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!”

“I think the branch on that big oak at the corner of the square looks dead,” Roman the builder remarked one bright spring morning, as brilliant sunshine flooded into the Café. The oaks in the square – the oaks which gave an air of nobility and something of the atmosphere of a green forest glade to Town Square – were covered in the green of new foliage and dusty springs of blossoms, which shed a kind of bright yellow dust the length and breadth of the heart of Luna City. All but a single barren branch; a branch the thickness of a man’s body, and which stretched out some twenty feet above the paved promenade opposite the front window of the Café. Roman continued. “I better tell the Mayor, get the work crew out to take out that branch, before it falls and kills somebody.”

“Do, please,” Miss Letty agreed. “I have noted several woodpeckers in that tree, and they prefer dead wood, of course. If the oak wood can be salvaged, and sawn into planks …” she added, thoughtfully. “It’s a historic tree, you know. They called it the ‘Hanging Tree,’ back in the day.”

“Was it, indeed, Miss Letty?” Richard was fascinated. He hovered around the stammtisch now that the morning rush was winding down, attending on his most valued regular customers. “I never knew that …”

“Well, the historical marker is around on the other side of the tree,” Miss Letty added sugar to her second coffee, sounding especially acerbic. “You cannot see it from here, I suppose. But that is the tree from which Old Charley Mills was nearly lynched in 1926.”

“I knew that,” Clovis Walcott gestured for the hovering Araceli to add a refill to his own coffee cup. “Local history, of course. But I’ve never really heard the full tale. I suppose that you know of it, Miss Letty – as president emeritus of the Luna City Historical Society.”

“Better than that,” Miss Letty took a dainty bite from her just-from-the-oven cinnamon roll. “I was there and witnessed what happened, although much of the aftermath was kept from me. I was only a child of six or so,” she added hastily. “Shopping with my dear mother on that morning. You know – the Wild West Emporium next door used to be a dry goods store. Mother wanted to purchase a length of calico for a new apron, and a spool of thread. And a quantity of fine linen for a dress for me. For my seventh birthday, you know. She had a nice pattern from the Simplicity Company. Mother had ordered it from Sears. We were going to pick out some nice fabric there, and then go shopping for the weekly groceries at Dunsmores’ Grocery. That grocery is the real estate office now is, next to Abernathy Hardware. In my young days, it was the general store. Luna City had one, you know. Then we didn’t need to travel all the way to Karnesville to buy groceries. Mr. Dunsmore was a fine-looking man, who always gave me a piece of peppermint candy. I liked him. His wife was much younger than he was. She came from the East – she was the first woman in Luna City to have her hair bobbed, and wear skirts above her knee. Mother thought she was fast – and wore too much lipstick and powder for a properly married woman,” Miss Letty added, in mildly-arctic disapproval. “Mrs. Dunsmore was even said to have rouged her knees.”

“The scandal of it all,” Richard commented, privately thinking that the senior Mrs. McAllister sounded like a perfectly dismal, po-faced old trout.

“It was a small town,” Miss Letty didn’t disdain the obvious. “Mother was raised with the understanding that it was unsuitable for a lady to improve upon nature with anything more drastic than papier poudre. She thought Mrs. Dunsmore’s free and easy ways made it most difficult for the Dunsmore’s daughter, Caroline. Caroline was, I think – eleven, that year. She helped her parents in the store, after school. We were not close enough in age to be friends, and by the time I was older, Caroline Dunsmore had been sent back east to her mothers’ kinfolk – because of the scandal. The Governor, Mrs. Ferguson, issued him a pardon after he was put in prison for running an illicit saloon … but the scandal when it all came out! Memories are long in small towns…” Miss Letty added apologetically. “Especially when it comes to … affairs of the romantic sort.”

Clovis Walcott snorted. “Not long enough, Miss Letty – I’ve never heard of this, and I’ve read Dr. McAllister’s history so often the pages in my copy are ragged.”

“My brother did hit the relevant points,” Mis Letty agreed. “That Charley Mills was nearly hanged by a mob, from the Hanging Tree in Town Square, after being accused of molesting Caroline Dunsmore in her bedroom at two in the morning. He was such a disgraceful character that practically anything might be believed of him. But it was a complicated matter, and some of it didn’t come out until after my brother had written his history. And Douglas was more nearly Caroline’s age, you see. They were friends, of a sort, and my brother was always sentimental about his friends. And it may have been the one time in history,” Miss Letty added thoughtfully, “That Charley Mills was actually quite … well, not innocent, exactly. But blameless. Blameless in the matter of which he was accused on that particular occasion. It was all made clear when Phillip Vaughn found his father-in-law’s unpublished memoir and donated it to the Historical Society. That would have been in 1990, or so – some years after the centenary. Alistair Bratten was the chief of police in Luna City for many years. He had …” Miss Letty reflected, while Roman, Richard and Clovis attended breathlessly, “The most imposing mustache. It really was a monument, that mustache; Chief Bratten being a notable monument in himself. He was a Scot, originally – from Fife, I believe. On Founders’ Day, he wore a kilt and played the bagpipes as part of the observations. My father respected him enormously. For Douglas and I, there could have been no higher testament to his worth. His only daughter married Frank Vaughn, who had a small property near Beeville, which was foreclosed in the first year of the Great Depression – that is how the Vaughn family came to Luna City and inherited a kind of traditional role in law enforcement …”

“But the hanging mob, Miss Letty,” Clovis Walcott urged, while Richard meditated on the odd turn of events which led a Scot from Fife to become –apparently – the long-serving and much respected senior law enforcement officer in Luna City.        

03. February 2019 · Comments Off on What Do They Drive? · Categories: Luna City

One of those things that I have practically had to make a chart for, when writing about Luna City – is keeping track of the vehicles which the various characters drive; they are mentioned now and again, and over seven (and this year to be eight books) I have to try and be consistent. Car ownership – make, model, style, color and condition – say something about the personality of the driver/owner. Herewith the run-down; as near to complete a listing of those motor vehicles (not necessarily automobiles or trucks) which I have noted in passing:
Berto Gonzalez: he routinely drives an assortment of luxury town cars and limousines as part of being employed by his Uncle Tony, who owns a car-hire service catering to the up-scale market. Berto also routinely drives a rather down-at-heels pickup truck owned by his father; a vehicle with a cracked vinyl seat patched with duct tape. He does not yet own his own personal vehicle, as he has no real need to do so.
Jess Abernathy-Vaughn: a bare-bones yellow Jeep Wrangler.
Joe Vaughn: ordinarily behind the wheel of the Luna City PD’s one cruiser, or one of the department’s sport-utility vehicles. His personal vehicle is a pickup truck, model unspecified, but of solid quality and well-maintained. Joe is fastidious, that way.
Doc Wyler: a very recent model Ford F-150 King Ranch model pickup, with the cattle-brand designed logo of the Wyler Ranch on the doors, and all the add-on bells and whistles. Doc is a man accustomed to the best and has the means to acquire and maintain such.
Sefton and Judy Grant: The Grants operate – and barely manage to keep it street-legal in the eyes of the motor vehicle licensing authorities – a vehicle pieced together from an old Volkswagon bus, with a pickup-truck bed welded to the back half of the chassis, behind the driver and passenger seats. The sides of the truck bed and the doors to the driver/passenger compartment are spray-painted with flowers, peace signs and vintage hippie mottoes, in between the rust.
Miss Letty McAllister: she does not drive.
Richard Astor-Hall: he does not drive, either.
Chris Mayall: a recent model Mitsubishi hatch-back; bright red in color. Chris, like Joe, is fastidious about vehicle maintenance, and is still annoyed at the bill for bodywork incurred when he collided with a deer – even though the Gonzalez Motor and Auto Body shop gave him the friends-and-family rate. Chris blames the deer for reckless grazing.
(to be continued)