(Luna City IV is planned for a debut in June, 2017 – and here is a snippet of developments)

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

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


And sure enough – as Richard pedaled home in the twilight after a training session at the VFD classroom the following Wednesday, he was overtaken by a well-weathered high-top camping van. He was near enough to the unmarked and unpaved road which wandered off through a thicket of scrub off of Route 123 and led eventually towards the Age of Aquarius Campground and Goat Farm. The turn-off was innocent of any signage suggesting the presence of the campground, as most anyone who was serious about staying there knew about it anyway. The van, speckled with dust and splotches of dried road mud, drew a second vehicle on a tow-dolly, this vehicle well-wrapped in a tarpaulin equally road-besmirched. There were also a great many tarpaulin-wrapped items stowed on top of the van – all of them secured with business-like turns of rope and bungee cords. Richard thought that one of them might be a small boat. The driver slowed, rolling down his window.
“Howdy, stranger – am I getting close to the turn-off for the Grant place?” He was an older man, near to the age of Doc Wyler. He looked like the older Joe Vaughn of Richard’s imagining; a craggy, weathered countenance adorned with an impressively droopy mustache of the old-fashioned style popularly called a ‘soup-strainer.’
“It is, indeed,” Richard answered, warmly. “You must be Mr. Vaughn – welcome home! I was informed of your arrival – Mr. Grant asked that I should see you to the most salubrious position in the campground, and assure that you were well-settled…”
“Salubrious …” the driver chuckled. “That’s a real twenty-dollar word. You must be that English feller – the one who runs the Café nowadays. Well, throw that beater of yours onto the back, and hop in. I’m your neighbor for a while, until I get fixed up with a place of my own, here in the lower ’48. Harry Vaughn,” He favored Richard with a bone-crushing grip, extended through the lowered window.
“Richard Astor-Hall,” Richard tried very hard not to wince. “Indeed … I’ve been very pleased with the situation at the Grant place…” Obediently, he wheeled his bicycle around to van door into the back, and horsed it into the cramped interior. There was just enough room. Richard was impressed – a grown man had been living comfortably in a space even more miniscule than the Airstream. “I’ve rented from them since arriving in Luna City,” he explained, as Harry Vaughn let out the gears and steered the van back onto the road again. “The lane into the campground is around this bend, on the left…”
“In my day, it was called the old Sheffield place,” Harry Vaughn grunted. “There used to be a big old house out there. It was all fallen to ruin when I was a young sprout, though. But we all used to come out here in summer – the best damn swimming hole in all of Karnes County, right in that deep bend of the river. Had some fine times there, back in the day.”
“It’s still pretty deep, right there by the campground,” Richard answered. “Here – turn here.”
“Right,” Harry Vaughn slowed the van, and the trailing auto, and steered very carefully into the turn-off. Richard was glad that with all traffic from volunteers and donations to the building of the Straw Castle Aquarius, that Roman Gonzales had seen fit to scrape the thoroughfare with a baby bull-dozer and pour a couple of loads of gravel down, rendering the lane considerably less lumpy than it had been for years. Still, Harry Vaughn drove very slowly – past the goat pasture, past the thicket of trees at the turn-off which led farther up the hill and into the grove of oaks which framed the gleaming ivory tower of the Amazing Straw Castle Aquarius like the supporting-cast greenery surrounding the starring flowers of a bridal bouquet. The old windmill clattered away, and the breeze fanned the various colorful banners which depended from the oak branches and the rough-hewn mesquite beams which supported the veranda’s tin roof. “Nice,” Harry commented, sounding mildly impressed. “Not bad for hippie goat-farmers. Guess this is the campground?”
“Indeed,” Richard said – a campground empty of all but the solitary Airstream and its’ sheltering roof at the top end, and a gaggle of unusually brave or rough-adapted motorcycle tent-campers who had their series of basic a-frame tents set up at the bottom end, in a lee of the bank which overlooked the river. “I live in the old trailer there. As you can see – you’ve arrived at the right time for seeking solitude. Sefton said you can pick any place you like – but the places along the long hedge are the only ones with electrical hookups. I will be happy to assist you …”
“Not necessary, son,” Harry Vaughn replied. “I prefer the big outdoors and solitude myself. I’ll take the slot at the far end from you. And I’m good with setting up myself; don’t want to put you to any more trouble than you have already taken. Since you already work for ol’ Stevie-Boy Wyler, I’m certain you already have enough on your plate.”
That, as Richard ruminated later, after he took his trusty trail bike out of the back of Harry Vaughn’s van, should have been his first clue that Doc Wyler and Uncle Harry might just have – as the soap operas have it – a bit of a history between them.

The shrouded motor vehicle that Harry Vaughn towed behind his van all the way from Alaska was revealed to be an archaic-appearing convertible – with the top down – a convertible enameled in a brilliant shade of red known only the auto aficionados and county fair candied apples. Said vehicle appeared at mid-morning, a day or so later, arrogantly claiming the parking spot directly in front of the Café. Richard couldn’t decide how the convertible could stand out any more flagrantly – perhaps spotlighted by a pair of floodlights. Richard came out from the kitchen just in time to overhear involuntary sounds of appreciation from the regulars at the stammtisch, and those lesser customers with a good view out the front windows of the Café.
“Dios mio – a pristine ’66 Lincoln Continental,” exclaimed the senior Jaime Gonzalez, the proprietor of the main garage and repair shop in Luna City. “Papi had one – he sold it almost brand new to … Harry Vaughn!”
“And who are the ladies accompanying him?” Georg Stein wondered aloud, answered by a sigh from the aficionados of classic motors among the patrons, and one of equal depth from Joe and Jess, sharing a small table at the back of the Café.
“That’s our Abuelita,” Araceli replied/ She hurriedly delivered the order to the second-smallest table. “And her friend Min Kim – you know, Mr. Walcott’s mother-in-law… but I don’t know the other lady…”
“My Aunt Moira,” Richard sighed, in horrified recognition. Yes – Aunt Moira, his father’s eccentric older sister. His father’s mysterious and adventurous older sister, a woman of wide foreign travel and yet no visible means of economic support, although that of various government agencies had been suggested. Aunt Moira was scarily adept with deadly weapons, foreign languages, and methods of self-defense. Richard had concluded some years previously that Aunt Moira might be the distaff Agent 007. She certainly seemed to show up – or have been proven to show up – in various exotic locales, weeks or months before they featured in splashed-out headlines, world-wide. This had happened just too many times to be accounted for by sheer coincidence. As a schoolboy, Richard had tracked that sort of thing. Now he wished that he had kept better track of Aunt Moira’s whereabouts.

24. January 2017 · Comments Off on New Luna City Story! · Categories: Luna City Short Stories
Offices of the Karnesville Weekly Beacon

Offices of the Karnesville Weekly Beacon

(From the next Luna City chronicle, which is aimed for release in mid-summer)

In the Offices of the Karnesville Weekly Beacon

“Kate! Get in here and tell me what in the name of Dog has been going on in Luna City!”

Kate Heisel, bright-eyed and ready to plunge into another week of work on the regional newspaper on the morning after the last of the holidays, was in the chief editor’s office almost before Acey McClain finished bellowing, and as a sprinkling of superannuated dust from the ancient light fixtures in the offices of the Karnesville Weekly Beacon ceased sifting down like a gentle benison on the various desks below.

“Yes, Chief – right away, Chief!” she chirped. Acey McClain, grizzled, slightly hung-over and well over twice her age, scowled thunderously.

“Dammit, Kate – do you have to be so cheerful first thing in the morning? I’m not Lou Grant and you are not Mary Tylor Moore. And don’t call me Chief!”

“Sure, Chief,” Kate grinned at him and took out her notebook, perching on the narrow wooden guest chair opposite her boss. “It’s a legitimate form of aggression, being offensively cheerful first thing in the AM. Think of it as a workout for your liver. Get the old blood flowing … the birds are singing in the trees, the sun is shining, God is in his heaven and all’s right with the world…”

Acey McClain gave his pungently expressed opinion on that state of affairs and Kate’s grin widened. She made a show of jotting down several of the more interesting terms of abuse, and when he had finished, remarked, “Wow, Chief – that last isn’t even biologically possible … unless one is maybe triple-jointed and has a taste for … never mind. You were asking about Luna City over this last week.”

“That’s what I like about you, Kate,” Acey McClain sat back in the monumental and heroically battered leather executive chair which had been the badge of office for editors at the Karnesville Weekly Beacon since it had been the Daily Beacon, sometime around 1962. “And why I put up with your flagrantly disrespectful attitude. You’re the most purely un-shockable female that I have ever met. So – back to my original question: what in the name of Dog and all the Angles in heaven has been going on this last week in Luna City? I swear, if it weren’t for them, we’d have nothing to print except the legal notices, the minutes of the last garden club meeting and the police blotter.”

“About the usual, Chief.” Kate licked her pencil-point – an affectation adopted from her close watching of old movies about the news business. Kate was a great believer in professional traditions. “Let’s see … there was a fire at the old hippy hang-out by the river, just before Christmas. Burned the main establishment to the ground, but no one hurt and nothing much lost. The place wasn’t insured, though … but neighbors are weighing in. The new marketing director at Mills Farm has offered them one of their residential trailers for the owners to live in, while they rebuild.”

“What caused the fire?” Acey McClain was always curious about that. The answer to that question in his own hard-bitten crime-beat reporter past had earned him a more-than-average number of  above-the-fold, huge-typeface-headline-stories during a very long career in the big-city print news business.

“They think that a fire in a sweat-lodge wasn’t properly extinguished,” Kate replied. “The investigator for the LCVFD is all but certain about that. No story, Chief. Now, the mass-brawl that happened immediately before the fire …”

“Now you’re getting to the nut, Kate,” Acey McClain sat forward in the leather office chair, all eager attention. “What was that all about? I heard that some *sshole got bitten in the *ss by a rabid llama – true?”

“Not the rabid part. The llama in question did have all his required shots.” Kate flipped over to another page. “I double-checked with the veterinarian … Doc Wyler. Doc Wyler of the Wyler Lazy-W Ranch.”

“Oh, Dog,” Acey McClain shuddered, almost imperceptibly. “This *sshole didn’t pick a fight with him, too? The biggest ranch and the richest guy in Karnes County? And a man who lovingly cherishes his grudges like they were prize breeding stock?”

“Not so far,” Kate replied, still chipper as a squirrel with a winters-worth of stored away acorns. “As a matter of fact and according to eye-witnesses – and I have a list of them,” she flipped through another couple of pages. “Names available on the Talk of the Town blog. The *sshole is one Gunnison Penn of no definite fixed address other than Canada. He struck the llama in question first; I have photographic proof of it. You know, Chief – it’s great how everyone has a cellphone with camera capacity in their pocket, these days. There is a clear case of self-defense to be made: Gunnison Penn clearly hit the llama first.”

“That Canuck treasure-hunter guy?” Acey McClain looked even more alert. “He’s back again? Guess he must have beaten the last injunction – the one filed for harassing the family of that kid that found a pristine 1892 20$ gold piece at Mills Farm?”

“You don’t have to remind me, Chief – I was there, and the kid’s mom is my second-cousin. Yeah, that guy, and he’s gone again, lucky for Luna City. He definitely got the message. He packed up and went, as soon as he got a stitch or two and a shot of antibiotics at the Med center …” Kate snickered. “I cornered him in the parking lot there after he was released, asking him for his reaction. “

“Good girl, Kate!” Acey McClain radiated approval. “Sixty Minutes material, no fooling, kid – you’ll be in the big-time, any time!”

“God no, Chief – I’ve got some standards! Back to the all-hands punch-up on the banks of the San Antonio River. Another party of individuals charged in the brawl – three guys trying to do a stand-up for a YouTube feature about the mysterious Luna Lights…”

“What was it about those lights,” Acey folded his hands together and regarded his most energetic and enterprising young reporter with happy anticipation. “You find out anything about them? Optical illusion, secret Pentagon aircraft, mass hallucination – what?”

Kate fetched up a deep sigh from the depths of her news-hungry yet strangely ethical soul. “Fire lanterns, Chief. All that it was. I talked to Sefton Grant and his crew of superannuated hippies. They were celebrating the Solstice, or some such crap. They launched fire lanterns – you know – those paper hot-air balloons, with a candle burning under them, about twenty minutes before that guy with the cellphone recorded three of them drifting over the road. I even checked with the weather service – the prevailing wind at that time would have sent them in a westward direction. Fire lanterns – nothing more.”

 

More »

22. July 2016 · Comments Off on From The Next Luna City Chronicle · Categories: Luna City Short Stories

Dance with the Bunny Boiler in the Pale Moonlight

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

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

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

Romeo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The e-book version has gone live on Amazon, and on Barnes and Noble with a release on Friday; the print version will soon be up and available as well. I regret that until it goes officially on sale, there is no look-inside feature yet. Tomorrow, I will set up page for readers who would like to order directly from me – with autograph and a personal message.

But for those readers who have begged to know the identity of Richard’s mysterious visitor – from the first chapter, this excerpt:

 

That’s Show-biz

In the early morning, before the sun was more than a brief bright apricot rumor along the eastern horizon, Richard Astor-Hall pedaled grimly along the back road from the aged Airstream caravan at the Age of Aquarius Campground and Goat Farm towards the site of his daily labors. At least now the Airstream was beautifully and comfortably-maintained, since he appeared to have been informally adopted by the sprawling and omnipresent Gonzales-Gonzalez clan, on top of paying rent to Sefton and Judy Grant from his income from the Café. This was managed through Jess Abernathy, whose firm hands channeled the financial streams of a myriad of Luna City enterprises, including that of the Café and of the Age of Aquarius Campground and Goat Farm.

“Rent. I manage all of Sefton and Judy’s financials as well as those of the Café,” Jess informed him, some months ago when he asked for an explanation for a certain deduction marked every month in his stipend from the Café paid into a bank account at a bank in Karnesville.

“Why?” Richard had asked. “Can’t they manage for themselves?”

Jess frowned. “They are communists,” she explained, in a patient kind of voice which absolutely rubbed him the wrong way.

“I thought you Yanks disapproved of communists in the most strenuous fashion,” Richard replied, to which Jess snapped, “In the old sense, Richard; the lower case-c sense. Judy and Sefton are the last of an idealistic colony of true believers in a system which is only practical when it involves volunteers who work hard to benefit the collective and when it comes to finance, they don’t have the sense that God gave a goose. But they do good work and a lot of it,” she fixed Richard with a commanding glare. “So – I see to handing the takings from the goats and the campground and their Saturday market. I make certain that their taxes, utilities, health insurance and license fees are all paid … so the Grants can go on with tending their goats and worrying about whether it is ethical to weave with machine-made yarns. Never mind Judy twittering on about all that New Agey crap; she and Sefton show up when anyone needs help, and Judy hasn’t yet met a suffering animal that she doesn’t want to rescue. Who do you think fosters all those cats and dogs dumped out here in the country by idiot former owners? From each according to their abilities,” Jess added with a particularly cutting turn of sarcasm, “And to each, according to their needs. Or as we call it around here, supply and demand. I demand regular supplies of their honey, eggs, and goat-milk rosemary soap in return for economic services rendered and Judy supplies them: a win-win, all the way around.”

“I regret even asking,” Richard said and Jess snorted. On further consideration, though, he had to admit to himself that he rather favored Jess’s system of intelligent budgeting and rigid cost-to-benefit analysis. (‘Can we afford this for the Café?’ ‘No, not until ….’ Or sometimes, ‘Yes, but only up to this amount.’)

In his past life, he had been spectacularly careless with money. I had millions of pounds in income once and blew most on loose women and abuse-worthy substances. The rest I wasted. That recollection led to a dire contemplation of the other recently-arrived element of that old life.

Now he pedaled the bicycle along the verge of one of the unpaved back roads which eventually led into the heart of Main Square, Luna City, still pondering on the unfairness of it all. The bike was a mountain model, which had come to him through the largess of the Gonzales/Gonzalez clan, through one or another the the seniors bashfully admitting that it was a great bike, but the son – or possibly the grandson – had outgrown it or moved on to other and less environmentally-sustainable means of getting around. Hey, Ricardo, it’s a good way to get to work! You want it? Twenty-five dollars; I’ll tell Jess and it’s paid for.

As he came up on Route 123, he saw the lights of an automobile at a distance – ah, one of those grossly over-chromed SUVs. Knowing that drivers were apt to speed, in spite of the efforts of Chief Vaughn’s patrol cars and the much more substantial hazard posed by deer insouciantly wandering into the traffic lanes, Richard braked the bicycle, went onto the narrow gravel-and-weed shoulder of the road and waited for the SUV to pass. Which it did – about fifty yards farther along Route 123, where a number of unaccustomed lumps lay, slightly off the tarmac.

It looked, from where Richard stood, as if a deer had gone mano-a- deero against a mechanized vehicle, with predictable results. Hundred- pound deer, five-thousand-pound motor vehicle – which was going to win that contest? To his mild curiosity, the SUV slowed abruptly and went off into the shoulder. The blinking hazard lights flicked on, and someone emerged from the vehicle … a masculine outline, a male someone followed by a faintly overheard burst of indignant Korean in a familiar and feminine steam-whistle shriek. Ah; Clovis and Sook Walcott. Richard wondered why on earth Clovis should be interested in roadkill – but not for very long. To the tune of a final machine-gun burst of Korean, the shadowy figure of Clovis got back into the driver’s side, the blinking red hazard lights resumed their steady beam and with a roar the SUV pulled back onto the road and vanished around the next bend. Now that the road was empty, Richard remounted the bike and carried on – he had another fifteen minutes before he was due at the Café.

When he got to the place where the Walcotts had pulled off the road he saw that yes – indeed a deer; relatively undamaged from the impact but quite plainly dead; neck at a grotesquely unnatural angle. Nearby lay another roadkill; this one a hulking black bird of the kind he was given to know was called a ‘turkey-buzzard,’ also sprawled on the edge of the pavement with one wing upraised like a small black sail. The turkey- buzzard stank like a charnel-house. Why this unlovely spectacle of vehicular/wildlife mayhem had drawn Clovis Walcott’s intense interest was a mystery indeed. In the seven months or so that Richard had lived in Luna City and bicycled back and forth between the Café and the Age, he had seen it often enough himself … and even more often, the live deer creatures, wandering dainty and long-legged in the open spaces between thickets, or the turkey-vultures soaring on motionless dark wings in the faultless azure midday sky. But – he said to himself, in a grumpy acknowledgement he had made a thousand times in the last six months and would doubtless make a hundred thousand times more – this was Luna City, Texas.

He continued pedaling through the pre-dawn dimness, relishing the welcome chill of it all after the ungodly summer heat, a chill which had left a slight crunch of frost on certain grassy spaces. The sky was the color of mother-of-pearl, an elusive shimmering shade flushed with pink and apricot-orange, evanescent. He passed the bright orange Luna City Independent School District bus, pausing briefly at an intersection on the outskirts of town to collect a gaggle of small children, swathed in their winter coats and burdened with small rucksacks. These children were also burdened with the attention of watchful mothers and the occasional father who went scattering to their own daily devices once the school bus bore their offspring away.

He waved to Patrick Gonzalez, rumpled in his oil-stained coveralls, and sleepy-eyed from a night of driving a tanker truck; it seemed to be his morning to see Angelika and Mateo off to school, while Araceli turned on the lights and the coffee-machines at the Café.

Still ruminating alternately over why Clovis Walcott was  so interested in fresh roadkill and his own predicament with regard to the recent inconvenient visitor to Luna City, Richard turned down the narrow street which ran along the back of that block of buildings. Most of them housed garaging or at least a place to park a car, and in the case of the Café, the rubbish bin, a small weed-grown space and a small loading dock. The Steins, in the next building over, had a garage and a small shed at the very back, with a walled little garden between it and the rear windows of the main shop. As Richard wheeled into the back of the Café, he saw Georg’s bare-bones sedan backing out of their garage. He wondered vaguely what brought out Georg so early; on most mornings, he and Annise were over in the Café at that large table in front of the front window – what Georg jokingly called the ‘stammtisch’ – where the  regular patrons gathered.

He let himself in through the back door into the kitchen, which smelt divinely of fresh coffee and baking cinnamon rolls. Araceli was empting out the dishwasher, stacking plates and mugs with nervous efficiently and a great deal more force than strictly necessary. She glared at Richard, as he shrugged off his winter coat; this was a vintage military field jacket from Marisol Gonzalez’ second-hand shop in Karnesville. Chris Mayall at the Gas & Grocery had already been humorous  about it, but the jacket  was well-made and warm.

“That friend of yours is here,” She said, sounding if she were speaking around a clenched jaw. “The English one.”

“Not a friend,” Richard sighed. “More like an associate … and I regret like hell that it was ever that close.”

“Oh, Rich,” drawled the visitor in tones of tragic disappointment. Alas, Richard’s visitor was leaning picturesquely in the door way to the main room of the Café. “I am cut to the quick. I thought we were best chums, always.”

“Nope.” Richard was inordinately proud of the way that he thought  he had adopted something of the classic western bent towards the taciturn. Besides it was past time to fire up the griddle and start the bacon, then those slivered ham slices that everyone called Canadian bacon, and finally a nice vat of scrambled eggs.

“You’re a brute, Rich; a cold, cold unfeeling brute.”

“All a part of my happy, inconsequent charm,” Richard answered, sternly unmoved.

“I come all the way to this out-of-the way hole,” his visitor protested; tragically wounded as to expression, languid as to posture in the doorway, “I endeavor to make myself pleasant to your friends, rekindle our old relationship, relish the charms of this quaint little village, and this is my reward?”

“We were never friends,” Richard replied, his attention bent upon the griddle, and preparations for the morning rush of breakfast customers. “It was a mutually-advantageous association; friendship had bloody-all to do with it. Are you going to stand in the door all morning, with Araceli and the girls constantly stepping around you? You’ll be trampled underfoot in the morning rush for cinnamon rolls – consider yourself warned.”

“If you truly feel that way, Rich,” there came the deep and wounded sigh. “I’ve tried to reach out to you so many times! You never replied.”

“Life is full of these little tragedies,” Richard brought out a bowl of eggs from the refrigerator and began cracking them with deft and systematic skill into another. After some moments, he looked up from this task.  “’Ere – you still there?”

“I am,” replied the visitor. Araceli took up a tray upon hearing the front door open and close with a musical chime, and interjected, “Well better find another wall to hold up. Your special order is ready. Best eat it before it gets cold, then.”

“You take such good care of me, dear girl,” the visitor answered, without a blush. Richard thought it a testimony to good manners and excellent customer relations training that Araceli refrained from bouncing the tray off the visitor’s skull as she carried the breakfast special order  into the dining room. After a moment, she returned, not visibly fuming, although Richard could read the signs accurately.

“Pip Noel-Barrett was never a bosom chum of mine,” he confessed with a long sigh. “Truly – I have better taste than taking that poser to   my … well, to my confidence, anyway. He is, as practically everyone eventually realizes, an insufferable, inconsiderate, and amoral git; I  deduce that we are in accord in that matter. Ordered off-menu, I take it? Told you to add it to his running tab?”

“Of course,” Araceli snapped. “As always; I do not mind taking the trouble, Chef, I really don’t. What I do mind, is that he picks over it with an expression on his face like Mateo when he doesn’t like what’s for supper, leaving most of it on the plate and never saying a darned thing about what’s wrong with it. If he calls me ‘dear girl’ or ‘Araceli-my- darling’ one more time, I WILL hit him with the heaviest iron skillet in  the Café.”

“No, you won’t,” Richard answered. “It will make a mess on the floor, and assaulting one of Clovis Walcott’s business associates will reflect badly on everyone. Speaking of business, has he done anything about paying?”

“Nope,” Araceli’s expression was thunderous. “It’s always – sorry love, left the card in my room, sorry, bit short of the dosh at the moment, tomorrow, Araceli-my-darling. Jess will be furious.”

“If it comes to that,” Richard sighed. “I will set Miss Abernathy on him. That would give me the greatest pleasure. He owes for more than a fortnight of breakfasts and sandwich luncheons since he took up a room at the Cattleman.”

“A month is more like it. You’d think if he was in the movie business,” Araceli continued grumbling. “He’d be a lot better about paying his bills.” For some reason that Richard couldn’t fathom – save that Araceli was one of the most hard-headed women of his acquaintance and that she was badly offended by a customer pick-pick-picking at the Café’s food offerings like a dyspeptic hen – she was immune to the fabled Noel-Barrett charm.  The front door chimed again and then again almost at once. Yes, the first of the morning regulars. Araceli bustled out with carafes of fresh coffee and hot milk.

(All righty, then – this should hold y’all til Friday!)

08. May 2016 · Comments Off on Behold the Cover for the Second Chronicle! · Categories: Book News, Luna City Short Stories

Second_Chronicle_of_LC.indd

 

The ebook will be available at the end of this week on Nook and Kindle – links posted as soon as they go live. The print version should be up by the middle of next week! And it will no longer be a secret – the identity of Richard’s unwelcome surprise visitor!

27. April 2016 · Comments Off on A Tempting Snippet From the Second Luna City Chronicle · Categories: Luna City Short Stories

(Counting down to the release of the second Luna City Chronicles – a short selection from the climax, wherein Richard is tasked with rescuing his frenemy, the actor producer Phillip Noel-Barrett, from temporary imprisonment on the set of the movie which is being shot on location on the Wyler ranch…)

The Charge of the Karnes County Rangers

Narrowly missing being struck by the speeding van, Richard made a fruitlessly obscene gesture at the swiftly-vanishing tail-lights, and pedaled grimly on, down the paved road to the Wyler ranch, marked by a pair of ornamental gates, adorned by sheet-metal silhouettes of longhorns, horses and cowboys in a frieze overhead. He rumbled over the cattle grid. Now on the faint morning breeze, he could hear the distant roar of the electrical generators – not far to go now. The last of the stars winked out, all but the very brightest, Venus lingering coyly just out of reach of the crescent moon’s embrace. Out beyond the huddle of lights, a helicopter rose from the ground, a dragonfly shape hovering in the pearl-colored sky.
He had not been out to the movie encampment before – mostly through having no wish to encounter Phillip Noel-Barrett, but it now looked as if an encounter with the despicable Pip was inevitable. No one stopped him – in fact, everyone seemed to be too busy to take any notion of him. A company of forty extras, in rags of period Mexican uniforms and full zombie makeup were being marshaled at the foot of the hill, with a gold-braid hung officer in a gaudy blue and red uniform just hauling himself into the saddle of a white horse. Richard stared, agog, thinking ‘Stone the bloody crows, this is even worse than I thought it would be!’
Fortunately, the first person he encountered who seemed to take any interest in him at all, when he approached the main pavilion were a pair whom he recognized, with considerable relief: Chris Mayall, lean and saturnine, and Sylvester Gonzales, looking uncommonly smug.
“Hey, man – come to see the fun?” Chris drawled. “They’re about to start rolling on the big scene! Well, you saw the script.”
“I was under the impression that there is some kind of scheme afoot to sabotage the whole thing,” Richard answered, still panting and breathless from the furious pace. “Which I can hardly wait to hear all about. But I actually came all the way out here for Noel-Barrett. He keeps calling the Café, saying that he is locked in the editing van and no one is answering their cellphone.”
“Yeah, we know,” Sylvester replied, without turning a hair. Richard looked upon the conspirators with dawning comprehension, not unmixed with horror as well as envy.
“You did it,” he whispered. “You two … you magnificent conniving bastards. Now get the key and let him out.”
“We can’t,” Chris was entirely unmoved. “We do not, as a matter of fact, have the key in our physical possession.”
“Well then, where is the key and who does have it?” Richard demanded. Sylvester, affecting the retro-nerd look even to the extent of wearing a vintage wristwatch, consulted that watch and replied with nerdish precision. “At this time, and given the legal speed limit between here and Karnesville, Berto is likely at least halfway to that destination with the key in his possession. Chris sent him with the emergency cases,” he added, parenthetically. “Likely, he won’t be back for hours.”
“Well, get a bolt-cutter!” Richard demanded, thinking only of the strips that Araceli would subtly rip off his hide – she being abominably soft-hearted with regard to the suffering of others. Frankly, when it came to Phillip Noel-Barrett suffering, Richard was one inclined to sit back and enjoy, even add a couple of more judicious brands to the flaming spectacle. On the other hand, he had heard Araceli promise to take Noel-Barrett’s calls every five minutes or so – and how could any work be done in the Café under such conditions!
“Sorry, Ricardo; they are about to begin filming the grand scene,” Chris replied, with a perfectly stunning lack of regret. “Likely you won’t find anyone here with a bolt-cutter or the time to go for one until it’s all done. Mega-A** Lydecker is real short of personnel this morning. I can’t think how that could possibly have happened…” At that point, both he and Sylvester exchanged a meaningful look and laughed synchronistically.
Richard looked from one to the other, still torn between horror and envy. “All right, what else did the two of you do?” he asked, fairly certain that he would not welcome hearing the answer.
“What we had to do,” Chris replied. “To sink this movie. Don’t worry, Ricardo; your hands are clean. So are ours, if we have done it right and if Colonel Walcott and his reenactor command do their stuff – which he has promised they will do, come rain or shine. If you want to, come and tell what you see to that friend of yours through the keyhole. I guarantee – it will be the most awesome f**king thing you will ever see!”
“It’s three minutes to rock and roll,” Sylvester said, with another glance at his watch. “As I understand it, our fearless Mega-A** director wants to exceed the record for a single long unbroken tracking shot of a battle scene set by Kenneth Branagh in Henry V. They’ve been setting up the track and choreographing the extras in their moves for a week.”
“Me, I don’t want to miss a single minute. You want to tell Noel-Barret he’d better sit tight for a bit? We can watch it all from the back of the editing van and you can describe it to him through the door.” Chris shouldered the bag that held his First Aid gear and supplies, and Richard followed after; they knew the layout well, after having worked at the site, day and night for three weeks.
A chaos of noise, of movement, three or four young assistant directors with heavy walkie-talkies running around like two-legged sheep-dogs with their ghastly, gore-dripping charges. The helicopter hovering overhead made speech impossible, unless one was right next to the person you were conversing with. Chris and Sylvester led the way, to a hulking 18-wheel truck trailer at the edge of the location encampment. He climbed up the four steps to the door – a solid door, and padlocked on the outside with a fairly substantial lock. He put his head next to the door, and shouted,
“Pip! Damn it, Pip – Noel-Barrett, it’s Rich – can you hear me!”
He thought that he heard someone inside replying, but the racket from the helicopter was so loud that he couldn’t make out the words. Nonetheless, he yelled, “I’m here – but they can’t find the key and they’re about to start shooting! God is my witness, Noel-Barrett, they’ll get you out as soon as they can. Just sit tight … you don’t have to keep calling Araceli, you know! She has bloody work to do!”
At his side, Chris nudged his elbow, and when he saw that Richard’s attention was turned towards them, he made a megaphone with his hands, and shouted, “There they go! See the sun, just above the hill? Watch there!”
The white-hot silver rim of the morning sun touched the crest of the gentle rise just east of location headquarters. It seared the eyes, to look at, as more and more of that blazing orb rose into that breathlessly blue sky. A pale thin mist hovered briefly over the grass, dissipating as the shadows lengthened. Richard flinched at the sound of the blast, as three explosions kicked up gouts of earth and smoke, about a quarter of the way down the hill. The sun floated higher and higher and suddenly silhouetted against it, the figure of a man on horseback. The horse pirouetted and reared, the man lifting a sabre in his right hand, sunlight flashing along it’s brazen length, and it seemed that the horse neighed a challenge ….
Richard had to appreciate the sheer heroic appeal of the image – say what you would about him, and many were eager to say the absolute worst about M.A. Lydecker – he did have skill at creating a heroic spectacle in the old-fashioned wide-screen and cinematic manner. The horse pirouetted once again, and now the ridgeline was lined with advancing shadows, silhouetted as the rider had been, against the bright hot sky – men brandishing flashing knives, with long rifles and glittering bayonets, bearded, burly men, in a long skirmish-line, advancing over the long ridge of that green hill, shouting as they came. Half a dozen riders followed after the first, a purposeful arrow after their leader. But …

(Just have to wait for the book to find out what comes next! Yes, I’m cruel, teasing you all this way.)

20. February 2016 · Comments Off on A Dish Best Eaten Cold · Categories: Luna City Short Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

09. February 2016 · Comments Off on Mission Improbable? · Categories: Luna City Short Stories

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

 Show Business in Luna City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

03. February 2016 · Comments Off on A Complete Luna City Short Story -“VJ+71” · Categories: Luna City Short Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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