At last, I applied myself to the computer, and all the little things that I had dropped in passing about where things were in Luna City — and came up with a map! Yes – this map will be a part of Luna City IV! Behold!
(Luna City IV is planned for a debut in June, 2017 – and here is a snippet of developments)
And sure enough – as Richard pedaled home in the twilight after a training session at the VFD classroom the following Wednesday, he was overtaken by a well-weathered high-top camping van. He was near enough to the unmarked and unpaved road which wandered off through a thicket of scrub off of Route 123 and led eventually towards the Age of Aquarius Campground and Goat Farm. The turn-off was innocent of any signage suggesting the presence of the campground, as most anyone who was serious about staying there knew about it anyway. The van, speckled with dust and splotches of dried road mud, drew a second vehicle on a tow-dolly, this vehicle well-wrapped in a tarpaulin equally road-besmirched. There were also a great many tarpaulin-wrapped items stowed on top of the van – all of them secured with business-like turns of rope and bungee cords. Richard thought that one of them might be a small boat. The driver slowed, rolling down his window.
“Howdy, stranger – am I getting close to the turn-off for the Grant place?” He was an older man, near to the age of Doc Wyler. He looked like the older Joe Vaughn of Richard’s imagining; a craggy, weathered countenance adorned with an impressively droopy mustache of the old-fashioned style popularly called a ‘soup-strainer.’
“It is, indeed,” Richard answered, warmly. “You must be Mr. Vaughn – welcome home! I was informed of your arrival – Mr. Grant asked that I should see you to the most salubrious position in the campground, and assure that you were well-settled…”
“Salubrious …” the driver chuckled. “That’s a real twenty-dollar word. You must be that English feller – the one who runs the Café nowadays. Well, throw that beater of yours onto the back, and hop in. I’m your neighbor for a while, until I get fixed up with a place of my own, here in the lower ’48. Harry Vaughn,” He favored Richard with a bone-crushing grip, extended through the lowered window.
“Richard Astor-Hall,” Richard tried very hard not to wince. “Indeed … I’ve been very pleased with the situation at the Grant place…” Obediently, he wheeled his bicycle around to van door into the back, and horsed it into the cramped interior. There was just enough room. Richard was impressed – a grown man had been living comfortably in a space even more miniscule than the Airstream. “I’ve rented from them since arriving in Luna City,” he explained, as Harry Vaughn let out the gears and steered the van back onto the road again. “The lane into the campground is around this bend, on the left…”
“In my day, it was called the old Sheffield place,” Harry Vaughn grunted. “There used to be a big old house out there. It was all fallen to ruin when I was a young sprout, though. But we all used to come out here in summer – the best damn swimming hole in all of Karnes County, right in that deep bend of the river. Had some fine times there, back in the day.”
“It’s still pretty deep, right there by the campground,” Richard answered. “Here – turn here.”
“Right,” Harry Vaughn slowed the van, and the trailing auto, and steered very carefully into the turn-off. Richard was glad that with all traffic from volunteers and donations to the building of the Straw Castle Aquarius, that Roman Gonzales had seen fit to scrape the thoroughfare with a baby bull-dozer and pour a couple of loads of gravel down, rendering the lane considerably less lumpy than it had been for years. Still, Harry Vaughn drove very slowly – past the goat pasture, past the thicket of trees at the turn-off which led farther up the hill and into the grove of oaks which framed the gleaming ivory tower of the Amazing Straw Castle Aquarius like the supporting-cast greenery surrounding the starring flowers of a bridal bouquet. The old windmill clattered away, and the breeze fanned the various colorful banners which depended from the oak branches and the rough-hewn mesquite beams which supported the veranda’s tin roof. “Nice,” Harry commented, sounding mildly impressed. “Not bad for hippie goat-farmers. Guess this is the campground?”
“Indeed,” Richard said – a campground empty of all but the solitary Airstream and its’ sheltering roof at the top end, and a gaggle of unusually brave or rough-adapted motorcycle tent-campers who had their series of basic a-frame tents set up at the bottom end, in a lee of the bank which overlooked the river. “I live in the old trailer there. As you can see – you’ve arrived at the right time for seeking solitude. Sefton said you can pick any place you like – but the places along the long hedge are the only ones with electrical hookups. I will be happy to assist you …”
“Not necessary, son,” Harry Vaughn replied. “I prefer the big outdoors and solitude myself. I’ll take the slot at the far end from you. And I’m good with setting up myself; don’t want to put you to any more trouble than you have already taken. Since you already work for ol’ Stevie-Boy Wyler, I’m certain you already have enough on your plate.”
That, as Richard ruminated later, after he took his trusty trail bike out of the back of Harry Vaughn’s van, should have been his first clue that Doc Wyler and Uncle Harry might just have – as the soap operas have it – a bit of a history between them.
The shrouded motor vehicle that Harry Vaughn towed behind his van all the way from Alaska was revealed to be an archaic-appearing convertible – with the top down – a convertible enameled in a brilliant shade of red known only the auto aficionados and county fair candied apples. Said vehicle appeared at mid-morning, a day or so later, arrogantly claiming the parking spot directly in front of the Café. Richard couldn’t decide how the convertible could stand out any more flagrantly – perhaps spotlighted by a pair of floodlights. Richard came out from the kitchen just in time to overhear involuntary sounds of appreciation from the regulars at the stammtisch, and those lesser customers with a good view out the front windows of the Café.
“Dios mio – a pristine ’66 Lincoln Continental,” exclaimed the senior Jaime Gonzalez, the proprietor of the main garage and repair shop in Luna City. “Papi had one – he sold it almost brand new to … Harry Vaughn!”
“And who are the ladies accompanying him?” Georg Stein wondered aloud, answered by a sigh from the aficionados of classic motors among the patrons, and one of equal depth from Joe and Jess, sharing a small table at the back of the Café.
“That’s our Abuelita,” Araceli replied/ She hurriedly delivered the order to the second-smallest table. “And her friend Min Kim – you know, Mr. Walcott’s mother-in-law… but I don’t know the other lady…”
“My Aunt Moira,” Richard sighed, in horrified recognition. Yes – Aunt Moira, his father’s eccentric older sister. His father’s mysterious and adventurous older sister, a woman of wide foreign travel and yet no visible means of economic support, although that of various government agencies had been suggested. Aunt Moira was scarily adept with deadly weapons, foreign languages, and methods of self-defense. Richard had concluded some years previously that Aunt Moira might be the distaff Agent 007. She certainly seemed to show up – or have been proven to show up – in various exotic locales, weeks or months before they featured in splashed-out headlines, world-wide. This had happened just too many times to be accounted for by sheer coincidence. As a schoolboy, Richard had tracked that sort of thing. Now he wished that he had kept better track of Aunt Moira’s whereabouts.
(From the next Luna City chronicle, which is aimed for release in mid-summer)
In the Offices of the Karnesville Weekly Beacon
“Kate! Get in here and tell me what in the name of Dog has been going on in Luna City!”
Kate Heisel, bright-eyed and ready to plunge into another week of work on the regional newspaper on the morning after the last of the holidays, was in the chief editor’s office almost before Acey McClain finished bellowing, and as a sprinkling of superannuated dust from the ancient light fixtures in the offices of the Karnesville Weekly Beacon ceased sifting down like a gentle benison on the various desks below.
“Yes, Chief – right away, Chief!” she chirped. Acey McClain, grizzled, slightly hung-over and well over twice her age, scowled thunderously.
“Dammit, Kate – do you have to be so cheerful first thing in the morning? I’m not Lou Grant and you are not Mary Tylor Moore. And don’t call me Chief!”
“Sure, Chief,” Kate grinned at him and took out her notebook, perching on the narrow wooden guest chair opposite her boss. “It’s a legitimate form of aggression, being offensively cheerful first thing in the AM. Think of it as a workout for your liver. Get the old blood flowing … the birds are singing in the trees, the sun is shining, God is in his heaven and all’s right with the world…”
Acey McClain gave his pungently expressed opinion on that state of affairs and Kate’s grin widened. She made a show of jotting down several of the more interesting terms of abuse, and when he had finished, remarked, “Wow, Chief – that last isn’t even biologically possible … unless one is maybe triple-jointed and has a taste for … never mind. You were asking about Luna City over this last week.”
“That’s what I like about you, Kate,” Acey McClain sat back in the monumental and heroically battered leather executive chair which had been the badge of office for editors at the Karnesville Weekly Beacon since it had been the Daily Beacon, sometime around 1962. “And why I put up with your flagrantly disrespectful attitude. You’re the most purely un-shockable female that I have ever met. So – back to my original question: what in the name of Dog and all the Angles in heaven has been going on this last week in Luna City? I swear, if it weren’t for them, we’d have nothing to print except the legal notices, the minutes of the last garden club meeting and the police blotter.”
“About the usual, Chief.” Kate licked her pencil-point – an affectation adopted from her close watching of old movies about the news business. Kate was a great believer in professional traditions. “Let’s see … there was a fire at the old hippy hang-out by the river, just before Christmas. Burned the main establishment to the ground, but no one hurt and nothing much lost. The place wasn’t insured, though … but neighbors are weighing in. The new marketing director at Mills Farm has offered them one of their residential trailers for the owners to live in, while they rebuild.”
“What caused the fire?” Acey McClain was always curious about that. The answer to that question in his own hard-bitten crime-beat reporter past had earned him a more-than-average number of above-the-fold, huge-typeface-headline-stories during a very long career in the big-city print news business.
“They think that a fire in a sweat-lodge wasn’t properly extinguished,” Kate replied. “The investigator for the LCVFD is all but certain about that. No story, Chief. Now, the mass-brawl that happened immediately before the fire …”
“Now you’re getting to the nut, Kate,” Acey McClain sat forward in the leather office chair, all eager attention. “What was that all about? I heard that some *sshole got bitten in the *ss by a rabid llama – true?”
“Not the rabid part. The llama in question did have all his required shots.” Kate flipped over to another page. “I double-checked with the veterinarian … Doc Wyler. Doc Wyler of the Wyler Lazy-W Ranch.”
“Oh, Dog,” Acey McClain shuddered, almost imperceptibly. “This *sshole didn’t pick a fight with him, too? The biggest ranch and the richest guy in Karnes County? And a man who lovingly cherishes his grudges like they were prize breeding stock?”
“Not so far,” Kate replied, still chipper as a squirrel with a winters-worth of stored away acorns. “As a matter of fact and according to eye-witnesses – and I have a list of them,” she flipped through another couple of pages. “Names available on the Talk of the Town blog. The *sshole is one Gunnison Penn of no definite fixed address other than Canada. He struck the llama in question first; I have photographic proof of it. You know, Chief – it’s great how everyone has a cellphone with camera capacity in their pocket, these days. There is a clear case of self-defense to be made: Gunnison Penn clearly hit the llama first.”
“That Canuck treasure-hunter guy?” Acey McClain looked even more alert. “He’s back again? Guess he must have beaten the last injunction – the one filed for harassing the family of that kid that found a pristine 1892 20$ gold piece at Mills Farm?”
“You don’t have to remind me, Chief – I was there, and the kid’s mom is my second-cousin. Yeah, that guy, and he’s gone again, lucky for Luna City. He definitely got the message. He packed up and went, as soon as he got a stitch or two and a shot of antibiotics at the Med center …” Kate snickered. “I cornered him in the parking lot there after he was released, asking him for his reaction. “
“Good girl, Kate!” Acey McClain radiated approval. “Sixty Minutes material, no fooling, kid – you’ll be in the big-time, any time!”
“God no, Chief – I’ve got some standards! Back to the all-hands punch-up on the banks of the San Antonio River. Another party of individuals charged in the brawl – three guys trying to do a stand-up for a YouTube feature about the mysterious Luna Lights…”
“What was it about those lights,” Acey folded his hands together and regarded his most energetic and enterprising young reporter with happy anticipation. “You find out anything about them? Optical illusion, secret Pentagon aircraft, mass hallucination – what?”
Kate fetched up a deep sigh from the depths of her news-hungry yet strangely ethical soul. “Fire lanterns, Chief. All that it was. I talked to Sefton Grant and his crew of superannuated hippies. They were celebrating the Solstice, or some such crap. They launched fire lanterns – you know – those paper hot-air balloons, with a candle burning under them, about twenty minutes before that guy with the cellphone recorded three of them drifting over the road. I even checked with the weather service – the prevailing wind at that time would have sent them in a westward direction. Fire lanterns – nothing more.”
We spent the weekend after Thanksgiving in Johnson City, Texas, where they established the tradition of firing up for the Christmas holidays by covering the Blanco County courthouse with god-knows-how-many hundreds-of-thousands of lights, hanging in strands from the roof edge to the ground and noting the start of the holiday season in the Hill Country with a bang … a round of fireworks at about 7 PM Friday, as soon as it was well-dark. The firework show was lavish – and the three rows of vendor pavilions and the spectators in courthouse square were so close to it that little bits of spent ash from the fireworks sifted down on us. I hadn’t seen anything so splendid, or been so close – practically underneath it all – since a Fourth of July celebration at the Rio Cibolo Ranch in 2009.The trunks of the pecan and oak trees star-scattered on the lawn around the courthouse were strung with lights, and the facades of many establishments around the courthouse square were also lavishly lit up. This whole ‘lighting for Christmas’ kicked off similar displays in other small communities and towns, but Johnson City is still the lead event. The crowds on Friday and Saturday evenings were substantial and in the proper mood for buying. My daughter and I made our expenses Friday evening, so sales on Saturday and Sunday were gravy. Our expenses were more than just the quite reasonable table/booth fee, since Johnson City is slightly more than an hour drive from home. We considered the drive to and from for three days running; two such trips at ten o’clock at night on a relatively unlighted country highway, with drunk drivers, speeding trucks, suicidal deer … and said, ‘oh, hell no.’
The nearest available affordable lodgings turned out to be at the Miller Creek RV Resort, which has three little cabins with a bathroom and functional kitchenette for rent. We booked one for two nights; the cabin porch presented a lovely view of the creek, which we were never to relish, as we were there only to sleep – long and deeply, following ten or twelve hours of active selling. The Miller’s Creek RV Park is a lovely little place, by the way; immaculately groomed and landscaped. It’s not one of those luxury destination RV resorts by any means, but a modest comfortable place, beautifully arranged – they even have a minuscule dog park, in addition to the usual facilities.
I think that the most reassuring part of our experience this last weekend wasn’t entirely due to the satisfactory sales – it was the experience itself. The people in this smallish Hill Country town came together to put on their yearly extravaganza. Volunteers from various local organizations giving it their all; families with children and polite teenagers, lined up in front of the cotton-candy vendor, right next to us. That vendor had the brilliant inspiration to sell his cotton-candy spun around a lighted plastic wand, which made the wad of candy look like clouds with a varicolored lightening-storm going on behind it. (Purchase the wand – get unlimited refills of cotton-candy!)
Any number of those polite teenagers came and bought origami earrings from my daughter, or inveigled their parents to buy them – indeed, there was one particularly engaging teenager who admired the earrings so much that my daughter sighed and gave her the particular pair that she favored, asking only that when Engaging Teenager had the money, to come back and pay for them. The very next night, Engaging Teenager returned with four crumpled dollar bills and four quarters. She confessed to wanting to be a writer and talked at length about what she liked in the way of books, how she kept being distracted by new ideas when writing, and how she was bound and determined to finish a story of hers for her grandmother’s Christmas present – because Gran had asked for just that thing. Engaging Teenager has the very same problem that I did, way back in the early days of my scribbling career; to whit – never being able to finish anything. We talked for a bit about that; reassuring and encouraging Engaging Teenager as an aspiring writer, though I suppose that we will never know if we did her any good. I did give her a copy of Lone Star Sons (autographed with a personal message, of course!), assuring Engaging Teenager that my one YA book venture might be a help in demonstrating the art of short adventure-writing. Such a nice kid – we hope that later teenagery won’t spoil her charm and spirit.
There was the procession of lighted automobiles, trucks, and tractors, some of them towing floats for the lighted parade on Saturday, the marching band and the senior citizen synchronized marching team with their lighted lawn-chairs … it was all very reassuring to me. Small-town America is still here, still confident, still ably conducting their own affairs, neighbor to neighbor – even when the neighbor is only a member of the peripatetic small-business gypsy-market. (I took pictures, using the ‘night’ function on the camera. Alas – none of those pictures came out very well at all.Speaking of gypsy marketing; I bought my Christmas present indulgence for myself; a pair of vintage earrings from one of the other vendors. His family business specialized in vintage and estate jewelry, mostly silver and a large part reclaimed from a smelter in San Antonio. You know – those businesses who buy old silver and gold jewelry; it goes to be melted down. This enterprise has an agreement with the local smelter to let them come in, look over the takings and purchase at cost those items with artistic merit. But my Christmas present for myself wasn’t one of those so rescued; they were from an estate sale. Described as silver – I thought they had a gold wash – and reddish-brown jasper stones; this was a pair of acorn-shaped earrings. I liked them very much, especially as they go with the brown tweed Edwardian walking suit outfit. So – my present for myself.
Oh, and I wore a different vintage outfit every one of the three days. They worked very well for merchandising purposes – and yes, I will do this again. Many times.
We had a lovely time last weekend in Giddings, for the 11th Annual Word Wrangler event, although we skipped getting BBQ from the City Meat Market this time, in favor of taking some pictures of the Giddings Volunteer Fire Department vehicles. This will be for the next Luna City book, wherein Richard, the former celebrity chef, in trying to become a better person and responsible member of the eccentric little community of Luna City, decides to be a volunteer fire fighter … but all that will come next year. For now, we are finishing up the third Luna City book, Luna City 3.1, which should be available very, very soon. This is the volume which will reveal the location of the Mills Treasure, involve Richard in a local drama society presentation, a possible romantic involvement, the resolution of his entanglement with Susannah the Bunny Boiler … and developing a closer friendship with some of the other Lunaites, such as Chris Mayall, Joe Vaughn, and the Walcott family. Oh, and see the eccentric treasure hunter Xavier Gunnison Penn bitten on the rump by an enraged llama … but I don’t want to give away simply everything. The cover was completed this week; the ebook should be ready in the next few days, and the print version available by the end of this month. The writing on the Luna City books goes quite swiftly, in comparison to the historicals, mostly because of the research. Although there is some research necessary for Luna City, the necessary elements are much easier to find, being mostly of a contemporary nature.
Following on the Word Wrangler, my daughter had an art event in San Marcos – with another event this Saturday. This involves her original origami crane earrings. Last weekends’ event went very well; although there were many other artists set up on the courthouse lawn in San Marcos, she had about the most affordable items there. We rather liked the set-up, as the various artists participating had to submit pictures of their art/products, by way of proving that they just weren’t re-selling cheap junk from China but things they had made by hand, themselves. Like many another shopper going to these local craft fairs and markets – it’s kind of disappointing to go and see the same-old, same-old items in booth after booth.
We are working up our schedule of events for this last quarter of the year; between my books, and her paper jewelry, we might very well be doing something every weekend from the end of this month to the week before Christmas: craft fairs and markets in Bastrop, Giddings, Bulverde, Boerne, New Braunfels, Blanco, Johnson City and Goliad are all in the mix – it depends on our own stamina, sales, and the table fees. And that was my week – yours?
(The Luna City Volunteer Fire Department will figure in an upcoming volume of the Chronicles of Luna City … so a little background is in order.)
The Luna City Volunteer Fire Department is Luna City’s oldest and most venerable civic establishment, established in 1878, beating out the Masonic Lodge by a matter of eight months, and the Catholic parish of Saints Margaret and Anthony by a full year. Arthur Wells McAllister designed a building intended to serve as a fire house at the south-east corner of Town Square. The building, now a retail space for several antique and crafters, was the firehouse for thirty years. The distinctive twin double-door entrances meant to facilitate a pair of horse-drawn hose and pumper wagons are still evident in the façade.
Arthur Wells McAllister, being a forward-thinking city planner, naturally made accommodation for every civic service and improvement required by the last quarter of the 19th century. In the days when cooking, heating, and lighting a home depended on wood or coal fires, oil lamps or candles, domestic fires were an all-too-frequent occurrence, and an organized fire-fighting company of some kind was a civic necessity secondary only to a law-enforcement function. A busy man himself, Arthur Wells McAllister presented the task of organizing a fire company to another founding member of Luna City, Madison R. Bodie. Bodie, who had originally been a ranch foreman at Captain Herbert Kling Wyler’s Lazy W, had saved his wages and investment share into a business providing patent cattle feed, grain and hay to his former employer and other local ranchers. A native of San Antonio, Madison Bodie had been an active member of Milam Steam Fire Company #1, and thus had the ideal experience to take on organizing a new civic volunteer firefighting company.
Madison Bodie soon had recruited thirty fit and enthusiastic male volunteers, and attracted the generous support of town merchants. A pair of horse-drawn steam-powered pumps was purchased from the Waterous Engine Works Company, of St. Paul, Minnesota. For many years, community celebrations featured a race between Engine #1 and Engine #2 around the perimeter of Town Square. The two engines faced their first serious fire-fighting challenge in extinguishing a fire at the mansion of Morgan Sheffield – like Arthur McAllister and Madison Bodie, a man who had expected more of Luna City’s prospects than were eventually delivered. Morgan Sheffield, who settled on a small tract of land along the river, slightly to the south of Luna City, had found a natural sulphur hot-spring in the course of building his home. He had entertained hopes of a hotel and curative spa on the site. Work had just barely begun on a bathhouse and hotel, when a lightning strike on the roof of his house during a summer thunderstorm set fire to the roof.
The volunteers, alerted by one of the workmen, raced to the scene, and were successful in extinguishing the fire. In gratitude and as a token of his esteem, Morgan Sheffield had a silver speaking trumpet engraved with the date, the emblem of the company, and presented to Fire Company Chief Bodie. The silver engraved speaking trumpet was a prized symbol of authority, and after it ceased to be a practical tool for directing firefighters, it was displayed in a special glass case in the firehouse.
Eventually, the original firehouse building proved too small and ill-placed to accommodate Luna City’s first fully-motorized ladder and pumper fire trucks, which were purchased in 1920 and 1922. The fire department moved to its present location on West Elm Street, although the present-day fire house is the third building on that site. The first building on the site had to be extensively expanded with the acquisition of larger vehicles in subsequent decades. Embarrassingly, the second firehouse burned to the ground on the 4th of July, 1939, while all vehicles and volunteers were attending to a massive fire in a hay-barn on the Wyler Ranch. Many relics dating from the early years of the LCVFD were lost in that fire, including the silver speaking trumpet, and other artifacts and memorabilia.
The present Luna City VFD building accommodates a multi-purpose fire engine, a tender and a ladder truck, a brush truck for fighting grass and brushfires, a command truck and the ambulance, living quarters for full-time fire fighters, medics. and volunteers on regular shift, a classroom, storage area and wash-rack. There are six full-time paid professional firefighters; the remainder of the eighty-strong force are volunteers; either reserve, in training status or junior members. Junior members must be of high school age, and participate in regular training sessions. They assist with fundraising and educational outreach to the local community, and are considered full-fledged members of the LCVFD after their 18th birthday. Training sessions are held weekly; Wednesday evenings from 6-9 PM.