attack on the outlaw, the captain reined King to the left and then,
spurred him forward. At that moment, Tornado kicked out with his back
hooves. The iron shoes landed squarely on the great white stallion’s
shoulder, barely missing the officer’s right leg. King squealed in pain
and stepped backward. It was this step that sent the stallion stumbling
into the gully.
Enrique Monastario found himself flying through
the air and landed with a hard thud in the sandy bottom of the gully. It
knocked the air out of him and he lay inert for a few moments before he
raised his head, shook the strands of dark hair out of his eyes and looked
up to see where his opponent had gone. He saw nothing, but he did hear
four sets of hooves take off. One was Tornado. The other was Erin.
From all outside appearances, life in the cuartel
looked normal. Only upon close inspection could anyone tell there had been
an interruption in the normal routine. Several soldiers were nursing
bruises and two horses were missing from the stables along with two
Just inside the gate, a young Spanish captain with
a moustache and goatee was busy berating the man he had left in charge for
the chaos and confusion he found upon returning to the garrison.
"But, Capitán," the sergeant objected.
"How was I to know that Señor Zorro would strike this afternoon. You
yourself told me that…"
"Baboso!" Enrique Monastario interrupted
him. "You should have been prepared, no matter what the
circumstances. You are a bumbling idiot! You not only let one prisoner
escape, you allowed all of them to. How lucky I was able to find this one
and bring him back."
"Sí, Comandante," García mumbled.
"Why did you not have the soldiers pursue the
escaped prisoners? Why did you not chase after Zorro yourself?" the
young officer continued. "Why is it that I have to do everything
myself? Whoever made you a sergeant must have been drunk. Maybe he mistook
you for someone who was competent!"
"Well, Comandante, I don’t think anyone
could mistake me for anyone else," the fat sergeant observed with a
raised finger. "I don’t think there is anyone else like me in the
entire Spanish army."
"Ohhh," the officer moaned and put his
hand against his forehead. "One of you is too much as it is! Why did
misfortune ever strike me in a person such as you? In all of the
garrisons, in all of New Spain, in all of the Spanish empire, why was I
saddled with the most imbecilic, the most incompetent, the most slovenly,
Sergeant Demetrio García López cast his face
down. He tried to close his ears to the tirade of his commanding officer.
It was not the first time that Señor Zorro had made him look bad to the
comandante, but at least no one had lost his life. In fact, Monastario
would vent his rage for a while and then, all would return to normal.
García sighed and could only nod at the slender uniformed man opposite him who continued to find more adjectives to describe him with than he ever thought possible. He really began to look forward to an evening of wine in the tavern. Now that Corporal Reyes was back, he could tell him what had happened that eventful afternoon. He knew that his friend would be sympathetic to his plight. And Reyes would tell him what Capitán Monastario had had him do in order to hold up the carriage of Don and Doña Torres and to delay their return home.
"But when will you be back, Roberto?"
Isabel Cárdenas asked in a tearful voice. "There must be something
that has happened to you. Why don’t you tell me what it is? Are you in
some kind of danger? And from whom?"
Roberto Cárdenas put his arms around his wife and
hugged her. "I’m sorry, Isabel. It might endanger your life if I
told you. Just as in the old days, it is better that you know as little as
possible. I will send word whenever I can. It is all for the best."
"I will manage with Pedrito," she
responded, trying to be brave, "but what will we tell him? How can I
explain to our friends or to María? What if someone begins to ask
"It will be all right," he assured her.
"I will be on a long trip. Tell them anything - that my father is
dying in Spain and I went back to be at his side. Anything that is
plausible is believable."
"Are you leaving on horseback or on the
coach? How will you hide your departure?"
"You will need the horse for the wagon,"
he mused. "I’ll take the coach so it will appear like a normal
departure. But I will board at the last possible moment so that the least
number of people will see me depart." He paused. "It might be
best not to tell Pedrito until after I am gone. He is very sensitive and
might adjust better if you told him that I had to leave right away. Then,
he won’t worry. He’ll be with María tomorrow morning, with the other
"He will miss you Roberto," she sobbed
into his chest.
"And I will miss him and you," he
responded, feeling a great pressure begin to build in his chest. "I
will be with him tonight and read him a story, just like I always do.
Everything will look normal. That is how I want it to be."
"All right, dearest," she sniffed.
"I just hope you won’t have to be away for so long."
"So do I, " he murmured. "Who knows
what the future will portend."
At the door, a small boy listened through the
keyhole. His eyes welled with tears and his small fists clenched in
despair as he listened to the conversation in the room. He had not meant
to eavesdrop, but he had heard his name mentioned and had been curious.
Now his father was going away, maybe for a very long time. And they
didn’t want him to know about it. Why? Why didn’t they want him to
know? Didn’t his father love him any more? Why was his mother afraid?
As he heard their footsteps make for the door, he
hastened across the room and fled down the stairs to the store below. It
wasn’t quite dark yet. They would not worry for a while. He wanted to be
alone with his own thoughts and fears. Where would he go? Who could he
The colors of the evening sunset were fading into
pinks and gold, illuminating the few stray clouds overhead. On the
horizon, where the sun was beginning to disappear over the hills into the
distant ocean, were purple and gray puffs of a distant fog. Already the
birds were making for their nightly roosts and the bats preparing for
their nocturnal adventures. Soon the moon would rise, and with it, the
culmination of the days undertakings.
The steady thunder of hooves shook the quiet hills
as the afternoon sun began to bid its farewell to the surrounding forests
and hills. Over hill and vale two stallions, one an agile black and
another a powerful brown kept up their speed, the black ahead of the brown
by only one horse length.
Every once in a while, the man in the black cape
glanced back at his pursuer as they road through meadows, leaped over
fallen trees and dashed across an arroyo with its trickling stream
gleaming in the last rays of sunset. What he saw was a red-haired man with
an intense look in his eyes and a grin that matched his own. This was not
a chase based upon any hostility, but one that seemed more of a contest,
perhaps even a game.
Around granictic outcrops and across wide plateaus
they ran, dodging in and out of bushes, cacti beds, and weeds they rode.
Finally, the black stallion made an incredible leap across a chasm. Paddy
did not notice it before it was too late, but Erin sailed across the abyss
liked the seemingly winged steed before him. Paddy pulled up the great
stallion and slowed down as Tornado continued ahead at full speed. It was
almost too dark to follow the bandit now. And even Paddy was aware of the
effect of the long ride on his mount.
To his surprise, El Zorro reined in Tornado and
brought him to a halt. He turned the horse back towards his pursuer and
halted at the top of a small rise. He called out to the Irishman:
"Colonel, you disappoint me. After this morning’s events, I would
have thought that Monastario’s actions would have begun to enlighten
Paddy patted Erin on the neck and grinned.
"Now don’t you be takin’ this personally, Señor Zorro," he
responded. "I’ve rather enjoyed seeing the kind of soldier and
horseman that you are. Actually, I rather admire you, a man who does not
fear to put his life at risk in the defense of his principles."
"So you pursued me all this way, just to tell
me that?" responded the Fox with an amused look of his own.
"You are not the easiest man in the world to
have a private word with," Paddy chuckled.
"But I am here to say a bit more than just to
give you some praise. It seems that Capitán Monastario is out not just to
destroy you, but anyone who stands in opposition to his rule."
"You are not telling me what I don't already
know and what others have said as well," Zorro replied, repeating
Paddy's own words to him from just a few days before.
"Allow me to finish," the colonel
continued. "Monastario told Señora Torres that she will be a widow
if Don Nacho does not ‘cease and desist’ with his politics. Señorita
Torres and her parents have not shared this information with anyone else.
I tell you this because the Torres badly need allies and they are being
isolated. I fear for their future, despite Enrique's interest in Elena. In
fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the De la Vegas are moving into target
range as well. Don Alejandro is quite outspoken."
"If this is all you wanted to do - tell me
this," Zorro replied, as if doubting the Irishman’s sincerity,
"Why participate in the planned ambush for tonight?"
Paddy O’ Leary was very impressed with el
Zorro’s knowledge of the ambush and of his raid to prevent the trap from
unfolding. "Oooh, that," he grinned cheerfully. "Enrique
likes to think that he can control everything and everybody. He never
counts on a man having his own agenda. As for me, I like to see what a man
is made of."
"Are you satisfied now, Colonel?"
"A wee bit, Señor, for now."
"And you had no thought of taking me?"
challenged the Fox.
"Well, if I had, I might have very well done
so. You see, I have this pistol here in me saddle holster and I had no
intention of using it."
"Hmm, you seem to be a man after my own
spirit, Colonel. I, too, have a pistol, but I rarely find that I have to
use it," grinned El Zorro. "But, tell me this: are you certain
that you are wiser?"
"The proof will be in the pudding, as we
say," Paddy replied thoughtfully, "but speaking of wiser, I’m
not so sure that I am. You see, I’m far off the main road and without
much of a clue on how to get back. Now, perhaps you’ll be a gentleman,
and point out the way. If not, I might be obliged to keep on chasing you
the rest of the night. And I might just catch you because your steed needs
a good rest after that neck wound."
The man in black laughed. "I take it, then,
that this is a trade. Very well, Colonel, your terms are reasonable. One
can always do business with a reasonable man."
Paddy O’ Leary was a bit rueful after he reached
the main road. He was only a quarter of an hour’s ride from it. What a
merry chase he had been led and he was still no closer to discovering
where the outlaw’s hiding place might be. Maybe this was just something
that was not meant to be known, at least by him, and at least for just
now. And he had business back in town of a much more serious nature to
A small, slender boy walked aimlessly though the
darkening streets of the pueblo. For a while he had sat on the edge of the
tavern's entrance watching the vaqueros, soldiers, rancheros, and townsmen
enter and leave. Tonight he saw no one he could call a friend. No one
seemed to notice the boy with the distressed look on his face and, if they
had, they might have thought him a son waiting for a drunken father to
come out and to guide safely back home.
Pedro Cárdenas rose and made his way to the well
of the plaza. Crying was something that he did in the dark, or out of
sight of any grown-ups. It also made him thirsty and the well would give
him an opportunity to wash his face and freshen up. His mother had always
done this when she cried and she told him that he needed to do the same if
ever it happened to him. But he never really thought he would since he was
often the man of the house.
He was splashing water on himself, when he heard
some footsteps behind him. He turned around.
"What are you doing at the well, little
one?" asked the giant soldier whom everyone knew as Sergeant García.
"Just getting a drink of water and washing my
face, Señor Sergeant," the boy answered.
"It's getting late. Why are you not at home
at this late hour?" the big man observed. "Your parents will be
"They won't be worried," Pedro insisted.
"They won't miss me at all." There was a little tremor in his
voice that the sergeant noticed at once.
"Well, if I were your father, I would be
worried," the big man smiled, trying to be sympathetic. "All
fathers love their children."
Pedro's eyes filled with tears. "My father
doesn't love me any more," he said in a breaking voice. He turned
away so the soldier would not see his tears.
"Well, even if that is true, your mother will
always love you. Mothers always love their children," Garcia
responded, trying to be cheerful. He looked up. "Oh, excuse me,
little one. I will escort Señorita Flores back to the inn. She stayed a
long time with Capitán Monastario this evening. Do you know her?"
The little boy shook his head.
"She is a friend of Colonel O' Leary. Look at
the color of her dress. It is as red as his hair," the sergeant said
in a voice filled with wonder.
That comment gave the boy an idea. He followed the
fat sergeant as he waddled towards the gates of the cuartel and the
waiting Señorita Flores. "Wait, Sergeant García," he said
urgently and tugged on the soldier's sleeve.
The big man stopped. "What is it, little
"Have you seen Colonel O' Leary today?"
The big man sighed. "Not since this
afternoon. But he should be back soon. It is almost dark now."
"Thank you, Señor," the boy responded.
He could see that the sergeant had already forgotten him. The little lady
in red called Señorita Flores was moving her shoulders in a funny way and
the sergeant had a silly smile on his face. Grownups were like that
Pedro walked across the plaza and made his way toward the edge of town. The moon was shining again and he would be able to make his way back home by its light later on. He could always hide in the shadows should strangers approach. He would wait for the one man whom he trusted besides his father. He was a man who told funny and exciting stories and liked children. He was a man with amazing red hair.
Patrick O’ Leary took his time on the road back
to town. He thought about how he would finally meet up with the
storekeeper, Cárdenas, and what would happen if he turned out to be
someone else. He rounded the first corner of the dirt street that would
lead him to the plaza and the inn where he was staying. There were few
people in the streets now that it had grown dark and the livery stable was
at the main plaza. That is where he would drop off Erin.
He suddenly pulled up the reins. A small figure
appeared out of the shadows. It was a child. He heard the sound of weeping
and the small shoulders were hunched. It was a child in distress. He
halted and looked down. "Who goes there on such a dark night?"
he asked in a friendly voice. "Ooh, maybe it’s an imp, or perhaps a
troll. Heaven help me."
The small figure halted and looked up.
"Colonel O’ Leary?" a boy’s voice asked.
"That’s me, lad," he answered
cheerfully. "Who’s that? Not Pedrito out at this late hour?"
"It’s me," the boy replied.
Paddy O’ Leary dismounted from his horse. He
knelt down at the boy’s side and put his arm around the boy. "Dear
lad, what are you doing out here all alone? Is something troubling you
Pedro nodded and wiped his eyes with his sleeve.
"Sí, Señor Colonel," he replied in a small voice.
"Would you like to talk about it?" the
Irishman asked. When the boy nodded in the affirmative, he guided him to
the edge of the plaza. There they could sit on a wooden walkway and still
see each other with the distant light of the lanterns of the central plaza
and the torches of the cuartel shining. He tied Erin up to a post and sat
down with the boy. "Tell me what’s happened."
Pedrito looked up in the sympathetic eyes of the
Irish colonel. "My father is going away tomorrow," he began.
"Is he going on a business trip or is he in
trouble?" Paddy asked carefully.
"I don’t know. This afternoon he shouted at
me, then, tonight he told Mother that he is leaving. He told her not to
tell me." The tears flowed down his cheeks. "I don’t think my
father loves me any more. I….I don’t know why." With that he
turned to the Irishman and threw his small arms around the man’s neck
Paddy held the boy close and stroked his hair. "Now, lad, it can’t be all that bad. I don’t believe for one minute that your father doesn’t love you," he responded in a soft voice. "I can’t imagine anyone not loving a fine boy like you." He hugged the weeping boy and caressed his hair until the sobs gave away to sighs and a calm came over the young boy.
"You know, Pedrito, I’ve had to leave my
own land. I had to leave my family and my friends, but it wasn’t because
I didn’t love them. Sometimes a man must leave, even if it is to save
his own life."
"Papa had to leave Spain, and then Peru and Venezuela because some bad men were trying to kill him," the boy told him. "But that was a long time ago when I was little."
"Does your father think that someone wants to
kill him here in Los Angeles? Perhaps the soldiers?"
Pedrito shook his head. "I don’t know. I
don’t think so. The soldiers are nice to us, especially Sergeant García."
Paddy thought that getting the boy’s mind off of
his troubles would be a good thing, so he changed the subject.
"Sergeant García is quite a character, isn’t he? Many people would
be afraid of a big man like that, but he’s a friendly fellow."
Pedrito nodded. "I heard that he gets in a
lot of trouble with the comandante, but not tonight. He was happy."
Paddy smiled. "And why was he happy? Was he
going for a drink at the inn?"
"Tonight he got to walk Señorita Flores back
to the inn. She was wearing a red dress. It was as red as your hair."
The boy sat back and pointed at his hair with a smile.
"Señorita Flores must like his
company," Paddy responded humorously. "Maybe she wanted him to
watch her dance."
"Well, I don’t think so," the boy told
him. "She was with Capitán Monastario a long time, until it got
dark. That’s when Sergeant García walked with her from the cuartel to
O'Leary was startled at the news. "How do you
know this, lad?" the Irishman asked him in a calm voice.
"Oh, I saw them. Sergeant García told me
that Señorita Flores visited with the comandante a long time
"How interesting," Paddy said lightly,
but his brow furrowed. In the dark, the boy did not notice any change in
his demeanor. He stood up. "Are you feeling better now, Pedrito?"
The boy nodded. "I feel much better,
"There’s a good lad," the red-haired
man said. "Say, would you like to ride on me new horse. His name is
Erin and you won't find a finer horse in all of Los Angeles."
The boy smiled in the affirmative and the colonel
swept him up into the saddle. "Now here's the reins to hold and we'll
walk a spell. Tell me, what do you think of Erin? Would you like a horse
as fine as this one?"
"Is he very fast?" asked the young
"As fast as the wind," replied Paddy.
"Is he as fast as El Zorro's horse?"
Paddy smiled, remembering his recent race.
"Well, almost as fast," he admitted. "Now that's not bad at
all, is it, being almost as fast? Why I don't think El Zorro's horse could
beat Erin by more than a nose. Maybe it would only be half a nose. One day
when El Zorro's horse gets old, there's bound to be a horse to beat him
Pedrito Cárdenas smiled knowingly as he listened to the colonel. He knew that no horse in all the world could beat the famous Tornado of El Zorro, not even Colonel O' Leary's horse. Everybody knew that, even Colonel O' Leary.