23. December 2019 · Comments Off on A Luna City Short Story · Categories: Uncategorized

In the Offices of the Karnesville Weekly Beacon

“Kate! Kate! Get in here and tell me why the heck I have fielded calls all morning from the AP, UPI, the London Times, Archeology Today, and some rude as hell asshole from New York!” Acey McClain, part-owner and managing editor (as well as every other editor) bellowed from his more or less private corner office on the second floor of the building which had served for almost a century and a quarter as the headquarters of the Karnesville Weekly Beacon – which at the time of its’ founding, had been a daily, serving Karnes County as far as Falls City to the north and Kenedy to the south. Now, alas, the local small-town newspaper struggled bravely against the economic tide, borne up by small-town concerns, crime, and gossip about strictly small-town doings, a large part of which were reported in both the print version and in the Karnesville Beacon blog (Your Beacon on What’s Happening in Karnes County!) which was run by Kate Heisel, the Beacon’s ace reporter and social media maven. Kate, who patterned herself professionally after Brenda Starr and Hildy Johnson as played by Rosalind Russel in the movie His Girl Friday, collected up her slim reporters’ notebook from her desk, and went to report to her irascible boss. Acey, long retired from active and notable crime beats in much more prestigious venues than the Weekly Beacon, nonetheless retained an interest in national news, not to mention professional and personal contacts in a wide variety of national news and media organizations – although it ought to be admitted that most of those contacts, like Acey himself, were well past the age of collecting Social Security.

“Good morning, Boss!” Kate chirped, settling herself in the lone guest chair which stood, like a prisoner about to be executed by firing squad before the battered late-19th century splendors of the editor’s desk. (Said desk looked like a down-market version of the White House Oval Office Resolute desk, without the secret compartment, or being wrought from the timbers of a British warship.) “It was a glorious event in Luna City – they think they have located the Gonzaga Reliquary. Or most of the relevant bits and pieces. Was the rude guy from the New York Times? Yeah, that would figure; they’re always rude when they are forced by circumstance to deal with us hicks from the sticks. The Brits are usually so much more superficially polite. Richard says it’s because…”

“Focus, Kate,” Acey commanded. “What’s all this about the Gonzaga-thingus?”

Kate heaved a deep and theatric sigh. “That Renaissance relic which was supposedly painted by Leonardo da Vinci in a rediscovered masterpiece found when they renovated a moldy convent in Milan a couple of years ago. God’s own ornamental bottle stopper and a fat-faced nun who looks like my Aunt Conchita when she was younger. Supposed to be an ancestress of ours. After being painted, it vanished for about three hundred years before turning up as elements of some Christmas decorations on the Luna City public Christmas tree…”

Acey pressed his fingers against his forehead – yes, he vaguely recalled hearing about this, at least six months and two-score of hangovers ago, while Kate smoothed the skirt of her modest tailored suit over her knees and continued. “It turned out that the Gonzaga Reliquary in the painting – they claim that it was the creation of Benevento Cellini, but the serious art historians do have doubts because of the spotty provenance. The long and short of it …”

“Please, Kate, favor me with the Readers’ Digest version,” Acey interjected and Kate consulted her notebook.

“OK, the short version is that the original reliquary was returned to the family – the Gonzagas – when their darling daughter was kicked out of the convent for insufficient devotion to the ideals of chastity and reverence. She and her son,” Kate snickered, a rather lewd snicker, and understandably so, “Returned to those ancestral acres in northern Spain … and a couple of hundred years later, her descendants, or at least, members of that family immigrated to Mexico and took up a Spanish land grant in what would in the fullness of time and history become the Rancho Los Robles, on the banks of the San Antonio River. Even before there was a Karnes County, or a Texas,” Kate added, with a certain amount of modest pride, “The Gonzaleses and Gonzalezes were here, with their rancho. My cousin Mindy has proved that, beyond any shadow of a doubt through research and an exploratory dig this summer – but that’s another story entirely. You have my notes on that, in the email that I sent you last week … erm. And it was the front page of the November 5th issue,” Kate added helpfully. “But for the reliquary itself; it was disassembled for hiding during the Civil War, and those parts variously concealed in the walls of the old adobe wing of the Rancho de los Robles house. It seemed that everyone who knew about that – maybe three or four people? Yeah, they were paranoid as heck about security back in the day, and who the heck could blame them? Don Luis-Antonio’s only son and heir Don Anselmo was serving with the Union, and Texas was part of the Confederacy…”

“Comment would have been made,” Acey nodded. “At the very least. And possibly a capital sentence imposed for spying and counterrevolutionary sympathies. So they hid the high-value stuff. Understandable, considering the times.”

“And then,” Kate took a deep breath. “That handful of people who knew the secret of where they hid it … they died, or went off to greener pastures, even before Don Anselmo returned after the war. The story among the family is that he got delayed by a passionate and doomed romance with a married opera singer in Mexico City for about half a decade. By that time, everyone sort of forgot about the whereabouts of the Reliquary, or even that it existed at all. Don Anselmo’s son, Don Jaimie – you remember him? He fought the last personal duel in the streets of Luna City with a Maldonado? There’s a plaque on Town Square where that happened, back in the early Twenties, sometime. Anyway, Don Jaimie had the old adobe walls knocked down, turned into rubble about a hundred years ago, when he old headquarters ranch wanted to renovate the old ranch headquarters house. The rubble – it was only adobe mud brick, after all … got plowed into a what became a Victory Garden during the Second World War. Don Jaime’s artistic sister Leonora took the found bits and pieces and made them into ornaments for a Christmas tree … oh, in about 1945 or ‘46. She had a thing for making jewelry and other ornaments out of bits of this and that. My Cousin Araceli is pretty certain that she saw them on the Christmas tree at the Rincon de los Robles home place when she was a kid … and at some point Great-Aunt Leonora’s ornaments were donated to the City to use on the Town Square Christmas Tree… they were pretty awful looking,” Kate admitted honestly. “They were not one of Great-Aunt Leonora’s finer artistic accomplishments, to be strictly truthful. I think I could do better with a hot-glue gun and a sweep through Hobby Lobby’s marked-down section the week after Christmas. But anyway, at the instant when the civic Luna City Christmas Tree was formally unveiled last week, Cousin Araceli, and Cousin Mindy’s hot international treasure-hunting boyfriend both recognized the bits from the Gonzaga Reliquary. Mostly the enamel plaque of the Virgin and Child riding on St. Gigobertus’ horse; a plaque surrounded by a nimbus of diamonds set in a corona of silver-gilt. Cousin Mindy’s BF practically collapsed when he spotted them – but he’s OK. It was just a bad case of indigestion, compounded with extreme emotion. Penny’s given to emotion when it comes to his treasure quests. This one is for the history books, since he has actually found one of those treasures that he set out looking for.” Kate consulted her notebook once again, thumbing through the pages for so many minutes that Acey began to tap his fingers impatiently against the battered and scarred top of the editorial desk.

“Ah, here it is – yes, I’ll send you the link. I got close-ups of every element as Cousin Araceli retrieved them from the Christmas tree …” Kate sighed, sounding disconsolate. “Don’t get your hopes up, or at least – don’t encourage your buddies in old media to get their hopes up. Whatever artistic element and value in the reliquary derived from the great Cellini has been pretty well wrecked … and not just from getting buried for fifty years and then welded into Christmas ornaments.”

“Oh?” Acey sat back in his battered leather-upholstered chair, and steepled his hands, as he eyed his best reporter. “And the value of these bits and pieces remaining?”

“Well,” Kate sounded as if she were temporizing. Excusing, even. “The gold and enamel bits are real enough. But just about all the so-called diamonds and precious stones set in the bits remaining … are glass fakes. Oh, there were a couple of them which were real,” she added hastily. “But Mindy thinks that the Reliquary must have been seen as a portable bank account … hit a couple of bad patches, civic unrest, the necessity of skipping old haunts because of politics … and swap out a diamond or two for gold, sell on the down-low market for cash in hand, and swap in a glass gem through the same means. The tooth of St. Gigibertus’ horse didn’t feature in the Christmas ornaments – although Mindy thinks she might have found it in the dig last month, along with a couple of shards of heavy-duty glass in a kind of cylindrical shape. It was a puzzle for her – that the horse tooth was all by itself, without any other remains of horse bones in the trench. And the bits of crystal glass seemed to fit a perfect cylinder … well, now it all comes clear,” Kate added, parenthetically. “The guesses that archeologists have to make about what they find … Mindy said something about a book called Motel of the Mysteries. Some kind of in-joke for archeologists, I guess.”

“The bottom line, Kate,” Acey looked as if his hangover was especially intense. “The bottom line, if you please. What’s with the bits and pieces of the reliquary and where are they now?”

“In the hands of an artistic expert and restorer recommended by Georg Stein, who runs the western-relic bookstore on Town Square,” Kate closed up her notebook. “An expert friend of an expert friend of another expert friend, as it were. That’s how these things roll, I expect – in Luna City and everywhere else. Great Uncle Jaimie is still pretty strict with the budget, although there may be a bit of a tangle ongoing over who exactly owns the bits and pieces. Depends on the wording of the donation to the city; were the decorations for the Town Christmas tree a loan on the part of the families who provided them, or a donation … I expect that I will have to venture another deep dive into the Beacon archives to make certain,” Kate added. “That, and into the city council archives.”

“Put on a dust mask when you do,” Acey advised, with an air of heavy foreboding. “The crap and mold in the air, and on the old archives. The basement is a toxic environment, for certain.”

“I’ll do that,” Kate promised with a sigh, and her boss regarded her with an expression of concern. “What’s the matter, dollface? Personal stuff?”

“Yeah,” Kate admitted, with another deep sigh. “Don’t want to burden you with it, since it is my personal biz, which ideally should have nothing to do with work stuff … but Christmas. I committed with Mom to bring Richard to our Christmas dinner. Months ago. He’s … umm – sort of my boyfriend, I guess. I like him lots, Acey. When he is cut, I bleed.”

“Sounds serious,” Acey commented, somewhat warily. Deep emotional commitment worried him, especially when it concerned his employees. “He doesn’t exhibit serial murder tendencies, does he? Because – in that case, I’d have to call in law enforcement.”

“Don’t worry, Chief!” Kate replied. “If Richard had any such tendencies, then I would have called in law enforcement, from the very first. The chief of the Luna City PD is married to a good friend. If I had any doubts – they would be at my back. No … that’s not what the problem is’ Mom just texted me that Grandpa Fritz will be there, too.”

“And this would be a problem in what way?” Acey ventured.

“Because,” Kate replied, with an air of tolerance. “Grandpa Fritz hates the English, root and branch. He damned near got shot as a spy – twice – by them during World War Two.”

“I can see,” Acey replied, after a long moment of thought. “That might lead a reasonable man to be a little bit sour. The Germans were indiscriminately blitzing English cities, sinking English shipping – not to mention chasing them out of France. It’s been a while since then, Kate.”

“The trouble is,” Kate took up her notebook. “That Grandpa Fritz was serving as a US Army paratroop with the 507th Paratroop Infantry Regiment at the time. He is still pretty pissed about the whole shot-as-a-spy thing, as well as the room-temp beer.”

“Oh. My.” Acey said to the door, as Kate departed the editorial corner office. “Yes. I do understand why he might still be holding a teensy bit of a grudge, Kate.”       

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