(We hope to have the next episode of the Luna City Chronicles out by Christmas this year. Here, a chapter from A Fifth of Luna City, wherein Richard makes a new friend, and takes on an obligation a little more challenging than a potted plant and a female significant other.)

 

A Sky Full of Stars

“Richard … I have to tell you. I have bad news – the most appalling news. I don’t quite know how to say this, but …”

That was Kate, his super-dainty Kate, her face expressing a mixture of horror and regret. Only his own sense of shock and possibly his own gentlemanly upbringing belatedly coming to his rescue – miraculously coming down from the heights of his prolonged classical venture into French cuisine on her behalf – kept him from blurting out his initial reaction: “Jesus, Kate – you can’t be pregnant! We’ve never even slept together!”

Instead, he just looked at her as if pole-axed, and said, “Well, tell it to me, Kate. I’ve had a long day, starting with being bullied in an open boat by an OAP with a bad attitude, and coming close to drowning in a flooded river. Frankly, I don’t think there is any more bad news you can tell me.”

“Well then,” Kate drew a deep breath. “My informant is one of the techies involved with A La Carte with Quartermayne. It’s a traveling TV food show. If you don’t know anything about it, Abuelita does, and so does everyone else who watches the Food Channel. They’re coming to Luna City at the end of summer, for a food showdown…”

“No, absolutely not,” Richard was stone-faced. “I will not participate in one of those travesties. I will not be a performing monkey on a lead for the entertainment of the masses. Again. If I see a TV camera within half a block of me, I will turn around and go home. I’ve been there, Kate. It’s Hell. I’ve learned my lesson – and won’t do it again.”

“No, it’s not for the Café,” Kate swiftly reassured him, those amazing beryl-green eyes huge with sympathy. “The showdown will be between the Pryor’s Meats and BBQ, and the Mills Farm Country Kitchen. But the co-host of Quartermayne this season is someone that … well, you know. And according to my informant…”

“Your spy in the enemy camp,” Richard amended, dryly.

“Whatever. You and he have a long history – Phillip Noel-Barrett.”

Richard broke out in a cold sweat, despite the residual heat in the kitchen.

“Stone the crows, not him – that unregenerate tosser! What malignant plan is that unmitigated arse-monger up to now? Nothing good, I’ll warrant. And those Quartermayne berks better be on their guard, because if he does half the damage to the immediate vicinity as he did with that wretched movie…”

“I see that you remember him fondly also,” Kate commented with just the faintest touch of acid. “It looks like he will be up to some nasty tricks with regard to yourself. In a moment of …”

“Alcohol-fueled frankness,” Richard supplied and Kate grinned.

“Exactly what I assumed. He is planning to reveal you as the Bad Boy Chef – not resting serenely sedated in some expensive loony-bin, but working happily away in an obscure little town café. My contact says that Noel-Barrett is practically slavering at the chops in his eagerness to do you a bad turn.”

“He always was a malicious little git,” Richard sighed. What a way to finish an evening – a beautiful evening, which had topped off a very long and fraught day. “I’ll do my best to stay out of the way, Kate. I don’t want to be outed, much less by Pip Noel-Barrett. I like it here. I like the Café, my little caravan, Luna City and all. I don’t want to leave. But I cannot go back to the old life. I won’t go back. It wasn’t good for me. I know that now.”

“Don’t worry, Richard,” Kate shrugged her outsized overcoat over her shoulders once again. Her face bore an expression of adamantine determination, fearsomely like that of Abuelita Adeliza Gonzales when that formidable lady put her foot down. “We’ll see that you are kept safe, doing what you love to do, and doing it in Luna City. You have friends here, not just me … although Acey McClain – he’s my boss, you know? At the Beacon. He might just begin to wonder about where my loyalties lie, if he ever hears about this caper.”

“Thank you, Kate,” Richard wondered if he was being honestly grateful for the very first time in his so-called adult life. They stood very close, at the back door to the Café, near to the vast pot-washing sink and the industrial dishwasher, which smelled very faintly of dishwater and drains. But they stood so close, as he intended, somewhat reluctantly, to see her out – and he detected the perfume that Kate was accustomed to wear. On an impulse, he leaned down – not very far down – and kissed her, intending the kiss to land in a brotherly, even an avuncular manner. But the minx turned her head at the last second, and it landed on her lips. For a brief eternity, he was lost – Kate, his wonderful Kate of Kate Hall, his super-dainty Kate, before whom all his previous passions, or whatever they had been – were momentary shallow flirtations. Until she pulled back, grinned at him and said,

“That was a kiss to set all records, Richard – perhaps one day, we’ll set another one like it. But I have to go now. ‘Celi will wonder where I am. If I don’t get on my way this instant, she will call Joe to go and get me – and Jess will be furious. Good night, sweet prince; blessed angels see the to thy rest. I have to go.”

“Indeed,” Richard gave a wistful sigh for the night that might have been – but no, it wouldn’t have been right. He and Kate had worlds enough and time. The thought of a wrathful Joe Vaughn, the Luna City chief of police, bashing down the door of the Airstream to haul a weeping and half-dressed Kate into the cruiser was a thought to banish all erotic fantasies, right then and there. “Do you want me to walk you to Patrick and Aracelis’? It’s not far.”

“No, mon cher Richard – you must be exhausted after all this. I’ll be all right. We’re in Luna City, after all.” She stepped neatly out of his half-hearted embrace and opened the outer door. Outside, a shy quarter moon rationed silver light on the back of the Café and the buildings adjoining it on Town Square. A few small lights from the back windows of the Stein’s place, and from the rooms over the small businesses in the other direction, rented out on BnB to those who wanted a small-town Texas experience, cast a dimmer and more golden light. “Oh, look – your cat is still here.”

“I don’t have any pets…” Richard insisted obstinately. “It must be one of the Steins’ perishing little beggars. Wretched things – they pee all over the carpet inside, and crap all over the garden outside.”

Kate peered at the small, shadow-shape lurking in the depths of the hedge between the Stein’s garden – a garden groomed to a state of perfection with a Teutonic devotion to detail, in vivid contrast to the space of crumbling macadam interspersed with weeds and rubbish bins behind the Café. That space was currently interrupted with the Airstream, and a couple of timber-framed raised beds, in which Richard nourished cooking herbs and a crop of exotic salad greens.

The small shadowy shape mewed at her. It sounded commanding, rather than querulous and pathetic, as Richard would have expected a lost or temporarily discommoded cat to sound.

“It’s too small for Beethoven, Bach or Mozart,” Kate observed. The Stein’s musical trio were sheltered, spoiled, well-fed and of considerable size. “Annise would never let them outside in this weather anyway.”

“The flood brought in all sorts of animal flotsam and jetsam,” Richard sighed, thinking on the outsized dog, miniature pony, bantam hen and stray goat, confined in a makeshift corral by the VFD. “A stray, I suppose.”

“Be kind,” Kate said, and in the shadows behind the Café, Richard was sure that she was smiling at him. “Give the poor little thing some of that lovely chicken, or whatever. Good night, Richard – sleep well.”

“I will, even if lonely,” Richard sighed. Quite suddenly, the burden of total exhaustion fell upon him, a burden which rocked him to his knees. “Honestly, I couldn’t have done justice to the occasion if you had even wanted to spend the night with me. I’ve got some pride left in me, Kate.”

“I know,” Kate blew a kiss in his direction, and departed without another touch of her hand or lips, walking swiftly to the bottom of the desolate patch which was the Café’s back garden. Richard thought that she turned and waved at him, before she vanished around the corner of the Stein’s garden-shed/garage.

The evening was over.

And on the whole, it had been a success beyond his dreams, Richard thought, as he turned out the lights in the Café, and sent the last of the dishes and glasses into the commercial washer. A long day, and a hard day; a supper with Kate, and space enough and time to meditate upon where their mutual attraction should go. Bad news about Pip Noel-Barrett’s malicious intentions … but that was consummation months in advance. Sufficient unto the day were the evils thereof, as the school chaplain used to say. Today’s troubles were enough for today.

He got out one of the folding chairs from the Airstream, and sat beneath the inconsistent moon, with a glass of Sefton Grant’s marvelous elixir, contemplating the day, in all of it’s exhaustion and glory, obscurely grateful that he didn’t have to get up on the bicycle and pedal all the way back to the Age of Aquarius. Because of the flood and the good offices of Roman Gonzalez, the Airstream caravan that he called home had been temporarily moved from the campground and small farm where it had sat for at least three decades. His daily commute was reduced to a matter of fifteen steps … and the cat suddenly interrupted these meditations. It emerged from the dividing hedge, and sat not five feet from him.

“Mrrow?” It said. Startled out of his reverie, Richard answered.

“What’s that, old chap?”

“Mrroow!” replied the cat, one eye reflecting the pale moonlight. “Mrroow!” it said again, with added emphasis and air of cold command, which well those passions Richard read.

“All right, then!” Richard set aside his glass, and went into the Café kitchen, to the walk-in cooler, where reposed the container with the last of the chicken from his glorious supper with Kate. He brought out a small bowl, filled to the brim with some-barely cooled shredded chicken and crumbled bits of pate, and carefully locked the back door after him – wondering why he bothered at all, since Luna City was one of the most casually law-abiding places that he had ever set up residence in, however temporary. He set the dish down, and the cat fell upon it with every evidence of glutinous pleasure. When it had polished the dish clean, it approached Richard, still nursing half a glass of Sefton’s mustang white, and sat at his feet. A small pink tongue polished its’ whiskers, one swipe a side, as the cat assumed the expectant posture of one of those ancient Egyptian statuettes of cats.

“Mrroow,” it commented, sounding slightly less commanding.

“You’re welcome,” Richard replied. “But no, I don’t care if you want some wine to go with supper. This is all mine.”

“Mrroow!” The cat sounded slightly disappointed – as if it had hoped for that, but was sporting about being turned down. Seen now in the dim interior light shining through the Airstream’s screen door, it stood revealed as a small brindle animal, with one eye as pale and lifeless as the moon overhead, the other dark and brimming with feline mysteries. Richard was no great judge of cat-flesh, but he thought it was a young animal, despite the blind eye. It regarded him steadily with the other eye, as Richard communed with his glass of wine, coming down from the mighty cloud of terror or exertion expended during a day only a little longer than what he had been accustomed to in his early days as an apprentice chef. Since he didn’t have Kate to talk to, he directed his remarks to the young cat.

“So … rough day for you too, Ozymandias-King-of-Kings? Look upon your works, oh mighty, and despair. Nothing remains … but a hell of a lot of flood water.”

“Mrroow,” the cat commented, sounding rather forlorn.

“Sorry about that, old chap. Just worked out that way. Global warming, you know – but in Texas they call it ‘the weather’. Still a bit disconcerting, especially if one has an aversion to drowning.”

“Mrroow,” Ozymandias-King-of-Kings agreed. Richard sank the last little bit of Sefton’s prize white mustang grape wine. When he had drained the glass of that last mouthful, the brindle cat was sitting at the foot of the step to the Airstream, regarding him expectantly. “Mrroow?” That last had a kind of tentative, yet commanding sound to it. Richard marveled again, at the depth of feeling that the beast could put into a single sound. The Librarian of the Unseen University had nothing on this cat.

“All right, you conniving little beggar.” Richard sighed, and opened the screen door; instantly, Ozymandias-King-of-Kings hopped up into the Airstream as if it was his by rights. He-She-It strolled through the brief sitting area and kitchenette, sniffing at the odd item in a way that suggested judgmental skepticism, but marginal acceptability as to conditions. And then hopped up onto the disturbed bedding at the foot of the single double bed at the back of the Airstream, licked itself several times in businesslike fashion, curled into a neat circular form among the blankets and dropped into whatever was for a cat, deep, deep slumber. When Richard performed his late-night ablutions,  resumed the pajama trousers which were his customary night things, and took his own place in the bed, Ozymandias only burped – or perhaps farted – briefly, purred for a bit and fell back into deep slumber nearly as soon as Richard did.

 

 

06. April 2017 · Comments Off on A Snippet From Luna City IV! · Categories: Luna City Short Stories

Cattle Call

Luna City’s volunteer fire department was housed in a large metal-sided barn of no particular architectural charm, three blocks east of Town Square. Together with the Luna City PD headquarters next door, this put them both on the edge of town by the northernmost and newest of the two roads that led from off Route 123 and into Luna City proper. (Miss Letty’s and the Tip-Top were located at the southernmost, closest to that bridge which spanned the river.) The rain had let up by then, although from the appearance of the sky – grey and threatening – the weather gods promised additional precipitation. Richard pedaled along, carefully avoiding the standing puddles, and reminding himself to bring some dry clothing on the following day, lest he be caught again. Really, he had a cat’s dislike of being first soaked to the skin – and then enduring a day inside an air-conditioned building. Nothing, he was convinced, was apt to make a person more ill than being wet, and sitting under a vent blasting cold air down upon him.

The somewhat scratch parking area around the police and fire department – an area composed of about fifteen percent crumbling macadam to eighty-five percent gravel and hard-pressed and mostly dead grass was entirely full, for the first time in his admittedly limited experience. A jumble of vehicles – most of them the usual selection of pick-up trucks which he had come to see as a mostly normal transportation option in Luna City – were parked there without regard to order and reason.

Well, that was one advantage to a bicycle. He wheeled it around to the side, where a couple of heavy timber picnic tables and a rusty barrel-shaped BBQ unit sat underneath the customary oak tree which was a constant in Luna City, and leaned the bike against the nearest table. The side door was already propped open, with Chris Mayall’s young medic-apprentice volunteer lurking just inside. The name of the apprentice momentarily escaped Richard, although the boy had “Gonzalez” embroidered on the front of his dark-blue uniform shirt. Richard privately admitted to a sense of wistful envy. Just by being born with that surname in Luna City meant that the lad was instantly more one of the local elect than Richard would ever be, Charterhouse and  Cordon Bleu education notwithstanding. The classroom beyond was empty – and it was nearly the appointed hour.

“Hullo, young Jaimie,” he said, having wrenched the boys’ name from his recalcitrant memory. “Where is everyone? I thought that time for the regular training session was moved up – not the location.”

“They moved it into the bay, with so many people,” Jaimie replied. He was still young enough to be excited by a whiff of potential catastrophe. “There’s Cousin Horatio from the County, and the forecast is saying there will be more rain over the next few days. I guess this will be the command post, for a while.”

“Joy and rapture unrestrained,” Richard answered, completely deadpan, and walked down the narrow corridor from the door, past the empty classroom on one side, past the offices on the other, and the dormitories for the duty firefighters on the other, and into the soaring space which housed the various engines. There was more space in the barn than engines to fill it. The area beyond the pump and ladder trucks, the brush truck and the ambulance had been transformed, with ranks of folding tables and rows of chairs. An immense map hung on the far wall. As he came around from the last engine, someone was rolling out a video cart with a large television on it. The map drew his attention first, though; a detailed, large-scale map of the river, it’s many tributaries and watershed as it rambled through Karnes County. Through the VFD training sessions, he had become well-acquainted with Luna City, and those outlaying parts covered by the volunteer firefighters – but this was a much larger map. He took a seat in the rearmost row of chairs; the bustle of activity around the tables made him profoundly uneasy. He exchanged a nod with Sylvester Gonzales, dapper as always in retro-nerd fashion – this time in khaki slacks and a vintage and vividly-colored Hawaiian print shirt – who seemed to be overseeing the set-up of many telephones, one at each place along the first table. The telephones and attendant cables were being unpacked from a couple of lidded plastic tubs. Richard knew or at least recognized most of those present, and sifting in as the hands of a clock hanging on the wall above the map inexorably advanced towards the hour of three. He almost didn’t recognize Miss Letty, unaccustomed to the sight of her in a slate-grey uniform-cut women’s suit, adorned with a shoulder patch and lapel insignia – ARC. Well, nothing like an old emergency-service warhorse scenting a disaster, Richard thought to himself and immediately his inner good-manners angel booted him for being an ungallant prick. Still, he thought the old dear had better not try to wrestle an active fire-hose. Although Chris Mayall, who was sitting in the folding chair next to her, would doubtless prevent her from doing anything so reckless.

There was only one man present who was a stranger to him – and since the name-plate on his unfamiliar uniform bore the surname of Gonzalez – and since the familial resemblance to those Gonzalezes and Gonsaleses of his acquaintance was quite marked, he thought it likely that he knew of that man by repute, if not by first name among the clan.

“That’s Cousin Horatio,” Jaimie whispered, as he slid into the seat next to Richard. “You know … he went and joined the Coast Guard out of high school, but now he’s with the county sheriff’s department. He knows all about boats and things. They call him all the time for stuff involving river rescues and that.”

“Shush,” … That was Jess, sitting in the row of chairs ahead of them. And there was Joe Vaughn, striding up to stand before the stand microphone, in his office as chief of police for Luna City.

“Hey, ladies and gentle-grunts; thanks for taking the time from your busy day to come to this briefing… as you should know from watching the weather, it’s been a rainy spring. And this week’s forecast calls for even more rain. We’ve been advised to activate our emergency response team, in the expectation of catastrophic flooding from the San Antonio River and possibly various local creeks over the next few days. I know that it’s only a precaution, and no one is getting really panicked at this point,” and Joe favored the gathering with an especially serious look. “But there is a holiday weekend coming up. A lot of out-of-town folks traveling to the coast, just visiting a place like Mills Farm, or staying for the weekend with friends in the country, folks who just might not know the lay of the land…”

“He’s got a point,” Jaimie whispered. “If we live here – we know where all the low-water crossings are, all the places that flood out ….”

“Shush…” Richard replied, for he was strangely unsettled in recognizing a newer arrival; Kate Heisel, in her oversized drooping tan trench-coat, cat-footing around the perimeter of the gathering. The sound of her camera and brief flare of the flash attachment riveted his attention, although she seemed more focused on the immense map, and the tables with telephones already laid out. Still – when she turned and aimed her lens at the assembled multitudes, he swiftly bent down to re-tie a shoe-lace. No need to borrow trouble, even if he rather liked and trusted Kate Heisel in a small way. Even if she had said to him, on one memorable occasion, “No one here gives a waffle-fried damn that you used to be Rich Hall, the Bad Boy Chef,” Kate’s one picture of Romeo Gonzales had gone international-viral, once it had been posted on the Karnesville Weekly Beacon website for publicity purposes for the Luna City Players performance of Let No True Hearts Admit Impediment. That it all had come out rather well for Romeo was irrelevant to Richard: Once a photograph taken by Miss Kate Heisel was loosed on the internet, control was out of her hands, despite the best intentions of all concerned.

He didn’t entirely come up for air with regard to his shoelace, until Miss Kate herself came and settled into the folding chair next to Jaimie, returning her camera safely to her camera case.

“Hey, Rich – long time, no see?” she whispered. “Are you a volunteer now? Cool beans!”

“Well, I live here now,” Rich whispered back, disregarding the faint hushing sounds from either side. “What brings you here?”

“News, stilly – activating the emergency response command post is certainly newsworthy. Any time there’s a million cars parked outside the VFD there’s bound to be something of interest happening. I really came down for the cattle drive.”

“Cattle drive?” Richard was glad that his voice didn’t squeak. A small rustling commotion among the audience as Chief Vaughn introduced Lt. Gonzalez from the Karnes County Emergency Management office covered Kate Heisel’s reply.

“For sure,” she whispered. “There’s going to be about a hundred-fifty head of Lazy-W cattle moved from a pasture on low ground moved from a low-lying pasture across the river into the Wyler Ranch, proper. Too many to truck, and too late to do anything but walk them through town. A real cattle drive – I wouldn’t miss it for the world!”

***

“When is this going to happen?” Rich whispered back.

“In about twenty minutes,” Kate replied, sotto voice. “My … um … friend is going to call me when they get close to crossing Route 123.”

At his side, Jaimie Gonzales exclaimed in a normal voice, “No sh*t, Katie? I wanna see this!” to an enraged hiss of hushing from those nearest to them. At the microphone, Horatio Gonzalez broke off his introductory remarks to frown and address his juvenile kin.

“Is there something you wanted to share with us all?”

Unrepentant, Jaimie stood up and replied in a loud voice. “Yeah! Cousin Kate says there’s going to be a real-live cattle drive through town!”

Richard noted several things at once: Jess sinking down in her seat, Joe clapping on his wide-brimmed white Stetson and taking out his cellphone, and most of the assembled volunteers assuming expressions of lively interest.

“So – where they gonna go? Whose’ herd? How soon?” was the boiled-down essence of those questions which came thick and fast. Kate Heisel stood up, and finding her small height a disadvantage, stepped up onto her chair. Which being of the folding persuasion, was a perilous perch. Richard gave her a hand up, beating Jaimie to it by a short lead.

“It’s one of the Wyler herds,” she explained, and the timbre of her voice suggested something of embarrassment. “It’s an emergency. My informant has it that Lazy-W ranch management wanted it done and fast, so as to reduce panic …”

“A hundred and fifty cattle in the streets of Luna City – that will reduce panic all right,” Joe Vaughn observed, within the pick-up range of the standing microphone, so that his remarks were perfectly clear. “Katie – why don’t we know about this?”

“I thought that everyone had been informed,” Kate replied, in perfectly reasonable tones.

Joe Vaughn heaved up a deep sigh, from the depths of his soul. “All right, ladies and gentle-grunts – there is our very first flood-related emergency situation. All hands to battle-stations. How long do we have before the herd hits, Katie?”

“Twenty minutes, I think.” Now Kate sounded positively rattled. “Joe – I was sure your people already knew!”

“Well, we do now,” Joe noted. “OK, briefing’s suspended for the moment. Who’s in charge of the cattle drive, Katie? Doc Wyler?”

Kate nodded, concentrating on safely dismounting from a folding chair. Richard thought, fleetingly, that she may have leaned on him more than was absolutely necessary in doing so – but this was Kate, Kate of Kate Hall, as long as her camera lens was not pointed in his direction. Meanwhile, Joe was rapping out crisp directions alternately into his cellphone, his radio, and to the volunteers taking their places along the table.

“They’ll be taking them along Oak from 123 and the south side of Town Square, past the elementary school, and over to Cypress and north to the Wyler ranch. You better alert Jerry at the ISD. The elementary school is already dismissed for the day, but they’ll be going past the high school just at 4:00 … Just call everyone along those streets and alert them to what is going on. Cameras are optional, I guess. But shovels and wheelbarrows will be absolutely necessary afterwards.”

That was the last that Richard heard, over the hubble-bubble. Oddly enough, most everyone else appeared to think this was something exotic and exciting, worthy of notice, nearly as much as Richard did. They were vacating the fire department barn in a rush, all those whose services were not immediately required. Someone among the VFD staff on duty had obliged by raising the two garage doors.  Miss Letty, calm and magisterial as always, refused Richard’s assistance in joining the throng.

“My grandfather saw herds of cattle trailing through the streets quite often. Quite a nuisance it was at the time, he always said. The manure was useful, for gardens, of course.” She fell silent for a moment, and then added, “I suppose it has been years since you young people have seen such a thing, save in movies or on television.”

“It has, Miss Letty!” Katie chirped. “It’s why it’s news!”

Miss Letty snorted. “Sensation, Katherine. Pure vulgar sensation.”

“Sensation is my bread and butter,” Kate replied, not nearly as put down by Miss Letty’s obvious disapproval as Richard thought he would have been. “Vulgar or not. It’s something interesting, and new … or newly-new. I’m off, Miss Letty – my job. You know – that professional understanding that puts a meal on my table, pays for the gas in my car?”

“I know, dear,” Miss Letty unbent sufficiently to offer a smile. “You young girls have so many opportunities, these days. I’m not at all certain that some of them are for the betterment of our sex, but still … you have them.”

“I know,” Kate smiled in return, a smile that lit up her relatively ordinary face, and extraordinary blue-green, beryl-colored eyes. “And I’m not entirely lost to decency, Miss Letty. I do keep some news-worthy confidences.”

“And if you like, Miss Kate, I can offer a meal this evening,” Richard heard himself saying, to his utter horror. “At the Café … if you would like.” Where the holy ____ had that come from? Richard wondered, but Kate favored him with a blinding smile, and Miss Letty with an expression of wintery approval.

“I’d like that,” Kate said, and then went off at a trot in the direction of Oak Street which crossed from 123 into the regular – or somewhat regular grid of Luna City. That ridiculous oversized trench-coat flapped behind her like a loose sail. At the corner, she turned, and cupped her hands to shout, “See you after the trail drive, Richard!”

“So,” Miss Letty observed, after another short interval, in which they and the others had drifted down towards the Oak Street corner and spread out along the mostly-unimproved verge. (Sidewalks in Luna City didn’t begin for another half a block or so.) “How does the spider plant that I gave to you for your patio fare?”

“It’s still alive,” Richard replied. “Sending out a couple of small shoots. Baby spiders, I do believe. I hope they don’t choose to crawl indoors and begin spinning webs.”

“Excellent,” Miss Letty appeared amused. She and Richard had come to the corner, where a low wall of cut limestone adorned the roadside. Some years ago, a previous mayor – in a fit of municipal enthusiasm – had caused it to be built and adorned with cast-metal letters spelling out the words, “Welcome to Luna City – The Biggest Little Town in Texas.” One of the g’s had fallen off, and the last letter s was loose and tilted sideways. All the letters had bled dark smears of minerals down the pale stone, but the grass was clipped neatly around the wall.

Miss Letty took a large handkerchief out of her handbag and spread it on the level top. “I believe I shall sit and watch the excitement from here, Richard. And walk home if the meeting is not continued. I must say that it was good of you to take such an interest. The school cooking classes, the VFD and now Emergency Preparedness.”

“I don’t know if I’m all that much an addition to the strength,” Richard confessed. “I can barely manage a hose without knocking myself silly. And I do not drive. Really, all I can do is cook.”

“You have other skills, I am certain,” Miss Letty assured him. Richard was distracted – Kate was there, standing at the verge where the grass gave it up, in favor of a scattering of chippings and them the tarmac road, her camera out and at the ready.

“I can ride a bike and row a boat – and that’s about the limit. Look – I think the cattle are nearly here.” Richard shaded his eyes with one hand. The road out towards the river and Route 123 jogged slightly, so he could not see very far. A horseman came around the bend, then another, their hoofs clattering on the tarmac. To the west at their back, the clouds were mounting up in the pale sky; creamy mounds of cloud edged with fiery gold, sweeping shadows and light across the distant line of pale green hills dotted with dark green stands of oak. It was an unexpectedly theatrical setting, one which Richard pedaled through twice a day without noticing any outstanding aesthetic merit – but whether it was the clouds, the anticipation or whatever – the setting at that moment was almost epic-movie perfect. David Lean would have given his left testicle to get it on film in one uninterrupted take.

The first horseman was the perfect movie cowboy; a tall, fair young man, slouching easily in the saddle … and it was a Palomino horse, a golden horse with a dark mane and tail. The horse seemed to have a sense of occasion which the rider lacked; strutting along as if on parade, and there the mass of cattle following, tossing heads and red hides, shouldering each other as they followed.

“Santa Gertrudis,” Miss Letty remarked. “Stephen has a prize-winning herd of them. Also of Angus and Hereford. As well as a number of original Texas longhorns – although those, I believe, he keeps in the main pasture. The horns, you see – a hazard.”

“Amazing,” Richard breathed, and Miss Letty asked, “How so?”

“I usually see them as sides and quarters, already prepped.”

“Ah. You have an appreciation for where your chops and burgers come from,” Miss Letty’s sarcasm was restrained, which Richard appreciated.

“Well, of course. I like a good feed and I am not a vegan. Just – interesting to me to see a year’s worth of good beef suppers on the hoof, as it is.”

“Visions of steaks, stews and ragouts are dancing through your head?” Miss Letty had a wry turn of humor which Richard had really not observed to date.

“Yes,” and then Richard’s good humor turned all … well, to something. Kate with her camera dashed out into the road, in the path of that first horseman. Yes, of course the spectacle would be irresistible; a spirited horse, a handsome young rider in all the accoutrements of a classic cowboy. But that wasn’t the part which turned Richard’s attitude in the directions of sack, ash-cloth and discouragement. It was that Kate – his Kate – blew him a kiss on her fingertips.

And the cowboy on the Palomino laughed and returned the gesture.

This evening was not going to turn out well.

 

(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.”