12. September 2021 · Comments Off on For 9-11: Recalling in Tranquility · Categories: Uncategorized

(This was an excerpt from Luna City 3.1, which came out five years ago. Reposted for this weekend anniversary.)


            “I know that it’s been fifteen years as of last Sunday,” Coach Garrett mused thoughtfully, hardly taking note of the beer in front of him. “But sometimes it’s as clear to me as if it was yesterday.”

            It was a perfect, autumn afternoon – a Friday afternoon in mid-September, just beginning to turn cool. The VFW had visitors’ night on Fridays, and now Richard sat outside with Joe Vaughn and Coach Garrett, at the splintery picnic table under the massive sycamore tree that shaded the back of the VFW.

             “You were there in New York, weren’t you, Coach?” Joe drank deep from his own beer. “You saw the Towers go down, up close and personal. Man … it was bad enough watching on TV in real time.”

            “Another life,” Dwight Garrett shrugged, but something in the look of that otherwise undistinguished, middle-aged countenance warned Richard to embrace tact and circumspection in his further comment.

            “It was a splendid day for me,” Richard ventured, reminiscent for the world of just a little ago, but gone as distant now as the Austro-Hungarian empire. “I know … the irony of it all. An evening in Paris – it was mid-evening. I had just won my first cooking contest, and signed with a talent agency. Some of my old Charterhouse pals and I popped over to Paris to celebrate. We were drinking in a bar in the Rue d Belleville, and wondering why they had a telly on, and tuned to some high-rise disaster movie.…it didn’t seem all that big a thing, not at first. The penny didn’t drop until we saw the headlines in the newspapers the next day. In my defense, we were all pretty pissed that evening.”

            “I’ll bet your hangover was epic,” Joe said, not without sympathy. “I was at Fort Lewis,” “First assignment to the Second Battalion … just driving into work, when it came over the radio. Airplane crashed into the World Trade Center tower. Swear to god, everyone thought it must be one of those little private airplanes, ya know – like a Piper Cub or something. The top sergeant said, ‘Oh, man, they must have gotten hella lost!’ And then someone turned on the breakroom TV, and there was this big ol’ gash in the side of the tower and the smoke just pouring out… Top said he remembered hearing about a WWII bomber hitting the Empire State Building, but that was in a fog. Two big honking silver buildings – we just couldn’t understand at first how it could happen by accident.”

            “It was such a beautiful morning,” Dwight Garrett nodded. “Cool, crisp … not a cloud in the sky. I had played a concert at the Alice Tully the night before, so I slept in. Gwen … my wife didn’t wake me up when she left for work. She left a note for me … that we should meet for supper at Morton’s on Washington Street, just around the corner, when she was done with work that evening.”

            “Didn’t know you were a married man, Coach,” Joe said, and Dwight Garrett sighed.

            “Oh, yes – I left it late, of course. Gwen and I were married for six years and three months. A dedicated career woman, and a divorcee with two sons she raised herself. We met at one of those musical soirees at a Mozart festival. Gwen was in finance. Did you ever notice that maths and music are deeply intertwined in some people? Anyway, we had a nice little condo in Tribeca, a stone-throw from where she worked.”

            “And?” Richard prodded. He had visited New York often enough during the high-flying years of his career as a globe-trotting celebrity chef, and had only the vaguest notion of where Tribeca might me. It was not his favorite city on the American continent; that would be Vancouver, or perhaps Miami. New York was too crowded, too … vertical for his taste.

            “She worked at Cantor-Fitzgerald – in the North Tower,” Dwight Garrett replied in perfectly level, dispassionate tones. Joe drew in his breath sharply, but said nothing, and Coach Garrett continued. “Even asleep, I heard the sirens – but so ordinary a sound in the city, I just went back to sleep. Until Gwen’s son Jeff called from White Plains. ‘Where’s Mom?’ he said, ‘Did she go into work, today? Turn on the TV – there’s a plane that hit the building she works in, all the top floors are on fire, and she’s not answering her cellphone.’ I told him to calm down – I’d walk over to the WTC and find her, make sure she was safe, and that everything would be all right …” He took a long draw of his own beer, calm and meditative, as if he were telling a story of another persons’ experience. “The sidewalks along Vesey Street were full of people looking up towards the towers – both of them just gushing smoke. Like water coming out of a fire hydrant. I started walking east, as fast as I could. I could see nothing moving on the street, but fire engines, lined up as far as I could see, once I got close. I kept trying to call Gwen – I thought sure that they would let me through the barricades once I explained. The South Tower fell before I got to the end of the block. It was … like a hurricane of black smoke, dust, soot. A policeman yelled at us to run like hell. A bunch of us on the sidewalk ran into the nearest place – a coffee shop on Vesey, to escape it.” Coach Garrett shook his head, slowly. “Outside that window – it turned as black as you could imagine. And the lights went out, too. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face for about five, ten minutes. That policeman was in there, too – he had a flashlight, but it didn’t help, much. When we came out – everything was grey, covered with thick grey dust. We were all covered in it, too. Needless to say – they wouldn’t let me come anywhere near the North Tower. There were too many people. And I think they were afraid then that the North Tower was going to fall as well.”

            “Did you find your wife?” Richard ventured, and Coach Garrett shook his head.

            “No. Not that day, or afterward. Nothing left – everything and most everyone on the floors just above the impact site were essentially vaporized. I accepted that she was gone forever, nothing to be done – no good going to the morgue, or hanging around as they excavated the pile afterwards. It was almost as if our marriage had been a wonderful, fleeting dream, and she had never been …  except for the boys, of course. And her clothes and things in the condo. It was just so … curious, how it happened out of the clear blue in the blink of an eye, on so ordinary day.”

            “Sorry, man,” Joe said, after a long moment. “I never knew about your wife, and all of that. That why you left New York and came home to Texas?”

            Coach Garrett nodded. “I couldn’t stay. Not without Gwen. The pile of rubble burned for months. The whole place smelled of smoke and death. I packed a suitcase and took the express to White Plains a few days later. I signed the condo over to Jeff and his brother, rented a car and drove back to Texas. I meant to go back to Kingsville … but heard about a job teaching music here. It seemed like a good way to start fresh.”

            “You do what you gotta do,” Joe agreed. “Another, Coach? My treat.”

            “Sure thing, Joe,” the older man finished off his beer and looked into the distance; the blue, blue sky and the leaf canopy of the sycamores just beginning to turn gold and brown. “There’s one thing I do regret about Gwen. I wish that I hadn’t slept in – that I had fixed her breakfast, kissed her, said that I hoped she would have a good day, and that I loved her. I never for a single moment thought that she would suddenly just not be there. Love shouldn’t end that way, on the flip of a coin.”

            “Nope,” Joe agreed, and to Richard, it looked as if Joe had suddenly made up his mind about something. “You want another, Rich?”

            “Only if you’re buying.” Richard replied.

            “Cheap limey bastard,” Joe grumbled.

The tenth Luna City chronical is now available for pre-release order in Kindle, on Amazon – soon to be available in other formats, through Draft2 Digital.

25. August 2021 · Comments Off on Pardon our Dust · Categories: Uncategorized

I am redoing my website, trying to make it a little more easily navigated, and putting the important stuff at the top of the menu bar. I am also moving over the Luna City materiel from the dedicated Luna City Texas website, as it has become an expensive and little-trafficked site, which seems mostly to attract Russian spammers attempting to add comments to certain pictures there. Makes more sense to concentrate my attention to a single book website, and to break out the categories of my books into three – the historicals, the YA, and the Luna City collections. I apologize for any confusion …

12. August 2021 · Comments Off on Room By Room · Categories: Uncategorized

The second bedroom/nursery redecoration project completed late in April and early June of this year to accommodate Wee Jamie and installation of a set of French doors instead of a large window was such a complete and smashing success that the Daughter Unit and I have gotten ambitious. She has passed the final portion of the necessary exam to get her real estate license, but still wants to stay at home with Jamie until next month. Speaking as the built-in babysitter, that’s perfectly fine with me. Looking at how very pleasant and attractive that room at the front of the house is now, a kind of Cape Cod cottage look, with very pale blue walls, grey-washed wood-look vinyl flooring, and ice-white paint on the trim, shelves, closet door and ceiling, we are getting ambitious. We are now looking to do pretty much the same to the den – a room of about the same size, opening off the living room. In some iterations of the floor plan for our house, that room opened into the hallway and functioned as a third bedroom. The original owners of my house used it as a home office – and we have used it as the TV room and set up the large closet as a workstation for the sewing machine.

The walls are hung with a variety of pictures, some of sentimental value, others of small value but attractive, and some just … because. The 1920s armoire that we raided off the sidewalk a few years ago and fitted out as a media center, and three bookshelves takes up a good chunk of space along two walls, and a pair of upholstered armchairs and tuffets take up much of the rest available. So clearing it all out, and shifting the heavy bits will be a chore that takes up the rest of the month. We’ll patch the walls and do the paint ourselves, and have Roman and his minion do the ceiling, the cornice, and install the flooring, too, if I can afford it. But the room and the closet will have to be emptied out, at least partway, to accommodate the painting and all. Not looking forward to it all – as the three bookshelves are fill of books and videos, and the armoire is full of DVDs, as well as the television.

We started today by taking down all the pictures. The Daughter Unit’s ambition is to work the real estate market, and eventually by the time that Jamie is kindergarten age, to purchase a house of her own a little way into the Hill Country. A fair number of household items are hers and will go with her – including about half the pictures. We wrapped up those and stowed them in the garage and filled up a box of stuff we decided we didn’t really care for any more for a run to Goodwill … and that’s enough for one day.      

(Yes, I have been working on the next Luna City installment, wherein the path to a happy romantic conclusion for Kate and Richard is never without some deep potholes! Richard’s parents have just walked into the Cafe, as Richard has finished unburdening himself to Jess and Araceli. Kate accepted his proposal, and the ring … but then she walked out, and will not answer his calls and messages. just then, the chime over the front door rings, and Richard’s parents walk in…)

“Darling!” Exclaimed Mum, exuberantly rushing up to Richard, and flinging her arms about him – really, it was most uncharacteristically English of her. Not for dear old Mum the undemonstrative upper-class stiff-upper lip. Must be all that French influence, Richard thought, as he returned the embrace. And the prior influence of Gram, working-class, opinionated and fiercely proud of that, too. “I’m so happy to see you, at long last! You look so well! Is this your dear little restaurant! Everyone says that the menu is so absolutely scrumptious, and that you have done a marvelous job with it! Are you happy, darling? We so worried for you, early on, but we thought it best not to interfere… you didn’t want us to interfere, did you, Richie? Your father said no, it was best that you find your own feet… you have found them, haven’t you, dear?”

Mum looked up at him anxiety clouding her eyes, and the fresh fair countenance, the English rose look, hardly burnished by a suntan in all of her half-century of life, although her hair was gone to a faded blonde, intermixed with grey. Obviously, there was no decent hairdresser in Saint-Didier.

“No, Mum – I’m fine,” Richard, initially stunned. He hadn’t expected to see his parents for another couple of months, at least. “I’m at a crisis at present, though …”

“And is this your Kate?” Mum smiled brilliantly at Araceli. “How marvelous to meet you at long last. Richie left us absolutely stunned when he announced that he was going to propose…”

“No, that’s my cousin Kate,” Araceli replied, sturdily. “I just work for Ri – for Chef. Pleased to meet you. Araceli Gonzalez-Gonzales. Excuse me, we’re still working the breakfast rush. Can I show you to a table?”

“Of course, dear,” Mum replied, with a charming laugh. “That would be marvelous – we were so done in by traveling all this way, we missed breakfast at the hotel. They’re quite awfully strict about hours, even for room service. Dorothy Astor-Hall, but everyone calls me Dottie.”

“Dottie by name and nature,” Richard’s father added, with a look of tried affection which took out any malice from his words, as Araceli gestured them toward the small couples table, just out from the door into the kitchen, and handed them a pair of menus. “Alfred Astor-Hall. So pleased. You haven’t introduced us to your other lady, Richard.” There was a slight tone of reproof in his voice, and Richard sighed. Dad was so very much the Englishman, the pukka sahib of legend, tall, lanky, imperishably polite, and completely unshockable, a lean and angular face graced with a neatly trimmed mustache. No wonder he had gotten on so well with the wine-growing denizens of Saint Didier – he was the archetypal imperturbable upper-class Englishman of song, story, and movie, come to life.

“Jessica Vaughn,” Jess replied, switching her briefcase to her other hand. Richard wondered briefly if she would render a proper military salute – Jess had that ‘noticed by a worshipped senior officer’ expression on her face. “CPA – I do the financial management for the owners of the Café. Rich and I have worked together for … a good few years.”

“An accountant!” Alfred Astor-Hall’s expression warmed and lightened, as Araceli vanished into the kitchen. “How very marvelous, and what an interesting coincidence! I started out as an accountant. Been in finance for more years in the City than I like to think! Moved on, now I make fine wines – so very much more relaxing.”

“I’ve been guided by Mrs. Vaughn’s towering efficiency and competent good sense in money matters for the last few years,” Richard interjected.

“What a refreshing change,” Alfred murmured, and Richard winced. No, Dad still had the gift of the verbal stiletto, even though he had been indulgent far, far beyond the tolerance of normal parents when it came to Richard’s chosen career, and the inevitable, spectacular flame-out of the crash over the disastrous Carême opening. It came to him that his father had mostly been left to cope with the resulting financial disaster, after Carême. There was a hell of a lot about that disaster which Richard didn’t remember with any accuracy at all. But through it all, Dad and Mum had been good sports, against every natural human impulse to write off their only son as a dead loss on the human calculation. Richard was grateful, grateful beyond all words for their continued indulgence. For that, he could overlook the occasional verbal jab from Dad.

“Rich, I’ll see you tomorrow,” Jess replied, and with a polite nod to the gathered small clan of Astor-Hall, she was gone with the silvery tinkle of the bell over the Café’s front door.

“What a lovely woman,” Mum commented, “I so like her!

Alfred murmured, “Got a modicum of financial sense, then – pity you couldn’t marry her, instead.”

“She’s happily married already, Dad,” Richard snarled, “With three children, and a husband who looks like a tattooed human traffic bollard. And he is the chief of police in this place. Did I mention his extensive gun collection? And that his absolutely fascistic devotion to law and order is legendary? I daresay I did not.”

“You didn’t, dear,” Mum replied, soothingly. “But never mind about all that. We … your father and I came for the professional tour of wineries in the Hill Country, officially as other wine-involved professionals, you see. A business expense. But our main reason is to see you and your lovely bride … she is lovely, I am certain, knowing of your … umm, tastes. Oh, don’t clear your throat at me, Alf – we both know that Rich has a certain standard. Which is nice, considering the appearances of the resulting children. There is something to be said for breeding, you know. Attractive parents rarely birth unattractive children. This saves the poor little mites so many nasty schoolyard jibes over unfortunate physical features…”

“Mum!” Richard exclaimed, exasperated – yes, Mum was the most charming and possibly the silliest and least-tactful woman in the Home Counties, and Saint-Didier combined. The theory that a male was programmed to be attracted to the same kind of personality-type as his mother had caused him many an episode of misgiving over some of his sexual choices. “There is a crisis on … I proposed to my lovely Kate, and she accepted … but for some reason she has become annoyed with me.”

“I can’t possibly imagine what might have brought that on,” Alfred sank another mildly sharpened stiletto into Richard’s quivering ego.

“It was because …” And Richard drew in a deep breath, resolved to spill all, once and for all. “I am applying for American citizenship – and Kate assumed that my reason for proposing was an ill-conceived tactic to jump the queue, as it were – by marrying a citizen.”

“Oh, Richard – how could you?” Dottie exclaimed, her eyes already welling over. “How could you do such a thing?”

“It seemed most sensible, logical!” Richard protested. “I mean – I have lived here for five years, worked my fingers to the bone at all hours, taught people to appreciate fine cuisine, trained up the next generation of cooks…”

“No, I didn’t mean that!” And Dottie sniffled a bit and wiped her eyes. “How could you let her go on believing such a thing…”

“Because she won’t answer my phone calls!” Richard exclaimed, goaded beyond all tact. “Or my messages! Or that of her friends – also my friends, those ladies whom I introduced just now, they are going to plead my case! It’s a crisis, Mum – what am I supposed to do?”

“Breakfast,” Alfred replied, calmly. He had been perusing the menu. “I think that breakfast would do us all a world of good. Cinnamon buns, one each, I think. Scrambled eggs. And coffee. I have been accustomed for the last few years to have coffee with breakfast. Café au lait if you please. And nothing of this chalk-artificial-muck for creamer…”

“Dad – we do straight cream, half-and-half for the slimmers!” Richard protested. “It’s one of my inviolable principles, here at the Café!”

“Oh, good,” Alfred waved in a vague manner. “Carry on, then. And come and sit with us if you can and your kitchen duty allows. We need to tell you how you stand, with your current economic situation.”

“I can hardly bloody wait,” Richard snarled, as he went into the kitchen.

Why was this happening to him, now at all the times possible in the world?