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.


20. March 2022 · Comments Off on Another Snippit from the Next Luna City Story – A Journey into The Past · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Luna City

On the first day of school in the autumn of 1934, Letty McAllister and her older brother Douglas rode their bicycles from their home – the old stone house standing in a garden on the outskirts of Luna City – into Luna City proper. The big red brick consolidated school building sat on the far side of Town Square, which had once been intended to accommodate a courthouse. Luna City had once been intended to have a station on the San Antonio – Aransas Pass Railway, and be the county seat, but that had never come about. Town Square was now a lovely green park, with a bandstand in the middle, and all the tall town buildings – the Cattleman Hotel, the old fire station, Abernathy Hardware, the Luna City Savings and Loan, the McAllister’s Mercantile Building, and the school itself overlooked that space. The steeple of the First Methodist Church hovered over one corner, like a girl too shy to join the crowd.

Letty would be starting the seventh grade – her brother Douglas, who was clever and bookish, was in the nineth grade. The pair of huge sycamore trees which shaded the paved school playground in front of the school were just beginning to shed their crunchy autumn leaves and prickly round seed pods over the areas marked out on the asphalt in painted squares and circles for games. Letty looked ahead, as she and Douglas wheeled their bicycles through side gate into the playground, looking for friends. Douglas had a new pair of long trousers – his first pair of grown men’s trousers for school, and Letty a pretty blouse with puffed sleeves, worn under a plaid jumper with a pleated skirt. They both had new leather shoes; Letty had her hair cut to a neat bob, and Douglas had his hair cut at the barber shop on Town Square – as he was nearly grown up now, and too old for a home-done trim with their mother’s sewing shears. The first day of school was an important day for the two, even if they expected no real changes.

The first real surprise waited for them, just inside the gate; their good friend Stephen Wyler, who was four months younger than Letty, stood there, with his hands insouciantly in his pockets. With him stood another boy, a slightly taller boy that Stephen, who was still wiry and compact, and had yet to get his growth. Letty had gotten her growth and stood half-a-head taller, which she found obscurely embarrassing, looming over the boys her age. This new boy was exactly her height. though. A tall young man in a suit of a vaguely foreign-looking cut lingered just outside the school grounds, looking through the railings and watching the group with intense interest. Letty wondered why – the young man didn’t look old enough to be a father.

“Hi, Stephen,” Douglas nodded towards their friend. “Ready to be lectured by Miss Horrible for not understanding an algebra problem?”

Miss Hornby, an aged and grey-haired spinster with an uncertain temper taught math, algebra and geometry to the upper grades. She was notorious among Luna City school students for her impatience with error and the furious tongue-lashings which the smallest error or carelessness on the part of a student would trigger.

“No, but Miss Horrible is like a blue norther – just bundle up and get through it,” Stephen replied. “Dym – these are my friends, Doug and Letty McAllister. Letty’ll be in the same grade as us. Dym’s the new kid this fall. His family moved to town last week. His Pop’s a scientist … and Dym has even ridden in an airplane! He’s been to everything there is a picture of in our history book of all those foreign places in Europe!”

Dym, with grey eyes and angular features, stared at the ground, appearing to be wholly embarrassed. “Wasn’t my fault,” he replied, when he brought his gaze up from to meet theirs. “Pleased to make your acquaintance. Dym is just short for Dimitri. Papuch an’ Mama took me. I didn’t care – just another moldy old building.”

“Dym lived in foreign places,” Stephen explained, unnecessarily. For Letty and her brother knew right away that the new boy had, for he didn’t talk quite like they did; but careful and precise, without the customary drawl.

“You should tell us about them in class,” Letty offered. “I’d like to hear about foreign places. Maybe I can travel to them myself, someday.”

“Maybe,” Dym offered a shy, yet wholly charming smile. “But Sergei … that’s my big brother,” and he gestured towards the young man who was still watching them from the sidewalk. “He says that I shouldn’t start folk talking about our business, lest the wrong people hear about it.”

“What kind of wrong people?” Douglas was intensely interested, but just then the school bell rang, and it was time to go inside – Douglas to his class, and Letty, Stephen and the new boy to theirs.

Dym shrugged and replied, “Just wrong people. Bad people.” He turned to wave to the young man watching from the other side of the wrought-iron and brick fence which marked the boundaries of school grounds. The young man returned the wave, and then strode away as the group of children mounted the stairs towards the main school doors – a portico held up with four tall white pillars, and the words “Science – Religion – Patriotism” engraved in gold letters across the entablature.


That night at supper, Letty’s father said the blessing over supper dishes, and Mama got up to bring in a basket of fresh hot biscuits straight from the oven. Mama set down the biscuits, wrapped in a clean cloth, and Papa unrolled his dinner napkin and looked at Letty and Douglas.

“And how was your first day at school, then? I understand that Letty’s class has a new student.”

Letty wasn’t startled that Papa knew everything. He was the mayor of Luna City, and knew everyone and everything, so it wasn’t a surprise at all, that Papa knew of the new boy, Dym.

“He’s nice, Papa,” Letty replied. “I like him, lots. He’s been to all kinds of foreign countries. And he said something about not talking too much about it – because of bad people. Why, Papa – is it dangerous to talk about bad people?”

“In a way,” Papa replied, with a most serious expression. “It’s called political persecution – and your friend Dym’s father is a refugee from political persecution. His family thought that they would be safe, here in Luna City. And so they shall be, as long as we all do our part to keep them so. Never talk about him and his family to strangers. Say nothing about them to anyone that we do not know – to outsiders. Professor Marcus and his family are all good people. And we don’t want to see any kind of harm come to good people as they are, do we?”

“No, Papa,” Letty and Douglas chorused, and Papa took a biscuit from the basket of them, split it and spread it with butter.

“Good.” Papa took a bite from the biscuit and helped himself to the casserole which Mama had set in front of him, at the head of the table – a layered casserole of potatoes, onion and rice, interspersed with a little bit of ground beef, over which a quantity of tomato sauce had been poured before being consigned to the oven. “But if you see or hear about any strangers in town, asking about Professor Marcus or his family – you must tell me at once, or go straight to the police station and tell Chief McGill – or any of his police officers. Promise me that you will.”

“Of course, Papa,” Douglas replied, and then Mama scooped out a generous spoonful of the casserole to everyone’s please, and they talked then of other things.

(From the chapter entitled Of Science, Spies and Saboteurs and Thieves. I’m writing this as fast as I can!)

An excerpt from the untitled and never-published memoir of Alasdair Duncan Magill, late of Fife in Scotland, longtime police chief of Luna City, published with permission of the family in the Luna City Historical Association Newsletter. The extensive memoir was found among his private papers by his family, after his death from natural causes at the age of 98 in February 1987. Chapter 53 – The Matter of Political Murder

Of course, we assumed – my chief investigator John Drury and I both – from the very start that the mysterious death of the young man was more than it had seemed. Luna City was a peaceful, quiet place, through the efforts of citizens and law enforcement alike over time. Both John Drury and I had done our best for decades to assure this happy state of existence. In my tenure as a member of the constabulary – as street officer and as chief of the Luna City police department – we had put an end to the antics of local bad-hats such as Charley Mills, his unsavory influence, the Newton Boys robbery gang; all the disruptions which these miscreants and others threatened to bring to our little town. It was a perilous time, those decades of which I write. The Great Depression had bitten hard and long; many were those desperate souls who sought to make a living by thieving, either in petty means and stealth, or by outright robbery. Still, Luna City was an oasis of calm and obedience to the rule of law, all during those years. Of the four recorded murders in Luna City during the 1930s, one was domestic; a woman aggravated beyond tolerance of a drunkard husband beating her without mercy. The second was the result of excessive consumption of alcohol – a dare regarding relative skill at marksmanship after a particularly rowdy fandango at the Gonzalez Rancho. The third was committed by an outraged farmer, upon discovering a transient whom he had hired to help harvest hay attempting to rape the farmer’s eight-year-old daughter. The transient was dispatched by the farmer, wielding only his bare hands (Charges were dismissed in that case, as rightfully they should have been.) Only the last murder, in the year of our lord 1930_was judged to be premediated and deliberate murder.

But I am getting ahead of myself, in outlining the circumstances, which were indeed peculiar and with international implications. My involvement began with an interview in my own office, with Mayor McAllister and Mr. Albert Wyler, the owner of the ranch enterprise which was the largest of that sort in all of Karnes County. That these gentlemen condescended to meet me without fanfare in my own office in the new Police Department building should have indicated to me the importance of the matter, but at the time of setting the appointment, they only told the Sergeant of the Police that it was a matter of small import. That two of the most important men of the town should require a meeting with me, stressing absolute privacy … well, I might have been born at night, but it was not last night. This, I sensed, was a matter of delicacy.

The new department building had incorporated a separate office for the chief of police; just as the old building had. This office was commodious, with two windows; space sufficient for my own desk, a smaller one for a secretary (against the day when the budget allowed for a dedicated secretary-typist, save a single woman clerk who did all the typing and filing for the department, including that of John Drury, who was still my chief investigator.) John’s presence was not immediately called for, on the occasion of this interview, as I thought it merely a courtesy call on the part of the local nobility. More »

08. February 2022 · Comments Off on Of Science, Spies and Saboteurs and Thieves · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Luna City

“Did you know what I saw last night, on my way home?” Richard ventured one morning, as he brought out another plate of signature Café cinnamon rolls to the stammtisch – the large table at the front window, where the regular early-morning clientele gathered, along with any wandering visitors who felt sufficiently assured to take a seat. “I saw one of Roman’s work crews hard at work with a post-hole digger and a couple of bags of concrete, setting a new post in front of this otherwise undistinguished little cottage just around the corner from the Catholic church. They told me it was for another state historical plaque, but they could not tell me why that little cottage was so dignified. It’s owned by the Wyler family, so they said – been a rental for as long as anyone can remember. Can you enlighten me, Miss Letty?”

The regulars this morning included the venerable Miss Letty McAllister, the oldest resident of Luna City, Annice and Georg Stein, who ran the antiquities establishment next door, Mrs. Anne Dubois, whose’ husband was one of the notable C-suite powers at the international corporation who now ran the newly-renovated and updated Cattleman Hotel, and her author friend, a dreamy woman with an absent-minded expression which suggested that she barely noticed the plate of cinnamon rolls placed in the center of the table, as she thumbed through entries on her cellphone.

“I can indeed,” Miss Letty replied warmly, and with a certain expression of triumph. “That house was where Professor Pavel Markov lived for almost a decade while he was developing a number of his theories and working on their application with working prototypes. Certain of his inventions were subsequently turned into working weapons during the War…”

By the way in which that Miss Letty managed to install a verbal capital letter to that mention, Richard knew that she meant the big war of her generation, after which all those other international conflicts were small and paltry armed conflicts. The Second World War – although she might also have referred thusly to the first of that ilk.

Georg Stein looked astonished; he breathed reverently. “You mean Herr-Professor Pavel Markov, the inventor they called the Thomas Edison of Russia? That Pavel Markov? I did not know this, Miss Letty!”

Miss Letty coughed gently. “Well, we in Luna City didn’t know who he was for the longest time. He was in hiding, with his wife and family … at least, it was given out at the time that they all were family.  He was a political refugee at the time, you see – he was an adherent of the moderate faction in Russia; an ally of Kerensky. I believe he was even elected to the Duma, in pre-revolutionary days. When everyone thought that the overthrow of the Czar might mean a translation for Russia into being a proper parliamentary democracy, as we understand the concept in the West. Professor Markov was a new modern representative of Russia, educated and feeling an obligation to interest himself in political affairs. Everybody wished for his endorsement.”

“Well, that must have turned out really, really well,” Richard observed, somewhat acidly, and Miss Letty nodded.

“Yes, after that brief essay in civic responsibility, Professor Markov decided that discretion in the political regard was much the better part of valor. Especially when Josef Stalin declared him to be an enemy of the people and sent a Cheka death squad after him. This would have been … in the late 1920s, I think. The Markovs were in exile in France at the time. They didn’t talk much about that – or at least, Dym didn’t talk about it much. Dym – that was the youngest son. Dimitri. He was my age … and we made friends with him. My brother and I, Stephen, and the Vaughn boys. We let him join our club, as it was. The Markovs approved of Stephen as a playmate. We had free-range on the ranch property; you see. A relief for Dym. The rest of us were part of the package, as it were. Dym was suffocating from over-protective parents – his oldest brother Sergei walked him to and from school almost every day at first – so he didn’t get out much to wander with us. But he was in the same grade at school as Stephen and I, and Artie Vaughn. He was a very clever boy,” Miss Letty sighed in reminiscence. “He spoke three languages – can you imagine how impressed we were, in our little town, where none of us had traveled very far outside of Texas, ever? Stephen could rub along in Spanish well enough because of all the Hispanic ranch employees, but Dym spoke French and Russian as well as English! And nearly everything there was a picture of in our history textbook – Dym had visited with his parents. Castles and cathedrals and monuments, oh my!”

“He didn’t get his arse kicked every day, out behind the lavatory block, and twice on Sunday, just for being an insufferably superior git?” Richard inquired, skeptically, recalling his own schooldays.

“No,” Miss Letty replied, mildly. “For one – Sergei would have prevented that… and if he wasn’t on the spot immediately, Sergei had taught Dym some very interesting and effective methods for discouraging such attempts. Oriental tactics in hand-to-hand defense. I believe that they call it ‘judo’ or martial arts these days. The Vaughn brothers were most impressed. Harry was always a dirty fighter, even back then. He was taller and heavier than Artie, although nearly four years younger.”

“Harry Vaughn is still a dirty fighter,” Richard admitted glumly. How he was bullied by the elderly Harry Vaughn into going out in a cockleshell tin boat with a wonky engine on a flooded river, to rescue a family in distress was still a humiliating memory. The OAP Harry remained an overwhelmingly formidable force; what he must have been as a grade-school tyke didn’t bear thinking about.

Miss Letty vouchsafed a tiny smile, as she consulted the equally-tiny gold old-fashioned ladies’ wristwatch. “Oh, my – I am late. I know it is an interesting story, but at the time, I didn’t know the half of it. I was only a child, you know. Chief McGill wrote up a thorough account of the murder in his memoirs, though. I have to run… The historical association have a complete transcription in the newsletter. Tomorrow, Richard?”

She rose haltingly from the stammtisch, gathering up her handbag, gloves, and cane from the table, and the silver bell over the door chimed as she departed. Outside the big window of the Café, the big pickup truck with the emblem of the Wyler Ranch embossed on the doors waited for her’

Richard sighed, glumly.

“She teases us with an amazing story … a murder, another murder here in Luna City! Then she loves and leaves us all, wanting more. Just like a woman!”

“I have the email newsletter of the Luna City Historical Society on my computer in the store,” Georg Stein gulped the last of the peerless Café coffee in his cup. “I had not read it, yet – but I will review. And print out a copy for you, Richard. This is a sehr-interessant story! How a man of the intellect such as Herr-Professor Markov came to be here… Here in Luna City. And associated with a murder! We are teased. Richard – teased, indeed!”