Retail Therapy ‘n Woes

Crazy Texas BootsWith so many other bad and dangerous things hanging over us like a Damocles sword – an Ebola epidemic in the US, ISIS setting up a new and brutal caliphate in the middle east, the final two lame duck years of the Obama administration, and the anointing of a minimally-talented yet well-connected legacy child like Lena Dunham as the media voice of a generation – and the upcoming marathon of holiday markets and book events in front of me like so many hurdles to be gotten over in a frantic two-month-long dash – where was I?

Oh, yes – amidst all the impending gloom, doom, and Bakersfield (that’s a California joke, son) my daughter and I are coping with the rather minor tragedy of a friend of ours loosing her job. Minor to us, of course – but not to our friend, a vivaciously charming English lady of certain years whom I shall call Kay, whom we met when she managed a thrift shop to benefit a certain well-established local charity, in a preposterously wealthy outlaying town within driving distance from San Antonio. When we first met her, the thrift shop was on the main drag in the historic part of town, and benefited from an enormous amount of walk-in traffic because it was on the main drag – although in a cramped three rooms and a teeny bathroom which doubled as an overflow storage room. But Kay was a pro when it came to management, coordinating unpaid volunteer workers, in attracting wonderful donations, and she used social media like a champ … I swear, many of the most enticing donations which came into the shop were pre-sold almost at once. Yes, a charity thrift-shop, of which there are already a few in the town of which we speak, but this particular one stood head and shoulders above the competition. The goods on display were often of an amazingly-superior quality and the pricing was reasonable. It’s a truism familiar to those of us relatively-poor people with high-end tastes; the very best pickings are to be had in charity thrift-shops in upscale locations. When my parents went to re-fit their own retirement house—burnt to the ground in the 2003 Paradise Mountain Fire—my mother often preferred shopping in such thrift stores. They could pick out things roughly similar to what they had lost; of superior quality and lightly used, at a reasonable price. Such things fitted their lifestyle and pocketbook; where is it written that those on a budget must settle for cheap cr*p, anyway?

So we loved the little shop which Kay ran, and brought home many fine things for a mere pittance – items like my vintage Ariat cowgirl boots, and a set of unused quality bedding – matching bed-skirt, quilted coverlet, pillow shams and boudoir pillows that originally retailed for nearly $1,000 all told. Alas, after five years of operation, the shop had to close around mid-summer. The historic building which housed it was being renovated – and the three rooms which housed the shop were no longer available to the charitable organization, nor was any equivalent premise available at a price which said organization was willing to pay. Still, we rejoiced with Kay was hired to run another charity shop in the same town, benefiting yet another and somewhat similar charity. Superficially, all was as it had ever been and at first seemed like even better; the shop was now in a larger space, a quaint Victorian cottage where there was now more room to suitably display the wide range of items which Kay attracted from the same kind of donors. Alas, there were two flies in the new pot of ointment; the cottage was a little off the beaten track when it came to walk-in traffic – and never underestimate how miserably hot it can be in a Texas summer, even in the Hill Country. But Kay’s regulars and volunteers loyally followed her to the new place, and when the monthly open market was held – there was a good turn-out. With the coming winter, and a number of special events in the town where the shop is located, there was a hope of business returning to something like the same level as in the old location.

The other fly was the peskier one; Kay now answered to a manager – an absentee manager in another state, who had very definite ideas on what the shop should accept and market – ideas which turned out to be a radical change. The take-in from the shop was unacceptable, said the absentee manager. It was simply not enough. So, henceforward, the absentee manager dictated, the shop would only carry collectables, high-quality jewelry (costume and otherwise) and original art. Everything else – shoes and clothing, household items, knickknacks and sports equipment had to go, immediately. Items should be labeled with a little price tag on a string, and be priced competitively – and none of this accepting just any old donation. Only quality stuff in a few limited categories, even if it had to be obtained from estate sales and auctions … no word on how this kind of activity would be funded, or who would be doing it, or researching the market-value of the select inventory. And the town of which I speak is thick with antique shops, collectable shops, and art galleries, most of which seem to be run by either entrepreneurs and paid professionals. At this juncture, Kay handed in her two-week notice. They let her go after a single week – and now, apparently, the shop will be run entirely by volunteers.

So, without knowing any of the economics – how much was the lease on the shop, how much it actually cost to run vis-à-vis the intake, and how much Kay’s personal connections with the donating and volunteering community contributed to the shop – I can only look at it from the outside, and what it all looks like to me as a consumer. Essentially, this one shop dominated the retail niche it occupied. It was open every day but Mondays – which put it ahead of the other shops, and Kay’s on-line marketing through social media made out-of-town shoppers well-aware of what was available. The goods were attractively and tastefully arranged by a professional. Oh, sure, some of them were the usual sort of junk which gravitates to Goodwill and the Salvation Army, but taken overall – it was a far superior shopping experience, in quality and aesthetics. And now, under the dictates of the absentee manager, it will be just another boutique in a town full of them. My daughter and I agreed – we likely won’t be able to afford anything in it, and it will only last about six months before the charitable concern running it pulls the plug.

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It Never Rains …

American Gothic - Texas-style

American Gothic – Texas-style

But it bloody pours. Here I am, starting the marathon of book events for my own stuff and for Blondie’s origami art, which runs from early October until well into December, (Lord willing and the Ebola don’t rise) and suddenly all the Tiny Publishing Bidness clients who have been languidly considering their potential books – some of them from last year or this summer and one of them from out of the clear blue sky – want to move ahead with their projects. Now, if not a day or so ago. It should have been a warning to me that the business bank accounts were all at low ebb … that’s when something happens to fill them all up again. It never fails – something always appears, just in the nick of time. There was the written-content job of so many chapters for a publisher of study guides who found me through the milblog; they wanted someone with military experience who could also write to order and somehow stumbled onto little ol’ me. That project upheld the lifestyle at Chez Hayes for nearly half a year; I was in two minds about committing to it, but closed my eyes and plunged in away. Then there was the document transcription project … again, good for maintaining the lavish Chez Hayes lifestyle for most of a year, when taken in together with the other writing projects and sales of my own books.

I had a lovely book event in Fredericksburg early this week – a local book club contacted me through my website; would I come to their social, and more importantly – do a guided tour of the spots in Fredericksburg which featured in the Adelsverein Trilogy? One private tour for the club members, and another the following day for the general interested public?  As it was mapped out, the tour comes out to a shade less than three miles, to cover it all – from the town cemetery and that little church building which served the black community in the mid-1840s, all the way to the Marienkirche, which served the Catholic community from the earliest days. Good thing I suggested that everyone wear comfortable shoes … and that there were plenty of stopping places with shaded benches, and that at the point of two-thirds into the tour we were at the old established town square, where there is a very clean and well-maintained public lavatories and some picnic tables in the shade. The ladies of the book club were enormously welcoming, and hospitable, having secured us a room for one night at the Sunday House – which we fell upon with gratitude, being completely exhausted by the tour and the evening meeting. Yes, I will try to come to book-club meetings which have read the Trilogy or any of my books, as long as such are in a commutable distance from San Antonio. I am not such a big-name author that I can be snotty about such invitations.

Fredericksburg was blissfully uncrowded on a Monday, and Tuesday morning, and a two-hour long walk, plus some evening socializing let us catch up on all the local gossip, and note some changes in the town: a wonderful and theatrical 1920s Spanish Colonial style house on Austin Street has been torn down, to the regret of all; an apparent victim of black mold and extensive termite damage being found upon a new owner commencing renovations. But a classic German-Texas style house on Adams – which was under renovation for as long as I can recall has finally been finished very charmingly as a day-spa. There are now little bed and breakfast accommodations all over the historic part of Fredericksburg, tucked behind old houses; one of the club members told us that there were 350 B&Bs in town now, not to mention several good-sized hotels. And there is a new museum going in – a Ranger museum, next to historic Fort Martin Scott. That makes four museums in a single small town, which must be some kind of record. Alas, the yearly Comanche pow-wow used to be held on the land where they are building the museum – and the pow-wow is banished to the Gillespie County fairgrounds.

Kenn Knopp, the local historical expert who was a considerable mover and shaker in Fredericksburg and was kind enough to read the Trilogy in manuscript and approve of it all with extravagant enthusiasm passed on last year. I had kind of expected something had happened to him, as he was not in the best of health the last time we were in touch, and he dropped off Facebook entirely … still, I wish that I had known in time to go to the memorial service.

Finally – one of the walking tour participants told me that the corner plot which I allocated in fiction to the Steinmetz family was actually his family’s town plot, and that they held onto it until the 1940s, when they sold it to the church which presently has their activity center on the site. He’s a Luchenbach, and an old friend of Monroe Behrend, the master of the fast armadillo.  Small towns – you have to love them, but also be careful, because everyone knows everyone else, or they are related to everyone else. So, that’s my week – and I’ve written this between doing up a couple of contracts and estimations for the new projects.

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Autumn in the Autumn Market

(An update on last weekend at the Bulverde Fall Market. This weekend, we’ll be in Fredericksburg for a private book-club meeting on Monday afternoon – but on Tuesday morning at 10 I’ll be in the parking lot of the Visitor’s Center on Austin Street behind the Museum of the Pacific War, to lead a walking tour of Fredericksburg places which feature in the Adelsverein Trilogy.)

My daughter and I spent almost all of last Saturday at our booth in the parking lot of a local Beall’s, in the heart of what would pass as the new downtown of Bulverde, Texas – if Bulverde could be said to have a downtown of any sort. There is a sort of Old Downtown Bulverde, at the crossroads of Bulverde Hills Drive and Bulverde Road, where the post office is (in a teeny Victorian cottage covered with white-painted gingerbread trim) and around the corner from one of the original settler’s farmsteads, complete with an original stone house and barn – now repurposed into an event venue. There is a small airfield nearby, and astonishingly enough, Googlemaps show a polo ground. But the landscape all around is that of the lowland Hill Country – low rolling, patched scrubby cedar, and occasional stands of live oaks. Everything – including a perfectly astounding number of single family housing developments are scattered unobtrusively here and there among the hills, the cedar and the oaks.

This includes New Downtown Bulverde, not quite so unobtrusive, and a few miles farther north at the intersection of Hwy. 281 and FM-46 West. This is where is where the schools are, as well as the fire department – newly built and lavish, the shopping center with a huge HEB Superstore. Bulverde is what my daughter terms as one of San Antonio’s bedroom slippers – once distant and separate communities now in commutable distance from the big city. The other bedroom slipper is Boerne, which boasts a more definable, scenic and historic downtown. Physical evidence of a wealthy yuppie demographic contingent is strong in Boerne – wineries, gourmet grocery stores, chichi designer boutiques retailing everything from country furniture, clothing, jewelry, baked goods and coffee – not so much in Bulverde. Boerne has a monthly community market; Bulverde has them twice yearly, spring and fall. Boerne’s is on the historic downtown public square, or what our readers in England might call a common – a half-acre square of lawn, edged with mature pecan trees and adorned with a Victorian-style bandstand. Bulverde’s community market is – as said – in the parking lot of Beall’s, in New Downtown Bulverde and organized by the Bulverde/Spring Branch Chamber of Commerce. A friend of ours, who was part of the planning committee, told us that every single slot was filled – all 135 of them, a substantial increase over the spring market in May. But of course, Christmas is coming.

Our day began at 5:30. Not to beg any pity over that, but we did have to eat breakfast, scroll though our regular news sites and email accounts, walk the dogs and water the garden, before pulling out for the half-hour drive to Bulverde. We had already packed Blondie’s Montero SUV the night before; the pop-up pavilion, the necessary weights for it, the tables, folding chairs, the necessary racks and display items – and of course, the plastic tubs with all the stock; my books, her origami art. Blondie calls this exercise ‘Automobile Tetris’ – packing in everything which we will need. The bulkiest item is the wheeled rack to display her origami earrings – a repurposed and repainted soft-drink rack. The heaviest is the pop-up pavilion, which takes both of us to carry – and to put up. We had to be set up and ready to go before 10:00, when the market opened – and hopefully before then, for the Montero had to be out of the way and parked in the designated vendor lot. Having the pavilion, the chairs and the tables saves us a fair amount of money – some other market venues offer them for rent for vendors. The practice is for regular vendors to have all their own market furniture – not just the pavilion and tables, but things like display racks and signage – and a trailer to haul it all around. One little local boutique maintains a vintage Airstream trailer as their portable premise. Many of the regular stalls in local markets are run by hobbyists who have a full-time regular job and do gypsy-retail on weekends; artists in metal, beadwork, fabric, wood and pottery, small truck farmers and producers of small-batch soaps, candles and skin-care products, or artisan gourmet foods. Sometimes they scale up to a permanent location, or already have a permanent location and do the local markets to build awareness of their products. Our immediate neighbors, by the way, were a crafter who did bead jewelry (we remembered her from the spring market) and Miss Scarlett’s Farm – organic produce. Which was quite good, and reasonably priced, too; Miss Scarlett’s owners are a young couple with a two-acre plot in rural Bulverde, where they intensely cultivate a wide variety of vegetables – and bees. We came away with half a dozen yellow squash and zucchini; he runs the farm, she does the weekly markets.

Blondie has a unique inventory – origami paper jewelry. She does mostly earrings; miniscule cranes and tulip flowers, which astound people for their tiny size, with a side-line in hair ornaments, pins and magnets. The crane earrings were a particular hit at this market, since they are priced to be readily affordable, and in practically every imaginable color. There was a lot of foot traffic, pleasingly constant for all the six hours that the market was open. That there was a good retail turnout is reassuring, in the light of current events. The day was fair, clear and warm, with a regular cool breeze that beat back the heat until about 3:00. Blondie had more sales than I did, dollar-wise, but many people took away information about my books – another thing to keep in mind for something like this: business cards and postcards. Quite often, there is an uptick of sales of my books on Amazon in the week or so following an event, from having handed out information. For both of us, the more that we are out and about at the markets – the more shoppers know about us. This is much more important for Blondie, since it may be harder to sell her origami items where people can’t actually look at and handle them in real time. I had a nice time, and several nice talks with readers; especially with a young student, all of eleven years old named Lorena, who picked out To Truckee’s Trail when I said it was the book of mine most suited for her age – although Lone Star Sons is intended as YA, it’s not available until mid-month and the only copy I have was for display.

The last hour of a market usually drags; the numbers of shoppers begin to drop, and while the vendors are committed by agreement with whoever is managing the market to stick around until the official closing, there is usually some surreptitious packing-up going on leading up to that point. Everyone is tired, bored as the crowds diminish, and more than ready to pack up and go home. The Chamber asked that we take down and pack up completely before bringing our cars and trucks into the area, which is a reasonable request – the gridlock is horrific, otherwise. We had everything broken down and packed in the Montero in twenty-five minutes, and were dropping with exhaustion by the time we got home. We’ll be doing this or something like it almost every weekend until mid-December – Ebola, or not.

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Just a Brief Note

… in D-sharp ! Tomorrow begins our season of books and paper jewelry, a long, long schedule of events that will likely give us no break until about mid-December!

We’ve packed the car, and are off tomorrow to the Bulverde/Spring Branch Fall Market. Look for the pink tent with the black-and-white zebra-striped top.

And Lone Star Sons is up for pre-order on Amazon for both print and eBook versions, so – yay, Amazon!

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And So It Begins …

… The fall book selling and event season. The first of our fall events will be this very weekend – Saturday from 10:00-4:00 -Bulverde Market Days. This will be going on in the in the parking lot by Beall’s at Bulverde Crossing. We’ll be in the bright pink-with-zebra-striped top pavilion, with my books and my daughter’s origami paper art and accessories.

Origami Earrings and Watercress Press Mobile HQ

Tuesday, October  14th – that’s the day after Columbus Day, I’ll be leading a walking tour of various places in downtown Fredericksburg which feature in the Adelsverein Trilogy.  Meet me at 10:oo AM in the parking lot of the Visitor Center on Austin Street, around in back of the main Museum of the Pacific War building.  I’ll be in town on Columbus day, doing the same for a private book club meeting – the Tuesday event is for anyone interested.

Historic House #2

Saturday – October 23 – I’ll be at the Texas Book Festival, on the grounds of the Capitol in Austin, at the Texas Author’s Association table, table 604/605, from 11 AM until 1 PM. This will be in a tent, just across from the Barnes & Noble and the Big Name Author area, in front of the Texas State Capitol Building, where Congress meets 11th Street.

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The Last of Her Ilk

I was going to write about another mildly notorious woman – an imperishably ladylike and competent professional gambler who was a figure of note in her day on the Texas frontier – for today, but I noted the departure of Deborah, known to her family as Debo, the last of the notorious Mitfords, from this mortal plane. Yeah, it was in the Daily Mail website, but they had a number of lovely archive pictures of her, taken throughout her life – which through no particular fault of her own – was spiced with notoriety. Deborah, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire – which sounds like a made-up title for one of those horrible regency romances – was privileged and burdened, I think – in about the same degree.

That she bore that burden with a fair degree of graceful competence – and added to that – wit, insouciance, and that indefinable quality called ‘class’ and remained stalwart under it for all of her life – is something that bears contemplation. She was home-schooled, as it seems, eccentrically under the rule of a very eccentric father. She and her sisters were only expected to marry well, into the peerage if it all possible, and be ornaments to their husbands various careers, much as Englishwomen of their class had been schooled to do since time immemorial. But unexpectedly, she and her sisters – all attractive, intelligent and charming – also turned out to be fairly strong-willed and wildly independent in thought. In the hothouse of the 1930s, that meant political thought. This led three of her older sisters down some very strange political and social paths; two into notoriously enthusiastic sympathy verging on the treasonous with the Nazis in the lead-up to and during WWII and one – a dedicated Communist – into eloping with her second-cousin and going with him to report on the Spanish Civil War. One older sister became a writer of considerable note, penning historical biographies and several popular novels based on Mitford family life, the dedicated Communist sister ventured into journalism and civil rights, while another married into relatively respectable obscurity … just as Deborah herself did in 1941, to Andrew Cavendish, the younger son of a duke. Likely they had also expected lives of relatively respectable obscurity, although that could not entirely be depended upon, due to their bonds of kin- and friendship with any number of newsworthy people on either side of the Atlantic.

Such expectations were shattered by the wartime death of Andrew Cavendish’s older brother, the expected heir to the honors and property, along with the responsibility and the crippling tax burden. Within another handful of years, they took it on; the huge, crumbling stately manor of Chatsworth, which had been neglected for many years. Together they worked to open it to the public, to restore and revive an architectural and cultural treasure. It took, according to the linked account, nearly a quarter of a century to pay off the death duties on the Devonshire estates. She and her husband were also keen gardeners, and the grounds of Chatsworth are at least a much of a work of living art as the house itself. Always a prolific letter-writer, and with the example of two of her sisters to inspire her, she also turned to writing books – chiefly to do with Chatsworth, but also a memoir of her husband, her own memoir of growing up Mitford, and a collection of letters between herself and Patrick Leigh-Fermor. Many of the comments attached to the linked story mentioned encounters with her in person; a gracious, charismatic and quietly formidable woman, and one of a sort that we will likely not see again.

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The Golden Road – Chapter 8: Where’er You Walk

Not the final for-real cover, but a place-holder for now

Not the final for-real cover, but a place-holder for now

A chapter from the next book – The Golden Road, wherein young Fredi Steinmetz follows the gold rush trail to California from Texas, in the year 1855. Arrived in California, they have made friends with the disreputable youngest son of an otherwise respectable family, one Fauntleroy Bean. A fugitive from the authorities in San Diego, Fauntleroy has talked Fredi and his friend and business partner Polidore O’Malley (an eccentric Irishman with a mysterious background, who has never told the story of it in the same way twice) to the dusty city of San Bernardino, where Fauntleroy’s brother runs a prosperous establishment, the Headquarters Saloon.

On their return to San Bernardino, any number of willing volunteers assisted with moving the precious crate from wagon-tail to saloon, with Colonel Bean and O’Malley hovering, watchful and protective.
“Gently, go gently with it now,” Colonel Beam commanded. “I paid top dollar for it, all the way from New York.”
“Sure now, don’t open the crate as if you are cracking a nutshell,” O’Malley crooned – he had a long iron crow in hand, and as soon as the crate was positioned next to where Colonel Bean had indicated where the piano should go, O’Malley deftly inserted the point of it into the right places, directing the interested to pull away the planks which made up the crate top and sides as he loosened them. In a few moments the piano stood revealed in all of its varnished and ivory-keyed glory, the protective layers of excelsior and canvas stripped away.
“Careful, boys – careful!” O’Malley urged four men – including Fredi – as they bent their backs and lifted the piano up from its discarded chrysalis of wood, excelsior and canvas and shifted it just a little way, to place it against the rough-plastered wall of the Headquarters. Buried deep in the mound of excelsior tucked into the recess underneath the keyboard was a smaller and barrel-sized bundle which proved – once removed from that smaller wrapping – to be a small stool with what looked to be one seat mounted over another on a large threaded screw. It was of the same wood and styling – or close to it – as the piano. O’Malley divested it of the last of that packing material and set it before the keyboard with an expression once ecstatic and nostalgic.
“’Tis made to compensate for the height of the performer,” he said. “A clever device – this one from the Parker Company of Connecticut … but nay, boys – I will not play a note, until I have seen to the proper tuning of this lovely and long-journeyed lady. Shoo, then – take all this clutter away with ye.”
“Yes – do as he says,” Colonel Bean encouraged them, and then turned his regard on O’Malley, who was caressing the ivory keys – without any pressure upon them to bring forth a note or two – and lifting the hinged lid to peer within, shaking his head as he did so. “You tell me that you can tune and play it? Well, that’s a fortunate occurrence …”
“For which he will expect to be paid, accordingly,” Fredi spoke up – and both the older men looked on him with expressions of mixed dismay and calculation. No matter; Fredi looked straight at the Colonel and said, “For fetching this from Los Angeles, we were paid well. Fitting it to be played and playing upon it is more skilled work. If there is another such in San Bernardino…”
“Freddy, boyo…” O’Malley sounded distressed, and the Colonel looked positively thunderous, but Fredi continued, undismayed.
“Then send for them, if they can offer a better rate. $25 dollars for properly tuning the piano, and $5 an evening for playing it – that’s our offer, for the rest of the winter, until we head north to the gold-fields. What’s yours?”

Colonel Bean appeared to chew on his mustaches for a long moment, while Fredi held his own firm countenance and O’Malley looked from one to the other with increasing dismay. Finally, the Colonel replied, in tones which seemed as if they had been squeezed reluctantly from him, “Yes on the piano tuning – although I doubt anyone in this dusty hell-hole could tell the difference. For an evening, $3 – but he can keep all the tips.”
“Done and agreed,” Fredi said, before O’Malley could demur. He was breathless with this achievement; quite better than he had hoped for, all things considered. “For as long as we stay in San Bernardino – until the snows melt in the Sierras in the spring and we head north to the gold-fields. Shake on it, sir?”
“Agreed and done,” Colonel Bean shook hands with the both of them, and it seemed to Fredi that Josiah Bean regarded him with newly-fresh respect. “You drive a hard bargain, boy.”
“I’m not a greenhorn, fresh off the boat,” Fredi replied. “Though I might sound when I speak English as if I am – a foreigner, newly come.”
“Aye well, perhaps a little,” Colonel Bean admitted. Fredi only smiled, thinking of how this would fatten their stake.

It took O’Malley some days to properly tune the new piano; it seemed to be tedious work, involving incessant fiddling with a peculiar little tool, tightening or loosening the metal pegs that secured the metal wires inside, while O’Malley whistled tunelessly to himself. He seemed happy enough at the task. Fredi became quite bored of watching him after a day or so; no, tuning a piano was not a skill that he could ever acquire, not when he couldn’t hear any significant difference at all between notes. And it turned out that Fauntleroy Bean had been giving scant time to his duties as a bottle washer.
“He’s running after some pretty Mex girl again, I swear.” His brother growled, upon discovering two full baskets of unwashed tumblers, tin cups and beer-mugs. “Damn him, I wish he wasn’t so well-grown, I’d tan his ass with a willow-switch until he couldn’t sit down for a week.”
Fredi, seeing his duty plain, rolled up his shirt-sleeves and volunteered to work his way through the detritus of the previous night’s drinking – not forgetting to set a price on his labors over the dish-tub. Late in the afternoon, while throwing the last pan of dirty water out into the stable-yard, he spotted Fauntleroy strolling in from the direction of the San Gabriel church, swaggering like a tom-cat. Fauntleroy had not seen Fredi, who waited until Fauntleroy had tiptoed into the back room – rather obviously hoping not to be seen.
“The Colonel’s mighty angry with you,” Fredi said, from beyond the doorway into the saloon, and Fauntleroy jumped.
“Sweet Jesus, I didn’t see you, Freddy – aww, Josh is always angry with me. It’s in his nature, I guess. What’s he mad about this time?”
“About the usual – sparking pretty women and not doing your job here.” Fredi added, since he was curious, “Are you courting a girl, Fauntly? Is she pretty?”
“The prettiest,” Fauntleroy’s handsome countenance wore an expression of smug assurance. “And she’s aflame with love for me … can’t keep her hands off. It’s like wrestling with an octopus. And the things she can do with her … lips. You’d be on fire, Freddy. Dona Inés is kin to the Ortegas – big landowning family in these parts. She’s supposed to marry some distant cousin of theirs, but what do you know? She might marry me instead.”
“The Colonel won’t like that,” Fredi could feel his heart sinking. Fauntleroy Bean could not go two weeks without getting into trouble – gambling trouble, woman trouble or fighting trouble. No wonder the Colonel looked so much older than his brother; being responsible for Fauntleroy Bean would tend to age a man considerable. “It’ll make trouble for him.”
“Ol’ Josh can take care of himself…” Fauntleroy assured him, as the sound of gentle piano notes floated into the back room.
“He’s done with tuning the piano,” Fredi exclaimed with much delight, immediately loosing interest in Fauntleroy’s current light of love, and in twitting Fauntleroy about it. Also, he was nearly done with the work of washing-up from the night before.

In the near-empty saloon, O’Malley sat before the piano, his eyes half-closed as his hands wandered purposefully over the keyboard. The music was slow and stately, with a touch of melancholy, enough to bring tears to the eyes of the sentimental; loss and longing and regret all mixed together. Fredi stole closer – the tune was halfway familiar. Perhaps he had heard it at one of the Sunday recitals back in Fredericksburg, when Captain Nimitz opened up the casino-ballroom in his hotel for a concert or some such.
“From an opera by Handel, boyo – one of your countrymen,” O’Malley answered, his eyes half-closed as he played; no music on the stand before him, he was playing from memory. Fredi was immediately awed by the magic of it – such a complicated piece, with so many notes! “A concert-master to kings and princes, and a favorite of the Earl of Cork, no less.”
“No – from Halle in Prussia,” Fredi objected. “We were from near Ulm in Bavaria…”
“No matter …” O’Malley played on, singing half-under his breath to the notes that he played. “… Where’er you walk, cool gales shall fan the glade … Trees where you sit shall crowd into a shade … Trees where you sit shall crowd into shade! Where’er you tread, the blushing flowers shall rise … And all things flourish …”
“Sounds like a funeral,” Fauntleroy said, disparagingly. “Christ almighty, don’t play anything like that for the house tonight, O’Malley. Play something cheerful; get the boys into a drinking mood.”
O’Malley clashed his hands onto the keys in one discordant rush – the melancholy mood instantly shattered into a thousand jagged pieces. “How about this, Fauntly – for a good drinking mood?”
He launched into another tune, in brisk waltz-time, which sounded partly familiar to Fredi; he rather thought it was one that the older Fabreaux brothers were wont to whistle when the mood took them – a rather lewd and suggestive ditty when it came right down to it.
“Will you come to the bow’r I have shaded for you? I have decked it with roses, all spangled with dew…”
“Just the ticket, O’Malley,” Fauntleroy said, with a broad and appreciative grin, just as Colonel Bean came out of his office and passed close by his brother.
“Oh, it’s you – finally,” he said, and sniffed. “I know where you have been all afternoon – you have the stink of a woman all over you.”
“Jealous, Josh?” Fauntleroy’s grin widened, and his brother snapped, “I swear, Fauntly, if you have loosed your Nebuchadnezzar to romp with the wife or daughter of a jealous man and it brings down ill-fortune on the Headquarters, I will cast you off entirely. I mean it – use some discretion, for the love of your life! Try a whore now and again – at least, such will go away once paid!”
“But’s so much fun, this way,” Fauntleroy Bean replied, unrepentant.
“Get ready to open the bar,” Colonel Bean snapped, and Fauntleroy looked as if he were about to make a reply, but thought better of it. O’Malley was still playing, to the world oblivious of all save music, but as Fredi hovered uncertainly, O’Malley murmured,
“Boyo, has the good Colonel paid us yet for the work?”
“He will, as soon as I remind him that the piano is now playable … why?”
“I sense choppy waters ahead, Fredi-boyo.” O’Malley looked at the ivory keys, responsive to his hands. “We may have to leave in a hurry.”

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Sunset Sky

Clouds - 2

I got lucky with the camera as I was fixing supper last week. I’ll have to write another book so that I can use this for the cover, or part of it…

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O Tempora O Mores

Early this month, my daughter and I clubbed together and bought a DVD collection of Mel Brooks movies for our evening TV-watching pleasure. I think we already had Blazing Saddles on DVD, and maybe The Producers and Young Frankenstein on VHS – but the plain fact is that we didn’t have any of the rest, and I only dimly recalled seeing many of them on original theatrical release, most usually at tiny AAFES movie theaters in various overseas locations. Seriously, it took years to get over expecting to stand up for the national anthem before the main feature, along with the usual wits shouting “Play ball!” as soon as the last strains and the flapping flag in slow-mo mistily faded from the screen. My daughter hadn’t seen any of them, save the aforementioned two, and so … we’ve been happily entertained, by working our way through the collection. It’s often noted, by no less than Mel Brooks himself that Blazing Saddles probably couldn’t be made today. Oh, let me count the ways, from the non-stop use of the n-word, gleeful use of national stereotypes, the campfire scene, the breaking of the fourth wall, the campy and screamingly gay movie director… yep, the professionally aggrieved would be screeching to high heaven.

Young Frankenstein doesn’t hit on quite so many social sore points as Blazing Saddles … but History of the World Part 1 certainly does. That’s another one which probably would send the professionally aggrieved on fire. As for Silent Movie, that was kind of a one-joke sketch fattened out to feature movie length. My daughter didn’t know that Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft were married, or that Burt Reynolds and Paul Newman had ever looked so very young. High Anxiety was funny enough, as a pastiche of practically every movie Alfred Hitchcock ever made. So – on to The Twelve Chairs and Robin Hood: Men in Tights in the coming week. Don’t know how those two will manage to offend the easily offended, but I have hopes. It is kind of dispiriting, when I remember funny, slapstick and anarchic humor like Mel Brooks, or those movies like Airplane and Top Secret! Produced by Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker, or mockumentaries like Spinal Tap and confections like Ghostbusters … and then consider at the great earnest blocks of concentrated dullness coming out today. There are comedies still being produced of course … this is a list of what is currently available on Netflix, but scrolling through it, I just don’t fell much like watching any of them. Quite honestly, most of them just don’t seem like all that much fun.

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Cover – Lone Star Sons

Final version – we went for a joyfully pulp-Western look. At no time in any of the six adventures do Jim and Toby participate in a gun-fight in the middle of a town with a horse stampede in the background, but that’s how old-time pulp-Western covers roll!

LSS_Cvr_Comp.1 (1)

I am still taking advance orders, on the Lone Star Sons page, here.

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