The e-book version has gone live on Amazon, and on Barnes and Noble with a release on Friday; the print version will soon be up and available as well. I regret that until it goes officially on sale, there is no look-inside feature yet. Tomorrow, I will set up page for readers who would like to order directly from me – with autograph and a personal message.
But for those readers who have begged to know the identity of Richard’s mysterious visitor – from the first chapter, this excerpt:
In the early morning, before the sun was more than a brief bright apricot rumor along the eastern horizon, Richard Astor-Hall pedaled grimly along the back road from the aged Airstream caravan at the Age of Aquarius Campground and Goat Farm towards the site of his daily labors. At least now the Airstream was beautifully and comfortably-maintained, since he appeared to have been informally adopted by the sprawling and omnipresent Gonzales-Gonzalez clan, on top of paying rent to Sefton and Judy Grant from his income from the Café. This was managed through Jess Abernathy, whose firm hands channeled the financial streams of a myriad of Luna City enterprises, including that of the Café and of the Age of Aquarius Campground and Goat Farm.
“Rent. I manage all of Sefton and Judy’s financials as well as those of the Café,” Jess informed him, some months ago when he asked for an explanation for a certain deduction marked every month in his stipend from the Café paid into a bank account at a bank in Karnesville.
“Why?” Richard had asked. “Can’t they manage for themselves?”
Jess frowned. “They are communists,” she explained, in a patient kind of voice which absolutely rubbed him the wrong way.
“I thought you Yanks disapproved of communists in the most strenuous fashion,” Richard replied, to which Jess snapped, “In the old sense, Richard; the lower case-c sense. Judy and Sefton are the last of an idealistic colony of true believers in a system which is only practical when it involves volunteers who work hard to benefit the collective and when it comes to finance, they don’t have the sense that God gave a goose. But they do good work and a lot of it,” she fixed Richard with a commanding glare. “So – I see to handing the takings from the goats and the campground and their Saturday market. I make certain that their taxes, utilities, health insurance and license fees are all paid … so the Grants can go on with tending their goats and worrying about whether it is ethical to weave with machine-made yarns. Never mind Judy twittering on about all that New Agey crap; she and Sefton show up when anyone needs help, and Judy hasn’t yet met a suffering animal that she doesn’t want to rescue. Who do you think fosters all those cats and dogs dumped out here in the country by idiot former owners? From each according to their abilities,” Jess added with a particularly cutting turn of sarcasm, “And to each, according to their needs. Or as we call it around here, supply and demand. I demand regular supplies of their honey, eggs, and goat-milk rosemary soap in return for economic services rendered and Judy supplies them: a win-win, all the way around.”
“I regret even asking,” Richard said and Jess snorted. On further consideration, though, he had to admit to himself that he rather favored Jess’s system of intelligent budgeting and rigid cost-to-benefit analysis. (‘Can we afford this for the Café?’ ‘No, not until ….’ Or sometimes, ‘Yes, but only up to this amount.’)
In his past life, he had been spectacularly careless with money. I had millions of pounds in income once and blew most on loose women and abuse-worthy substances. The rest I wasted. That recollection led to a dire contemplation of the other recently-arrived element of that old life.
Now he pedaled the bicycle along the verge of one of the unpaved back roads which eventually led into the heart of Main Square, Luna City, still pondering on the unfairness of it all. The bike was a mountain model, which had come to him through the largess of the Gonzales/Gonzalez clan, through one or another the the seniors bashfully admitting that it was a great bike, but the son – or possibly the grandson – had outgrown it or moved on to other and less environmentally-sustainable means of getting around. Hey, Ricardo, it’s a good way to get to work! You want it? Twenty-five dollars; I’ll tell Jess and it’s paid for.
As he came up on Route 123, he saw the lights of an automobile at a distance – ah, one of those grossly over-chromed SUVs. Knowing that drivers were apt to speed, in spite of the efforts of Chief Vaughn’s patrol cars and the much more substantial hazard posed by deer insouciantly wandering into the traffic lanes, Richard braked the bicycle, went onto the narrow gravel-and-weed shoulder of the road and waited for the SUV to pass. Which it did – about fifty yards farther along Route 123, where a number of unaccustomed lumps lay, slightly off the tarmac.
It looked, from where Richard stood, as if a deer had gone mano-a- deero against a mechanized vehicle, with predictable results. Hundred- pound deer, five-thousand-pound motor vehicle – which was going to win that contest? To his mild curiosity, the SUV slowed abruptly and went off into the shoulder. The blinking hazard lights flicked on, and someone emerged from the vehicle … a masculine outline, a male someone followed by a faintly overheard burst of indignant Korean in a familiar and feminine steam-whistle shriek. Ah; Clovis and Sook Walcott. Richard wondered why on earth Clovis should be interested in roadkill – but not for very long. To the tune of a final machine-gun burst of Korean, the shadowy figure of Clovis got back into the driver’s side, the blinking red hazard lights resumed their steady beam and with a roar the SUV pulled back onto the road and vanished around the next bend. Now that the road was empty, Richard remounted the bike and carried on – he had another fifteen minutes before he was due at the Café.
When he got to the place where the Walcotts had pulled off the road he saw that yes – indeed a deer; relatively undamaged from the impact but quite plainly dead; neck at a grotesquely unnatural angle. Nearby lay another roadkill; this one a hulking black bird of the kind he was given to know was called a ‘turkey-buzzard,’ also sprawled on the edge of the pavement with one wing upraised like a small black sail. The turkey- buzzard stank like a charnel-house. Why this unlovely spectacle of vehicular/wildlife mayhem had drawn Clovis Walcott’s intense interest was a mystery indeed. In the seven months or so that Richard had lived in Luna City and bicycled back and forth between the Café and the Age, he had seen it often enough himself … and even more often, the live deer creatures, wandering dainty and long-legged in the open spaces between thickets, or the turkey-vultures soaring on motionless dark wings in the faultless azure midday sky. But – he said to himself, in a grumpy acknowledgement he had made a thousand times in the last six months and would doubtless make a hundred thousand times more – this was Luna City, Texas.
He continued pedaling through the pre-dawn dimness, relishing the welcome chill of it all after the ungodly summer heat, a chill which had left a slight crunch of frost on certain grassy spaces. The sky was the color of mother-of-pearl, an elusive shimmering shade flushed with pink and apricot-orange, evanescent. He passed the bright orange Luna City Independent School District bus, pausing briefly at an intersection on the outskirts of town to collect a gaggle of small children, swathed in their winter coats and burdened with small rucksacks. These children were also burdened with the attention of watchful mothers and the occasional father who went scattering to their own daily devices once the school bus bore their offspring away.
He waved to Patrick Gonzalez, rumpled in his oil-stained coveralls, and sleepy-eyed from a night of driving a tanker truck; it seemed to be his morning to see Angelika and Mateo off to school, while Araceli turned on the lights and the coffee-machines at the Café.
Still ruminating alternately over why Clovis Walcott was so interested in fresh roadkill and his own predicament with regard to the recent inconvenient visitor to Luna City, Richard turned down the narrow street which ran along the back of that block of buildings. Most of them housed garaging or at least a place to park a car, and in the case of the Café, the rubbish bin, a small weed-grown space and a small loading dock. The Steins, in the next building over, had a garage and a small shed at the very back, with a walled little garden between it and the rear windows of the main shop. As Richard wheeled into the back of the Café, he saw Georg’s bare-bones sedan backing out of their garage. He wondered vaguely what brought out Georg so early; on most mornings, he and Annise were over in the Café at that large table in front of the front window – what Georg jokingly called the ‘stammtisch’ – where the regular patrons gathered.
He let himself in through the back door into the kitchen, which smelt divinely of fresh coffee and baking cinnamon rolls. Araceli was empting out the dishwasher, stacking plates and mugs with nervous efficiently and a great deal more force than strictly necessary. She glared at Richard, as he shrugged off his winter coat; this was a vintage military field jacket from Marisol Gonzalez’ second-hand shop in Karnesville. Chris Mayall at the Gas & Grocery had already been humorous about it, but the jacket was well-made and warm.
“That friend of yours is here,” She said, sounding if she were speaking around a clenched jaw. “The English one.”
“Not a friend,” Richard sighed. “More like an associate … and I regret like hell that it was ever that close.”
“Oh, Rich,” drawled the visitor in tones of tragic disappointment. Alas, Richard’s visitor was leaning picturesquely in the door way to the main room of the Café. “I am cut to the quick. I thought we were best chums, always.”
“Nope.” Richard was inordinately proud of the way that he thought he had adopted something of the classic western bent towards the taciturn. Besides it was past time to fire up the griddle and start the bacon, then those slivered ham slices that everyone called Canadian bacon, and finally a nice vat of scrambled eggs.
“You’re a brute, Rich; a cold, cold unfeeling brute.”
“All a part of my happy, inconsequent charm,” Richard answered, sternly unmoved.
“I come all the way to this out-of-the way hole,” his visitor protested; tragically wounded as to expression, languid as to posture in the doorway, “I endeavor to make myself pleasant to your friends, rekindle our old relationship, relish the charms of this quaint little village, and this is my reward?”
“We were never friends,” Richard replied, his attention bent upon the griddle, and preparations for the morning rush of breakfast customers. “It was a mutually-advantageous association; friendship had bloody-all to do with it. Are you going to stand in the door all morning, with Araceli and the girls constantly stepping around you? You’ll be trampled underfoot in the morning rush for cinnamon rolls – consider yourself warned.”
“If you truly feel that way, Rich,” there came the deep and wounded sigh. “I’ve tried to reach out to you so many times! You never replied.”
“Life is full of these little tragedies,” Richard brought out a bowl of eggs from the refrigerator and began cracking them with deft and systematic skill into another. After some moments, he looked up from this task. “’Ere – you still there?”
“I am,” replied the visitor. Araceli took up a tray upon hearing the front door open and close with a musical chime, and interjected, “Well better find another wall to hold up. Your special order is ready. Best eat it before it gets cold, then.”
“You take such good care of me, dear girl,” the visitor answered, without a blush. Richard thought it a testimony to good manners and excellent customer relations training that Araceli refrained from bouncing the tray off the visitor’s skull as she carried the breakfast special order into the dining room. After a moment, she returned, not visibly fuming, although Richard could read the signs accurately.
“Pip Noel-Barrett was never a bosom chum of mine,” he confessed with a long sigh. “Truly – I have better taste than taking that poser to my … well, to my confidence, anyway. He is, as practically everyone eventually realizes, an insufferable, inconsiderate, and amoral git; I deduce that we are in accord in that matter. Ordered off-menu, I take it? Told you to add it to his running tab?”
“Of course,” Araceli snapped. “As always; I do not mind taking the trouble, Chef, I really don’t. What I do mind, is that he picks over it with an expression on his face like Mateo when he doesn’t like what’s for supper, leaving most of it on the plate and never saying a darned thing about what’s wrong with it. If he calls me ‘dear girl’ or ‘Araceli-my- darling’ one more time, I WILL hit him with the heaviest iron skillet in the Café.”
“No, you won’t,” Richard answered. “It will make a mess on the floor, and assaulting one of Clovis Walcott’s business associates will reflect badly on everyone. Speaking of business, has he done anything about paying?”
“Nope,” Araceli’s expression was thunderous. “It’s always – sorry love, left the card in my room, sorry, bit short of the dosh at the moment, tomorrow, Araceli-my-darling. Jess will be furious.”
“If it comes to that,” Richard sighed. “I will set Miss Abernathy on him. That would give me the greatest pleasure. He owes for more than a fortnight of breakfasts and sandwich luncheons since he took up a room at the Cattleman.”
“A month is more like it. You’d think if he was in the movie business,” Araceli continued grumbling. “He’d be a lot better about paying his bills.” For some reason that Richard couldn’t fathom – save that Araceli was one of the most hard-headed women of his acquaintance and that she was badly offended by a customer pick-pick-picking at the Café’s food offerings like a dyspeptic hen – she was immune to the fabled Noel-Barrett charm. The front door chimed again and then again almost at once. Yes, the first of the morning regulars. Araceli bustled out with carafes of fresh coffee and hot milk.
(All righty, then – this should hold y’all til Friday!)