The Return
                                                                      Chapter Ten

The late afternoon was still hot as Monastario approached the cuartel gates tired from the long trying day.  He was anxious to relax in the comfort of his quarters where he could clear his mind of the words Anna Maria spoke which haunted him.  Monastario had returned to Los Angeles from Spain consumed by hatred and revenge but was this still his desire?  Dismounting his horse the commandante handed the reins to a guard and walked toward his office only to be met by Sergeant Garcia.

"Sir, if you have a few moments may I speak with you?" said Garcia timidly.

"Of course Sergeant come into my office," said Monastario motioning to Garcia to follow him.

In his office Monastario hung his hat and sword on a nearby hook.  After unbuttoning and removing his jacket the commandante tossed it on a chair before pouring himself some wine.  Making his way behind his desk Monastario eased himself into his chair and looked up at Garcia.

"Well Sergeant, what is that you wish to discuss?" asked Monastario placing the wine glass in front of him on the desk.

"Mi Capitan, It has been quite awhile since any of the men have had leave.  I was wondering if they could have permission this evening to go into the pueblo?" said Garcia unsure of the commandante's reaction.

"Very well Sergeant.  Make sure guards have been posted here in the cuartel and then you may dismiss the rest of the men."

"Gracias.  The men will be very pleased," said Garcia with a smile.

"Is that all Sergeant?" inquired Monastario exhausted.

"No sir, your signature is needed on the daily report I have left on your desk."  When there was no response Garcia asked, "Are you all right Capitan?"

"Oh Sergeant Garcia forgive me," said the commandante startled. "I was thinking...what is it that you wish?"

"The daily report, sir, you need to read and sign it," said Garcia nervously.

"Sí, I will do that later.  Gracias," he said setting the report aside.  Standing he walked Garcia to the door and said, "We can discuss the report tomorrow.  You are dismissed. Enjoy your evening."  Opening the door the two men found Padre Felipe about to knock.

"Padre, you wish to have a word with me?" asked Monastario.

"Sí commandante.  Sergeant, a pleasure to see you looking well," said Padre Felipe nodding to Garcia.

"Padre, please come in and be seated.  Sergeant have a good evening," said Monastario returning to stand at his desk. "What I can do for you?"

"Commandante, the mission Indians and I have delivered the fruits and vegetable to the cuartel and I have come to collect payment," said the padre.

"Very well.  Your money is here."  Opening a draw in the desk Monastario reached for the purse full of money that lay next to a picture of his late wife.  Sadly he took the pouch and handed it to the padre and said, "Padre, I know it has been a long time since I have been to church but there is something I need to say."

"You commandante.  Usually I hear confessions at the mission but I think the church can make an exception," he said seeing the troubled looked in Monastario's face.  Padre Felipe sat back in his chair his hand folded in front of him.

"Padre, I have made mistakes that have hurt many people including the church and yourself."

"My son, you are aware that even the holy sacrament of penance may not clear your soul and give you peace," said Padre Felipe seeing the regret in Monastario's eyes.

"Sí but then I do not have it now, perhaps...," said Monastario his words drifting off.

"I understand.  Please continue," said Padre Felipe.

"Gracias Padre," said Monastario hoping that this would help him be free of the confusing emotions which clouded his thoughts.  "I was not always the monster you see before you. Long ago I believed in truth and justice but events took place that changed me.  I became hardened and without conscience struck at the very heart of what was good and right.  Recently when I returned to Los Angeles it was not to do right by the people but to exact revenge on one man, Zorro.  He has made me look foolish at every turn and I wished to destroy him," he said putting a hand to his forehead.

"Wished to destroy him.  Is that not what you want now?" asked Padre Felipe.

"I am not sure.  I thought this is what I wanted until I met Sernorita Leonar.  I truly feel ashamed and not worthy of this woman.  Padre, if I make the wrong decision I will lose her and cause another person much suffering.  I no longer know what to do.  Perhaps the fault has been mine all along."

"I cannot make this decision for you, my son.  You must look within your own heart for the answers but we can pray together for guidance if you wish," said Padre Felipe as Monastario bowed his head.

In the tavern having a quiet supper sat Don Miguel Ramirez.  He had arrived in Los Angeles to purchase some cattle from his father's old friend, Alejandro de la Vega.  The two older dons had become close friends when they were classmates in Madrid. I n fact Don Carlos had introduced Alejandro to his wife and even distance had not ended their friendship.  However tomorrow would be time enough for business and becoming acquainted with the de la Vegas.  For this evening Don Miguel would enjoy the hospitality offered by the tavern.  Wine, women and the good life was his primary concern.

On this particular evening the tavern was presenting a night of exciting dance by a young, dark haired beauty named Rosa Salazar.  This fiery dancer from Monterey attracted a large well paying crowd.  There were many travelers, landowners and soldiers from the cuartel waiting with eager anticipation for the performance.  The lancers ordered food and drink freely their pocket filled with months of back pay.  Entering the tavern Sergeant Garcia and his friend, Corporal Reyes, acknowledged several people as they made their way to a table.

"Buenos noches," said Garcia approaching Don Miguel's table.  "How are you this evening?"

"Very well Sergeant," he said noticing the tables filled with customers.  "I would be honored if you and the corporal would join me."

"Gracias," said Garcia and Reyes removing their hats as they sat down at the table.

Raising his hand Don Miguel signaled to the barmaid to bring more wine and extra glasses to the table.  Quickly she gathered the wine and glasses on a tray and made her way to the table where the three men waited.  Don Miguel dropped some coins on the barmaid's tray before picking up the bottle and pouring some wine into the soldier's glasses.  Lifting his glass he proposed a toast. 

"Gentlemen, a toast to a most pleasurable evening," he said with a cheery grin.

Soon the guitarists began to play and after a short introduction Rosa made her entrance. A single red rose was held in her hand as she glided about the floor. Pressing the rose to her lips she passed it to Don Miguel with a flirtatious smile. With the rose in his hand raised to his cheek he nodded to Rosa as she passed his table once again. When her dance was concluded Rosa was greeted by Don Miguel who asked her to join him at his table for a drink. The amorous glances between the two did not go unnoticed by Garcia and Reyes as they drank their wine. Tonight many young caballero's would seek Rosa's favor but only one would manage to catch her attention.

Unable to sleep Monastario rose from his bed and proceeded into his office where he lit some candles. He was still unsure what he wanted to do but his earlier talk with Padre Felipe had helped. Diego, as Zorro, had embarrassed him many times but was this reason enough to wish him dead. Monastario hoped he would make the right choice or he could lose everything even his life. Opening up the side draw of his desk he pulled out the picture of his wife. All his hopes and dreams had died with her in Spain but now he had another chance. What would he do?

Climbing through the commandante's window a dark, shadowy figure looked about. Deliberately he moved through the bedroom to the office door. Taking his sword from his scabbard Zorro slowly turned the handle and made his way behind the chair where Monastario sat. Placing his sword at the base of the commandante's neck Zorro said, "Good evening commandante. A lovely night, eh."

"What do you want," said the commandante stiffening.

Gradually Zorro moved the blade until he stood facing Monastario. Leaning against the desk, his sword held at the commandante's throat he said with a sly grin, "A beautiful woman. Who is she commandante?"

"She was my wife," he said the words catching in his throat. Monastario placed the picture in the draw and slid it closed without taking his eyes off Zorro. "What do you want," he repeated.

"I think it is time we should finish what we started," said Zorro.

"Very well. Let me have my sword," said Monastario.

"No, not here. Your men are occupied at the moment in the tavern. Why do we not meet on the road outside the pueblo and find a quiet place to settle our differences," said Zorro replacing his sword.

"I will be there," Monastario said standing to face Zorro.

Saluting the commandante Zorro quickly disappeared the way he came. Monastario opened the draw to his desk to look once more at his wife's picture before grabbing his things and making his way out of his office to the stable. With his horse saddled the commandante mounted and rode out of the cuartel headed for his meeting with Zorro. This was the opportunity he had long waited for but no longer did he have the same desire for power and riches. The words Anna Maria spoke and his feeling for Leonar had changed him.