(For the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, in December of 1941, a short story from One Half Dozen of Luna City.)

 

Adeliza Gonzalez-Gonzales – who was never called anything but ‘Adi’ back then – was just thirteen when her older brother Manuel – Manolo to the family, Manny to his Anglo friends – came to Papi and Mama and said to them, “Papi, I want to see more of the world than Karnes County, an’ at the Navy recruiting office, they say that I’ll get a paycheck nice and regular, and I can work on ship engines that are bigger than this house. Besides, everyone says if America gets into a war, then they’ll be drafting men my age, an’ I don’t wanna be a soldier, marching around in the mud and all that. The Navy lives good, and they say that the food is great. Can I have your permission, Papi?”

Mama got all pinch-faced and weepy, because Manolo was her favorite and oldest child. Papi sighed and looked solemn and grave, saying, “Manolo – mi hijo – if this is what you truly want, I will sign the papers.” To Mama, he added, “Do not cry, Estella, can you see your boy as a soldier, following orders?”

“But he still must follow orders – the Navy is as military as the army,” Adeliza piped up, and Manolo jeered and replied, “Nothing like the same at all, Adi!”

Manolo packed a few things in a cheap cardboard suitcase, and climbed aboard the bus to the city, and in time over the next three years the postman delivered hastily-scrawled letters and postcards; letters with odd postmarks and postcards of splendidly colored landscapes and exotic places. Manolo came home on leave once, in the summer, splendid in his white uniform and round white cap, carrying a heavy duffel-bag over his shoulder with apparent ease, seeming to have expanded from a boy into a man. Manolo was greatly excited. His ship was being transferred from the West Coast to the Hawaiian Islands. He brought presents for the family, a breath of fresh air and tales of travels in exotic far lands. Later, he sent his little sister a scarf of silk gauze, printed with a map of the Hawaiian Islands and pineapples and exotic flowers. Adi put it in the chip-carved box where she kept her handkerchiefs and her most precious small possessions. From that time on, a tinted picture-portrait of Manolo in his uniform sat in pride of place on the cabinet radio and Mama kept a candle burning before it always, a candle dedicated to Saint Peter, who had the particular care of sailors.

A winter Sunday morning, when the breeze from the north promised chilly nights, and the frost in the shade had not yet melted in the sunshine; Papa came to fetch Mama and Adi and the other children after morning Mass. Adi sensed that there was something wrong, even before Papi spoke. There was a peculiarly grim expression on Papi’s face, a hush among the congregation scattering to their houses after Mass, silence broken only by the tinny sound of the radio in Papi’s car.

“The Japanese have dropped bombs on the harbor, and our bases in Hawaii,” Papi said. “The war has begun, whether we wish it or no.”

“What of Manolo?” Mama demanded, her hands to her mouth in shock and horror. “Where is he? Is he safe?”

“I have no idea,” Papi replied, his eyes shadowed with fear. Adi said nothing. She was sixteen now, almost grown. She met Papi’s gaze with a silent nod of understanding.

 

Two days later a card came in the mail, from Manolo, a card on which Mama fell on with tears of joy. “You see!” she exclaimed. “He is safe! This letter is from him! All will be well, you will see!”

“Mama, the letter is postmarked the week before last,” Adi said, to Mama’s unheeding ears. A week later, a parcel bound in brown paper arrived, addressed in Manolo’s handwriting.

“Christmas presents!” Mama exclaimed, “From Manolo, of course. You see, he is safe! It is only rumors that he is missing, that telegram was mistaken.”

“Yes, Mama,” Adi agreed with a heavy heart and a show of cheer, for the telegraph office messenger boy had brought that small envelope at mid-December. The telegram from the war office was followed in short order by Father Bertram, then the priest at St. Margaret and St. Anthony, who had seen the messenger boy’s bicycle pass the priest’s residence while Father Bertram was pruning the pyracantha hedge around the tiny garden. Everyone knew that telegrams meant bad news, now that the war had well and truly come to them, but Father Bertram’s intended consolation and comfort were misplaced, for Mama was not distressed in the least.

“In the government telegram, it says only that he is missing,” Mama insisted, over and over again. “Missing – not dead. In my heart, I know that Manolo is safe.”

In the end, Father Bertram was the most sorely grieved of them all. He departed shaking his head and saying to Adi, “Your poor dear mother – I can only think that the enormity of your loss has affected the balance of her mind.”

Father Bertram’s Spanish was very bad, afflicted as he was with a very strong accent, reflecting many years as a missionary in the Argentine, so Adi was not entirely certain of what Father Bertram meant. She only smiled uncertainly. No, Mama had merely decided that Manolo was safe, and doing what he needed to be doing for the war effort and would not hear any word to the contrary. Never mind that Manolo’s ship – the great battleship Arizona, whose engines Manolo had tended lovingly – had blown up with a roar that could have been heard halfway across the Pacific. There were pictures of the battleship, half-capsized in billowing clouds of black smoke in the weekly English newsmagazine. Poof! Like that, a candle blown out in a single breath and a thousand and a half lives snuffed out with it. It made Adi’s heart ache to think of this, and she wept, but not where Mama could see.

That Christmas and many Christmases afterwards were not happy occasions for Adi’s family. They were not happy again until Adi married and had children of her own, to bury the memory of that first wartime Christmas.

She did not even cry when Cousin Nando, and Cousin Jesus Gonzales and a half-dozen of the other teenage boy cousins came to Adi after Mass on Christmas Day, 1941, announcing that they had all sworn a blood-oath to avenge Manolo. Cousin Jesus had already had his orders to report to the Army, but the other boys were intent on volunteering for the Army, the Navy, the Marines even.

“So … we meant to ask you as Manny’s sister – if you would give us all a token,” Jesus Gonzales affirmed solemnly. “We pledge to avenge him by killing a dozen Japs each. Our solemnest promise, Adi!”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Adi snorted. Yes, of course she was angry at the Japanese for killing her gentle brother Manolo, who only lived to get grease all over his hands and work on his engines until they were tuned and vibrated like the beating of a human heart. And they had attacked without warning, without a declaration of war, which to Adi’s understanding, was sneaky and unfair. But Jesus Gonzales, who was dark-eyed, lean, and handsome like a movie star, looked at her soulfully and begged again, until she relented. “Give me a moment.”

She went into her parent’s house – the house in the oldest part of town, into her room, and took out the chip-carved box with her most precious small things in it, considering a sacrifice of the scarf printed with that map of the Hawaiian Islands, the pictures of a tower and exotic flowers, and blue waves crashing on a white-sand shore; the scarf which had been a gift from Manolo. No, not that. She took instead another of her handkerchiefs, a pretty white cotton gauze handkerchief, printed with little blue flowers and green leaves, and the sewing shears from Mama’s sewing basket.

Out on the front porch, she met the cousins – dark-eyed romantic Jesus, hot-tempered Nando, and the others. “My token, that which you have asked for,” Adi said, as she crunched the scissor blades through the crisp-starched handkerchief; producing a dozen smaller squares, and struggled for something to say as she put them into the hands of that boy or this, thinking that this was absurdly like something from the old legends, or the movies on a flickering silver screen. She struggled for the right words. “Not in hate … Manolo didn’t hate, for he didn’t want to be remembered that way. But for the right, for justice and freedom, and for our people. For Manolo …” she lost the thread of her thoughts entirely, for Jesus and Nando reverently kissed the scraps of handkerchief as they were handed to them, and so did the other boys.

“Write to me?” Asked Jesus, at the last. “Promise, Adi!”

They all went off, in the following weeks, all with their small cheap suitcases packed, taking the weekly bus that was the only public transport then from Luna City to the wider world, and to the duty and colors which called them. Cousin Nando became a pilot, Jesus a cook with the Army, the others to service mundane or heroic as chance and temperament led them. Adi Gonzales was certain that every one of them took that little square of cotton handkerchief, printed with blue flowers.

Jesus Gonzales certainly did, for it was one of those small things which she found at the end in sorting out his things, after half a century of faithful marriage; a cotton scrap, discolored with age, so fragile that it practically fell apart in her hand as she took it out from his wallet.

But Mama … No, Mama never accepted that Manolo was gone from the world of the living. Against all evidence to the contrary; the telegram from the government, that Manolo never came home again, she insisted that he was alive and well, doing his patriotic duty for the war, still working in the engine-room of the battleship Arizona. Mama was first to the telephone – the telephone that was almost the first in Luna City in the household of a Gonzales or Gonzalez, certain every time that it was Manolo calling, long-distance. The war dragged on.

Even when it ended and the next began, Mama smilingly assured Adi and the family, their friends that Manolo was fine and happy in his work. For she had seen him frequently – or his likeness, in pictures of sailors on one ship or another, on shore leave, or in the newsreels in the movie theater in Karnesville. Mama did not allow the star on the flag which hung in the front window of their house to change from white to gold, and there was a wrapped gift on Three King’s Day for Manolo for many years to come. Now and again, Mama claimed that that she had talked to someone who had seen Manolo. In her later years, Mama even insisted that she had spoken with Manolo, on the telephone. In her final illness, she had opened her eyes one afternoon, and said to Adi – perfectly clear, “There is nothing to worry about, mi hija. Manolo has left insurance, to take care of us all.”

Some years after both Mama and Papi passed away, Adi’s nephew Roman and his wife celebrated their twentieth wedding anniversary with a trip to Hawaii. Roman and Conchita went to the Arizona Memorial, and surreptitiously left a bouquet of fragrant white plumeria flowers floating on the water; water still streaked with oil leaking from Manolo’s ship, iridescent streaks which the locals said were the tears of the ship, crying for her lost crew.

Roman and Conchita also went to the Punchbowl Cemetery. They brought back pictures. Adi is certain that Manolo is buried there, among the unknowns from the Arizona. After all this time, it hardly matters, really. But she likes to think of him, the strong young sailor in his white uniform, with his hands and fingernails from which the oil and grime that came from working engines would never quite be cleaned. She likes to think of him walking among the palm trees, plumeria and frangipani scenting the tropic air, the blue water and white foam, crashing on a sugar-white strand.

Now and again, Adeliza Gonzales-Gonzalez, who has not been called ‘Adi’ in years thinks she has seen Manolo, in a magazine picture accompanying some story to do with the Navy, or a sailor half-glimpsed in a television newscast. She is very careful not to say anything about this, of course.

(One Half Dozen of Luna City is now available as part of The Luna City Compendium #2, now in print as well as Kindle eBook.)

The print version of Compendium #1 is here: #2 is here

The Kindle version of #1 is here; #2 is here.

After the current stock of single volumes that I have for direct sales is pared down, likely we will only have the compendium collections available when we do book events. And – once Book Nine is completed – then very shortly after that, we will put together the third compendium!

The Return of Clovis

It came not upon a midnight clear, but a fortnight before Christmas, that word of the return of Clovis Walcott (Colonel, US Army Retired) arrived in the Café.
This intelligence arrived through the medium of Colonel Walcott’s youngest son, Robbie, allowing in his usual artless manner, as he arrived for his usual Saturday morning shift,
“Hey, Dad is coming home! The Dubai job is done and dusted, he said. He called from Atlanta last night. Got a meeting with some possible clients there, but he’s coming home in time for Christmas.”
“I suppose that Mrs. Walcott is thrilled beyond words,” Richard observed, biting is tongue on his next impulse, to suggest that Sook Walcott, the most ferocious tiger mother in several counties, was looking forward to serving as a sort of bedroom sausage roll, now that her husband was on his way home.
“She is,” Robbie replied, appearing now somewhat mildly anxious, as he tied on his clean kitchen apron. “Oh, hey – Luc? Dad wants to speak to you. About your intentions towards Belle, I think. He sounded kinda serious.” Robbie sent a look towards Luc Massie, who was industriously scraping the grill station, after the breakfast rush. Luc – tatted to a fair-the-well, body-modified with studs and ear-piercings through which Richard could have passed a thumb, topped with a multi-colored Mohawk crest of hair – hardly reacted at all. Luc was, as Miss Letty McAllister allowed, one of those odd children who had never quite gotten the hang of comfortable social interaction with others of their species. A genius at the grill, whose command of the sauté station was above peer and beyond reproach, Luc also doubled as the drummer for a desperately unsuccessful local alt-rock band known as OPM. Which initials stood for anything and everything which began with the letters O, P, and M, since the band members couldn’t agree on an exact definition. Still, having invested in a logo incorporating those letters, and all gotten tats alike – they were pretty well stuck with the letters and logo. Now Brianna Grant, the other teenage apprentice, who was finishing the last of those garnishes required for luncheon service, heaved a deep sigh.
“Luc,” she called across the kitchen. “Belle’s dad will want to speak to you. You know – if you want to work the sex-magic with her. When and if she comes back from New York. You’d better think of something to say, when he asks you if you do. And something to say to her, if you don’t.”
Luc finally glanced up from the grill. He appeared – to Richard’s view – to be comprehensively rattled at having a human-reaction problem presented to him.
“What?”
Brianna sighed theatrically. “Luc – Belle’s dad is back in town. Belle; you know, you love her, et cetera, et cetera? Her dad will want to know if you are serious about doing the sex-magic with her, or anything more intense. I know – you need to think about this all, before you formulate an answer…”
“I do,” Luc replied, although no one in the Café’s kitchen was entirely certain of which question his answer was a reply.
“My advice to you, Mr. Massie,” Richard cut into the conversation, as it was obviously a distraction to all of his staff, “Is to take one long and searching look at young Belle’s maternal parent, and decide if you wish to be romantically-allied to a woman with her very same qualities in thirty years. As the twig inclines, so will the mature tree, given enough time. No criticism of your mother intended, Robbie; merely a statement of the realities.”
“Mom is a firecracker,” Robbie acknowledged with a sigh and a shrug. “And she was pretty upset when she caught Belle an’ Luc kissing in the boathouse.”
“Upset? Upset is as masterful a bit of understatement as I have ever heard from an Englishman,” Richard shuddered, remembering the epic diatribe following upon that unfortunate encounter. Sook Walcott had not just chastised her offspring, at length and top decibels, but had taken the time and trouble over the following days to lecture Luc (from the street below the windows of the bare-bones flat that he rented from Miss Letty) and to harass Richard himself at the tiny vintage Airstream caravan at the Age of Aquarius Campground and Goat Farm. Until Doc Wyler, the owner of the Café and much else of real (estate) value around Luna City, had called a halt to Sook’s maternal warpath, there was little peace to be had among the stately oaks and Beaux Arts-era facades of Luna City for those who had the ill-luck to be on the periphery of the most ill-judged mésalliance since Romeo and Juliet or perhaps Abelard and Heloise. In the spirit of the seaman in charge of the last lifeboat to leave the Titanic, Richard inquired of Robbie – the fortunately even-tempered youngest son – “I know how your dear mama feels about all this. Any indication that your father will be more … reasonable? Or if not reasonable, at least… considerably less operatically-unhinged about the matter?”
“I dunno,” Robbie confessed, with an expression of honest bafflement on his features; features which merged the four-square and ruggedly handsome bones of his father with the sloe-dark eyes, epicanthic fold and pale olive complexion of his mother, who was alleged to have descended from old Korean nobility. “Dad didn’t really say much, when Mom vented to him about Belle. All he said this time was that he wanted to have a talk with this Luc, as soon as possible when he got back home.”
“I expect that he was hard-put to get in a word edgewise,” Richard still wondered how on earth Clovis Walcott; an otherwise genial and even-tempered man, managed to endure marriage to the tempest of temperament that was Sook. Perhaps – perish the thought – Clovis privately enjoyed the drama.

So, it was no great surprise, three or four days later, when Clovis Walcott appeared; mid-morning, after the rush to serve breakfast and before the rush to organize for lunch. Doubtless the good colonel had consulted with Robbie; a touch of professional consideration which Richard greatly appreciated. The dining room was all but empty; Beatriz and Blanca were attending to the last of the morning crowd, when Clovis walked through the door, accompanied by the silvery jingling of the old-fashioned shop bell attached to it.
Richard, as was suitable for a manager of what he hoped would be the top-line purveyor of excellent cuisine in a charming, historically-significant location, appeared in the dining room – although he was drying his hands on a towel strategically tucked into his waistband as he did so.
“Colonel Walcott – welcome home! So happy to have you back again, among us! Robbie let it slip that you would return soon … a good lad, and a hard worker as well…”
“Glad to be home as well, Ricardo!” Clovis gave every indication that this was purely true, in that he shook Richard’s hand with enthusiasm and brotherly affection. “Might you have one or two of your cinnamon rolls … and a cup of that magnificent coffee as well? I’d like to have a word with your cook, Mr. Massie,” Clovis added, as he took a seat at the big table set before the picture window at the Café – the regulars’ table, or as the Stein’s called it, ‘the stammtisch.’
“Robbie … was good enough to tell me that you would want a quiet word with Luc … seeing that Miss Walcott is somewhat serious about his … umm, their mutually-romantic affections. If you like – the two of you can go out in back,” Richard offered, and Clovis shook his head.
“No, the stammtisch will do nicely – and the conversation won’t take but a moment. Just ask Mr. Massie if he will spare a few moments out of his busy day. There are some things that we have to get straight.”
Clovis Walcott’s face bore a stern expression upon it; Richard hoped devotedly that he would, after all this brief convo was done, that he would have a junior cook available to deal with the lunchtime grill orders.
“I hope that he doesn’t take very long with Luc,” he ventured to Araceli in a low voice as he passed the cash register desk. “Or leave much of a mess. A lot of blood on the stammtisch will be hard to explain to lunch customers.”
“Plus leaving us short of a cook,” Araceli murmured in reply. “But I wouldn’t worry, Chef – Clovis is actually an old softy. Most often he lets Sook be the bad cop; I think they have it down to a science.”
“Just … keep an eye on them both,” Richard advised over his shoulder as he stepped into the kitchen to tell Luc that doom was upon him. “Come and get me if it looks like the conversation is going sideways, or the daggers are coming out.”

(To Be Continued, of course!)

18. July 2019 · Comments Off on Luna City #8 Now Available on Kindle* · Categories: Uncategorized
  • And other formats, too!

 

Luna City Behind the 8 Ball is now available in Kindle, and on most other ebook formats! Enjoy! The print version will be available later on this month. (And if you really, really enjoy the Luna City series, please post a review somewhere, and tell all your friends!)

10. July 2019 · Comments Off on The Cover for Luna City – Behind the 8 Ball · Categories: Book News

9780989782333-Perfect.indd

24. May 2019 · Comments Off on Fall Newsletter For Luna City · Categories: Luna City Info Dump

(There are some clues embedded in this for future developments. No, I won’t say what they are, I’m cruel, that way!)

Fall 2018 Newsletter-1 Fall 2018 Newsletter-2

09. May 2019 · Comments Off on Another Brief Luna City Background Piece · Categories: Luna City Info Dump

(This eventually will have a bearing on the search for the Gonzaga Reliquary, now thought by international treasure hunter, Xavier Gunnison-Penn to have been brought to the original Spanish land grant, of which the remaining portion is the Rancho Rincon de los Robles, and which is currently unaccounted for.)

The Three Woman Artists of Rancho Rincon de los Robles

By Dr. Miranda Ramirez-Gonzalez

Submitted to various local and Texas-specific publications and rejected by all of them

The Rancho Rincon de los Robles is situated in Karnes County, on the banks of the San Antonio River some ten miles north-east of Karnesville. It has been home for more than two hundred years to the Gonzales/Gonzalez family who originally were granted a league and a labor by His Majesty King Charles III of Spain, to his loyal servant and subject, Don Diego Manuel Hernando Ruiz y Gonzalez (or Gonzales)  whose two sons, Augusto and Tomas eventually took up management of a property which in those days, was situated far beyond those bounds of civilization as it was accepted at the time. The family prospered there, until the last quarter of the 19th century, when the eventual heir, Don Anselmo Gonzalez was forced by circumstance to sell three-quarters of the grant to Herbert K. Wyler, who was then established as the largest landholder in the vicinity. However, Don Anselmo was able to hold on to the best-irrigated, and most scenically pleasing acres on the banks of the river, including the venerable home-site, and a grove of noble oak trees at a spot on the river where Luna City would be established at a later date. His son, Don Antonio continued ranching on the diminished acres of the grant, specializing in pure-bred Merino sheep. He married a distant cousin, Agathe Ruiz-Gonzales, and raised a family in the historic ranch-house; a son, Don Jaimie (who eventually inherited in turn) and three artistically inclined daughters. The three daughters never married, but daringly continued exploring their various chosen arts far beyond the limitations imposed by the expectations of their class and era. Carmen (1899-1933, Aïda (1903-1954, and Leonora (1914-1969) were all named for operatic heroines, as their father was an aficionado of grand opera.

Carmen, the oldest, suffered all of her relatively short life from severe asthma and so did not venture far from home. Schooled in the traditional arts at the Ursuline Academy in San Antonio, she was trained there in needlework and embroidery by the nuns, achieving a mild degree of local fame for her intricate and original designs in all aspects of embroidery, tapestry, and fine lace. Many examples of her fabric artwork adorned the family’s historic home on the banks of the San Antonio River, just south of Luna City, most notably in a set of needle-point chair seats in the formal salon. She also designed and oversaw the production of an elaborate series of altar vestments for the parish church of Saints Margaret and Joseph Catholic Church in Luna City, which are still in use for the most elevated church services.

Her younger sister, Aïda was also schooled at the Ursuline Academy, and dabbled in the fine arts, including china-painting, before developing an interest in decorative pottery of the Arts and Crafts movement. Upon matriculation from the Ursuline Academy, Aïda prevailed upon her father to be allowed to attend H. Sophie Newcomb College in New Orleans, which offered an extensive program in the arts to women, including participating in production of art pottery. Aïda continued her art studies through to the post-graduate level and was listed as one of the schools’ Art Craftsmen. In 1929, with the failure of the stock market and the start of the Depression, she had to return home to Luna City, where she taught art and design in the Luna City public schools  and continued producing art pottery in her own distinctive style, albeit on a smaller scale than that produced by the Newcomb Pottery.

The youngest sister, Leonora, explored a slightly different and more eccentric artistic path than her sisters, beginning with sculpture, and jewelry-making, in a style which can be described as a kind of found-object Fabergé, incorporating polished stones or beads of ordinary or semi-precious varieties, with simple wire-work settings, or fused-glass jewels or stones set into finely-finished polished hardwoods. Her designs were for items as small as a pair of earrings or a pendant, to belt-clasps and table-top sculptures as much as twenty inches tall. During the Second World War, Leonora took a course offered in welding by the National Youth Administration. Upon successfully completing the course, she worked at the Brown Ship Building Co., in Houston until the war ended. When she returned to the family home in 1945, she continued with larger-scale metal projects, creating ornamental elements such as railings, grilles, gates and fountains. Several of her projects adorn the grounds of Sts. Margaret and Joseph, including a series of Stations of the Cross in the garden between the sanctuary and the parish hall. A wrought-iron fountain by Leonora is situated in the south-east corner of Town Square, opposite the War Memorial.

These three woman artists defied the traditional expectations of their time – and by pursuing their various artistic impulses against the odds, they adorned a larger community in a way which has continued long after their own relatively brief lifetimes.

 

 

02. May 2019 · Comments Off on A Luna City Short: The Wages of Crime · Categories: Luna City Short Stories

(The inspiration for this short story came to me last weekend in Granite Shoals, where a member of the local Volunteer Fire Department told me about two of his memorable calls.)

The Wages of Crime

It was Friday at the VFW – guest night, when those in Luna City who had never served in anything resembling a military – were welcome. The VFW, a reconditioned old temporary classroom moved from the grounds of the High School some years ago, to a tree-shaded glade on the banks of the river directly behind the Tip Top Ice House Gas & Grocery. The tall windows across the back of the old classroom looked out onto a weathered concrete patio set about with heavy wooden picnic tables and benches. This was the venue for many a local celebration, as well as being a long-established male refuge, just as the various church ladies’ associations and committees were the female equivalent.
Richard was drawn to sit at one of the tables outside with his closest associates in Luna City – Joe Vaughn, Chris Mayall, and Berto Gonzalez with his cousin Sylvester, dapper as always in a vintage Hawaiian shirt and chino trousers with turn-up cuffs. Chris and Sylvester had been Richards’ partner – if not in crime – then in a completely underhanded scheme to sabotage a movie which came to film on location in Luna City some years previous. Since then, Richard had felt considerable camaraderie with them. They had a history together of a daring and slightly underhanded deed done for the best of causes, under the nose of authority, such as the security team at Mills Farm. And of course, Chris had given him refuge several times, not the least when Sammi Colquhoun, famous for being famous, a lifestyle guru, sometime actress, one-time Page 3 girl, former girlfriend of Richard, appeared in Luna City to be married in a glittering celebration at the old Cattleman Hotel … to the fabulously wealthy son of Richard’s modestly wealthy primary employer. Richard had skated through that social minefield with the assistance of his loyal Café staff; pretending to be Chef Ricardo from Jalisco, who did not understand English.
The late summer breeze – barely mitigated by the shade of a stand of mighty sycamore trees – rustled the leaves overhead. Some distance along the riverbank, it appeared that work for the day was done on a new riverside landing. A series of Brobdingnagian squared blocks of limestone were apparently being stacked from the riverbank in stair-step fashion, reaching out into shallow water.
“’Lo, Ricardo,” Sylvester raised his own beer in greeting, as Richard sat down with a very nice, not-to-over-hopped locally-sourced India Pale Ale. “Admiring the new waterside feature, I see.”
“It looks like a staircase for giants,” Richard commented, distributing a collegial nod to all, as he sat down with his barely-tasted IPA. “What is it supposed to be, in reality?”
“A launching-ramp for the Mills Farm water-sporting concession,” Sylvester replied. “For tubers and kayakers. They start from here, and float down the river, enjoying all the scenic wonders of our little patch of paradise…”
“Might even include the spectacle of the Old Communards, skinny-sipping in the old swimming hole by the Age of Aquarius,” Richard pointed out, whereupon Sylvester made gagging sounds.
“Yeah, they’re building one on the river-front at Mills Farm, and a third one a bit farther downriver. Just before the bridge on Route 80 that goes towards Helena. Mills Farm is gonna run a regular excursion bus to collect them all.”
“It might be nice to float the river,” Richard mused. “Without the hazard of running into a stray house or two …”
“You should try it, now and again, Ricardo,” Joe Vaughn hoisted his own beer bottle in salute. “Yeah, I agree that your last venture on it in Uncle Harry’s boat in a dire emergency might have left ya with some skewed memories of the experience…”
“God – all I recall is the impression that he had a whip in hand, and that if I rowed well, I would live,” Richard sank about a third of his own beer. “And then the sobbing women and screaming children.”
“But it all came out OK,” Joe reassured him, and Richard – thinking it all over, at the distance of time involved – concluded that yes, it did. His prep-school experience rowing and sailing had all come to good use, several decades after their acquisition. Now Joe was waxing reminiscent. “Ya handled it all better than I did, with the guy that I was given to ride with, when I first got taken on to the Luna City PD.” Joe sighed, deeply. “God help me – I was supposed to be the experienced one. I had this prospective hire to take on my shift, all up and down 123, in the wee hours. New guy – just came out from California. Decided to bail from a tech company in Austin, wanted to get in touch with his inner hippie, come settle in Luna City and tell all the rest of us how we are supposed to be living … anyway. I take the probie on for the midnight shift – and as soon as we haul out, I get a call – loose livestock on the highway, from the Wyler place. Some a-hole damaged the perimeter fence, we got ….”
“Cattle on the road?” Sylvester ventured, and Joe sighed again.
“Nope. We got a couple of Doc Wyler’s emu birds wandering around loose. Ever seen an emu? Like an ostrich for size but got an attitude like you wouldn’t believe. Aggressive? Those bastards could give lessons to mules and longhorns. Anyway, so I got this probie – a potential new hire along for a ride on shift, see if he has got any game or skills at law enforcement. We got the call and located Doc Wyler’s wandering emus pretty briskly. Came up on them just by the cut-off to the Aquarius. I did say something about that the Wyler Ranch ought to get that stretch of fence repaired … and then I said – just as the emus showed up clear in the spot light ‘Oh, Jesus – do you see the size of those chickens?’”
“And what did he say to that?” Richard inquired, once the roar of laughter from around the table had died down. Joe grinned, reminiscently.
“Nothing much, but he was as white as a ghost, and his eyes went as big as billiard balls, looking at those birds, wandering in the headlights. I said – ‘Ya know what they say; everything is bigger in Texas.’ To which he said nothing at all.” Joe gave a regretful shrug. “We got back to the station at the end of our shift, he said ‘thanks-very-much-I’ll-be-in-touch’ and that was the last, the very last we ever heard of him. Guess he decided to say in Austin, after all.”
“Don’t beat yourself up, man,” Sylvester consoled him. “The last thing the PD needs around here is an officer who can’t tell the difference between an emu and a chicken.”
“Shoot, man – that wasn’t anywhere near the funniest call we ever drew,” Chris chuckled and popped the cap off another beer. “That has to be the time that those two idiots stole Clem Bodie’s bass boat.”
“Oh, yeah,” Joe also chuckled. “’Nacio Gomez and Reuben Sifuentes; Luna City’s very own dynamic duo. You remember them, Ricardo? Those two dirtbags who helped Mizz Mason heist twenty million in antique light fixtures.”
“Vividly,” Richard nodded; the attempted theft of eighteen original, antique Lalique light fixtures from the Cattleman Hotel during the course of extensive renovation work had only been thwarted as a result of casual conversation between himself and Roman Gonzalez.
“You would have thought that the incident to which I refer would have given them both a solid reason to reflect on their career choices, and make an amendment to their lives, but this is ‘Nacio and Reuben,” Joe looked across the table with a sigh. “You want to tell the story, Chris? You were the first on-scene.”
“You tell it better,” Chris grinned. “You set up the situation, and I’ll fill in the vivid details.”
“All right, then. This happened early in the winter – ten years ago, more or less. Now, you know that Clem Bodie is mad for bass fishing, and he had this gorgeous boat – a near to brand-new 18-foot Triton, which was wicked fast. It would be, with a 150 HP outboard engine. Well, that boat sat out on a trailer, round in back of the feed mill, during the week when Clem wasn’t pestering the snot out of the bass in some lake paradise or other. And so it was on a mid-week evening that ‘Nacio and Reuben were tempted mightily, having looked upon the wine when it was red … the beer when it was flowing, and god knows, whatever else they were pounding down. Or smoking. At about two in the morning ‘Nacio drove his old pickup truck around to Bodies…”
“It is a well-established fact that nothing good happens at two in the morning,” Richard commented.
“Affirmative, Ricardo,” Joe sighed. “So, ‘Nacio backed up his truck to Clem’s shiny-new bass boat and trailer, and Reuben eased the trailer hitch down over the ball … and they took off, going like a bat out of hell, once they got onto CR 81. They were heading east; god only knows what those two numbskulls had in mind for that boat…”
“You’d think, if you were embarked on a life of crime, you’d be doing your damndest not to stand out by going 95 miles an hour with a stolen bass boat on a trailer,” Sylvester agreed; it seemed that this epic was new to him. “But no one ever said that ‘Nacio an’ Reuben were the sharpest knives in the drawer.”
“That is probably why they have never had any material success with the criminal lifestyle,” Joe agreed with great solemnity. “It requires forethought, planning, and conscientious attention to detail. Fortunately for us in the law-enforcement profession, most criminally-inclined dirtbags are dumber than a box of hammers, possess no impulse control and have no grasp of the concept of delayed gratification. It’s why we manage to catch so many of them. One of those little details for which Reuben didn’t pay any mind – was the reality that the ball-hitch on the back of ‘Nacio’s beater of a pickup was too damn small for the trailer hitch. They went roaring down 81 towards Helena, and just as they came up to where the road crosses Cibolo Creek, the trailer bounces once, twice … and comes off the ball-hitch. For a few critical moments, however – the trailer continues at roughly the same original speed and trajectory as ‘Nacio’s pickup.”
“We figured out what had happened once the sun came up,” Chris picked up the scattered threads of the tale. “I have never seen a more telling demonstration of the concept of stuff in motion continuing to move at speed.”
“Newton’s first law,” Richard contributed sagely, quoting. “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Don’t look at me that way, chaps – I had an old-style prep-school education lavished upon me, for which my parents wasted thousands of pounds.”
“In this case, the unbalanced force was the concrete barriers on either side of the roadway over Cibolo Creek,” Chris nodded. “We found the marks on the concrete where the trailer crossed over into the other lane, bashed into it … and the boat itself came loose from the trailer, and continued traveling. Continuing at the same speed and in the same direction…”
“At ninety-five miles an hour,” Joe inserted. He seemed to be in a rather pedantic mode. “Possibly more. Although it appeared from the skid-marks on the road that ‘Nacio hit the brakes when the trailer shook loose from the hitch. His pickup, going at a speed slightly slower than that of the recently-detached trailer, and the bass boat on it … was torpedoed by the bass boat. It was a beautiful thing. The boat arrowed straight under the ass-end of ‘Nacio’s truck. Smashed into it like a bunker-buster. The boat was a loss and ‘Nacio’s truck was totaled. When we got called out to the scene … the rear wheels were off the deck entirely, and the front bumper was kissing the road. Clem was … irate,” Joe added, parenthetically. “He had to write off the boat and the fight with his insurance company over the claim was epic … You wanna pick up the thread now, Chris?”
“Gladly,” Chris replied. “The VFD ambulance got called out by the Karnes County sheriff dispatcher. Local good citizen heard a terrific bang and crunch out on the road and called it in; said there had been a massive accident with casualties on the 81 at the Cibolo Creek bridge, could we render medical assistance as the nearest to the incident. So – I was on duty with the bus. And there we went. It was the most interesting and awesome spectacle. Yeah – a spectacle. The empty trailer was there, sitting in the other lane, a good few yards along. And there was the bass boat, wedged under the pickup. ‘Nacio and Reuben were in shock. They were sitting there in the front seats of ‘Nacio’s wrecked pickup.” Chris sighed, apparently deeply relishing the memory of that call-out. “It was an awesome sight; I shit you not. They were sitting there, in the wrecked pick-up, looking out through the windshield, as if they couldn’t figure out why this had happened. Eyes as white and big as cue-balls. At least –” Chris added. “They did have their seat-belts fastened. You know – they did have that going for them, at least.”
“Karma in all it’s full, glorious splendor,” Joe added. “Getting nailed by the very boat they stole.”
“So, what happened to ‘Nacio and Reuben, once y’all stopped pointing and laughing? Sylvester asked.
“Time served in the Karnesville Correctional Center, and a good few stints of dressing in orange jumpsuits and picking up trash from the side of the roads,” Joe answered. “Until this last go-round with the light fixtures, I thought they had learned that crime doesn’t pay.”
“Some people just never learn,” Berto announced, demonstrating yet again his sure command of the transparently obvious.
“And thus is my continued career in law-enforcement guaranteed,” Joe stood and stretched. “As well as that of the Luna City Police department in general. Another round, guys? My treat.”

23. April 2019 · Comments Off on Part 2 of 1932 – Indians, Cowboys and Outlaws · Categories: Luna City Short Stories

(This is a continuation of an exploration of the past in Luna City: When Miss Letty, Doc Wyler, her brother Douglas, and Artie Vaughn (Joe’s grandfather) were all children, in Depression-era Texas. Just FYI – the Fort is a real place, in a park near my home. A kid-built timber teepee. My brother and I, and our friends had a number of similar forts, growing up in the days when being free-range children was the usual way of things.)

Douglas pushed off, and Letty followed; she liked riding her bicycle, even if it was an old and battered one. With it, she had the freedom of Luna City, the winged freedom of a bird to come and go without trudging in her hand-me-down, holey-toed shoes in the dust. They emerged into Town Square, at the edge of that sculpted grove of ancient trees, hemmed in by the facades of the various buildings which framed the Square with their ornate pediments, their banks of windows, their white-painted columns and discrete statuary. It was a busy place on a Monday, with automobiles and trucks putt-putting a decorous way, amid the horse- and mule-pulled wagons. Even in the midst of hard times, Luna City displayed a mild prosperity. The Luna City Savings and Loan had quite recovered from a midnight raid several years previous by the notorious Newton Gang to rob the antiquated vault. Their fruitless attempt to blow the vault’s door had only succeeded in shattering every window in the place and awaking just about everyone who lived above the shop premises in Town Square. The windows were new – but there were still several divots in the brickwork left from gunfire – not all of it from the Newton gang.

“I’ll be a minute,” Douglas said, as he leaned his own bicycle against the pillar nearest to the door. Letty sat down on the tallest step, next to her own bicycle, and contemplated the view of Town Square from there, and felt the familiar throb of pride and belonging. This was her place, bone of her bone, blood of her blood, as deep in the soil as the roots of the oak trees reached. She was a part of it, it was a part of her, and she loved it fiercely, even the awkward parts, like Artie and his diaper-clad baby brother. There was no other place in the world where she wanted to live.

Along the square, sporadic traffic came and went: Letty’s attention was briefly drawn towards one motor-car. A flashy new sedan, tan-colored with a cloth tonneau top, and not one that she recognized. Although a fair number of strange motor-cars passed by the Tip Top every day – most which came into Luna City itself were driver by owners who were well-known. She watched with interest as it paused along the square, and two men emerged from it, along with an elegantly-attired young woman. The lady was tiny, hardly taller than Letty herself. And she had red hair, combed under a modish hat. Letty noticed them particularly because they looked toward the Savings and Loan building, and it seemed they were conferring together for some moments. And then they got into the motor-car, and it puttered away. Douglas emerged from the Savings and Loan, with a satisfied expression, his hands in his pockets.

“It’s getting hot, Letty – ready for some ice-cream?”

“Sure!” Letty replied – for it was quite warm at near-to-noon, sitting on the steps waiting for Douglas. They walked their bicycles the short distance down the sidewalk to the Mercantile Building – the one which announced its’ name in white glazed bricks along the elaborate façade. Their father rented the street-level shop premise to an ice-cream parlor, and the small apartment above to the family which managed the parlor. There were several small divots in the brickwork surrounding the store-front window of the ice cream parlor – again from an exchange of gunfire; this time between Don Antonio Gonzalez of the Rancho des Robles, and a man with a grudge against his family – but all that had happened before Letty was born, although Papa frequently pointed out the small damage to the front wall of his property and often thanked providence that he hadn’t had to ask Don Antonio to pay for replacing an expensive plate glass window.

Douglas and Letty left their bicycles leaning against the nearest lamppost; the ice-cream parlor was relatively cool, with a ceiling fan lazily stirring the air – and perhaps the merchandise itself lent a suggestion of cold to the place. Douglas chose chocolate, Letty strawberry ice cream, a single scoop packed into a crisp sugar cone, and five cents worth of hard candy chosen from the short display of candies presided over by the beaming shop-keeper. Douglas resolutely paid for it all, although Papa’s tenant insisted at first that they take nothing for the candy.

“It would have saved you a nickel,” Letty pointed out, as they retrieved their bicycles, and Douglas looked stern. “He has a business, Letty – and it would be wrong to take advantage, just because Poppa owns the building? He wouldn’t have given Artie or Stephen a discount … well, maybe he would have given it to Stephen. But it would still be shady. McAllisters do not do shady business, Letty – we do open and above-board.”

“Yes – we do,” Letty agreed, and they pedaled away towards the edge of town, towards where the river scribbled a blue and deep gouge into the landscape to the south of Luna City. Tall trees, thirsty poplar, cypress, sycamore and oak lined the banks, in places with their roots revealed by erosion. Small footpaths and deer-trails threaded stands of native cane and thickets of wild plums and persimmons, blackberry tangles and swags of mustang grapes handing in festoons. It was too late for blackberries, too early for plums, grapes and persimmons. Douglas and Letty skirted the old Sheffield place, and the decaying range of outbuildings, which once had been intended to be resort with a hot-water well rumored to have curative properties.  But the resort never really took off, and the main house had burned and never been rebuilt because of hard times. The deepest pool in the river was at the bend by the Sheffield place – and that was where everyone went for a swim, at the height of summer. Letty knew it well – and also that it was the older kids who favored it most.

The Fort – the hide-out, club-house and refuge of hers and Douglas’s friends was some way past the swimming hole and the Sheffield place; they were all quite certain that none but a select circle knew of it, for they had built it themselves the summer before, and added it over the winter.

Just up-river from the Mills place, the river spread and widened; a shallow flood-plain, floored in gravel and sand, where all the wrack from previous years’ floods accumulated – tree branches, lengths of cane and other trash. An oak with gnarled branches, branches which ran almost perpendicular to the ground held a tenacious position there. And that was where Douglas, Stephen and Letty had collected up lengths of cane, lengths of scrap plank, and straight branches, and brought them to lean from ground to branch, to form a kind of layered driftwood teepee, eight or ten feet in irregular diameter. This was “The Fort” – not entirely weatherproof, but sheltered against the wind and weather, and furnished with some small comforts. The most notable of those comforts included a moldering buffalo robe which cushioned the larger part of the space within, and an ancient camp stove – a metal tray on legs, in which they could kindle a small fire, and a couple of tin pots, plates and mugs – most of which were the measuring cups given out by the flour-milling companies.

As Douglas and Letty walked their bikes around the last bend in the river, towards the clump of trees that sheltered the Fort, they saw that Stephen Wyler was already there. A cow-pony from the Wyler ranch stable was browsing morosely on the sparse tufts of grass which had found purchase on the sandy soil of the river bottom, tied loosely by the reins to another tree limb. Stephen himself sat on the edge of the riverbank, his legs dangling over the edge, with his own .22 at his side.

“You’re just in time, Captain!” he commented, as he slid down in a rush of dust and pebbles. “We got word from HQ – we’re to attack the German trench in Sector 22 in an hour.”

“I thought it was going to be the Comanche winter camp today,” Letty was disappointed. She much preferred stalking the Comanches, to storming the German’s trench.

“That’s no fun,” Stephen answered.

“Maybe we be G-men hunting for robbers,” Douglas suggested. “You know, like the Newton brothers, or the Barker gang… Public enemy number one!”

Letty considered this – yes, not as boring as storming a German trench and pretending to fight imaginary soldiers. “There were some strangers in the Square today, while you were inside the Savings & Loan. They kept looking up at the building and talking – two young men in flashy clothes and a lady with red hair.”

“Gangsters and their moll, for sure,” Douglas nodded. “What did they do then, Letty?”

“They talked for a bit, and then they got into the car and drove away. It looked as if they were studying the building, and seeing how many people were around.”

“What kind of car?” Stephen looked as if he had already come around to considering hunting for gangsters. “A tan-colored touring car with a cloth top – it had the silver greyhound on the front. It looked pretty new.”

“A Lincoln,” Douglas took especial note of cars – their makers and their styles, through helping at the Tip-Top. “They must have been passing through; no one around Luna City drives a tan-colored Lincoln like that. We should wait for Artie. He knows everything there is to know about gangsters.”

“Oh, him!” Stephen looked deflated. “Is he coming, too?”

“Yeah,” Douglas answered, with a sigh. “We gave him the password for today and all.”

“Rats,” Stephen kicked the toe of his boot at the sandy ground. “He’s a pain, always dragging his little brother along…”

“We ought to wait a bit for him anyway,” Douglas insisted. “He’ll know enough to make it all interesting. And anyway – I bought some candy at the ice-cream parlor. I made two dollars in tips this week, and Mama said that I might treat Letty and my friends with a bit of it.”

“Well, that’s all right, then,” Stephen yielded with little grace. “So – where do we go, hunting for gangsters and robbers?”

“The Mills place would be a good start,” Douglas mused, as he followed Stephen into the Fort, bowing half-way to the ground in order to make it through the low doorway. Inside was still cool from the shade, and faintly musty-smelling from the old buffalo robe. “I heard tell that Old Man Mills was a gangster himself, in the old days. The Bent Cactus gang, the Dalton gang and all … and everyone says that that Old Man Mills brought home the loot from all their robberies and hid it somewhere.”

“Old Man Mills has been a likker bootlegger from a long time back, too,” Stephen agreed. In the shade of the Fort, his eyes were as big and dark as those blackberries which grew on the field-side hedges and wastelands. “And he got some big ol’ pet alligators in a pond out at his place. They say that he threw the dead bodies of his gang that he double-crossed to the alligators to eat. That way there’d be no evidence.” Now Douglas shook his head.

“He doesn’t neither, Stephen – his alligators aren’t big enough.”

“Bet you they are,” Stephen insisted. “We ought to just scout around and take a look!”

 

Letty shivered, as if a cold draft had blown suddenly down her neck. Old Man Mills was a bogy-man to them: an old, cranky and unkept man with an evil reputation. He didn’t much dare show his face in town any more, so Letty had only seen him above half a dozen times. He had a wife, though – although Mama had a very sour expression on her face, whenever she might encounter Mrs. Mills about town. Mrs. Mills was a smooth-faced, black-haired woman, considerably younger than Old Man Mills. She spoke Spanish but was as pale-complected as any Anglo in Luna City.

“That woman is no better than she ought to be!” Letty had heard Mama fume to Poppa, once, when Mama thought that Letty and Douglas were out of hearing, after encountering Mrs. Mills in the doorway to Abernathy Hardware. It sounded like Mrs. Mills was indeed a gangster moll, Letty thought, upon reconsideration. Just like the pretty red-headed lady in the tan-colored Lincoln. Her ruminations on this – and Douglas and Stephen’s discussion of how they should go about surreptitiously visiting the Mills place were interrupted by a shout from outside.

“Hey – anybody there!”

(So this is a snippet of the developing Luna City #8 – a long look back into the past, when Doc Wyler, Miss Letty and her brother, as well as the Vaughn boys were children, and more or less friends. Engaged in purely kid-interests, in Depression-era Texas, which included kid-pursuits such as all day out of the house, war-games and makeshift forts, and perhaps more… this was the early 1930ies, of course.)

“Where are you going today, Letty?” Mama asked, on one Monday mid-morning after breakfast. It was the second week of the summer vacation. “You and Douglas?” Sunlight poured golden into the covered back porch of the McAllister house. The bees danced among the hollyhocks and delphiniums in the flower borders which curved around the grand old stone house. Around the side, beyond the carefully tended sweep of lawn, the dust settled silently back in the wake of a Ford truck, which had rattled past the McAllister house, heavily laden with a load of vegetables for a market in San Antonio.

“Out to play,” Letty answered. “At our fort, with Stephen.”

“Just be back by suppertime,” Mama replied, looking up from sorting the household laundry from several baskets.  Monday was washing-day; not such a chore as it had been once, since the McAllister’s boasted a patent washing machine, complete with a mechanical wringer which Letty was absolutely forbidden to touch because it was dangerous. It could mash your fingers to splinters in moments. “Did you finish your chores, then?”

“Yes, Mama,” Letty had. She was conscientious about chores, even at the age of eight. Eggs gathered from the flock of hens kept in back, scraps and cracked corn put out for them and the garden weeded. In the house, her bed was made tidily, the breakfast dishes cleared from the table. Douglas – her eleven-year-old brother – Douglas had finished his own daily chore, of splitting wood for the kitchen stove and hauling water from the well to water the garden. Douglas was very strong for his age – almost twelve and handled a small splitting maul and wedges with skill, slivering quarters of wood into smaller portions for the stove. “Can we make sandwiches to take for our lunch?”

“A day of it?” Mama smiled. “Of course – there’s some ham in the icebox, but don’t take it all. Your father will want his lunch as well. And there is some lemon cake from Sunday supper; you may have two small slices of that – oh, take a piece for Stephen as well. Just leave enough for your father.”

“Yes, Mama!” Letty wrapped her arms around her mothers’ comfortable middle for an exuberant and brief embrace. She ran up to her room on the second floor of the old stone McAllister house to change into her play clothes – a worn middy-blouse and a pair of her brothers’ outgrown knee-britches, her feet thrust into canvas tennis shoes – also outgrown by Douglas and boasting holes by Letty’s littlest toes. She didn’t mind that – after all, when they played around the fort, she would kick off the shoes and go barefoot. It was summer, after all. Summer was for bare feet, although Mama would sigh and say that being barefoot all summer was a sign of being poor and trashy. McAllisters were proper. They always had shoes, even if times were hard in Luna City. She and Douglas would have new shoes when school started, in August. For now, they went barefoot. When Letty absolutely had to wear shoes in summer, she wore her brothers’ old pair or crammed her feet into the Sunday shoes that she had new for Easter … and now which pinched dreadfully, but would have to last until Spring, when Mama and Papa bought them all new Sunday best and good shoes.

That done, she raced downstairs again, and into the kitchen. Outside on the back porch, she heard the regular thump-thump-thump of the mechanical washing machine. Letty know that having electricity in the McAllister house, and most of the better homes in Luna City was a sign of advance and prosperity. In the old days, doing laundry by hand took all the day and all the time and labor on the part of the women in the household … that is, if they did not sent it out, and who knows where it really went and what was done to it?

Letty quickly assembled sandwiches; she was deft with slicing bread and carving off thin slivers of ham in order to leave enough for Papa. Mama let her handle the biggest kitchen knife, at least. She wrapped the sandwiches in brown paper and cut three portions of cake – alike wrapping that in paper – just as her brother Douglas thundered down the staircase and erupted into the kitchen like a small and erratic storm. He had his .22 rifle slung, soldier-like over his shoulder, and a metal water canteen on a sling over his other. The canteen was a metal Army-surplus one; practically Douglas’ proudest possession.

“Ready, Letty?” he demanded, bouncing from one foot to another. “We gotta go to town first.”

“What for?” Letty wrapped the sandwiches and cake in a large calico handkerchief and tied the opposite corners in knots.

Douglas puffed out his chest with pride. “I eared two dollars in tips at the Tip-Top last week – helping people clean their windows and top up their radiators. I’m keeping out fifteen cents for ice cream … an’ some candy, but the rest I’m gonna put in my savings account.”

“A whole two dollars – and people just gave it to you, like that?”

“’cause I was helpful, Letty,” Douglas explained.

“I wish people would give me money for being helpful,” Letty ventured, somewhat wistfully. Their father had taken them into the Luna City Savings and Loan the previous year, and ceremoniously presented them to the Chief Teller, saying that they were old enough to open bank accounts of their own. To save for their education, their father said, although Douglas had confessed that he would rather save up for a fancy wind-up phonograph. Much, much later, Letty would realize that their father had – most sensibly – chosen to demonstrate his own faith in the solidity of the Luna City Savings and Loan in this fashion. After all, the McAllisters were one Luna City’s leading families; Grandfather Arthur Wells McAllister was one of the founders.

“You have your Christmas and birthday present money,” Douglas consoled her. “When you are ten, maybe you can run errands and help at the Tip-Top.”

This was true – but Letty still wished that she had as much as fifteen cents to spend on ice cream and penny-candy. But she and Douglas were fortunate in having bicycles of their own. Times might be hard for many people, even in Luna City – and Letty knew very well that the McAllisters were fortunate indeed, even if her bicycle was an old boys’ bicycle and slightly rusted along the frame. She followed her brother, crossing the dusty main road which ran between San Antonio – the big city, far to the north, and Aransas Pass, down on the Gulf Coast, baking in the mid-morning sun. Beyond the shabby weathered Tip-Top Ice House with the range of gasoline pumps out in front, the road into Luna City wandered past a meadows and stands of trees, eventually past houses with smaller and smaller gardens as they approached Town Square, marked at one end with the gleaming façade of the grand Cattleman Hotel, and the white columns and pediment of the Luna City Public School at the other. This was a familiar passage for Letty: during the school term, she and Douglas went this way twice daily and back – to school, home for lunch, back to school and finally home again.

Town Square basked in the mid-summer sunshine, although the massive stands of oak trees cast pools of cool shade under their branches. Some of the oaks were so large that three children holding hands could not reach all the way around them. By the old Fire Station, she and Douglas drew abreast of a friend – or perhaps more accurately, a sort of friend. One who was determined on his part to be their friend, or at least be in association with them.

“’Lo, Artie,” Douglas rested his feet on the ground, and Letty followed suit. Artie Vaughn was yet a year and a half younger than Letty; a skinny boy with a nose way too big for his narrow face and dark hair which grew every which way, like an untidy haystack. He was tall for his age. “Got stuck with minding the baby again?”

Artie – barefoot under the faded denim overalls which were his only garment – nodded in agreement. He had his toddler brother Harry in a battered wooden wagon. Harry was three, but likewise big for his age. He had the same beak of a nose and unkempt black hair; like his brother, shorn by an inexpert hand armed with a bowl and a pair of shears. Artie and Harry’s father was one of Luna City’s small force of police officers. This was out of desperate necessity, as his small carpentry business in Karnesville had gone bust for lack of paying customers. The fifteen dollars a month paid by the city was what kept the Vaughn family from abject poverty – that and the kindness of neighbors and the extensive vegetable garden in back of the Vaughn’s tidy frame bungalow on Oak Street.

“Until Mama gets done with the shopping. Harry is too big an’ ornery to take with her. You going out to the Fort with Stephen?” Artie’s countenance reflected eagerness and a pathetic longing to be included in the afternoon. Letty sighed. Now they would have to invite him. Artie was like a burr that couldn’t be shaken off.

“Yeah,” Douglas replied. “Look – if you wanna come out to the Fort, you gotta know the password. For today, the challenge is ‘Montcalm’ and the password is ‘Wolfe.’ Otherwise you’re an enemy spy and we won’t let you in.”

“’Montcalm’ and ‘Wolfe’!” Artie exclaimed, beaming with happiness. “It’s the bees’ knees, Douglas! I won’t forget!”

“See you,” Douglas didn’t sound enthused, to any degree. Artie was a trial to Douglas, Stephen and Letty, only slightly alleviated by his free access to father’s collection of tattered True Detective Magazines (Vaughn, Senior purchased them for the professional articles, so he claimed), and Artie’s own imagination, which tended in the direction of flamboyantly creative. Artie was burdened by the damp and dampening presence of his baby brother, for he was frequently tasked with looking after the younger Vaughn. (“It’s not really fair,” Douglas confessed to his sister. “Artie’s a good egg – but really … having to play with a kid who isn’t even out of diapers? It’s just not fair, Letty! He’s not our baby brother!”  “At least we can pretend that he is a Comanche sentry,” Letty consoled her brother. “Or set him down and say that he is first base.”)