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.”



29. March 2022 · Comments Off on Another Snippit from Luna City 11 · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Luna City

(In which we go back in time to the 1930s, when Letty McAllister and Stephen Wyler were young teenagers, and together with their friends were peripherally involved in international intrigue and a political murder…)

If anyone – such as Dym’s mother – worried that the boy would be the odd one out among his new schoolfellows, such fears were allayed within the first week of school. Of course, the sponsorship of Stephen Wyler, son of the wealthiest landowner in the county, and the ready friendship of Douglas and Letty McAllister, might have had a lot to do with it. But left to himself, Dym Marcus was adept at ingratiation – intelligent, charming and with wide-ranging enthusiasms. Madame Katya Marcus should have nothing to worry about – and the walnut-shaped and sweet-cream-filled cookies, and the many-layered jam-filled pastries that she made for the children would have ensured a welcome among his peers for a child less socially-skilled. Within the space of that week, he was accepted as one of the unofficial club, even though their established meeting place and club-house, the teepee constructed out of river wrack had been demolished a year or two ago in a spring flood, all the bits and pieces that had made it their little refuge washed away. If they couldn’t go to that place anymore, there was always the wide acreage of the Wyler ranch … and then there was Dym’s house, with Madame Marcus, Pilar Gonzales, the Mexican housekeeper, the hovering older brothers, and Professor Marcus.

“Mr. Hyde told us all about ancient sieges,” Douglas remarked one day, as the four of them walked from school to the Markus house, tagged along by Artie Vaughn and shadowed by Dym’s older brother. “Back in the old days, they built enormous machines to batter down walls. The ancient Romans had all kinds of keen stuff to break into enemy strongholds and throw stuff at their enemies. I never heard about all this … have you ever seen any of them, Dym?”

“No,” Dym admitted, sounding regretful, but his face brightened. “But I’ve seen pictures in books, and Papuch says he built scale models of them, when he was a boy. A battering ram, and a ballista … I’ll bet he and Mikhail would help us build ones that would really work.”

“That would be a keen school project for Mr. Hyde’s history class!” Douglas sounded terribly excited. “And we could bring them to school and demonstrate how they really work … do you really think your Pop would help us build them?”

“Oh, for sure,” Dym replied, and Stephen enthused,

“There’s an old shed at the ranch with the roof all busted in. Pop’s been talking about knocking the rest of it down since forever! We could try out the battering ram on a real wall, if we can make it big enough!”

Letty sighed, to herself. Boys – all about building things and bashing things down. But still – she was intrigued at the thought of building something historic and mechanical. She and Douglas often built model airplanes together: Letty was exceptionally skilled at painting the tiny details. Sometimes Letty wondered about herself – why she wasn’t really interested in doing girl-things, like embroidery, fussing with her hair and clothing, giggling about the attentions of boys, and trying inexpertly to get the attention of a certain boy. Letty already had the attention and respect of the boys that she knew; she liked doing the things that they did, and was interested in a lot of the same things they were interested in. She didn’t want to be a boy – she just wanted to go places and do things, adventurous things, just like her brother and Stephen and Dym did. Mama often sighed and said that Letty would be a confirmed bluestocking, whatever that was. But Papa chuckled at that, saying that Letty knew her own mind very well, and that he always liked women who knew their own mind and spoke in their own words. Which made Letty feel so much better. And actually, she really did want to see how a life-sized model battering ram, or a ballista would really work.

It turned out that Dym’s father was just as interested himself, although Madam Marcus tut-tutted under her breath. Professor Marcus was lean and gnomish, almost the age of Letty’s grandfather as she remembered him, but with a turn of enthusiasm for projects of a nature such as the one to build an almost-full-scale battering ram and ballista which seemed to transform him into a boy hardly older than Stephen, Dym, Artie, and Douglas. Upon hearing about this latest enthusiasm over lemonade and those sweet walnut-shaped cookies, the professor announced,

“Then we shall build it, my lads! To my workroom! I have some books – Katya, bring me the book from the study – folio-sized, red cover, second from the left on the bottom shelf under the window … yes, yes – it’s about siege warfare in the medieval era…”

The Professor hustled off to in the direction of his workshop, leaving Letty hesitating, as Madam Marcus rang a small silver bell, resting on the table in the cluttered dining room. In a moment, Pilar appeared from the direction of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dishcloth.

“Pilar, you may clear away the tea things,” Madam Marcus sighed. “I will bring the book to him – his library is organized on methods that are only apparent to his closest. My husband has been overtaken with yet another enthusiasm.”

“Yes, Madam Marcus,” Pilar replied, although Letty sensed that the younger woman’s countenance was carefully blank, even as Madam Marcus went off to search for the particular red-covered folio.

“Let me help,” Letty suggested – the McAllisters didn’t have servants of any sort, although there was a woman who came to help with spring cleaning, sometimes. She and Mama always worked side by side. Madam Marcus looked faintly shocked, but Pilar nodded an assent, as she tucked the towel into the waistband of her apron, and took up the tray upon which the teapot, milk pitcher and sugar bowl sat, with the empty plate adorned with crumbs which had contained cookies and little squares of frosted cake. Pilar added the empty cups to the tray, and Letty stacked the abandoned plates and added the dirty silverware to the top plate and followed Pilar into the kitchen.

Letty was intrigued by the Marcus’ housekeeper. She didn’t look like a housekeeper or a maid at all. Instead, Letty thought she seemed more like who Letty imagined to be the something-heroine in the opera Carmen. Pilar was young, slim, with her dark hair pulled back into a bun high on the back of her head. Pilar had hazel eyes and a fair complexion; she didn’t look in the least like the Gonzales and Gonzalez kin in Luna City. Perhaps she was a distant cousin since Pilar looked … exotic. Letty could imagine her, with a bright red flower tucked behind her ear, singing in a vibrant contralto about her many lovers; soldiers, smugglers and bullfighters alike. Letty’s parents loved listening to radio broadcasts from New York on Saturday afternoons, from the Metropolitan Opera company. Stephen’s parents had even gone to the opera house there and told them all how splendid it was to see in person! The spectacle and the music! Letty’s parents could never in their lives afford – or even want to travel all the way to New York for anything, let alone to see the opera. But they loved listening to the radio; a touch of the wider world, Papa often said – and what a blessing it was! When he was a boy, he often told Douglas and Letty – all they had was the magazines and newspapers which might be anywhere from a week to a month late! What a miracle, the modern age and technology!

As Letty set the stacked crumby plates down in the kitchen sink, she turned to Pilar, and inquired in all seriousness, “Are you really kin to Don Jaimie, of the Rancho? Everyone here in Luna City called Gonzales with an s or a z hereabouts is kin to them. They have been here since forever, my Papa says.”

“Your papa is correct in that,” Pilar answered, as she took the various elements of the tea service and plopped them down in the metal sink, careless of whether she chipped the fine China or not. “I am indeed a very distant cousin to your Don Jaimie – my father is Don Pedro Rodriguez of Morelia. He was the Alcalde there, for a brief time. It was all very complicated…”

“I know complicated,” Letty replied, and then she heard someone calling her name from the little yard in back of the house. “I have to go, Pilar. The boys want to show off to me … or have me help work something complicated, I think.”

“A familiar feeling, hija!” Pilar responded with a smile, as Letty went off towards the workshop shed, across the little garden in back of the house, where Professor Marcus and the boys were pulling odd bits of lumber from behind the sturdy shed which seemed to serve as his workroom/laboratory, while her brother and Stephen were intensely studying a picture in an enormous red-covered book.