The Return
                                                                Chapter Three

The people in the tiny pueblo of Los Angeles were surprised and a little apprehensive of the commandante considering his past exploits.  However the children contiued to play their merry games and peons filled the plaza with their carts of fruits and vegetables as the warm breeze swept through.  For the time being Capitán Monastario acted in a considerate and generous manner but the happiness of all could burst at any moment like a dark cloud showering down upon them with cruelty and injustice.

In the courtyard of the cuartel two soldiers made their way toward the commandante's office discussing his return.  Capitán Monastario's appearance had left the lancers in a state of shock.  Sergeant Garcia, as acting commandante, had brought a unique freedom and respect to the position by his simple administration of pueblo business. Would all the good work accomplished by Garcia come to an end? 

"Well Sergeant, do you think things will change now that Capitán Monastario has come back?" asked Corporal Reyes.

"It is hard to say Corporal but I hope the commandante does not return to his old ways," Garcia said in a serious voice.

"I guess we will have to wait to see what he does," said the corporal taking up his post outside the commandante's office door.

Garcia raised his arm to knock on the door and waited until he heard a familiar voice  say, 'Passe'.  Garcia took a deep breath as he made his way through the entrance and marched to the desk.

"Everything is secure in the cuartel, sir," said Sergeant Garcia standing at attention and saluting.  "Is there anything you wish me to do?"

Monastario stood and made his way to the front of his desk with a smile that perplexed Garcia.

"Sergeant you have done an excellent job.  The records document all that occurred during my absence and even the exploits of Zorro. I t seems he has been a great help to you."

"Sí, mi Capitán," said Garcia astonished by such complimentary words. "Gracias."

"Sergeant, we must speak at length but for now we will leave things as they are. You are dismissed," he said as he returned to his seat. Garcia marched from the office puzzled by the complimentary words spoken by the commandante.  Confused he headed toward the tavern hoping that some refreshment might help him make sense of the past few minutes.  Had the commandante come back a changed man?  The sergeant could not remember a time that Monastario had not treated him badly or called him names.

Diego and Bernardo hitched their horse in front of the tavern after noting Garcia's entry to the establishment.  The two men entered and saw Garcia sitting alone at a table staring into an empty glass.  Could the well-meaning sergeant possess important information that Diego could use in his meeting with Monastario.  So many times Zorro disrupted Monastario's plans and made him look the fool.  There was no doubt in Diego's mind that the commandante had returned for revenge but what would be the method he would use to bring about Zorro's unmasking?

"Sergeant, you look troubled," said Diego motioning to the barmaid to bring wine. "May I join you?"

"Welcome Don Diego, you too little one.  Have you heard the news of the arrival of the commandante?" said Garcia quickly. "Capitán Monastario has returned to the pueblo."

"Sí, my father informed Anna Maria and I this morning," he said sitting while Bernardo made his way to the bar.   

"Don Diego, I am confused.  The commandante is not the same since his return.  He has actually been very nice to everyone.  He even had words of praise for me this morning.  What could have happened?" he said watching the amusement in Diego's face. "No, I do not believe it either," Garcia sighed.

The barmaid brought a bottle of wine to the table with a glass for Diego.  Pouring the wine for Garcia and himself, Diego said, "That is why I am here. I wish to see Monastario for myself," Diego said smiling at Garcia.

Lifting his glass to his mouth the sergeant emptied the glass in one gulp and said, "Don Diego, please be careful.  Remember your last meeting when the Viceroy was here."

"Sergeant, I promise I will do nothing to upset the commandante. I will be on my best behavior," he said patting Garcia on the arm as he stood to leave.

Diego and Bernardo left the tavern and entered the courtyard of the cuartel headed for the office. Corporal Reyes knocked on the commandante'sdoor and announced the arrival of Don Diego.  Monastario thanked the corporal and invited Don Diego to have a seat.  Standing inside the door Bernardo watched as Diego faced the man who so often tried without success to capture him.  Monastario looked at Diego with a sinister smile. 

"Well Don Diego this is a surprise.  Where is your beautiful bride?  I was looking forward to our first meeting," he said callously.

"I thought it would be best to meet with you alone.  After all our last meeting was not the most pleasant," Diego watched the look on Monastario's face change.

"No, it was not," Monastario's eyes narrowed as he looked at the man before him. "But that is all in the past.  We must look to the future.  My return and your marriage," he said forcing a smile.

A sudden chill ran down Diego's back at the mention of his marriage.  Diego was not worried for himself but for Anna Maria. Would Monastario be capable of using Diego's love for his wife to make him a target?  Whatever the commandante had in mind he was not about to reveal it especially to Diego.

"Now that you have returned what are your plans?" Diego asked.

"I have made no decisions, de la Vega," said Monastario as he walked to the front of his desk. "Things seem to have gone well.  I may sit back and enjoy...for a while. Garcia has done a nice job in my absence with Zorro's help.  What do you think?" he said with a sly grin.

"Sí, things have gone well in you absence," concurred Diego. "Too bad you returned," he said in a whisper. "Commandante, with your permission I must be going unless there is something else you wish to discuss."

"No, not for now," said Monastario.

"We will speak again soon," said Diego moving toward the door.

"Sooner then you think," added Monastario. "I will be taking a ride out to your hacienda this very afternoon to see Leonar.  The governor's daughter is a very beautiful young woman.  Would you not say?"

"Sí. She is a lovely woman," Diego agreed.

Bernardo opened the door as Diego approached but before leaving Diego turned and nodded to the commandante.  Monastario could feel the intense hatred within him grow as he returned Diego's gesture. Soon he knew the opportunity would arise for him to have the satisfaction he desired against this man who had cost him nearly everything.