The Trial, part one
by Maril Swan
Part Two of Three
lounged against the far wall watching her. They were sloppily
and unshaven; their rifles stood next to them near their languid
Now and then, they whispered and sniggered together then took another
pull at the bottle of wine they were sharing. Tessa forced herself to
look away and try to ignore them. She wondered how much bottle-fed
it would take for them to attempt to attack her in the cell. Tessa
that they would not dare to touch her if there was any discipline
the soldiers these days. She almost wished that Montoya or even
were here to keep these louts in order. At length, one of the soldiers
stumbled forward and fell against the bars of her cell. He leered at
her through the opening, then grinned, revealing a mouthful of
look lonely in there, señorita. How would you like some
but as you can see, I only paid for a single room," Tessa tossed
back with a smile, keeping herself tensed and ready.
sure that cot can hold two," his friend called out. "Go on,
Rico. Give her a little thrill before she dies."
fumbled at his belt for the key. Tessa drew an excited breath as he
finally gripped it and began to push it into the lock. She could
overpower these two drunks and escape. It was just a matter of timing.
As he wrestled with the key, scratching away trying to insert it, she
watched in nervous frustration, and was about to suggest she could
the door herself when a loud bellow startled the soldier and he
the key. A second later, a pair of beefy hands had gripped him by the
shoulders and thrust him across the corridor against his
is the meaning of this outrage?" Don Gaspar shouted at the two
who now cowered near each other. "What did you think you were
to do, let her escape?"
Señor Hidalgo," Rico whined. "We were just going to
check that she had no weapons or anything she could use to
idiots!" Gaspar raged, his face turning a bright shade of red.
"The moment you opened the door, she would be gone." His
moved to the wine bottle hanging loosely from the second guard's hand.
"Drinking on duty? You are both on report. When Colonel Montoya
returns, he will deal with you."
to the Queen, Gaspar said, "It is a lucky thing we came here when
we did." He was accompanied by three other men, all dons whom
laughed shortly. "Unlucky for me, you mean."
walked into the cell corridor, which was now crowded with men. He
her eye and smiled slightly, though his look was cool. "What's
on here?" He gestured to the cell. "This arrangement is not
fit for a woman. She has no privacy from louts like those," he
added pointing at the drunken guards. "I demand that some kind
of curtain be put over the front of this cell."
Gaspar's eyes narrow and his lips tighten. The don was not used to
orders, especially from an upstart British doctor. She was almost sure
Gaspar would refuse; his pride in front of his peers would not let him
bend so far as to accede to the demand. But she was
nodded slowly. "You are quite right, Doctor Helm. This lady needs
to be protected from the prying eyes of the guards. They have not
her with respect." Grabbing Rico by the collar, Gaspar shoved him
toward the exit into the guard room. "Go to the hotel and get a
clean sheet to hang in front of the bars."
one without holes in it," Helm called after the soldier who
out of the corridor.
slowly off the cot and moved toward the cell door. The key was still
lying on the floor, tantalizingly close, only a few inches outside the
door. If she could reach it with her boot, she could pull it inside,
perhaps with no one noticing. As she reached the bars, Don Humberto
Caruso bent down and picked up the key. He gave her a knowing smile
as he handed it to Gaspar.
laughed, a caustic edge that nullified any levity."You weren't
thinking of taking that key, were you,
her fists in frustration. It would be Don Humberto who noticed what
she was doing. She hated him. He had bought Don Federico, her
property from Montoya for a pittance, probably for some service
She was sure he and Montoya were in league together; perhaps he was
on the list that Señora Caplatas, the voodoo priestess, had
containing the names of those involved in don Rafael's murder. The
had burnt in the fire that might also have claimed the priestess'
Tessa unclenched her jaw and forced a smile. "Of course not,
Caruso. I was just stretching my legs. This cell is so
barked his nasty laugh again. "It is meant to be, to confine
when the trial began which side of the question he would be on. He
vote for the death penalty whether he believed she was guilty or not.
It was a test of his loyalty to Montoya and he would not dare to find
her innocent and let her go free. She wondered how many other dons the
colonel had in his pocket. Don Humberto was younger than Gaspar, with
just a hint of grey at his temples and sprinkled through his heavy
and beard. His blue eyes were cold, calculating as he watched her with
a hint of amusement curling his thin lips. She was a prize he had
to take and her execution would be a trophy that Don Humberto could
display before Montoya. A coup proof that he had done what the
colonel could not. Don Geronimo stood beside Gaspar, holding a
delicately over his nose, his diminutive size a contrast to Gaspar's
bulk. He seemed weak, fragile with his wispy white hair and tremorous
voice. On the other side of Gaspar, Don Julio waited in seeming
his breathing a sibilant whistle through his wide nostrils. Don
nose was nearly of equal dimensions to the doctor's, but the don
down his with aristocratic disdain at her. A thin man of nervous
he was jumpy with quick sharp movements as if he couldn't remain
get out of here, Gaspar. The air is making me queasy," Don Julio
complained, his nostrils flaring and whistling loudly. He took out his
handkerchief and gave his nose a blow that sounded like a trumpet.
pressed her lips together to restrain a laugh.
soon as I have seen to the Queen's comfort and privacy," Gaspar
returned evenly. Turning to Tessa, he said, "My dear
I want to assure you that you will have a fair trial. We will start
tomorrow morning and Dr. Helm has volunteered to be your defence
"Ha! What does a British doctor know about Spanish law? I will
defend myself. I don't need any counsel."
the quick intake of breath from the doctor and knew she had hurt his
feelings, that he was angry. It was necessary to stop him from getting
involved. If she let him help her and if the trial went against her,
Helm would be Montoya's next target.
frowned, narrowing his eyes. "You will have a defence counsel.
Otherwise the people may think you did not have a fair chance. Dr.
will consult with you as to the witnesses you may wish to bring
away and strode to the back of the cell and sat down on the cot. The
fetid odour from the straw mattress rose around her, making her hold
her breath. She wondered if she would ever get the stink of this jail
out of her nostrils. Daring to look up, she saw Helm watching her, his
eyes hard and angry. Why couldn't he understand that she didn't want
him entangled in the same net that had caught her? Montoya was only
biding his time. He would soon return in force to retake his command
of the Presidio, and the trial would not matter. The colonel would not
easily forgive the doctor for disloyalty in defending his most
enemy. Whatever hold Montoya still had over Helm, he would use it to make
Helm suffer once she was gone. Of that much, Tessa was quite
seconds passed. She wished they would all go away and leave her in
She had to think, to plan. The drunken guard, Rico, reappeared
a white linen sheet. Gaspar ordered the two soldiers to tie it up
the front of the cell. When they were finished, a filtered light
through the fibres of the cloth and at the top and bottom of the
Tessa was grateful for the thin shield. It made her feel less like an
animal in a zoo, a creature on display to the curious.
Gaspar called, then pulled the cloth aside to peer into the cell.
there is anything else I can do to see to your comfort, please tell
looked up and laughed lightly. "You can open the door and let me
out. I would find that a great comfort."
regarded her solemnly. "That of course, I cannot do. Hasta
señorita." He dropped the curtain back in place and Tessa
heard him say, "You two are relieved of your duties. I will have
two other guards taking the next shift."
vaulted up the hotel staircase then paused on the top step, breathing
hard; he could feel the sweat snaking down between his shoulder
Santa Elena was hot but the humidity in Monterrey was killing him. He
waited a few moments for his breathing to slow then hurried down the
corridor and halted before a door. Impulsively, he grasped the handle,
turned it and rushed in. And was stopped dead by the scene before his
eyes. Grisham turned away abruptly, closing the door to the hallway.
He held his breath and clenched his jaw against the laugh that
to erupt. That first impression flashed before his eyes again -
seated in a hip bath while behind him, a naked young girl leaned over
his shoulder, her long dark hair like a veil covering the colonel's
chest. Her hands were somewhere under the water and her breasts seemed
to be caressing both of the colonel's ears. Her high-pitched shriek
and Montoya's bellow of "Madre de dios!" seemed to
in the room still.
to stare at the door, Grisham could hear sounds behind him; the slosh
of water spilling onto the floor, then the slap of bare feet on the
tiles, a rustle of clothing, some whispers, then a momentary
turn around, damn you, and tell me what possessed you to barge in
Montoya snapped. "And it had better be good or you'll be Corporal
Grisham before you leave again."
swivelled on his heel and faced Montoya. The colonel's robe was damp
and a puddle of water lay around his bare feet. His damp hair clung
to his neck and he absently brushed a few strands off his face while
fixing Grisham with an icy look. The girl had fled, probably hiding
behind the cloth screen near the tub.
let out a slow breath, savouring this moment. He had the colonel at
a disadvantage and both knew it. In his heeled boots and hat, he
over his diminutive commander; he was also in his dress uniform while
the colonel was in a damp bathrobe with his bare legs showing. The
he had witnessed also put him in a more advantageous position. It was
all he could do not to laugh. Grisham decided to draw this little
out for as long as he could.
straightened and saluted. "Please excuse the intrusion, Colonel,
but Corporal Mancera just arrived with news from Santa Elena. He rode
all day and stopped at the missions for fresh horses."
face coloured and his eyes seemed to bulge. "I don't care if
flew here on gossamer wings. What did he say?"
sir, it seems that one of the dons was going to punish a campesino for
something. He was about to have the man flogged when the Queen turned
up. She gave the don a taste of his own medicine with her bullwhip.
Hidalgo had heard that the don was going to flog his worker, and sent
Mancera with a small troop to stop him. I guess the new alcalde has
taken his job real seriously."
paused, enjoying the look of frustration on Montoya's face. It was so
delightful to rub the colonel's nose in his loss of total power. The
colonel moved toward a cabinet on which there was a decanter of
that looked amber and inviting. Grisham watched as a full glass was
poured, hoping futilely that Montoya might offer him some. Montoya
a quick, impatient sip, obviously just holding onto his temper by a
thread. Grisham forced his lips into a straight line; a smile would
unleash the colonel's pent-up fury and Grisham wanted to delay that
delicious moment a while longer.
his voice rising a little in excitement. "When the soldiers saw
the Queen, they went after her. Of course, she outran them on that big
bay horse and all their rifle shots missed. She's always had the
own luck, sir, ...except this time." He paused dramatically,
Montoya's eyes grow sharper and more furious as if he knew what was
coming. "This time, her horse stumbled and she was thrown. Before
she could get back up, the soldiers had her surrounded. She was ready
to fight, but they had the drop on her with their pistols. She was
and Mancera said she is now in the Santa Elena jail."
downed the rest of his drink in one swallow, grimaced and slammed the
glass down so hard the base broke, the shard pinging off the wall.
calm, he growled, "The gods really do mock me. For over a year,
I have tried everything, traps, bribes, huge rewards, everything and
she has always eluded me. Now she falls into the hands of those
dons by sheer bad luck. It is too cruel a joke, even for the
eyes followed the colonel as he padded back and forth with his hands
clasped behind his back, his bare feet making sucking and slapping
on the tiles. Abruptly Montoya turned with a determined look.
the men immediately. We'll ride in an hour and get to Santa Elena in
time for the execution. At least, I'll have that much
is too good, Grisham thought, keeping his face blank. "We don't
need to hurry back for that, sir. Hidalgo insists on a trial, starting
tomorrow morning. So Mancera told me."
trial!" Montoya slammed his hand against the wall, eliciting a
little screech from the girl still hiding behind the screen. "A
trial? After all she has done, the fact she was captured wearing the
Queen's costume, harming a don, one of their own? And now she gets a
trial? By all the gods, she is guilty! I will see to it that she hangs,
whatever the outcome of this farce. Even if I have to do it
He paused, his eyes taking on a distant look. "It would give me
the greatest pleasure to put the rope around her neck and watch her
die ...slowly. Her cursed life ebbing away as the rope squeezes her
last breath from her."
felt a little sick at the look on Montoya's face; it was almost like
he was in the throes of sexual pleasure. For the captain, killing was
a different kind of pleasure - the thrill of the hunt, then the kill.
Or maybe a bit of a power thrill, man against man, but not this
rapture that Montoya seemed to find in death.
the men ready to ride in an hour. We are returning to Santa
The colonel was himself again suddenly, all brittle poise and fierce
sir, it's eight o'clock at night and the men will all be dead drunk
by now. I'm sure the trial will last for a couple of days. There's no
need to rush back." Grisham's spirits dropped to his boots as he
thought of the woman for whom he had bathed and shaved so carefully,
then donned his dress uniform. She would be waiting for him now in her
boudoir. Waiting and wearing something diaphanous and soft, perfumed
and oh-so-willing. It had taken him two weeks of wooing her to get to
Inez Consalvo, wife of a Monterrey businessman, an exporter of tallow
and hides, she was often alone when her husband went away to purchase
shipments from local ranchers. For the past two weeks, Grisham had
courting her, winning her affections. There had been much furtive
with hands and lips and passionate kissing, even a quick coupling or
two, hastily done and unsatisfactory. Finally, tonight she would be
alone for several days, her bedroom vacant of her ill-smelling
Inez had said she despised the man; he smelled of dead cattle. Grisham
made sure he had carefully groomed and cologned himself for this
occasion. Now it looked like it would all be for nothing. He would
to leave without his prize.
shit, damn, he thought. Not only did he have to wade through every
in this squalid town to find those wretches, but he also had to face
Inez and tell her the evening was off. He was leaving and no telling
when he would ever return. He brightened for a moment. Maybe there was
still time for a quick...
voice cut into his thoughts. "The men will be ready to ride or
they will be shot for dereliction of duty and desertion. Tell them
try to find them, sir. It may take a little longer than a hour. There
are lots of bodegas and whorehouses in this town." Grisham
from habit, and depressed beyond measure turned and left
the hotel room. He wished heartily that Mancera had fallen off his
and broken his neck before he reached Monterrey with his news. As he
plodded back down the hotel staircase, he pictured Inez, her soft
eyes darkening with excitement, her full soft lips opening for him,
the passionate breathy Spanish she would whisper against his ear. To
hell with it, he decided as he headed for the back street that led
to the rear of her villa. The colonel's probably finishing what he
started with that girl and he'll be busy for a while. I'll get the men
Continue to Part Three
If you have missed any episodes so far, you will find them in the Season Three Archives section .