Richard is taking his parents around Town Square on the 4th of July, introducing them to all of his friends and associates. With luck, Luna City 11 will be available in another couple of months. Cross my heart …)

“Everything happens in the park, or around the edges of Town Square,” he explained, as the ever-popular miniature train ride trundled slowly past – a train of recycled oil-drums set on their side on wheels to make the carriages, and an engine also cobbled out of oil drums and powered by a motor which once had powered a ride-along mower. Clem Bodie of the Bodie Feed Mill had constructed the miniature train some fifteen years ago, for fun and to exercise his welding talents – and also to dispose of a number of items of metal scrap and put them to good civic use. All the streets which fed into Town Square had been blocked to vehicle traffic, for the convenience of the little train, the parade at noon, and for the drifting of pedestrians back and forth, like the gentle washing of a wind-blown tide at a mountain lake shore.

“The heart of the community,” Dottie Astor Hall remarked, with unexpected sagacity. “I do like this little town, Richard … oh, look at the little dogs! How charming, and how clever! Do you know their owner?”

“I do, as a matter of fact,” Richard confessed, as they crossed the street in front of the Café, where the Hanging Oak (less the one decaying branch from which Charley Mills had nearly been lynched in 1926) brooded over the sidewalk. “Anita Blake-Silva, with Oscar and Felix – the dachshunds,” he added, as the dogs greeted him with a chorus of barking. “Good morning, Judge – I see that you have entered the dogs in the patriotic costume contest.”

“I have, if they can keep from ruining their wigs before judging time,” Judge Anita Blake-Silva replied, and Richard performed introductions.

“My parents, Alfred and Dorothy Astor-Hall – this is Anita Blake-Silva, one of the county magistrates, and Oscar and Felix.”

“How very pleasant to make your acquaintance!” Dottie exclaimed, as the one of the dachshunds laid his nose on her right shoe and looked up adoringly. “And the costumes are so very clever – did you make them yourself?”

“I did,” Anita Blake-Silva confessed. “With the help of a niece who is a costume designer, and she is very fond of the boys…”

“Who obviously don’t mind cross-dressing,” Richard commented; as one dachshund was dressed in a blue coat with buff facings over a buff weskit and lace cravat, a tricorn hat (over a white curled wig) and a small sword-belt, and the other gazing up at his mother so worshipfully was gotten up in an elaborate dress with panniers, a mobcap, and a white wig.

“Well, you see,” confessed Judge Anita-Blake Silva, “They are representing General and Mrs. Washington. Total hams, both of them, and they don’t really mind at all, as long as everyone pays attention to them.”

“Good thing,” Alfred commented, as soon as they had moved on, past the Judge and her excitable duo. “If I were a dog, dressed up in a ridiculous costume, I’d want to bite the next person who held down a hand.”

“Well, come along, Father,” Richard urged him, “You and Mum wanted to meet everyone … now, this is Pryor’s Meats BBQ; their food truck, which they run for special events. They open the BBQ on weekends – honestly, the place has all the ambiance of an industrial warehouse, but no one really cares, and the meat processing during the week. They do the most amazing sausages and supply the Café as well as Mills Farm … to include the Crystal Room. I have always preferred to purchase locally sourced goods, and the Pryors can’t get much more local than this. Mrs. Pryor … she who looks most amazingly like the late Princess Di … is also the granddaughter and heir of Doc Wyler … whom, I should have noted before this, owns the largest ranch in Karnes County – and also just about anything else of value that isn’t already nailed down and owned by the Bodies of the Feed Mill, Don Jaimie of the original Spanish holding, and Mills Farm itself. If you have a hankering … sorry, I have been immersed in the local vernacular … if you have an urge to sample original Texas BBQ, you should taste it from here, before they run out.”

(Richard, having welcomed his parents to town in time to celebrate the 4th of July, is escorting them around Town Square, introducing them to his vast assortment of local friends. Which includes most of the characters who have featured in the previous volumes.)

The door to the Stein’s Wild West Emporium chimed a musical herald to Alfred’s return, significantly with a wrapped package under his arm, and the three of them moved on, in the direction of the Café, with all the outside tables filled with customers.

Richard said, in the manner of a tour guide, as he waved in the general direction of Araceli and her ever-present coffee carafe. “Now, here is another member of the keen reenactor fraternity…”

“I never would have guessed,” Alf Astor-Hall murmured, for Clovis Walcott was arrayed in all the splendor of 1830s martial glory; a high-collared blue jacket adorned with gold frogs, much braid, and epaulettes, over buff-colored trousers and knee-high cavalry boots. This tasteful ensemble was accessorized with a brace of (replica, or perhaps, knowing Clovis Walcott’s pocketbook and quest for authenticity, they were authentic antique) pistols tucked into a brilliant red silk sash, and a saber belt – with scabbarded saber – buckled over the sash which clanked resoundingly with every stride, which Richard knew well from previous encounters with Clovis in his 19th century persona.

“Colonel Walcott,” Richard replied, as they approached the range of tables and chairs set under an awning under a wide awning over the front of Luna Café and Coffee; an area comfortable only when the temperatures were mild, which in July meant for an hour or so around sunrise before a rising sun baked everything in Texas to a toasty brown. “Who is really a colonel – reserve and mostly retired from active service. He designs and builds things of extraordinary complexity; a refreshing change from his previous career of blowing them up. In is misspent youth, he played in a garage band, and he owns the ugliest MacMansion anywhere in the vicinity. His youngest son – God knows how the kid came to this – is currently working as sous-chef in the Café. I can only suppose that I taught the boy correctly, and that the good colonel doesn’t bear an abiding grudge over that development, proof positive of his generosity and good public spirit. Colonel Walcott is another of Luna City’s leading citizens, all of this, despite the temper of his missus, the fire cat Mrs. Sook Walcott, the tiger mother from hell … good morning, Colonel.”

“Good morning, Richard!” Colonel Walcott looked up from his fruit salad and croissant breakfast. “Ready for the Glorious Fourth – our celebration of the independence which is the rightful inheritance of every man and woman in this blessed land?”

“Yeah, verily and forsooth,” Richard replied, “May I present Colonel Clovis Walcott of the … something-or-othereth. A gentleman of the first water, My parents, Albert and Dorothy Astor Hall.”

Clovis Walcott chuckled. “The tongue and vocabulary of the old century does have that hold on you, doesn’t it?” He stood up and bowed in an exaggeratedly courtly manner over Dottie’s hand, raising it to his lips and kissing it in a way that made Richard’s mother almost simper. “This most handsome lady – hardly to be of a vintage to be your mother, Chef Richard? And the most gallant gentleman – I am most honored in making his acquaintance at long last!”

“How d’ye do,” Albert replied, with a stiff and most formal nod, in the best olde stiff-upper-lip manner. “Albert Astor-Hall, at your service, my good sir.”

“Charmed!” Clovis Walcott responded. “Charmed to make your acquaintance! Are you planning to take up residence in our Texas? I assure you, there are many opportunities for an entrepreneurious gentlemen such as yourself. I can introduce you to my good friend, Colonel Bowie, if you are so inclined as to take up a grant in our fair country.”

“I regret that I am already committed to a substantial property in another land, my good sir,” Albert replied, while Richard goggled at how readily his father fell into this kind of make-believe. He had never suspected his father of entertaining such theatrical leanings, let alone a facility for improvisation.

“Our loss, indeed, good sir,” Colonel Walcott rendered another formal bow, and went clanking off across the street to join his fellows at the reenactor camp, who had been gesturing him from across the pavement for him to get a move on and lend his theatricality to the festivities.

“Oooh, I do like him!” Dorothy sighed and fanned herself theatrically with her hand. “Such a gent!”

“He is, that,” Richard agreed glumly, and encouraged his parental units to move on. Miss Letty, Doc Wyler and Harry Vaughn sat at another table. Richard sighed, upon seeing that trio, for the two gentlemen were looking daggers at each other, while Miss Letty sat, prim and elegant in her shirtwaist dress, wide-brimmed summer hat, matching gloves and a handbag which matched the colors of the modestly flowered summer hat. (Which also matched her dress. Miss Letty had always been detail-oriented.) “Mum – these are some of the people I’ve told you about before: Doctor Stephen Wyler and Miss Letty McAllister; they jointly own the Café and hired me to run the kitchen when I first came here. The two of them are what passes for nobility around here – and what they don’t know about Luna City could be put into a thimble.”

“Know where all the bodies are buried, then?” Alfred grunted.

“Likely, they assisted in putting them there,” Richard acknowledged. “The scowling gentleman with the impressive mustache is Harry Vaughn, another old resident. It was he who insisted that I accompany him in a reckless venture on the river in flood, to rescue some luckless tourists, a couple of years ago.”

“Ah,” said Alfred. “The occasion when your school enthusiasm for rowing finally served a useful purpose.”

“Not quite how I thought of it, Father. All the county river rescue boats had already been called out. I was prevailed upon as a trainee member of the volunteer fire department, and my presumed familiarity with small boats. Harry Vaughn threatening to brutally belt me about the head and shoulders with an oar had nothing to do with it … good morning, Doc, Miss Letty … Mr. Vaughn.”

“Good morning, Chef,” Doc returned, looking over his glasses at them. “I heard that your folks came to town.”

“Indeed. The bush telegraph is as active as always.” Richard answered, and Doc Wyler and Harry Vaughn both grinned; Harry Vaughn a bit evilly, as befitted a former federal marshal, and Richard sighed. “My parents, Albert and Dorothy Astor Hall – Stephen Wyler, but most everyone calls him ‘Doc’, Miss Letty McAllister, and Mr. Henry Vaughn. Father and Mum are here, doing a tour of the wine country, such as it is, and meanwhile have come to observe the rituals of celebration.”

“Charmed, I’m sure!” Dottie trilled, as gentleman half-rose from where they were sitting, while Miss Letty only nodded regally.

“There will be merriment and dancing tonight, before the fireworks display,” Harry Vaughn rumbled, with a significant look at Dottie. “May I claim a dance with your charming mother?”

“Only if you don’t plan on seducing her, afterwards,” Richard replied, rather nettled, while Dottie giggled, and Harry Vaughn settled back in his seat, looking rather smug. Miss Letty frowned – levity regarding sex outside of the marriage contract was a matter of which she sternly disapproved. Meanwhile, Harry Vaughn grinned, under his magnificently drooping soup-strainer mustache, and Richard hurried his parents on. When they were out of earshot of the Café, Dottie remarked, artlessly.

“Oh, was that dear Moira’s gentleman friend? I had no idea!”

“My sister Moira has a finely developed sense of duty,” Albert replied. “I am certain that Mr. Vaughn held information necessary to completion of her mission,”

“No, Father – it was purely a naughty weekend,” Richard answered, and Dottie upheld him.

“Dear Moira is entitled to whatever romantic romps she can indulge – the places that she travels to, the intrigues she encounters – a nice relaxing weekend with a handsome gentleman who isn’t trying to plant a knife in her back! Well, that’s her chosen career, and I do not judge – do I, Albert?”

“No, you do not,” Albert replied, the very image of the austere Englishman. “Much is required of an intelligence operative in their line of duty.”

Richard thought he had better not follow that any further. It was perhaps the closest that his father had ever come to admitting that Aunt Moira was a kind of distaff 007, with an official license to kill, seduce, or subvert, as the specific mission required.

23. June 2022 · Comments Off on From Luna City 11 – An Excerpt · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Luna City

Another excerpt from the untitled and unpublished memoir of Alasdair Duncan Magill, 1987. Chapter 53 – The Matter of Political Murder

 Miss Amory, our clerk-typist, called my attention to the telephone on a chilly spring morning, early in March, 1935. It was already past 8 o’clock, and I was uncharacteristically late, as our youngest son was teething, and had kept my dear wife and I awake for most of the night before.

“It’s Mrs. Mills,” Miss Amory said, covering the receiver with her hand. “Calling for you, personally, Chief. She says that she has just found the body of her husband, out by the alligator pond.”

“God save the mark,” I exclaimed. “The old reprobate is dead at last! What are the odds, hey? Bludgeoned, stabbed or shot by a jealous rival or fellow miscreant, do you think?”

“Really, Chief,” Miss Amory sniffed. “That’s not Christian of you to say such an unkind thing! The poor man is dead!”

“It may not be Christian, Miss Amory,” I replied. “But it is most brutally realistic; Charley Mills was a thief, a pervert, and a blight on the community of Luna City – and those were his good points. I’ll take Mrs. Mills’ call in my office.”

“Yes, Chief,” Miss Amory still sounded disapproving. On my way to my own office, I looked into the chief investigator’s small office next to mine, to see if John Drury had arrived; he had. And he was in confabulation with Sgt. Grigoriev, who’s countenance bore a worried frown upon it. John looked up at my rap on the door frame.

“Chief, it’s bad news,” he said with a grave expression on his own face, “There has been a message from the Marcus place. Sgt. Grigoriev has just been briefing me. The Professor’s oldest son has been found dead this morning – his face bashed in with especial violence – with a stone, round in back of their house. No idea of who did it the foul deed. Mrs. Marcus called us, just now. This last week the Professor was helping his son and some of their friends build a working ballista – and it’s one of those stones they were stocking up to throw with it which killed Sergei Marcus.”

“Oh, my god!” I exclaimed. “The professor – is he in especial danger, do you surmise? This is appalling news! We were charged with keeping him and his family secure!”

“I don’t think so, Chief,” John replied. “And we don’t know for certain if this was just some random mischance … or malice on the part of an assassin. In any case, I ordered Constable Vaughn to remain on guard at the Marcus’s house, until we can sort out the situation – if it is murder or merely an accident. Has there been any reports of unexplained strangers in town? We were charged with keeping track of that kind of thing…”

“Kapitan,” Sgt. Grigoriev spoke up. “There is one stranger in town … a young man riding on a …what-do-you say … an Indian motorcycle. With a sidecar. A very nice motorcycle. I wish for one of my own, Kapitan-sir. This young man, he has a dog with him, a splendid large dog. No, I do not wish for a dog. But this stranger in town – he is camping in the field by the Mills place since last week.”

“Most interesting, Sergeant,” I said, having come swiftly to a decision, knowing that Mrs. Mills was waiting to speak to me on the telephone. “John, I believe that I will go and speak to this person first while you and Sgt. Grigoriev begin investigating the death of Sergei Marcus … since I will need to go out to the Mills property anyway.” At his interrogative eyebrow lifted, I added an explanation. “It seems also that Charley Mills has also been found dead, out at his place. Miss Amory just told me. I still must speak to Mrs. Mills. We should compare notes this afternoon, upon completing a preliminary review of our respective corpses.”

John Drury whistled in astonishment. “It never rains but it pours, Captain! Two dead bodies in a single day! Some kind record for Luna City.”

“I know,” I sighed – for on the rare occasions when my police were lumbered with dead bodies, they usually arrived singly, and it was usually a matter of simple observation and deduction to arrive at the reason for their deceased state. The great (and purely literary) detective-sleuth Sherlock Holmes would have little in the way of exercising his deductive skills in Luna City; in fact, were he real, he would perish of sheer boredom, unless he took up the profession of deducing which dog or coyote was killing chickens. Once in my office, I picked up the receiver, a little astonished to still find Mrs. Mills still waiting.

“Mrs. Mills,” I said, by way of apology. “I am so sorry to have kept you waiting. It seems that we have experienced another sudden death in Luna City – but let me extend to you my sympathies on the loss of your husband …”

“It is of little import to me,” Carolina de San Pedro Mills replied, sounding as if distraught with grief were the farthest thing from her mind. “We were married as a matter of convenience only – for the business, you see.”

“I hope that he did not suffer,” I ventured. I privately hoped the opposite very much. Mrs. Mills snorted, in a somewhat derisive manner.

“No, I rather think he did not,” she replied, decisively. “There was no mark upon him, save where he had lain heavily as he had fallen to the ground. He went down to feed his disgusting caimán – those three giant lizards in the pond – at sunset last night, and never returned.”

“And you did not think it strange that he never returned? And raised no alarm? Strange that would be, for a married couple…”

I swear that I could almost feel her shudder of revulsion, at a distance and over the tinny-sounding telephone line.

Dios mia!” Mrs. Mills exclaimed. “Think you that we shared a bed?! A room, even! No, my husband had his place, and I had mine. And that is all that you need to know.”

“One thing that I should ask, Mrs. Mills – have you touched or disturbed your husband’s body. It might complicate the investigation, so I should be informed if you have done so.”

“I did turn his body over,” Carolina de San Pedro Mills confessed. “For I thought that he might still be alive … I did not wish my husband dead, Senor M’Gill. But at the hour of sunrise this morning, he was quite cold and stiff. I … brought a blanket from his quarters to cover him. It seemed a decent thing to do. Besides,” and Carolina de an Petro, late the wife of Charley Mills sounded quite brutally practical. “Those dreadful black scavenger birds were already circling over the pond.”

18. May 2022 · Comments Off on Another Snippit for Luna City 11 – Liquid Treasure · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Luna City

(Richard has finally accepted the offer from Lew Dubois to begin as executive chef for the renewed Cattleman Hotel, having put the Cafe on the map, gastronomically speaking – but aware that he is becoming bored with the limitations. And for him – being bored professionally could have near-fatal consequences.)

Richard could not readily shed his established habit of rising well before sunrise – with the chickens, as Judy Grant cheerfully said it – or at least with their several roosters, all of whom were given to serenade the setting of the moon with an acapella chorus of cock-a-doodle-dos at five-thirty AM. He secretly rather enjoyed the brisk pedal along the darkened country road, as sunrise paled the eastern sky, the quietness of the streets, and the dimming gold of the old-fashioned gas lamps which lit the margins of Town Square and the area around the bandstand, which was the ornate center of the Square, as the sun rose in a glory of apricot and rose – very occasionally trimmed with crimson and purple clouds.

There was a van parked around the side of the Cattleman, with the logo of a national security firm emblazoned on the side. Richard paid it hardly any attention, save for noticing that there were a pair of genial gentlemen in overalls, messing about with drills, rolls of cable and some really impressive tool-kits, in and out of Lew’s office, the larger joint office and in the splendidly ornate and paneled bar, which was almost the crown jewel of the Cattlemen. He did a tour of the kitchen – mildly busy with breakfast for a scattering of hotel clients – and then retreated to the office to continue his research of the previous day. He pondered Lew’s advice, and considered it good … but still, the obsessive habits of a lifetime thus far niggled at him. Was it entirely cricket to spend less than eighty hours a week, in the object of his employment … or was that taking devotion to duty just a little too far in the pursuit of what Lew called a well-balanced life…

He was interrupted shortly before eleven by one of the overalled technicians, lurking hesitantly in the doorway of the office.

“’Scuse me, Chef,” the technician ventured. “D’you know where the big boss is … we got a bit of a problem with running the new line.”

“Mr. Dubois is around here somewhere,” Richard ventured, just as the great man himself appeared. That Lew was also wearing a groundskeeper’s Carhart jacket and a pair of heavy leather work gloves went without mentioning.

“Hey, Lew,” the technician confessed with relief. “There’s a problem with running the new cable … it just goes and goes and goes into the wall. Doesn’t come out where it’s supposed to. Stevo and I think there is a void, between the office and the bar. Can we have a squint at the blueprints again, just to make certain.”

“Of course,” Lew went to a tall, old-fashioned wooden cabinet, one fitted out with a series of shallow but large drawers. He pulled out several, before finding the one oversized envelope containing the diagrams of the ground floor offices of the Cattleman. They were done on outsized sheets of heavy paper in ink which had faded to a sepia shade – all heavily-detailed plans of each room, some adorned with sketches of the architectural adornments. Which, as far as Richard could see from a cursory glance over the shoulders of Lew and the tech, had been faithfully carried out, more than a hundred years ago. All three of them studied the linked plans for the various spaces on the Cattleman’s ground floor, joined presently by Stevo, the other security install tech.

“Hmm,” Remarked Lew thoughtfully. “I am not an architect – just someone who has had to become familiar with old buildings and their peculiarities – but it seems to me that there might be something anomalous, just there. Your cable should come from my office and emerge in that wall to the left of the back-bar … but it seems to me that there might be a space unaccounted for.”

Both technicians agreed, solemnly and with a degree of puzzlement.

“A secret compartment,” Richard ventured, with an air of insouciance. “Hardly an old mansion or listed pile in England is without a secret passage, staircase, or priest’s hole. They usually hide the door catch somewhere in the woodwork.”

“I wonder if you can find it, cher,” Lew ventured, “As you appear to be the expert in these matters.” There was nothing for it, but that all but to agree with Lew, and all – followed by an increasingly intrigued Bianca, trooped after Richard into the hotel bar room.

The bar in the old hotel had been kept open, maintained, and functioning long after most of the other facilities had been closed up and allowed to molder away. So the renovations in that area, performed by Roman Gonzalez’ construction crew under contract from Venue Properties had not been nearly as extensive as they had on the upper floors, to the offices, kitchen and ballroom. The barroom itself was a wonder of elaborate woodwork, with a long bar of Circassian tiger-striped walnut, the whole place adored with every possible ornate wood and brass frill that the late 19th century Beaux-Arts designers hired at great expense by the Italian hotelier who hoped to make another small fortune in catering to the guests visiting the hot-water spa on the outskirts of Luna City. (He did end up with a small fortune, but alas, he had started with a large one.)

Richard, seeing that all were watching him consigned his credibility to the gods, and began feeling his way around the carved panels to the left of the stupendously ornate bar. The woodwork was certainly comprehensive; God only knew how many secret catches and all could have been hidden in all the curlicues, whorls and flourishes. Richard ran his fingers over the edges of all the panels, paying particular attention to those where the carving was most ornate, feeling for anything that might move, just a bit, under light pressure. To his utter astonishment, as well as that of those watching – including Lew, both the security technicians, Mr. Georges, Bianca, and a couple of waiters drawn by the unusual nature of the proceedings, on a boring morning after the breakfast rush – a particularly ornate bit of carving at the upper left corner of the panel just to the right of the back-bar, gave under slight pressure.

A small crack appeared in the floor-to-head-height paneling. To the astonishment of all, a segment the size of an ordinary door swung open, with a faint metal groan of protest, revealing a closet-sized space behind – a space lined with shelves and row on row of bottles, and several small barrels on the bottom row, all covered in a generous layer of gray dust, dust so thick that it looked for all the world like grotesque fur. Through a small hole at the back of the closet, a long length of clean cable coiled like a snake on the dusty floor.

“Holy cow!” breathed Stevo the tech. “A no-sh*t Sherlock secret compartment! He fumbled out his cellphone and snapped a picture. “I gotta share this with the boss, Lew! We’ve never found something like this before! What’s in it? Looks like the secret booze store, back in the day!”

“Those are quarter-casks,” Intoned Mr. Georges, casting a professional eye upon them. “Used to age various brandies, fine whiskeys, and other liquors in bulk. Depending on how long they have been aging, that is – if they have not leaked or evaporated.”

“My friends, there might be a fortune, concealed for how long…” Lew mused. “And did no one, not even our cher Roman, who oversaw all the renovations of this place … ever detect the presence of this secret cellar?”

“I guess not,” Bianca was already dialing on her cellphone, “As far as I know – he did most of the work on the ballroom, the restaurant, and the upper floors. There was no need to do much more than paint the plaster and polish up the paneling in the barroom.”

“Indeed,” Richard agreed. “As far as I recall, the bar was the one space in the Cattleman that was kept in pretty good nick, all the way along. There was no need to do anything more than a lick and a promise and dust the lights as far as the renovations went.”

Lew was nodding in agreement. “Yes, this is a most unexpected bonus … Cherie, my dear Mademoiselle Bianco, would you be so good as to dial …”

“Mademoiselle Stephanie,” Bianca replied smartly. “Already on it, boss … Hello, Steph? You should come to the Cattleman, tout suite … we have just made the most amazing discovery!”

Lew, with a smile of beatific pleasure, turned to Richard and Mr. Georges and remarked,

“Ah … I have the most expert staff, do I not? They do what I want done before I can even voice the orders.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Georges had already stepped gingerly into the closet, carefully avoiding the coil of cable on the floor, and gently pulled out one of the bottles, handling it as carefully as if were a particularly fragile infant. He blew the remaining dust from the bottle, and the faded sepia-tinted label. He adjusted his glasses and read carefully from the label.

“San Pedro Five-Star Gold Brandy … Luna City, USA … vintage 1924. Sacre bleu …” and he went off in a long babble of agitated French to Lew.

“What is it?” Richard whispered to Bianca, who had finished the call on her cellie, and put it away, meanwhile looking into the dusty compartment as if the door to the sacred tomb had just had the rock rolled away from the opening.

Bianca murmured in holy awe, “It’s a cache of Carolina San Pedro’s brandy, Chef. The last bottle of it to come on the open market sold at auction for $25,000. A single bottle! It was distilled from a brew of local grapes, just after Prohibition went into effect. It’s almost a hundred years old. How many bottles are there, Mr. Georges?”

“At least a hundred,” Mr. Georges reverently considered the dark bottle in his hands. “And six quarter-casks, which should hold approximately fifty liters each. That is, assuming that much has not evaporated over time. The profit for the hotel and VPI will be incalculable.”

“An amazing find,” Richard mused, already considering how a very small quantity of such an amazing distillation could be made to serve the cause of haute cuisine, although some experts felt that using a rare liquor in cooking was a blasphemy.

“The matter of ownership will be a question of the most complicated to unravel,” Lew conceded. “For Venue Properties has only leased the hotel from the municipality, which is the owner of record. Ownership of this cache must be adjudicated, since it’s existence predates our agreement to lease, renovate and manage. I have always conducted business with the highest of ethical consideration …” he turned to Bianca, who was already dialing her cellphone.

“Mayor Bodie,” Bianca said into it. “Bianca Gonzalez, at the Cattleman… Good morning – are you sitting down? We have just made the most interesting discovery … and Mr. Dubois thinks that you should come and see it, right away…”

Lew smiled again, and whispered to Richard, “See, mona mi? Before I might even say the words, my staff knows what should be done.”



01. May 2022 · Comments Off on A Bit From the Next Luna City Installment… · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book

(A Liquid Treasure is the title of this segment …)

Richard was in two minds, at accepting a management position from Lew Dubois, to be the executive chef of the Cattleman Hotel. He regretted, but in a minor way, handing over management of Luna Café and Coffee to Araceli, since the Café had been his life and reason for living for five years. But on the other hand, he was experiencing twinges of acute boredom, having turned it into a profitable, popular enterprise, renown for the in-house cinnamon rolls, and the line of gourmet edibles, sauces and condiments which had been developed by his junior staff. In any case, management of the Café was now in the frighteningly capable hands of Araceli – who had been a reliable constant in the front of the house since coming to work at the Café when she was a teenage waitress nearly two decades previously.

“You may wish to make use of a staff suite in the Cattleman,” Lew had waved an airy hand in the direction of the grand staircase, “Until the private enclave at Mills Farm for senior staff and visiting management is complete – you and your intended are entitled to one of the cottages there. It’s part of your compensation package.” This was on Richard’s first official day of employment as an upper-level minion of Venue Properties, International. They were sitting in the manager’s office; one of a pair of adjoining wood-paneled 19th century marvels of fine paneling and plasterwork, wedged into the space adjoining the gloriously ornate main bar, and accessed by a small, discrete door adjacent to the monumental front desk. Richard had been given to understand that the larger of the two would be his, shared with the hotel’s duty concierge, and Mr. Georges, the maître d, who boasted a Gallic mustache to rival Poirot’s, and greeted Richard in the slangy French patois which Richard remembered from his days training in Paris. A short hallway behind the second office connected with the kitchen, which made it handy for chef and maître d.

“Oh, really?” Richard confessed to being somewhat gob smacked. He hadn’t read that far into the sheaf of documents which Lew had conveyed to him for signature, Jess would surely have administered the gob smacking, for signing documents without closely perusing every line. “In that case … Miss Heisel and I will be thrilled at having a residence as part of the deal. For myself, though – I shall continue living at the Age until the marriage. I’ve become very fond of the place, you see. Sefton has agreed to continue renting it to me as a pied-à-terre, a kind of get-away refuge.”

“As you wish, mon cher Richard,” Lew acknowledged by way of dismissal. “You may wish now to conduct your own review of facilities and staff. In the meantime, welcome to the family of Venue Properties … oh, tomorrow there will be some slight disruption. The workmen from the security firm will be installing certain additional devices and connecting cables… They will need to work in this office, and in mine, for about a day, but I am assured that the mess and disruption will be minimal.”

“Thanks for the warning,” Richard replied, and withdrew to his own shared office, where Bianca Gonzalez – one of the numerous Luna City Gonzales-Gonzalez clan – was already on the phone at her side of the antique partner desk which dominated the windowless room. Bianca was a rising star in the Venue Properties firmament, an elegant young woman who had obviously taken Audrey Hepburn as her sartorial role model: she wore a simple black dress, pearl earrings and had her dark hair rolled into a simple chignon.

“Of course,” Bianca was saying into the receiver. “White orchids in the suite, and a reservation for four at eight o’clock that evening. The guide for the kayaking excursion will call for you promptly at seven the next morning … he will have your number, in case of a delay… thank you, Mrs. Sheldon. I’m certain that you and the family will enjoy your excursion… see you next weekend, then … ‘byeeee…Good morning, Chef!” Bianca beamed at him. “Welcome to the Cattleman. Let me know if you have any questions, ‘k, or can’t find anything.”

“Thanks, Miss Gonzalez,” Richard replied. “Mr. Dubois was very thorough in briefing me…”

“Isn’t he the total sweetheart?” Bianca twinkled at him. “He knows everything about everything, and gosh, you’d best stay on your toes, if you work for him!”

“I know,” Richard replied. There was a small closet next to the door to the kitchen – he opened it, to find there were ten or a dozen identical chef’s jacket already hanging in dry-cleaning bags, all with the logo of the Cattleman Hotel embroidered over the breast pocket, and his own name – Chef Richard Astor-Hall below the logo. A stack of flawlessly-starched and fluted toques sat on the shelf above the hanger rod – no, there was no detail too small for Lew Dubois to overlook. He shrugged one on, donned the toque and went to survey his new domain.

An absorbing business, as it turned out to be: he commanded a sous-chef, a dozen junior chefs and apprentices, a pastry and bread baker, and a pantry supervisor, plus several kitchen porter-cum-dishwashers; the front house staff fell under the stern but kindly rule of Mr. Georges. Most of them were young, hired from local schools and training institutions; they had not had time to acquire bad habits, and Richard could barely recall all their names, serially introduced as they went about their duties in a pleasingly professional manner. Fortunately, with Lew Dubois’ customary attention to detail, every one of the kitchen staff wore proper kitchen garb with the Cattleman logo and – most importantly – their name and office embroidered over the left front pocket. Richard had not had such a large staff since his abortive glory days in London, launching Carême, the towering failure of which had sent him first on a blackout drunken bender, then on to Texas. The Cattleman was not going to be a similar disaster. In any case, he was a hireling, not an independent, frantically juggling a dozen flaming balls while tap-dancing on a tightrope. Richard had only to oversee the restaurant and catering functions and do it to the satisfaction of customers and of Lew Dubois. He was part of a team, not the one whose neck was a hundred percent on the line.

He passed the remainder of the morning, reviewing the menus, considering prospective menus, his personal well-thumbed copy of Larousse Gastronomique, the availability at a reasonable price of those commodities which might eventually be turned into amazing and appealing menu selections which would turn a tidy profit for the Cattleman’s restaurant. Such research absorbed his interest for the remainder of the day, only interrupted around mid-day by one of the junior female kitchen minions bringing him a tray with a beautifully composed Salad Niçoise upon it. Barely recalling his manners, he complimented the minion, who fled with the empty tray, blushing beet-red.

“Nomi’s very new,” remarked Bianca, with some amusement. “At least you didn’t make her cry or piss her underpants. She is so very thrilled to be working here, and she worships you. For Captain Kitten in the Kitchen, mostly. That’s why she decided that she wanted to be a chef and work in a real restaurant.”

“A cousin of yours?” Richard replied glumly. Of course – one couldn’t throw a brick in any direction in Luna City without hitting a round dozen of Gonzalezes and Gonzaleses. Bianca giggled and flapped an airy hand in the direction of the kitchen. She had her own plate, with a small salad upon it, arrayed with exacting precision

“Of course. Our family has Luna City in the palm of our hands, Chef.”

The remainder of the day passed in the same absorbing fashion – Richard engrossed in plans, cost estimations, and Larousse. When he lifted his head from the various piles on the desk, he was amazed to discover that it was nearly dark outside; well past sunset. The pleasant clatter of plates and silverware, and the low hum of conversation trickled out from the hotel dining room. Feeling that his day had been sufficiently full and tomorrow he would do serious work in the kitchen, he did the rounds of the dining room, briefly exchanged remarks with Mr. Georges, another of the kitchen, which hummed along like a well-oiled machine, and stuck his head into Lew’s office. That gentleman was just closing up his desk – or more importantly, the computer which sat upon that graceful example of the 19th century office furniture – for the day.

“Tomorrow, mon cher? I thought you had gone already.” Lew remarked.

“Ah well, we in the trade commonly work long hours,” Richard replied. “All part and parcel of the game.”

“Indeed,” and Lew bent a look of near-to-fatherly concern upon Richard. “But one must set limits, cher Ricard, especially as one intending to marry and commit to a family. Work, if one is not careful, will expand to consume all of one’s time and energy, and that is not conducive to a contented marriage or a happy family life. There is no one, ever, who has on their deathbed confessed that they wished they had spent more time at the office … if you would walk with me, Richard, I will impart some of my hard-won knowledge of management … successful management of an enterprise such as this; you must not think that it requires your presence all the hours of the day and the weeks. That way lies madness and despair, if not for yourself, then for your loved ones. No. The way to success is to carefully select your subordinates and train them up in the manner in which you wish things to be done. Once accomplished, allow them the authority do to conduct matters in your absence. And then,” Lew added, in a practical manner, as they walked out of the staff entrance, where Richard’s trusty trail bicycle was chained to a handy railing. Lew, who had the advantage of a staff suite in the hotel, had no convenient transport waiting for him. “One might live what they call a balanced life. It is the secret to success in management, as I have found – train and encourage your subordinates in the way that one might wish – and then when that is done, one might take the time to have a full life… I should write a book, do you think? Management Secrets of the Lazy Manager. It is then a matter of the quality of time spent, not the quantity of time. Good night, cher Richard. Tomorrow, dedicate your time in acquainting your kitchen staff to the standards and principles which you wish them to achieve and maintain. And then,” Lew bestowed a beatific smile upon Richard, “Allow them to go forth, dedicating themselves to achieving your standard, while you pick daisies in the field with your estimable and delectable Miss Heisel.”

“I don’t know if I am up to that, Lew,” Richard confessed glumly, “I just don’t know if I am that kind of good management materiel. I boobed the job pretty catastrophically, the first time out of the gate… you knew about the Carême disaster? I think everyone does by now, what with all the videos, although it was five years ago. A century in internet time.”

“Ah,” Lew replied. “But you had a second chance with the little Café, you see. Which was that which inspired my interest in you, Richard. You had the management of a tiny café – and what with one thing and another, you brought in or encouraged a splendid team. You brought in new customers, recruited a solid team …Made the little Café famous and popular … and profitable.”

“It was more chance and good luck than good management on my part,” Richard confessed, and Lew smiled.

“Ah, but didn’t Napoleon himself ask of a prospective marshal for his Grand Armee – is he lucky? I myself are not Napoleon,” Lew laid a finger along his nose and looked wisely at his latest recruit. “But I have a sense of who is able … and lucky.”