(Continued from The Colonel Comes Home – 3)
A short, sharp, duo-tone whistle reached the ears of Captain Miguel Garcia, the head of the Colonel’s house guard. Captain Garcia, a widower who had ridden with the Colonel since the beginning, looked older than he was but he was still older than the Colonel. Still fierce but with a diplomatic side-a trait that made him valuable to the Colonel in a different way than the soldiers garrisoned across the river or the berserk warriors guarding the poppy fields.
Garcia, limping slightly from an old lance wound, materialized at the end of the veranda. He was tall with a proud leonine head and wavy gray hair combed straight back giving him a patrician air that belied his low country roots. He was not the type of man to be summoned by a whistle like a dog but since losing the hearing in his left ear from cannon fire on the savannah years before, it worked.
“You know the girl’s mother, right?”
“Yes. A Rondon. Breed of pigs, you ask me. The young one” he nodded toward the house “is the last of a misbegotten line.”
With a flick of his wrist the Colonel offered wine which Garcia happily accepted. He sat, stretching and rubbing his gimpy leg.
“What do we know of her father?”
“The girl’s? He was one of ours. Died in the Battle of Marzipan some years ago.”
“Did I know him?”
“I doubt it.” He shrugged. “Decent soldier-otherwise undistinguished.”
The Colonel pulled at his lip. As always, more information complicated things. “How did she come to be living in a stone house halfway up the mountain?”
Garcia shrugged. “Maybe he was a thief.”
“You think he stole from us?” he asked sharply, the question rife with dark import.
“No”, replied Garcia. “He kept his head until he lost it. There are endless places for a soldier to steal if he’s a mind.”
“But”, said the Colonel finger raised for emphasis “Doesn’t all treasure won in conquest belong to all of us?” Garcia shrugged uninterested in that debate. Easier to legislate against soldiers shitting than stealing. The Colonel let it lie. “Otherwise he served us well?”
“Adequately. Died well-at the front of a charge.”
“One of the human waves we sent at them, on the Sun Plains.”
“Ah”, said the Colonel. “A glorious day.”
“Not for him.”
“He was probably out in front to get to the gold first.”
“There is that.”
“Serves him right then. Why can’t I remember him?”
“You’ve commanded hundreds—thousands–over the years Colonel. You can’t remember them all. “
“Aye”, he waved it away like a bug. “No matter. Her house is ours now. You want it?”
“I’m happy where I am Colonel.”
“Leave it empty then. Take the doors and windows off so the mountain can reclaim it. Let her collect everything in a single sack that she can carry. Bring the livestock and anything else you can find here. It’s off to shit-town for her. Let them deal with her.”
“As you will Colonel”. He finished his wine in a swallow and stood. “Will she be coming back? Or is this a one-way trip?”
“Up to her, I’d imagine.”
“Very well.” With a nod that could have been interpreted as a bow, Garcia turned to take his leave.
“And Miguel,” the Colonel added softly. Hearing his given name, the Captain stopped and leaned back. “Use her, my friend. You won’t take her house, take her. With my permission. No, even at my insistence.” He would use words like this sometimes to disguise orders.
The Captain nodded and was off.