The Promise



Gail Manfre











Accursed town, accursed climate! A plague on the King of Spain, and His Majesty’s entire Army General Staff for reassigning me to this seedy backwater wretched excuse for a province otherwise known as the Pueblo de Los Ángeles, Juan Ramon Glorioso thought acrimoniously. As he lay in a double poster bed with one of the whores from the house of ill repute he himself had established in the Pueblo de Los Angeles, he contemplated how ‘unfortunate‘ his circumstances were.  

As popular as his “business enterprise” was, Capitán Glorioso was still dissatisfied.  For that diablo bandito known as El Zorro was already making trouble for his La Casa. Since Zorro’s discovery of the Commandante’s latest scheme to wring as many pesos as he could from the populace, Glorioso had been forced to post military guards at his brothel to protect both the clientele and his “employees.” The Fox had already verbally threatened Glorioso to close the house of ill repute or face his sword.  

De Estrada was a descendant of one of the most ancient Spanish families, the de Estradas. His ancestors were Grandeés, the highest echelon of nobility in Spain. Grandeés were of a more lofty social class than the hidalgos [“lords” or “dons”]. The de Estradas were among the original thirty families who resisted their Arab conquerors from the eighth century A.D. The family’s military heroes had fought almost incessantly in Spain’s Reconquista [711 - 1492 AD] effort to cleanse their country of the reviled Moorish rulers. As a reward for his clan’s loyalty and service to the Spanish Crown, de Estrada’s paternal great -great -great grandfather was given a Charter or Capitalaciones, which bestowed upon Alfonso de Estrada a hereditary title of Visconde [a noble rank just below duke]. Such was his power and influence that Alfonso de Estrada in 1524 received lands in Mexico, along with the Conquistador Hernan Cortes, together with all the income from minerals and crops the estates would produce, in perpetuity. Thus he shared in the plunder of Mexico and became enormously wealthy. And the hereditary title had passed to Juan de Estrada, because his brother, Francisco Roberto Glorioso, although he was the first born son, had died without issue.


But before his death Francisco Glorioso had squandered most of his father’s estate. and by the beginning of the nineteenth century, all that remained of the brothers’ inherited patrimony was 20,000 acres of cereal crops in Mexico. What was once the largest estate [nearly quality corn and beef but little else. Juan, like his forefathers before him, was a career soldier and certainly no estate administrator. Not that any member of the Grandeés would consider soiling his noble hands by actively engaging in something as distasteful as commerce. Such occupations were within the social venue of the lesser nobles [such as the hidalgos] or the tradesman class!  

Glorioso had discovered that Alta California’s Gobernador de Sola was a man of unquestioned honesty, his Finance Minister, Señor Ulloa, the Marquis de Granada, was no less adverse to bribery than any of his predecessors. As long as he greased the greedy palms of this official with gold pesos, Capitán Glorioso’s La Casa could operate with relative impunity.  

The money poured into his coffers from foreign traders and sailors who now were permitted to sail their ships into San Pedro, Buena Vista or Santa Barbara. He had also waged an aggressive but sub rosa advertising campaign avidly courting the patronage of the Los Angeles dons who, of course, had to sell their cattle hides to the captains of the seagoing vessels for export abroad to maintain their exalted standard of living.  The dons and their sons --at least some members of the local aristocracy -- had begun frequenting his business regularly.  

However the capitán desperately needed other avenues of income, for Juan Glorioso had extravagant dreams and tastes. With the acceptance of this present post, the capitán received twenty-percent of all the taxes he collected. The commandante devised a scheme to enrich themselves at the expense of the California people by “taking an additional commission” of ten percent of whatever monies they collected. In return for Señor Ulloa‘s silence regarding the capitán‘s blatant theft of Crown funds, the Marquis de Granada received five percent of Glorioso’s fees he gathered from the District of Los Ángeles’s property taxes and inventory/livestock levies.  

The capitán yawned, fully stretching his lean six-foot frame, letting his muscular legs dangle over the edge of the cama.  Glorioso nudged his bed partner in her ribs. To keep his La Casa running smoothly, the capitán recruited two experienced women whom he met in Mexico City during his last tour of duty, Señora Teresa Juniper Soto and her young illegitimate daughter, Carlita.  

“I have not seen Carlita today,” the capitán inquired lazily, “surely she is not ill?”  

Teresa understood the veiled threat in his “question.”  For if Carlita had been sick she would have been unable to work, and that would mean a loss of at least five pesos per day for the Commandante. If the Commandante had a weakness it was his fear of losing control of his finances. And Glorioso’s rage over the smallest reduction in income was too terrible to contemplate, because Teresa knew that she and her daughter would bear the brunt of his wrath.  

“No, Señor. I sent her on an errand to Señora Yolanda, the Cuanandera for some herbs. You do not want your best girl to become pregnant, eh?’ Teresa replied languidly  

Glorioso nodded in agreement. “Certainly not! Who would find a pregnant whore attractive and pay good money for the privilege of sleeping with her?”  His tone and manner suggested that she should not take exception to his language. Juan Glorioso reached over and patted her on the rear.  

“Never forget who and what you are, Señora Puta!” The Capitán viciously whispered into her ear, “you will entertain any man I send to you or to your daughter. Or should I make an example of Carlita as I did of Conchetta Miro?” Without a backward glance he marched from the bedroom.






Back in the secret cave, Diego changed into his dressing gown and plotted far into the night on ways to interfere with Glorioso’s business. After spending hours pondering without formulating a plan with a reasonable chance of succeeding, the Fox decided to retire for the evening.  

“Well,” he nodded sleepily to Bernardo, “perhaps something will occur to me while I am in bed.” He pulled his watch from his vest.  “Dios! it is nearly one o’clock in the morning.”  

Diego tossed his blue and white silk dressing gown onto the chest at the foot of his four poster bed. “Capitán Glorioso’s ‘customers!’ he exclaimed in disgust as he resumed pacing in his room, “I must discover who visits his ‘House of Hospitality’ and then Zorro can ‘persuade’ them to bypass the inn altogether. Yes, that is what I must do. Later tonight the Fox will have the Commandante’s foul business under close and personal observation!” Diego said as snapped his fingers. “But now I must rest.”






Diego de la Vega and Bernardo entered La Casa de Hospitalidad shortly after sundown.  He ordered two plates of chilies rellenos and arroz con pollo for their supper. When the waitress left a large bottle of wine on the table, Diego whispered. Remember we are only interested in the dons or their sons, Bernardo. His friend placed his knife over his empty plate in their prearranged signal.  I understand.  

His mozo looked askance at Diego. ‘What or who is occupying your thoughts my master?’

“You know me too well, my friend. Señorita Selena de Rojas.“ I have some serious thinking to do.” 

Diego lapsed into silence as he lit one of his trademark Cuban cigars. He permitted his musings to focus on his pending meeting with the señorita. His father told him Don Martino was a stern businessman who was always extremely difficult to negotiate with in the few transactions Don Alejandro had with him.  Perhaps the daughter is a mirror image of the father. hard ... cold. It would certainly make my rejection of Selena more palatable to everyone involved except of course, the señorita herself.

He then raised his head just enough to scan the dining room. Diego narrowed his hazel eyes as a petite and very attractive female approached their table.  My, my, he thought caustically, Señorita Carlita certainly works fast.  We have not even been served our food yet.

“Welcome to La Casa de Hospitalidad, Señor. I have not seen you in here before.  May I join you?”  

Believe me, if it were not truly necessary for me to ‘socialize’ with you, sorita, I would choose to walk over hot coals barefoot instead.  Well, when in Rome, behave the way a Roman would...   he thought amiably.  

Diego smiled his most ingratiating smile.  “Certainly, señorita. And this is the first time I have met you, Señorita.....”  

“Soto. I have only just arrived from Mexico City.  You may simply call me Carlita.”  She opened her kohl-lined eyes wide in what, Diego assumed felt, was her idea of sophisticated flirtation.  

“Carlita, a most charming name.  Por favor, join us,” he rose and stepped behind her to help the Señorita into her seat.  

“Señor, you are indeed a true caballero,” she purred in a very soft voice.  

Diego almost laughed in her face at her obviously contrived attempt at seduction. “Gracias.” he replied through gritted teeth.  “Oh, this is my servant Bernardo. By the way, he is deaf and dumb.”  

Carlita threw Bernardo a disparaging look. “Surely, we ah, can be alone... Señor?” She reached out to touch his right wrist but Diego quickly repositioned his arm.  He turned to his friend and signed for him to move to another table.  

A waitress brought another bottle of wine. “But I did not order ...” he protested mildly as he deliberately ran his gaze over her voluptuous figure.  As he expected, Carlita responded to his visual appraisal by leaning closer to him.   

“Compliments of Commandante Glorioso, señor, but you did not tell me your name.” Carlita asked petulantly.  

“A thousand pardons, Señorita Soto ... uh, I mean Carlita. Permit me to correct the oversight.  I am Diego de la Vega.”  

Her empty black eyes immediately filled with greed.  “A proud name, and a wealthy one.”

Diego nonchalantly blew his cigar smoke into the air. Since Señorita Soto had invited herself to his table he had lost his appetite.  He truly wanted to leave this fetid place but he had to learn the names of a few of the dons who were her “clients.”  He slanted his head to the right. Bernardo was waving his white kerchief slightly. The servant’s gesture meant I am going outside to observe. Diego coughed once and Bernardo nodded before exiting the inn.  

Carlita Soto was so enamored of the prospect of a most profitable evening culminating with her “entertaining” him overnight in her room that she placed a hand on his knee. A bold move, señorita. If you only knew with whom you were really dealing. Diego thought acidly as he continued to ignore her. Carlita’s fingers began caressing his leg.  He continued puffing on his cigar and sipping some cheap jerez. Although Carlita was very pretty, she could indeed be beautiful if she discarded the bold and heavy makeup. Her lovely brown eyes were probably once dewy and innocent but at age sixteen -- the caballero guessed -- she was already a seasoned prostituta. He did not judge the Spanish ladies-in-waiting at the Court of His Majesty Ferdinand VII regarding their habit of rouging their cheeks and lips and delicately enhancing  their eyes. But Carlita’s eyes now only bespoke of a harsh life of miserable poverty and abuse. Diego then swallowed his pity for the woman and steadfastly kept a bored look on his face. You shall have to work much harder than this to earn your pesos, Carlita ...






Chapter Four
Chapter One
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