The Comandante of Monterey

and the Challenge of Señorita Anamaría Verdugo



 Eugene H. Craig





Chapter 13



Monterey Bay glistened and reflected the light of the stars and the three-quarters moon that shone high in the sky. There was a strong offshore breeze that blew in over the road and whipped up strange sounds as it twisted and turned among the rocks, trees and meadows. To a superstitious man, the moaning wind, the hoot of the owls from among the dark trees, the call of a solitary coyote, created a forbidding atmosphere to a late night ride. Each lancer was armed with extra shot in addition to the long service saber.

As their destination grew closer, the captain ordered them to slow down the pace. When they were a few hundred meters away, the captain ordered them to walk their horses quietly. At less than a hundred meters, all dismounted, tied the horses to trees hidden from the main road, and proceeded on foot to the rancho.

"Remember, we don't know what we are going to find there. Just in case there are unfriendly forces on the perimeter, we want to be prepared and to take them silently without giving ourselves away," explained the army captain to the soldiers.

The Verdugo home was dimly lit. A solitary flickering light showed on the second floor while the first floor showed more candlelight in the front room and dining area. The road was quiet. A quick inspection of the perimeter revealed nothing unusual. The barn was quiet except for the normal retinue of horses, cows, and mules inside.

"I have a premonition, Morales," said del Guerro. "Stay in the background and be vigilant. Either events have come to a head already or they will very soon. I'm going inside. You are in command from here on out."

"Captain, are you sure you do not want me to come with you, or at least send one other soldier?"

"Thanks, Morales, but if what I think is going on is true, then I will need you to employ them against our adversaries from the outside," replied Luís, not unmindful of the possibilities.

With that, the comandante of Monterey entered the gate and disappeared inside. Within minutes he was inside the Verdugo home and was cautiously making his way from room to room on the first floor. The front room had been returned to a normal state, the furniture picked up and the books replaced on the bookcases on the wall. He found the kitchen deserted and the other rooms empty. While in the dark hall he heard footsteps coming down from upstairs. With loaded pistol in hand he watched an unsuspecting Felipe Verdugo enter the front room. The small man sat down at the desk and covered his face with his hands as if in deep thought.

Luís del Guerro stood at the entrance of the front room a moment, taking in the details before he spoke. "Señor Verdugo?" he said in a quiet tone.

Felipe Verdugo looked up, startled, and saw the comandante of Monterey standing at the entrance of the door. "Captain del Guerro!" he exclaimed, getting to his feet. "I did not hear you come in." He saw Luís' pistol and looked shocked. "What is going on here?"

"Don't be alarmed, Don Felipe. I just want to talk to you, that is all." Del Guerro pulled a chair over from the window with one hand and placed it in front of the fireplace. "Bring over another chair, won't you?" he asked in an amiable way. 

Verdugo complied with the request with alacrity and sat down opposite del Guerro, looking him over in some anticipation. The captain let the man ponder the situation by slowly removing his hat and gauntlets and putting them on the mantle. He placed his pistol under his hat as well. The army officer then sat down in the chair, crossed his legs and seemed to contemplate the flames of the burning logs gleaming off his polished leather boots for several minutes.

"I understand you had some visitors this morning, Don Felipe," Luís commented calmly.

"Captain, I came home this morning and found my home a wreck. This very room was overturned, every book pulled off the wall, my desk rifled through."

"Was anything missing?" asked the captain.

"Nothing of real value, that is what is so odd. They could have taken money or goods but none of that was touched."

"Yes, that is odd in a way. But what was taken Don Felipe?"

"My account book - the one for my business with Pedro. I don't understand it. What good would it do anybody to take that?" Verdugo seemed genuinely puzzled.

"Do you have any idea why this incident might have occurred, apart from the fact that you cannot find your account book, Señor?" asked del Guerro.

"Captain, I'm bewildered. I hate to say this, but the only person I can think of who would have any motivation at all would be Pedro, but I can't believe that he would do this," said Felipe. "We've had our differences, but nothing like this."

"Has it occurred to you, Don Felipe, that he was very angry and upset about his own missing journal and that he might have taken some desperate means to try to locate it?"

"But why go to such an extreme?" exclaimed the ranchero. "How could the disappearance of an accounting journal by itself explain what has been done here?"

"I think it is about time that we started linking the chains of events together, Señor Verdugo. I want you to tell me yourself how this came about. When did these disagreements first begin to surface? In our meeting a few days ago, you told me how disturbed you have become regarding what appears to be juggled shipments and missing goods. Take it from there, Señor."

"Like I said, for about six months there has been a great discrepancy in my and Pedro's accounting journals. I began to doubt my own abilities to keep records when Pedro started lashing out at me over the differences in them. That's why I started having Melana check my figures - she's very good at math and observant for details. You know that yourself from her paintings. Once, when Pedro was arguing with me over our accounts, Melana and Anamaría came in. They showed Pedro how he was wrong and it became evident to him that Melana was very sharp in bookkeeping. He doesn't like to be shown as wrong about anything. Worse than that, he hates any young woman to be more clever than he is."

"I can think of something worse, Don Felipe," smiled del Guerro as Verdugo looked at him with a mixture of curiosity and consternation. "Two young women."

Verdugo relaxed a moment and smiled. "Yes, that's true, Captain. But to continue…"

"But to continue," interrupted del Guerro. "Let's get back to the few facts you just stated. First of all, your question - why go to such an extreme? And secondly, why be so angry, instead of grateful, when shown that his bookkeeping is not what he claims it to be? Speculate, Don Felipe."

The smaller man looked ashamed a moment. "I guess what you want me to conclude is that Pedro doesn't want to know the facts because……..because he's been lying to me all along, making me feel like I'm the stupid one and not knowing what is going on." Felipe paused. "As to the first question - why rip my home apart looking for a journal when he could have lost it anywhere? I suppose the worst thing I could conclude is that there was something in that journal that he didn't want anybody to know about and maybe if we found it, we'd see what was going on. But, why, Captain? Why would he think that I would go through his personal records just because he misplaced it here?"

"You are asking good questions, Don Felipe. Let us take the scenario a bit further. Suppose Señor Velásquez is not the only person who could be threatened by the finding of such a journal or by the finding out that a considerable theft is going on of your goods. Can you think of anyone else who would do this?"

"Pedro has a number of associates - the other cattlemen we get our goods from, the transport drivers, even the tanners and butchers in town. I wouldn't suspect them - I've known them for years and many are my own contacts. However, there is one man I have met only once. His name is Carlos García and he owns the warehouse at the docks. Hernando, the foreman, works for him and keeps track of all the records. But these two have never struck me as violent men," said Felipe earnestly.

"But they would be in a position to not only know about any such thefts, but perhaps be engaged in them as well. Is that not so, Señor?" asked del Guerro.

Verdugo looked thoughtful. "I think that is a possibility. It makes some sense. But why would they do such a thing? Reasonable men would talk things over." He paused and looked into the fire. "Have I been such a naïve fool to believe that everyone should be as honest as me? I still can't believe that any of these men would do such a thing."

"All right," said the captain. "Now I want you to show me something upstairs. You said the house was ripped apart. Does this include Melana's room?"

Verdugo was surprised at the officer's surmise of events. "Yes, you are right. Let me show you what they did."

With that the two men rose. Felipe handed del Guerro some candles. "I'll light more in her room when we get there," he said.

When Felipe Verdugo and Captain del Guerro entered the girl's room, Luís could see that nothing had been changed from his late morning inspection. He examined every detail, pointing out the extent of the ransacking to his host. "Don Felipe, it seems that someone who knew that Melana was doing your accounting, has had a hand in this. If someone suspected that she might have the missing journal, would it not be reasonable for them to search her room?"

"Yes, that makes sense. The only person who would know would be you, Lieutenant Morales and, of course, Pedro." Verdugo paused, leaning down and picking up some of Melana's books off the floor. "You know, Captain, this is getting to be nerve-wracking. I'm almost terrified to think that had anyone been home this morning, they might have been harmed. Especially my Melana."

"You are absolutely right," said a strange voice behind the two men. Captain del Guerro and Felipe Verdugo turned in surprise to see a tall, fat man holding a pistol aimed at them. "Which is why I have chosen to visit you tonight in order to bring this problem to an end.”

"And who is this?" asked del Guerro turning to Felipe.

"Allow me to introduce myself, Captain del Guerro. My name is Carlos García."



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