Comandante of Monterey
and the Challenge of Señorita Anamaría Verdugo
Eugene H. Craig
The big man who stood in the doorway was dressed
in black with a red sash around his middle. He wore an expensive cape
and black hat with gold decorations. The pistol in his hand was the most
expensive model. His face was folded in layers of overindulgence and his
black eyes almost hidden by shadows. At his side was his saber. His feet
were spread wide apart.
The comandante of Monterey appraised the big
man, looking him over carefully, almost curiously. "Señor García,
I don't think it is very diplomatic of you to hold a pistol on the
comandante, considering the fact that you must realize I am here to
investigate why Señor Verdugo's house was ransacked today," said
"That's good, Captain, quite good as a
matter of fact," sneered García as he removed Luís’ sword from
its scabbard. "I'm just sorry that that little girl isn't here as
well, since she is the reason I have had to come. But no matter, I'll
get ahold of her tomorrow."
"Listen, Carlos," said a visibly upset
Felipe Verdugo, "I must be the object of your wrath, not Melana.
Why harm my little girl? What has she ever done to you?"
"Yes, you are a problem, Verdugo, and the
reason for her impending death. If you had paid attention to Pedro's
warning for you to keep your nose out of things, this would have not
become a problem," the fat man said in a harsh tone. "You can
only blame yourself."
"This is very interesting, Don
Felipe," interrupted del Guerro. "It would seem that you keep
poor company in your business affairs. But I am not interested in these
affairs of yours. I am here to investigate a ransacked home and a
bedroom drenched in blood."
"You must think I'm stupid, Captain,"
interjected García. "What did Pedro tell you? You've had him
locked up long enough to find out enough to send you out here in the
middle of the night."
The comandante of Monterey shook his head at the fat man's seeming ignorance. "You are really coming to a false conclusion, Señor García. I locked up Señor Velásquez for personal reasons, not over any thefts or other suspicions. I've had enough of his insults and rude behavior. If you don't put that pistol away, I’ll have just as fair grounds for putting you under arrest as well."
The big man looked astonished at the army
officer, then roared with laughter. "I'll say one thing for you,
Captain, you have audacity. I'm really going to regret killing
Verdugo looked shocked at that
statement."Listen, Carlos, why is all this necessary? I might have
been concerned that Pedro and my bookkeeping didn't find a happy medium,
but why this? What is it over but perhaps a few hundred pesos? Surely
that isn't worth taking the lives of so many people, even innocent ones
like the captain or my daughter," he exclaimed. "Surely you
can see that something can be worked out to make everyone happy. We
would all win in the end."
"There is only going to be one winner,
Verdugo, and that is me. This isn't about a few hundred or thousand
pesos going astray - maybe just with you. It's about fortunes being
made. You see, Pedro has failed me too many times and he knows too much.
You and your nosy daughter are next on my list, although you were really
too naïve to know what was going on until you had her keep the books.
Then she starts questioning things. Pedro even tells me that this Anamaría
knows what is going on and..."
"There you are mistaken, Señor,"
interrupted Luís. "I spent a very pleasant afternoon with both
Verdugo ladies and they never once mentioned any personal problems or
concerns. You must admit that they had every opportunity to do so had
there been such a concern. After all, I would be such a person for them
to confide in. You are unnecessarily planning a war, when all you should
be pursuing is a skirmish."
"How do I know that you're not lying,
Captain?" asked García. "For all I know the reason you are
here is to get the evidence."
"If that were true, Señor, you would be
one of the first arrested as a suspect since you are the ultimate
bookkeeper," del Guerro looked him straight in the eye. "As of
now, this is just a business deal gone awry. I strongly suggest that you
keep it that way."
For once the big man looked hesitant, but just
for a moment. "Enough of this useless chatter," he said at
last. "Down the stairs both of you. The sooner this is over with
"Are you sure that you will not reconsider
your position, Señor García?" asked Captain del Guerro. "You
will be leaving behind a trail of bodies that no one in all of
California will be able to ignore. Your business partner is trying to
make a compromise with you and you seem unable to make a rational
decision at this point in time. Thinking it over is best for all
"Shut up, Captain, and move," replied
At the bottom of the stairs, del Guerro turned
into the front room.
Garcia roared at him, "Stop! Where do you
think you're going? Stop or I'll shoot!"
Del Guerro turned back toward him, "Calm
down, Señor! I am merely retrieving my hat and gloves. They are here on
"You are not turning out for a parade,
Captain. You will have no use for those where you are going," said
García. "Move on outside. My men are waiting. We can do this back
behind the barn."
"How undignified," Luís commented.
"Behind a barn. I'd rather be shot in front of the outer
wall." He gave the fat man a contemptuous look.
"Suit yourself, Captain. Either way you are
dead," snorted García. "For a man ready to die, you retain a
fine sense of humor to the very end. Like I said, I will regret having
to kill you."
"Apparently not enough," retorted del
As they walked out the front door, Felipe
Verdugo paused and turned to del Guerro. "Captain, before I die I
want to thank you for all you have done for me and my family, even
though it has come to this. I had high hopes for my dear Melana. If she
can survive this, I want you to know that your own Lieutenant Morales
has my every blessing to care for her. I'm also happy that Anamaría and
you made up. She's a wonderful girl. I only hope she can find a man as
fine as you someday to marry. Maybe this will wake her up. Goodbye, Luís,
and God bless you, dear friend." He grasped the captain's hands in
"Thank you for your kind words, Don
Felipe," responded Luís. "For the record, I would like you to
know that I had hoped to marry Anamaría some day if she ever thought me
worthy of her. We will all meet in a better place, I promise you."
"Enough of this," said the fat man.
"Get a move on." As they approached the entrance, the three of
them came to a halt.
"Open the gate," ordered García. Then
he called out "Hey, Juan, I've got two to shoot, not just
Del Guerro swung the gate open and made a sudden
move. He shoved a startled García backwards, then grabbed Verdugo's
hand, and lurched forward, forcing him to fall to the ground. García
recovered quickly, reached the gate a moment later and leveled his
pistol at the captain who was springing up off the ground.
"Juan," he screamed, "where are….?" At that
moment, he felt a powerful blow on his wrist. The bullet fired into the
Lieutenant Alonso Morales watched the pistol
fall to the ground and threw himself on the corpulent figure of Carlos
García. Felipe Verdugo, who had rolled away from the gate, jumped up
and threw himself on García as well. All three struggled until García
was subdued, then forced to his knees.
"Well done, Lieutenant," said the
comandante of Monterey as he approached the trio. A soldier appeared
behind him with his rifle ready and aimed at the shocked figure of
As García was shoved before him, Captain Luís
del Guerro rebuked him. "In every war, there are skirmishes,
campaigns, and the final battle, Señor García. Your failure has been
your inability not only to recognize the difference, but also to learn
nothing from the wisest businessman among you, Don Felipe Verdugo. The
key to winning any war is learning when to compromise and negotiate with
your enemies even when it looks like you have the upper hand. Without
alliances, no king, emperor, or prince will retain a throne for
"Where, where are my men?" gasped García
looking around into the darkness.
"Trussed up more heavily than you are, Señor," replied Alonso Morales. "We got them all, Captain, after García went inside. It was an ambush made to model."
The ride back into Monterey was a short one.
Felipe Verdugo furnished the supply wagon that held the bound prisoners.
Three lancers rode behind the wagon while two officers rode alongside.
The fourth lancer drove the wagon. When they reached the cuartel, the
arrested men were bundled inside jail cells. Carlos García was chained
hand and foot. Within a half-an-hour another subject of the King found
himself arrested after a knock at the door. Hernando Villas joined his
boss under confinement.
It was less than an hour later when a tired
captain and lieutenant entered the office of the comandante and threw
themselves into chairs. After a few moments, del Guerro got up and went
to a cabinet. He took out two glasses and poured out some brandy. He
handed a glass to the lieutenant. "For a job well done, my
friend," he told Morales.
"You know, Captain, it was all in the
timing. How did you know García would try to kill Verdugo and Melana
tonight? Or was it a guess?"
"Not a guess, old friend. It was a number
of facts that began to be linked. The speed at which the events were
unfolding was cause for alarm. Then, Don Felipe's premonition of his own
death, something that Anamaría commented on this morning. Velásquez
himself seemed more hostile than what events would call for. Undoubtedly
he was under pressure himself from García, and it showed. The violence
of the house search showed that more violence was planned. A careful
robber would have searched everywhere, but left no such obvious calling
card. Violent men act violently."
"It would seem, though, we got there just
in time. It was not more than ten to fifteen minutes later that García
and his men arrived," Morales pointed out.
"One advantage of routine, Lieutenant, is
that it can be used as a disguise for other maneuvers. Take the case of
when we left, for example. It coincided more or less with the departure
of a routine patrol around the pueblo and surrounding roads. Our numbers
also coincided with that of a routine patrol, leaving little cause for
alarm. The entire evening was meant to mislead our opponents as well,
despite the charm of our dinner companions." The comandante paused
thoughtfully. "You are right about the timing, though. It was
closer than I prefer. But such is war, when a few moments can be the
difference between victory and defeat, life or death."
Morales was lost in thought a few minutes.
"Was the evening a show for the ladies as well, Captain?"
Luís del Guerro smiled at the younger man and
pulled at the end of a moustache. "Only in so far that it took
their minds off the real dangers facing them and Señor Verdugo. We
could not afford to let them know more than they do. I had a hard time
misdirecting Anamaría. She is a very insightful young lady and it is
not easy to lie to her directly. It is not something I like doing."
"I know you must be as tired as I am,
Captain, but I have to ask you one final thing." Morales looked
hesitant, something that did not happen very often.
"You know you can ask me anything,
Morales," said the comandante.
"Well, I overheard what Don Felipe said to you tonight before he thought the two of you were going to be shot - about Melana and me, that is…." Alonso Morales began. "Do you think he'll feel the same way in the morning?"
Del Guerro was surprised by the lieutenant's
doubts. He approached the young man and laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Alonso, I have no doubt whatsoever of Don Felipe's high regard for
you. No, he will not change his mind. Don Felipe is a rare soul who
wears his heart on his sleeve. Even at his age, his innocence of men and
their motivations is almost admirable. He expects people to be decent
and, even when faced with the evidence, will give them every last chance
to prove the evidence wrong. It should be no surprise to you that what
happened this night has shown him that the best future for Melana is in
a gentleman like yourself. And I agree."
“ I can always count on you to tell me the
truth. It's more appreciated than you might know. But, how about you, Luís?
You said that you would marry Anamaría if she thought you worthy. How
could she not?"
"It's hard to compete against a
legend," mused Luís. "Remember, I'm the man her hero took on
and taught a painful lesson. Maybe I said it because it occurred to me
belatedly that our ambush might not work out as I planned. In a way, it
was the only thing I could say at a moment like that - that I am in love
with her. If it was a time to die, at least it would be, as I said, on
the record." He fell silent a moment before he added. "You
know, Alonso, I have finally come to terms with Carmen's death. It has
been hard to let go of this memory and to think I could fall in love
He walked back towards his desk. "Anamaría
is so different, yet endlessly refreshing. Her uncle, Felipe, is more
like my Carmen than she is." He sighed and sat on the edge of his
desk. "I've changed, Alonso. I'm not the same man I was three
months ago when I took over command here. What a pompous ass I
Morales smiled at his friend's words. "You
know, Captain, it really doesn't matter much to anyone anymore what you
were then. People know what you are now, and they also know that
Monterey is a better place because of you. I have a great deal of faith
that Anamaría will come around. It may take a while, but I know you
have a great deal of patience and perseverance."
"If I stay up too much longer, I may lose those virtues," replied del Guerro. "Get to bed, old friend. Tomorrow, we can pay the Verdugo ladies a visit and give them some good news."