21. April 2020 · Comments Off on The Ballad of Charley Mills and the Hanging Tree · Categories: Uncategorized

(Continued, to be included in Luna City #9 – the true story of how and why Charley Mills was almost lynched in Town Square, in 1926. Much of the story is carried by Alister Mcgill, then chief of police in Luna City, as the last living eyewitness to that event, Miss Letty McAllister, was then only six years old.)

My sergeant and chief investigator at the time of these developments was one John Drury; a trusty man who had been a Texas Ranger with Captain McNelly’s border company before he needed to shave – a bare boy of sixteen then and only because his father had been a Ranger and recommended his son to Captain McNelly. Now it was near half-a-century on; still, John Drury was a canny man and a trusty one, too. Not half-bad a marksman, either; had no wife or family, so his life was devoted to law. He was near to the age of seventy at this time but appeared as fit and vital as a man half that span of years. If the city budget could afford his salary, and he was willing to work for it, who was I to object? When we were told that the third drummer died in hospital, I called Drury into my office for a consultation. The mayor, Mr. McAllister was of the mind that we could all sort it out without much fuss and he had expressed his complete confidence in my department.

“So, what think you, John?” I asked, for we were familiar enough to use our first names, when it was a matter of us in private, although John Drury usually preferred to address me by rank. He shook his head.

“A curious thing, Captain. There’s many a tale told about Charley Mills, but never a one that he makes bad likker. Not the slightest whisper. A rogue, a bad and wicked man, not to be trusted within reach of any honest man’s money, any portable property of value, or his wife and daughter … but I’ve never heard anything about his whiskey being bad to drink. Not even in these parlous times.”

“Neither have I,” said I in reply. “I dare say that I have sampled enough of it, in the time that I have been living here and taken no ill at all. Even before the Volstead Act was signed into law.”

“I would say the same and had no concern,” John Drury answered. He looked thoughtful, as if he were considering much. “Until the matter of those three unfortunate lads. Mills supplies Dunsmore’s little speakeasy – exclusively, I am certain of it. There’s been no illicit deliveries that I can see. An outsider to Luna City would be remarked upon – especially if they were thought to be bootleggers from outside Karnes County. Even disguised as groceries … no, Captain. It’s irregular, as near as I can see. Rogues go to a pattern, unless they are very, very clever. It’s to my mind that Charley Mills is not all that clever.”

“Clever enough to pay a good lawyer,” I pointed out, “And keep him on retainer. It irks me, John, knowing that Mills lives like an old robber baron, among his castle ruins, abusing and robbing the peasantry as he feels the urge… And no one might touch him, legally.”

John Drury was already shaking his head. “There is that, Captain. But above all, Mills is an indolent, lazy bastard. He’s not given over to the spirit of invention in his criminality… but that woman. His common-law wife …”

“Mrs. Mills, or Miss Carolina de San Pedro,” I said. “A woman of such obvious aristocratic qualities – and she must be less than half the old reprobates’ age! One does wonder how the old goat managed to attract her, or why she remains with him for longer than five minutes.”

“Indeed, Captain,” John Drury nodded agreement. “High-bred Mex, in my experience as proud as Lucifer – usually claiming to be Spanish of the pure blood, limpieza de sangre as they used to say. A common-law marriage, as I have heard – based merely on cohabitation for seven years or more. Now, if Mrs. Mills is looking to expand the local market by trading on the Mills reputation and cutting corners … When did she become part of the Mills ménage? About ten years, if I recall correctly. A refugee from political violence in Mexico; in fear for her life, as her family was on the losing side of the Huerta-Carranza revolutionary brangle. She slipped over the border and went to ground in the nearest handy refuge, having no other useful trade than offering her hand in marriage.”

“When is there ever not political violence in Mexico?” I replied. “It’s like the border wars between England and Scotland, you ken – constant and everlasting cattle raids, refugees from the losing side going back and forth across the border, fomenting resistance and rebellion… against whomever. In my home country it eventually became a wholesome outdoor sport, I do believe.”

“Texas has become your element, Captain!” John Drury grinned with unalloyed delight. “The ground is familiar to you in theory, which is a useful guide to practice, when used carefully.” His countenance sobered. “I think that we should interview the so-called Mrs. Mills, then. Something has changed drastically within their operation. We should know what it was, if she will be honest…”

“When have we ever known one of the criminal fraternities to be honest?” I said. John Drury chuckled.

“When it’s their living at stake, Chief. Their nuts in a vice, or Old Casuse standing them up in the saddle of his horse, under a tree with a sturdy branch and a noose around their neck. Sing like canaries, they do. Guaranteed.”

“We can’t go to that limit, John,” I said – although I do not deny that I relished a mental image of doing so to Charley Mills.

So we got in my car, and drove out to the Mills place, to interview Mrs. Mills – as was she called. It was a mild day, with spring just beginning to shyly come on, new green leaves on the trees and swarms of pink primrose and yellow daisies, the grass in the meadows beside the road to the south of town. The prettiest time of the year, so I have always thought – the Highlands in my youth may have been more glorious for scenery two or three days out of the month, but the incessant dreary rain for the other twenty-seven or twenty eight was enough to drive a man to drink, or to travel to any place with nicer weather. We hummed along the road at a goodish clip; can’t recollect if Route 123 had been paved with macadam by that time, or if it were still only graveled.

The turn-off road to the Mills place was barely marked; a sagging gate with a faded and hand painted “No Trespassing!” board hung from it. John Drury got out to tug the gate all the way open, and wrestle it closed after I had driven through. He resumed his place in the passenger seat with a sigh.

“The Mills place was the pride of Karnes County, back when I first settled here. A beautiful, well-run showplace; a pretty painted house, manicured pastures, fat and contented stock. Now, I swear, the only fat contented stock are Charley’s pet alligators. It’s a tragedy, Captain – that such a fine, hard-working man and wife as James and Jane Mills should have been blessed with a lazy, worthless piece of work like Charley for a son and heir! The three Graces, they called the daughters – every one as lovely a girl who ever turned heads in the street! They went to finishing school in San Antonio, you know – every imaginable womanly accomplishment between them, and then Charley … a disappointment in every possible aspect!”

“Cruel it is, John,” I said, for it seemed that John had been fondly attached to the Mills family, especially the girls, and of a proper age to have courted several of them, but with little success, as he was a man of no great property himself. He looked out though the windscreen of the Ford, a bleak expression upon his countenance, as the Ford bumped at a careful speed,  down the rutted lane which led through the neglected acres of the Mills Place – pastures and fields now well-overgrown with cane and mesquite. The prospect of the main house and the outbuildings presented a picture of even more ruin and neglect – a climbing rose with small blood-red blossoms straggled up along one side of what once had been a trim little cottage, lavishly adorned with fret-sawed wooden lace. The porch sagged, dangerously, and the white paint which once must have been renewed every decade or so, under the blast of a pitiless Texas summer sun, was peeling and chipped away on the south-facing walls. The rose should have been pruned many seasons since. Many windows boasted broken panes, filled in with squares of cardboard, tin and other such trash. It was a sad prospect and I felt something of John Drury’s sorrow; a goodly inheritance gone to rack and ruin, under the rule of a careless and dissolute keeper.

The sole thing in the Mills demesne which appeared to be whole and in excellent repair and condition was the green Ford panel truck which sat around the side of the house, before the grey weathered barn of unpainted planks – a barn which leaned precipitously towards south-east, in an unsettling manner, which suggested that the next vicious Blue Norther would bring the whole edifice down in a tumble of planks. The panel truck was brand new, or as near to it as could be. Charley Mills’ bootlegging operation must be prospering, I conveyed silently to John Drury by a significant glance towards it and a raised eyebrow, and he nodded in agreement. There was a woman, just coming out from that barn, a slender young woman wearing unwomanly trousers, lugging a heavy crate in her hands, a crate of bottles – from the clinking sound that the made, when she stowed in the back of the panel truck, and sauntered boldly to meet us.

“Mrs. Mills,” said I, courteously; for of course, we wished to cultivate this woman, not frighten her into uncooperative defiance. “Might we have a moment of your time – tis a matter of investigating murder in a lesser degree … that would be a courtesy that I would remember in future, in the event of any investigation from outside my office.”

“Chief McGill,” she nodded, warily. “And Sergeant Drury. To what do I owe the pleasure of your company this morning?”

Mrs. Mills had a pleasing voice, with only the slightest of accents. She spoke like a lady of noble station, and without any trace of nervousness in her manner or expression. Carolina de San Pedro Mills was then about thirty, I would have judged. She wore her plain shirt and unladylike trousers with the air of a woman modeling them for a fashion magazine, or perhaps a poster advertising a moving picture. She was not one of those who had bobbed her hair in the current fashion, but wore it long, smooth and dark, knotted at the back of her head, as if she would otherwise have favored one of those tall Spanish combs with a length of fine lace draped over it, and perhaps a pair of clicky-castanets to go with. As fair of complexion as any Englishwoman, she also had arresting eyes – eyes of a peculiar blue-green color, the same blue-green shade of the shallow waters off the Holy Isle of Iona, blue-green water on a strand of beach the color of fine white sugar. Whatever might have led a woman of such quality to a marital alliance with a villain like Charley Mills was a mystery even more profound than the mystery which had led John Drury and I to this place in the beginning.

“It is a matter of tainted alcohol,” I said, after waiting for John Drury to speak. “That which poisoned the three travelling drummers. They drank at Dunsmore’s speakeasy, the evening before they were stricken – no, it is a matter of record and the witnesses reliable and have made sworn statements…”

A bit of an exaggeration, I will admit to these pages – but all may be fair in love, war, and criminal investigations. John Drury nodded in solemn affirmation

“You know about Dunsmore?” she asked, warily. “But of course. I have heard there is nothing happening in Luna City of which you do not know…”

“Flattery, lass, will get you nowhere,” I replied, although I was pleased. A reputation for omniscience was a useful thing, I had long since known, although I was no more gifted with particular insight than any other human with skills for good observation and logical deduction. “Of course, I know about Dunsmore – ‘tis an open secret. Look, lass – I care nothing for whether gentlemen drink among company or alone, as long as they conduct themselves fittingly and don’t take from wages that would feed their little children to drink themselves silly every night after work. But I care very much that someone tainted the alcohol at Dunsmore’s with poisonous wood-alcohol and so does Mayor McAllister. I wish for insight into why this might have been done, and to whose’ advantage the painful death of good customers might have been, so that they may be rightfully charged with contributing to cases of wrongful death. Mr. Mills has long been the source of much in the way of spirituous liquors in this vicinity – now, would you wish that the great clumsy feet of investigators from the Bureau of Prohibition come trampling into Luna City, interfering with our business, and harming those who have never given harm to anyone? Ours is a delicate spiderweb, Mrs. Mills. Outsiders will not take anything like the care that I will, the care which Mayor McAllister desires me to exercise in this matter. What you say to Sergeant Drury and myself will be kept in confidence, so we urge you to be candid – for the good of us all. You do not wish to be repatriated as a criminal foreigner back to Mexico, I would take it …”

A misstep. She regarded us with a level gaze. “No, for I am legally married to Mr. Mills – and this was recorded before witnesses in the office of the Justice of the Peace in Brownsville – in 1915. You can send for the records if you wish. A wife cannot be made to testify against her husband.”

“Aye, then, for such is the law,” I apologized – a tactful withdrawal in the military sense. “And ‘tis a law that I am sworn to uphold, Mrs. Mills – I beg you not to make upholding it difficult for us all. You would swear on anything you hold in reverence, that the liquor provided to Mr. Dunsmere’s place of business was sound, not tampered or adulterated with wood-alcohol or any other such substance, when it passed from your hands into Mr. Dunsmore’s … or those of his agents.”

“Who took possession of the delivery on Thursday last to Dunsmore’s grocery?” John Drury pressed, with the adept timing of an actor with a cue. “That, and the previous shipment? My information is that such is consigned weekly, as he cannot stock very much at a time, and the consignment is near-consumed at the end of the week before the next delivery?”

“Mrs. Dunsmore, sometimes,” Carolina Mills regarded me slantwise, from those amazing blue-green eyes, all the more startling for being fringed by ink-dark lashes. “Humiliating – to make deliveries after dark or in the early morning, after arranging a time. But last week – it was Ambrosiano. Ambrosiano Gonzales. Most usually, Mrs. or Mr. Dunsmore took delivery – Ambrosiano only came to work for them in January. He is a very poor relation of Don Antonio, of the Rancho Rincon and there is no work for him there. He took employment, working in the grocery. Shifting heavy boxes and running errands. He also is fleeing la Revolucion…” Carolina Mills added. “Because he is a good Catholic and a believer…”

“God save us, they’ve got yet another war going on,” John Drury commented, sotto voice, and I said, rather loudly,

“And this was your usual delivery of …”

“Mixed goods,” Carolina Mills replied. “Bourbon whiskey, brandy, apple-jack from our enterprise – all the good stuff…” that last term came rather awkwardly from her lips. Not her native speech, I judged, but that of her so-called-husband. “All pure, all un-tainted. I … that is, we – we have a reputation for superlative quality. I would not spoil that, not for anything. Neither would Mr. Mills. A matter of pride. Not to cheat. Here …” she went to the back of the Ford, where the box which she had just carried to it reposed on the bed. “Pick a bottle … pick two at random. Take them away and test them – and if they are tainted and poisonous – then come and put your bracelets on my wrists….” And she held up her hands, close together in a splendid gesture. “And then do with me what you will. For I will swear to you on our Holy Mother – that our liquor is pure and of the highest quality imaginable.”

“I will, and thank you for your cooperation,” I said, as I took two bottles at random out of the open crate in the Ford. “I believe that we are done here, Sergeant Drury. If you will accompany me … my thanks for your information, Mrs. Mills. We shall test this in our laboratory. Do not attempt to leave the area – or if needs must, let us know.”


13. April 2020 · Comments Off on From Luna City #9 – The Ballad of Charley Mills and the Hanging Tree · Categories: Luna City Short Stories

“But the hanging mob, Miss Letty,” Clovis Walcott urged, while Richard meditated on the odd turn of events which led a Scot from Fife named Magill to become –apparently – the long-serving and much respected senior law enforcement officer in Luna City. “How did that come to involve a respectable merchant of the town and a socially non-conforming spouse? I take it that having received a pardon from the office of Ma Ferguson … he was unjustly imprisoned for violating the laws prohibiting alcohol consumption?”

Clovis Walcott, as a practicing open-air historian specializing in 19th century Americana, was perhaps even more thoroughly steeped in the Victorian ideal of social conduct than Miss Letty, Richard mused privately.

“As it happens,” Miss Letty replied, every inch the stern Methodist church lady, “He was not unjustly charged and condemned. Mr. Dunsmore was operating an illicit saloon – a speakeasy, as they termed such an enterprise then. A secret subterranean storeroom behind the grocery, with a triple-barred door opening into the alleyway behind. I believe the current owners use that room as a wine cellar. It came as a surprise to everyone, everyone save those who knew of and patronized that establishment. It seemed – from what I overheard when my parents talked of it – that the men of town were … indulgent regarding Mr. Dunsmore’s speakeasy. It was only when three drummers … that is, traveling salesmen, as they called them back then – were poisoned by bad alcohol that Chief Magill was forced to take action… This is a long story, gentleman. Are you certain you wish to hear it?”

“I’ve got nothing but time this morning,” Clovis Walcott gestured for another a fill-up of his coffee. “So, I’d admire to hear the full story, Miss Letty.”

“I don’t,” Roman added, “But I’d like to hear it anyway. And if I have to rush away in half an hour, I can always ask Great Uncle Jaimie for what he might know. He was around then… And what he doesn’t remember, Cousin Mindy can find out.”

“Indeed,” Miss Letty nodded magisterially. “Jaimie Gonzales is about the same age that I am – but his family hardly ever came to town at that time. They kept themselves to themselves, back in the day: Spanish nobility, you know.”

“That, and a lynch mob coming for them, on the off-chance of some criminal outrage being blamed on some poor idiot Tejano,” Roman nodded, in cynical agreement, and Miss Letty sighed.

“In a way, the presence of Charley Mills served as a kind of social lightening-rod. Any notable criminal goings-on happened in Luna City … were blamed on him. And on the Newton gang, of course. His presence and his well-known record of criminality and anti-social behavior served to keep the social peace in very sad times, as curious as that might seem.”

“I do want to hear the full story, Miss Letty,” Richard insisted. “Although … I have only forty minutes before I must go and oversee preparations for lunch.”

“Very well,” Miss Letty sighed. “Although the full story may take much, much longer.”

***

From the Karnesville Daily Beacon issue of March 5, 1926 – A Fatal Poisoning Among the Traveling Fraternity!

Three traveling drummers were discovered dangerously ill or dying in their rooms at the Cattleman Hotel in Luna City this Monday just past. Identified through their personal effects and the hotel registry, the deceased are Mr. Arthur Montgomery of Dallas, Texas, (aged 27) and Mr. James McArdle (aged 25) of Tulsa, Oklahoma. They were employed by several respectable commercial enterprises and were traveling through the region seeking business on behalf of their employers. A third drummer, Mr. Dennis Charlton, (aged 30) of New Orleans, Louisiana remains desperately ill in the Karnesville Regional Hospital. Doctors attending on him fear that he may lose his sight, if he recovers at all. Interviewed briefly by investigating authorities, Mr. Charlton insisted that nothing had been out of the ordinary in his visit to Luna City, where he had been received by regular clients among the commercial enterprises there, including representatives from Abernathy Hardware, and Dunsmore Groceries and Sundries.

***

From the Karnesville Daily Beacon, March 9, 1926

Mr. Dennis Charlton, a traveling salesman for the California Perfume Company, stricken by a mysterious and dangerous ailment last week, perished of that condition at the Karnesville Regional Hospital this day past. Two other traveling drummers had previously been discovered dead in their rooms by the staff of the Cattleman Hotel in Luna City this previous week. An investigation into the circumstances of this sad affair is ongoing, according to Chief of Police in Luna City, Alistair Magill.

***

  From the evidence file pertaining to investigation of case #26-3-005: item 4

A handwritten note found in the possession of the accused C. E. Mills when taken into custody by the arresting officer at 3:24 AM, 15 March 1926. (Not actually in his possession, but in his trouser pocket – note by AM)

Dearest C – come to me tonight. Mr. D in K’ville. The window will be unlatched. Love. E

***

From an untitled and unpublished memoir by former chief of police, Luna City, Alistair Duncan Magill, found among his private papers by his family, after his death from natural causes at the age of 98 in February 1987.

Chapter 47 – The Mills Lynching

The matter began as part of an entirely separate case; that of the three traveling salesmen, discovered by the staff of the Cattleman Hotel to be dead or near-death in their rooms on the morning of March 3. Simple case, you say. Three adventurous young fellows on the road; of course, they went out drinking of an evening, and the liquor they had the ill-fortune to consume that evening was adulterated with wood-grain alcohol. Nasty stuff; deadly as a matter of fact. Never was a strict dry, myself; always of the opinion that a real man could and ought to exert control over his baser urges and I never said no to a drop of the good creature, even during Prohibition. Only a weak namby-pamby would look to a higher authority to control it for him. But enforcement of the Volstead Act was the law of the land and I was sworn to uphold the law, no matter what my own private feelings in the matter. As for Prohibition in Luna City, as long as there was no harm done to any, save perhaps a thunderous headache the next morning for those who had over-imbibed, my fellows and I kept the law as sensibly as it could be and looked the other way as often as we could in good conscious and in accordance with our oath.

There was but one serious bootlegger in the vicinity, and that was Charles Everett Mills; his general criminality was a well-known matter, and a thorn in my side as well as that of many others. Mills, as scabrous a villain as I ever encountered, none the less had the wit and purse sufficient to employ an excellent and creative lawyer – Newsome by name. Gabriel Newsome. Had an office and partnership in Karnesville: Newsome, Porter & Daws. Never saw a whisker of Porter and Daws; between you and I and the gatepost, I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that they were imaginary, indeed. It was a matter of growing resentment among those residents in Luna City who had cause and clear evidence sufficient to bring criminal charges against Charley Mills as well as the persistence to follow through with charges, regularly had those charges dismissed by the judge in Karnesville.

“Look, you,” I said to Mr. Newsome – sometime late in 1925, as I recollect now after many years. This was after another charge against Charley Mills was dismissed, following upon Newsome, Esq.’s eloquent defense of the character of the defendant along with a subtle impugnment of the character and eyesight of those testifying witnesses – those few brave enough to come to Karnesville and testify. The jury’s verdict went for Charley Mills, of course. I believe that they were all foreigners from Karnesville and farther afield. “This can’t go on. Your client is a menace. Too many local people know what he is, indeed.”

“That may be,” the rascal replied, impertinent, as he gathered together his paper briefs. “But his money is good, and I endeavor to give full value for it. Are you intending to intimidate me, Chief Magill? My hours are flexible; I may complain to the judge about this, if you persist.”

“Consider it a word of professional warning,” I replied, considerably irked.

Indeed, there was little that I could do, and I was full annoyed at having my good advice spurned so. For Mr. Mills was indeed walking a thin line, for all that his lawyer could keep him from a conviction and a term in the county jail. My reading of local temper was acute, as were those of my constables. Charles E. Mills had offended against too many law-abiding citizens; openly flouted the law, in matters other than the bootlegging of spirits. Indeed, it was my sense that this was the least of his offenses against the laws of God and man. If he had only kept himself to his distilling enterprise, most in Luna City would cheerfully have looked the other way. Our Lord was one who relished the taste of good wine and saw it as a pleasure available to all in celebration. Indeed, the Miracle at Cana attests to that inclination, and in that, my good friend the Reverend Rowbottom of the First Methodist Church of Luna City agreed privily with me. Most in his congregation did not agree, though. Father Antoine of Sts. Margaret and Stephen also agreed, citing the same scriptural accounts. Aye, but that is neither here nor there. Father Antoine was a Papist of the stern old school and the Reverend Rowbottom was unusually broadminded for a hard-shell Methodist..   

07. April 2020 · Comments Off on The Ballad of Charley Mills · Categories: Luna City Short Stories

“I think the branch on that big oak at the corner of the square looks dead,” Roman the builder remarked one bright spring morning, as brilliant sunshine flooded into the Café. The oaks in the square – the oaks which gave an air of nobility and something of the atmosphere of a green forest glade to Town Square – were covered in the green of new foliage and dusty springs of blossoms, which shed a kind of bright yellow dust the length and breadth of the heart of Luna City. All but a single barren branch; a branch the thickness of a man’s body, and which stretched out some twenty feet above the paved promenade opposite the front window of the Café. Roman continued. “I better tell the Mayor, get the work crew out to take out that branch, before it falls and kills somebody.”

“Do, please,” Miss Letty agreed. “I have noted several woodpeckers in that tree, and they prefer dead wood, of course. If the oak wood can be salvaged, and sawn into planks …” she added, thoughtfully. “It’s a historic tree, you know. They called it the ‘Hanging Tree,’ back in the day.”

“Was it, indeed, Miss Letty?” Richard was fascinated. He hovered around the stammtisch now that the morning rush was winding down, attending on his most valued regular customers. “I never knew that …”

“Well, the historical marker is around on the other side of the tree,” Miss Letty added sugar to her second coffee, sounding especially acerbic. “You cannot see it from here, I suppose. But that is the tree from which Old Charley Mills was nearly lynched in 1926.”

“I knew that,” Clovis Walcott gestured for the hovering Araceli to add a refill to his own coffee cup. “Local history, of course. But I’ve never really heard the fill tale. I suppose that you know of it, Miss Letty – as president emeritus of the Luna City Historical Society.”

“Better than that,” Miss Letty took a dainty bite from her just-from-the-oven cinnamon roll. “I was there and witnessed what happened, although much of the aftermath was kept from me. I was only a child of six or so,” she added hastily. “Shopping with my dear mother on that morning. You know – the Wild West Emporium next door used to be a dry goods store. Mother wanted to purchase a length of calico for a new apron, and a spool of thread. And a quantity of fine linen for a dress for me. For my seventh birthday, you know. She had a nice pattern from the Simplicity Company. Mother had ordered it from Sears. We were going to pick out some nice fabric there, and then go shopping for the weekly groceries at Dunsmores’ Grocery. That grocery is the real estate office now is, next to Abernathy Hardware. In my young days, it was the general store. Luna City had one, you know. Then we didn’t need to travel all the way to Karnesville to buy groceries. Mr. Dunsmore was a fine-looking man, who always gave me a piece of peppermint candy. I liked him. His wife was much younger than he was. She came from the East – she was the first woman in Luna City to have her hair bobbed, and wear skirts above her knee. Mother thought she was fast – and wore too much lipstick and powder for a properly married woman,” Miss Letty added, in mildly-arctic disapproval. “Mrs. Dunsmore was even said to have rouged her knees.”

“The scandal of it all,” Richard commented, privately thinking that the senior Mrs. McAllister sounded like a perfectly dismal, po-faced old trout.

“It was a small town,” Miss Letty didn’t distain the obvious. “Mother was raised with the understanding that it was unsuitable for a lady to improve upon nature with anything more drastic than papier poudre. She thought Mrs. Dunsmore’s free and easy ways made it most difficult for the Dunsmore’s daughter, Caroline. Caroline was, I think – eleven, that year. She helped her parents in the store, after school. We were not close enough in age to be friends, and by the time I was older, Caroline Dunsmore had been sent back east to her mothers’ kinfolk – because of the scandal. The Governor, Mrs. Ferguson, issued him a pardon after he was put in prison for running an illicit saloon … but the scandal when it all came out! Memories are long in small towns…” Miss Letty added apologetically. “Especially when it comes to … affairs of the romantic sort.”

Clovis Walcott snorted. “Not long enough, Miss Letty – I’ve never heard of this, and I’ve read Dr. McAllister’s history so often the pages in my copy are ragged.”

“My brother did hit the relevant points,” Mis Letty agreed. “That Charley Mills was nearly hanged by a mob, from the Hanging Tree in Town Square, after being accused of molesting Caroline Dunsmore in her bedroom at two in the morning. He was such a disgraceful character that practically anything might be believed of him. But it was a complicated matter, and some of it didn’t come out until after my brother had written his history. And Douglas was more nearly Caroline’s age, you see. They were friends, of a sort, and my brother was always sentimental about his friends. And it may have been the one time in history,” Miss Letty added thoughtfully, “That Charley Mills was actually quite … well, not innocent, exactly. But blameless. Blameless in the matter of which he was accused on that particular occasion. It was all made clear when Phillip Vaughn found his father-in-law’s unpublished memoir and donated it to the Historical Society. That would have been in 1990, or so – some years after the centenary. Alistair Bratten was the chief of police in Luna City for many years. He had …” Miss Letty reflected, while Roman, Richard and Clovis attended breathlessly, “The most imposing mustache. It really was a monument, that mustache; Chief Bratten being a notable monument in himself. He was a Scot, originally – from Fife, I believe. On Founders’ Day, he wore a kilt and played the bagpipes as part of the observations. My father respected him enormously. For Douglas and I, there could have been no higher testament to his worth. His only daughter married Frank Vaughn, who had a small property near Beeville, which was foreclosed in the first year of the Great Depression – that is how the Vaughn family came to Luna City and inherited a kind of traditional role in law enforcement …”

“But the hanging mob, Miss Letty,” Clovis Walcott urged, while Richard meditated on the odd turn of events which led a Scot from Fife to become –apparently – the long-serving and much respected senior law enforcement officer in Luna City.      (Yes, to be continued. This will be part of Luna City #9)