The Cattleman Hotel – Luna City
(From Texas Highways, 2005)

Among the dozen notable late 19th Century Beaux-Arts style buildings lining Luna City’s historic Town Square is the Cattleman Hotel. Four stories tall, with a mansard-style roof which adds still another story, the exterior is a flamboyant combination of mellow rose-pink Texas granite, with architectural trimmings of imported Carrera marble; window and door surrounds balustrades and pediments creating a notable contrast. The frieze, cornice and projecting modillions were also of Carrera marble, with primary highlights picked out in gold. A large half-circular bay formed the main ground-floor double-door entrance, sheltered with an ornate cast-iron and glass canopy, and extended through the upper floors to the cornice as a series of stacked bay windows with narrow balustrades.
The Cattleman Hotel originally was named the Grand Palazzo Vittoria Hotel; designed and constructed with no expense spared in 1885 by one of Luna City’s original minor investors, an Italian gentleman and entrepreneur of means, Signor Afredo Vittorio di Barreca. At this time, Luna City’s investors had expected the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway would pass through Luna City; Arthur Wells McAllister, the engineer and surveyor who had laid out the town and designed much of the still-extant public buildings, had designed a particularly ornate railway station (which would have been constructed about where the Luna City Police Department and Volunteer Fire department garages are located now). Arthur Wells McAllister also expected Luna City to become the county seat, and accordingly planned a fabulously ornate courthouse to occupy Town Square instead of the pleasant square of oak trees, lawns and flowerbeds which adorn the space today. Signor di Barreca, therefore, designed and outfitted his enterprise in the full confidence that his palatial hotel would become the cynosure of local social life and a refuge for weary travelers; thirty-five guest rooms, including three suites, a gentleman’s smoking room on the second floor, a lavish bar with backbar, etched mirror, glass shelves and fittings made from imported Circassian walnut, a dining room capable of seating a hundred diners at a time, and a ballroom with a stage at one end, suitable for concerts and theatrical performances.
Signor di Barreca, already middle-aged and prosperous through his previous hotel properties in Italy and in the eastern US, was married to a young woman barely half his age, Filomena Gismondi, who had ambitions as an opera singer. Although quite beautiful, vivacious and charming, and with a pleasing singing voice, young Signora Gismodi had neither the drive or luck to continue performing professionally on the opera stage, and it is assumed, gratefully accepted an offer of marriage. Signor di Barreca was, however, indulgent of his young wife, and it is said, had the ballroom and stage included in the design of his establishment so that she could continue giving recitals and concerts.
Alas – as has been related elsewhere, the grand ambitions of all those who invested in the vision of Luna City as a traveler’s mecca, and county seat – were undone by love. Signor di Barreca, like Arthur Wells McAllister, was not unduly cast down by this misfortune, but zestfully turned his energies into carrying on his own vision of his hotel as a destination and show-place for winter visitors to Texas, refugees from the snow-clad north. In this he was successful for some two decades. Shortly after the turn of the last century, he invested in a motor-coach, which made daily journeys between the nearest railroad station in Karnesville and his hotel, emblazed with the name of the Grand Palazzo Vittoria Hotel, bearing visitors to and fro, while advertising his hotel. The di Barrecas were cosmopolitan in their tastes and travels, returning frequently to visit Europe and England during those years, the height of the so-called Belle Époque.
Signor and Signora di Barreca were the parents of one child, a son named after his father, born in 1896. The senior Signor di Barreca passed away while visiting his homeland in 1908, and his widow promptly remarried. The younger Signor Alfredo returned to Texas, and for several years managed the Grand Palazzo in much the same manner as his father had, although with much less ferocious energy. Upon the outbreak of the First World War, he sold the hotel to the then-owner of the Bodie Feed mill, Alexander Bodie, who was then waxing prosperous, and returned posthaste to Italy, where he enlisted in the Italian Army and perished in fighting on the Italio-Austrian front several years later.
Alexander Bodie tasked one of his younger sons, Curtis, with the management of the Grand Palazzo Vittoria. Almost his first act upon taking over was to change the name to “The Cattleman Hotel”, although faint traces of the original name may still be seen, where they were emblazoned in gold letters on the façade over the third-story bay window. Under that name, the hotel continued to prosper through the first three decades of the twentieth century, although not quite on the same flamboyant scale as previously. A number of the rooms were refitted to accommodate in-suite private bathrooms, during this period, although such renovations were halted by the ravages of the Depression, which hit South Texas as hard as anywhere else. Wartime shortages and gas rationing had an effect as well, although there was a slight recovery seen in the late 1940s. Still, postwar prosperity and renewed travel opportunities could not repair twenty years of dwindling demand. Many of the smaller rooms on upper floors were emptied of furnishings and closed off permanently.
The second and third-floor rooms continued in sporadic use, as well as the hotel bar and the ballroom – often used for special receptions, meetings and community events, such as a visit by then vice-President Johnson in 1961. But what demand there was for rooms and special events fell precipitously with the development of Mills Farm ten years later. Mills Farm and VPI had the lock on providing entertainment and hospitality venues; with the added benefit of offering an old-fashioned classic Texas experience updated with every modern convenience. In a modern sense, the Cattleman Hotel was extraneous to needs, and in the centennial year of 1976, Curtis Bodie sold the place to a consortium of the Luna City municipality and the Luna City Historical Association for what amounted to a token payment. It was thought possible for a time to use part of the place as a museum, and indeed, the old main lobby is used to this day as a display space for various local historic relics. According to long-time Luna City Historical Association member, Leticia McAllister, there is no truth to the rumor that Mills Farm’s parent company, Venue Properties, International, attempted to purchase the historic building outright and move it to the present Mills Farm Property – although that rumor was widely circulated at the time, and helped engender a considerable degree of local distrust towards Mills Farm – a distrust that continues to this day. The plan was, as MS McAllister avers in a recent interview with our reporter, presented as using the old grand hotel as an adjunct hotel facility for Mills Farm/VPI, but the terms offered were so insulting, they were rejected after brief and acrimonious consultation.
The municipality and the historical association are able to maintain the ballroom and dining room as an event venue, although the electrical system is not normally equal to the demands which modern-day celebrations put on it. The Historical Association maintains an office in one of the upper floor rooms, and the city government does so with another two rooms. Many of the remaining rooms are used as overflow storage by the city, the Luna City Independent School District and the Historical Association. The three suites are maintained, ready for rent to interested parties, although of late, this mostly means ghost hunters.
Yes – the Cattleman Hotel is widely reputed to be haunted; there are the customary moving lights behind the windows of long-uninhabited rooms, and docents who volunteer at the lobby-area museum often insist that they hear the sounds of male voices, and bottles and glassware rattling in the old bar … a room which is customarily locked. Guests in the three still-used suites have often insisted they detect the odor of pipe tobacco and cigars in the hallway adjacent to the old smoking salon on the second floor – also a room long emptied and locked. There are said to be three main ghosts in the old hotel. None can actually be tied to real people with certainty through historical records – although not from the want of trying on the part of folklorists and ghost-hunters. The first is said to be that of a woman guest – well-bred and traveling alone (possibly to meet her lover?) who killed herself with poison in a guest room on the second floor sometime in the late 1880s. Her spirit is said to be the one who roams the second floor, seeming to search for someone. The top floor, which housed hotel staff in the days when the place had live-in staff, is haunted by the spirit of another woman; a maid or housekeeper who was murdered by a spurned boyfriend; she is reported to manifest by the sounds of an invisible broom, sweeping dust … which is seen moving in brief spurts along the floor. The third ghost is that of a reckless young cowboy, who was robbed of his takings at a not-so-friendly poker game in the livery stable which once stood behind the Cattleman Hotel. It is this ghost who is reportedly responsible for the voices and the noises in the old bar.
The Cattleman Hotel is located at the western side of Luna City’s historic Town Square. Tours of the building may be arranged by contacting the Historical Society, or the office of the Mayor. When not in his office in City Hall, the mayor may be found at his place of business, Abernathy Hardware.

The Mighty Fighting Luna Moth! - Designed by Alex of 2iii Graphics!

The Mighty Fighting Luna Moth! – Designed by Alex of 2iii Graphics!

Yes – Luna City is now home to a CafePress shop! The first items available are with the Luna Cafe and Coffee logo – here!

For the coffee shop on Town Square that is the usual morning gathering place.

For the coffee shop on Town Square that is the usual morning gathering place.

Winterl 2016 Newsletter-1
Winterl 2016 Newsletter-2

(Not drawn to scale, nor including all facilities – but to give an idea of the general lay-out of Town Square and of the location of some of the shops and establishments surrounding Town Square.)

Map of Luna City - Town Square

Tickets are available at most Luna City buisinesses, including the Cattleman Hotel, Stein's Wild West Roundup, the Luna Cafe and Coffee, and at the Chamber of Commerce.

Tickets are available at most Luna City businesses, including the Cattleman Hotel, Stein’s Wild West Roundup, the Luna Cafe and Coffee, and at the Chamber of Commerce.

Theater with TowerThe Luna City Players are one of, if not the longest-established community theatrical groups in Karnes County, having roots in a small group of amateur performers known as “The Lunatics” who were famed for performing as a minstrel group in and around the local area in the late 1880s. The Lunatics also acted in farces and bawdy comedies, but around the turn of the last century turned to a more formal organization and more elevated materiel. In some years, they were able to mount three or four separate productions, with performances weekly, of classic and popular plays. With the popularity of motion pictures throughout the years since the 1920s, there was not so much demand for locally-sourced entertainments, yet the Luna City Players continued, with traditional theatrical presentations, and with short original presentations, tableaux, and skits to mark celebrations such as Founders’ Day, the 4th of July and at Christmas. In the last half dozen years, under the direction of Patricia Wyler Pryor, the Players have begun performing original material by a selection of local South Texas writers and playwrights.
The Players performance space and rehearsal facility is the historic Koenig Opera House on Town Square – an intimate 200-capacity hall, which once was Luna City’s movie theater, and remains the newest of the structures lining Town Square, dating as it does from 1922. Once merely a wide alley-way between The Cattleman Hotel and O’Byrne’s Fine Haberdashery (now housing the Ssts Margaret and Anthony Parish thrift shop) leading to a livery stable behind the Cattleman Hotel, the Opera House filled in that long, narrow space, adorning the façade on Town Square with colorful glazed tiles and a fabulously ornate marquee. The Koenig still hosts movie showings on a regular basis, showing mainly classic old black and white silent pictures, with live organ accompaniment. (Consult the Chamber of Commerce website for a current schedule.)

Dance with the Bunny Boiler in the Pale Moonlight

Some weeks after Romeo Gonzales arrived and set up his own campsite in the near-deserted Age of Aquarius, Richard pedaled up the road – deftly avoiding the ruts, bumps and puddles that nature and the passage of the occasional heavy vehicle had scoured into the clay-like soil with the skill of experience. It had rained lightly the night before, so puddles there were in plenty, and the fresh new grass had begun just raising tender new blades coyly between the old dead hay of the previous season.
On the whole, he had found Romeo Gonzales to be a congenial neighbor, given that it was hard to be anything else at half an acre space between their trailers and workplaces some blocks distant from each other. At least, Romeo showed no inclination to conspire together with malignantly-inclined micro-media operatives to ambush him at the door with lights, cameras and harassing commentary, unlike the egregious Penn. Who, in concordance with the injunction delivered through Jess, showed every inclination of making himself scarce whenever Richard was around. Richard was profoundly glad of that, not least because he treasured his afternoons of solitary contemplation of the pleasant but uninspiring landscape and his studies in Larousse.
And besides all that, Romeo was good at fixing things. He took it upon himself to shinny up and lubricate the old-fashioned windmill that drove the water-pump which supplied hot water to the old concrete block washhouse in the campground. Romeo adjusted the handbrakes and the chain of Richard’s bicycle, and when completely bored and bereft of things to do, popped up the hood of his pick-up truck and tinkered with the mysteries within. Still, Richard had looked out of the Airstream’s windows, very late at night, rubbing his eyes because he thought he could see some kind of ephemeral apparition – kind of like the Northern Lights, but rather more red-tinged than electric green, writhing and twisting in the air over Romeo’s Fifth-wheel. But as soon as he blinked, that vision was gone.
Now, that very pick-up coasted slowly across the campground, and Romeo leaned out of the drivers’ side window. “Hey, Rich – I’m heading out to Karnesville to swap out my propane bottles; you were saying that one of yours is empty and the other almost – you wanna come along?”
“Certainly – and thanks for the offer,” Richard answered with honest gratitude. “Run over to the Airstream – I’ll put them in.” He had been experimenting with various interesting recipes on the tiny propane-powered cooker in the Airstream, which had completely drained one tank – and to judge how the burner flame had been flickering of late – was close to emptying the other. The tanks were heavy – and the Walmart in Karnesville was a good ten or fifteen miles distant. In the space of a minute or two, his tanks were in the back of Romeo’s sturdy workman’s pick-up, and they were out on Route 123 – the back road between San Antonio and Aransas Pass, which gained in scenic qualities and relative lack of traffic in its soothing meandering across scenic portions of South Texas what it lacked in the boring celerity of the major highway.
But there was frequent traffic upon it; some miles along the way to Karnesville, the two of them witnessed evidence of that, in the form of a very late-model, velvet-black Mercedes sedan, off on the grassy verge on the other side of the road. The front left tire of the Mercedes was fatally, hopelessly flattened, and the driver stood uncertainly by it, very obviously boggled by this misfortune, although she held a cellphone in her hand.
“Oh, man,” Said Roman, in admiration. “What a gorgeous piece …”
“I don’t care!” Richard, recognizing the unfortunate driver, was horrified. He barely restrained his first impulse to dive under the passenger-side dashboard of Romeo’s truck – which being one of these huge garish American things, would have been big enough to hide at least two people, three of them if they were light of build. “Drive on – that’s the horrible Susannah! She’s a stalker, the bunny-boiler of Mills Farm! An executive of theirs! She has haunted me – chased after me! She came out to the trailer … for god’s sake, man – don’t stop! If you do, you’ll regret it, I tell you!”
“She came out to the Aquarius?” Romeo answered. “Damn, Rich, she’s way to classy for a regular lot lizard. I’ll run that risk, sure. And that Merc is one awesome bit of machinery.” He sighed, as the pick-up swept past the stranded Mercedes. “Sorry, man – you have issues with her. Your problem, not mine. I don’t leave ladies with car trouble by the roadside – just my personal standard.” He grinned sideways at Richard, who felt his heart sink right down to the level of his trainers. (Bought at Marisol Gonzalez’s thrift shop in Karnesville. He did wonder briefly if he could impose on Romeo to make a quick pit-stop there after trading in the gas bottles.)
“She’s a remora in human-guise,” Richard gabbled, frantic and horrified, as Romeo made an easy U-turn and drove back towards the stranded Mercedes and Susannah Wyatt – as always, slim and dressed to the nines in elegant and high-fashion vacation wear. “Just drive on! Call your uncle with the garage and the wrecker – anything! Once she latches onto your flesh, she doesn’t let go! A relentless succubus …”
“Sounds like my kind of woman!” Unmoved, Romeo did another U-turn and eased the pick-up off the road, backing up and parking just ahead of Susannah and her stranded Mercedes.
Richard slid down in the passenger seat, lower and lower, hissing between his teeth as Romeo turned off his engine, “I won’t be a part of this – I can’t be a part of this! For the love of God, don’t let her see me – don’t tell her I am here! The woman is a menace – you have no idea of what you are letting yourself in for …”
“No problem, bro,” Romeo answered, with total assurance. He unsnapped his seat belt, and opened the driver-side door. “I reckon maybe that I do … and I just won’t leave a woman stranded by the roadside with car trouble. That’s just not the Gonzales way.”
“You’ll live to regret it!” Richard made one final frantic and fruitless plea … to no avail. He slid farther down in the passenger seat, certain that he would not be seen, since Romeo’s truck sat so much higher than the Mercedes and had tinted windows in the back. But he could observe what transpired in the mirrors and hear Romeo’s and Susannah’s voices since the windows were open.
Romeo – swaggering just the tiniest bit like an old movie cowboy – doffed his hat and drawled, “Say there, little lady, you look like you’ve got a flat tire, there.”
Richard sank even farther down in the seat. “Oh, god – the bloody stereotype. Kill me now.” He couldn’t hear Susannah’s reply, but Romeo continued, “Don’t you fret, ma’am, I can change it for ya – just show me where your spare is. I got all the tools I need in the back of my truck. I’m Romeo Gonzales, by the way – of the Luna City Gonzaleses. You must be Miss Wyatt, from out at Mills Farm … I’ve heard so much about you.”

(to be continued in amusing fashion. Luna City 3.14159 will be released late this year, in both print and ebook versions.)

All of us with Bridget Smith

All of us with Bridget Smith


So – the Daughter Unit and I spend the greater part of Monday morning doing our bit for the San Antonio Indy Authors and our second bookfest, this coming Saturday. C.M. Bratton, our tireless organizer for this bookfest and last years’ managed to get us a bit of publicity on the KENS-5 mid-morning show, Great Day SA. What with one thing and another over the years, we’ve been to their studios over on Fredericksburg Road – the last time was for the first bookfest, so the Daughter Unit and I knew the drill. Meet with C. M. and the other authors in the visitor parking lot, draw our special T-shirts, sign in on the guestbook in the lobby, get a badge from the receptionist, be escorted in a group to the studio, and find places for ourselves on the bleachers. I don’t know what it is for Good Morning SA when there isn’t a fairly substantial group of people, but it appears that the guests generally serve as the in-studio audience, and rotate into position when their segment comes up.

All very structured, of course; a snippet of news, a weather and traffic report, and then on to the light and fluffy stuff. Oddly enough, I found this program very comforting after the last couple of weeks of news; a long hot summer of race riots, ISIS coming up with horrible new ways to execute people, Europe melting down over Brexit, rumblings of menace from China and Russia … really, I was beginning to dread turning on the computer of a morning and discovering some fresh hell in the headlines.

So – let’s see; what was a summer Monday on Great Day SA all about? Well, there was a franchise ice cream parlor owner, who demonstrated how to whip up instantly frozen ice cream by using liquid nitrogen. I really couldn’t see from where I was sitting in the bleachers – but it seems that it involves stirring in a dash of liquid nitrogen into the ice cream base. It was just hard to tell, with all the white clouds of vapor, dissolving all over the place. And then – a bit about how to keep dogs comfortable in the summer; the owner of a doggie day care and spa, which has a swimming pool for dogs, was interviewed, with one of her dogs on hand. He was a big brown cupcake of a pit named Moose, who was a bit restless but otherwise well-behaved. There is a special kind doggie ice cream, it appears; a specially formulated frozen whey, which is better for them than cream and sugar.
There were three performers and two puppets from the Magik Theater, and the theater manager, doing a song from their current production; La Cinderella. This is a musical adaptation of the Cinderella story, set in Spanish Colonial San Antonio. And then – a new hospital facility opening up; specializing in physical therapy and rehabilitation – which looks to be quite awesomely well-appointed. The pictures of the lobby looked like the lobby of a particularly luxurious hotel.

And then – our bit, at the end of the hour, with C. M. wrapping it all up and the rest of us holding up our books. Not a bad way to kill a morning, and if it brings out crowds to Say Si on Saturday, then all to the good!

Yes, from the next Luna City Chronicle – an excerpt introducing Araceli and Berto’s cousin Romeo, who works in the oilfields and … well, things happen when he is around. Things involving broken hearts and occasionally smoking rubble…

Romeo

When Richard woke the next morning – having slept the sleep of the righteous in Superman sheets – he was alone in the Gonzales children’s bedroom, where mid-morning summer sunlight leaked around the edges of the roller blind that covered the single window. The bed opposite, neatly made with Disney princess sheets, was empty and Kate Heisel was gone; Richard was unsure if he was regretful over that, or not. In telling him bluntly that he was very much a celebrity back number and that no one in his old life seemed inclined to seek him out for any purpose; that was a comfort in one way, but a definite kick in the crotch to his ego in another.
His clothing from the night before was neatly folded and stacked at the foot of the bed where Kate had slept, his shoes next to them. Really, Araceli thought of everything. Richard dressed – his native good manners belatedly kicking into overdrive – and took his borrowed pajamas with him.
The smell of bacon frying greeted him out in the small kitchen, where a sleepy-eyed Patrick was scrambling eggs at the stove.

“Hi, Rich,” Patrick yawned. “’Celi said you were sleeping like a rock – and not to bother you until you woke up. She’s gone to work, the kids are at school – me, I’ll hit the sack myself in another twenty minutes.”
“What time is it?” Richard asked. “Thanks for the loan of the PJs. I was … not in good shape last night, but I am much better, now – thanks to yours’ and Araceli’s hospitality.”
“Half past nine,” Patrick answered. “Glad to hear it … ‘Celi said it was quite a ruckus last night. I’m sorry to have missed the excitement. But on the other hand – I might not have been near as polite as Joe was. Just put those in the laundry basket in the bathroom, and siddown for a bit of breakfast. You want some hot sauce on your eggs?”
“No, I’m pretty much a traditionalist when it comes to my morning eggs,” Richard replied, repressing a small shudder,
“You’re missing a thrill,” Patrick shrugged. “Everything goes better with a bit of siracha sauce.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Richard replied. They ate breakfast in companionable silence, Patrick stifling the occasional yawn. Richard, still feeling a little at odds through not having another day at work, decided that he would ride the bicycle home to the Airstream and spend a leisurely afternoon reading Larousse. The weather being temperate – cool autumn being welcomed after the searing blast of summer – he might even sit outside.

His bicycle was where he had left it the afternoon before, leaning against the stairs leading to the screened back porch. As he left by the front, where a low chain-link fence enclosed the front garden, he did note a single lonely news microphone covered with an enormous furry windscreen muff lying abandoned by the gate. It looked at first glance like a very large, very road-killed raccoon. A Basset hound with lugubriously drooping ears waddled over from across the road, cocked a leg and peed luxuriously on it, and looked at Richard as if seeking approval.
“Good boy!” Richard said. Gunnison Penn and his friends must have retrieved the rest of their jettisoned video gear under cover of darkness. He wheeled out his bicycle and set off, feeling as if he were on a bit of a holiday.

Coming up to the dirt road turn-off for the Age of Aquarius, he heard a truck behind him – slowing to make the turn. He took the prudent step of pulling entirely off the road and letting the truck pass him; a slightly battered but otherwise well-kept extended cab pick-up truck of the sort that half the working men around Luna City drove. There was a weathered twenty-foot Fifth-Wheel travel trailer hitched to the back of the truck – one of the plain bare-bones models without any of the bump-outs that increased the living space when parked. Trailer and truck alike were layered in dust, and alike bore North Dakota license plates. Richard let the dust settle, before he followed after; it looked like Romeo Gonzales had not followed the advice of his friends to just keep going.
Well, thought Richard – a social gain for him, in having company at the Age of Aquarius, besides the over-friendly goats and the annoying Canadian treasure hunter, Gunnison Penn. By the time he got to the campground field proper, the driver of the truck had deftly backed the Fifth-wheel into a parking place at the other end of the field from the Airstream. Well – since the place was all but empty for much of the year, they might as well give each other space. As far as Richard was concerned, Gunnison Penn could give them all the space of the entire county.

“I wonder how much longer he’ll be staying anyway,” Richard wondered aloud. He really hoped that Romeo would be a more congenial neighbor, in spite of Sefton Grant’s worrisome aside about Romeo’s propensity for attracting strange energies, and Araceli’s tale of how he was a particularly disaster-prone Jonah in the oil fields. So, good that his Fifth-wheel and pick-up were parked the length of the campground away. Richard propped his bicycle against one of the posts that held a metal awning over the Airstream and opened the door; he had adjusted so much to the ambiance of Luna City that he never locked door any more, either. He felt again the contentment of coming home, a feeling unknown to him since his school-days. When Romeo the walking disaster-area was done with settling his trailer in, he might walk over and introduce himself.
Some fifteen minutes later, a small yellow Jeep Wrangler appeared in the rutted and unpaved lane leading to the campground. Richard closed Larousse Gastronomique; Jess Abernathy; thirtyish CPA and championship barrel-racer, daughter of Martin the acting mayor, an Abernathy of the hardware store Abernathys, who as things went in Luna City were nearly one of the establishing old families. The Jeep bumped across the lumpy field and parked next to the Airstream, and Jess emerged from the driver’s seat.

“Hi, Rich,” she said, with an expression of relief. “Doc said that I should check on you today, although Araceli says you seemed to be OK this morning.”
“I’m fine,” Rich answered. “You needn’t have gone to the trouble.”
“No trouble,” Jess grinned, mischievously. “And I was coming out here anyway. When Doc heard about last night, he was pretty pissed-off. He considers you one of his personal projects, which is terribly patriarchal of him, but hey – consider him a product of his age and upbringing. He had his personal lawyer get ahold of the district judge and write up an injunction. Mr. Gunnison Penn is hereby instructed on pain of arrest to not approach within thirty feet of your person, your place of residence, the Café, or any private or public place where you happen to be.” Jess flashed a large manila envelope. “And the same with regard to Araceli and Patrick and their kids. I was charged with delivering copies of the injunction to Mr. Penn, since Doc was too angry to wait on the availability of a bailiff. Not an errand, but simply one of life’s little pleasures.”
“Ah – it seems this Monday morning has much to recommend it,” Richard was feeling better and better. “And your friend Romeo has arrived safely – is that him?”
“It certainly is,” Jess shaded her eyes. The distant driver of the truck with North Dakota plates was now busying himself with setting the braces to balance the trailer, and unhitch it from the truck bed. She looked amused and exasperated. “But we really aren’t friends, as it were. He was … oh, three years ahead of me in high school and our social circles didn’t intersect. He was a total jock … Around here, there is a sort of social pecking order, based on your sport. Did you play sports at your school, Rich?”
“Nothing brutal like rugger – I was on the rowing team, and on the school sailboat.”
“La de-dah,” Jess snickered. “Then you wouldn’t have rated at all, when it came to date-bait. Neither did I, back then.”
“I presume that you were a total swot … what you Yanks call a bookworm?”
“Glasses and braces both,” Jess nodded. “Romeo was always perfectly charming … but just a sort of male butterfly, flitting from flower to blooming flower. He usually didn’t bother much with the barely-open buds.”
“I was going to wait a while before I introduced myself,” Richard ventured. At that moment, Sefton Grant appeared from the direction of the Grant’s untidy yurt-based home site farther up the hill. He was carrying something over his shoulder – several very long slender poles, some of them tipped with … Richard blinked. Some kind of green glass insulating knobs, of the old-fashioned sort that used to be used to insulate electrical wires, and a heavy sledge-hammer in the other. “What on earth …”
“We may as well go say howdy,” Jess said, firmly. “And see what fresh lunacy Sefton and Judy are going to inflict on their guests. Mostly it’s the fairly harmless kind, although the LCVFD safety officer did have to warn them sternly about that sweat-lodge they built at mid-summer…”

As they passed Gunnison Penn’s RV with the fading Treasure Hunter International logo painted across the side, Sefton Grant had paced off the corners of the space surrounding Romeo Gonzales’ Fifth-wheel. He was setting a pole in each corner, plunging the end deep into the ground – which had been mercifully soften by a series of recent rains – and then pounding it further in with blows from the sledge-hammer. Each blow clanged like a bell; once well-seated in the earth, the second, glass-tipped pole was set into it.

Jess muttered something under breath about New Age crapola, and demanded, “Sefton, what on earth is this?” as soon as they came close enough to speak without shouting. Sefton Grant, who looked like a younger, fitter and less-run-to-seed version of Willie Nelson, hefted the sledge-hammer, and picked up the last set of poles.
“Judy’s idea,” he explained, somewhat abashed. “Something to bleed off the excess psychic energies before they build up. I’d explained it already to Romeo … hey, Romeo, you remember Jess Abernathy, don’t you? And this is Richard – he runs the Café now, lives out in the old Airstream. He’s from England.”
Romeo, thus addressed, wiped grime off his hands with a somewhat less dirty bandanna, tilted his straw cowboy hat further back on his head, and stuck out his right hand.
“Howdy, folks,” he drawled. Richard was momentarily nonplussed. He had never, in his life, either before arriving in Texas or after, observed anyone tilting their hat and saying ‘howdy, folks.’ “Jess! Good to see you, girl! You don’t say – England, huh? Man, I feel like I’ve driven from there, these last few days, instead of all the way from Missoula, Montana. Good to meet you!” he pumped Richard’s hand with the strength which can only come from a man who has spent the last fifteen years wrangling heavy tools and machinery. “I guess we’re neighbors, then!” Romeo added, with a cheerful and wholly openhearted grin.
“I guess that we are,” Richard said, after searching his mind for something to say.
“I’ve heard about you,” he added. Which he had; but one of those things he had not heard was that Romeo Gonzales was so very blindingly the winner in the lottery of good looks in a clan whose appearance clustered around a norm of ‘average’ to ‘pleasant’ with an occasional outlier of younger Gonzalez/Gonzaleses in the direction of ‘cute.’ Physically, he was tall, lean-hipped wedge of a man, with chiseled facial features, and pale blue eyes which contrasted to devastating effect with black hair and a tan not acquired in a salon through artificial means.
“Yeah, I’ve heard of you, too – you’re that chef guy, ‘Celi’s boss,” Romeo exclaimed. “Say – when I get settled, we ought to go out honky-tonking together! It’ll be a blast…”
“That’s what we’re all afraid of,” Richard thought he heard Sefton say, in a discrete murmur, and to cover it, he replied, “Well … I have the Café, and they expect me to be there very early most mornings, so my evening social life is … for the moment, pretty constrained.”
“No problem,” Romeo favored him with another one of those blinding grins. “I’m gonna work driving the wrecker for Uncle Jesus at the garage, so I’ve gotta be careful myself about staying out of trouble, I reckon.”

(To be continued of course. Luna City 3.0 will be out this fall, in time for Christmas, hopefully!)