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)

WWI Veteran Laid to Rest

Luna City First Methodist Church

From the Karnesville Weekly Beacon – By Katherine Heisel, Staff Writer

A brief memorial service was held last Saturday at the First Methodist Church of Luna City, to honor LCpl. Michael Delaney Walters, USMC, late of Marlton, New Jersey. LCpl. Walters was a survivor of the horrific battle for Belleau Wood, and badly wounded in later fighting along the Asine-Marne front. Disabled, with a disfiguring facial scar, and eventually homeless, he lived for a brief time in a makeshift encampment on the outskirts of Luna City in 1935, before succumbing to exposure during severe winter weather early in 1936. It has long been assumed locally that his presence in Luna City gave rise to the legend of the ‘Scar-Faced Tramp.’ His remains were discovered last fall during the early stages of construction of expanded recreational facilities at Mills Farm. Over subsequent months, he was identified through painstaking efforts by members of Luna City’s VFW post, and frequent visitor to Luna City, Allen Lee Mayne, host of the popular Food Network series Ala Carte with Quartermayne.

Following the service, conducted by the Reverend Peter Dawkins, senior minister at First Methodist, LCpl. Walters was interred with full military honors in the Luna City Municipal Cemetery, in a procession led by members of the Luna City Volunteer Fire Department, and representatives of the Luna City Police Department. The honor guard was made up of members of the Karnes Company Historical Reenactors group. The Mighty Fighting Moths Marching Band performed the Marine Corps Hymn, and other suitable selections, including the hymn, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” and the “Washington Post March.”  Chief among the mourners were the family of Mavis Harrison, of Toledo, Ohio, LCpl. Walter’s grand-niece. Costs for burial, and a memorial headstone were met by funds raised by local Boy Scout Robert A. Walcott, as his Eagle Scout project, and a donation of services by the owners of Rhodes Funeral Home, of Karnesville.

06. June 2018 · Comments Off on A Luna City 7 Story · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Luna City

Or, half of one, anyway. Titled Memorial Day. (I’m easing back on writing for the moment, being taken up with some other projects, including research for the next couple of historicals. And the household stuff, of course.)

Memorial Day

Jess Abernathy-Vaughn, being of that pale tint of skin which burned and freckled rather than tanned, lounged under the shade of a dark and ultra-violet-ray protective umbrella, planted at a rakish angle, deep into the beach sand at the Gulf-shore side of Galveston Island. She was also slathered with the highest SPF-level sunscreen available over the counter. In spite of not being a fan of sunbathing until one looked more like a leather saddlebag, she was truly enjoying this holiday. A second honeymoon, everyone called it, now that she and Joe had been legally wed for more than a year, and their son was now almost ten months old, and well-able to withstand the baby-sitting ministrations of his great-grandparents, living in the high-ceilinged apartment on the second floor of the ancestral hardware store on Main Square. She watched Joe – as fit and muscular as a classical Greek bronze of an athlete – mastering the use of a boogie-board in the indifferent surf with the same single-minded attention that he brought to every enterprise which took his interest. It killed Joe to not be the best at anything, so he applied himself relentlessly; football, soldiering, law enforcement – and of late, to dedicated fatherhood.

“We’ll be happy to have a baby in the house, once again!” Martha Abernathy exclaimed, even before Jess had ventured the casual boat of her suggestion – that she and Joe spend a luxurious weekend at a Galveston resort destination – onto the tranquil sea of familial relations over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. “Do make the reservations, Jess – you need to take a break now and again! It’s good for a marriage, to make a little time for yourself and your man. Don’t trouble yourself in the least, worrying about Little Joe!”


“Your grandmother has been longing to get her hands on our boy,” Joe grinned when Jess had first tentatively broached the question of a holiday in the sun, surf and sand. That was the evening in Spring Break week, and he had just come home from a tedious day of upholding the law in Luna City, and on the stretch of Route 123 which adjoined the municipality. “Let’s do it, Babe – go back for a weekend, and try and recall the people that we were before becoming a life-support-system for the rug-rat. I’m trying my best to be patient until the day that we can throw the ol’ pigskin around, but I need a break, too.”

Jess sighed. “I can hardly wait until he can cook … Richard swears that he will start teaching him to make a lovely proper mayonnaise as soon as he knows how to handle a whisk…”

“When will that be?” Joe spun his white work Stetson onto the old-fashioned coat-and-hat-rack which stood by the front door of the old cottage on Oak Street and collapsed with a sigh onto the overstuffed sectional sofa – an overstuffed and sprawling thing which took up altogether too much space in the old-fashioned front room, but which was too comfortable to give up entirely. Jess dropped their cooing offspring onto Joe’s mid-section and he yelped, “Ooof! What have you been feeding him, Babe – bricks?”

“Growing boy,” Jess replied, with a remarkable lack of feeling. “You entertain the Soup-Monster for a while I fix supper – tell him mad tales of all the dirtbags you have arrested, and all the speeders you have ticketed … I’ve been talking to him all day about the necessity for retaining receipts for cash business expenses. Among other topics of note.” (Soup-Monster was her nickname for her son, taken from Marsupial Monster, from the early days when she carried him in a baby-sling across her chest.)

“Sounds deathly dull,” Joe replied. Jess sighed with heavy sarcasm as she opened the deep-freeze unit in a corner of the kitchen.

“Attention to such minutia pays the bills for our incredibly lavish life-style,” she called in reply and Joe responded with a hearty horse-laugh. Jess smiled. It pleased and satisfied her to know that she could make Joe laugh. He was wrapped too tight, sometimes – too earnest, too serious entirely. Now, Jamie – she had always been able to make Jamie laugh.

Yes, that pan of frozen lasagna … and a mixed salad to go with, once the lasagna was warmed and bubbling in the oven. Say an hour or so; Jess was also tired; a full day of seeing to her various clients in Luna City, Karnesville and Beeville, driving hither and yon, with Little Joe uncomplaining in his car seat. He was a good baby, for all that. But now and again she really missed the days when she and Joe went out for burgers or pizza as impulse took them, or drove into San Antonio for a meal at one of the Riverwalk restaurants, a table on one of the outside terraces, overlooking the river, the lights that twinkled like fireflies in those monumental cypress trees lining the artfully-channelized river, while live music spilled from one of the other places, and she and Joe people-watch in the twilight, as swifts and grackles swooped into their night roosts. All that without the labor of hauling the Soup-Monster and the heavy freight of his impedimenta – the diaper bag, the stroller, the baby-car-seat and all that along with them.

No – a weekend of leisure in Galveston would be just the ticket. Jess covered the lasagna with tinfoil, turned the oven to 350 and went to join her menfolk, just as Little Joe grinned at his father, an open and uninhibited grin which revealed all of two new baby teeth in his lower jaw. Jess’s heart turned over in her chest – the child looked so like Joe, it was uncanny, even to his tiny nose, which gave a hint of the ancestral Vaughn beakiness, even now. A miracle, the blending of her blood, flesh and bones with Joe’s – and yet, Little Joe was his own person, even at the age of eight months! A whole, new, original, and miraculous little person … again, Jess thanked with her whole heart for Miss Letty’s wise advice.

“Supper in about fifty minutes,” she said, as he settled onto the sectional next to Joe. “Give me twenty minutes, I’ll feed the Soup-Monster and put him down to sleep, so that we can have supper in peace.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Joe replied. “And the weekend thing, too. Let’s go for it, Babe. We need a break, some R-and-R, you know. Be good for the Monster to learn how to wind the grands around his little finger.”

“Share the blessings,” Jess leaned her head against Joe’s substantial shoulder, the one with the uniform patch embroidered with the city logo of the Luna City Police Department sewn upon it. Another brief moment of pure contentment; Gram and Grumpy had insisted that such in retrospect would be considered the happiest times of their lives. Jess had of late begun to see that her grandparents were right about that.


Now she watched Joe abandon the mild surf, the boogie-board under his arm, striding up through the receding surf, which cast a brief swath of lacy bubbles across the white sand. He collapsed with a brief grunt onto the spread beach towel at her side. Jess spared a covert and concerned glance at him. She’d bet anything his knees were giving him hell again. Good thing she had packed a bottle of extra-strength Motrin. She would mildly suggest that he take a few before they went out for dinner, and hope that he would take the suggestion.

“How’s the water?” She asked. Joe chuckled.

“Salty and wet, Babe.”

“It’s the ocean, it goes without saying.”

Joe lay back in the shade with a sigh. “Thought about where to go for dinner? I’ve an appetite for fish tacos. That place on Seawall with the two big-ass balconies overlooking the Gulf would suit me fine. OK with you?”

“Perfect,” Jess agreed. “A bit noisy, but we can go early… it’s an anniversary for us, you know. We can celebrate.”

“Oh?” Joe raised an eyebrow, and Jess grinned.

“The first time we seriously kissed … and umm. Other stuff.”

“Oh, that.” Now Joe grinned, reminiscently. “After the Memorial Day pig-roast at the V, you had too much to think, and I walked you home? Yeah, I remember.” The grin widened into an expression of outright lewd reminiscence. “Hoo, boy – do I remember, Babe! I was so damned glad you didn’t punch me in the nuts when I made the first move…”

“Joseph P. Vaughn, you are no gentleman!” Jess exclaimed with an attempt at a Scarlett O’Hara exaggerated Southern accent and swatted at her husband with her discarded tee-shirt top. Which launched a good quantity of sand at him – but he just chuckled again and lay back on his spread beach towel.

“No regrets though, Babe?” he said, and Jess shook her head.

“No regrets, Joe.”