Richard was halfway through his final pre-supper circuit through the Cattleman’s restaurant kitchen when his cellphone buzzed with the urgent message from the VFD; all available volunteers report to the firehouse immediately. He had been a volunteer for the past several years – and this was one of his standby days. He wasn’t yet a full-fledged fire-fighting volunteer, due to his erratic attendance at training sessions, but he had scored well enough on the required first aid exams and victim rescue tests to qualify to ride out with Chris in the VFD ambulance. He rushed into the office, to pull his coat out of the closet, and collided with Lew Dubois as he rushed out again.

“You, too?” he gasped, and Lew nodded.

“We’ll take my car, cher. Mr. Charboneau, from housekeeping has been called as well.”

The two men hustled out of the service door, where the old stables used to be, joined in the parking area by a large and normally silent Fred Charboneau, the resident handyman, who had married into the sprawling Gonzalez/Gonzales clan. The rain was pelting down in a manner which reminded Richard keenly of summer in Bickley. Both Lew and Fred hefted duffle bags of turnout gear into the trunk of Lew’s late model Lexus and peeled out of the narrow employee lot on two wheels. It was barely three blocks to the VFD station, already being converged upon by an assortment of civilian vehicles.

“It’s hard to believe that something is on fire in this weather,” Fred Charboneau observed. Richard and Lew laughed, hollowly.

“It is said to be most difficult to make something fool-proof, as fools are most ingenious,” Lew replied. Richard, remembering the flood on the river of some years previous, ventured an explanation.

“Probably an emergency rescue on the river, or a low crossing … some kid messing around on the riverbank and getting swept away.”

“Could be, cher,” Lew found a place to park as close to the station as he could, and they all dashed through the driving rain – which now seemed determined to achieve in four hours what it had taken Noah’s flood forty days and nights.


There wasn’t anything but somber faces in the briefing area, once Milo Grigoriev finished outlining the situation, and setting the search parameters. Every single one of the volunteers in the room knew Joe Vaughn, some of them had even played on the Moths Varsity football team, back in the days when he was the high school football hero. There wasn’t a single one who would mind getting soaked to the skin, or worse, scouting along the two most likely back-country roads – just to make certain that he would be found and returned, safe and sound.

“The weather folks predict that the worst of this storm will pass over the search area in half an hour to forty-five minutes,” Milo Grigoriev concluded, “There’s a hazard in sending out a search while it’s still pissing down to beat the band … but they call it the Golden Hour for a damned good reason – if we find someone injured – badly injured –  and get them to medical care within that hour, then there’s a much better chance for survival and recovery. We have to risk it, people. It’s a matter of life and death. You know the plan, then. Go, people. Find Chief Vaughn – and stay safe out there.”

That being said, all but Richard, Chris Mayall, Lew and Steve Gonzales, a full-time FD employee scattered for their personal vehicles. Since the expansion of Venue Properties, International to include a lease on the Cattleman Hotel and a constant stream of day-trippers and holidaymakers, the VFD had found themselves in the way of a second ambulance, the vehicle and contents of necessary gear generously funded by the corporate Good Fairy. There were just the four remaining at the VFD to take any calls for EMS and an ambulance from Tina Gonzalez at the police station dispatch desk.  Chris tapped Richard on the shoulder.

“You’re with me, if they call for Number One Magic Bus. Lew, if you don’t mind – you’re with Steve on Number Two. You OK with that, Ricardo – Lew?”

“Fine with me,” Richard replied. This gave him time to change into his VFD gear, now that he had achieved the dignity of a locker of his own at the Fire Station, in which to keep the issue trousers, boots, and official shirt with his name embroidered over the pocket, against the day when the whole crew of volunteers was called out. Then he rejoined his First Aid fellows in the all-purpose room, where the on-duty firefighters whiled away the idle hour in luxuriously overstuffed Barca-loungers, waiting for various disasters to call them to action. A tall coffee urn perked away on a table in the corner, attended by a stack of heavy china mugs, and a dispenser full of sugar packets and little round containers of shelf-stable creamer.

Chris and Steve were watching an old film noir mystery movie from the 1950s, without much interest. A somewhat intrigued Lew was identifying the scene of the outdoor locations, since he had attended college in Los Angeles and had once intended a career in Hollywood set design, before diverted by chance into hospitality management.

“Lake Arrowhead was very popular for shooting scenes of mountain lakes and pine trees,” He was saying as Richard took possession of an empty lounge chair. “Alas, it looks nothing like the Alps of Switzerland at all … but in those days, very few people might know the difference, just by looking at a movie screen. But …”

At that moment, the duty room telephone rang, and Chris picked up with a crisp report;

“Luna City FD, Mayall speaking.”

“Ambulance call, 24 Pin Oak, elderly woman in distress,” reported Tina Gonzalez, from next door in the police station – the extension was on the speakerphone mode. Chris gave a deep sigh.

“Thanks, Tina. Sending Unit 2,” Chris hung up the receiver, and addressed the room at large. “Mrs. Mafilda Potrero – probably having a panic attack again. She always does, when it rains heavy like this. Never got over getting caught in a flooding low-water crossing, ten-fifteen years ago. Steve, you and Lew take it. Ricardo and I’ll wait to hear from the search party.”

“On it, Doc,” Steve shouldered into his rain slicker and hood. He and Lew vanished into the garage part of the station, and the brief wail of the ambulances’ siren could be heard until it faded into the sound of rain drumming on the metal roof. Chris sighed again. “You want some coffee, Ricardo? We may be here for a while.”

“Not unless it’s from the Café,” Richard replied. “I don’t trust anything calling itself coffee, unless it came from my kitchen or one that I supervise. Sounds as if you’ve gone to the dance with the Potrero woman before.”

“Frequent flyer, man,” Chris sauntered over to the coffee and helped himself. “Nice old broad, but still has PTSD from the fright of near drowning … in a foot of water over the old road a couple years back. I can relate. A good few puffs of oxygen, some sternly-worded reassurance, and she apologizes for having been such trouble, and brings out some butter cookies that her sister made, and brags about her grandchildren. All hunky-dory. But one of these days, she will have a heart attack or something for real … aannndd that’s why we send the Magic Bus over to 24 Pin Oak. Just in case. You might as well kick back and relax, Ricardo … by my reckoning, we won’t be called for …” Chris consulted his watch. “At least twenty-five minutes. Sooner, maybe, but only if Joe was exceeding the speed limit, and you know what a freak he was about that kind of thing.”

“How do you figure?” Richard was honestly intrigued. He really hoped that Chris was right. And that the rainstorm had blown through by the time #2 Ambulance returned to the barn. And really – if this call-out took too long, could Chris or Lew drop him off at the Age, and spare him the long trek on his bicycle?

“Joe told Jess that he was about half an hour out,” Chris explained patiently. “So, even in the rain, it will take almost that long for our search crews to reach the approximate area and begin to search. Longer, if they have to be careful in heavy rain. So, relax, Ricardo. Have a cup of awful coffee. Sit back and watch a dumb old movie. Betcha anything that Steve and Lew will be back before we get the call. We might even see the end of the movie.”

18. November 2023 · Comments Off on The Next Book! · Categories: Book Event, Luna City, Random Book and Media Musings

All righty, then – release of That Fateful Lightning is set for 1 December, for Kindle, and shortly thereafter for print! All done, and dusted … and now I can catch my breath with the holidays before picking up work on the next book …

Which most likely will be the next Luna City installation … and maybe begin research for the next historical, which will go into how the Vinings of Boston got involved with the American Revolution, and how Heinrich Becker came to desert the Hessian regiment that brought him to the Americas…

Decisions, decisions….

19. September 2023 · Comments Off on Characters and Their World · Categories: Domestic, Luna City, Random Book and Media Musings

My daughter and I began watching this Britbox series last week: Living the Dream, about an English family locating to Florida to run an RV park, full of eccentric characters. The show only had a short run of two abbreviated seasons and doesn’t seem to have racked up much awareness but we have enjoyed it immensely, because of the ‘fish out of water’ aspect, and because all the characters, even just the secondary characters appear to have lives of their own, and are quirky and endearing.  I don’t know if it’s because the writing for the series is intelligent, funny, and mostly avoided making vicious caricatures of Americans, the South, and Floridians generally, although given every opportunity to do so.  There really aren’t any big name stars among the cast, either, although most seem to have had long and relatively unspectacular careers playing character roles in various TV series in the US and Britain; solid professionals, every one, who appeared to to have enjoyed themselves enormously filming on location in Florida.

This brought on some thoughts about how certain TV series and movies manage to give us the impression that even minor characters have fully-rounded lives – that they are just not walking on for the sake of supplying lines or plot points to the main characters. Some small quirk or quality hints at that aspect. I don’t know if it can be attributed to the screenwriting, or perhaps the skill of the actor in coming up with little bits of business that establish that individuality even in a small part, but it is there in some movies and shows, and absent in others. The first time I was made aware of this was in one of the extra features to a recent DVD of Breakfast at Tiffany’s; an examination of the crowded party scene in Holly Golightly’s apartment. One of the extras involved explained how long it took to film that scene and dropped the information that all the bit players involved had worked out all kinds of mini-dramas, played out as the camera glided past. Not just the party scene, but this also held out for the staff of the on-screen Tiffany’s; one had the sense that each person there had a life with a lot going on in it … but there was just this quick interaction with the customers, posing a slight interruption of that life.

In a way, this kind of creative character-building is right up my alley, what with the cast of characters in the Luna City series. With forty or more minor characters, who rotate in an out of focus, there is so much scope for making them individual by telling a story focused on an aspect of their life, present and past. It’s a heck of a lot easer with an omnibus epic like Luna City – giving small characters their own lives.

08. November 2022 · Comments Off on Cats, Luna City 11, and Things · Categories: Domestic, Luna City

Now that I am done with the extended job for hire, I can turn my attention and energy back to the usual routine – like my own books, ‘n stuff, which projects have been in abeyance for months. On the good side, I polished off the last of Luna City #11 – which will rejoice in the title of “Luna City 11th Inning Stretch’ – the ebook version will be available for pre-order later this month, the print version shortly afterward. There will be a Luna City #12, which eventually will be collected into a single compendium volume with books 10 and eleven. I’ll probably pull the plug on the individual print books in a year or so, and just have them in print as part of the compendiums.

It feels good to have the extended job for hire done – it paid some substantial bills and allowed me to look at the close of this year and the starting off the next with a clean slate. In the meantime and if my daughter has real estate business to attend to, I walk the dogs in the early morning, and then walk with Wee Jamie the Wonder Grandson in his stroller. Up to the top of the neighborhood, across to the other side, saying good morning to the other regular walkers, joggers, dog-walkers, dogs and cats as we meet them. Most of the neighbors know us, and we know them; practically everyone who came to Wee Jamie’s baby shower was a neighbor, and all unite in admiring his charm, his happy and outgoing nature, and his rate of growth.

There are several cats of particular note in the neighborhood; there is a lovely and friendly Siamese about a block up from our house, whom we do not see very often, but she is more approachable than the usual run of Siamese. On one of the major cross streets lives a brindle cat with a white nose and white feet, whom we nicknamed “Socksie” as it looked as if he had ankle socks on his front feet and knee-socks on his hinder legs. Socksie is the king of his block, and always comes running to meet us, if he wasn’t off doing cat-things. His family recently adopted a bitty buddy for him – another brindle kitten with white feet – and we promptly named Socksie’s little brother “Underpantsie”. They are both very happy to see us, in any event. Then there is a black and white cat who hangs out in front of his people’s house on another street, but Chopper is only occasionally friendly, depending on his mood of the moment. Chopper lives down the street from where Tommy, the big orange and white cat used to live. Tommy was king of that particular block, and lived to the very great age of 22; outstanding for an indoor-outdoor cat. When he passed on to the Great Litterbox In the Sky, all the neighbors posted pictures of and elegies to him on Nextdoor – Tommy was that famous.

The last cats on our walking route are actually a mob of pets and semi-ferals, who live around a cluster of houses on the far side of the neighborhood. They really aren’t too popular with the near neighbors, because many are outdoors cats and don’t seem to have serious owners. We got Miso from that mob, and her sister, Snowy for another neighbor – two white kittens who likely wouldn’t have lasted very long as outdoors cats, what with owls, hawks, coyotes, stray dogs and speeding cars. But we stop and dribble out a little kibble for them – all the ones who come running when they see Wee Jamie’s stroller, some of whom will ask for a friendly skritch, as well.

It’s one of those things, a series which I have had a lot of enjoyment out of writing – the Luna City series, for which my daughter and I had the brainstorm for creating a few years ago. A cast of scores of characters in every walk of life, a nice romp through the vagaries of eccentric personalities and comedy of small-town south Texas, the present day and a lot of real-life overlap… and before readers get all in a twist – no, the series is not coming to an end. No, not really. It’s been written in real time, starting in 2006, sometimes going slightly ahead of real time – and now coming up to a couple of real-time deadlines. Several real-time and no-kidding deadlines, in that two of the people who were our real-life inspiration for characters in Luna City have passed away for good and all. That’s not important, really – but there is one dramatic thread above all which dictates a conclusion of sorts; that Richard will marry Katie Heisel, in spite of all the dramatic quirks and turns of plots that we can throw in front of them. He is, over theatrical and usually screaming protest, finally acknowledging his development and his responsibilities as a mature human adult of our species. That kind of development is a certain death to a series which played on romantic tension in part or whole – witness how Moonlighting ran out of gas as did Northern Exposure, that series which inspired Luna City to start with. A large part of Luna City’s plot is that Richard began as an immature, spoiled and unthinking, juvenile a-hole … and that over the course of the series he has belatedly and with emphatic nudges from the denizens of Luna City, working past all that. He has been given a second chance to become a responsible, adult human being … he does meet the challenge. He has acquired, sequentially, a potted plant, a pet … and eventually a love of his life. He will be set on the pathway to being an adult… and that character arc will come to an end. A nice and complete story.

Other characters have also been working through a milder story arc: Jess and Joe working past their old lost loves, and becoming a family, Araceli coming into her own as the boss manager that was already within her … a collection of minor arcs reaching a satisfactory conclusion. Life does go on, you know. People grow, develop, have adventures of a sort, and for most of us – we settle down and have a contented life.

We are also coming up to the real-life circumstance of the beginning of the Covid epidemic … and really, I don’t want to deal with that, fiction-wise. It’s just too depressing, in a series which is primarily expected to be gentle and comic escapism. Luna City is an refuge from horrid reality, for me as well as readers and fans Writing about the impact of Covid would have put a screaming halt to everything in a small-town public life; the future of the Café as a small business, as well as business at the Cattlemen Hotel and at Mills Farm; the schools closed – no community frolics and festivals, no Homecoming game or Friday night football, no 4th of July or Founder’s Day celebrations. It would have spoiled the fun of readers and myself, in writing about it all in accordance with what actually transpired in 2020 through early 2022. So there will be a nice round finish to the grand arc at 12 volumes, concluding in early 2020 … or sometime in the next six months or so.

But this does not mean the end of Luna City – oh, no – most definitely not. There is a cast of scores, all with their own stories and concerns, and I intend to write them all, within the confines of that charming little town in Karnes County. One of the temptations for me is a series of historic escapades and mysteries involving the chief of police in the 1920s and 1930s – Alister McGill, and his sidekick, the elderly retired Texas Ranger, John Drury, assisted by the gang of teen and tween children; Douglas and Letty McAllister, and their friends, Stephen Wyler and Artie Vaughn – a kind of American version of Emil and the Detectives. There are dozens of potential stories, in the lives of all the varied cast of characters – the many cousins of the Gonzales and Gonzalez characters.

So that is where that goes. Comment as you wish.