(This is an excerpt from the next Luna City Chronicle, wherein big show business comes to town to film a movie — a movie which at first has the enthusiastic backing of practically everyone in town. But there is something not quite aboveboard about the movie production — and two of the most influential townsfolk have just found out what it is. They have a cunning plan …)

          Three days later, two men sat on the terrace of the Wyler home place, watching the sun slide down in the western sky, and the shadows lengthen across the formal garden below, and the green pastures beyond, where cows drifted idly hither and yon. A comfortably shabby set of rustic bentwood furniture contrasted rather oddly with the pillared splendors of the mansion built by Captain Herbert Wyler, in the first flush of his prosperity in the 1880s cattle markets. But they sat at the exact best place to watch the sun go down on the Wyler Exotic Game Ranch, and on the distant trees and church spires of Luna City, and so it was one of Doc Wyler’s favorite places, even in the heat of a Texas mid-summer. The temporary headquarters for filming extensive location shots was also within view, a prospect in the farthest meadow, and now viewed with sudden distaste by both men.

“Good of you to drop everything, and hustle all the way from Houston,” Doc Wyler said at last. The pages of the script lay on the table between them.

“You said it was an emergency in the note,” Clovis Walcott replied, as grim as s stone face on Mount Rushmore. “By god, so it is. I’d like to smash that miss-representing little weasel into a bloody pulp with my bare hands. We got taken, Doc. And taken bad.”

“That we did, Colonel – that we did. They told us what we wanted to hear, like any good convincing conman does.” Doc Wyler sounded much the calmer of the two, although the half-consumed mint julep at his side may have had something to do with his air of relative equanimity. “The thing is now … what are we gonna do about it?”

“My lawyer’s going to hear from me – first thing in the morning, if not by voicemail tonight,” Clovis sounded as if he were grinding his teeth. “And my banker, as well. I invested in this travesty – and I was near as dammit about to make it a bigger investment, on account of what those bastards said. I wouldn’t have touched this travesty with a ten-foot-pole, no matter how sweet they talked. As it stands in this script, this movie will be a disaster, all the way around. I wonder if my lawyer can make a case for fraud …”

“Ah, but there was nothing in writing, was there?” Doc Wyler sipped meditatively at his julep. “All a verbal understanding between honorable men doing business together on a handshake understanding … sharp practice, Colonel. It’ll be the death of this world. A man’s word used to be a bond. I’ve always said ‘trust but verify,’ but when it turns out that you can’t trust ‘em after all…”

“Thought that was Ronnie Reagan who said that,” Clovis Walcott sounded as if his own barely touched julep had just begun to mellow the edges of his fury.

“Yeah, he did – but he stole that line from me,” Doc Wyler replied. “As I was saying – if  it turns out to be that you can’t verify, and don’t trust … and that you have been, in fact, lied to in the most infamous fashion – what do you do then?”

“Destroy them,” Clovis Walcott looked out upon where the temporary film headquarters had been set up; tents and generators, with tall lights on stilts, and elaborate RVs. Filming was set to begin in earnest on the outdoor scenes the following morning. “Destroy them, root and branch. Sue them into such oblivion that their grandchildren are still paying into the end of this century … I roped the Karnes Company into participating in this, on my word alone! I’ll never be able to lift up my head in Texas reenactor organizations again, if this movie shows in any venue but a midnight cable freak-fest … and even then, I know there’ll be words spoken! It’s my good name – my reputation on the line, every bit as much as the Karnes Company Living History Association.”

“Destroy them … what, with a lawyer, brandishing a brief and a court order?” Doc Wyler chuckled. “They’ll use it as publicity, and then where will you and your history enthusiast friends Be? Oh, yes – I agree with the overall aim, but not the immediate means. Look, son – they’ll be done with the last filming before your lawyer can even draft the first cease-and-desist order. Time … time is against us in a legal sense … but not the opportunity for sabotage.” Doc Wyler sank another third of his mint julep, and regarded the distant movie camp with the same calculating, squint-eyed expression with which his grandfather (had he but known) had regarded such obstacles in his path as Union Army foragers, Comanche raiders, cross-border Mexican cattle rustlers, and various Kansas rivers in flood-stage. “Suppose … just suppose, you tell your Karnes Company reenactor pals about the dirty trick that’s been played on you … has been played on them all. Emphasis upon ‘them all.’”

“I’m not sure that I follow,” Clovis Walcott ventured, and Doc Wyler’s gaze returned as if from a long-distance journey to the movie camp.

“No? The scene they are to film in a week – if this schedule is to be believed – is the climactic scene. The one that they gathered all of your reenactor folks to film, in wide-screen and thrilling detail, from every perceptible angle, including a very expensive helicopter and a tall bucket-truck or two. If I have been reading this script aright … it’s the make or break for the whole production in a whole lotta ways. Now, between the two of us … we have a considerable force at our disposal… which, if we deploy them effectively, might damage this production beyond recall, and leave us with relatively clean hands. What say you to that, Colonel?”

“What can we do?” Clovis replied. “And who have we got? Who knows about the contents of this document?”

“A varied collection of volunteers,” Doc Wyler replied, briskly. “You have your reenactors, of course. As for who has seen this script, besides you and I? Chris and Jaimie’s boy, Sylvester – he was a Marine, too – like J.W. Richard from the Café. And Benny Cordova, who was the one who put them wise to it. Those last two, I’d rather leave on the sidelines, keep their hands clean – Benny especially. But we can count on Chris and Sylvester – boots on the ground as it were. Chris’ll be one of the movie crew as the on-scene medic. Sylvester has gotten himself hired on to help with communications. I believe that your folks, though, have the very best opportunity to wreck the shoot of that big battle scene.”

“I’ll take those I can trust into my confidence,” Clovis nodded. “We’ll come up with something, my word on it.”

“And if you could find a use for a couple of pints of methylene blue,” Doc Wyler scratched his chin most thoughtfully. “I b’lieve I can lay hands on some in a day or two.”

“Why, and what does it do?” Clovis Walcott looked doubtful at first, but a broad grin crept across his countenance, as Doc Wyler explained. “My hat is off to you, sir – I know just how this might be used to good effect. Confusion to our enemies, Doc.” He lifted his julep glass and drank from it, looking happier than he had since reading the script.

“To confusion, humiliation, and pain.” Doc Wyler lifted his own glass, and added, “It’s an established fact, Colonel – old age, guile, and treachery will always beat out youth, speed and a handy lawyer.”

 

Well, the reviews are starting to trickle in for Chronicles of Luna City, and since we ended it on an almighty cliff-hanger, readers are already clamoring for the next one. My daughter and I talked it over, and seeing as I have about a third of a first draft written, and as we went all-out and finished the first one in three months flat … that we might well be able to do the next one in the same amount of time. I mean — the stories are there, they just have to be written down, and that’s a piece of cake, a walk in a park, a drive down a straight country road …

So – April, 2016 will be the release month for the Chronicles of Luna City – Book Two , which will answer the question of who is Richard’s mystery visitor, what is being plotted by the corporation who owns Mills Farm, where is — or even IF there is the treasure in gold buried hidden there by Old Charley Mills … and what is Sefton Grant up to, wandering around at midnight at the Age of Aquarius Campground and Goat Farm.

(Yes, in the next Luna City Chronicle, there are some matters which will be addressed … such as  — what is going on with the Mills Farm movie project, and why will it be a disaster? Yes – a stealth volunteer company of Lunaites propose to find out…)

 Show Business in Luna City

“I might have to take you up on your kind invitation of hospitality very soon,” Richard said morosely to Chris, late one afternoon at the VFW. It was visitors’ evening, and the place was still relatively uncrowded. Midsummer was at hand, and the Age of Aquarius Campground had filled almost to overflowing with the reunited members of the old commune. “Between the constant drum-circle, and visitors constantly tapping at my door asking for this or that, and that obnoxious Canadian treasure-hunter yammering on and on about his latest test-pit and trying to recruit me into pulling a commando raid dig on Mills Farm, I hardly get a wink of sleep.”

“You’re more than welcome,” Chris replied, shrugging. “Me, I had trouble getting used to the country, because it was so damn quiet. For the longest time, I missed the sounds of sirens, gunshots and fenders crunching.”

“It’s dark, usually,” Richard continued. “I got kind of used to that – seeing the stars, all clear of a night … Venus in the morning, clear and bright by the moon. The only moon I’ve seen lately is sagging old hippy bum.”

“My sympathies,” Chris murmured, nodding towards Sylvester Gonzalez, and Benny Cordova, who had just come in out of the harsh afternoon sunshine. “Hey, Benny, man! How’s show-biz?”

“Crazy,” Benny answered. He joined them at the bar, shaking his head somberly. “Just a beer, Chris. They’re setting up for the exterior shooting, supposed to start with it next week, if they keep to schedule. The director himself flew in just this morning … on a private helicopter, no less. I can’t remember the last time I took such a deep dislike of someone, just by shaking hands. Made me want to sponge myself off all over, with about a quart of hand sanitizer. I can’t wait until this movie stuff is all over and done with.”

“Same here,” Richard agreed with a lugubrious sigh. “This whole movie project has a definite pong to it. No, it stinks to high heaven, and I’d be saying so even if Pip Noel-Barrett wasn’t involved.”

“Funny you should say that,” Benny regarded his drink with a thoughtful expression. “That’s the exact same thing as I’ve been thinking myself.” Almost inconsequentially, he added, “Anyone like to take a look at the shooting script?  Looking at that script might explain a hell of a lot.”

“Why? Did you get a look? Could you get ahold of one?” Richard’s interest was piqued – not the least over why Benny had suddenly soured on Pip Noel-Barrett’s movie project.

“No can do, partner,” Benny drawled. “Tightly controlled items … numbered, signed for individually and secured under lock and key. I’m not on the need-to-know distribution list.  But Miz Wyatt has a copy. Board of directors; VPI has its privileges, after all.” Benny directed a significant look at the wall, over Chris’ head. “I had a look at a few pages. Not hard to cultivate the ability to read upside-down. You ought to figure out a way to get a better look at Miz Wyatt’s copy – the whole thing. And then … do what you think best.”

“Man, I thought you were all about corporate loyalty,” Chris spoke, after a long silence, and Richard said, “What is it that got up your nose, Benny? What did you see in that script?”

“I can’t really be specific, Ricardo,” Benny replied, with carefully-selected words. “You’ll just know why, once you’ve had a look.” He considered for another moment, before addressing Chris’ question. “Corporate loyalty – it’s a give and take, Chris. Me, I’ve been the GM for Mills Farm for … eight, nine years, now. Best job I’ve ever had. Guess you can say that I love the place. My folks out there – they’re like family. If something happened … a huge, flaming corporate disaster with the result that VPI decides to close Mills Farm, you know how many people would be out of a job? I do. I sign their paychecks, every two weeks. You think many of them are going to be employed again soon, if they loose their jobs? In this economy – you gotta be kidding me.”

“You’re saying this movie will be such a stinker that having anything to do with it might very well might sink Mills Farm?” Chris shook his head. “There are people in Luna City who wouldn’t mind that at all.”

“I can see that,” Benny replied, with a serious expression on his face. “But if Mills Farm goes down, Luna City will most definitely feel the pain. This movie project is a stinker – not a doubt in my low-level corporate management mind. We have a commonality of interests, guys, in preventing Mills Farm and VPI from committing a self-inflicted public-relations disaster.”

“So, exactly how big a sh*t-storm will this blasted movie create?” Richard asked as a matter of self-preservation, as he had survived several in his time and did not wish to participate, however peripherally, in another. And anything which could get Pip Noel-Barrett out of Luna City would be all to the good.

“Not measurable with current technology,” Benny was examining the wall over their heads again. “Miz Wyatt is staying in the little pink guest cottage, round the other side of the Mills Farm Dance Hall – that’s where her office is. You gotta know that security has cameras pretty much covering all the public areas, and the grounds between buildings. Figure out a way to fox security, and you’re home free. I can’t be seen to cover for you too obviously, but I’ll do what I can.”

“We’d welcome suggestions as to timing,” Chris drew out another beer for himself and after due consideration, another for Sylvester, who came drifting over from the pool table, as soon as Chris caught his eye and beckoned. Benny seemed to be conducting a detailed survey of the wall above their heads. Sylvester silently took a seat several stools away, as length along the bar went.

“This Saturday night, there’s going to be an all-hands launch party at the Dance Hall,” he said. “A kind of meet and greet, for the out-of-town crew, the cast, and all the local folks involved. Lotsa people drifting in and out. Miz Wyatt, couple of investors,  a VPI VIP or two, maybe. Lotsa alcohol and food, a live band. Best time? Maybe at the shank end of the evening. As for the rest, I’ll leave it all up to you.”

“We’ll keep you posted,” Chris lifted his own beer in a toast and salute.

Benny grinned. “No, I’d rather you not. Plausible deniability, you know. And if you flub the mission, I was never part of this conversation.”

“Got it,” Chris replied. “And this tape will self-destruct in three minutes.”

“Good luck,” Benny swallowed the last of his beer, and set the bottle on the bar with a small but definite clink of glass against tin countertop. “See you Saturday … or not, depending on good luck. Ricardo,” he fixed Richard with a particularly speculative gaze, “You know, Miz Wyatt – she has the hots for ya, in a not-wholesome way. If you choose to exploit that weakness, be a gentleman, ‘kay? She might be a real PITA, in some ways – but she’s an OK boss. Or at least, not near as rotten as some, in my experience. That’s all I’m gonna say. An’ now I’m gonna go, so that I won’t have to testify later about what I heard, should this all go south.”

“Appreciate the consideration, dear chap,” Richard sketched a brief bow. “I will be the complete gentleman; I assure you most sincerely on that account.”  Benny departed silently, grinning – although how a man in cowboy boots could ghost though a room with a creaky wooden floor was a mystery beyond anyone’s ken.

With a brief gesture, Chris summoned Sylvester even closer, to join the knot of conspiracy at that end of the bar. “OK, Comm-expert; you’ve been listening to all of this. What’s your plan for foxing the Mills Farm security system?”

“You’re gonna love it,” Sylvester replied, a mad grin spreading across his face.

A LUCKY FIND! A CLUE TO THE MILLS TREASURE?

From the Karnesville Weekly Beacon – March 21st 2016

By Katherine Heisel – Staff Writer

The seven-year old son of Luna City residents Araceli and Patrick Gonzalez made a lucky find at the Mills Farm’s Easter Egg Hunt this past Saturday. While searching for eggs in the manicured landscaped grounds of the Mills Farm homestead, Mateo Gonzalez discovered a near mint-condition, 124-year old $20 gold coin. Young Mateo will not say exactly where in the Mills Farm gardens he found the coin, valued conservatively at $2,000, and reportedly one of the most coveted of the so-called 1892 gold “Double Eagles.” When pressed by his parents and Mills Farm management, he would only repeat, “It’s mine,” and “I found it.”

Mateo’s parents, and representatives of Mills Farm’s corporate management all declined further comment when questioned by this reporter, although according to Venue Properties VP for Marketing, Susannah Wyatt, Mills Farm and Venue Properties will not contest actual ownership of the rare coin.

“Finders, keepers,” MS Wyatt replied, when first interviewed by this reporter, who happened to be present and covering the Easter Egg Hunt for this newspaper. “He found it, he should keep it. Do we look like people who would take candy from a baby, or a shiny golden coin from a little boy? Honestly, the bad publicity wouldn’t be worth it.”

Mills Farm - Logo with LetteringThis unusual find is the latest and most convincing evidence for the existence of the Mills Treasure, a trove of coin and gold ingots supposedly hidden somewhere on the property at the turn of the last century by the last private owner of Mills Farm, the legendary bootlegger, Charles Everett “Old Charley” Mills. Treasure hunters have long believed that Mills – as a member of the Dalton and Bent Cactus robbery gangs – returned with his share of the loot from a series of bank and train robberies in the 1890s, and concealed it somewhere on the family farm, near Luna City. Local expert Dr. Stephen Wyler, a past president of the Luna City Historical Association has long insisted that there had never been any such treasure, citing as proof the fact that Charles Everett Mills was all but a pauper by the end of his life. Various representatives of Venue Properties, International, the current owners of Mills Farm have also vigorously denied the existence of the Mills Treasure, insisting that if it did exist, it would have almost certainly been discovered during the period that Mills Farm was undergoing extensive reconstruction of the buildings and grounds. Only two presently-existing Mills Farm buildings date from the lifetime of Charles Everett Mills, and both were moved to their present locations from elsewhere in Bee and Kendall Counties. The grounds themselves have been extensively landscaped and terraced, especially around the area of the original homestead site.

But Saturday’s find will revive interest in the treasure hunt at Mills Farm. The very date of the coin and its excellent condition is, in the mind of long-time searchers such as Xavier Gunnison-Penn, of Toronto, Canada, proof that the Mills Treasure does exist and remains hidden somewhere on the site of the original Mills homestead. In 2005, a similar 1892 $20 gold “Double Eagle” sold at a private auction for an undisclosed sum to a collector with a particular interest in the Mills Treasure. The coin sold together with several personal letters exchanged by Charles Everett Mills’ sisters, Mrs. Mary F. Davis and Mrs. Elizabeth Olson. The letters, purportedly dated 1911-1912, and are said to provide a provenance for the coin itself,  and the existence of the Mills Treasure. Do the letters, now in the hands of a private collector, hint at a possible location? For now, the only clue remains in the existence of the coin found last Saturday by a seven-year-old boy.

 

Spring 2016 Newsletter-1

Spring 2016 Newsletter-2

(This is a complete short story, which will be part of the next Luna City Chronicle. It has very little bearing on the ongoing plot – but is intended to throw a little light on a pair of relatively minor characters – Miss Letty McAllister, and Chris Mayall.)

Early on an August Sunday morning, Miss Leticia McAllister combed out her long grey hair, rolling and neatly pinning it into an old-fashioned hair-net on the back of her neck, and surveyed her appearance in the dressing table mirror. The hat, gloves and scarf that she would wear against the chill – for the sanctuary of the First Methodist Church of Luna City was enthusiastically air-conditioned against the blistering heat of a Texas late summer – all lay in order on the dressing table, next to Miss Letty’s Sunday handbag, which held a fresh handkerchief, her house keys, and the envelope with her weekly offering. Hat, bag, scarf and all carefully matched, and coordinated beautifully with the colors of Miss Letty’s flowered and full-skirted summer dress.

  I never had beauty or elegance, Miss Letty told her reflection, with clinical satisfaction – but I could manage chic by paying attention, and I had the brains enough to be charming. Alice was the one for elegance! Oh, my – did she turn heads! Hard to believe it has been seventy-one years to the day. Every man in Schilo’s Delicatessen on Commerce on VJ-Day – they all turned to look at her, as she came in the door. You could have heard a pin drop; I think most of them thought that a movie star had come to San Antonio, but she was really only the chief secretary to an insurance company manager, for all that she was only twenty-four. And he kept trying half-heartedly to seduce her, the wretched little Lothario. She wrote complaining about that to me, all the time that I was in England, and then in France. Alice had a hatpin, though – and she could use it, too.

Miss Letty pinned her hat, with a long, straight old-fashioned pin, which went straight through the bun on the back of her neck, firmly anchoring the straw confection into place. She touched her lips with a pale pink lipstick, and gathered up gloves, scarf and bag, but her thoughts returned to that early afternoon, seventy-one years before, and Miss Alice Everett, stepping through the street door, squinting into the dimness inside; the dark paneled walls, the floor tiled in tiny, hexagonal tiles, all of it old-fashioned even then. Alice was looking for Letty, sitting in a corner booth all by herself, waiting for her brother and his friend.

“Letty, sweetie – you look wonderful!” Alice exclaimed, hurrying between the tables, flashing a brilliant smile at the nearest waiter. “Oh, it’s simply divine, seeing you again! Tell me – did you buy that hat in Paris! You must have – there isn’t anything half so chic at Joske’s!”

“No – Bonwit-Tellers’ in New York, on my way through,” Letty rose from the banquet seat, and the two of them exchanged an embrace. “There wasn’t anything in Paris worth buying. Just desperate refugees, too many Allied troops, and guilty collaborators hoping that everyone else had suddenly developed amnesia.”

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