The Comandante of Monterey

and the Challenge of Señorita Anamaría Verdugo

 

by

 Eugene H. Craig

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 9

 

 

It was late afternoon when the door to the comandante’s office opened and Captain Luís del Guerro stepped in. Lieutenant Alonso Morales was seated at his desk and looked up. Luís gestured him to remain seated. 

“A long afternoon, Captain?”

“Indeed,” replied the comandante. “And how is the report coming along?” He unfastened his sword and hung it up on the wall hook along with the pistol holster.

“I’ve made all the notes necessary, Captain. I believe there is a sure case for embezzlement here, even without the second journal. Did you learn anything new from Velásquez?”

The captain sat down in a chair and stretched his booted legs out before him. “Just how evasive he can be. This could be a case of embezzlement, but murder? I'm not so sure.”

“Why do you say that, Captain?” Morales looked surprised. “If Verdugo was not cooperating with Velásquez, especially if he became an obstacle, murder would be a way to solve certain problems.”

“On the surface I would say you are right, but there seems to be more to all of this than what meets the eye. Because I have little to go on as of yet, I’ve locked Velásquez up as a logical suspect. Perhaps a little pressure will force his tongue. If not, I might have to go further.” Del Guerro frowned as he contemplated this. “By the way, I want you to contact a few of our friends here in town. Tell them to report to me immediately if they have seen Felipe Verdugo at all today or have heard anything about him. It’s time to activate our network, Morales.”

“At once. Oh, by the way, it’s only an hour away from dinner, Captain, just to remind you,” Morales said.

“I had almost forgotten the time, thank you.” Del Guerro rose and headed toward his private room. “ It would seem that if you need more time with the books, you now have it.”

“Captain, I have an idea. Suppose for a moment that everything we have seen today is all part of a greater scheme than what we have thus far discovered. Wouldn’t it be better to return the documents and plant them in a place where it could be argued they had been overlooked, or even missed among the mess?”

The comandante smiled at the man who who sat behind his desk. “You know, Morales, I like the way you think. But I am beginning to believe that neither Señor Verdugo nor Señor Velásquez has told us all the facts. Could it not be possible that one may be out to frighten the other? Let us hope that one has not gone too far in this direction.”

“Did you discover where the blood came from?” 

“There are a few possibilities. It might be Verdugo’s; it might be from a mutilated chicken that Sergeant López found buried out behind the barn. There is also the possibility that it might have come from another source: the bitch was missing from the barn, the mother of our mascot.” The comandante paused, then looked distracted. “Ah, I forgot about the little fellow.”  He opened the door and didn’t see the puppy on the floor. 

“Not to worry. I let him out, then, gave him some water and a meal. He’s probably sound asleep by now.” 

“In the center of my bed,” del Guerro smiled spotting the little form curled in a ball. “Stow your materials for now and get cleaned up. We’ll have to get our attractive dinner companions to make some changes in their schedule for tonight and tomorrow. I will speak to Anamaría while you keep her cousin distracted.”

 

 

 

 

The officers arrived at the Inn early and enjoyed lingering outside, watching the shops close and people make their way home or to other destinations. It was not long before they caught sight of the Verdugo cousins. Both officers walked over to meet them and exchanged pleasantries. 

 Once inside the Inn, they took their places at del Guerro’s favorite place near the door. Here he could watch everyone who came in and who left without being intrusive. The table was just far enough away from the door that the clients did not intrude and far enough away from the nearest table to provide its occupants with just enough privacy for confidential conversation. It was an arrangement that the innkeeper agreed to for such a good customer.

Anamaría sat to the Captain’s right and Melana and Morales sat across from them. After the food and drinks arrived (the ladies agreed to half a glass of wine), the conversation petered out for a while as they ate. Del Guerro asked them how they liked the wine and both young women agreed that they really did not have that much experience with wine to say for sure.

 “I hope you didn’t agree to the wine just to be polite,” commented Morales.

Melana smiled in return. “It seemed like a nice occasion to want some, but just a little, of course.”

Anamaría noticed that the officers lingered over the wine a while. “It’s a very good wine, Melana. You just have to drink it slowly and savor how it goes with the meal.”

“ ‘Fella,’ the puppy, seems to have made himself at home in my quarters,” said del Guerro, changing the subject. ‘Morales played the nanny this afternoon while I was gone.”

The ladies laughed along with the lieutenant, but Anamaría caught the drift of the conversation right away. “Does that have anything to do with your visitor, Captain?”

Del Guerro was still thinking of how best to approach the subject, when the innkeeper approached the table and asked how the meal was and if they would like to order more wine. Del Guerro asked him about the evening entertainment. The man gestured toward two guitar players. Morales asked Melana to go with him to make a request for songs.

After they left, Luís turned toward Anamaría. It struck him constantly each time they met what an attractive woman she was. And here she was now, at his side at the table in her dark blue dress with silver trim. Around her shoulders was a white shawl with intricately sewn floral designs around the border, her own handiwork. Her long tresses were held back by a black comb and she wore silver earrings. Around her neck was a silver-wrought sea gull necklace with a touch of white and it reminded Luís of their trip along the coast. Her eyes were a warm brown and the lashes long. He liked the fact she barely used any makeup, for it would have spoiled her natural beauty. Her smile was extremely seductive, he thought. And her scent of jasmine was unforgettable.

He suddenly realized that he must have been staring at her and he cleared his throat. “I need to take you into my confidence, Señorita.”

 Her gaze was clear and she met his eyes. “Is it that serious?” she asked.

“I’m afraid so. I would like you to take Señorita Melana home with you this evening. Do not return to Don Felipe’s under any condition for the present.” Del Guerro kept his voice as level and quiet as he could but he could see the alarm in her face. He could see her posture stiffen and she took a deep breath.

“Don’t upset yourself, dear,” he said placing his hand on hers and giving it a gentle squeeze. “It won’t do you any good to speculate and I don’t want you to. Just stay at your own home tonight. I’ll let you know when it is a good idea to go back to your uncle’s with your cousin.”

“How soon can you tell me what is going on?” she asked in a hushed tone. She felt a tightening in her chest and her eyes began to water. She looked into his eyes again and sensed his concern for her reaction.

“I’ll tell you as soon as I can,” Luís said. “I’ll come by your home in the morning and let you know. Until then, stay here in town.”

“Thank you, Captain. I know you are doing your best.” She sighed, “I’ll be a good soldier for you until then.”

Luís smiled but said in a serious tone of voice, “You are a very fine young lady, Señorita Anamaría. Requesting you to be a good soldier in addition to that would be asking too much.” He watched her lower her eyes and thought that she would need to be even braver if things turned out the way they looked. He squeezed her hand reassuringly again and then withdrew his.

Anamaría looked up at Luís again. With all that had happened, her emotions were mixed and she wanted somehow to make up for her past feelings for him over del Amo. She was not sure how, so she said simply, “Captain del Guerro, I want you to know that I consider you a friend and not just the comandante. You don’t need to be so formal. So, please, just call me by my first name. All my friends do.”

“I am very honored, Anamaría. I likewise request the same of you. The titles need to fall away when one is among friends.”

“It’s a bargain, but if I slip up every once in a while it’s because you deserve the respect I’d like to give you.” She smiled warmly and he knew she meant it.

Del Guerro leaned very close to her, nodding toward Morales and Melana. “Your cousin seems to enjoy Lieutenant Morales’ company. He’s a fine officer and a very capable one.”

“I think she likes him very much, too,” Anamaría acknowledged. “After her recent experiences, he almost seems like a knight in shining armor.”

Luís had a twinkle in his eye when he replied, “Well, you should know that most Army officers like to imagine themselves as such.”

She gave him a look that was very knowing. “Just as long as I don’t have to put up with any more joking Don Quixotes chasing at windmills and running over the rest of us.” They laughed together and felt a mutual companionship in their corner of the world.

At this point, Alonso Morales and Melana returned to the table. “It took a small bribe,” reported the lieutenant, “but I think there are a few songs they will play for us.” As he sat down, he mused thoughtfully, “I remember, Captain, that you told me once that one of your favorite songs was ‘The Love I Seek in You.’ I don’t believe I know it, though.“

The comandante of Monterey looked contemplative a moment, as if savoring an old memory. “Actually it is a song based on an old poem,” Luís explained. “It may even be medieval in origin. I doubt the musicians even heard of it.”

“What are the words, Captain?” asked Melana.

Luís smoothed the end of his moustache with his left hand and smiled, first at Melana, and then at Anamaría upon whom he fastened his gaze:

 

                        At dawn I seek you in the songs of the nightingale

                        That entered my dreams all night long

                        And I seek you in the flowers of mid-morning dew

                        As the breeze captures the misty fogs

                        No warmer smile could shine but yours

When the noon sun blesses this Earth

                        And afternoon’s willows blow in search for your eyes

                        Long after sunset reveals the stars

                        And once again, the night brings forth my quest

                        For your eyes, your smile, and my dreams.

 

“That’s beautiful,” sighed Melana. “Really, Captain del Guerro, how lovely.”

But the comandante of Monterey only had his eyes on Anamaría and a brow was raised almost in expectation for a reaction from her.

Anamaría smiled, thought of her hero, Zorro, briefly, and knew that Luís had meant it for her. “It’s very romantic, Luís, like a Troubadour’s ballad. Thank you for sharing it with us. I don’t think I’ve heard a lovelier poem. Now, nothing they’ll play the rest of the night can match that.”

Melana and Alonso agreed at once. Luís thought her answer was a good one considering the progress he had made with her. “It’s all Morales’ fault, ladies. I had not thought of that for a long time.”

“It must be the company we’re keeping, Captain,” said the lieutenant and raised his wine glass to the giggling Verdugo cousins. Both officers saluted the young women with their glasses. Then the musicians began to play and each listener escaped into their own world of thoughts – and dreams.

 

 

 

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