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13. August 2015 · Comments Off on Tales of Luna City – Poor Richard’s Cellphone · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Luna City

(The Englishman known as Rich Hall,  the Bad Boy Chef has arrived in Luna City after a spectacular and very public meltdown. He appears to be staying for now in an ancient Airstream trailer in a semi-abandoned campground and goat farm known locally as Hippy Hollow.)

Final Cover with LetteringLeft alone, save for the friendly goat and the throbbing of an acute hangover, Richard sat at the table, listening to the incessant buzzing of his cellphone, with a musical accompaniment of a cicada in the tree over his head. The Airstream, while not actually a charmless pit of domestic despair, was where a generation of small insects had gone to die in the dust, neglected and bare of home comforts. Better to sit outside, listening to the cicadas. Presently another plume of dust appeared; a car bumping slowly over the ruts and bumps; an oddly familiar town car, which pulled into the same patch of trampled grass and came to a halt. The driver was also strangely familiar; a gangly young man with dark hair, and a curiously innocent face. Richard squinted against the bright sunshine, trying to figure out why car and driver seemed so familiar

“Good morning, Mr. Astor-Hall … you don’t remember me, do you? I’m Berto Gonzales. I brought you here last night – you said you wanted to go anywhere, and I thought … well, Luna City would do. It’s where I’m from when I’m not going to school or driving for Uncle Tony in Elmendorf.” Berto Gonzales opened the passenger door, and assisted a very tiny and elderly lady from the car. She carried a small covered pot in her hands, padded with a pair of oven mitts. Richard, in attempting to rise from the picnic table, was entangled briefly by the bench and table legs. “This is my grandmother – everyone around here calls her Abuelita Adeliza … she watches the Food Channel a lot. She’s a fan of yours. I said you were pretty drunk last night, so she brought you some caldo … it’s good for you, ‘specially if you aren’t feeling well.” As Abuelita Adeliza beamed at Richard, Berto Gonzales added, “Oh, she don’t speak English.”

Abuelita Adeliza said something in Spanish to her grandson, who relayed the message.

“She says she is going to put the caldo on the stove burner, so that it will keep warm. It’s real good caldo, home-made chicken broth, with lots of fideo in it … you might like it, even if it’s only home cooking an’ not from your fancy restaurant.”

“I appreciate your grandmother’s consideration,” Richard sketched a gallant half-bow, as Abuelita Adeliza marched across the trampled grass, and spryly mounted the sagging steps of the Airstream without any assistance.

“So, what do you think of Luna City?” Berto ventured, after a moment. It was an awkward moment: Berto didn’t quite know what to do with himself, and Richard couldn’t think of anything to say save, “I haven’t seen all that much, actually!” They sat in silence for some moments.

“Berto!”

That came as a steam-whistle shriek of outrage from inside the Airstream. Both men started, the baby goat fled emitting a frightened bleat or two. Even the cicada shrilling in the tree overhead was briefly silenced.

Abuelita Adeliza appeared in the doorway, snapping, “Berto, su teléfono, ahora!

Berto obediently fished out his cellphone from his jeans pocket and handed it to her. Both men listened to a stream of Spanish, like rising floodwaters overflowing the riverbank, as Abuelita Adeliza dialed call after call, snapping out what sounded like preemptory orders. Finally, she returned Berto’s cellphone and marched to the car, commanding, “Llévame a casa, Berto!” She also directed a comment at Richard, who of course didn’t understand a single word.

“What did she say?”

“She said ‘take me home, Berto.’ But before that, she said ‘this won’t do at all,’ and she said some pretty raw things about Miz Grant’s housekeeping, which I won’t repeat ‘cause they are rude, and anyway, it’s not like anyone who stays here for long, they bring their own things.”

“But what did she say before all that?” Richard repeated, still amazingly baffled. His head ached so fiercely, he feared that it might split.

“Berto!” Abuelita Adeliza shrieked again, from the back seat. Richard winced and Berto opened the driver’s side door. “She said, not to worry – the Family is on the way and they will fix it,” he replied, cryptically. The town-car bumped away, trailing a plume of dust and leaving Richard even more baffled than before, and wondering if he should answer his cellphone, or just leave it ring and ring and go to voicemail. It was getting hot out here, as the sun was nearly overhead, but the inside of the Airstream was even hotter – an oven, even with the glass windows cranked open to their farthest extent. The cicada shrilled, louder and louder overhead.

Twenty minutes passed, and Richard’s phone kept on ringing. He kept on ignoring it, in the faint hope that it would go away or at least stop ringing. He had just about decided to stand up, walk over to the Airstream, retrieve his phone and throw it into the deepest pool of the river at the bottom of the campground, when he saw that tell-tale plume of dust rising over the dirt road leading into the campground field – but a bigger, denser and longer plume of dust than ever raised by a single town-car or the pick-up truck with the custom paint-job. The noise of multiple engines quite drowned out the cicada, and the insistent buzzing of his cellphone, as a whole cavalcade of vehicles spilled into the campground, and parked in a ragged line just short of the picnic table; vans and pick-up trucks of every degree and made, and condition of repair, many surmounted by welded-metal racks holding ladders, lengths of pipe and lumber, or towing low-bed trailers full of … well, Richard couldn’t quite tell what they were full of, although one of them at least held a medium-sized cement-mixer and a couple of portable generators, and another held half a pallet of heavy concrete pavers, and sacks of sand, all neatly piled, while a third held a small earth-mover. People spilled out of the vehicles – men with serious-looking tool-boxes and equally serious-looking faces topped with construction hard-hats, calling brisk remarks in Spanish to each other. Three women in crisp pinafore aprons emerged from the most well-kept van, lugging a vacuum-cleaner and a cart of cleaning supplies between them, although the youngest carried a large laundry-basket piled high with … Richard couldn’t tell what it was piled with, but all was neatly folded.

The first man out of the nearest truck carried a heavy and official-looking clipboard.

“Hey, Ricardo,” he drawled. “Que pasa, dude – Abuelita sent us.”

“If you say so,” Richard answered, eying the clip-board nervously, certain that the man was some kind of busy-body council authority. “I’m not sure …”

“Look, hijito – when Abuelita says to us ‘jump’, the only right answer is ‘yes ma’am and how high?’ Abuelita told us ‘this place won’t do’ so now it’s our job to make it do. It’s a Saturday, the big game starts in two hours, so …” the man winked broadly, “A Gonzalez gotta do what a Gonzalez gotta do.”

“If you say so, I’m sure,” Richard watched, slack-jawed in astonishment. With the rapidity of one of those speeded-up time-lapse films, the various trucks and trailers disgorged their contents. First one and then a second generator roared into life, then the cement-mixer. One of the women emerged from the Airstream with the end of an electrical cord, which went to one generator. If there was any sound from the vacuum-cleaner, it was drowned out in the racked from the generator. Richard’s head felt as if it would not only split, but fly apart into small fragments. Someone tapped on his shoulder and he whirled around, as if he were a cat and his tail had just been stepped on. It was the youngest of the apron-clad women, his cellphone in her hand. She pointed at the river edge, and her lips moved, but of course neither of them could hear a single word in the uproar. Richard took the hint and his phone. As he stumbled away from the controlled chaos, the baby earth-mover was already busily scraping away a the top six inches of soil in a rough oblong in front of the Airstream.

It was quieter at the river side, although he was careful to avoid the fire-ant nest he had inadvertently discovered upon waking. The watercourse here formed a long and curving pool, with steep banks on either side. The water was deep green – it didn’t look as if there were any current in it. Richard found a place to sit, on a length of long-fallen tree trunk above the bank, sighed, and began playing back the accumulated messages left.

“Rich … this is Morty! Pick up the f—king phone, dammit!”

-delete-

“Rich, I swear …”

“You always do,” Richard muttered.

-delete-

“Rich, I know you aren’t in LA … where the f—k are –”

-delete-

“Rich, you got trouble … pick up the phone and call…”

-delete-

“Ok, Rich, there’s a hell of a difference between LA and SA…”

“Tell me about it, Morty,” Richard said to the phone.

-delete-

Halfway through deleting the voice messages, Richard’s phone dinged – the signal for a text message registering. He switched screens to read it.

“Rich. Sorry, it is all over between us. Stay friends? Sammi.”

“Bitch,” Richard commented to the phone, and went back to deleting voicemail messages.

“Pick up the phone, Rich … a little bird just tipped me – that t**t Sammi just sold the inside story of your crack-up to the Sun for 50-thousand simoleons, or whatever the f—k they use in Brit-land for money…”

-delete-

“Mr. Hall, this is Thorne, from the law offices of Thorne, Bellamy and Thorne, regarding our client…”

-delete-

“Mr. Hall, Jacinta Perry, calling from Erdoes & Blankenship, Attorneys at Law – would you be so kind as to return my …”

“She’s got a dead sexy voice,” Richard remarked to the phone. “Pity, that – she’s probably twenty stone and looks like the back of a diseased hippopotamus.”

-delete-

“Mr. Hall, Aspin, from Wellesley, Aspin & Rivers here. Our firm has been retained on behalf of …”

-delete-

“Mr. Hall, this is Audrey Donovan, of the Daily Mail, calling for a comment …”

-delete-

“Rich, for the last goddamn time …”

-delete-

“Richard, this is Mum – we’re worried about you, dearest. Please call.”

-save-

 

Richard continued listening to the first few words and deleting messages, although new messages were being posted at nearly the same rate. He had quite lost track of time, and barely noticed that the construction noise at the top of the campground had diminished, from the mechanical roar of generators and the earthmover to something more like the voices of men shouting cheerily and profanely to each other.

Lost in scrolling through text messages and voice-mail, he was just aware of a feminine giggle behind him. Startled, he turned from where he sat on the fallen tree trunk at two girls – nearly identical teenage girls, enough alike to be sisters, if not twins. Richard guessed they were thirteen or fourteen, and dressed to look ten years older. They each carried an overflowing pair of reusable shopping bags with the inexplicable letters “HEB” emblazoned in various designs upon them.

“Hi, Mr. Aster-Hall,” the first one giggled. “Uncle Roman said you were down here. Abuelita said we should see which of Sylvester’s old clothes … from before he enlisted in the Marines … might fit you. Abuelita an’ Berto, they said you didn’t have any clothes at all with you.”

“Abuelita said you were about the same size as he was then,” the second girl explained, also with a giggle. “An’ Sylvester dressed so sharp, all the girls were in love with him …”

“Oh, shut up, Blanca, they were not!” the first girl blushed. “Here – let me hold this up against your back.” She drew out a long-sleeved t-shirt, and Richard obliged. “Oh, yes … definitely the same size as Sylvester back then. He had a 34-inch waist in jeans, but he is taller than you …”

“You are such a slut, Beatriz,” Blanca giggled, with a slight passive-aggressive edge in her tone which almost passed it off as a joke. To forestall any further embryonic femme-fatale bitcheries, Richard cleared his throat.

“Ladies, thank you but the true test for fit is to actually put clothes on. Just leave them in the trailer. I’ll try them all on later … what are they doing up there?

“Everything,” Blanca giggled again, and the two girls withdrew. As they walked away, Blanca added, “Él tiene un buen culo.” And both girls giggled.

Richard returned to clearing out messages and texts. Sometime after the incoming flood diminished to a trickle, and his hangover to a mild pounding, he realized that the campground field was nearly as quiet as it had been in the morning. All but the van and the largest of the pick-up trucks had gone, as swiftly as they had arrived and with a lot less fanfare, leaving behind a radically changed landscape. In the mad flurry of activity, the amassed force of the Gonzalez clan had re-balanced the Airstream on its pair of wheels and hitch-brace so that it sat level. Before the door lay a neatly paved stretch of concrete blocks set in sand, upon which sat a pair of folding lawn chairs and a small table. At the edge of this patio, someone had put in a pair of pink plastic flamingos, on wire legs set into the turf. Over patio and Airstream there was now installed a simple metal canopy, raised on four tall pipe legs, anchored in concrete, and the picnic table had been removed some distance to another patch of shade.

The man with the clipboard – apparently this was Uncle Roman Gonzalez stood, arms akimbo, surveying it all with quiet satisfaction. He grinned at Richard.

“Not bad, Ricardo – not bad at all, even if I say so myself – I’ll bring Abuelita out after the game sometime, so she can approve. What do you think?”

“I am lost for words,” Richard answered honestly, his attention riveted by the pink plastic flamingoes. One of them bore a small sign around its neck: “Bienvenido a casa.”

“Hey, it’s all part of the game,” Roman Gonzalez expanded with pride, producing a small sheaf of pasteboard cards from his pocked with the aplomb of a stage magician with an endless string of handkerchiefs. “We do a good job – none better. The old Airstream’s a pretty nice piece of work to start with. OK – Tomas, he fixed the AC so it blows good and cold, once again. Here’s his card … he does HVAC service for half the county. Rudy dropped off a full propane bottle for the stove … you can trade it in at the Walmart over in Karnesville when it runs out, or you can just give Rudy a jingle.” He handed Richard another business card. “Now, we hooked up the antenna, and Sylvester says that you got internet … the TV set’s old, Sylvester rebuilt it for fun … but if you want more channels, here’s a card for my good buddy Sullivan at Grande … he’s the local rep, tell him that you got the recommendation from me and he’ll fix you up with a good deal. And Diego sorted out the plumbing so that the crapper flushes like a champ, but you might have to jiggle the handle a bit, and you have hot and cold running in the sinks and shower. Conchita and the girls cleaned up everything – she has this housekeeping service, and Marisol runs a second-hand shop in Karnesville so she set you up with pots and pans an’ stuff from stock she was gonna hand off to Goodwill ‘cause it wasn’t selling. Conchita’s card; if you want to call her and set up a regular appointment. She had the girls put in some basic groceries for you … they set up a tab at the Tip Top, just pay it next time you drop in. This is Chris’s card, with the receipt stapled to it. There’s an extra key to the trailer on the dinette table – Rudy did a run to Abernathy’s to get a key cut, but hey – no one locks their doors around here, anyway. Oh – and if you need any of those clothes taken in, here’s Patricia’s card. She does sewing and alterations. And this,” he handed over a final pair of business cards, “This is mine and Sylvester’s. Call us if you have any questions … but, hey – not for another couple of hours, OK? The big game started ten minutes ago and I wanna get going. Welcome home, Ricardo.”

He shook hands briefly with Richard, leaving him with a dealer’s fan of business cards in his hand. The pickup and the van bumped slowly away, leaving silence and settling dust in their wake. In the pocket of his trousers, the cellphone buzzed imperiously. Richard ignored it.

The metal canopy put the old trailer in shade, as well as the brief patio. The Gonzalez crew had also installed a more stable and permanent step into the trailer. He opened the outer door, with the flimsier inner screened-door hitched to it. A gust of cool air came to meet him, as refreshing as a cool ocean breeze.

The inside of the Airstream was totally transformed – no longer a dusty, decrepit wreck, squatted in by god knows how many generations of insects and hippies. It was sparkling clean, and the little pot of Abuelita Adeliza’s caldo simmered on one of the burners of the tiny stove. There was a single setting laid out on the dinette table – a plate and bowl of mismatched but clean china, and a place setting of equally mismatched silver on either side. The banquette seats had been re-covered in cheerfully mismatching flowered cushions, with a couple of extra small pillows added. The tiny lavatory at the back was also scoured clean, and supplied with towels and a lavish assortment of hotel-sized toiletries. The bed had been made with clean sheets and a faded pieced quilt of somewhat unfortunate colors, but the pillows were fluffy and encased in crisp white cases. It all presented an appearance of comfortable random shabbiness; Richard had recently paid a bomb to an expensive designer to achieve much the same effect in his last girlfriend’s London flat.

The cellphone buzzed insistently again; Richard took it from his pocket and slid into one of the banquette seats. The wraparound window at this end of the Silverstream offered an attractively rural view of a scrub-oak studded meadow with goats romping in it. He answered the phone with a sigh.

“Hullo, Mum … I know. I was on the road, and then I was dead asleep for hours. Jet lag, you know … I know, I know … sorry, Mum. I know you were both worried after seeing the news stories …” There was a long pause, while he watched the goats. “No, I’m all right now … look; I’m going to stay here for a while. No, I don’t know for how long. I have to get some things straight … Where? Some place in Texas. I think. I might not be calling for a while, Mum. Don’t talk to any reporters … yes, of course I trust you both …” Down along the unseen road, a telltale plume of dust arose above the line of scrub trees which formed a rough hedge. In a moment a pale pink SUV appeared, and bumped carefully across the derelict campground. “I have to let you go, Mum … I think I have more visitors. Bye, Mum … I’ll call when I can.”

The pale pink SUV parked carefully before the Airstream, and Richard closed the cellphone. “Fantastic,” he observed to no one in particular. “The clown-car has finally arrived.”

As he opened the Airstream door, the drivers’ side and passenger side doors opened simultaneously, and a pair of ladies emerged – ladies of certain years. The driver was short and matronly, about the age of Abuelita Adeliza, and fussily dressed in a vividly pink blouse and straight-legged blue jeans battened into pink cowboy books. She was carrying a small plastic bag. Her companion looked to be about twenty years younger, carrying a couple of books, and rather more plainly clad in tan slacks and a gauzy embroidered peasant blouse.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Hall,” the older lady said, seeming to be rather relieved. “I’m Sarah Abernathy – my granddaughter said that you would be staying here … oh, my – this is such an improvement – Jess Abernathy, if you remember. She was with Doctor Wyler.”

Richard wracked his memory, although much of the morning had been one which he would sooner prefer to forget entirely. Yes, there had been a woman here this morning … young, pretty, dressed like a cowgirl.

“I recollect Miss Abernathy,” he ventured, and the older lady tittered.

“I am sure that you do,” she replied, and held out the bag. “Well, Dr. Wyler said you got ant-bitten and sunburned pretty bad – I thought you might like to have the use of some of our Mary Kay product line for men. I put in some shaving cream, and a couple of cologne samples, too. There’s one of my business cards …”

“If I need to call,” Richard completed the thought for her with a sigh. Another card – at this rate, by the end of the day he might have a full deck.

“It’s every bit as important for men to look after their skin as it is for women,” Sarah Abernathy pronounced, in the tome of someone repeating holy writ.

“So they say,” Richard agreed, as the other woman presented him with the books – one thick, and one considerably smaller.

“We have in the shop a copy of Larousse Gastronomique, and Sarah said that you are a cook, and might make better use of it, than collecting dust,” she explained. She had a touch of a German accent, barely more than an attractive sprinkle. “I am Annise Stein – we have a shop in the Square, next to the Café. And the other is a history of Luna City … from forty years ago, but little has changed.”

“Thank you so very much,” Richard exclaimed – more touched by the Larousse than he could bring himself to say. “I have … I had a copy, but I did not bring it with me. Would you ladies like to come in … I don’t know if I can offer you any proper refreshment.”

“No matter,” Annise replied. “You are welcome.”

“We can’t stay long, dear,” Sarah shook her head, regretfully. “It’s a busy day for me, since I have a party today at the Walcott’s. We just wanted to drop off these small things, and welcome you to Luna City. Let’s go, Annise – or I will be late, and Sook will be furious … again.”

“Thank you again, ladies,” Richard said, just as his phone began buzzing again. The pink SUV backed away in a half circle, and bumped away across the field. Richard listened to the phone click over to voicemail, and came to a decision.

He walked down to the riverbank and flung the phone into the deepest, murkiest part of the pool.

“But hark, the cry is Astur, and lo the ranks divide,” he remarked to himself, as the phone sank with barely a bubble. “And the great Lord of Luna, comes forth with his stately stride …”

And the caldo smelled entirely delicious.

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