The Comandante of Monterey

and the Challenge of Señorita Anamaría Verdugo

 

by

 Eugene H. Craig

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 8

 

A traveler on the El Camino Real outside of Monterey might have been awakened out of his thoughts by a pounding of hooves in the distance. Had he sat up in the saddle and gazed up the dirt road, he would have seen a troop of the King’s Lancers approaching at full gallop. In the lead was the comandante of Monterey and a disheveled civilian, both with grim looks on their faces. Behind them rode a sergeant and three lancers. Over their backs were slung their rifles.

The Verdugo household looked deceptively quiet as the troopers approached. As they drew up and dismounted, the captain ordered them around the perimeter of the home. The gate had been left closed. Del Guerro approached the situation as if taking an enemy position: secure the perimeter, then, take the objective. Upon entering the house, he saw it was as Velásquez described – overturned chairs, books thrown down from the bookcases, desk drawers opened, their contents either on the floor or scattered. Two lancers went up the stairs to inspect the floor above. The sergeant called down from upstairs, “Captain, the same upstairs.”

Del Guerro took the steps two at a time with Velásquez following. He walked into Melana’s room. The bed had been overturned. Every book in her two bookcases had been thrown on the floor. The drawers of her chest had been turned out and its contents hung over the sides. The armoire stood open and its bottom drawers were opened. Someone had done a thorough job. Her jewelry box was dumped upside down and its contents lay on the floor where they had fallen. Well, at least an ordinary robbery had not taken place, thought del Guerro.

 The sergeant standing in the entrance to the room shook his head. “Why would anyone want to go through a señorita’s room like this?” he asked, more rhetorically than expecting an answer.

Del Guerro made no comment and inspected all the other rooms until he got to Don Felipe’s. Like Melana’s it was as if a hurricane had hit it – but much worse. Everything in the room was in a shambles – overturned mattresses, drawers out of the furniture, their contents dumped on the floor. Verdugo’s clothes had been gone through and lay strewn around the room. Despite the fury of the chaos, del Guerro had the feeling something more was amiss, but he kept his thoughts to himself. The major thing that stood out in all the disorder was the blood. There was blood on the floor, on the mattress and on some of the clothing that seemed trampled under foot. The captain followed the trail from the bedroom out to the hallway. Big drops were along the hallway but suddenly came to an end. Perhaps someone had carried the body or wrapped it in something.

 Velásquez followed the comandante, shaking his head. Luís went back down stairs to the study. He picked up two chairs and set them upright. Then he turned to the taller man: “Señor Velásquez, would you please have a seat here?”

The big man looked uncertain, but sat down in one of the chairs. He watched as the comandante pulled the sergeant aside and made some comments to him quietly. The sergeant nodded and left. A moment later, two of the lancers came in and took his place. Their rifles were in their hands. Then Captain del Guerro returned to the room. He sat opposite the older man, removing his hat and gloves and placing them on top of the chaos of the desk.

“Señor Velásquez, this is most serious. I want you to tell me what you know. Does Don Felipe have any enemies who would do something like this to him? Or do you have any enemies who would do this?”

The big man was not expecting the questions. He hesitated a moment. “I am in a state of shock, Comandante. I’m bewildered, just as you are. I can’t imagine anyone doing this, not to Felipe, that is.”

Del Guerro studied the man opposite him who nervously fingered his hat. “But you didn’t answer my second question, Señor. Do you have any enemies who would do this to Don Felipe, say, to threaten you?”

Velásquez thought. He felt the comandante’s eyes drilling in to him. Yes, he thought, there are some who would probably relish taking a shot at me. But Felipe? On the other hand,… Finally, he spoke. “Listen, Captain, Felipe is a different kind of bird. There are men who are jealous of me, of my success, and such men are always dangerous, but I can take care of myself. As a matter of fact, I think I would have received a threat of some sort if this were the case.”

“And you can think of nothing at all that would lead to this, then?” asked del Guerro.

“No,” said Pedro Velásquez. He was not used to talking to anyone about his business dealings and it would not be easy to draw any information out of him.

Del Guerro signed audibly and looked up at the sweating face of Velásquez. “You realize, of course, that if you are not more forthright with me, then I will have to draw other kinds of conclusions,” he said slowly.

Velásquez’s head jerked up as he realized what the comandante was saying. “How dare you!” he gasped. He watched the captain’s hand as it caressed the grip of the pistol and then realized the reason for the presence of the two lancers just outside the study.

“Listen, Captain, why the devil do you think I would murder Felipe? What could I gain from it?”

Del Guerro cocked his head to one side rather casually and looked grim. “That should be more than obvious, Señor. Let me state a few facts that come to mind. First of all is your behavior upon our arrival yesterday. It is obvious that you have been having some kind of disagreement with Señor Verdugo. Your rudeness and impatience in dealing with any interruptions were palatable. Secondly, you don’t seem to relish Don Felipe’s suggestions that the other gentlemen engaged in your business be a part of any dealings with the government. Finally, and not least, is your overbearing behavior towards Señorita Melana. Do you think for one moment that your designs on her future are not motivated by anything but self-interest rather than any respect for her wishes? And why marry a young woman who has no interest in you whatsoever other than to gain control over the wealth that would come with such a marriage? The dice,” said Luís in a deadly tone, “are loaded against you, Señor Velásquez.”

The big man started to rise out of his chair. The captain rose simultaneously and removed his pistol from the holster. “Don’t take any steps you would regret, Señor,” Luís said. “I am prepared to use this, if necessary.”

The big man looked at the pistol aimed in his direction. He was sweating profusely. How could he get that damned fool of a captain to believe him? He sat back down, studying the officer opposite him. He did not doubt that Luís would pull the trigger.

Velásquez took a big breath. “All right, I admit things have been rough between Felipe and me, but it’s not for the reasons you think. Do you think I would have come running to you if I had murdered Felipe? I could have just left everything to be found if that were the case.”

“The contrary is also true. By coming to the authorities you might have wished to deflect any suspicion that may have arisen,” the comandante pointed out. “Once again, Señor, you will need to tell me much more than you have already.” He turned to the soldiers at the doorway and gestured them in. “Until that time, consider yourself under arrest.” The comandante stepped through the door saying to the soldiers, “ Keep him here until I return.”

Captain del Guerro then went out the door into the patio where the sergeant was waiting for him. “Something very interesting, mi Capitan,” reported the soldier. “Back behind the barn under some fresh dirt I discovered a possible source for the blood.”

 

 

 

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