From the next Luna City book – due out in October, 2016 -


Road Trip!

Big Sky Country - By The Side of the Road“I have absolutely got to get away from the madness,” Richard confessed morosely, to Araceli, Patrick and Chris, on a Sunday afternoon at the Gonzales’ residence – which had become almost as comfortably familiar to him as the Age of Aquarius. “Even if just for a couple of days. It’s becoming unbearable. That wretched Gunn person is glaring at me around every corner, as if it were all my fault.”

“He must have heard that Collin Wyler is coming to spend Christmas at the ranch this year,” Araceli nodded in sage agreement. “Patricia says that’s because he’s between wives again … I suppose Gunnison Penn must think the hunt for the Mills Treasure is on again, in a big way.”

“He was on Coast to Coast a couple nights ago,” Patrick agreed. “And that’s what he was all about … the treasure, and how the Wylers and VPI and whoever are all about deliberately sabotaging his search.”

It was the second weekend after the Luna City Players’ benefit performance, the second weekend after the sighting of what had become known across the pseudo-scientific tabloids as “The Mysterious Luna City Lights”. The Age of Aquarius – once a quiet, semi-deserted backwater save for a few days around the yearly solstices and equinoxes – was now a lively and exciting place, filled almost to overflowing with treasure hunters, detectorists, and UFO hunters. The Grants, of course, were mostly pleased. Even for what they charged for a day or a week – which was more of a token gesture for parking or camping there than a serious fee – their business accounts were profitably fattened to the point where Sefton was considering renovating the old conblock latrine and bathhouse, served by the hot spring which had given the impetus to the original owner of the property to think of setting up as a destination spa and resort. Sefton also grumbled about the constant racket upsetting the chickens and goats, but Judy was pleased beyond words, at having another outlet and audience for her Tarot cards, her organic simples and natterings about old-world “magick.”

“I liked it out there because it was quiet,” Richard continued, still simmering over how his own refuge had been sabotaged by the constant influx of strangers over the summer. “After days in the Café, and people coming and going, it’s restful to go out … well, it used to be restful to go out to the trailer and unwind. Watch the goats, listen to the chickens, the wind stirring the leaves. It was positively blissful. Now … it’s full of people, pottering around with their metal detectors … waving around their sensor wands and standing up in front of each other’s video cameras as if they were on the B-Bloody-BC yammering on about their search for whatever … it doesn’t even let up after dark, either … because a good third of them are hunting for ghosts, and they sit up in the bushes, whispering to each other. I swear, if anyone shows up looking for something like the Loch Ness monster living in the river, I’ll give it up and sleep nights in the Café Ladies. And those bloody cameras give me the pip.”

“That bad, uh?” Chris replied, with sympathy. “Look, if you really feel like that – you can crash at my place until it quiets down, some. All I hear is traffic on the road, and sometimes the crunch of someone hitting the bridge abutment… don’t mind that at all, reminds me of home. I’m going up to Marble Falls for a marathon, the weekend after Thanksgiving – you’d have the place to yourself, then.”

“I might have to take you up on it,” Richard said, although he was not entirely in earnest – still, it was his chance to vent to a sympathetic audience. This was over a meal of hamburgers, skewers of barbequed chicken, fire-roasted whole ears of corn, and a number of hearty salads. Araceli and Patrick, with their circle of friends had long ago fallen into the habit of those Sunday afternoon cookouts. By degrees, Richard had fallen into the habit of joining them; on this particular Sunday, the other participants included Chris, Sylvester, Kate Heisel, Jess Abernathy and Joe Vaughn.

(“Do you good to have a social life, Chef,” Araceli had urged him some months ago, fixing him with that severely analytical eye. “You need to get out more – hang out with real people.”

“Likely I do need to hang out with people,” Richard replied in a waspish mood. “That is – with people who don’t tell me I need to get out more and hang out with people.”

“There, you see!” Araceli pronounced in triumph. “Exactly what I said. Come over on Sunday – steaks from Doc Wyler’s cow, that we bought half of, this year. You’ll be amazed at how good, grass-fed beef can taste.)

“You know,” Patrick announced, with a broad grin. “I think it’s time for a road trip. How about we all go to Marble Falls – and cheer on Chris. I have that weekend off, you and ‘Celi can close the Café … I mean, who’s gonna be eating out over that weekend?”

“Where the hell is Marble Falls?” Richard demanded, and Patrick’s grin widened even farther. “About two and a half hour’s drive north. Heart of the Hill Country … it will be a blast. Let’s do it, ‘Celi – leave the kids with Abuelita, and have some fun! Like we used to do…”

“I’d be game,” Joe set aside his beer, and exchanged a quick glance with Jess. “If we can stop over in San Antonio for an hour or so … Jess and me, we have an errand to do there. Y’all can show Ricardo the Alamo … long as he promises not to pee on it. We can meet up at Buc-ees in New Braunfels and convoy to Marble Falls – all of us.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Patrick beamed. “Uncle Jesus says it’s OK to borrow Romeo’s Fifth-wheel – and that thing sleeps six!” while Richard demanded, “What in hell is Buc-ees?”

“You have to pee to believe!” Patrick replied and laughed so hard that he choked on a mouthful of beer.

“Count me in,” Sylvester said, and Kate chimed in agreement, adding, “I can do a quick report on it for ‘Talk of the Town.’”

“Look,” Sylvester brought out his cellphone and worked some miracles of inquiry on it. “Got a nice RV park, near enough as to make no difference … some rental cabins and a space for the RV – are we game?”

“Call me a ten-point buck,” Joe answered, with a distant look on his face. “Yeah, we’ll be at Marble Falls to cheer for Squid Medic when he crosses the finish line … but then Jess and I have some other plans – don’t we, Babe?”

“We do,” Jess replied – and Richard didn’t even try to figure out what that was all about.


So that was how, ten days later, Richard tossed a small overnight bag with some toiletries and a change of clothes into the back of Chris’ little red coupe. Chris didn’t hit the gas until they were well out on the main road north, in deference to the tires and suspension system.

“Man!” he exclaimed, as they spurted a bit of gravel behind them, and the speedometer steadily climbed to a hair below the legal speed limit. “I wish Sefton could get one of the Gonzalezes to come over with a scraper and level that broke-ass driveway of his. I shit you not, Ricardo – I drove on better-graded roads in Iraq, and that is saying something.”

“No argument here,” Richard agreed. “I just don’t think the Grants really expected all the traffic this year. I know I didn’t…” He was still simmering over the regularly-occurring medium-distance death-stare from Gunnison Penn, although they did their mutual best to avoid coming from within twenty feet of each other, under the terms of the legal injunction. Obviously, it still rankled with Penn.

“Well, never mind, bro!” Chris seemed unusually light-hearted. “The open road calls! We meet up in New Braunfels at noon, hit Marble Falls by mid-afternoon, set up camp … and then then I gotta be ready at oh-dark thirty. I’m aiming to do the whole course in under four hours, based on my last half-marathon. Hey, you should join me sometime – you’d get a kick out of running and the exercise would do you a world of good.”

“Riding my bike supplies that need, thank you,” Richard answered. “Frankly, I couldn’t see the appeal, even when I was at school. Run around and around the track, looking at the backsides of all the fellows ahead of you? Nothing more boring can be imagined, and since I’m not a poof, I didn’t even get any jollies from the exercise.”

“You could join a club or something,” Chris shrugged, echoing Araceli’s earlier words. “You need a social life, for sure. Hey – you could learn to drive, even. Widen your horizons beyond Luna City.”

“I like my horizons just as they are,” Richard argued. “I agreed to join you all on this little jaunt – isn’t that enough?”

“True, dat,” Chris slanted a sideways look at him. “OK, so no more bugging you about getting out. But still – you ought to learn to drive, like a real American.”

“I will take that advice into active consideration,” Richard said, in such a flat monotone that Chris dropped the subject at last.

They zoomed northwards along Route 123, which angles north and west through the gently-rolling ranchland country, stretches of pastures and thickets of oak, cedar and hackberry trees, interspersed with small towns like Stockdale, Sutherland and La Vernia where it was necessary to slow down, and now and again obey the strictures imposed by a stop sign or a traffic signal light. Those towns all looked rather like Luna City absent the grandeur of Town Square, no matter if they went straight through the town center or around the outskirts; a row of businesses, a straggle of cottages and double-wide trailers, a sign boasting the prowess of the high school football team – and then out into the pastures and groves again, dotted with grazing cattle and the occasional oil or natural gas pump or tank.

Until they came to San Antonio – the city, which from the southern approach was not one of those sprawling ones, attended by a steadily denser concentration of suburbs, strip malls and industrial parks. It seemed to Richard as if Chris’ coupe topped one last rise of the highway ribbon – and there was the city, a modest gathering of high-rise towers just ahead.

“I promised you a look at the Alamo,” Chris grinned. “You can’t say you’ve been to Texas without you see the Alamo…”

“I am breathless with anticipation,” Richard commented, with a complete lack of emotion. Half an hour later, after Chris had deposited the little coupe in a city parking garage, and they had walked down one street, turned an urban corner and sauntered down another, Richard brought much more feeling into it. “Stone the bloody crows – is that it? It’s … so small – it never looked like that in the movies!”

Chris was laughing, in what Richard considered to be a completely heartless manner. “Ricardo, man – that which you see before you was only the least part of a larger establishment – the post chapel of a frontier garrison, as it was. The original place – well, the walls around it went all around the outside edge of this plaza – most of it mud-brick and a single room deep. The chapel and the long building next to it were made of stone. Prolly why they lasted so long. But come on – you gotta see the inside, and the list of names. There were some of you Brits fighting here at the last, you know. And a mad Scot who played the bagpipes, too.”

Borne along on Chris’ unaccountable enthusiasm, and interested in spite of himself, Richard submitted to being dragged along. It was barely mid-morning on a Friday; the pleasant and oddly-shaped plaza was not particularly crowded. The classically Victorian bandstand reminded him of the one in Luna City. At every few paces, Chris pointed out a significant place where something or other had occurred –

“You come here often?” Richard finally asked, as the heavy wooden door closed after them with an ecclesiastically serious thud.

“All the time, when I was at BAMC,” Chris answered, in hushed and reverent tones. “Miz Alice and Miz Letty used to bring me, when I could get a day pass. There’s a nice garden at the back. Miz Letty, she was doing some research at the Daughters of Texas library – that’s around the other side. Miz Alice – she would get tired, and we would go sit in the garden, wait for Miz Letty to get done. And she would tell me stories about this place, about her family, and I’d talk about J.W., mebbe. And then we would walk around to this old-school deli place on Commerce and have Reuben sandwiches and real old-fashioned root-beer …”

“You sound as if you are fond of the place,” Richard commented. “As well as being almost embarrassingly knowledgeable.”

“I am,” Chris laughed, sounding slightly uncomfortable. “Miz Alice made it sound … you know, real to me. And Miz Letty – she knew so much. Between the two of them, I could see it in my head, you know? They were just guys. Real guys. Betting they talked dirty, knew that likely they wouldn’t ever see their families again, but that they trusted the ones to their right and left … and they had something to believe in, at the end. Did you see that Billy Bob Thornton move about the Alamo? I did. There was a bit in it that stuck with me – Colonel Travis saying that Texas was a second chance. That’s just what Luna City was for me; a second chance. Bet it was for you, too. A second chance at getting something right in your life. Something meaningful to hold to and believe in, a chance for something real and good, for friends that believed in you … well, anyway. This is the sacristy room – where the womenfolk holed up in at the last. And there’s the list of the garrison. See any names you know?”

“Not a one,” Richard replied. “But … which was the crazy Scot with the bagpipes?”


Mighty Moth Mascot Image

The Mighty Fighting Moth!


… And call me a biscuit. My books are in Walmart. Not in the actual stores that I can see, but on the Walmart website.
Link here.




Winterl 2016 Newsletter-1
Winterl 2016 Newsletter-2

Hurrah! I have just now finished adding the locations to Adelsverein: The Gathering, Daughter of Texas, Deep in the Heart, and The Quivera Trail to the Squirl website, so that anyone who has that app on their cellphone can “look around” and find locations written about in books… or conversely, look up a book and find the locations in it.

This has taken a bit longer than I thought, especially for Quivera Trail … because the characters traveled a LOT! I have to call up a map, match the location in the book to a location on the Squirl map, and add a bit of commentary and an excerpt from the book to that. Still to come – Adelsverein: The Sowing and The Harvesting, Sunset and Steel Rails and finally — To Truckee’s Trail, which will be … fun, because that book was ALL journey.

25. July 2016 · 1 comment · Categories: Old West

This is absolutely awesome – this particular find, since it falls just within the scope of the current WIP. A whole Mississippi/Missouri-era steamship, with a cargo of goods intended for frontier settlements, sunk in the mid-1850s with cargo entire, There are so many artifacts retrieved, that they have to display them in an old department store, and take advice from retail…

Behold – the Steamship Arabia! (or a reasonable facsimile thereof.)

Steamship Arabia

22. July 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Luna City

Dance with the Bunny Boiler in the Pale Moonlight

Some weeks after Romeo Gonzales arrived and set up his own campsite in the near-deserted Age of Aquarius, Richard pedaled up the road – deftly avoiding the ruts, bumps and puddles that nature and the passage of the occasional heavy vehicle had scoured into the clay-like soil with the skill of experience. It had rained lightly the night before, so puddles there were in plenty, and the fresh new grass had begun just raising tender new blades coyly between the old dead hay of the previous season.
On the whole, he had found Romeo Gonzales to be a congenial neighbor, given that it was hard to be anything else at half an acre space between their trailers and workplaces some blocks distant from each other. At least, Romeo showed no inclination to conspire together with malignantly-inclined micro-media operatives to ambush him at the door with lights, cameras and harassing commentary, unlike the egregious Penn. Who, in concordance with the injunction delivered through Jess, showed every inclination of making himself scarce whenever Richard was around. Richard was profoundly glad of that, not least because he treasured his afternoons of solitary contemplation of the pleasant but uninspiring landscape and his studies in Larousse.
And besides all that, Romeo was good at fixing things. He took it upon himself to shinny up and lubricate the old-fashioned windmill that drove the water-pump which supplied hot water to the old concrete block washhouse in the campground. Romeo adjusted the handbrakes and the chain of Richard’s bicycle, and when completely bored and bereft of things to do, popped up the hood of his pick-up truck and tinkered with the mysteries within. Still, Richard had looked out of the Airstream’s windows, very late at night, rubbing his eyes because he thought he could see some kind of ephemeral apparition – kind of like the Northern Lights, but rather more red-tinged than electric green, writhing and twisting in the air over Romeo’s Fifth-wheel. But as soon as he blinked, that vision was gone.
Now, that very pick-up coasted slowly across the campground, and Romeo leaned out of the drivers’ side window. “Hey, Rich – I’m heading out to Karnesville to swap out my propane bottles; you were saying that one of yours is empty and the other almost – you wanna come along?”
“Certainly – and thanks for the offer,” Richard answered with honest gratitude. “Run over to the Airstream – I’ll put them in.” He had been experimenting with various interesting recipes on the tiny propane-powered cooker in the Airstream, which had completely drained one tank – and to judge how the burner flame had been flickering of late – was close to emptying the other. The tanks were heavy – and the Walmart in Karnesville was a good ten or fifteen miles distant. In the space of a minute or two, his tanks were in the back of Romeo’s sturdy workman’s pick-up, and they were out on Route 123 – the back road between San Antonio and Aransas Pass, which gained in scenic qualities and relative lack of traffic in its soothing meandering across scenic portions of South Texas what it lacked in the boring celerity of the major highway.
But there was frequent traffic upon it; some miles along the way to Karnesville, the two of them witnessed evidence of that, in the form of a very late-model, velvet-black Mercedes sedan, off on the grassy verge on the other side of the road. The front left tire of the Mercedes was fatally, hopelessly flattened, and the driver stood uncertainly by it, very obviously boggled by this misfortune, although she held a cellphone in her hand.
“Oh, man,” Said Roman, in admiration. “What a gorgeous piece …”
“I don’t care!” Richard, recognizing the unfortunate driver, was horrified. He barely restrained his first impulse to dive under the passenger-side dashboard of Romeo’s truck – which being one of these huge garish American things, would have been big enough to hide at least two people, three of them if they were light of build. “Drive on – that’s the horrible Susannah! She’s a stalker, the bunny-boiler of Mills Farm! An executive of theirs! She has haunted me – chased after me! She came out to the trailer … for god’s sake, man – don’t stop! If you do, you’ll regret it, I tell you!”
“She came out to the Aquarius?” Romeo answered. “Damn, Rich, she’s way to classy for a regular lot lizard. I’ll run that risk, sure. And that Merc is one awesome bit of machinery.” He sighed, as the pick-up swept past the stranded Mercedes. “Sorry, man – you have issues with her. Your problem, not mine. I don’t leave ladies with car trouble by the roadside – just my personal standard.” He grinned sideways at Richard, who felt his heart sink right down to the level of his trainers. (Bought at Marisol Gonzalez’s thrift shop in Karnesville. He did wonder briefly if he could impose on Romeo to make a quick pit-stop there after trading in the gas bottles.)
“She’s a remora in human-guise,” Richard gabbled, frantic and horrified, as Romeo made an easy U-turn and drove back towards the stranded Mercedes and Susannah Wyatt – as always, slim and dressed to the nines in elegant and high-fashion vacation wear. “Just drive on! Call your uncle with the garage and the wrecker – anything! Once she latches onto your flesh, she doesn’t let go! A relentless succubus …”
“Sounds like my kind of woman!” Unmoved, Romeo did another U-turn and eased the pick-up off the road, backing up and parking just ahead of Susannah and her stranded Mercedes.
Richard slid down in the passenger seat, lower and lower, hissing between his teeth as Romeo turned off his engine, “I won’t be a part of this – I can’t be a part of this! For the love of God, don’t let her see me – don’t tell her I am here! The woman is a menace – you have no idea of what you are letting yourself in for …”
“No problem, bro,” Romeo answered, with total assurance. He unsnapped his seat belt, and opened the driver-side door. “I reckon maybe that I do … and I just won’t leave a woman stranded by the roadside with car trouble. That’s just not the Gonzales way.”
“You’ll live to regret it!” Richard made one final frantic and fruitless plea … to no avail. He slid farther down in the passenger seat, certain that he would not be seen, since Romeo’s truck sat so much higher than the Mercedes and had tinted windows in the back. But he could observe what transpired in the mirrors and hear Romeo’s and Susannah’s voices since the windows were open.
Romeo – swaggering just the tiniest bit like an old movie cowboy – doffed his hat and drawled, “Say there, little lady, you look like you’ve got a flat tire, there.”
Richard sank even farther down in the seat. “Oh, god – the bloody stereotype. Kill me now.” He couldn’t hear Susannah’s reply, but Romeo continued, “Don’t you fret, ma’am, I can change it for ya – just show me where your spare is. I got all the tools I need in the back of my truck. I’m Romeo Gonzales, by the way – of the Luna City Gonzaleses. You must be Miss Wyatt, from out at Mills Farm … I’ve heard so much about you.”

(to be continued in amusing fashion. Luna City 3.14159 will be released late this year, in both print and ebook versions.)

13. July 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Book Event

OK, then – I am working at putting the various locations in my books up on an app called Squirl – which allows people to pull together the locations of books set in the place where they are! Since my various characters traveled all over the place, this will take a couple of days. It won’t be quite as detailed as the walking tour of Fredericksburg, Texas – but close enough!

All of us with Bridget Smith

All of us with Bridget Smith

So – the Daughter Unit and I spend the greater part of Monday morning doing our bit for the San Antonio Indy Authors and our second bookfest, this coming Saturday. C.M. Bratton, our tireless organizer for this bookfest and last years’ managed to get us a bit of publicity on the KENS-5 mid-morning show, Great Day SA. What with one thing and another over the years, we’ve been to their studios over on Fredericksburg Road – the last time was for the first bookfest, so the Daughter Unit and I knew the drill. Meet with C. M. and the other authors in the visitor parking lot, draw our special T-shirts, sign in on the guestbook in the lobby, get a badge from the receptionist, be escorted in a group to the studio, and find places for ourselves on the bleachers. I don’t know what it is for Good Morning SA when there isn’t a fairly substantial group of people, but it appears that the guests generally serve as the in-studio audience, and rotate into position when their segment comes up.

All very structured, of course; a snippet of news, a weather and traffic report, and then on to the light and fluffy stuff. Oddly enough, I found this program very comforting after the last couple of weeks of news; a long hot summer of race riots, ISIS coming up with horrible new ways to execute people, Europe melting down over Brexit, rumblings of menace from China and Russia … really, I was beginning to dread turning on the computer of a morning and discovering some fresh hell in the headlines.

So – let’s see; what was a summer Monday on Great Day SA all about? Well, there was a franchise ice cream parlor owner, who demonstrated how to whip up instantly frozen ice cream by using liquid nitrogen. I really couldn’t see from where I was sitting in the bleachers – but it seems that it involves stirring in a dash of liquid nitrogen into the ice cream base. It was just hard to tell, with all the white clouds of vapor, dissolving all over the place. And then – a bit about how to keep dogs comfortable in the summer; the owner of a doggie day care and spa, which has a swimming pool for dogs, was interviewed, with one of her dogs on hand. He was a big brown cupcake of a pit named Moose, who was a bit restless but otherwise well-behaved. There is a special kind doggie ice cream, it appears; a specially formulated frozen whey, which is better for them than cream and sugar.
There were three performers and two puppets from the Magik Theater, and the theater manager, doing a song from their current production; La Cinderella. This is a musical adaptation of the Cinderella story, set in Spanish Colonial San Antonio. And then – a new hospital facility opening up; specializing in physical therapy and rehabilitation – which looks to be quite awesomely well-appointed. The pictures of the lobby looked like the lobby of a particularly luxurious hotel.

And then – our bit, at the end of the hour, with C. M. wrapping it all up and the rest of us holding up our books. Not a bad way to kill a morning, and if it brings out crowds to Say Si on Saturday, then all to the good!

09. July 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Luna City

(So, here is a taste of the next Luna City book – and, yes, there will be several more, as the creative urge takes us.)

It was part of Richard’s gradual acceptance into the community of Luna City – as a pillar of the same in his office as manager/cook of the Luna Café and Coffee – that he do a turn in the old home economics classroom of Luna City’s secondary school teaching a necessary adult survival skills to twenty or so sixteen and seventeen year old students. The high school was named for Hernando “Nando” Gonzales, the legendary jet fighter ace of the Korean War and native son of Luna City; the adult survival skills course had been the mind-blowing stroke of genius on the part of Nando’s second cousin once removed, Geronimo “Jerry” Gonzales while serving as Luna City Superintendent of Schools. A series of adult experts offered an educational smorgasbord; household budgeting and basic income-tax return preparation, simple auto and household trouble-shooting, repairs and maintenance, First Aid … and Richard had been tapped for a week of cooking classes. The class met in a room which had been set up to facilitate cooking lessons, back in the decades when that meant cooking and sewing instruction for girls; five fully-equipped kitchenettes and a central instruction area with an overhead mirror over the prep-area and cooktop. Richard felt oddly at home on the very first day, although it was jarring to be addressed as ‘sir’ or Mr. Astor-Hall. And he felt terribly old, when he made a reference to Graham Kerr, the Galloping Gourmet, on the very first day, and had to explain it to a roomful of baffled teenagers.
“I could do a two-week segment, next semester,” he remarked to Jess Abernathy, at mid-week, when they had their regular management consult. “They’re a very promising lot. I had a brilliant inspiration, regarding roast chicken; you know, start with preparing a basic whole roast chicken with basic herbs and lemon on the first day, then move through several different recipes incorporating the leftover cooked chicken … simple dishes, exploring various cuisines … and then finish up with using the bones to make a stew, with dumplings. Tasty, economical, simple; what do you think?”
“The kids will eat it up,” Jess said, and Richard replied,
“Well, of course – that’s the whole point. D’you think I could offer an internship over the summer to one or two of the most promising?”
“You’d have to pay them at least as much as they would earn, bussing tables at Mills Farm,” Jess warned him. “We’ll look at the finances at the end of this year, see if it can be done. I’m glad you like doing a part of the class, Rich – I was afraid you’d regret it as a waste of time.”
“Teaching someone to cook for themselves is never a waste of time,” Richard answered with adamantine conviction. “Every creature on earth eats – but cooking your food and cooking it well is the foundation building-block of civilization.”
“Well, when you put it that way,” Jess laughed. “Hey, if you happen to see Romeo this afternoon – remind him about the costume rehearsal tomorrow at the Pryor’s. Kate is going to come and take pictures of the main characters for the newspaper and website, so it’s absolutely important that everyone be there.”
“So he did get convinced to be the groom?” Richard had almost forgotten about the Luna City Players’ benefit event to rebuild the church parish hall, free of the twin scourges of black mold and asbestos; an event which involved staging a terribly dramatic mock-wedding with all the required and traditional trimmings.
“Of course,” Jess giggled. “Patricia is terribly persuasive, and Romeo has always been putty in the hands of strong-minded women who don’t want to sleep with him.”
“He’s also putty in the hands of those who do,” Rich said – for yes, the velvet-black Merc had made occasional appearances, discretely parking on the far side of Romeo’s Fifth-wheel, and the gossip that he couldn’t help overhearing in the Café of a morning, had it that Susannah and Romeo spent many an evening and into the wee hours, honky-tonking in various bars and dance halls in Beeville, Karnesville and even as far afield as Victoria. To his relief, Susannah appeared to make every effort to avoid being seen, especially by Richard, although Romeo had jovially thanked him for the semi-introduction, and leered when he advised, “If the trailer is a-rocking, then don’t come knocking!”
“Point taken,” Jess looked amused. Yes, she must also have heard the Café gossip, although since she and Joe Vaughn were an established couple, this intelligence may have come to her via pillow talk. “Yes, if you want to teach a two-week session next semester, I’m sure Jerry will approve.”
“They’re nice kids,” Richard admitted, feeling somewhat foolish that he had never had much to do with the sub-adult specimens of his species since he ceased being one of them. “I’d like to see them off to a good start in life.”
“So do we all.” Jess gathered up her spreadsheets and receipts. “So do we all – since they’re the ones who will be managing our assisted-living residences.”

The adult-skills class was the final regular class of the day, which ended at 3 PM. Richard rather liked it, since it let him put full-time at the Café, and added an extra fillip to complete his working day. The final bell dismissed the class – and he was unexpectedly touched to see that most of the kids departed rather reluctantly, rather than jetting out the premises at full speed, a handful of them lingering to ask very specific food-preparation questions which suggested they were going to go right home and attempt them there that every evening.
Which he thought was all to the good – given his fake biography which involved fixing meals for a mythical starving and neglected family of younger brothers and sisters, and his real-life experience, in cooking for his parents – all pleased and appreciative they were, although some of his early experiments with fusion cuisine were not all that successful. Although his parents were, if anything, sporting about it, since they ate the results with a becoming show of pleasure. He went out the back of the school to where he had left his bicycle leaning against a handy rack, thinking again of how much he owed his parents.
He was mildly surprised, therefore, to observe two Luna City Police department vehicles (about half the force, until there is sufficient funding to purchase a fifth SUV) parked around in back of the school, in a sweep of gravel by the auto hobby shop enclosure, the gymnasium and the field house which served as an overflow parking lot when the Moths played home games. And he noted, with a rising feeling of disquiet, that the Walcott’s blinged-out Humvee with all the extra add-on features was also parked next to a battered panel van with the logo of the popular local conjunto band, Los Maldonados, stenciled on the sides.
As he took up his bike from the rack where he had left it – for no one locked their bicycles any more than they locked their doors in Luna City – he heard Sook Walcott’s steam-whistle shriek of outrage, emanating from the direction of the double doors to the gymnasium, followed very shortly by the pint-size domestic terror herself, dragging her teenage daughter Belle by the arm in one hand and flailing blows in the direction of a dark-haired teenaged boy with the other, while two civilians – Coach “Music Man” Garrett and an older Hispanic man that Richard didn’t recognize, but who was in the customary performance garb of Los Maldonados, as was the boy and Belle Walcott – and Joe Vaughn with three of his officers attempting to reason with the infuriated Sook.
“You no canoodle with crummy musician!” Sook shrieked at top decibels and her distraught daughter wailed in response, “Mom! Javi wasn’t doing anything!”
“Mrs. Walcott!” That was Coach Garrett, mild, middle-aged musician and football coach for the Luna City Mighty Fighting Moths, who hadn’t won a game against any of their division opponents in three decades, although the Moths Marching Band, under his exacting tutelage were state and national champions in the marching band sweepstakes several times over. “Mrs. Walcott, please – calm down and listen to me – there was no impropriety here, we were finishing up Belle’s audition tape for ….”
“My daughter not be crummy musician!” Sook screamed, unappeased. “She go to proper college, perfect SAT! No canoodle with stupid musician boy!”
“Mom! You’re embarrassing me!” Belle pleaded, sobbing. “Javi – Coach – I’m sorry, I didn’t know Mom would carry on like this!” While Coach Garrett begged for reason and decorum and the older Maldonado attempted to pull the teenaged boy out of her reach, the four officers hovered uncertainly – although Rich could see that one officer – whose name badge read “Gonzalez” was already exchanging heated remarks in Spanish with the older Maldonado. Finally, Joe Vaughn shrugged, obviously giving up on reasoned diplomacy and settling for sheer lung-power.
“Enough!” he roared, in a parade-ground bellow which likely could have been heard in downtown Luna City and possibly as far as Karnesville. “Miz Walcott, lay a hand on Javier Maldonado again, I’ll have you in handcuffs on charges of assault and battery. Now – everyone, just calm the hell down. Milo, Jim-Bob, you two see Ignacio an’ Javi to their vehicle un-assaulted. Coach, what in the blue blazes is this all about?” he added in slightly lower, but no less aggravated tones, as Sook Walcott shoved her weeping daughter into the Humvee. “Oh, hi, Rich. You got anything to add to this?”
“Not really,” Rich ventured. “But I’ve been told that crime waits for no man.”
“Not now, wise-ass,” Joe said, as Sook Walcott spun the SUV out of the area in a spray of gravel. Coach Garrett sighed very deeply. “Chief, I just don’t know what gets into that woman, sometimes – but it was all my doing.”
“She seemed pretty upset, regardless.” Joe said, with remarkable patience, considering. “She must have had something to get fired up about, minor as it usually is. What were you doing here, with Javi and Ignacio and Belle, all dressed up?”
“It was an audition tape,” Coach Garrett explained. “For Belle to send with her application to Julliard.”
“Julliard – the school for musicians, the one in New York City? That Julliard?”
“My alma mater,” Coach Garrett answered, with an air of modest pride. “We were putting together her pre-screening DVD – she’s got the Ravel, Rossini and Mozart pieces down pat – but for the solo of her choice, she wanted to go with jazz; Mangione – and Javi and Ignacio were just here to help. She’s … wound pretty tight about all this, as you can imagine. Mrs. Walcott, she has it in her mind that Belle is going to one of those serious colleges, study medicine or law, or something heavy-duty like that.”
Remarkably, that seemed to make sense to Joe, who nodded, very slowly. “Their oldest boy – Jerry, is it? He bailed out of all that, broke his parent’s hearts like enough, when he went off to study nursing. At a public college, in San Antonio, no less. Don’t see why they got all bent out of shape, though – it’s a skilled calling, but …” he shrugged. “Kids, they have their own minds. I know that I did, when I was that age.”
“So, Sook and Clovis now have all their ambitions invested in Belle,” Richard mused. He had been just long enough in Luna City to have had business dealings with both Walcotts, seen Belle playing the trumpet with the Moths Marching band, and with the Maldonados at various local fetes. She was a pretty, but nervous-looking girl with bitten fingernails – as who wouldn’t be in her position, given her mother’s towering and ear-splitting social and parental ambitions.
“That’s it,” Coach Garrett nodded, an expression of deep concern on his middle-aged and otherwise bland countenance. “That’s it, exactly.” He looked at Richard and Joe. “And that’s the trouble – because she is really, really good. All my band kids are good, or at least fair enough by the time I’m done working with them. But she could be world-class … is almost world-class as just as she is. She needs a place like Julliard … just to have the space to stretch her wings and really learn. She needs music like normal people need air and water. I … just don’t know how to deal with her mother.”
“Join the club, pal,” Joe tilted his white Stetson a little farther back on his head. They watched the Maldonado’s van pull away, and Coach Garrett sighed again.
“At least we got the videotaping done,” he said, with a determined air of good cheer. “I can tweak the final bits when Mrs. Walcott came busting in. It’s only a prelim screening, anyway. If they accept her, they’ll schedule a live audition, in New York.”
“Do you think she has a chance of acceptance, Coach?” Joe asked, and Coach Garrett nodded. “Oh, yeah – depend on it. She is that good.”

It was a momentary local drama; Richard pedaled away home, arriving with a sense of relief that no fresh drama awaited him there. Even Romeo Gonzales, the potential provider of that was gone – doubtless tom-catting on his own, around the various clubs and bars dedicated to providing entertainment and alcohol to the single man, and those women looking to bag one. But the matter came roaring back, Friday morning at the Café, just as the morning rush slowed to a crawl, and he had the time to answer a phone call from a harassed Clovis Walcott.