The Comandante of Monterey

and the Challenge of Señorita Anamaría Verdugo

 

by

 Eugene H. Craig

 

 

 

 

Chapter 14

 

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 Luís calmly.

"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 you."

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 the better."

"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 parties."

"Shut up, Captain, and move," replied García.

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 the mantle."

"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 Guerro.

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 his own.

"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 one."

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 ground.

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 Carlos García.

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 long."

"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."

 

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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 again."

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 was."

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."

 

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