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WWI Veteran Laid to Rest

Luna City First Methodist Church

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

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

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

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

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

Memorial Day

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“Salty and wet, Babe.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No regrets, Joe.”

All righty, then — A Half Dozen of Luna City is put to bed, both print and ebook versions! The sixth Luna City chronicle goes on sale on the 30th of this month, although the Kindle version will soon be available for pre-order! – from the back cover blurb:

Welcome to Luna City, Karnes County, Texas … Population 2,456, give or take … Business at the Luna Café & Coffee is looking up for fugitive former celebrity chef Richard Astor-Hall. The owners – elderly schoolteacher Miss Letty, and the irascible Doc Wyler have approved hiring another cook and expanding hours at the Café. Joe Vaughn, chief of the tiny Luna City Police Department, is coping with the demands of parenthood … and both he and local ace reporter Kate Heisel are deep into untangling the mystery of a very old skeleton unearthed in construction of a brand-new facility at Mills Farm, the upscale resort just down the road.

(The historic WWI Battle of Belleau Wood is a part of the background in A Half Dozen of Luna City … and for your edification – an essay on it, which will feature in the latest Luna City chronicle.)

The Deathly Woods

1918 was not the year that the 19th century died; died in all of its boundless optimisms and earnest faith in advancement of the human condition. For Europe – cynical, cultured, hyper-superior old Europe – that could be said to happened two years earlier, along the Somme, at Verdun, in the tangled hell of barbed wire, poisoned gas and toxic, clay-like mud, the burnt ruins of the centuries-old Louvain university and it’s priceless library, destroyed by German ‘frightfulness’ tactics in the heat of their first offensive. Perhaps the 19th century died as early as 1915. It depended on which front, of course, and the combatants involved, still standing on their feet, but wavering like punch-drunken, exhausted pugilists. One may readily theorize that only blood-drenched enmity kept them propped up, swinging futilely at each other, while the lists of casualties from this or that offensive filled page after page of newsprint; all in miniscule typeface, each single name – so small in print, yet a horrific, tragic loss for a family and community hundreds of miles from the Front.
All this was different for Americans, of course; sitting on the sidelines, gravely concerned, yet publicly dedicated to neutrality, and firmly at first of the conviction that Europe’s affairs were not much of Americas’ business. But softly, slowly, slowly, softly – American sympathies swung towards the Allies, even though there were enough first- and second-generation Americans among German and Irish immigrants to have swung American public opinion among non-Anglo or Francophile elements towards maintaining a continued neutrality. After all, it was a war far, far, away, and nothing much to do with us … at first. But events conspired; the brutality of the Huns in Belgium (documented by American newspapers), unrestricted submarine warfare which extended to American shipping (and, inevitably, American casualties), and finally, the publication of the Zimmerman Telegram – and in the spring of 1917, President Wilson formally requested of Congress that a declaration of war on Imperial Germany be considered and voted upon. Said declaration was passed by an overwhelming margin, and by summer of that year, American troops were arriving in France – first in a trickle, then a flood.
The Belleau Wood was a forested tract thirty or so miles northeast of Paris; a hunting preserve in a stand of old-growth European forest, the refuge of wildlife, and for those whose favored recreation was hunting them. At the northern edge of the forest was two-story octagonal hunting lodge; built of stone, it was a place to shelter hunters for a night, during momentary bad weather, or a hearty meal, mid-hunt. Until the spring of 1918, it had been relatively untouched by a war which had turned acres and acres of French and Belgian farmland into muddy, barbed-wire entangled wastelands – many of which are still poisoned and unsafe, a hundred years after the end of that war. That forest tranquility ended when the expected German spring offensive slammed into the Allied lines – lines which now included the Americans – and punched through to the Marne River. The Germans had hoped to break through before the sufficient of the American Expeditionary Force arrived to make a difference in the wars’ outcome.
Late in May, German forces reached the Paris-Metz main road – and if they managed to break across the Marne and reach Paris, that one last throw of the dice would pay off for Germany; perhaps in victory, or perhaps in a negotiated and face-saving settlement with the equally exhausted and embittered French and British.

An experienced career soldier, General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing commanded the US. Expeditionary Force. He had rejected British and French demands that the Americans be parceled out piecemeal among Allied units, and essentially fight under the command of French and British officers. This would not do – likely Black Jack was polite yet forceful about it. (His nic came from him having commanded a troop of black cavalry early in his career as a young officer.) The AEF’s 3rd Division went into the line to counter the German advance at Chateau Thierry – the 3rd Division, which included a brigade of Marines, had initially been held in reserve – was brought forward in a hurry. The Marines were pretty much seen as a second-class by the Army brass, according to some accounts: good enough to do rear-guard and support duty, and only thrown into what was expected to be a quiet sector because every able-bodied American serviceman was needed, in the face of the German spring offensive. Checked by stiff resistance at Chateau Thierry, the German advance poured into the woods, where the 3rd Division had just arrived. Retreating French troops, exhausted from the fight to keep from being overrun, urged the Americans to do likewise, whereupon one of their officers is supposed to have riposted, “Retreat, Hell – we just got here!”
Of course, the newly-arrived American troops were keen as mustard; champing at the bit, as it were – especially the Marines, few of whom were of the career old breed. Many were recent volunteers. Up until that moment, the Marines had been a rather small, and somewhat specialized service; more inclined to security on board naval ships and at US embassies abroad, perhaps a small punitive expedition where American interests were concerned in South America and the Caribbean; a military constabulary, rather than hard-charging infantry. Still, it was a service that took pride in having been founded by an act of the Continental Congress in 1775, recruiting at the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, beating the official establishment of the US Army by more than a decade. (Yes, there was a Continental Army during the Revolution, but it was more like state militias seconded for service in the colonies’ united cause. The US Army wasn’t quote-unquote officially established until the 1780s. Upon this kind of minutia are friendly service rivalries built.)

Throughout the month of June 1918, the Marines fought with bitter tenacity through the deathly woods; sharpshooting at first, with deadly effect, and eventually to point-blank, then with bayonet, knives, and hand-to-hand. They kept the Germans from moving out of the wood, and then fought them back, yard by yard, trench by trench. The trees in the forest, the boulders at their feet were shattered by artillery and machine-gun fire. The stench from the bodies of the dead – too many to bury, under the existing conditions in the early summer heat – revolted the living to an unimaginable degree. And still – they went on, clawing back the wood to Allied control. More Marines were killed in that single month than had been killed in action since their founding in 1775. The Corps would not face another butcher’s bill to equal it until the taking of Tarawa, a quarter of a century later, and half the world away. It was a special kind of hell, this fight in a 200-acre French woodland, fought by relatively untried young troops, motivated by pride in service, by devotion to comrades, and by the leadership – which in many instances devolved onto NCOs, and even individual Marines, like Sergeant Dan Daly, a scrappy Irish-American career Marine (who had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor – twice, for actions in the Boxer Rebellion, and then again in Haiti). In legend he is said to have rallied the troops with a shout of “For Chrissake, men, come on; do you want to live forever?!” (Or similar phrasing. The war correspondent Floyd Gibbons later wrote that he had heard a similar expression shouted by a senior NCO, and the legend attached itself to Dan Daly.)
In the end, the Germans were driven from the woods, at a horrific cost; 10,000 casualties among the Marines, including nearly 2,000 dead. There is no definitive record of German dead, although there were around 1,600 Germans taken prisoner. But the Marines had clawed back the deathly woods, blunted the last-ditch German offensive … and in November of that year, Germany threw in the towel. By agreement, it all came to a temporary end on the eleventh hour, the eleventh day, the eleventh month. Such were the enmities and resulting bitterness that the armistice held only for the time that it took for a baby boy born in that year to grow up and serve in his turn. The shattered forest was christened anew after the battle; it has been named since then; now it is called the Wood of the Marine Brigade and an adjunct to a American war cemetery. The American 4th Brigade was recognized by the French government by the award of a military honor, the Croix de Guerre. To this day, active-duty Marines serving in the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments are authorized to wear the French fourragere – an elaborate garnishment of looped and braided cords – on their left shoulder as part of their dress uniform, in honor of that unit’s service in the Deathly Wood, a hundred years ago. And to this day, successfully completing Marine Corps basic training means completing the “Crucible” – a 54-hour marathon march on short rations and little sleep, featuring grueling marches, obstacle course and team-driven combat-problem-solving exercise – some of which was drawn on the experience of the fighting in the deathly woods, a hundred years ago.

(Yes, another excerpt of the next Luna City chronicle – which, with luck, will be available in April, 2018)

“Bree … you haven’t experimented with … the sex-magick, have you? You know – with a boyfriend of your age?” G-Nan asked, anxiously, and Bree Grant looked at her grandmother with eyes rounded in mild astonishment. What on earth could have brought that on? It was the first day of Bree’s return to the Age of Aquarius; suppertime in the Straw Castle Aquarius, a high-ceilinged tower of a place with a domed roof. Her parent’s car had vanished up the narrow road into the Age that very morning, trailing a smudge of dust and leaving Bree behind to spend spring and summer with her grandparents.

Bree, seventeen, intense and outgoing, replied in shocked surprise, “Ick, no! The male of our species,” Bree continued with a magisterial air, wondering why Grampy was stifling laughter. “Is simply not at their best at this stage of development. Really, G-Nan, all zits and obsessed with cars or football, or all gothy and emo. The very thought; it is to make me barf. And no savoir-faire at all. I have standards, you know,” and Bree directed a severe look at her grandfather who was still snickering. “I demand a degree of savoir-faire in a lover. Absolutely, at a minimum.”

“Bree Pumpkin – do you even know what savoir-faire means?” Grampy asked, over his plate of quinoa and feta-cheese salad – which Bree had made herself, rather than risk G-Nan’s signature dish of lentil surprise.

“Sure,” Bree serenely scarfed up a forkful of salad. “It’s from the French, actually – and is defined in the dictionary as ‘a polished sureness in social behavior.’ I really don’t think that is too much to ask for, Grampy – and what is so funny about it?”

“Nothing, Pumpkin,” Sefton still grinned, which Bree found quite baffling. But not as baffling as when Judy laid down her own fork and looked earnestly at her granddaughter.

“You are of the age to consider experimenting with sex-magick, you know. It is a powerful force in this world, and not one to be lightly considered.”

“I know, G-Nan,” Bree reassured her grandmother. “And trust me – I have thought about it all very carefully. There’s no real future in sleeping with every guy you meet. I mean, really. They forget you the next day, or never call … and really, I’d rather be the one they remember forever for not having gone to bed with them. When I do decide,” Bree helped herself to more okra pickles and bit into one of them with a satisfying crunch. “To practice the magick, it will be spectacular. Perfect. On satin sheets at the top of the Eiffel Tower, or under a Tahitian waterfall with the scent of frangipani hanging in the air … That kind of perfection takes time, and he will really, really have to be worthy.”

“What about that Walcott boy?” G-Nan ventured, having – as Bree assumed – totally missed the point. “He’s quite nice-looking, for his age … and the two of you are quite compatible, astrologically-speaking.”

“G-Nan!” Bree was horrified. “Robbie’s my best friend, practically – he’s just a kid. He can’t possibly do the magick correctly!”

“Might surprise you,” Sefton Grant murmured, and looked innocent when Bree glared at him. And Judy compounded the horror with a further suggestion.

“Bree-Pumpkin, if an older man – knowledgeable about working the sex-magick properly – is what you are looking for – consider Richard, at the Café. He is also compatible, astrologically … and very handsome. And an accomplished lover, by all that we have heard…”

“Oh, double-ick!” Bree, shocked out of all impulse to be polite to her elders, slammed down her fork, followed by her fist on the table … which being of sturdy make from native cedar cut on the property by Sefton, only trembled slightly. “G-Nan, that’s positively gross – he’s old enough to be Dad, practically – and besides, he’s my boss! I just may barf at the thought. If anything, he’s sweet on Kate Heisel. And I mean – ugh. I wouldn’t do another girl dirt by screwing her boyfriend. That’s just gross!”

“Calm down, dear – it was only a suggestion!” Judy protested, her eyes filling with tears. “I meant it in your best interests. You want your initiation into the magick as a woman to be perfect, with a considerate and skilled practitioner of the arts …”

“But not incestuous!” Bree retorted. “Jeez, G-Nan … at that rate, I might just as well throw myself at Chief Vaughn, or Coach _____… Can I just be allowed to sort out my own life?”

“We want the best for you, Pumpkin,” Judy wiped away a tear on her napkin, and Sefton came to her rescue.

“We know,” he said. “Leave it alone, Judikins – Bree-Pumpkin, your G-Nan means well. We’ll let the subject drop as of this moment, all right? Good. Now … Richard asked me yesterday morning, since you were to be back in Luna City – are you free to work a special event, come Spring Break? Not full-time,” Sefton added hurriedly. “Just to help prep for a big bash at Mills Farm early in March.”

“Sure, Grampy,” Bree sniffled. “Yeah, I can do it.” She glared at her grandmother. “But not another word about me and my love life, ‘kay? I’m almost eighteen, I’m practically through my first year of college, I can sort that shit out for myself, Oh-Kay?!”

“Agreed, Pumpkin,” Sefton agreed, keeping his relief private … although Judy was still sniffling, slightly. “So – you do your studies in the morning, work a coupla-times a week at the Café in the afternoon…”

“I’m a big girl now, Grampy,” Bree spared a serious glare at her grandmother. “I can handle it.”

“Good,” Sefton replied. “Now – who wants another sliver of that barbequed-marinated tofu?”

13. January 2018 · Comments Off on A New Employee at the Cafe! · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Luna City

(From the next Luna City installation, now under construction, with an expanded cast of characters, a new challenge for Richard … plus the ongoing mystery of the unidentified skeleton found during construction of the expanded Mills Farm resort — I bring you another snippet of the plot …)

The New Hire

“Now that Jess is back to work, we can consider moving ahead with your new hires for the Café,” Doc Wyler remarked, one Tuesday morning, as a gust of cold wind stirred errant dead oak leaves across the sidewalk, from where they had escaped from the trees in Town Square. Across the table, Jess nodded with her mouth full of a bite of warm cinnamon roll. At her feet, Little Joe – fast asleep in his carrier with a faint scowl on his infant features – appeared to have no objections worth making.
“I didn’t think you’d be back at work so soon,” Richard said to her – it was in his mind that Jess would have wanted to take slightly longer of a break, tending to the first new sprout on the Abernathy-Vaughn family tree. “What with a new baby and all…”
“After I got over the exhaustion, I was bored to tears with staying home all day, every day,” Jess replied. “There’s plenty of work that I can do without going very far, and Little Joe is a good baby … aren’t you, sugar?” she added with a fatuous expression as she glanced down at her sleeping offspring.
“I should think he would be better off, sleeping at home in his crib,” Doc Wyler grumbled. “Can’t be doing him very much good, you gadding about in this weather, and Jess sighed. Her eyes met Richards’ in a mutual understanding; Doc was of that generation where good mothers stayed at home with a new baby, usually until the little sprout toddled off to school.
“I could take him home this instant,” Jess answered, “And sneak him into bed … and he would be awake and howling in five minutes. Honestly, he sleeps best in the car, or in a noisy office.”
“Singular,” Richard murmured, while Doc Wyler riffled through the stack of receipts in the folder which Jess had put before them. Finally, he looked at Richard over his reading glasses and said, “Three new staff for the café; that was what we agreed on?”
“Full-time, yes,” Richard replied. “And a part-time cook, on Saturday and Sunday, for breakfast and lunch service.”
“That would be Robbie Walcott?” Jess put in, and Richard nodded.
“He came along very well, over the summer. I was quite pleased with both of them, by the way. And he wants to go on working on weekends. Why his parents approve of this I cannot imagine – don’t they know anything about the kind of people who work in food service?” Richard added, plaintively, and Jess giggled.
“Well, between you, ‘Celi, and Allen Lee, I think Robbie is off to a good start when it comes to jobs. At least, Sook and Clovis are OK with him having a job in the first place.”
“Builds character,” Doc Wyler grunted. “My first job when I was his age was working at Bodie’s, in the feed mill. Anyway, what are your ideas about new employees? Do you have someone in mind, or do we need put an ad in the Bee, or the Beacon?”
“Beatriz Gonzales,” Richard answered. “For the front of the house, full time. She’s worked off and on at the Café, and finished school in the spring. Araceli gave her full marks, and she has my approval. Now … if we are to open for regular supper service on Fridays and weekends, I’d like to hire another cook, besides another full-time waitress. Sefton Grant knows of a chap working at a place in Karnesville desirous of improving his situation. Sefton says he’s a pretty fair cook, worked food-service at a couple of oil-field cafeterias. Currently working the grill at Sefton’s favorite Arby’s … which is hardly top-drawer, in my opinion,” Richard shrugged. “But Sefton says that this chap’s command of the off-menu specialties is without peer and above reproach. I asked to interview him here tomorrow, about 2:00, see if he is someone I can work with.”
“Someone we can work with,” Doc Wyler nodded. “Don’t you forget, the investors in this enterprise expect to make a profit at the end of every year. That’s how business rolls. And I’ll want Miss Letty to have a look-see at Sefton’s friend. Best right-off-the-bat judge of character that I know. Tomorrow at 2 it is, then. Pass on to Sefton that his pal ought to wear his best interview suit – or the best that he has on hand.”
“I will do that,” Richard answered – and he did, that afternoon, when he pedaled slowly up the hill towards the Amazing Straw Castle Aquarius, serene in it’s grove of bare-leaved oak trees.
“Got your chickens their daily ration of raw gourmet leavings,” Richard said, as he handed the bucket of peelings and vegetable ends to Sefton – who because of the winter chill, was sensibly clad in jeans, boots, and a battered barn coat worn to the point where it was hard to see what color it had been originally. “And tell your job-seeking chum – what’s his name, by the way?”
“Lucas – Lucas Massie,” Sefton tilted his battered straw cowboy hat to a more rakish angle. “Nice kid, has the right instincts, but his social manner could use some work. What should I tell him?”
“Tomorrow, at the Café, 2:00 PM, in his best bib and tucker… er, his best interview attire. He’ll be meeting with the owners, and their financial advisor, as well as myself, so a word to the wise.”
“I’ll … er … pass on the word,” Sefton answered, and Richard – oblivious as he was to most unspoken social cues – did not notice that Sefton appeared rather shaken. “Ricardo, I ain’t certain that Lucas even has a best bib and whatever.”
Richard sighed, rather deeply. Yes, a dismaying number of kitchen geniuses that he had met over his time in the field were – if not actually barking mad, located somewhere along the functioning levels of the autism spectrum. “Then you should tell him that whatever he wears should be clean. And cover up the elemental naughty bits.”
“All right, then,” Sefton’s expression cleared. He took out his cellphone from the pocket of his jeans and was dialing in a number as Richard wheeled away. “OK … hey, it’s on, Lucas. Tomorrow at 2 … hey, come see Judikins and me afterwards, tell us how it went. But ix-nay on the Ark-ay stuff, ya know? Judikins is that dedicated … See ya tomorrow, pal. ‘Bye.”

11. January 2018 · Comments Off on From the Next Luna City Book · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Luna City

(So – the skull and other relics found on the site of the new Mills Farm project just bring up more puzzles. Yes, I’m having fun tantalizing readers…”

Seven Buttons and a German Bayonet

Richard stared into the box; like the others present, with a mixture of horror and curiosity. No one quite wanted to touch the skull; jawless, with the open eye-holes still partly-clogged with the damp earth from which it had been dug. The bayonet with the German maker’s initials lay to one side, and Joe Vaughn was quietly bagging up the deformed metal bullet in a small zip-lock bag which Jess had produced from the suit-cased sized diaper bag. There were about half a dozen small corroded metal items knocking around in the bottom of the box, objects about the size of a 10p coin. Allen Lee Mayne reached over Richard’s shoulder and picked up one of them.
“A button,” Richard observed, and Allen Lee nodded, and gently buffed away the grime and corrosion with a paper napkin. “Looky here – it’s got some kinda raised design on it. Can you make it out?”
“Looks like military,” Joe ventured. “An eagle and an anchor, under an arch of stars. Navy, mebbe. You got another baggie, Jess?”
“Either our mystery man shopped at the Army Navy store, or he was a soldier,” Richard ventured, and Allen shook his head.
“Man, that’s an old Marine Corps button. Really old. Their buttons have had a globe on them now, along with the eagle and anchor. My old man was Marine in Vietnam, that’s how I know this sh*t.”
“Let me look, cher,” That was Lew Dubois, his expression yet more serious. “Ah, yes – what I thought; It is an old Marine overcoat button. My dear Grand-père Louis, for whom I am named – he served in the Marines. He fought in the great battle in the Belleau Wood, and he had his old overcoat, one with buttons just like this! He used to wear it on cold mornings, when he took me duck-hunting on the bayou. He was very old, and I was just a boy, and his namesake – a special treat for me, to go hunting with my grandfather. That is why I recollect so clearly.”
“I don’t think that this is your grandfather,” Richard belatedly wished that he hadn’t spoken, for Joe, Lew, and Allen Lee all looked at him with severely condemning expressions. “Sorry – a bit of misplaced levity, chaps, for which I apologize. But the fact remains; this is a dead chap, of some vintage. Not, perchance, one of yours? That is – local to Luna City. You wouldn’t have misplaced one of your own, all these years ago?”
Both Araceli and Jess shook their heads, and Jess answered, “I’d have to double-check with Miss Letty, of course, but I am pretty certain that just about all the Luna City volunteers for WWI were for the Army.”
“Looks like whoever he was – he got his Purple Heart the hard way, and no mistake,” Joe looked down at the deformed and scarred skull, with an expression which Richard found hard to decipher. “Not from here, then. Drifted into here … wasn’t there some tale locally about a scar-faced drifter? I’m sure Kate wrote about it, coupla weeks ago. Weird-looking guy, used to haunt the place, back during the Depression?”
“The Scar-Faced Tramp,” Araceli replied, and the light of blooming comprehension shone on every face. “Katie interviewed Abuelita for that story! The Tramp frightened her into running home screaming – she was only five or six at the time,” Araceli added hastily, for no one present could imagine Abuelita Adeliza, the elderly absolute ruler of the sprawling Gonzales-Gonzalez, running screaming in terror from anything less than a fire-breathing tyrannosaurus rex. “Her mother scolded her when she got home. The scar-faced man was only a poor vagrant, living in a camp in the woods, who got by on doing odd jobs for people in town. I’ll call Katie – she’s be thrilled to know about this!”
“Must you?” Joe finished bagging the buttons, all seven of them. “Can you wait a day or so? Look, I don’t want to make a big media thing about this until we have some positive answers. Can you give me enough time to let me set up an investigation with the county sheriff’s office – and whoever they have available for an emergency dig – before unleashing the media hounds on us?”
“Katie isn’t a media hound!” Araceli was indignant. “She has better sense than that, and she is one of us: OK, second cousin by marriage – but she is one of us!”
“Indeed,” Richard agreed, with a small clearing of his throat. “Miss Heisel has been … well, remarkably restrained and discrete, with regard to my own rather fraught position with the national press. I would be inclined to trust her, as being sensitive to local concerns. She’s a good egg,” Richard finished, with a sense that he was being particularly lame. He strenuously ignored Araceli’s muttered footnote. “Yeah, she’d love to jump your bones, Chef – given any sort of encouragement,” as well as Allen Lee’s distinctly lewd chuckle of agreement.
“All right then,” Joe nodded, as he placed the two plastic bags in the cardboard box with the skull. “Lew … I’m sorry, this will put a crimp in your construction schedule. The work gotta be on hold until forensics can go over the area. Nothing I can do about a delay, but I promise, I’ll do what I can to instill a sense of urgency.”
“It is not a problem, cher,” Lew sounded extraordinarily mellow for a corporate executive whose’ multi-million-dollar project was now on the tipping-point of failure – or at least, an expensive delay – through being delayed by the inconvenient circumstance of a dead body found at the construction site. Even if the dead body was – by Richard’s estimate and his vague recall of Kate talking to him about her months-ago feature story – at least six or seven decades old. Now, Lew added, in philosophical tones, “There is no urgency for this poor fellow. It has been a long time. Still … we should know something, I t’ink. Of who he was, and of his passing. If he was a comrade of my dear Grand-père Louis … for the honor of that service a hundred years ago – I owe him that generous consideration. My time and interest are at your disposal with regard to this puzzle, Chief Vaughn.”
“Appreciated,” Joe nodded, bundling up the box under one arm, and collecting up the baby carrier with his other. “Hey – ‘Celi, make our order a take-out, can you? Jess is bushed, and I wanna get my family (and perhaps only Richard noted the special emphasis with which Joe said those two words) home and settled. ‘Kay, Babe? Gotta case to work,” he added to Jess, who actually did appear pretty pale, frazzled and exhausted.
“My time and interest, too.” That was Allen Lee, most unexpectedly. “My Daddy served at Khe Sanh. Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. Daddy would want this. Count me in.”
“Right, then,” Joe said. “I’ll put out the word.”

(To be continued…)

03. January 2018 · Comments Off on A New Luna City Story – Five Men and a Baby · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Luna City

(The next Luna City installment will be called A Half Dozen of Luna City – and herewith a snippet of one of the stories.)

Five Men and a Baby

“The whole thing came up at the last minute,” Joe Vaughn groaned. He sat at one of the picnic tables out in back of the VFW, while a mild spring breeze stirred the leaves of the monumental sycamore tree overhead. Sitting in a monumental car-seat/baby carrier/rocker set on the table top, the infant Little Joe sucked on his tiny pink fist and regarded those gathered for guest night with eyes which had already gone as dark as blackberries. “I’ve been subpoenaed to testify in a court case – Monday in San Antonio. Not in Karnesville, which would be a walk in the park. God knows how long the trial will drag on; guarantee I’ll be sitting on my ass in the Bexar County courthouse for a week, at least.”
“I don’t see what the problem is,” replied Richard, sitting across from Joe and nursing a very respectable ale produced by a local small brewer. Really, he reflected privately – there were subtle advantages to this place, which no one coming from the outside would ever have considered. It was guest night at the VFW; he was enjoying the ale, and the company of Joe, Berto, Chris, Sylvester Gonzalez, and Jerry Walcott.
Joe sighed, heavily for dramatic effect. “Baby-sitting, Ricardo. Jess is away at the Methodist women’s retreat as of yesterday – until next Sunday.”
“So?” Richard sank another satisfying draft of ale and ventured a friendly wink at Little Joe – who merely chomped again on his baby fist and scowled in reply.
“Everyone – that is, every one of our female kin is also on that same retreat,” Joe answered glumly. “Every single one of them. Even Miss Letty – she would advise me as to who would be a good fill-in. Pat and Araceli chose this weekend for a get-away to the coast for some relaxation, or I would ask them. Look, guys – this is Jess and mine own first-born child. Handing him off to strangers, or giggly teenagers for a week is just not an option.”
“Tell me about it,” Richard acknowledged in a morose tone of voice. Beatriz and Blanca were filling in adequately, as far as front of the house service went – between giggling, and Robbie Walcott helped out at the back – but dammit, this was a disruption to his routine! Richard did not welcome disruptions, or handle them gracefully when they occurred.
“What about your parents?” Berto Gonzales asked, in a tone of voice which suggested an attempt at being helpful.
“Off on a Caribbean cruise,” Joe replied, dolefully. “They flew out yesterday – not back until two weeks.” He fetched up a deep sigh, from the very core of his being. “Screwed, blued and tattooed, guys. I need a babysitter for Little Joe … else I am taking him into the Bexar County Courthouse every day, and giving him to the bailiff to hold, when I am called to the witness stand.”
“What’s the problem with that?” Berto asked, in genuine curiosity, and Joe sighed again.
“Look – the bailiffs aren’t there to do that job. And anyway – have you seen the stuff you have to take along with a baby? They search everything. It will take me half the day just to get through security at the courthouse alone. God – think of the bugs that he would be exposed to! Just from being in that old building, with all those people! He’s too young to be exposed to all those viral cruds; kindergarten is soon enough.”
“They’re so small,” mused Sylvester, dapper in his usual retro-nerd wardrobe – today a pair of classic chinos and a fetching short-sleeved aloha shirt printed with images of palm trees, surfers and pineapples. “Babies, I mean – but all their stuff! It takes up so much space!”
“Tell me about it,” Joe grunted. Under the table was a diaper and sundries bag the size of a small steamer trunk.
“We could take care of him for you, Joe,” Jerry Walcott was home in Luna City for the weekend; a gentle and competent late-twenty-something, who worked as a nurse at the Karnesville Medical Center. “Seriously,” Jerry added, in serene response to the skeptical looks on the faces of the other men at the table. “I did my last rotation in pediatrics. It’ll be a gas to look after a healthy kid. Serious, you guys.”
“I can help, Berto offered. “It’s spring break. I gotta help Papi at the garage during the day, though.”
“I’m done at the Tip-Top ‘bout half-past five every evening,” Chris ventured, thoughtfully. “And Ricardo – you’re free in the afternoons, aren’t you?”
“Well…” Richard temporized. “I’m busy at the Café from about five in the morning until after lunch.”
“We can do it in shifts,” Sylvester pulled out a small spiral notebook. “When are you done at the hospital, Jerry?”
“Six AM,” Jerry replied, and Richard protested, “Look, chaps – I don’t know anything about caring for infants. I’ve barely worked up to having a cat…”
“Nothing to it,” Jerry answered. “Bottle at one end, clean diapers at the other, keep them from being too hot or too cold…”
“A piece of cake, as long as I don’t confuse one end with the other,” Richard meant to sound derisive, but both Berto and Jerry were impervious to sarcasm, and in any case, Sylvester was already mapping out a schedule.
“Ok, five of us – we can cover the baby-sitting duties round the clock. Four hours and forty-five minutes each – no sweat.”
In the space of five minutes and another round of drinks, Sylvester had worked out a rotation, while Jerry gave a swift demonstration of applying a bottle to the appropriate end of Little Joe and a diaper (accompanied by hygienic wipes and sticky white diaper-rash ointment) to the other. Berto and Sylvester volunteered to spend their nights at Joe and Jess’s house for their shifts – “Hey, the kid can sleep nights in his own bed, ‘kay?”. At around 6:30, when Jerry got home from the hospital, he would take Little Joe for nearly five hours. Then – it would be Richard’s turn, for the afternoon, until Chris finished at the Tip-Top. The plan had Chris delivering Little Joe home to Sylvester and Berto after supper, to begin the whole cycle again. Still, Joe’s expression as he looked around the table, and regarded his offspring was one torn between gratitude and worry.
“I owe you guys,” he confessed at last. “But I dunno about handing him around like a hot potato. I mean, Jess will have a conniption fit…”
“Babies thrive on the stimulation,” Jerry said. “And doesn’t Jess take him with her, when does her client consultations?”
“Yes, but …”
“I don’t see the difference,” Jerry said. “If he’s used to it, he probably likes it.”
Richard had a feeling that Joe didn’t precisely agree – but in the face of a workable solution, he had no other choice.
“We’ll start on Monday,” Sylvester folded away his notebook, after writing down a copy of the schedule for everyone else. “Any questions?”
Richard briefly considered asking for release from the rota – but then he considered Little Joe, and his own long-term plans to inculcate an appreciation for good food into a younger generation – and really, how much younger could you get than a six-month old? This merited careful consideration, but when he asked it of the table, both Jerry and Joe laughed.
“At this age? Rice cereal, and not much of it,” Jerry replied, and Joe snorted.
“Mother’s milk. No – really. The fridge is full – Jess began stocking up weeks ago.”
“Moth – oh, I see,” Richard considered that he had already looked enough of an idiot in front of the others; best now enjoy the weekend, before flinging himself into the baby-minding rota.

He had nearly forgotten about it all – or at least, shoved the trepidations to the farthest and most neglected corner of his mental attic, when the Café’s door opened and shut to a musical jingle, and Jerry appeared, with the baby – a tiny pink-faced morsel dwarfed by a monumental stroller. Richard could verily swear that he had seen smaller motorcycle sidecars. The enormous necessity bag was stowed at the back of the stroller. With some difficulty, Jerry maneuvered it through the dining room and into the kitchen. Richard was there alone; Robbie and the girls having capably dealt with the with the most immediate pressing post-lunch-rush chores.
“Here we are!” Jerry announced. “Little Joe is all ready to spend quality time with Unca Richard.” He almost succeeded in concealing a yawn. “He’s already had his midday bottle – you’ll want to give him another just before five. It’s in the side pocket of his ditty-bag with an ice-pack to keep cold. Just warm it up before you give it to him. Blood warm is about the right temperature. Remember, how I showed you how to hold him for feeding? Yeah, that. Remember to burp him, when he’s done – and check his diaper, too – he’ll probably poop again, just to make room for the fresh intake.”
“What do I do with the little … little tyke until then?” Richard demanded. He had almost made himself forget his promised child-minding obligation.”
“No idea,” Jerry yawned again. “Talk to him. Play simple games, pay attention to him, stimulate his imagination. That is, when he isn’t sleeping, eating, or pooping. Use your own … sorry … imagination. See you tomorrow, the same time. Chris will take over from you at five-thirty.” Upon delivering this dispiriting intelligence, Jerry took himself out the door – the bell chiming musically. Little Joe and Richard looked at each other.
“Goosh,” commented Little Joe, blowing a spit-bubble. It sounded philosophical; neither hostile or overly-affectionate.
“The same to you, my little man,” Richard replied. Well, that took care of the social niceties. “Look, sport – you’re a little young to become a kitchen apprentice. And I’m told that … well, you aren’t quite old enough to start cultivating a sophisticated palate. How about just keeping me company while I prep for tomorrow?”
“Goob-gurgle,” replied Little Joe with perfect amiability.
“Right then,” Richard said, and fetched one of the three high-chairs from the front of the house, setting it up next to the big all-purpose table which served as prep-space. Summoning up all of his nerve and silently sending up a prayer to the heavens that he not inadvertently damage the little sprout in any way, shape or form – since Joe and Jess between them had the capacity and will to inflict horrific damage on anyone who harmed a single one of the barely-visible hairs on the head of their tiny offspring – he lifted Little Joe from the stroller and settled him into the high chair. Regarding his handiwork, Richard thought the infant was sagging a little too far to one side in the chair – which would accommodate a much larger child. A pair of small cushions wedged in on either side of Little Joe did the trick. The two of them regarded each other solemnly across the worktable, and Richard continued his prepping for the following day’s business.
“Cinnamon rolls,” Richard ventured. “It’s cinnamon rolls for tomorrow.”
“Goo-goosh!” commented Little Joe, and Richard was heartened. Didn’t Jerry advise talking to the little sprout? Stimulate his development, or some such child-rearing mumbo-jumbo. “They’re a mainstay at the Café, don’t you know – well, you should. I think your Mum had one every morning. So – here’s the dough for them. Been rising in the warmer for a couple of hours. Now, this is the mixture that goes onto the dough, once I have patted it out just so. Light on the flour, by the way…” he continued in this vein, as if he were explaining and training a new apprentice, as he worked the dough with the expertise of long practice, and the yeasty odor of newly-risen dough filled the workspace. Little Joe was even drooling a bit. “Pity you’re just not old enough for a taste,” Richard commiserated. “Never mind, young-chappie-my-lad; soon enough, soon enough.”

(This is … well, something of a sad story, which I began to write on December 7th. I drew on some things which my mother had told me, about her family’s saddest Christmas, in 1943, when her brother was posted as missing over Europe. The rest … well, I made it all up.)

Adeliza Gonzalez-Gonzales – who was never called anything but ‘Adi’ back then – was just thirteen when her older brother Manuel – Manolo to the family, Manny to his Anglo friends – came to Papi and Mama and said to them, “Papi, I want to see more of the world than Karnes County, an’ at the Navy recruiting office, they say that I’ll get a paycheck nice and regular, and I can work on ship engines that are bigger than this house. Besides, everyone says if America gets into a war, then they’ll be drafting men my age, an’ I don’t wanna be a soldier, marching around in the mud and all that. The Navy lives good, and they say that the food is great. Can I have your permission, Papi?”

Mama got all pinch-faced and weepy, because Manolo was her favorite and oldest child. Papi sighed and looked solemn and grave, saying, “Manolo – mi hijo – if this is what you truly want, I will sign the papers.” To Mama, he added, “Do not cry, Estella, can you see your boy as a soldier, following orders?”

“But he still must follow orders – the navy is as military as the army,” Adeliza piped up, and Manolo jeered and replied, “Nothing like the same at all, Adi!”

So, Manolo packed a few things in a cheap cardboard suitcase, and climbed aboard the bus to the city, and in time over the next three years the postman delivered hastily-scrawled letters and postcards – letters with odd postmarks and postcards of splendidly colored landscapes and exotic places. Manolo came home on leave once, in the summer, splendid in his white uniform and round white cap, carrying a heavy duffel-bag over his shoulder with apparent ease, seeming to have expanded from a boy into a man. Manolo was greatly excited – his ship was being transferred from the west coast to the Hawaiian Islands. He brought presents for the family, a breath of fresh air and tales of travels in exotic far lands. He brought his little sister a scarf of silk gauze, printed with a map of the Hawaiian Islands and pineapples and exotic flowers. Adi put it in the chip-carved box where she kept her handkerchiefs and her most precious possessions. From that time on, a tinted picture-portrait of Manolo in his uniform sat in pride of place on the cabinet radio and Mama kept a candle burning before it always, a candle dedicated to Saint Peter, who had the particular care of sailors.

A winter Sunday morning, when the breeze from the north promised chilly nights, and the frost in the shade had not yet melted in the sunshine; Papa came to fetch Mama and Adi and the other children after morning Mass. Adi sensed that there was something wrong, even before Papi spoke. There was a particular grim expression on Papi’s face, a hush among the congregation scattering to their houses after Mass, a silence broken only by the tinny sound of the radio in Papi’s car.

“The Japanese have dropped bombs on the harbor, and our bases in Hawaii,” Papi said. “The war has begun, whether we wish it or no.”

“What of Manolo?” Mama demanded, her hands to her mouth in shock and horror. “Where is he? Is he safe?”

“I have no idea,” Papi replied, his eyes shadowed with fear. Adi said nothing. She was sixteen now, almost grown. She met Papi’s gaze with a silent nod of understanding.

Two days later a card came in the mail, from Manolo – on which Mama fell on with tears of joy. “You see!” she exclaimed. “He is safe – this letter is from him! All will be well, you will see!”

“Mama, the letter is postmarked the week before last,” Adi said, to Mama’s unheeding ears. A week later, a parcel bound in brown paper arrived, addressed in Manolo’s handwriting.

“Christmas presents!” Mama exclaimed, “From Manolo, of course. You see, he is safe – it is only rumors that he is missing, that telegram was mistaken.”

That Christmas and many Christmases afterwards were not happy occasions for Adi’s family – they were not happy until Adi married and had children of her own, to bury the memory of that first wartime Christmas.

“Yes, Mama,” Adi agreed with a heavy heart and a show of cheer, for the telegraph office messenger boy had brought that small envelope at mid-December. The telegram from the war office was followed in short order by Father Bertram, then the priest at St. Margaret and St. Anthony, who had seen the messenger boy’s bicycle pass the priest’s residence while Father Bertram was pruning the pyracantha hedge around the tiny garden. Everyone knew that telegrams meant bad news, now that the war had well and truly come to them, but Father Bertram’s intended consolation and comfort were misplaced, for Mama was not distressed in the least.

“In the government telegram, it says only that he is missing,” Mama insisted, over and over again. “Missing – not dead. In my heart, I know that Manolo is safe.” In the end, Father Bertram was the most sorely grieved of them all. He departed shaking his head and saying to Adi,

“Your poor dear mother – I can only think that the enormity of your loss has affected the balance of her mind.” Father Bertram’s Spanish was very bad, afflicted as he was with a very strong accent, reflecting many years as a missionary in the Argentine, so Adi was not entirely certain of what Father Bertram meant. She only smiled uncertainly. No, Mama had merely decided that Manolo was safe, and doing what he needed to be doing for the war effort, and would not hear any word to the contrary. Never mind that Manolo’s ship – the great battleship Arizona, whose engines Manolo had tended lovingly – had blown up with a roar that could have been heard half-way across the Pacific. There were pictures of the battleship, half-capsized in billowing clouds of black smoke in the weekly English newsmagazine. Poof! Like that, a candle blown out in a single breath and a thousand and a half lives snuffed out with it. It made Adi’s heart ache to think of this, and she wept, but not where Mama could see.

She did not even cry when Cousin Nando, and Cousin Jesus Gonzales and a half-dozen of the other teenage cousins came to Adi after Mass on Christmas Day, 1941, announcing that they had all sworn a blood-oath to avenge Manolo. Cousin Jesus had already had his orders to report to the Army, but the other boys were intent on volunteering for the Army, the Navy, the Marines even.

“So … we meant to ask you as Manny’ sister – if you would give us all a token,” Jesus Gonzales affirmed solemnly. “We pledge to avenge him by killing a dozen Japs each. Our solemnest promise, Adi!”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Adi snorted. Yes, of course she was angry at the Japanese – for killing her gentle brother Manolo, who only lived to get grease all over his hands and work on his engines until they were tuned and vibrated like the beating of a human heart. And they had attacked without warning, without a declaration of war, which to Adi’s understanding, was sneaky and unfair. But Jesus Gonzales, who was dark-eyed, lean, and handsome like a movie star, looked at her soulfully and begged again, until she relented.

“Give me a moment.”

She went into her parent’s house – the house in the oldest part of town, into her room, and took out the chip-carved box with her most precious small things in it, considering a sacrifice of the map of the Hawaiian Islands and the pictures of a tower and exotic flowers, and blue waves crashing on a white-sand shore, the scarf which had been a gift from Manolo. No, not that. She took instead another of her handkerchiefs, a pretty white cotton gauze handkerchief, printed with little blue flowers and green leaves, and the sewing shears from Mama’s sewing basket.

Out on the front porch, she met the cousins – dark-eyed romantic Jesus, hot-tempered Nando, and the others. “My token, that which you have asked for,” Adi said, as she crunched the scissor blades through the crisp-starched handkerchief; producing a dozen smaller squares, and struggled for something to say as she put them into the hands of that boy or this, thinking that this was absurdly like something from the old legends, or the movies on a flickering silver screen. She struggled for the right words. “Not in hate … Manolo didn’t hate, for he didn’t want to be remembered that way. But for the right, for justice and freedom, and for our people. For Manolo …” she lost the thread of her thoughts entirely, for Jesus and Nando reverently kissed the scraps of handkerchief as they were handed to them, and so did the other boys.

“Write to me?” Asked Jesus, at the last. “Promise, Adi!”

They all went off, in the following weeks, all with their small cheap suitcases packed, taking the weekly bus that was the only public transport then from Luna City to the wider world, and to the duty and colors which called them. Cousin Nando became a pilot, Jesus a cook with the Army, the others to service mundane or heroic as chance and temperament let them. Adi Gonzales was certain that every one of them took that little square of cotton handkerchief, printed with blue flowers.

Jesus Gonzales certainly did, for it was one of those small things which she found at the end in sorting out his things, after half a century of faithful marriage; a cotton scrap, discolored with age, so fragile that it practically fell apart in her hand as she took it out from his wallet.

But Mama … no, Mama never took it to heart that Manolo was gone from the world of the living. Against all evidence to the contrary – the telegram from the government, that Manolo never came home again, she insisted that he was alive and well, doing his patriotic duty for the war, still working in the engine-room of the battleship Arizona. Mama was first to the telephone – the telephone that was almost the first in Luna City in the household of Gonzales or Gonzalez, certain every time that it was Manolo calling, long-distance. The war dragged on, and even when it ended – and the next began – Mama smilingly assured Adi and the family, their friends that Manolo was fine and happy in his work. For she had seen him frequently – or his likeness, in pictures of sailors on one ship or another, on shore leave, or in the newsreels show in the theater in Karnesville. Mama did not allow the star on the flag which hung in the front window of their house to change from white to gold, and there was a wrapped gift under the tree for Manolo for many Christmas mornings to come. Now and again, Mama said that she had talked to someone who had seen Manolo. In her later years, Mama even insisted that she had spoken with Manolo, on the telephone. Even in her final illness, she had opened her eyes one afternoon, and said to Adi – perfectly clear –

“There is nothing to worry about, mi hija. Manolo has left insurance, to take care of us all.”

Some years after both Mama and Papi passed away, Adi’s first cousin Roman and his wife celebrated their twentieth wedding anniversary with a trip to Hawaii. Roman and Conchita went to the Arizona Memorial, and surreptitiously left a bouquet of fragrant white plumeria flowers floating on the water – water still streaked with oil leaking from Manolo’s ship, iridescent streaks which the locals said were the tears of the ship, crying for her lost crew. Roman and Conchita also went to the Punchbowl Cemetery – they brought back pictures. Adi is certain that Manolo is buried there, among the unknowns from the Arizona. After all this time, it hardly matters, really. But she likes to think of him, the strong young sailor in his white uniform, with his hands and fingernails from which the oil and grime of working engines would never quite be cleaned. She likes to think of him, walking among the palm trees and the plumeria and frangipani scenting the tropic air, the blue water and white foam, crashing on a sugar-white strand.

Now and again, Adeliza Gonzales-Gonzalez, who has not been called ‘Adi’ in years thinks she has seen Manolo, in a magazine picture accompanying some story to do with the Navy, or a sailor half-glimpsed in a television newscast. She is very careful not to say anything about this, of course.

01. December 2017 · Comments Off on Holiday in Goliad – and Other Stuff! · Categories: Book Event, Luna City, Old West · Tags: ,

All righty, then – the sequel to Lone Star Sons, Lone Star Glory is now available for pre-release order as an ebook. It will be available in print by the middle of the month.

For the remainder of the month, Lone Star Sons is available as an ebook at a pittance – .99 cents, as is the ebook of The Chronicles of Luna City.  The print version of A Fifth of Luna City will be available around the end of next week, for those who prefer to go old-school with books. I probably won’t be able to have either of these books at any author events  I will do in the next week or so,

But in the mean time – tomorrow Santa arrives on a longhorn!

The arrival of Santa, with a spare mount. It’s a long way from the North Pole, you see.