Comandante of Monterey
and the Challenge of Señorita Anamaría Verdugo
Eugene H. Craig
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
"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
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
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
"Nothing of real value, that is what is so
odd. They could have taken money or goods but none of that was
"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
"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
"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
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."