The Irish Colonel
Patrick O’Leary was smiling to himself and humming an old war song as he made his way across the plaza to the cuartel late that afternoon.
So, don’t wait up for me, little darlin’
There’s plenty of dragoons here in town
The lancers have driven out ‘Boney’
and the French for miles around.
When he arrived at the gates of the cuartel he saw
Sergeant García speaking to a corporal. He cleared his throat, "Top
of the day to you, Sergeant García."
The big man turned around. "Ah, Colonel O’Leary," he responded, saluting. "The comandante said that you would be here this afternoon." He looked the colonel over noticing his altered dress. "Is this a new military fashion – a long green sash and a brown hat? With your uniform jacket?" García was puzzled.
"I’m in pain, Sergeant, grave pain,"
the colonel said in a miserable tone of voice and put a hand against the
"You are?" García looked concerned, but
felt helpless before such a senior officer. "Corporal Reyes, "
he said, turning to the short corporal who held his rifle at his side,
"help the colonel. He is in pain."
The corporal looked confused. "He is? Where,
"I don’t know, baboso. Put your rifle down
and find out, stupid."
Corporal Reyes propped his rifle up against the wall and looked askance at the colonel.
"How can I help you, Señor Colonel? Where is
the pain? Maybe we should get a doctor, Sergeant."
The colonel looked at the two soldiers wearily.
"I’m afraid there’s nothing you lads can do for me. It’s the
transition. It’s killing me."
"The ‘transition’, Colonel? I don’t
think I understand," responded García uncertainly.
"‘Transition,’ Sergeant. Imagine, having
to transform yourself from an officer of the Regiment into a mere, lowly
civilian. I can hardly do it. It’s making me ill. Look at me, Sergeant,
I’m a hybrid – neither man nor mule, but a mixture of both."
"You don’t look like a mule to me,
Colonel," said the corporal, looking the officer over carefully.
"Thank you, Corporal," sighed O’Leary.
"What a relief. If it were not so early in the day, I’d have myself
a drop of the barley and salute you for your profound analysis."
García looked a bit perplexed, but the image of a
drink inspired him. "Oh, Colonel," he said. "I never did
thank you for the wine you bought me yesterday."
"Think nothing of it, Sergeant," the
colonel responded. "We’ll do it again, I’m sure."
García literally beamed at that. "I hope so, Colonel. The wines here are very good. And perhaps you could sing more songs from the war. I remembered all of the ones you sang, too. But no one sings them here any more." He looked sad for a moment.
"Now what is wine without song? And what is
song without women?" asked the colonel cheerfully. "Just the
thought of it makes me feel a little better."
"And food. What is wine and song without
food?" responded García enthusiastically. "All three together
would make me very happy."
"I think they already do," noted
O’Leary, giving the sergeant’s bulk a once-over. "Now, would you
announce me to Capitán Monastario? I believe the dear man is expecting
"’Dear man’? " whispered Reyes to
García. "Whom is he talking about, Sergeant?"
"The comandante, stupid. Colonel O’Leary
knew him from a long time ago," replied García. He turned back to
the Irishman. "At once, Señor Colonel!" he said in a loud voice
and went inside the cuartel.
The Irishman turned to Reyes. "Ah, Corporal
Reyes, you’re a fine fellow. Do you partake of ‘the Nectar of the
Gods’ as well?"
"’The Nectar of the Gods’?" asked
Reyes. "I don’t think I understand."
"Ah, I see you’re an honest man. What I
mean is, do you like to drink wine, Corporal?"
"Oh, yes, very much so, Señor Colonel,"
replied Reyes. He perked up right away. "Don’t you have anyone to
drink with tonight?" He looked so sincerely hopeful that O’Leary
took pity on him.
"Tonight, yes, but, this afternoon? No. I was
hoping that some soldier might like to reminisce about the good old days
and share a drop of the vintage with me when this meeting is over. Say,
you wouldn’t know anyone who’d like to, would you?" he asked.
"Well, Sergeant García and I are off duty in
two hours, Colonel, if you don’t mind drinking with ordinary
soldiers," Reyes responded a little timidly. He had never shared a
drink with such a high-ranking officer before, even a retired one.
"Ah, now that sounds like a fine plan to me, Corporal. Head on over to the tavern and wait for me. But there is a small catch to the plan, if you know what I mean."
The corporal looked puzzled. "A small catch?"
O’Leary looked around and drew Reyes into his
conspiracy. "Yes, Corporal, I will buy you all the drinks you want,
if you will tell me what I want to know."
Reyes looked askance. "Uh, what do you want
to know, Señor Colonel?"
"It’s like this," O’Leary began. He
whispered in the corporal’s ear.
Reyes looked thoughtful. "Oh, I think
that’s all right, Colonel. There’s nothing that Sergeant García and I
don’t know that everybody else doesn’t know either."
"How profound. That’s all right. Ah,
here’s Sergeant García."
"The comandante will see you right away, Colonel O’Leary," the big man boomed out.
And the both of them entered through the high
wooden gates of the cuartel.
When Patrick O’Leary entered the comandante’s
office, Enrique Monastario was standing behind his desk holding some
papers. He took one look at O’Leary and burst out laughing. He shook his
head at the ridiculousness of it and put the papers down on the desk.
"Not you, too," O’Leary moaned.
"I’m trying to make the blessed transition and I find I’ve become
the butt of everyone’s depraved sense of humor."
"Really, Colonel," lectured Monastario,
"this is absurd. The green sash is not bad at all, but it reminds me
of the French Directory style. And the brown hat is really out of
place…with the uniform that is."
"Christ Jesus, I even removed my epaulettes.
How much more can an officer degrade himself? I feel like I’ve been
drummed out of the corps."
"Get ahold of yourself, O’Leary," the
captain responded forcefully. "The best thing to do is just put on an
entire suit of clothes. Forget the transition. If you were a nobleman,
that would be …"
O’Leary’s face took on a look of astonishment
and then, unrestrained fury. "If I was a nobleman? Why, you tin-plated third child of a
minor aristocrat," he shouted. "I, Padraig Seamus O’Laeghaire,
am the descendant of Luy Maccon, king of Ireland and founder of the Corca
Laidhe of County Cork. Our blood is traceable to the Third Century! We
possessed more land in Ireland than half the so-called nobles of Navarre
or Aragon – from the mountains of Uibh Laoghaire and Inchigeelagh to the
Kerry Mountains, from Rosscarbery to Ballyleary and beyond! Upholders of
the sacred Gaelic Order were we and protectors of Saint Patrick himself,
blessed be his name! Who else carries the proud motto "Laidir ise
Lear Righ" on the family crest? In whose veins flows the blood of
Laoghaire, son of Ros, son of Eirc, men who were chieftains and whose
descendants left Ireland to fight with d’Aquila after Kinsale?"
When he finished his tirade, the room was quiet.
So was the entire cuartel. It took all of Enrique Monastario’s iron
self-discipline not to reply in kind. He walked over to a cabinet, opened
it up, and took out two glasses and a bottle of brandy. Without saying a
word, he poured the liquor out and walked over to the red-faced Irishman
and handed him a glass. He put the bottle down on his desk and gave
O’Leary a grim look.
Patrick O’Leary looked at the glass and then
looked at Monastario. "Here’s to our lost inheritances and to our
noble blood," he said in a quiet voice, raising his glass to the
Enrique Monastario nodded. "To our noble
blood, which will always be noble, and to our good fortune that will more
than make up for our lost inheritances," he responded firmly.
The two men clicked their glasses and drank.
Monastario poured O’Leary out another glass full. "I believe I owe
you a dinner, Paddy," he said affably, even though O’Leary waved
his hand to indicate it was not an obligation. He had the colonel at a
moment of weakness and wanted to exploit it now that O’Leary felt a bit
contrite. "I can’t have you picking pockets, Colonel. It’s
undignified. However, you can still have gainful employment with the
military establishment here in Los Angeles."
The colonel did not look in the least fazed by the
captain’s statement of fact. He only smiled. "Well, Enrique, it’s
all in how you go about picking pockets. Me, I choose the most direct and
fair way of expropriation. But I never rob from the poor. From what I
gather, you also pick pockets, but much more democratically. You pinch
everyone. And rather hard."
Monastario gave him a smile. "I actually
approve of your intelligence gathering capabilities. I believe that was
your specialty when you served Espoz y Mina. It served very well then and
it can serve very well now. Are you interested?"
"Am I to be garbed as a civilian spy or a
military one, Capitán?" O’Leary asked. "And then there is the
price to be worked out for my 'intelligence'."
"It would be to our mutual benefit that you
complete your transition to civilian life, Colonel, the sooner the
better," remarked the blue-eyed captain. "Your dramatics are
impressive, but I want your cold, hard logic, the kind of hard work and
logic that won you your
Cross of Valor and promotions. I have a problem here in Los Angeles and I
intend to solve it. I'll make it well worth your while."
"Does your problem have a name,
Enrique?" asked O’Leary, although he already knew the answer.
"The problem’s name is ‘El Zorro.’