Monday, March 14, 2011


Usually Moonstone Monday and ALL PULP give you previously published stories from MOONSTONE in CLIFFHANGER FICTION!  This week, though, we share with you a COMPLETE tale from the upcoming MOONSTONE anthology MORE TALES OF ZORRO!  This story, and the others featured in the collection, star that sword wielding masked hero of California and the Early West!  And remember, go to when the book debuts in the next 2-4 weeks and order your copy as soon as its available!  And pick up the first MOONSTONE collection of Zorro tales while you wait!

Letter from Guadalajara
The Story of CapitánMonastario
by Keith R.A. DeCandido
Capitán Enriqué Sanchez Monastario loathed Spring.
One of the few things he liked about his assignment to this appalling
desert wasteland of Alta California was that, he imagined, he could escape his
twin weaknesses to damp and pollen. However, he did not reckon with the settlement’s
wealthier denizens (of which he was one, of course) having large
gardens filled with flowers both local and transplanted from the motherland.
And so for one week out of every year, generally around late March, the
flowers would bloom, the landscape would grow pretty, and Monastario was
not permitted to breathe.
The pounding in his head was only made worse by the arrival of his second,
Sergeant Garcia. “Er, Capitán?”
“What is it, Sergeant?”
“Er, well, you see, Capitán—the mail has arrived.”
Glancing out the window of his well-appointed office, Monastario saw
that the sun was at its zenith. “It is midday, Sergeant.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but the mail always arrives at midday on
Wednesday, yes?”
“Well, yes, sir, but—”
Monastario let out a long sigh that quickly modulated into a snarl.
“Sergeant, at present I feel as if my skull has been filled end to end with gunpowder,
waiting only a lit fuse that it might explode. The mere act of inhalation
causes me misery on a scale that would make a leper weep. You would
therefore be well to explain, and quickly, why you have gone to the effort of
carrying your corpulent form all the way to my office simply to inform me
that an event that happens at this time every week has, in fact, happened at this
time this week.”
Garcia shifted his great weight back and forth from one foot to the other,
an action that made the rotund officer look as if he’d teeter over at any minute.
“Ah, well, sir, you see, there are two letters here for you that I thought required
your immediate attention. One is from General de la Nueva in Santa
Another verbal skewering of the sergeant died on Monastario’s lips. De
la Nueva was the one whose signature adorned the bottom of orders that sent
him to the Pueblo of Los Angeles almost a year ago—and was also the recipient
of the letter Monastario had sent to Santa Barbara a fortnight ago.
“And the other?” he asked, rubbing his temples in a failed attempt to get them
to stop throbbing.
“There is no name, but it comes from Guadalajara.”
Monastario’s hands dropped to his desk, and he looked up at Garcia.
“Guadalajara…” He shook his head, an action he immediately regretted, and
asked, “Sergeant, is the J in the city name adorned with an unusual flourish,
and is it dotted with an X?”
As Monastario watched, Garcia’s face took on several expressions at
once, no doubt borne of the confusion engendered both by the capitán’s asking
of the question, and of the fact that the answer was apparently “yes.”
“How did you know, Capitán?”
Returning to the rubbing of his temples, Monastario said, “Read me the
letter from the general.”
“The request was clear, was it not, Sergeant?”
“Yes, sir, but—”
“You haven’t lost your facility for Spanish in the past minute, have you?”
“No, sir, but—”
“Then read the letter, if you please.”
“But, sir—I am not fit to see such documents!”
Monastario smiled bitterly. “Please, Sergeant, do not sell yourself short.
The list of things for which you are not fit is a lengthy one, and one I would
be happy to enumerate in detail were I in better health. In fact, I would grant
‘being a sergeant’ primacy on that list. Nonetheless, I am currently suffering
from pain in my head that would stop a bull in its tracks, and attempting to
decipher the general’s secretary’s hand will only exacerbate an already mis-
erable situation. I therefore, as your commanding officer, hereby give you
leave to read the general’s letter aloud to me.”
Garcia cleared his throat several times before finally saying, “Yes, sir, of
course, sir.” Fumbling with the envelope with his pudgy fingers—to the point
where Monastario was tempted to loan the sergeant his own dagger, and only
didn’t for fear of Garcia slicing open a vein and making a mess in his office—
Garcia eventually managed to tear it open and liberate the one-page item inside.
Unfolding the paper, he opened his mouth to speak, but Monastario, recalling
Garcia’s literal-minded tendencies, quickly said, “Skip to the important
part, please, Sergeant.”
Hesitating, Garcia said, “So you don’t wish me to inquire as to your
Monastario snorted, an action that felt as if it expanded his nose to the size
of Garcia. He spit some phlegm into the spittoon next to his desk, and then
said, “Correct.”
Again, Garcia cleared his throat. “‘Regarding your request for a transfer,
Capitán, I’m afraid that approving the request is, of course, out of the question,
and I am surprised that you would even have the effrontery to ask.’”
This time Garcia’s clearing of the throat had nothing to do with preparing to
speak. “Is the capitán sure that—”
“Go on,” Monastario said through clenched teeth.
“But, sir, I don’t think it’s right that I should see this—”
Slamming a fist on his wooden desk, Monastario bellowed, “Sergeant, the
only consideration I have ever given to what you think is to comment on the
extreme rarity of such an event. Go on.”
“Yes, sir. ‘You were told the conditions under which your term at your
current post would end. Those conditions have yet to be met. Until they are,
you shall remain assigned there. The subject is closed.’ Er, then he wishes
you well, signs it, and, ah, and whatnot.”
“I see.” Monastario leaned back in his chair.
Garcia stammered. “I’m, ah—I’m sorry sir.”
“Well, Sergeant, I must thank you—after all, my life is a quagmire of
misery, and my one hope has just been dashed. But that’s all right, because
Sergeant Demetrio López Garcia has pity for me! That makes everything better!”
Cutting off yet another pathetic exhortation, the capitán said, “Set that, and
the other letter, on my desk.”
“Er, uh—yes, sir.”
As Garcia moved to do so, Monastario added, “Unless King Ferdinand
himself enters the compound, I am not to be disturbed for the rest of the day.”
“Yes, sir. Uh—what about Zorro?”
“What about Zorro?”
“What if he enters the compound? Should I disturb you, then?”
Giving Garcia as foul-tempered a look as he could manage—which was
quite considerable at present—Monastario said, “Not then, either. If Zorro
comes today, he can have me.”
After Garcia’s hasty departure, Monastario slowly rose to his feet. His
reaction to the flowers made him somewhat dizzy, so he had to steady his
stance for a moment before continuing to the ornate wooden cabinet.
Like virtually everything in this office, it was scarred with the triplesword-
slash pattern in the shape of a letter Z that the Fox tended to leave behind
before departing a room. There were so many of those scars among the
furnishings that Monastario barely noticed them anymore.
Fishing a key from his uniform pocket, he unlocked the small door on the
cabinet’s bottom left-most corner, swinging it open to reveal a cubbyhole that
could hold far more than its actual contents: a thick-bottomed clear bottle of
an equally clear liquid that sat alone in the center of the cubbyhole.
He had yet to crack open the Tequila since he brought it here from his last
But he suspected he would need to imbibe some—if not all—of it before
he worked up the strength to actually read the second letter.
Monastario took a glass from the sideboard where he kept the drinks he
was willing to share with the superior officers, Dons, high-ranking priests,
and others of equal or greater station who visited his office and then poured
himself some of the Mexican liquor.
The memories prompted by the lovely, intense odor that emanated from
the bottle were almost palpable…
…you’re eight years old, riding with your older brothers Pablo and Juan, your
older sister María Esperanza, and Mother and Father to a dinner party. The
carriage passes a building that looks horribly damaged.
Ever inquisitive, you ask, “What happened to that building?”
Pablo looks down on you, as Pablo always does to everyone except for
Father. “It burned, stupid!”
Out of habit more than rebuke, Mother says, “Pablo, don’t speak to
Quiqué that way!”
Father adds, “That house belonged to the del Gados. Both the owner and
his two sons died in the fire, which is why it still stands empty a year later.”
“I don’t understand,” you say honestly.
“Of course you don’t,” Pablo says.
“Shut up, Pablo!” Juan says.
You shut up, Juancito!”
You ignore your brothers and look out the carriage window again. You see
children wearing too little clothing and covered in too much dirt. They seem
to be searching for something in the building. “Why are those children there?”
Father sighs. “Who knows why the peasants do as they do? Perhaps they
think they can find money there.”
“Peasants don’t have money?”
“No, stupid,” Pablo says, expectedly.
“God is very careful, Quiqué,” Father says before anyone can castigate
Pablo again. “He only gives money to those who are able to handle it. People
who are born poor are born such because God knows that money would
cause them evil.”
“I see,” you say, even though you really don’t…
…you sneak out to the building a week later. It’s easy: the house staff is too
busy trying to break up Pablo and Juan’s endless quarrelling, and to cater to
María Esperanza’s every whim, so no one ever pays attention to the littlest
When you arrive, there are three young boys there again. You’re not sure
if they’re the same ones, but they look similar enough. They are wearing
clothes that are in just dreadful condition, their hair is a mess, they’re filthy,
some of them have no shoes, and they’re all so—so skinny. You’re appalled.
“Who are you?” one of them asks.
“My name is Enriqué. What’s yours?”
Another one cuts off the first one. “We’re not supposed to talk to you.”
This confuses you. “Why not?”
“You’re one of the upper classes. If we talk to you, we’ll get whipped.”
“That’s crazy!” you say, meaning it. “Why are you in this building? You
could get hurt!”
“If we’re lucky we’ll find some money—or something we can sell. If we
do, then we can eat today.”
You gulp in shock at that. Eat “today”? Your eight years has never contained
a day that didn’t have at least three meals. “All you need is money in
order to eat?”
“Yes,” the boy says slowly.
Reaching into your pocket, you pull out some coins. You’re not sure how
much—sums were never your strong suit—but it’s an amount you can spare
The boys’ eyes all go wide. You realize that they’ve never seen this much
money before. “Go ahead,” you say as they hesitate. “Take it. You need it
more than I do.”
Eventually, they grab hungrily at the coins…
…you make regular trips to the house after that. Each time you go, you bring
more coins. Each time you go, there are more boys. You can’t bring enough
coins for everyone.
They start to get angry.
One time, you go, and you’ve only been able to scrape together a small
pile of coins—but there are a dozen boys at the burned-out building, and one
of them is bigger than Father.
The big one says, “That’s all you got?”
“I—I’m sorry, I just—”
Turning to another boy, the big one says, “You said he had money.”
“He does. He’s probably holding out on us.”
“Filthy traitor, leading us on!”
“Yeah, just like all the other rich people—trying to make us look stupid!”
Before you know what’s happening, the boys are all yelling at you, and
the big one starts to hit you. In eight years of life, your only direct experience
with violence has been the occasional spanking as a baby—until now. The
boy hits you and there’s blood and the pain is just awful
…Father is yelling at you while the doctor treats your injuries. “What were
you thinking, Quiqué? Did I not tell you that God wishes the peasants to be
poor? If He wished otherwise, He would have made them be born of our
“I’m—I’m sorry, Father.”
“Your heart was in the right place, Quiqué, but you cannot simply give to
the poor. If you do, they will only ask for more until you have nothing—and
then they turn on you like the beasts they are.”
“It wasn’t all of them,” you insist. After all, the first three boys were nice.
“It was just the one!”
After the doctor is done, Father takes you into the city to find the boy in
question. It’s not as difficult as you think at first, since this boy is so much bigger
than the others, and he makes no effort to hide himself.
When the soldiers seize him at Father’s orders, the large boy does not
deny what he has done. “He provoked me!” the large boy insists. “I was just
defending myself!”
You watch the boy get whipped fifty times, see him break down into tears
by the tenth lash, and you enjoy watching him suffer as you did…
…you revel in the melodious laugh of Marisela de los Santos as you walk
through her family’s beautiful garden in Guadalajara. You’re even willing to
suffer the stuffing-up of your nose that results from being among the blooming
flowers, only so you can hear that laugh again.
“I must return to the house,” she says, clutching the parasol that shields
her porcelain features from the violence of the sun. “Thank you, Quiqué, for
the company.”
You kiss her white-gloved hand the way your tutors instructed you, and
then watch her navigate slowly through the garden back to the house, casting
several glances behind her.
“That’s a fine form you cut in that uniform, Quiqué,” comes a voice from
behind you.
You wince as you turn to face Pablo. At seventeen, only two people call
you “Quiqué.” From Marisela it’s an endearment; from Pablo, it’s an unsubtle
reminder of which of you is Father’s eldest, and therefore his heir.
As the third son, your only option is the military, where you are placed in
the officer corps immediately. Your training will begin soon, but you already
have been issued the uniform of a cadet.
The compliment on how you look in that uniform is a rare one from
Pablo, so you thank him. Of course, such an occasion often precedes a favor.
“I was wondering, Quiqué, what you think of Señorita de los Santos as a
Your eyes go wide; your stomach starts to churn like mad. There is nothing,
nothing that would please you more than to make this angel yours.
But before you can reply, Pablo continues: “I can think of no one better
suited to be my bride, can you?”
And then you realize—this is why the Monastarios and the de los Santoses
have spent so much time together of late. The intention was to merge the
families’ fortunes through a union between Father’s oldest son and the de los
Santos’s only daughter.
Marisela will never be yours…
…Padre Esteban has been very generous in allowing you to see Marisela in
the days leading up to the wedding. It is difficult to arrange meetings—she is
awash in preparations for marriage to Pablo, and you are enmeshed in officer
training—but with the help of the priest, you are able to steal precious
time with your lady love.