The Comandante of Monterey

and the Challenge of Señorita Anamaría Verdugo

 

by

 Eugene H. Craig

 

 

 

 

Chapter 12

 

Two Spanish officers walked in silence back to the cuartel. Each had much on his mind and neither one realized the other's thoughts were probably very close to his own.

Luís del Guerro thought of all the possibilities for suspects, of all the information that Melana had given him earlier, and about what he needed to do. And the evening would be far from over for both of them.

When he looked up, he spotted the evening star again, though it was further up in the sky, and began to think about Anamaría and her long lashes and raven hair. He thought that he had never seen her look so elegant as she did this evening in that dark blue dress with the silver necklace with the seagull. He began to trace her features from the curve of her chin to her smile, which he often thought was so alluring. She can really charm the boots off a man and, he admitted, she was certainly succeeding with him as well, even if she didn't know it. And he thought of her scent, the unforgettable jasmine from the garden.

Then there was the fact that everyone in Monterey knew she was in love with the dashing outlaw, Zorro, whom Captain del Guerro found difficult to really dislike. If that man had been in my regiment, he thought, he would have certainly gone far. Luís preferred someone like Señor Zorro be on the side of law and order rather than opposing it in the way he did. But since the man had placed himself on the side of rebellion, he would have to do his duty if it came to that. Would Anamaría ever understand that he would have to do his duty to the King if he ever caught the outlaw? 

And when he talked to her about the stars this evening and she allowed him to see a little of her inner self, he felt compelled to want to find out more. I wonder if she could ever realize that I yearn to take her to the lookout under the stars and make her feel safe, even though it would only be the two of them there. And the wilds of California would not matter. They would watch the stars cross the sky and hear the sounds of the night that were for him both an escape as well as a reminder of another fair woman whom he could not tear from his memory yet whose face was becoming more elusive as time wore on. My darling, forgive me, but you are lost to me forever. It's time to move on, Luís, he told himself.

The comandante of Monterey suddenly became aware of a nearby presence and he put his hand on the hilt of his saber and slowed to a halt. At his side, Morales, too, noticed a presence - two shadows moving in from a dark side street. His hand likewise gripped his sword and he assumed a stance ready for battle. As the saber began to creep out of the scabbard, a familiar voice spoke their names, "Lieutenant Morales? Comandante del Guerro?"

"Gentlemen?" responded Luís cautiously but authoritatively in his well-known baritone. It was dark now and he was going to take no chances even with the lanterns that illuminated the plaza up ahead.

"A thousand pardons, Señores," replied another voice. "We have been looking for both of you this evening. It regards a request for information from Lieutenant Morales."

"Won't you gentlemen come with us to the cuartel?" asked del Guerro. "We are on our way there now."

"I understand that you have someone under arrest, Comandante. I would really prefer if he did not see us," said the second man. "Our confidentiality protects both of us."

"These men are trustworthy, Captain," said Morales in a voice barely above a whisper.

"Very well," responded Luís. "Proceed."

With that the two men turned around and headed back up the dark and deserted side street from which they had emerged. The two officers followed them. Just a few steps away, one of them opened a door into a room dimly lit by a few candles and all four entered. There were a few chairs, a small table and a narrow bed. The only glint of color in the room was a small painting of the Savior in a corner and a cross over the bed.

 One of the strangers sat on the edge of the bed. He was of average height and sported a dark, thick moustache. His clothing showed that he was probably a driver for some local merchant's carriage. The second man was taller than either the captain or the lieutenant but unlike the other three men in the room, he was clean-shaven. His hair was flecked in gray and Luís thought he carried himself like an ex-soldier.

The older man came to the point right away. "You asked about Señor Verdugo. He was seen at the doctor's today. His shirt and jacket were covered in blood. I did not see this myself, but made inquiries. I do not know whether he was wounded and, if he was, how badly. My informant said he walked in of his own accord and carried a bundle. I do not know where he is now."

The darker man on the bed spoke up. "You asked about Carlos García. The word is that he is a confidant to Velásquez in the hide trades, a man neither to trust another nor to be trusted. Velásquez was to meet with him today, but García left town earlier. He headed north. Make of that what you will. He later returned to the inn. It is said that he was talking to Hernando, the warehouse man, in the afternoon. My informants tell me that if you want to find where the graft is at, begin with this triad."

"You gentlemen have been most industrious in your inquiries and shall be rewarded," said the comandante of Monterey. "Without your vigilance and patriotism, our kingdom would be all the poorer still. I thank you. Do you have any questions, Lieutenant?"

"Can either of you gentlemen say at what time these events occurred?" asked Morales. "Timing is often crucial."

"García left after a late breakfast," said the man on the bed. “He returned no more than 2 hours later. It was late afternoon when he met with Hernando, approximately 6 o'clock. Then he went to the inn for dinner. A friend will let me know what happened later this evening.” He turned towards the captain. "I can let you know first thing in the morning, if you wish, Excellency. I'll send a third party to the cuartel."

"Yes, thank you," replied Luís.

"Señor Verdugo was seen at the doctor's after the noon hour, Comandante," said the taller man. “My informant said he did not leave until the late afternoon.”

"I think this is the information we need, Captain," said Morales. "Thank you, too, gentlemen." 

The two men nodded and all four departed the room, the two officers for the cuartel and the two informants for their destinations.

Upon arriving at the cuartel, the comandante ordered the corporal on duty to prepare a detail of four soldiers for a patrol. "Be ready within a half an hour to ride," he ordered.

Both officers went into the comandante's office and closed the door. "We are going to pay Señor Verdugo a surprise visit tonight, Morales," said Luís. "I have a feeling that we may be able to find out just what happened at the rancho this morning."

"I agree, Capitán. It also seems that our dinner engagement was to keep our opponents guessing and I am thinking that the one to keep guessing is the mysterious Señor García. If he is behind the mischief, then keeping Velásquez in irons could be the wedge we need."

From behind his door, Luís heard some whining. He went to his quarters at once. The puppy jumped up and down, wanting to be held. “All right, little Fella,” said the captain and lifted him into his arms, scratching his ears, stroking his head affectionately, “but we’re not here for long. When I get back, I’ll give you some more attention, meanwhile we’ll change back to our dusty clothes.” The puppy licked the officer's cheek as if he understood.

There was a tap at his door. Morales peered in. “Oh, I forgot, Capitán.” In his hand he clutched a dinner serviette. He unrolled it and pulled out a piece of beef. “Something for Fella from the dinner table.”

Luís shook his head. “I missed that completely. Don’t tell me you’ve been holding on to that all evening.”

“Oh, not at all. It was Melana’s doing. When you were engaged with Señorita Anamaría, she made her move.” He leaned down to give the eager puppy the morsel. The puppy’s tail wagged continuously while he chewed the generous piece.

Luís smiled. “Speaking of Señorita Melana, she’s a fine young lady. She seems to be quite taken by a certain lieutenant.” He winked at the officer.

“As is that officer by her,” replied Alonso. “She’s the most fascinating young lady I’ve ever met. It’s hard not to be distracted by thoughts of her.”

“These ladies are a constant distraction,” Luis commented as he removed his clean tunic. “Especially Anamaría.”

“Not to break a confidence, Captain, but Señorita Anamaría asked me about you this evening. I think she wants to get to know the man beyond the uniform.”

“Indeed? That’s not an easy task,” said Luís slowly, buttoning up his morning tunic. “Look how long it took you.”

“Yes, that is true. But I always thought that you were worth it. I think Señorita Anamaría is also worth it, but if anything, she will be more of a challenge than you were."

"I have no doubt of that, but I have always found a challenge most stimulating." Luis buckled on his belt, gave the puppy a lift up to the bed and a final pat. "Go, change, my friend. We may have a long night ahead of us." Morales departed and Luís began to gather some extra ammunition for his pistol. "Wish us luck, little Fella," he said to the puppy when he finished his chores. With that, he left the office.

 

 

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