02. April 2019 · Comments Off on Custody Dispute – Part the 2nd · Categories: Luna City Short Stories

(Wherein the previous owner of Ozzie, AKA Captain Kitten the Kitchen Kat – appear and emphatically demand his return.)

“What happened then?”  Katie demanded, not half an hour later – her fine beryl-colored eyes gleaming with righteous indignation and concern. “And who are these people, anyway? You found Ozzie – that night that you fixed that splendid haute-cuisine supper for me. He was hanging out in the hedge between the Café and the Stein’s place – I remember that very clearly, in spite of having too darned many glasses of your landlords’ wine that evening.”

She and Richard sat out in the brief covered patio space before the Airstream, relishing the calm afternoon, the sun slowly sliding down in the western sky, a bottle of Sefton Grant’s priceless white mustang grape wine and two glasses between them. Ozzie was behaving with absolutely kittenish abandon, settled onto Kate’s lap, purring with energy and nudging her hand when she stopped stroking his ears and chin.

Richard sighed, heavily. In his mind, his call on Kate’s affections and those erratic feline attentions of Ozzie were inextricably linked. Gained one, gained the other. Loose one … perhaps loose the other, and perhaps his own grip on a contented life, here serving out caviar cuisine on a canned tuna-fish budget in Luna City. During the ride home from the Tip Top his resolve to keep Ozzie hardened into adamantine stone. Not having Ozzie would mean not having anything meaningful at all.

“Chris took notice of the fuss – not that he could avoid it, since everyone was pretty overwrought – and he called Joe Vaughn.”

“Oh, good!” Kate’s pleasant round countenance brightened. “And Joe told them where they could take their custodial demand and shove it sideways? Ozzie is yours – you found him, took care of him, fed him – made him Captain Kitten!? Everybody in Luna City knows that he’s been yours, no matter where he came from.”

“Well, Joe calmed down the Palmers … that’s Marta and Fred. They live in New Braunfels – is that where that enormous tourist plaza is, where we all met on the way to Marble Falls to cheer on Chris when he competed in that marathon run? Yes, thought so. I couldn’t forget a place like that…Amazing the effect that a uniform has on the ordinary middle-class tax-payers. Especially when it’s Joe wearing it. His sheer forceful presence ensured a compromise, of sorts.”

“Everything is bigger in Texas,” Kate agreed, her expression rather smug. “And yes – that’s the place. The most palatial and cleanest bathrooms around. Did Joe convince them that Ozzie is yours? Honestly, Joe in official mode is perfectly terrifying.”

“No – not entirely,” Richard sighed again. “The Palmers insisted that Ozzie had been chipped … that is, some little identifying device inserted into him, registering original ownership. Apparently, any practicing veterinarian possesses a device which can read those chips. Doc Wyler may be the only one in this county who does not utilize such…”

“Well, he’s old school,” Kate consoled him. “So old-school, I don’t think this present century has registered with him at all. Anyway – he doesn’t do small animal practice, save as a favor for friends. What compromise did Joe make them agree to?”

“That we should present Ozzie tomorrow at 10 AM tomorrow at a veterinary clinic in Karnesville – myself with Ozzie, and the Palmers; there to wait upon the decision of the thingy-chip-reading device. I have the address – and the Palmers secured an appointment and ascertained their willingness to perform such a process. They said they would stay tonight at the Cattleman and meet me in the morning in Karnesville. Kate my darling, I greatly fear that I shall lose Ozymandias.” Richard, under the influence of two or three glasses of Sefton Grant’s peerless vintage, was moved to unburden himself of his deepest fears. “I don’t want that to happen, my dearest Kate, Kate of Kate Hall. Ozzie is more than a pet … I see him as my other self, you know. My familiar, the being in which a good part of my selfish, unworthy soul resides.”

“You are rather cat-like,” Kate agreed. Richard was uncomfortably reminded that his dear keen-eyed Kate had his number down to the thousandth decimal place. “Probably why Ozzie also adores you. A symbiont soul.” She didn’t enlarge on this insight any farther, for which Richard was grateful.

“I don’t want to give him up,” Richard admitted. “But … I might have to. In all honestly, of the chip reveals all…”

“I know,” Kate reached out, from the folding patio chair, to clasp Richard’s hand. “Let’s napalm that bridge when we come to it, OK? Tonight – he is still yours. D’you need a ride to the veterinary clinic tomorrow? I’ll take you, of course. I’ll crash tonight on Araceli’s fold-out sofa and come to get you at … 9:15. That will give us enough time to get to Karnesville…”

“Perfect,” Richard returned the affectionate clasp. He wished that it could be something more … energetic. But this was Kate. Not a fence to go rushing towards. All would happen in good time. “It was tragic, though. Hearing about it from the Palmers. Joe verified, of course. She – their daughter – was a nurse. A very good and dedicated one, from all accounts. Loved by everyone, including our dumb chums, and all her patients and co-workers. Had one of those organ-donor agreements in place. Eyes, heart, lung and kidneys – all went to deserving recipients when they pulled the plug.”

“A good life, well-lived,” Kate nodded. “But that’s another matter entirely. “Her cat has been well-content living with you for … two years?” She sent him one of those beryl-green assessing looks. “Another transplant … just of the other sort. He’s as been as good for you, as if he was a heart or a kidney…”

“I know,” Richard admitted, although most of this was the mustang grape elixir speaking. Ordinarily, he shied from that embarrassing self-knowledge, much less voicing it. “Good of you to go with me tomorrow, Kate. If worst comes to worst, we might have to give up the Captain Kitten blog…”

“Not necessarily,” Kate replied. “I have enough cute pictures of Ozzie in my archives to last into the middle of this century.”

“Top up?” Richard extended the jug towards Kate, and when she shook her head, refilled his own glass and confessed. “I’m inordinately fond of the little blighter. He keeps my feet warm on cold nights. Glad to see me when I finish work for the day – and is not so stupidly needy as a dog. I’ll be deeply depressed if that chip device proves that he is really theirs.”

“We’ll sort that out in the morning,” Kate replied. During this conversation, Ozzie had curled into a tight ball, wedging his head into the crook of Kate’s left elbow. “Let’s not dwell on that any more – worrying about it won’t change anything, and all that it will do will be to spoil our lovely supper. What are you cooking for me tonight? It smells wonderful…”

“Chicken Marengo,” Richard answered. “That is actually the required veal demi-glace reduction that you detect, my dear Kate. I will be preparing it in the original version – chicken breasts with tomatoes, garlic and fresh mushrooms, garnished with fresh prawns, fried eggs and divers fresh herbs. It is legend that Napoleon’s personal chef concocted it after a successful battle and a quick whip-round of those delicacies fit for an emperor-general which were available in the near vicinity.”

“Sounds delish!” Kate exclaimed, with a warm smile. “Never stop cooking for me, Richard.”

“Never,” Richard assured her.

He did think, very briefly – that if he lost custody of Ozzie, some of the joy of cooking for Kate and Ozzie would leak out of his life. But Kate had requested that they not speak of that matter any further – and so he resolutely put it out of his mind, lest contemplating that stark loss further spoil the enchantment of an evening of Kate and fine cuisine.

 

(So – this is one of the story elements in Book 8. And – the rest will be revealed at a later date. Yes – I live to tantalize.)

Tip Top Ice House Gas & Grocery

Tip Top Ice House Gas & Grocery

Custody Dispute

 

Another day of rewarding work at the Café – Richard set his bike homeward, towards the Age, and what he had begun to think of as home, the little polished-aluminum caravan parked there. It was mid-afternoon on a Thursday. His Kate, his Dear Lady Tongue, had reported by a cellphone conversation earlier in the day. Her research on a story would take her from Beeville to Karnesville in the late afternoon – might she come by the Age for a supper, and possibly a cuddle?

Even though the cuddle would most likely be with Ozzie, King of Kings and Captain Kitten in his internet guise, rather than himself, Richard assented with happy anticipation. Yes – another splendid supper and sparkling conversation with Kate, his Kate of Kate Hall, his comfortable and affectionate friend, the woman who knew him for all his many faults and appeared to love him anyway. He headed away from the Café, leaving preparations for the next day in the mostly-capable hands of Luc, sometime drummer for a local band most famed for a name which gravitated in many directions from their initials – OPM – and his trained and trusty apprentices… planning in his mind a private, haute-cuisine classical French menu for his Kate, from what he knew to be on hand in the miniscule refrigerator in the Airstream, combined with snippings of herbs and salad greens from the bounty of the raised beds so lovingly-cultivated out in back of the Café. As he pedaled through the tree-shaded outskirts of Luna City towards Route 123, Richard realized that there was no cream in the little caravan refrigerator – bugger! So much for a simple dessert, and for a touch of crème fraiche … hang on, perhaps the Tip Top might have … yes, indeed. Under the management of Chris Mayall, the crowded and battered old shelves of the Tip Top Ice House, Gas and Grocery contained an unexpectedly broad variety of grocery items: mostly canned and refrigerated, bottled water and sodas, candy bars and dried beef jerky, crackers … indeed, everything but fresh green vegetables and fruits. A half-pint of cream – Richard veered into the crumbling apron of broken macadam paving which merged almost imperceptibly with the shoulder of Route 123, just before it narrowed again to cross the river on a newly-renovated four-lane bridge.

There was a single car parked in front of the Tip Top’s sagging verandah; not that there was ever much of a crowd in the Tip Top on weekdays, and certainly not in the parking lot, unless there was a big do at the VFW post – that pink former classroom, in the grove of trees behind the Tip Top.

“Behave yourself, Ozzie,” Richard ordered his feline familiar, who was quite accustomed to the familiar routine: a day of hunting small vermin along the backside of the block of buildings which formed the northern side of Town Square, and a short ride in the plastic crate (which had originally been used for gallon jugs of milk) strapped to the rear of Richard’s bicycle. A return to the small caravan at the Age, home-sweet-home, a home of comfy soft surfaces, shelter from the dark and cold, and hungry predators who might make a nocturnal meal of a small, brindle one-eyed cat. “Back in a tick – your favorite of the female of our species is coming for a brief visit…”

“Mrrow!” Ozzie replied, butting the top of his brindle head against Richard’s careless caress. Richard went in through the swinging door of the Tip Top, utterly confident that Ozzie would be still in the basket strapped to the back of his mountain bike – like Richard himself, Ozzie was a creature of rigid habit. More »

(And also introducing a new character – well, new to Richard, anyway. It turns out that a lot of people have history with this new character!)

En Residence

“Roman, my old and rare,” Richard ventured on a morning, a week past the triumph of the Cattleman grand reopening, and the equally grand Wyler wedding. “Last night, as I was wending my weary way homewards, I noticed that some of your splendid chaps were unloading a quantity of … I presume it all was building materials? Yes, in front of that charming small villa, just around the corner from the old fire station house. Vulgar curiosity commands me – are renovations underway? Is this in the service of a new owner, who might yet become a habitué of this establishment? Or is it being fitted out as a B & B? Either way – it’s a winner for me.”
It was early morning at the Café; Roman Gonzalez, the working owner and supervisor of a not insubstantial and significant local construction company, was tucking into his customary full-English – customary on those days when he had a full day of heavy labor on his schedule. Now, he looked up from his heaping plate of sausage, bacon, fried egg, tomato and mushroom, baked borracho beans, and toast, and replied,
“Not much gets past you, Ricardo – yeah, that’s the old Everett house. Owner decided to come back to Luna for family reasons. It’s been a rental for about twenty years – and ya know how renters can beat up a place. Whole refit of the bathrooms and kitchen, repaint inside and out, and re-finish the floors. New windows, too. Nice bit of change – my guys can do it in their sleep.”
“Everett…” Richard ran a brief mental scan of the names of Lunaites in his mental Rolodex and came up dry. “The name is familiar, but I can’t quite place it.”
Roman grinned – only later did Richard note the lack of mirth. “Local notables, Ricardo. Miss Alice – Doc Wyler’s wife. She was an Everett. So was Old Charley Mills, on his mothers’ side. This Everett is Myrna Vaughn, by her married name.”
“Vaughn?” Richard ventured. “Any relation to Chief …”
“His mother,” Roman replied, and forked in another mouthful of beans, assisted with a side of fried toast. “And she’s a real pistol.”
“Oh?” Richard hinted in a manner intended to invite further confidence. Roman did not rise to the bait, instead folded the last slice of toast around the lone rasher of bacon and wolfing it in two bites.
“Gotta run, Ricardo,” Roman added, around that last mouthful, reaching for his Thermos. “Fill ‘er up, long day ahead.”
“This Mrs. Senior Vaughn – I take it you mean she is…”
“What I said – a real pistol. Ask around, you’ll get the idea.” Roman departed, leaving Richard frustrated and with his curiosity roused. He sought further enlightenment from Araceli – even though the Café was in the middle of the breakfast rush.
“I hear that Mrs. Myrna Vaughn – she who brought forth our illustrious chief of police into the world – is returning to Luna City after a long hiatus,” Richard ventured, hoping that his chief waitress and manager would prove to be a font of information, or at least, amusing gossip. “Is this in aid of Joe and Jess’s pending new sprout on the familial tree…”
“Yeah – that and Joe’s dad passed away last month … you do remember about that? The obituary was on the second page of the Beacon, and the flag in front of Town Hall was at half-staff for a week. And – you did notice that Jess and Joe went to San Antonio for the funeral?”
“Come to think on it, so I did,” Richard admitted. With the press of work in the Café kitchen, all having to do with anything outside of that often fled from his concern and memory within hours of his having encountered them. “And so now the widowed Mrs. Vaughn is moving back to town – Roman told me that his crew is renovating that charming little Spanish colonial cottage around the corner from Town Square. He would only say that she is … somewhat of a character.”
Araceli barked a short laugh. “Yeah, Joe’s Mom is a law unto herself. Look, I only knew her at a remove. The Vaughns lived here when Joe was a kid in school – so I can’t say I knew her all that well. But she coached the girls’ field hockey team back then – even did a bit, coaching other sports, as a volunteer concerned parent, you understand. She and Miss Letty went head-to-head over leadership of the Historical Society about the time that I started high school; that’s when she and Joe’s dad …” and Araceli hastily crossed herself… “Decided to move to Victoria, and then to Austin when the Legislature was in session. Oh, she told everyone it was because of Mr. Vaughn being elected to the Lege … but everyone really knew that it was because Miss Letty had slapped her down, good and hard, when she tried to throw her weight around with the Historical Society. Miss Letty does not put up with people trying to do dirt to Luna City. And Doc Wyler backed her up, when it came to VPI, when they established Mills Farm…”
“Something to do with … the Cattleman Hotel, wasn’t it?” Richard ventured, and Araceli nodded. The bell over the main door chimed sweetly again, and Araceli shot off in obedience to hospitality’s command.
Upon her return, Araceli enlightened him briefly. “Really, Chef – I don’t know all of the gory details. I was just in high school at the time and Joe was a senior. It made all the difference in the world. We might as well have been on different planets. You might want to talk to Miss Letty about that. She was there and she would know.”
“Indeed,” Richard agreed. “I suspect that what the old dear doesn’t know about Luna City, past and present, would fit into a thimble.”

02. September 2018 · Comments Off on From Luna City – Lucky Seven · Categories: Luna City Short Stories

A Short Story: The Gift

 

Tuesday, early afternoons was the time that Jess Abernathy-Vaughn held the brief meeting with Richard at the Café to review the previous weeks’ financials. These meetings had moved from mid-morning, and gradually became more and more perfunctory and business at the Café expanded, and to the mild astonishment of Jess herself, actually began to turn a profit which fell into a fluctuating zone somewhere between ‘barely marginal’ and ‘satisfactory.’

“No way would I ever advise someone wanting to make a fortune to start up a restaurant,” she remarked on that particular day, and Richard nodded, glumly.

“No, it’s more of a fame, fortune, and feeding people,” He replied. “On the other hand – people always want good food… it’s just that it’s a constant struggle to provide it at a cost that the public will judge to be fair. You know that the margins are always thin, and most people who go into full-frontal food service are as mad as hatters…”

“So I gathered,” Jess observed dryly, just as Luc emerged from the kitchen, blinking absently, like something strange, and tatted, fresh from a long stretch of hibernation or suspended animation.

“Is there something the matter in the kitchen?” Richard asked, with a slight edge in his voice, as Luc merely stood there, staring blankly at the tables, as if he had forgotten the purpose.

“No … nothing,” Luc replied. “I was just thinking.”

“It must have been painful,” Richard answered, and Jess snickered into her glass of unsweetened iced-tea. “You’d probably best not do it again.”

“On it, Chef,” Luc replied. “Oh, I just remembered. The cakes are done. That raisin-wedding-cake thing.”

“Why didn’t you say so!” Richard exclaimed and bolted from his seat.

“I took them out of the oven,” Luc said, to Richard’s back, and Jess rolled her eyes, thinking that yes, nothing could more have proved Richard’s point about the madness of food service in general than that brief exchange. But Luc’s expression briefly cleared as his distracted gaze wandered towards Jess.

“Oh – Hi, Mizz Vaughn. Mizz Letty doin’ OK?”

“Yeah, she is,” Jess replied, cautiously. Good heavens, Luc had made some progress towards a social manner. “How are you doing?”

“Fine,” Luc replied. “Hey – business doing good?”

“Very well, I think,” Jess answered. Luc nodded, as if mildly pleased at this revelation. Then he wandered back towards the kitchen, just as the old-fashioned bell over the front door jingled – that sweet, silvery, old-fashioned jingle. The door at Abernathy Hardware had the same old-style bell over it as well. Likely, they had come from the same place, decades before Jess was even born.

“Hi, Jess!” It was Pamela Pryor – Princess Pammy, as Jess had always called her, in her own mind. “I’m glad I caught you! I saw your jeep outside! Look, I have something for you, but I don’t have it with me at the moment! Are you going to be at home later? I can bring it by.”

“Sure, after about 4:30.” Jess sneaked a peek at her schedule, cruelly mapped out on her cellphone. “Is it bigger than a breadbox…”

“Nothing like that,” Pamela’s smile was brilliant, unforced. “Just something I found, when we were sorting out the guest rooms at the ranch, for Pop’s latest wedding. A little thing, really – but I thought of you and Joe, immediately, and I want you to have it for the baby … see you around five, then!”

Just then, Richard came out of the kitchen, scowling – a dark expression which lightened by several degrees when he caught sight of Pamela. Jess repressed a small sigh. Pamela – gorgeous, accomplished, blond and rich, by way of being Doc Wyler’s beloved granddaughter, had that effect on practically the entire world. Jess had always thought that unfair – but then, she had married Joe Vaughn, who was Pamela’s high school flame, so perhaps she herself possessed a charm or two. Still, Pamela had always made her feel inadequate, merely by existing.

“Hi, Richard!” Pam exclaimed. “We got your order for beef tenderloins for Pop’s wedding supper at the Cattleman. Andy and the boys will deliver them next week, if that’s OK.”

“Prime beef, nothing less than choice,” Richard said, with relief.

“For one of our best customers, nothing less,” Pamela agreed with a twinkle. “We’ll give you a call when it’s ready for delivery.” Her cellphone, deep in the depths of her Birkin handbag, burbled merrily, and she added. “Must fly – see you at about five, Jess.”

“See you,” Jess answered, without enthusiasm, and began closing up the folder for the Café. Little Joe peacefully slept in his stroller seat. “Nothing more for this week, Rich, unless you have any questions.”

“None at all,” Richard answered, sounding abstracted. “See you next week.”

More »

20. August 2018 · Comments Off on From Luna City Lucky Seven – True Love and Barthelona · Categories: Book News, Luna City Short Stories

(Richard and Araceli are at the Cattleman, to discuss catering a sumptuous wedding supper for serial monogamist Collin Wyler and his most recent bride. Handling the matter on behalf of Mr. Wyler is his trusted personal assistant, David Chung MacNamera. The meeting is going splendidly, topped off by a conference call with Mr. Wyler … until Richard finds out the name of the soon-to-be Mrs. Wyler ….)

“And as for the wedding cake itself,” Richard wound up the last ends of the discussion and opened his notebook of sketches. “I have a couple of proposed designs … there’s the classical four-tier round cake, with smooth rolled fondant and small nosegays of sugar roses and tulips tied with ribbon, topped by a pair of white sugar swans. We can do this in white, or with flowers tinted to any color scheme, from pure white, through pastel to vivid, and in a quantity sufficient to serve 300 hundred guests – if not in the main display cake, then in additional cakes already cut and plated in the kitchen. And we can make the basic cake in whatever flavor is preferred, although my inclination – since I know that the bride is English as I am, is for the traditional fruitcake. It really depends on what the guests will expect, of course. I am not adverse to making the smallest layer in fruitcake and the rest in something which the guests may savor. Has the … umm, happy couple settled on a general color scheme?”

“Black, gold and white has been suggested,” Anne Dubois interjected, and Chung nodded. “With a vivid accent color … perhaps deep rose or dark red. London to a brick on it, Dub – that would be ace! The décor of the ballroom itself would readily lend itself to that.”

“Now this design – elegant and slightly futuristic,” Richard turned the page of his sketchbook. “This one; the lowest layer in black fondant, with geometric shapes in gold foil, the next layer in dark gray with a monochrome photo effect, the third layer in white with a gold stipple effect, and the top layer pure white fondant with a garland of contrasting roses twining from top to bottom.”

Chung nodded, and brought out his iPhone. “Let me take a quick snap of that one, and the first. What next?”

Richard turned over another page. “Now this one – also four layers; not round, but square and elevated on classical pillars at the corners. Each side of every layer is adorned with oval or square plaques in Wedgewood style; the colors of the plaques depends on the predominant color chosen by the happy couple, and depict significant armorial bearings, initials, or classical motifs.”

“Very plain, I think,” Anne Dubois said, and Conchita nodded.

“Look nice with the Wyler brand on them, though. Silhouette of the HQ house, and a coupla longhorns – pretty fine. The personal touch.”

“On to the next one,” Richard turned the page again. “Six layers of cake in graduated pairs, each pair separated by pillars and a wealth of flowers filling the space. The topmost level is also crowned with a bouquet of sugar-paste flowers. This one I visualize in pale cream-color frosting, with the edge of each layer trimmed in an edging of fondant lace and the flowers in various pale tints to coordinate with the décor.”

Chung snapped another quick picture with his iPhone and waited courteously for Richard to turn another page.

“That all ya got?” he asked when no more designs were forthcoming, and Richard sighed. “All that I have at this time, Mr. MacNamara. I am supremely confidant of my talent and my staff’s abilities to deliver any one of these to the event – and I am perfectly open to considering any other designs which the happy couple would like me to duplicate. But I have always advised clients – that they are paying me to exercise my considerable expertise and professional judgement in such matters as this, and it is most unwise to disregard it in favor of their own half-baked notion.”

“Understood, mate,” Chung flashed a wry smile, as he was thumbing through his contacts list and selecting a number from it. “OK, I’m calling Mr. Wyler. I’ve already sent him the snaps … it’s mid-evening in London … G’day, Mr. Wyler! Chung here, and Connie with Anne at the Cattleman, and Richard and Araceli from the Café… Going to put my phone on the speaker mode so that we can all have a good chin-wag.” Chung nodded, and set his iPhone in the center of the table. “He can year ya fine, just be sure and speak up.”  Chung nodded to the others at the table and continued in a voice slightly louder than before. “Yes, we’ve been going over Richard’s proposed menu. You got my text messages – then whattya reckon? Yes … yes …  Big bikkies, but yeah, thought you’d be stoked. What about the cake, then – has Miss Cole had a dekko? That six-tier job is a real corker, that is.” More »

06. June 2018 · Comments Off on A New Story – From Luna City 7 · Categories: Luna City Short Stories

Or, half of one, anyway. Titled Memorial Day. (I’m easing back on writing for the moment, being taken up with some other projects, including research for the next couple of historicals. And the household stuff, of course.)

Memorial Day

Jess Abernathy-Vaughn, being of that pale tint of skin which burned and freckled rather than tanned, lounged under the shade of a dark and ultra-violet-ray protective umbrella, planted at a rakish angle, deep into the beach sand at the Gulf-shore side of Galveston Island. She was also slathered with the highest SPF-level sunscreen available over the counter. In spite of not being a fan of sunbathing until one looked more like a leather saddlebag, she was truly enjoying this holiday. A second honeymoon, everyone called it, now that she and Joe had been legally wed for more than a year, and their son was now almost ten months old, and well-able to withstand the baby-sitting ministrations of his great-grandparents, living in the high-ceilinged apartment on the second floor of the ancestral hardware store on Main Square. She watched Joe – as fit and muscular as a classical Greek bronze of an athlete – mastering the use of a boogie-board in the indifferent surf with the same single-minded attention that he brought to every enterprise which took his interest. It killed Joe to not be the best at anything, so he applied himself relentlessly; football, soldiering, law enforcement – and of late, to dedicated fatherhood.

“We’ll be happy to have a baby in the house, once again!” Martha Abernathy exclaimed, even before Jess had ventured the casual boat of her suggestion – that she and Joe spend a luxurious weekend at a Galveston resort destination – onto the tranquil sea of familial relations over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. “Do make the reservations, Jess – you need to take a break now and again! It’s good for a marriage, to make a little time for yourself and your man. Don’t trouble yourself in the least, worrying about Little Joe!”

“Your grandmother has been longing to get her hands on our boy,” Joe grinned when Jess had first tentatively broached the question of a holiday in the sun, surf and sand. That was the evening in Spring Break week, and he had just come home from a tedious day of upholding the law in Luna City, and on the stretch of Route 123 which adjoined the municipality. “Let’s do it, Babe – go back for a weekend, and try and recall the people that we were before becoming a life-support-system for the rug-rat. I’m trying my best to be patient until the day that we can throw the ol’ pigskin around, but I need a break, too.”

Jess sighed. “I can hardly wait until he can cook … Richard swears that he will start teaching him to make a lovely proper mayonnaise as soon as he knows how to handle a whisk…”

“When will that be?” Joe spun his white work Stetson onto the old-fashioned coat-and-hat-rack which stood by the front door of the old cottage on Oak Street and collapsed with a sigh onto the overstuffed sectional sofa – an overstuffed and sprawling thing which took up altogether too much space in the old-fashioned front room, but which was too comfortable to give up entirely. Jess dropped their cooing offspring onto Joe’s mid-section and he yelped, “Ooof! What have you been feeding him, Babe – bricks?”

“Growing boy,” Jess replied, with a remarkable lack of feeling. “You entertain the Soup-Monster for a while I fix supper – tell him mad tales of all the dirtbags you have arrested, and all the speeders you have ticketed … I’ve been talking to him all day about the necessity for retaining receipts for cash business expenses. Among other topics of note.” (Soup-Monster was her nickname for her son, taken from Marsupial Monster, from the early days when she carried him in a baby-sling across her chest.)

“Sounds deathly dull,” Joe replied. Jess sighed with heavy sarcasm as she opened the deep-freeze unit in a corner of the kitchen.

“Attention to such minutia pays the bills for our incredibly lavish life-style,” she called in reply and Joe responded with a hearty horse-laugh. Jess smiled. It pleased and satisfied her to know that she could make Joe laugh. He was wrapped too tight, sometimes – too earnest, too serious entirely. Now, Jamie – she had always been able to make Jamie laugh.

Yes, that pan of frozen lasagna … and a mixed salad to go with, once the lasagna was warmed and bubbling in the oven. Say an hour or so; Jess was also tired; a full day of seeing to her various clients in Luna City, Karnesville and Beeville, driving hither and yon, with Little Joe uncomplaining in his car seat. He was a good baby, for all that. But now and again she really missed the days when she and Joe went out for burgers or pizza as impulse took them, or drove into San Antonio for a meal at one of the Riverwalk restaurants, a table on one of the outside terraces, overlooking the river, the lights that twinkled like fireflies in those monumental cypress trees lining the artfully-channelized river, while live music spilled from one of the other places, and she and Joe people-watch in the twilight, as swifts and grackles swooped into their night roosts. All that without the labor of hauling the Soup-Monster and the heavy freight of his impedimenta – the diaper bag, the stroller, the baby-car-seat and all that along with them.

No – a weekend of leisure in Galveston would be just the ticket. Jess covered the lasagna with tinfoil, turned the oven to 350 and went to join her menfolk, just as Little Joe grinned at his father, an open and uninhibited grin which revealed all of two new baby teeth in his lower jaw. Jess’s heart turned over in her chest – the child looked so like Joe, it was uncanny, even to his tiny nose, which gave a hint of the ancestral Vaughn beakiness, even now. A miracle, the blending of her blood, flesh and bones with Joe’s – and yet, Little Joe was his own person, even at the age of eight months! A whole, new, original, and miraculous little person … again, Jess thanked with her whole heart for Miss Letty’s wise advice.

“Supper in about fifty minutes,” she said, as he settled onto the sectional next to Joe. “Give me twenty minutes, I’ll feed the Soup-Monster and put him down to sleep, so that we can have supper in peace.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Joe replied. “And the weekend thing, too. Let’s go for it, Babe. We need a break, some R-and-R, you know. Be good for the Monster to learn how to wind the grands around his little finger.”

“Share the blessings,” Jess leaned her head against Joe’s substantial shoulder, the one with the uniform patch embroidered with the city logo of the Luna City Police Department sewn upon it. Another brief moment of pure contentment; Gram and Grumpy had insisted that such in retrospect would be considered the happiest times of their lives. Jess had of late begun to see that her grandparents were right about that.

Now she watched Joe abandon the mild surf, the boogie-board under his arm, striding up through the receding surf, which cast a brief swath of lacy bubbles across the white sand. He collapsed with a brief grunt onto the spread beach towel at her side. Jess spared a covert and concerned glance at him. She’d bet anything his knees were giving him hell again. Good thing she had packed a bottle of extra-strength Motrin. She would mildly suggest that he take a few before they went out for dinner, and hope that he would take the suggestion.

“How’s the water?” She asked. Joe chuckled.

“Salty and wet, Babe.”

“It’s the ocean, it goes without saying.”

Joe lay back in the shade with a sigh. “Thought about where to go for dinner? I’ve an appetite for fish tacos. That place on Seawall with the two big-ass balconies overlooking the Gulf would suit me fine. OK with you?”

“Perfect,” Jess agreed. “A bit noisy, but we can go early… it’s an anniversary for us, you know. We can celebrate.”

“Oh?” Joe raised an eyebrow, and Jess grinned.

“The first time we seriously kissed … and umm. Other stuff.”

“Oh, that.” Now Joe grinned, reminiscently. “After the Memorial Day pig-roast at the V, you had too much to think, and I walked you home? Yeah, I remember.” The grin widened into an expression of outright lewd reminiscence. “Hoo, boy – do I remember, Babe! I was so damned glad you didn’t punch me in the nuts when I made the first move…”

“Joseph P. Vaughn, you are no gentleman!” Jess exclaimed with an attempt at a Scarlett O’Hara exaggerated Southern accent and swatted at her husband with her discarded tee-shirt top. Which launched a good quantity of sand at him – but he just chuckled again and lay back on his spread beach towel.

“No regrets though, Babe?” he said, and Jess shook her head.

“No regrets, Joe.”

17. February 2018 · Comments Off on From Luna City #6 · Categories: Luna City Short Stories

(Yes, another excerpt of the next Luna City chronicle – which, with luck, will be available in April, 2018)

“Bree … you haven’t experimented with … the sex-magick, have you? You know – with a boyfriend of your age?” G-Nan asked, anxiously, and Bree Grant looked at her grandmother with eyes rounded in mild astonishment. What on earth could have brought that on? It was the first day of Bree’s return to the Age of Aquarius; suppertime in the Straw Castle Aquarius, a high-ceilinged tower of a place with a domed roof. Her parent’s car had vanished up the narrow road into the Age that very morning, trailing a smudge of dust and leaving Bree behind to spend spring and summer with her grandparents.

Bree, seventeen, intense and outgoing, replied in shocked surprise, “Ick, no! The male of our species,” Bree continued with a magisterial air, wondering why Grampy was stifling laughter. “Is simply not at their best at this stage of development. Really, G-Nan, all zits and obsessed with cars or football, or all gothy and emo. The very thought; it is to make me barf. And no savoir-faire at all. I have standards, you know,” and Bree directed a severe look at her grandfather who was still snickering. “I demand a degree of savoir-faire in a lover. Absolutely, at a minimum.”

“Bree Pumpkin – do you even know what savoir-faire means?” Grampy asked, over his plate of quinoa and feta-cheese salad – which Bree had made herself, rather than risk G-Nan’s signature dish of lentil surprise.

“Sure,” Bree serenely scarfed up a forkful of salad. “It’s from the French, actually – and is defined in the dictionary as ‘a polished sureness in social behavior.’ I really don’t think that is too much to ask for, Grampy – and what is so funny about it?”

“Nothing, Pumpkin,” Sefton still grinned, which Bree found quite baffling. But not as baffling as when Judy laid down her own fork and looked earnestly at her granddaughter.

“You are of the age to consider experimenting with sex-magick, you know. It is a powerful force in this world, and not one to be lightly considered.”

“I know, G-Nan,” Bree reassured her grandmother. “And trust me – I have thought about it all very carefully. There’s no real future in sleeping with every guy you meet. I mean, really. They forget you the next day, or never call … and really, I’d rather be the one they remember forever for not having gone to bed with them. When I do decide,” Bree helped herself to more okra pickles and bit into one of them with a satisfying crunch. “To practice the magick, it will be spectacular. Perfect. On satin sheets at the top of the Eiffel Tower, or under a Tahitian waterfall with the scent of frangipani hanging in the air … That kind of perfection takes time, and he will really, really have to be worthy.”

“What about that Walcott boy?” G-Nan ventured, having – as Bree assumed – totally missed the point. “He’s quite nice-looking, for his age … and the two of you are quite compatible, astrologically-speaking.”

“G-Nan!” Bree was horrified. “Robbie’s my best friend, practically – he’s just a kid. He can’t possibly do the magick correctly!”

“Might surprise you,” Sefton Grant murmured, and looked innocent when Bree glared at him. And Judy compounded the horror with a further suggestion.

“Bree-Pumpkin, if an older man – knowledgeable about working the sex-magick properly – is what you are looking for – consider Richard, at the Café. He is also compatible, astrologically … and very handsome. And an accomplished lover, by all that we have heard…”

“Oh, double-ick!” Bree, shocked out of all impulse to be polite to her elders, slammed down her fork, followed by her fist on the table … which being of sturdy make from native cedar cut on the property by Sefton, only trembled slightly. “G-Nan, that’s positively gross – he’s old enough to be Dad, practically – and besides, he’s my boss! I just may barf at the thought. If anything, he’s sweet on Kate Heisel. And I mean – ugh. I wouldn’t do another girl dirt by screwing her boyfriend. That’s just gross!”

“Calm down, dear – it was only a suggestion!” Judy protested, her eyes filling with tears. “I meant it in your best interests. You want your initiation into the magick as a woman to be perfect, with a considerate and skilled practitioner of the arts …”

“But not incestuous!” Bree retorted. “Jeez, G-Nan … at that rate, I might just as well throw myself at Chief Vaughn, or Coach _____… Can I just be allowed to sort out my own life?”

“We want the best for you, Pumpkin,” Judy wiped away a tear on her napkin, and Sefton came to her rescue.

“We know,” he said. “Leave it alone, Judikins – Bree-Pumpkin, your G-Nan means well. We’ll let the subject drop as of this moment, all right? Good. Now … Richard asked me yesterday morning, since you were to be back in Luna City – are you free to work a special event, come Spring Break? Not full-time,” Sefton added hurriedly. “Just to help prep for a big bash at Mills Farm early in March.”

“Sure, Grampy,” Bree sniffled. “Yeah, I can do it.” She glared at her grandmother. “But not another word about me and my love life, ‘kay? I’m almost eighteen, I’m practically through my first year of college, I can sort that shit out for myself, Oh-Kay?!”

“Agreed, Pumpkin,” Sefton agreed, keeping his relief private … although Judy was still sniffling, slightly. “So – you do your studies in the morning, work a coupla-times a week at the Café in the afternoon…”

“I’m a big girl now, Grampy,” Bree spared a serious glare at her grandmother. “I can handle it.”

“Good,” Sefton replied. “Now – who wants another sliver of that barbequed-marinated tofu?”

11. February 2018 · Comments Off on On the River in Springtime · Categories: Luna City Short Stories

(Well, it’s bitter cold here in South Texas right this very weekend – and what better time to post half a chapter of the next Luna City Chronicle – A Half Dozen of Luna City, wherein Lew Dubois surveys his newly expanded kingdom and finds it good …)

 

On the River in Spring

 

“Ramona,” said Lew Dubois on the afternoon of a day which had begun cool and foggy, but which had the promise by afternoon of being fair, cool and bright, “Take messages from everyone who calls, save from my wife and the children. I wish to spend the afternoon on the river, examining the work done – and I must be able to consider matters without distraction.”

“Yes, Lew,” his senior assistant and executive secretary replied, veiling her mild annoyance that Lew would be out of pocket during regular business hours yet again. Ramona had come to VPI’s corporate office some fifteen years previously, with the highest possible recommendations from an agency which specialized in providing experienced and bonded C-level staff to select corporate clientele. She had never quite become accustomed to Lew Dubois’ penchant for informality, to the extent of routinely spending one morning a week (when matters allowed) in the Country Kitchen restaurant, bussing tables, or taking orders, out with the golf-course or garden maintenance crews, mowing the grass or digging holes for new plantings … or other, even more lowly work. Her previous executives had been nothing like that; Ramona would never forget the occasion when another director from the Houston main office called for Lew and would not accept her assurances that Mr. Dubois was unavailable, and could she take a message? Eventually, she had to admit that Mr. Dubois helping to run a mechanical snake though a blocked sewage outfall from one of the guest cottages …

“What shall I tell anyone who persists in asking where you are?” Ramona entertained the faint home that Lew would be doing something … something not embarrassing.

“On the river, dear friend Ramona – examining the work done so far on the boathouse and the stables. And then, I think I will go into town with Harry, and observe progress on the hotel renovation.”

“You know, Lew,” Ramona ventured; she had become confident in being equally informal with Lew, “You have people whose job is to make reports to you. You don’t need to waste time seeing for yourself; you’re a manager!”

“Ah, but the time is never wasted, chère Ramona. Besides seeing matters for myself, I find that they are more willing to speak honestly when I am there, with my feet in the mud, and my hands dirty – just so as they are. It is how I have always managed – how I have built two of VPI’s grandest properties – and you will help me to build a third, n’est-ce pas? By managing my office so that I may manage by walking around. Be at ease – I shall return no later than half-past four, and I will keep my telephone turned on.”

“Yes, Lew,” Ramona acquiesced gracefully, as both she and Lew knew that she would. Ramona had come with Lew from the Houston office, where she had worked for him for several uneventful years, to their mutual satisfaction. Ramona, starchy, middle-aged, given to dress for the office in very correct skirt suits and sensible shoes, was nonetheless a secret reader of the most lady-like romance novels, and privately made weak in the knees by a man speaking with a deliciously French accent, besides being a minor star in the VPI firmament. Lew stepped into his private office, made a single terse phone call, and donned his barn coat, slipping his more than usually elaborate tablet phone into the biggest pocket, and departed, whistling.

It was all going very well – even with the delay of a month, caused by discovering the bones of that poor unfortunate. Which was a sad thing – but Lew was a man with many fish to fry and pots to tend, as Grand-Pere Lucien was wont to say, and quite capable of keeping a very good eye on all of them. Now Lew walked quickly down through Mills Farm, noting both routine preparations in hand for spring, and those in hand for the planned expansion – a new roadway and additional gardens, to lavishly adorn the grounds and perpetuate the illusion that such had always been ‘just so’ at Mills Farm – a row of young and soon-to-appear mature  native trees, some artfully-arranged thickets of shrubs and flower-meadows, all to beautify the short road leading towards the new recreational facilities – a road designed with equal art to lend to the illusion that the distance was actually somewhat greater than it was.

Past the Country Store, and the restaurant, past the rebuilt Riverbank Cottage, and along to where there was a new and expanded dock – built as part of the expanded riverine excursion program, to be offered in the coming summer. At the new dock, Harry Vaughn waited patiently in his little aluminum motorboat, the boat rocking gently on the clear green water.

“How’s it going these days?” Harry asked

“Very well, mon vieux,” Lew replied, stepping carefully from dock to boat, settling himself on the center seat. “And if not – it soon will be. I have only to say the word – and sometimes only to appear sorrowful, that I have been let down by those in whom I have placed such trust.”

“No one writes a ticket for a guilt trip quite like you do, you sneaky old bastard,” Harry said, pulling the cord to prime the motor, which caught with a roar and a sudden gust of grey smoke, then idled under Harry’s expert hands to a relatively quiet hum. “All right then – let’s go take a closer look at your new facilities … they looked damn good, when I came down-river.”

“Excellent,” Lew beamed. “Even with the delay in beginning … I have been told that construction of the stables is ahead of schedule, and the boathouse is nearly on time.”

“Well, promising a generous completion bonus for every day ahead of the contracted schedule does have results,” Harry snorted. “Again – you are one sneaky old bastard.”

“A bonus – like a sentence of being shot at dawn the following morning – concentrates the mind of man most wonderfully,” Lew observed, and Harry chuckled.

“They’ve finished the dock, so we can put in, and walk around a bit. You’ve got a lot riding on this, haven’t you?”

“Not as much as I had on the Castle Mountain project,” Lew replied. “At least with this, my old, there is an established resort of much beauty and appeal – it is if I am overseeing the quiet nip and tuck, and the work of a brilliant new stylist for an aging beauty of the silver screen. The aging beauty has appeal; I merely oversee renewing it.”

The little boat chugged around a bend in the river, past a sweep of water-burnished gravel, where a couple of feather-leaved cypress trees dipped knobby knees into the shallows, where tiny fish hatchlings and tadpoles squirmed and darted in the sun-warmed and stone-bottomed pool, in water that reflected the golden of the sandstone where currents never vexed or chilled. Lew could see them plain, from the boat at idle in the deeper water; such a marvelous sight – and how marvelous to share, like the twilight spectacle of fireflies later in the spring, darting among the deep grass and the taller shrubs like animated sparks of lightening.

Now, Harry steered his little cockleshell around the farther bend, to within sight of the muddy slope where the fresh new wood of a dock ran out into the water, and the bones of a new structure sprang from the steep slope above.

“A note,” Lew spoke into his cellphone. “Ensure that the wood of the dock and boathouse are suitably aged, before and after final painting. Consider duck-egg green as the final color for the boat house.” He observed Harry shaking his head in mock-despair. “Details, mon vieux – the devil resides among them. Now, shall we alight and consider this aspect on my new project? We hope to open formally at the time of spring break – to appeal to the younger set, of course.”

“The younger set want to go carouse and screw at the beach,” Harry grunted, cynically. “Can’t blame them much for that – it’s all that I wanted when I was eighteen and dumb and full of …”

“Perhaps,” Lew shook his head. “But I remain convinced there are those of our children who are not so enchanted by such. A romantic age … they yearn for the ideal, for perfect romantic love, and yet the world conspires to make them feel ashamed for admitting such. The 19th century has certain charms, mon vieux. Even the bare suggestion of the old verities – proprieties, politesse, of the old way of conduct between men and woman – these may yet suffice to influence. We … you and I – we have lived long and seen much. This place – this blessed parcel called Luna City – has seen even more. We should remember, my old friend, and bend every effort into recalling those memories and more to the young. They have nothing, aside from silly, trivial, and passing matters – the modern scourge of social media, whatever silly prank they are encouraged to by their equally silly friends, a trivial romantic fling, forgotten by the next morning. We should take the time to show them what endures; otherwise, what are we?”

“A shadow, a rag, fretting himself from day to day…” Harry angled in the boat towards the new-built and solid dock. He tied up the boat with the absentminded skill of a lifetime of expertise, and he and his passenger stepped ashore. Lew looked around with the visionary gaze of one seeing the final product in this scrambled miscellany of half-reassembled structure, of muddy and churned-up earth, and of the construction vehicles parked haphazardly close by.

22. January 2018 · Comments Off on The New Hire – Another Segment from The Next Luna City Installment · Categories: Luna City Short Stories

(The decision has been made to hire another cook for the Cafe, and Sefton Grant knows of a young man in need of a job as cook, one Lucas ‘Luc’ Massie, Who is a good and competent cook, but is also an oddball, tatted and pierced twenty-something … and a drummer in a band called The Ozona Mud Puppies. Luc is also homeless. But he has passed the cooking audition, by supplying at a moment’s notice a tasting menu of hot grilled sandwiches and the tastiest selection of French fries that anyone has ever tasted.)

“Understood,” Richard sighed and accepted his doom. “I approve hiring him – but I’m afraid that we will – er – come to clash in the kitchen now and again. I don’t look forward to it, but there it is.”

“Let me go and talk to him,” Allen Lee offered, and such was his fatherly authority that both Miss Letty and Doc Wyler nodded acquiescence. Richard followed Allen Lee into the kitchen, where Luc glanced up from scraping down the grill station.

“That was a magnificent meal!” Allen Lee exclaimed in hearty delight. “And they tell me that you’re hired on account of it. But seriously, there’s some things you gotta know – and stick to, if you wanna stay in this place long enough for me to come back around and feature y’all on a repeat of my people for a new foodie throw-down.”

“Sure,” Luc was still looking down at the surface of the grill. “So, they like it, uh?”

“They sure did, kid,” Allen Lee reassured him, hearty and enthusiastic, with an ear-to-ear smile. “You got the job – yours, if you want to take it. But understand that Ricardo is the ultimate boss in the kitchen. And you gotta remember that he’s been around the track a good few times, understand that he’s got the final say, cooking-wise. See – he trained at this school in Paris …” As Richard listened, Allen Lee expounded on Richard’s training, career, experience in the field at a fulsome and almost embarrassing length, not omitting the embarrassing bits, although putting the best construction possible on them – a consideration for which Richard was grateful, since it appeared that Luc had never heard of him and his career as a celebrity chef, although he gave every evidence of being impressed by tale that Allen Lee spun. He did wish that Allen Lee had left out the embarrassing bits about the Carême meltdown and aftermath …  Finally, Allen Lee wound up the final threads of his narrative and tucked in the extraneous ends, concluding, “So – ya see, Luc – you’re solid in the kitchen, and you have the basic skills. Ricardo is OK with taking you on. But you gotta be mature about this, realize that he has a world of stuff that he can teach you, things that you don’t know about, until he starts teaching you … and teaching – he’s done that! He’s doing it even now, with teaching kids to cook with his internet series. Learn from him about the fancy French cooking stuff you didn’t know, working for – was it Emerald? And then for Arbys? – You got the skills, kid – but don’t let that go to your head. Richard …” and here Allen Lee paused – perhaps to lend extra drama to his final peroration. “Take the job. Don’t think that you know it all, Luc. You don’t – but this guy can teach you. Mebbe you still won’t know it all – but I guaran-damn-tee – you’ll know a lot more. Be a good sport and learn what he can teach you.”

“Sure,” Luc wiped his hands on the towel at his waist. For about the first time he looked squarely at whom he was speaking to. “Thanks. For the chance, guys. I won’t ever let you down, Chef. Or you either, Allen Lee.”

“I’ll take that as a promise,” Richard accepted with the minimum required grace, as Allan Lee beamed approval. “So will I, kid – and I’ll tell you know, I expect great things from you – like, I come back in a season or two, and see you on my show!”

Both Richard and Luc winced slightly, at the thought of that, but Luc straightened his narrow shoulders and replied. “Sure thing.” He sounded a bit dubious – no, Luc wasn’t made for dealing with the public the easy, comfortable way that Allen Lee did, and which Richard had faked for so long. Now Richard said,

“Come on and tell Miss Letty and Doc Wyler that you’re on … and I’m sure that Jess has some paperwork to finish, now that you’re accepted.”

“Sure, Chef,” Luc followed them out to the front, and when Richard nudged him towards the empty chair at the stammtisch, he sat down in it – with some definite signs of unease. Miss Letty broke the ice, by saying with as much fulsome enthusiasm that a starchy, prim lady of certain years was able to bring to bear, “You will be relieved to hear, Lucas – that we were all very pleased with your audition menu, and that the decision to offer you employment was unanimous. I do believe that the selection of regular diners at the Café were enthusiastically in agreement in this. You will have fans, even before you begin your first workday in the Café.”

“I’m done,” Doc Wyler announced, scraping his chair back. “Places to go, things to do. Welcome to the Café, son – hope that you choose to remain long. Those grilled sandwiches were prime, by the way. Now I won’t have to drive all the way to the city for their like. Give your particulars to Mrs. Vaughn – your current address and all, and she can process the background check…”

“Already done,” Joe Vaughn observed, looking up from his cellphone. “No wants or warrants – only a citation for disorderly conduct at some dive in San Antonio.”

“That was … it was nothing,” Luc shrugged, as if it were nothing. But he added, in flat tones, as if it were expected. “I don’t have an address.”

“You don’t?” Doc Wyler looked as baffled as someone might, who lived on the largest ranch acreage in Karnes County since birth nearly a century ago, in a house that his grandfather had built.

“He don’t,” Sefton spoke, apologetically, his mouth full of pomme frites. “All his stuff is in the back of my van. His roommate in Karnesville kicked him out this morning. We were gonna let him stay at the Age, but that Judikins has a major problem with …”

“The m – the non-veganity?” Richard ventured, and Sefton shook his head.

“No, the drum-practice. It upsets the chickens … and ya know,” Sefton regarded them all in a manner which begged sympathy. “If the chickens and all are upset … My Lady is upset.”

“Can’t have that,” Doc Wyler looked with – what might be interpreted as a pleading look towards the table, and Joe Vaughn murmured, “Your Lady is your Goddess … I know. If Mama ain’t happy, then no one is happy.”

“What about the old apartment upstairs in the Mercantile?” Miss Letty looked to have had the only sensible reaction. “If that would suit, I can make it available. I own the building, you know. No one has lived in the apartment for years. My grandfather, Arthur Wells McAllister had his business office there, and my brother used it for a while, as well.”

“At the Mercantile?” Richard was boggled. “Well, it would be handy to work, I suppose. I never knew there was any such thing in the Mercantile.” This was the narrow red-brick building next to the Café on the opposite side from Stein’s Wild West Roundup, towering two stories and a commanding cornice high over the single story and a half of the Café, with the name “Mercantile Building” outlined in the façade in contrasting and permanent white-glazed brick. The ground floor was an ice-cream parlor, in the early years of Luna City, noted for having been the establishment from which Don Antonio Gonzales emerged on a certain summer day in 1919. Upon encountering his mortal enemy, one Eusebio Garcia Maldonado on the sidewalk before the Café, increasingly heated words and then gunshots were exchanged in the last recorded public duel in Luna City. (The only casualties were the radiator of Don Antonio’s Model-T sedan, a city street-light and a mule hitched to a wagon parked farther down the square, all struck by wild shots from the participants’ weapons.) The Mercantile Building currently housed a small and rather shabby little shop featuring the work of local crafters and artisans. It was open erratic hours, mostly on weekends. Richard had never given it much thought, save when curious weekend excursionists wandered into the Café, asking when the place would be open.

Miss Letty was explaining to Luc, and to a rather relieved Sefton, “… it’s a terribly spartan little place, I’m afraid. Lucas – that means that there are no comforts in it. After the Spartans of ancient Greece, who preferred to live simply. No one has lived in it for years, as I cannot afford to renovate, and probably couldn’t get back sufficient in rent to cover the costs, anyway. But the view of the square from the front windows is quite pleasant, and there is a relatively new window unit … Sarah and some of her friends were holding needle-work classes in the front room, where the light is good. I suppose you would want to see it, first.” She fished in her generous handbag, found a ring of keys and detached on from it. “Come along, young man – and see if it will suit. I’m afraid it will be rather dusty, and of course the furniture is … minimal. But you would have it to yourself, and of course, be convenient to the Café…”

“I don’t mind,” Luc replied. He had not much of an emotion about this, so Richard presumed that he truly didn’t mind. “No roomies or neighbors to get riled up about the drums? Let me see the place.”

“She’s ‘Miss Letty’ to you,” Jess hissed, in an undertone, and then added in a more normal voice. “I’ll finish up the paperwork once you’ve had a chance to look over your new quarters,” She tucked away the folder, and picked up Little Joe, who in the interval of his mother having a bite to eat, had become quite restless over her attention paid to anything but him. “I’ll wait, Miss Letty … Richard, do you want to go with them?” Richard really didn’t want to do this, thinking it was none of his business, but as Miss Letty, Sefton and Luc went towards the door, Jess hissed in the same undertone, “Go with her – those stairs are murder. And he will be your employee, anyway. A good commander always looks after the troops and their living conditions.”

“Right,” Richard obeyed, as Miss Letty with her keys led the three of them out the front door of the Café, and to a narrow and undistinguished door sandwiched between the Mercantile Building, and the storefront on the far side of it. The door to the space in the Mercantile, over that hapless little craft shop? Guess that it must be, Richard thought. Miss Letty fumbled with the key, in the lock of that door, which opened into a small space, into which a staircase mounted up like an arrow upwards into the dimness beyond. There was a clumsy, old-fashioned light switch just inside the doorway. Miss Letty flipped it, and two lights came on – bare bulbs hanging on lengths of flex, one at the bottom and one at the top.

“I think that you will have sufficient space for your motor scooter to park in shelter at the bottom of the stairs,” Miss Letty observed. “Such a darling little machine – they used them in Italy, in the old movies! I have always wanted to ride on one, but never had the opportunity. I am afraid that the stairs are so steep! It was the way of it, in Grandfather Arthur’s day, you know. So many families chose to live over their shops, or at least keep offices there …” She began to climb up the steep, darkened staircase, in painful, one-by-one steps. Mindful of his instructions from Jess, Richard had no compunction about following her next, even in elbowing ahead of Sefton. If the old darling missed a step, and somehow contrived to fall backwards … Miss Letty was the oldest resident of Luna City, the living repository of history and legend. Her life should be preserved at whatever risk.

On the landing at the top of the stairs, Miss Letty took out her keys again, and unlocked the substantial panel door, admitting them all into a generous but empty room, high ceilinged, and well-lit by two tall windows overlooking Town Square. Although the room was paneled with rather fine – if dingy carved paneling, the floor was covered with the utilitarian greenish speckled linoleum favored for public buildings anticipating rather a lot of wear and tear, and the windows were filled with equally utilitarian Venetian blinds expecting the same hard-use, hanging at half-mast. A couple of folding tables and a stack of metal folding chairs leaned against the farther wall. It was altogether a cheerless and desolate prospect as far as a living space went, but Luc regarded it with approval.

“Rehearsal space! What else is there?”

“Not very much, I’m afraid,” Miss Letty replied, “Through here is the bathroom, kitchenette, and bedroom.” She led them to a door in the wall opposite the windows; a short hallway lay beyond with three more doors; the first led to a miniscule bathroom, into which a depressingly modern sink, toilet and shower stall had been wedged, likely with the aid of a crowbar. The door beyond that opened into a slightly larger room, with a single window in it, overlooking the lumpy graveled area which lay behind the Café. It had been fitted with some cheap kitchen cabinets under a Formica countertop, cabinets which had never had any better days of which to boast. A couple of dead flies lay in the sink, the porcelain lightly stained by lime from an intermittently dripping tap. There was a space where a stove had possibly once been, and another filled with a refrigerator, of a mid-century design with rounded corners and a dashing chrome handle shaped like a car door handle of the same vintage.

“The icebox works,” Miss Letty said, opening the refrigerator door to show that yes, there was a light on inside, and an opened box of baking soda. “I can’t recall what happened with the stove, although it may be that there never was one. My brother used this as an office, when he was writing his book about the history of Luna City. He was the last person to use this place, regularly.”

The final door stood half-open, to a room with another window; this one contained a single bedstead with a dusty mattress on it and nothing much else.

“What do you think, Luc?” Sefton sounded hearty, enthusiastic. “A crash pad of your own, and a job right next door, too! Might be your lucky day, after all, buddy!”

“Yeah.” For all that, Luc didn’t sound all that enthused, and Richard didn’t blame him in the least. “I don’t mind about the stove – I got a microwave of my own, so no biggie. So – how much is the rent?”

“I’ll work out something with Jess,” Miss Letty replied, sounding as magisterial as ever. “Something fair to us all, considering that this place is relatively useless to me, and offers no home comforts worth mentioning to you. A mere token of fifteen a week deducted from the salary that the Café will pay, I think – just consider that quarters are part of your salary.”

“Aw, hey – it’s fine, Miss Letty. A place of my own, even if it’s a dump – oh, no, didn’t mean that,” Luc added hastily, after intercepting a warning look from both Sefton and Richard – and mirabile dictu – taking it to heart after a moment of thought, in which Richard thought that he could hear the mental gears creaking and grinding. “I’ll take it. It’s fine. ‘Specially to practice the drums. Call it my address for now, Chef.”

“Good,” Richard said. “You know that I’ll know where to find you, when you oversleep!” while Sefton grinned. “Luc, man – don’t worry about no other stuff in the place, ‘kay? When our old place burned, people were real generous to us. We gotta whole trailer full of stuff that they gave us, to replace the household things that burned, stuff that we really don’t need. We’ll bring up your stuff from the van, and then I’ll make a run out to the Age, and bring you anything else you might need from our stores … hey, no problem, Luc. You know how nice it will be, not to have to drive all the way to Karnesville for a decent burger. But like I said – ixnay on the burger-kay when you talk to My Lady. Got it?”

“Sure.”

Richard was fairly certain that Luc did not quite comprehend – something about the expression in his face. No; the lights were on, but the person at home was hiding in a back room, hoping that the one ringing the doorbell would soon give up and go away. For himself, Richard left Sefton and Luc to make a closer survey of the apartment, and accompanied Miss Letty on that perilous journey down the narrow staircase – trip and fall on that, you’d be well into the grass of Town Square before you stopped bouncing.

“Lucas approves of the old apartment,” Miss Letty announced to Jess upon their return to the Café. Joe had already gone back to work, and Allen Lee was swapping yarns with Harry Vaughn about old times in Banff at the Castle Mountain Hotel, out at the sidewalk table, enjoying the late afternoon sunshine slanting across the Square in bars of blessed golden light. Lamentably, every scrap of Luc’s tasting menu was gone, save a dusting of crumbs and seasonings on the serving platters.  “So that will be his home address for the time being. Poor boy; I’m afraid he has had a very difficult life. There are these odd children, you know; often quite intelligent, but absolutely no grasp of the social graces, and what it takes to get on with their peers.” Miss Letty turned her regard towards Richard. “I’m afraid it will fall to you, Richard – to make allowances for this, as you work together.”

Richard sighed. “My dear Miss Letty, I have worked with such numpties in the kitchen that you would not believe – and both they and I survived. Well, just barely…”

Miss Letty frowned, very slightly. Too late, Richard recalled that Miss Letty had an excellent command of English slang, based on her youthful service in the European theater. “Lucas is not an idiot, Richard – just … odd. But very skilled at what he does. I trust that you will take his personal idiosyncrasies into account. I must say that we – that Stephen and I were pleased beyond belief with his cooking audition. The boy has definite talent. If his peculiarities can be managed skillfully, I dare to venture that he will be a credit and a benefit to the Café.”

“I’m certain that he will, Miss Letty,” Jess came to his rescue, as she settled her son into his carrier. “So – when should we announce regular supper service?”

“I suggest in time for Valentine’s Day,” Richard thumbed through his mental calendar. “We can do a couple of weekends, unannounced, just to work out the kinks…”

He ignored Jess’s snort of smothered laughter, too late remembering that crude slang went both ways.

“Very good,” Miss Letty gathered up her own notes. “Good night, then, Richard.”

“Do you need a lift home, Miss Letty?” Jess ventured. “I wasn’t going that way, but …”

“No – a lady always departs with the gentleman who brought her,” Miss Letty replied with a wintery smile. So that was why Harry Vaughn still waited outside the Café. “It’s a treat on a mild day, to travel in an open car, with the wind in your hair.”

“All right, then,” Richard supposed that his day was now done, some hours after he was accustomed to ending them. But this had been a special day, although he was still unsure about why this should be so. Another chapter in the doings of the Café, and of his involvement in the doings of Luna City, a place which had now set bonds – Richard refused to think of them as tentacles – so tightly now around him, that he feared that he would never be able to shrug them off and leave, even if he really wanted to do so. Kate Heisel, Ozymandius-King-of-Kings, the nurturing of the clients at the Café, for the schoolchildren which he had taken on the mission of teaching about proper food, the friendship of Joe and Jess, of Berto and Araceli and Pat, and all the others, to include the uncouth Grants … and now the care of a fellow with no social skills whatever?

He wandered into the kitchen, where Araceli had already efficiently cleaned up after the unexpected late afternoon spasm of cooking.

“Hey, Chef – I think we’re done for the day. I guess the new guy is hired. Can we all close up and go home?”

“Yes, yes, and yes,” Richard replied, whereupon Araceli favored him with a brilliant smile.

“He’ll be a good addition,” she assured Richard, with a relatively straight face. “Yeah – he’s weird, but, hey – he knew what he was doing, and wasn’t half as obnoxious as some of the other guys that Miss Letty and Doc hired. Believe me – I’ve seen them all, and outlasted them all – does that make me an expert?”

“It does,” Richard acknowledged with weary acquiescence. “So – tomorrow morning, after the breakfast rush – we all sit down and have a talk about where we are going with this thing. I’ve got approval to take on Beatriz for the front of the house, and another waitress of your recommendation. In a couple of weeks, as soon as we work it all out – we’ll be doing regular dinner service. Neither one of us can work seven days a week, and eighteen hours a day – so, we need to work out what we can do and the proper lines of authority.”

“On it, Chef,” Araceli replied, smartly.

And Richard had no doubt that she had.

What a waste of good managerial authority, in a dinky, small-town café, he thought, as he locked up for the day. In any first-rate place, Araceli would have been commanding a princely salary.

But then – so would he.

He got out his bicycle from where it had been leaning against the wall at the back of the Café, whistled for Ozzie – who appeared from the Stein’s garden, hopping easily up onto the basket on the back of it, nobly taking no notice of the bucket of kitchen scraps dedicated to the Grant’s chickens.

When he came around the end of the block, though – it was to see Luc’s Vespa go by, at a decorous pace, around the margins of Town Square, with Miss Letty, sitting demurely side-saddle on the back, with one arm around Luc’s waist, the other holding onto her hat.

Yes, that was Luna City – a world apart and all of itself. Richard waved to Miss Letty, and pedaled out on the road that led home. Home, in Luna City. It had a nice sound to it.

13. January 2018 · Comments Off on From the Next Luna City Installment · Categories: Luna City Short Stories

Seven Buttons and a German Bayonet

(So, this answers something about the cliff-hanging ending of a Fifth of Luna City – but not the big question of who the unnamed Scar-Faced Tramp was, or how he came to be in Luna City six or seven decades ago.)

Richard stared into the box; like the others present, with a mixture of horror and curiosity. No one quite wanted to touch the skull; jawless, with the open eye-holes still partly-clogged with the damp earth from which it had been dug. The bayonet with the German maker’s initials lay to one side, and Joe Vaughn was quietly bagging up the deformed metal bullet in a small zip-lock bag which Jess had produced from the suit-cased sized diaper bag. There were about half a dozen small corroded metal items knocking around in the bottom of the box, objects about the size of a 10p coin. Allen Lee Mayne reached over Richard’s shoulder and picked up one of them.

“A button,” Richard observed, and Allen Lee nodded, and gently buffed away the grime and corrosion with a paper napkin. “Looky here – it’s got some kinda raised design on it. Can you make it out?”

“Looks like military,” Joe ventured. “An eagle and an anchor, under an arch of stars. Navy, mebbe. You got another baggie, Jess?”

“Either our mystery man shopped at the Army Navy store, or he was a soldier,” Richard ventured, and Allen shook his head.

“Man, that’s an old Marine Corps button. Really old. Their buttons have had a globe on them now, along with the eagle and anchor. My old man was Marine in Vietnam, that’s how I know this sh*t.”

“Let me look, cher,” That was Lew Dubois, his expression yet more serious. “Ah, yes – what I thought; It is an old Marine overcoat button. My dear Grand-père Lucien for whom I am named – he served in the Marines. He fought in the great battle in the Belleau Wood, and he had his old overcoat, one with buttons just like this! He used to wear it on cold mornings, when he took me duck-hunting on the bayou. He was very old, and I was just a boy, and his namesake – a special treat for me, to go hunting with my grandfather. That is why I recollect so clearly.”

“I don’t think that this is your grandfather,” Richard belatedly wished that he hadn’t spoken, for Joe, Lew, and Allen Lee all looked at him with severely condemning expressions. “Sorry – a bit of misplaced levity, chaps, for which I apologize. But the fact remains; this is a dead chap, of some vintage. Not, perchance, one of yours? That is – local to Luna City. You wouldn’t have misplaced one of your own, all these years ago?”

Both Araceli and Jess shook their heads, and Jess answered, “I’d have to double-check with Miss Letty, of course, but I am pretty certain that just about all the Luna City volunteers for WWI were for the Army.”

“Looks like whoever he was – he got his Purple Heart the hard way, and no mistake,” Joe looked down at the deformed and scarred skull, with an expression which Richard found hard to decipher. “Not from here, then. Drifted into here … wasn’t there some tale locally about a scar-faced drifter? I’m sure Kate wrote about it, coupla weeks ago. Weird-looking guy, used to haunt the place, back during the Depression?”

“The Scar-Faced Tramp,” Araceli replied, and the light of blooming comprehension shone on every face. “Katie interviewed Abuelita for that story! The Tramp frightened her into running home screaming – she was only five or six at the time,” Araceli added hastily, for no one present could imagine Abuelita Adeliza, the elderly absolute ruler of the sprawling Gonzales-Gonzalez, running screaming in terror from anything less than a fire-breathing tyrannosaurus rex. “Her mother scolded her when she got home. The scar-faced man was only a poor vagrant, living in a camp in the woods, who got by on doing odd jobs for people in town. I’ll call Katie – she’s be thrilled to know about this!”

“Must you?” Joe finished bagging the buttons, all seven of them. “Can you wait a day or so? Look, I don’t want to make a big media thing about this until we have some positive answers.  Can you give me enough time to let me set up an investigation with the county sheriff’s office – and whoever they have available for an emergency dig – before unleashing the media hounds on us?”

“Katie isn’t a media hound!” Araceli was indignant. “She has better sense than that, and she is one of us: OK, second cousin by marriage – but she is one of us!”

“Indeed,” Richard agreed, with a small clearing of his throat. “Miss Heisel has been … well, remarkably restrained and discrete, with regard to my own rather fraught position with the national press. I would be inclined to trust her, as being sensitive to local concerns. She’s a good egg,” Richard finished, with a sense that he was being particularly lame. He strenuously ignored Araceli’s muttered footnote. “Yeah, she’d love to jump your bones, Chef – given any sort of encouragement,” as well as Allen Lee’s distinctly lewd chuckle of agreement.

“All right then,” Joe nodded, as he placed the two plastic bags in the cardboard box with the skull. “Lew … I’m sorry, this will put a crimp in your construction schedule. The work gotta be on hold until forensics can go over the area. Nothing I can do about a delay, but I promise, I’ll do what I can to instill a sense of urgency.”

“It is not a problem, cher,” Lew sounded extraordinarily mellow for a corporate executive whose’ multi-million-dollar project was now on the tipping-point of failure – or at least, an expensive delay – through being delayed by the inconvenient circumstance of a dead body found at the construction site. Even if the dead body was – by Richard’s estimate and his vague recall of Kate talking to him about her months-ago feature story – at least six or seven decades old. Now, Lew added, in philosophical tones, “There is no urgency for this poor fellow. It has been a long time. Still … we should know something, I t’ink. Of who he was, and of his passing. If he was a comrade of my dear Grand-père Lucien … for the honor of that service a hundred years ago – I owe him that generous consideration. My time and interest are at your disposal with regard to this puzzle, Chief Vaughn.”
“Appreciated,” Joe nodded, bundling up the box under one arm, and collecting up the baby carrier with his other. “Hey – ‘Celi, make our order a take-out, can you? Jess is bushed, and I wanna get my family (and perhaps only Richard noted the special emphasis with which Joe said those two words) home and settled. ‘Kay, Babe? Gotta cold case to work,” he added to Jess, who actually did appear pretty pale, frazzled and exhausted.

“My time and interest, too.” That was Allen Lee, most unexpectedly. “My Daddy served at Khe Sanh. Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. Daddy would want this. Count me in.”

“Right, then,” Joe said. “I’ll put out the word.”