PART TWO: "TRIAL BY FIRE"
De Soto's discourse was short and succinct. "This was not a crime of passion," he asserted. "If Don Alonzo had been killed during the fight caused by his alleged assault of Señorita Ortega, it would be decreed as such. But no," he sneered dramatically, "de la Vega waited, biding his time until he could get his rival alone then stabbed him three times. That is premeditated murder, a crime so heinous it calls for death by hanging." He glanced over confidentially at Don Ernesto and Felipe before resuming his seat.
The de la Vegas' lawyer then got to his feet. "What you have just heard is only one of several possible scenarios that could have led to the untimely death of Don Alonzo It will be my duty to disprove this theory and present you with the evidence that does so."
"My client admits to being quite angry with Señor Montoya. The man had assaulted his girlfriend. True, there had been a misunderstanding between Felipe and Ana Maria, but he still felt obligated to protect her. As would any man who had witnessed the woman he loved being mistreated." Don Ernesto stared hard at de Soto as he paused.
He returned his attention to the twelve men who would decide the young man's fate. "Felipe may have had the opportunity to murder Don Alonzo. He may have had a good reason. But he did not do so. He was raised to believe that human life is a gift from God and only God has the right to take it away."
The attorney sat back down beside Felipe, who wore a grim expression. The Alcalde called his first witness, the young private who had discovered the bloody clothing which was also exhibited. The soldier nervously related his story then was cross examined by Calderon.
Several more people were summoned to the stand, young men and women who had observed the end of the fight between Felipe and Alonzo. They had not seen what caused the brawl, but just the young de la Vega savagely beating Montoya. It was noted he had to be pulled off the defeated don who no longer had been defending himself. They also did not recall seeing Felipe with a bloody nose.
Diego sat simmering in his chair. Ignacio deliberately found witnesses who would help his case. He was almost positive that two or three of them hadn't even been there that night. Victoria still held his hand and placed her free hand on his arm, trying to calm the anger she felt rising in him. She was learning he wasn't quite as passionless as everyone believed.
Finally de Soto turned over the floor to Don Ernesto. His first witness was Victoria, who somewhat reluctantly left Diego's side.
Yes, she had seen Felipe with a bloody nose. Yes, she recalled seeing him wipe it on his jacket. She had almost scolded him for doing so. Victoria told of how she had to calm down the agitated Ana Maria, whose mouth had been slightly bruised as had her wrists from the assault by Don Alonzo.
"Objection!" roared the Alcalde. "We only have the young lady's word she was attacked. How do we know she didn't encourage her suitor and then changed her mind at the last minute?"
Felipe would have leapt from his seat if not for Don Ernesto's firm hand on his shoulder. The young man glowered at the commandante who smiled smugly as his objection was sustained. De Soto could not get Victoria to recant any of her testimony though.
Ana Maria was then called forward. She was trembling badly but managed to give Felipe a weak smile. She mouthed that she loved him, which he soundless conveyed back to her as she sat in the witness chair.
Calderon did not ask her any questions. He just let her tell her story of what happened that evening. ". . .and I did not encourage Don Alonzo to take liberties. I asked him to take me back to the fiesta but he refused. That is when he forced himself on me. I tried to get away but he was too strong. If it had not been for Felipe, I know Don Alonzo would have. . .," she paused, closing her eyes as she continued in a whisper, "raped me."
De Soto again screamed in protest. "That is just speculation on Señorita Ortega's part," he declared. "Don Alonzo is not here to defend himself against her charge. We don't know if he would have harmed the young lady or not."
Alcalde de la Roca sided with Ignacio once more. Tears were streaming down Ana Maria's face. "He did try to hurt me," she sobbed. Covering her face with her hands, she said quietly, "This is all my fault."
The commandante was ruthless in his questioning of the young woman. "And what did he do after you thanked him for ‘rescuing' you?" he queried with a sneer after he had badgered her for nearly an hour.
"Felipe gave me a letter," Ana Maria responded naively. "Then he left. I didn't see him again until. . ." She dissolved into tears again. "Until I saw him locked up in the cuartel."
"A letter?" De Soto immediately seized upon the opportunity to cry foul. "Why wasn't I informed of this? It might be an important piece of evidence." He glared at Don Ernesto, then at Diego.
"It has nothing to do with this," Ana Maria asserted, wiping her face with a lace trimmed handkerchief. "It is private, just between Felipe and I."
"I'll be the judge of that," announced de la Roca. He motioned to Mendoza. "Sergeant, I want that letter brought to me within the hour. Court is adjourned until one o'clock." It was nearly noon and evidentially the man was getting hungry. He banged the gavel on the table, then stood as did everyone else.
De Soto indicated for Felipe to be re-shackled and taken back to his cell. Victoria had to put a restraining hand on Diego's arm. "Help me serve lunch," she requested, hoping to distract him from strangling the Alcalde. It was true she wanted to injure the man too, but Diego seemed close to exploding. The lovely innkeeper just prayed he would calm down by the time he was required to testify. This was causing him tremendous pain, she thought. Pain she wished she could help him ease.
Diego took a deep breath then smiled solemnly
at her. "Just tell me what you need me to do," he offered. Again
he noticed something in her expression, something he desperately wished
he was not imagining.
Z Z Z
Mendoza went with Leonora and Ana Maria over to their shop, where the young woman retrieved the note and turned it over to the sergeant. It distressed her to do so, but she didn't want the stout soldier to get in trouble. He had been an important ally in this mess she had caused and she would always be grateful to the man who probably was going to be her stepfather.
The trial resumed precisely at one. De la Roca scanned the letter as did de Soto, who read it aloud with a sneer on his bearded face. Only the last line was of any consequence, a veiled threat that the young de la Vega would do anything to win back the young lady. Did that include murder, the commandante mused.
Felipe, his head in his hands, burned with humiliation and rage as his private words were being bandied about the courtroom. He turned to look at Ana Maria, her beautiful face wet with tears and flushed with embarrassment. ‘I'm sorry', she whispered silently. ‘It's all right', he mouthed back.
It was finally Diego's turn to testify. Assisting Victoria with the midday meal did indeed help him to regain control of his temper. He had to be dispassionate, for what he had to relate was of the upmost importance in proving his son's innocence.
He quickly told his version of what occurred by the river, concurring with what Victoria and Ana Maria had already stated. De Soto raised an eyebrow when he realized it was Señorita Escalante who had been with de la Vega that night.
Diego exhaled and closed his eyes. Now came the indelicate part of his deposition. "I examined both the murder scene and the body of the deceased," he commented. "Don Alonzo had been stabbed three times as previously mentioned by Alcalde de Soto." Ignacio smiled self-righteously as he inclined his head. "These wounds were not very deep and none of them actually pierced his heart. The large amount of blood on the ground indicated to me that Don Alonzo bled to death. If he had been killed outright, the blood loss would have been minimal. His heart would have stopped beating and therefore no longer pumping blood through his veins."
"Felipe is a very strong young man," he continued. "He has worked for years alongside my father, myself, and the vaqueros on our ranch. If he had indeed stabbed Don Alonzo, it would have taken him only one thrust to penetrate the heart, killing young Montoya instantly. The three superficial wounds lead me to surmise that someone weaker stabbed Don Alonzo then left him there to die."
Diego paused again. This next piece of information had to be put as delicately as he could. "Also upon inspection of the deceased, and this has been verified by Doctor Hernandez, it was obvious that the young man had engaged in intimate relations just prior to his death. With whom, I don't know, but I do know it was not Señorita Ortega. She was with either Señorita Escalante or her mother after the earlier incident."
Horrified gasps filled the tavern. Many people stared at Ana Maria with accusing eyes, despite Diego's declaration of her innocence.
De Soto was even more brutal in his interrogation of Diego. But he managed to keep his fury in check and calmly answered all of the Alcalde's inquiries. His testimony was also unwavering despite de Soto's relentless attack upon it.
The doctor was the last witness for the defense and he collaborated Diego's findings. The Alcalde and Don Ernesto both gave their closing arguments. Then everyone departed from the tavern so the jury could deliberate in seclusion.
Felipe was once again returned to the cuartel. He, along with everyone else, had to wait as the twelve men decided his fate. The defense he, Don Ernesto and Diego had devised had thrown doubt on the fact he had committed the murder. But would the jury believe it?
The de la Vegas and Victoria tarried at the Ortegas' shop as the Alcalde was adhering to his earlier visiting restrictions. Calderon and Ana Maria were the first allowed in to see Felipe and also the last. Not a half an hour had passed before Mendoza came running from the tavern, informing them that a verdict had been reached.
The tavern was filled once again as everyone returned to their seats inside. Alcalde de la Roca proceeded to his table facing the spectators. "Has a verdict been reached?" he asked formally.
"Si," the foreman of the jury replied as he stood. "We find the defendant, Felipe de la Vega, guilty of the murder of Don Alonzo Montoya."
Ana Maria fainted, sliding from her chair. She would have hit the floor if she had not been caught by Diego and Don Alejandro. Victoria removed a vial of smelling salts from her skirt pocket. Diego looked at her in puzzlement. "I thought this might happen," she stated as she waved the bottle under the unconscious girl's nose, "whether he was found innocent or guilty." Her calm voice was belied by the tears sliding down her cheeks.
Alcalde de la Roca banged his gavel on the table. "The prisoner will be returned to the garrison. His sentence, death by hanging, will be carried out at seven o'clock tomorrow morning." Two lancers immediately cuffed Felipe and removed him from the tavern.
Ana Maria began to come to her senses, murmuring, "No, no," and "It's all my fault". They tried to reassure her but she was inconsolable. The de la Vegas and Victoria watched as she was led away by her mother and Mendoza.
The innkeeper hugged the old don, then grasped Diego's hand. She stared over at de Soto and de la Roca speaking congenially with several of the jurors. "I am so sorry," she said. "If there is anything I can do. . ."
"Gracias," both men replied. Diego looked over at Don Miguel, who had sat silently throughout the proceedings. The expression on his face told Diego that he was not a happy man. The Spaniard should have been ecstatic with the trial's outcome. Had he believed the testimony Diego and the others had provided?
Montoya rose, said something to the Alcalde,
then walked out of the building. Diego had the feeling that he was
going out to visit Alonzo's grave. To celebrate or to ask questions
that his son now could never answer?
Z Z Z
A dark clad figure moved furtively toward the cuartel. It entered quietly through a side door, making sure it was not seen. Once inside, the person removed the hood of the midnight blue cloak, revealing the black curls and wan face of Ana Maria Ortega.
She knew she would burn in hell for what she was about to do but she did not care. Placing the cape on Mendoza's bed, she waited patiently for his arrival.
The door handle jiggled open and a confused Felipe was pushed into the room. Then the door was closed and a key could be heard turning the lock from the outside.
Felipe could only stare at Ana Maria. She sat on the bed, dressed only in her nightgown. He tried to protest, but his voice had disappeared again. From shock or anxiety or both, he wasn't sure. He shook his head instead.
She got up and covered the distance between them. "Felipe, please," she pleaded. "I love you so much. Please don't deny us this."
He turned away, not wanting her to see the pain in his eyes, not being able to bear to see it in hers.
"Felipe, this is all my fault. I should have listened to you from the beginning. It's because of me you fought with Don Alonzo and why they think you killed him." She paused to take a deep breath. "Please Felipe, I want to do this. I need to do this. I love you."
She wound her arms around his neck and kissed him passionately. He tried to resist her but found he could not. An eternity later, they drew apart. Felipe made two simple gestures that needed no interpretation.
"I want a baby," she whispered fervently. "I want your baby. This is our only chance, Felipe. Please." Tears were streaming down her cheeks.
‘I love you', he mouthed then cradled her in his arms. He kissed her tears then her lips. It was hard to tell who pulled whom to the bed but once they were there it did not matter. Their garments were discarded quickly and scattered on the floor.
Felipe looked into Ana Maria's liquid brown eyes. ‘Are you sure?' he asked silently. She nodded a little nervously. They had been this far before; although always almost fully clothed; giving each other pleasure without actually losing their virginity.
"Please," she whispered. And they
took the final step that made them one.
Z Z Z
Juan Bautista was late coming home that evening. He knew he would probably be in trouble with his wife but that was nothing new. It seemed he was in hot water with her at least once a day.
"Where have you been?" she demanded shrewishly as soon as he entered their crowded home. Children of various ages clamored to greet their father who was much more lenient with them than their mother.
"In the pueblo," he replied, picking up a grubby little boy of about four and kissing him on the head. A girl of six also wanted a kiss which he quickly gave. He avoided his wife as he did not want her to smell the liquor on his breath.
"I need you to talk to Marta," Anita Bautista stated as she placed a large pot on the table. "I don't know what's wrong with her."
"She's a female," her husband grumbled under his breath. "That's what's wrong with her." He started filling plates with the stew as thirteen-year old Magdalena passed out pieces of bread. Juan looked up as his son Martin led his older sister to the table. There was something amiss with the girl all right. Her eyes were so lifeless it scared him. He turned away before speaking to his wife.
"They had that trial today," he announced, changing the subject. Anita nodded briefly. "The de la Vega boy was found guilty of murdering that Montoya fellow. They're going to hang him in the morning."
"No!" wailed Marta loudly. It was the first word she had uttered in a week. Everyone, including the baby Manuela, stared at her.
"What's with her?" asked eleven-year old Miguel between bites as his sister became more lucid.
"I did it, I did it," she sobbed. "I killed him, not Felipe."
"What are you saying?" inquired her father. "You killed Montoya? But why?"
She shook her head and kept repeating that she did it. The terror that now filled her eyes frightened her father even more than the blankness had. He grasped her by the shoulders. "What did he do to you?" he asked, fearing the answer.
"He hurt me," she whispered, leaving no doubt as to her meaning.
Husband and wife stared at each other in amazement. Their daughter had been violated and they hadn't even noticed something was the matter with her until today.
"We have to tell the authorities," declared Juan. "They cannot hang an innocent man."
"No," Anita replied sharply. "We can tell no one. The fewer people who know about this the better."
"Anita, see reason," her husband pleaded. "We can't let the boy die just to protect Marta's honor."
"That is exactly what we are going to do,"
his wife stated in a tone that said the discussion was over. She
silenced him with her eyes as she finished putting supper on the table
for their hungry and wide-eyed children.
Z Z Z
"HEARTS ABLAZE" PART TWO: "TRIAL BY FIRE"-CHAPTER SIX