06. March 2020 · Comments Off on The Chapel – A Excerpt from The Next Luna City · Categories: Luna City Short Stories

“So, have they sorted out what to do with that benighted bloody reliquary?” Richard demanded on a Monday in mid-January, when frost had rendered the dead grass on the verges to the consistency and crunchiness of corn flakes. Kate had come to share an evening in the caravan, as the sun set in layers of orange and bronze, behind the black-pen strokes of the veil of trees to the west. The old Airstream was a cozy cocoon of light and warmth, in the deserted caravan park which was the Age of Aquarius Campground (and Goat Farm) for most of the calendar year, natural disasters along the coast notwithstanding.

Kate reclined against the banquette, having kicked off her sensible low-heeled pumps with a slight groan; an odalisque lounging along the comfortable length of the padded sofa-bench at the kitchen/dining area of the Airstream. She had brought some extra-strong fresh catnip for Ozzie, who was now stoned out of his tiny cat-mind, blissed out on the hand-hooked rug in the bedroom end of the tiny metal-clad caravan. Richard couldn’t imagine what Ozzie might be dreaming of. World domination and three-story-tall granite statues of noble cats in the Egyptian style, lined up in ranks in front of a temple precinct, in which an Ozzie-priest of high cat-rank, clad in cloth of gold and notable jewelry presided over a ritual sacrifice of mice, brought on catnip-adorned trays of silver and gold by devotees to the shrine …

Richard wrenched his mind away from that mental vision, and back to the bouillabaisse under the final stages of preparation. Supper for Kate, his cherished Kate! demanded his complete attention as well as her reply.

“It’s the treasure of our family … a fill-up, please? I’m wiped.”

“Minx,” Richard reached across the tiny table and topped up her wine glass with another hit of Sefton’s peerless white local vintage. “Are you hoping to seduce me, if I get you drunk?”

“You can never get me drunk,” Kate’s amazing, beryl-blue/green eyes twinkled at him. “I have the hardest head in Karnes County. I grew up drinking Poppa Fritz’s home-brewed ale. Thinned with sparking water, early on. Consider me inoculated… no, what is happening with the Gonzaga Reliquary, or what there is left of it after a couple of centuries of hard use and the family treating it as a kind of portable checking account… is that Great Uncle Jaime is going to fund a small chapel on the home ranch to house it. He says that it is the treasure of the family, so it’s going to stay with the family. Although Father Bernardo did make a pitch for adding it to the sanctuary at St. Antony and Margaret. But Great Uncle Jaime is stubborn that way. Family stuff stays with the family, end of discussion. So, he’s talked to Uncle Jesus at the garage, and Roman about building a small chapel at the rancho. Father Bernardo says that he will ask the auxiliary bishop if he would come for the consecration. And Araceli’s brother Berto is going to design it as part of his senior engineering project…”

“I hope he isn’t going to go all tinfoil and odd shapes,” Richard turned his attention to the preparation of the richly garlicky rouille to go with. “I’m not strictly a person of religion, but it just doesn’t put one into the proper frame of mind, sitting in one of those modern monstrosities, with clear glass windows and a minimalist altar-piece and pulpit …just all right angles and no ritual, bells, smells and stained glass parables. If it’s theater, it has to put one in the proper mood…”

“You’re a traditionalist, sweetie,” Kate grinned at him. “An agnostic religious traditionalist. No, Berto is already champing at the bit – especially as he can repurpose a lot of salvage from a deconsecrated convent in Beeville, which Uncle Roman thoughtfully set aside for something like this project. It gives Berto extra points on the sustainability scale for his class. He reckons that he can get an A for this project, and all props for reuse, recycle, and repurposing,” Kate added with an air of conspicuous virtue. “Uncle Roman is going to pour the foundation at the end of the month. And … you’ll be amused no end by this part. When it’s completed and consecrated, Cousin Mindy wants to marry her dearest Xavie, at the chapel, before the Reliquary which brought them together…”

“Good God!” Richard had just taken a sip from his own glass of Sefton’s peerless mustang grape elixir – the white, to go with the fish. It went down the wrong way, and he coughed. “Oh, Christ, Katie – you might have warned me. Has your cousin entirely lost her mind? Oh, a career academic – mad is the operating assumption … but really? Marrying that tosser Gunnison-Penn, the mad treasure-hunting enthusiast? It will not turn out well,” Richard prophesied balefully. “Mark my words; it will not turn out well!”

“Relax, lover – she has tenure, and a generous retirement plan,” Kate replied, comfortably assured. “Gosh, it must be nice! And she loves him. Which is curious, since everyone has assumed for years that she is a lesbian. No, she just adores looking for odd bits of history. And he does, too. Isn’t it always said that a successful marriage is founded on mutual enthusiasms? They both adore looking for treasure. And the Reliquary is the one thing that they have found together…”

“It’s the only thing they have found together,” Richard observed, sourly. “It’s a demonstrated and inarguable fact that Gunnison-Penn has never – ever found anything, of all those treasures that he has gone in search of … in a long, long list of treasures that he has gone after, and fallen flat-footed, after every damn one of them.”

“But Mindy loves him,” Kate answered, serenely assured. “And honestly, I think she will keep him from his madder ventures. Speaking of relationships and mutual enthusiasms – which one do we have in common? Besides that you love to cook and I love to eat what you prepare?”

“We have Ozzie,” Richard answered, considerably rattled by that question. Yes, what did he and Kate have in common, as regards enthusiasms? “We have… well, we have Luna City in common. My quest to bring an appreciation for the finer elements of classical French cuisine. We have friends….”

“Yes, we do,” Kate twinkled at him, completely assured and confident.

13. January 2020 · Comments Off on Short Story Excerpt – At Home With the Heisels · Categories: Luna City Short Stories

(From the next Luna City installation: Richard is headed to spending Christmas with Kate’s family … against his inclination.)

“Are you sure that Ozzie will be OK?” Kate asked, as she wheeled her little VW bug down the disgracefully rutted drive between the Age of Aquarius Campground and Goat Farm and Route 123. “I mean, we could have taken him with us, or left him in the trailer…”

Richard sighed. “Absolutely not, Kate of my heart. Your parents don’t know me, let alone my cat. And if we left him behind, he would have pissed in the bed, through fury at having been left behind, and locked up for all of a day. Ozzie is a social cat, although I am not entirely sure of the beings that he chooses to be social with … after all, the mice must be absolutely narked at being stalked and hunted. Bree promised that she would take care of him and ensure that he was properly amused and diverted until tomorrow morning; she claims that Ozzie would relish a slumber-party at the Straw Castle, and absolutely promised that she would keep the Grants’ other cats from beating up on him. He adores her as much as he adores you, since she saves out the juicy fish scraps for him, when we prep the Friday luncheon entree. Although she claims that he cheats at Monopoly something awful…”

“You’re chattering, Rich,” Kate shot him a sideways look from those amazing blue-green eyes; eyes the exact color and sparkle of very fine beryl jewels. “You’re not nervous about meeting Mom and Dad, are you?”

“Yes,” Richard confessed with another and even deeper sigh. “Paralyzed with terror, actually. I don’t suppose that we could turn around and spend Christmas here … you know, I could fix you a splendid dinner, with a lovely little bûche de Nöel made from scratch, and we could open each other’s gifts…”

“Nope, sorry,” Kate replied, heartlessly, as she waited for a very large tanker lorry to pass on 123 northbound towards San Antonio, raising a cloud of grit as it blew past the unpaved and little-marked road from the Age. “You committed when I asked you about this two months ago, and every time since then that I asked to reconfirm. Mom and Dad are expecting you to show … we’ve been dating for what – two years now? You simply must bite the bullet and show up with me for a traditional Griswald family Christmas gathering. Everyone is expecting to meet my nice English boyfriend. And you promised an authentic English Christmas pudding for the dessert table, don’t forget.”

“Griswald?” Rich was utterly confounded. “What fresh hell might this be, Kate? Not that I have any intention of balking at the jumps – but what?”

“Christmas movie, about overdoing Christmas,” Kate explained, and the tiny engine of the Bug roared obligingly as she stomped on the accelerator. “No, sweetie – you’ll be fine. You’ve hung out often enough with Joe and Jess, and Araceli and Pat on Sunday afternoons; you’ll be able to get along with Dad, and my big brother Matt, my other brothers, and Cousin Lester the shrink, if they want to talk about football. Especially if they want to talk about football. Mom will be sweet – she thinks the world of you already, since she tried out that white-bean and garlic on pita chip dip at Thanksgiving, and everyone couldn’t get enough of it. No, the ‘rents will be cool. It’s ….”

There was a long and heavily pregnant pause, nearly long enough to birth a litter of kittens. Richard thought it might be due to Kate’s adamantine concentration on overtaking an enormous and ponderously slow articulated lorry, which had inconveniently decided to take up a lane and a half. Richard, his heart in his mouth, kept heroic silence. He could never entirely become comfortable with the insouciant manner in which certain Lunaites and Kate drove on the major highways and byways in a manner more befitting to some reckless movie daredevil intent on leaping over gaps in highways and abruptly raised drawbridges. More »

23. December 2019 · Comments Off on Another Luna City Short Story – From Luna City #9 · Categories: Luna City Short Stories

In the Offices of the Karnesville Weekly Beacon

 

“Kate! Kate! Get in here and tell me why the heck I have fielded calls all morning from the AP, UPI, the London Times, Archeology Today, and some rude as hell asshole from New York!” Acey McClain, part-owner and managing editor (as well as every other editor) bellowed from his more or less private corner office on the second floor of the building which had served for almost a century and a quarter as the headquarters of the Karnesville Weekly Beacon – which at the time of its’ founding, had been a daily, serving Karnes County as far as Falls City to the north and Kenedy to the south. Now, alas, the local small-town newspaper struggled bravely against the economic tide, borne up by small-town concerns, crime, and gossip about strictly small-town doings, a large part of which were reported in both the print version and in the Karnesville Beacon blog (Your Beacon on What’s Happening in Karnes County!) which was run by Kate Heisel, the Beacon’s ace reporter and social media maven. Kate, who patterned herself professionally after Brenda Starr and Hildy Johnson as played by Rosalind Russel in the movie His Girl Friday, collected up her slim reporters’ notebook from her desk, and went to report to her irascible boss. Acey, long retired from active and notable crime beats in much more prestigious venues than the Weekly Beacon, nonetheless retained an interest in national news, not to mention professional and personal contacts in a wide variety of national news and media organizations – although it ought to be admitted that most of those contacts, like Acey himself, were well past the age of collecting Social Security.

“Good morning, Boss!” Kate chirped, settling herself in the lone guest chair which stood, like a prisoner about to be executed by firing squad before the battered late-19th century splendors of the editor’s desk. (Said desk looked like a down-market version of the White House Oval Office Resolute desk, without the secret compartment, or being wrought from the timbers of a British warship.) “It was a glorious event in Luna City – they think they have located the Gonzaga Reliquary. Or most of the relevant bits and pieces. Was the rude guy from the New York Times? Yeah, that would figure; they’re always rude when they are forced by circumstance to deal with us hicks from the sticks. The Brits are usually so much more superficially polite. Richard says it’s because…”

“Focus, Kate,” Acey commanded. “What’s all this about the Gonzaga-thingus?”

Kate heaved a deep and theatric sigh. “That Renaissance relic which was supposedly painted by Leonardo da Vinci in a rediscovered masterpiece found when they renovated a moldy convent in Milan a couple of years ago. God’s own ornamental bottle stopper and a fat-faced nun who looks like my Aunt Conchita when she was younger. Supposed to be an ancestress of ours. After being painted, it vanished for about three hundred years before turning up as elements of some Christmas decorations on the Luna City public Christmas tree…”

Acey pressed his fingers against his forehead – yes, he vaguely recalled hearing about this, at least six months and two-score of hangovers ago, while Kate smoothed the skirt of her modest tailored suit over her knees and continued. “It turned out that the Gonzaga Reliquary in the painting – they claim that it was the creation of Benevento Cellini, but the serious art historians do have doubts because of the spotty provenance. The long and short of it …”

“Please, Kate, favor me with the Readers’ Digest version,” Acey interjected and Kate consulted her notebook.

“OK, the short version is that the original reliquary was returned to the family – the Gonzagas – when their darling daughter was kicked out of the convent for insufficient devotion to the ideals of chastity and reverence. She and her son,” Kate snickered, a rather lewd snicker, and understandably so, “Returned to those ancestral acres in northern Spain … and a couple of hundred years later, her descendants, or at least, members of that family immigrated to Mexico and took up a Spanish land grant in what would in the fullness of time and history become the Rancho Los Robles, on the banks of the San Antonio River. Even before there was a Karnes County, or a Texas,” Kate added, with a certain amount of modest pride, “The Gonzaleses and Gonzalezes were here, with their rancho. My cousin Mindy has proved that, beyond any shadow of a doubt through research and an exploratory dig this summer – but that’s another story entirely. You have my notes on that, in the email that I sent you last week … erm. And it was the front page of the November 5th issue,” Kate added helpfully. “But for the reliquary itself; it was disassembled for hiding during the Civil War, and those parts variously concealed in the walls of the old adobe wing of the Rancho de los Robles house. It seemed that everyone who knew about that – maybe three or four people? Yeah, they were paranoid as heck about security back in the day, and who the heck could blame them? Don Luis-Antonio’s only son and heir Don Anselmo was serving with the Union, and Texas was part of the Confederacy…”

“Comment would have been made,” Acey nodded. “At the very least. And possibly a capital sentence imposed for spying and counterrevolutionary sympathies. So they hid the high-value stuff. Understandable, considering the times.”

“And then,” Kate took a deep breath. “That handful of people who knew the secret of where they hid it … they died, or went off to greener pastures, even before Don Anselmo returned after the war. The story among the family is that he got delayed by a passionate and doomed romance with a married opera singer in Mexico City for about half a decade. By that time, everyone sort of forgot about the whereabouts of the Reliquary, or even that it existed at all. Don Anselmo’s son, Don Jaimie – you remember him? He fought the last personal duel in the streets of Luna City with a Maldonado? There’s a plaque on Town Square where that happened, back in the early Twenties, sometime. Anyway, Don Jaimie had the old adobe walls knocked down, turned into rubble about a hundred years ago, when he wanted to renovate the old ranch headquarters house. The rubble – it was only adobe mud brick, after all … got plowed into a what became a Victory Garden during the Second World War. Don Jaime’s artistic sister Leonora took the found bits and pieces and made them into ornaments for a Christmas tree … oh, in about 1945 or ‘46. She had a thing for making jewelry and other ornaments out of bits of this and that. My Cousin Araceli is pretty certain that she saw them on the Christmas tree at the Rincon de los Robles home place when she was a kid … and at some point Great-Aunt Leonora’s ornaments were donated to the City to use on the Town Square Christmas Tree… they were pretty awful looking,” Kate admitted honestly. “They were not one of Great-Aunt Leonora’s finer artistic accomplishments, to be strictly truthful. I think I could do better with a hot-glue gun and a sweep through Hobby Lobby’s marked-down section the week after Christmas. But anyway, at the instant when the civic Luna City Christmas Tree was formally unveiled last week, Cousin Araceli, and Cousin Mindy’s hot international treasure-hunting boyfriend both recognized the bits from the Gonzaga Reliquary. Mostly the enamel plaque of the Virgin and Child riding on St. Gigobertus’ horse; a plaque surrounded by a nimbus of diamonds set in a corona of silver-gilt. Cousin Mindy’s BF practically collapsed when he spotted them – but he’s OK. It was just a bad case of indigestion, compounded with extreme emotion. Penny’s given to emotion when it comes to his treasure quests. This one is for the history books, since he has actually found one of those treasures that he set out looking for.” Kate consulted her notebook once again, thumbing through the pages for so many minutes that Acey began to tap his fingers impatiently against the battered and scarred top of the editorial desk.

“Ah, here it is – yes, I’ll send you the link. I got close-ups of every element as Cousin Araceli retrieved them from the Christmas tree …” Kate sighed, sounding disconsolate. “Don’t get your hopes up, or at least – don’t encourage your buddies in old media to get their hopes up. Whatever artistic element and value in the reliquary derived from the great Cellini has been pretty well wrecked … and not just from getting buried for fifty years and then welded into Christmas ornaments.”

“Oh?” Acey sat back in his battered leather-upholstered chair, and steepled his hands, as he eyed his best reporter. “And the value of these bits and pieces remaining?”

“Well,” Kate sounded as if she were temporizing. Excusing, even. “The gold and enamel bits are real enough. But just about all the so-called diamonds and precious stones set in the bits remaining … are glass fakes. Oh, there were a couple of them which were real,” she added hastily. “But Mindy thinks that the Reliquary must have been seen as a portable bank account … hit a couple of bad patches, civic unrest, the necessity of skipping old haunts because of politics … and swap out a diamond or two for gold, sell on the down-low market for cash in hand, and swap in a glass gem through the same means. The tooth of St. Gigibertus’ horse didn’t feature in the Christmas ornaments – although Mindy thinks she might have found it in the dig last month, along with a couple of shards of heavy-duty glass in a kind of cylindrical shape. It was a puzzle for her – that the horse tooth was all by itself, without any other remains of horse bones in the trench. And the bits of crystal glass seemed to fit a perfect cylinder … well, now it all comes clear,” Kate added, parenthetically. “The guesses that archeologists have to make about what they find … Mindy said something about a book called Motel of the Mysteries. Some kind of in-joke for archeologists, I guess.”

“The bottom line, Kate,” Acey looked as if his hangover was especially intense. “The bottom line, if you please. What’s with the bits and pieces of the reliquary and where are they now?”

“In the hands of an artistic expert and restorer recommended by Georg Stein, who runs the western-relic bookstore on Town Square,” Kate closed up her notebook. “An expert friend of an expert friend of another expert friend, as it were. That’s how these things roll, I expect – in Luna City and everywhere else. Great Uncle Jaimie is still pretty strict with the budget, although there may be a bit of a tangle ongoing over who exactly owns the bits and pieces. Depends on the wording of the donation to the city; were the decorations for the Town Christmas tree a loan on the part of the families who provided them, or a donation … I expect that I will have to venture another deep dive into the Beacon archives to make certain,” Kate added. “That, and into the city council archives.”

“Put on a dust mask when you do,” Acey advised, with an air of heavy foreboding. “The crap and mold in the air, and on the old archives. The basement is a toxic environment, for certain.”

“I’ll do that,” Kate promised with a sigh, and her boss regarded her with an expression of concern. “What’s the matter, dollface? Personal stuff?”

“Yeah,” Kate admitted, with another deep sigh. “Don’t want to burden you with it, since it is my personal biz, which ideally should have nothing to do with work stuff … but Christmas. I committed with Mom to bring Richard to our Christmas dinner. Months ago. He’s … umm – sort of my boyfriend, I guess. I like him lots, Acey. When he is cut, I bleed.”

“Sounds serious,” Acey commented, somewhat warily. Deep emotional commitment worried him, especially when it concerned his employees. “He doesn’t exhibit serial murder tendencies, does he? Because – in that case, I’d have to call in law enforcement.”

“Don’t worry, Chief!” Kate replied. “If Richard had any such tendencies, then I would have called in law enforcement, from the very first. The chief of the Luna City PD is married to a good friend. If I had any doubts – they would be at my back. No … that’s not what the problem is’ Mom just texted me that Grandpa Fritz will be there, too.”

“And this would be a problem in what way?” Acey ventured.

“Because,” Kate replied, with an air of tolerance. “Grandpa Fritz hates the English, root and branch. He damned near got shot as a spy – twice – by them during World War Two.”

“I can see,” Acey replied, after a long moment of thought. “That might lead a reasonable man to be a little bit sour. The Germans were indiscriminately blitzing English cities, sinking English shipping – not to mention chasing them out of France. It’s been a while since then, Kate.”

“The trouble is,” Kate took up her notebook. “That Grandpa Fritz was serving as a US Army paratroop with the 507th Paratroop Infantry Regiment at the time. He is still pretty pissed about the whole shot-as-a-spy thing, as well as the room-temp beer.”

“Oh. My.” Acey said to the door, as Kate departed the editorial corner office. “Yes. I do understand why he might still be holding a teensy bit of a grudge, Kate.”

06. December 2019 · Comments Off on A Luna City Short Story – Radio Silence · Categories: Luna City Short Stories

(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.)

05. December 2019 · Comments Off on The Luna City Compendium Volumes are Available in Print! · Categories: Book News

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.