I started work a couple of weeks ago on a replica of our family heirloom christening dress; the original, which was made in about 1870-1880 was destroyed when my parents’ retirement home burned to the ground in 2003. At that time I promised Mom that I would try to replicate it, as best as I could and in materiel as similar to the original as could be found for a reasonable price.

I wasn’t in much of a hurry to complete this project until this year, as none of my nieces and nephews were of an age to produce another generation, but now that my daughter is about to produce a grandson for me … it became a high priority.

Behold, the project as it progressed, and as it was completed. I still have to finish the little petticoat to go underneath, and a smocked baby bonnet – but the main element is done!

(No, it’s not anywhere near ready, yet, but this will be the opening chapter – Richard determining to make some lifestyle and personal changes. But it all will get complicated…)

The New Plan

“I brought down the mail for you, Ricardo,” Sefton Grant tapped politely on the metal door of the small airstream trailer that Richard called home. “Saw the lights on, knew you were home.”

“I have mail?” Richard replied, wooden spoon in one hand. “’Strewth, I do almost everything on-line with my phone, these days. I almost forgot that there was such a thing as a stamped envelope with paper printed documents contained within. Who’s it from?”

“None of my business,” Sefton replied, with stalwart dignity, considering that he was clad in his usual costume for a mild winter day – cowboy boots and a hand-loomed loincloth which barely covered the naughty bits. The seventyish co-proprietor of the Age of Aquarius Campground and Goat Farm was a stringy and well-tanned character who mostly resembled a fitter and less-run-to-seed Willie Nelson. But he added, “Official mail on one – something to do with your immigration status, I would guess. Look, if you need it, Judy and I can declare this place a sanctuary for the undocumented. Our old Communards will go to the wall for you, as a person fleeing political persecution for your beliefs … you do have beliefs, Ricardo?”

“In good food, well-prepared and expertly served,” Richard replied with a sigh. “Hardly the stuff of which international political martyrs are made. But I do appreciate the sentiment, Sefton.”

“The other is hand-written,” Sefton Grant handed over the two envelopes. “You know someone in France?”

“My parents,” Richard answered, after a gander at the second envelope. “They live in France now … don’t know for how much longer, with all this Brexit faffing about. But they have the property there since I bought it for them. I understand that my dear old Dad is making a go of the vineyard attached to the property. Lord only knows how he does it – he was a stockbroker when he retired with a hefty pension and a boodle of earnings on investments. I can’t think how he ever managed to learn about making wine, although I suppose that anything is possible.”

“A filthy capitalist, then?” Sefton queried.

 Richard replied, “No, Dad has always been scrupulous about bathing. And he has excellent instincts about investments, and how they can work for you. Honestly, Sefton – I’ve always been a piker about that kind of thing. You earn money, you have money, you spend it … compound interest and all that is a closed book to me. Might as well be a species of voodoo magic, as far as I am concerned … look, Sefton. I’ve decided to make some life changes. And you’re the first to know.”

“Oh?” Sefton shifted uneasily, on the doorstep to the tiny vintage aluminum caravan, in which Richard had made a home for … how many years was it? Richard had lost track. “You’re not going to come out of the closet are you, Ricardo? Me and Judy, we’re open-minded as sh*t, so that’s OK with us, regardless…”

“No!” Richard regarded his host and landlord with mild exasperation. “No, not out of that closet. I’m as straight as straight can be. Totally hetero – I like the girls and they like me. In bed and otherwise. No … I’ve come to some life-decisions. I’m going to come out as American … and ask Kate to marry me.”

“Is that all?” Sefton looked … well, not as jolted as Richard thought he might have been, on the occasion of that momentous announcement. “Well, congratulations all the way around. Don’t know how all that legal BS will go, being natural-born Americans, Judy and I. It was all sorted for us, on account of where we were born. A bit different, I think – making the active choice. Lotta hurdles to go over, or so they say. I prolly ain’t the one to best advise you on that – mebbe Jess is the right person to go to. Even Doc Wyler – he’s got the power juice an’ all. ‘Specially as you work for him, at the Café, an’ all.” Yes,” Sefton definitely looked in a brighter mood. “See what ‘ol Doc W. can do for you, Ricardo. But if all else fails, Ju and I can declare this place a sanctuary space for the undocumented immigrant.”

“I believe that you and your good lady won’t have to go to that extreme,” Richard replied, somewhat heartened by Sefton Grant’s gesture of support, and the implicit support of all the Old Communards, original members of a commune founded at the Age of Aquarius in the 1968 Summer of Love. Most of them were now ensconced with tenure in the higher rungs of higher education, so possibly they possessed at least as much communal social justice juice as the aged and irascible owner of the Wyler Ranch, for whom the concept of social justice was merely a nasty and disruptive rumor. ‘But nonetheless – it is appreciated. Your support and all. I will go through with it all, you see. This is a place that …”

“Gets a hold on you, Ricardo,” Sefton agreed. “Kinda grows on ya.’”

“Like moss and mold,” Richard agreed, and Sefton laughed. It was a friendly and companionable laugh.

“Hey look – wet your head, in a metaphorical way of speaking – now that you’re about to become one of us. Let me bring you a jug of the newest …”

“Your vintage white?” Richard was immediately all ears. “Or your best red. It matters not, Sefton. I’ll drink a health to my future as an American, a married man, to Kate and … well, really – anyone and anything you propose a toast to. Bring it on, man. Bring it on.”

“Sure,” Sefton shuffled the toe of his cowboy boot in the small dust which had blown across the space of concrete pavers which formed the brief sheltered patio below the vintage Airstream caravan which had been Richard’s (and latterly Ozzie the Chef Kitten’s) home since arriving in Luna City. Sefton looked as if he was the bearer of unfortunate intelligence. “Say … Ricardo … have you really thought about where you will live, once you and Katie are a thing? This place is really small, an’ I know you love it … but once you and she are a family sort of thing … a dinky trailer like this just won’t cut it. Katie has all her own stuff, ya know. Books and all that. Ju and I built the yurt for the family. We needed the space, you see. A space big enough to swing a cat in…”

“I have no intention of swinging Ozzie,” Richard replied with some indignation. “I am certain that he would object most strenuously to that exercise. I suppose that I would have to consult with Kate. I suppose that we would have to establish a somewhat roomier joint domicile … but honestly, Stefton, I would keep the caravan as a pied-à-terre … a sort of holiday or weekend retreat. It’s a small space of my own … and dammit, I do appreciate the solitude and peace of your little refuge. I’d go on paying the rent, of course, even if … when Kate and I establish a residence elsewhere…” Left unvoiced was a certain kind of sinking-in-the-heart realization that he and Kate would have to live someplace together – a larger place, with room for Richard’s kitchen things, Ozzie’s litterbox and all that Kate would bring to a union of their two households. Which wouldn’t fit into the Airstream, not even with the aid of a shoehorn.

“That’s fine, Ricardo,” Sefton shuffled the toe of his cowboy boot into the dust again. “A man does need a refuge, ‘o course. So, where d’you think you and Kate will settle?”

“I don’t know,” Richard answered. “That will be up to Kate’s preference and my own hopefully well-fattened checkbook. I am perfectly agreeable to my ladylove making that momentous decision. It all depends on how well-fatted that checkbook might be, in the long run. I … well, I was a fool about money, and left a good quantity of financial debris behind in London. Debts and all … we might have to settle in here, after all.”

“A country boy can survive,” Sefton grinned crookedly, but with complete understanding.

“No matter what country, eh?” Richard answered. “You’ve been a pal, Sefton. I should thank you again for being so… although quite a lot of people who claimed to know me well have insisted that I’m a selfish, inconsiderate git. I don’t really deserve the consideration that I have received from you all…”

“Never mind, Ricardo,” Sefton flashed those amazingly good straight teeth again in a smile. “We all have our weaknesses, ya know? I’ll bring that jug of mustang red for ya … if you don’t answer the door, I’ll leave it by the step. I suppose you wanna do some thinking about your letters?”

“I do, Sefton – and thanks for the consideration,” Richard replied.

The official letter he cared little for – but the letter from France had his complete attention.

His parents were going to visit Texas, a few months hence. And that intelligence drew his complete attention.

(This one picks up where the last left off – at a sudden impediment to the splendid wedding at the historic Gonzalez Family home rancho, where Dr. Mindy is about to wed … or not … her peripatetic treasure-hunting swain…)

He barely heard Araceli’s reply, as he took off his chef’s apron, ditched the towel tucked into the waistband, and cast a regretful look back at the towering and ornamental cake as he stalked out into the main kitchen – was this project all for naught, after all? Was this an even bigger and more extensive potential disaster than most every event at the Walcotts’? It certainly seemed as if it had that potential.

“… she thought that you were …” the rest was lost behind him as he stormed out through the kitchen and across the back veranda of the Rancho HQ house, even as he took a moment to consider Katie and her prolonged … whatever it was. His lovely and even-tempered Kate seemed to be annoyed with him, although he couldn’t for the life of him figure out why.

All seemed in order for a country wedding, as he crossed through the venue – the tables, the pavilion, even a temporary floor laid down for dancing, and past a large burly middle-aged chap in clerical black and white, extracting himself by easy stages from behind the wheel of a somber-colored Mercedes sedan.

“God bless the day,” that gentleman remarked as Richard passed nearby. He sounded Irish, although the brogue had been softened and tenderized as it was by long residence in Texas. “I am expected, d’y’see – for the blessing of a marriage of this house and consecration of the chapel? I am arrived at the right locality on the correct day?”

“You are,” Richard answered, much harried. “Although there is trouble in the wind, I am afraid. Richard Astor-Hall. Caterer and best man for the groom … it seems that the bride and groom have plans which come as a surprise to the bride’s guardian and host for this magnificent affair. I have been sent to bring the groom to the family parlor …”

“Say no more, indade,” the clerical gentleman replied, with a commiserating look. “And if I had a free drink for any contretemps that I have arrived in the middle of, I’d be drowned in a vat of good whiskey. Tommy Mulvaney is my name, Bishop for Karnes County is my station. I’ll show myself in, Mr. Hall, as I am expected – I thank you for the warning of trouble. Forewarned is forearmed, as the old saying goes.”

The good bishop briskly trotted up the back stairs to the main house, and Richard turned his mind to his errand – that of fetching the blushing bridegroom to a sudden conference. He knocked politely on the door to Gunnison-Penn’s aging and travel-battered RV, and upon hearing a response from within, opened the side door and stepped up the rickety metal stairs to the mobile abode.

“Xavier, they need you in the parlor, tout suite – your host for this magnificent affaire has just found out about your plans for a peripatetic honeymoon and your darling bride’s plans to scarper from her university position…”

“But…but … I thought it was all settled…” a shirtless and bare-chested Xavier Gunnison-Penn emerged from a narrow doorway farther down the interior of the cramped and rather grubby-looking RV which Richard assumed housed the WC and associated conveniences, as the former wiped off the last line of shaving cream from his cheek. The usually rather ratty-looking beard was neatly trimmed and shaped for the occasion. Richard was impressed. The most famous unsuccessful treasure-hunter in the western world actually looked relatively handsome; resemblance to a somewhat thinner Colonel Saunders of the chain fried-chicken franchise notwithstanding.

“Apparently not,” Richard answered. The eccentric treasure hunter was comprehensively not one of his favorite people in Luna City, but he wanted very much for the wedding to continue as planned as otherwise Araceli would be ripping strips off his hide for the foreseeable future, as this concerned her academic and otherwise unmarriageable Cousin Mindy. “And the Bishop is here, so make yourself decent.”

“Oh, right,” the prospective bridegroom shrugged on a neatly ironed and starched short-sleeved shirt, of the open-necked kind with the elaborate pattern of tucks and stitching down the front and on the sleeves locally popular for a certain kind of casual yet official event. “Thanks, Astor-Hall. How do I look?” he added as he fastened the final button.

“Ready for anything,” Richard answered. “Your lady awaits … in the parlor, but you may stand just outside of it, so that you need not actually break pre-wedding protocol.”

“It was all sorted, I thought,” Gunnison-Penn fussed, as he and Richard left the RV and headed across the yard to the house. “Mindy assured me that it was understood – she was owed a sabbatical or two from the university before her retirement … I thought that had been explained to her grandfather!”

“Obviously, not in words that he comprehends, or perhaps it has not sunk entirely in,” Richard replied, though tight lips, and Gunnison-Penn continued as if he had not heard a word, as Richard led him through the crowded kitchen and into the dark interior corridor beyond. Richard did not know the Rancho HQ house any farther than that – fortunately, there were the sounds of voices to guide him: female sobbing, an irate male voice from behind the farthest door, and both Abuelita Adeliza and Araceli beckoning him urgently from the end of that hallway.

“Besides that,” Gunnison-Penn yammered at his elbow, “I have definite information as to the possible whereabouts of a great fortune in precious jewels and coin stolen from a Mughal treasure fleet … a treasure of importance to India and to the British Isles, and a solution to a mystery four centuries old!”

“India and the Isles, you say?” And that was the interested voice of the Bishop himself, now looming up in the doorway at the end of the corridor. “A pirate treasure! God save the day! They say among my kin back in Kildare that the founder of our own family fortune was a pirate! Long Tom Mulvaney, they called him. There is a long ballad-lament about his hanging in Derry in 1725, for he was a handsome man, and beloved of the ladies. It wasn’t that he was that tall, y’see; the ‘long’ referred to … another physical endowment. Look you – no need to come within. Your bride is there … ah, you are not the groom? Sorry, so it is this other chappie…”

It was completely admirable, thought Richard, that the Bishop kept his bland countenance throughout the following exchange. Must have been something about those cold showers, vigils in the wee hours, and the discipline of regular ritual. He and Gunnison-Penn stood in the hallway together, a little removed from Abuelita Adeliza hovering like a censorious Hispanic ghost of Weddings Future, while the Bishop – in the doorway itself, while Araceli and Mindy stood within the parlor, just in reach. A small pale hand appeared around the doorjamb. Although Richard noted – not all that small and pale, but rather capable and work-roughened.

“Xavie?” Dr. Mindy quavered. “Are you there? Abuelo doesn’t understand about the pirate treasure project. He thinks that I am throwing my whole career away… He doesn’t understand…”

“No, my darling sweetness – you are just moving on,” Xavier Gunnison-Penn took that hand, from the other side of the doorway, as he stood resolute with his back to the parlor. “And you haven’t told him about the other thing… You are moving towards better and higher, more meaningful things! The thrill of the search and the finding! Wasn’t it glorious, finding the portions of the Gonzaga Reliquary? The legendary and historical treasure of your family?”

“We wouldn’t have found it, without your knowledge and determination!” Dr. Mindy replied, fervently and addressed her remarks to the unseen authority within the parlor. “Abuelo – it’s not what you think! I’m ready to do the work that I want to do; work with Xavie – not the work that I have to do for the University. Please, Abuelo – please understand. I’m not crashing my career – I’d be doing the work that I want to do, alongside my husband. I’m done with the university! I want to live in the outside world now – I do have a pension plan with medical coverage and all! Comprehensive medical coverage, which is something I will need, soon enough! I’m just cashing in the last couple of sabbaticals that I never used! Please, Abuelo – I have thought his all out, and I will do it. Darling Abuelo, I will be all right and provided for…”

Bishop Mulvaney backed her up with the assurance, “And you would have, indade! Finding that precious reliquary was a marvel of persistence and a triumph of research. It’s a gift you have, the both of you … and what was this that you claimed, regarding a pirate treasure cache?”

“So you say,” replied Don Jaimie, from within the parlor – a sorely-tried and perplexed man from the sound of it, Richard concluded. He wished that he could ask for enlightenment from Araceli, but she was within the parlor, and remaining silent. A wise decision on her part, he thought, considering the ongoing drama.

“Abuelo, listen!” Mindy pleaded. “Xavie has a clue to the whereabouts of a great treasure of India, a treasure stolen by pirates almost four hundred years ago and never found. Listen … he can explain it so better than I can.”

Another great treasure, long sought after, Richard thought with an interior sigh. Out loud, he murmured to Gunnison-Penn, as they stood outside in the dark hallway.

“That would be your clue. Make it good and convincing – put every bit of belief and passion that you have into what you have next to say. Your wedding cake depends upon it.”

“My wedding cake?” Gunnison-Penn sent a wild-eyed look sideways to Richard. “What has that to do with it all, I ask you?”

“Everything to me!” Richard snarled in response, while nudging Gunnison-Penn emphatically with his elbow. “Spill all about your so-called treasure of great importance to India: what it is, where it might be, and why you have special reason to think that you are at least warm on the track to finding it!” “Right, then,” The famed (or notorious, depending on how one regarded him) Canadian treasure hunter cleared his throat, and addressed his unseen audience; his beloved, her maid of honor, her grandfather, great-aunt, best man, and the Bishop in the manner of one accustomed to larger audiences. “I have information relayed to me through private means which I am not at liberty at present to reveal, of the possible location of a master’s portion of a great treasure, worth two hundred million dollars in modern currency, at the time it was looted in 1695.

(This picks up where the last snippet left off – Richard doing double duty as caterer and as Best Man for the Canadian Treasurer Xavier Gunnison-Penn at his wedding to Araceli’s academically-inclined cousin, Dr. Miranda Rodriguez-Gonzales.)

Now, Richard nodded to Araceli.

“I have the cake topper – it’s fragile, so I don’t trust anyone but myself to carry it. Andy is in the van – so summon the minions – or whatever minions we have available to unload the van. The wedding cake layers are in the big white pasteboard boxes. Be careful with them. Any minion who drops one of those boxes…”

“I know, the wrath of Chef,” Araceli replied. She took up a box, which contained the second layer of the cake – Richard was keen on on-site final assembly, as a prevention against horrible accidents – and led the way across the screened back porch and into the commodious and retro-style kitchen. (The box with the bottom layer would require two people, or perhaps a dolly to convey it safely into the kitchen) Only it wasn’t deliberately styled that way – the kitchen was as it had been for the last half a century. Tile counters, extensive cabinets … a lot of old-style pots and pans hanging from a rack over the stove, an enormous old-style enameled gas item, on which several massive pots simmered, pots sufficiently large enough to boil a baby or a small child.

“The sauces for the beef roast,” Araceli explained over her shoulder. “The borracho beans, and steaming the tamales … it’s what everyone expects, at a BBQ like this.”

Richard nodded. “I’m glad that the happy couple agreed with us – that we would supply a buffet of mostly cold or chilled sides, just as we did for the Boathouse opening. It saves a lot of trouble…”

The kitchen was crowded with women, most of them of the Gonzalez-Gonzales clan, of all ages and body types – but universally tending in the direction of olive complexions and dark hair, although some of the very youngest sported brilliant magenta, green, or purple locks. The very oldest of them – Abuelita Adeliza Gonzales-Gonzalez, the absolute ruler of the Gonzales branch of the clan and Araceli’s grandmother, beamed upon Richard most fondly, and called a welcome in Spanish across the crowded kitchen towards him. Of all the women in Luna City, Abuelita was his original and most influential local fan, even before his advent in Luna City. Abuelita never had watched much American television other than the Cooking Channel; it was Araceli’s opinion that Abuelita’s enduring fanship for the Bad Boy Chef was because of his resemblance to her late husband, Abuelo Jesus, who had been a cook in his Army draftee days, some seven decades previous. Richard smiled back; for himself, he would have been reluctant to admit that he was rather fond of the quite masterful old woman. Then he looked away from the younger crowd, already obeying Araceli and Abuelita’s barked commands regarding the stacks of boxes from the van. Richard deliberately looked away from the youngest set, at work in the old kitchen – too many of them reminded him of his eccentric junior chef, with his peacock-colored Mohawk crest and lavish facial piercings.

“You can do the final touches on the cake over there,” Araceli nudged him in the direction of a narrow archway giving access into another and much smaller room – windowless place entirely lined with shelves; obviously storage space for little-used dishes, pots, pans, covered casseroles and china place settings. A substantial butcher-block-topped table took up most of the center of that small room.  A sturdy bar cart sat next to it, already decked out in white draping and bunches of artificial lilies of the valley.  “Abuelita said that space was strictly reserved for you, and she will so do something awful to anyone among the ladies who intrudes.”

“I’ve always liked the cut of her jib,” Richard replied. “Although I can’t possibly imagine what awful thing that sweet old-age pensioner could possibly do to anyone …”

“You’d be surprised,” Araceli replied, darkly. “Not share with them her special heirloom recipe for rice pudding. Tell them in front of everyone that their pollo asado is garbage, fit only for stupid Anglo tourists; Abuelita has means, and some of them are very mean indeed. The vicious seventh-grade clique of popular girls has nothing on our Abuelita.”

“Glad to hear it … or not,” Richard replied, and paid no more mind. He had to focus and focus he would. The kitchen brigade, under the direction of Araceli and her formidable grandmother would take care of the rest of the wedding buffet, while Andy and his capable offspring would take care of the main course – the whole roast beef-onna-magnificent mechanical spit. Now his attention must be focused on the wedding cake; assembling those three magnificent layers on the wheeled cart. He had extra ganache, buttercream frosting, all his piping bags and specialty icing tips, a tray of fragile sugar flowers with sufficient extras to cover breakage – and the magnificent cake topper itself, replicating the fabulous Gonzaga Reliquary in gold-tinted sugar paste, molded sugar gems, and a central plaque replicating the painting under crystal of the Madonna and Child exiting Bethlehem riding on St. Gigibertus’ horse – a tooth of which was also replicated in tinted marzipan, contained in a column of clear melted sugar. The girls – such was his degree of concentration that he did not even notice the combined party who brought in the first layer, the massive one with the dowel supports already set into it. They unpacked the box and slid the bottom layer onto the foundation tray, already mounted on the cart. The other layers would be carefully maneuvered onto that initial layer; he would trim it out and set the sugar-jeweled topper onto it. Araceli had already taken pictures of the finished topper and uploaded it to the Café’s FB page. Richard had been astounded to discover that the Café possessed such a thing. Araceli had looked at him as if he were dimwitted. (“Seriously, Chef … Jess, Doc and Miss Letty authorized this simply ages ago. Where have you been?” “Blissfully unaware!” he had riposted. In any case, his cake genius had been recorded for the ages, and barring any accident … well, these things would happen.)

 He would trust Araceli and the other women in the kitchen brigade that they would manage to wheel the completely assembled and trimmed cake all the way out through the kitchen and down the ramp from the porch to the place of honor set aside for it. The temporary kitchen brigade bustled in, arraying the boxes with the other layers on the old table, and he set to work, losing himself to absolute concentration, stacking and securing the upper layers, and covering the inevitable joins and cracks with ganache, carefully smoothed to match, and then adorned with swirls and galloons of buttercream. Then the careful insertion of sugar flowers and leaves … he managed this without breaking very many of them, delicate things tinted in the various colors of native Texas wildflowers. All was ready for the crowning glory of the topper. Richard stepped back for a breath, wishing for steady hands and absolute concentration… 

Oh, confound it – what was the fuss now? It sounded like a woman crying. He so didn’t need this, not on a wedding day … It was not a good omen, especially if it were the bride.

“What’s going on? Who’s that crying!” Richard went to the door into the main kitchen and demanded of the nearest girl, the one arrayed in magenta-colored braids and a totally unattractive eyebrow piercing who cried in answer,

“I don’t know, Chef! Really, I don’t!” and fled before he could request enlightenment. He regretted unleashing the trademark scowl. But Araceli bustled in – yes, now in a formal gown, but her hair and makeup still in their natural and decidedly casual state, barefoot and carrying a pair of strappy little sandals in pastel hues to match her dress.

“It’s Mindy,” she replied, in somewhat of an unaccustomed fluster – definitely unaccustomed for Araceli, who had been rendered emotionally bomb-proof after two decades of front-house service in the Café. “She’s been getting all heck from Tio Jaime … it seems that …”

“I can’t deal with this,” Richard replied, through teeth griding so close that he might have to make an appointment with a dentist in Karnesville. He had to install the cake topper and oversee the delicate business of moving the whole edifice out to the venue in the back yard of the Rancho.

“You might have to,” Araceli replied, crisply. “You’re also the best man – here to support the groom. Take a deep breath. Mindy needs … “

“Six inches of good Canadian (redacted)” Richard suggested with a snarl, “Or maybe eight on the wedding night, if her good Xavie has indeed been generously blessed!”

“Really, Chef – you don’t need to be so crude!” Araceli snapped. “You have to do duty as best man – seriously.”

“Oh, Chr…” Richard exclaimed, and intercepted Araceli’s scowl. He was as near as dammit going to take the Lord’s name in vain, something to which Araceli particularly and frequently objected. “…Christmas! What do I need to do – and be specific, my attention needs to be focused on one … damned thing at a time.”

Araceli took a deep breath and then another.

“I think you need to fetch Mr. Penn for an emergency family conference in the parlor with Tio Jaimie. Mr. Penn will be in his trailer, getting ready for his and Mindy’s big day. The final assembly of the cake can wait on that for at least a few minutes. The problem is that … Tio Jaimie suddenly found out about what Mindy is about to do for her honeymoon. She’s going to nuke her career as an academic with tenure and follow her heart and her heart’s love … to work on one of his stupid and fruitless treasure quests! He thought that she was just going to use her sabbatical for this … now he has found out that she’s resigned from the university!”

“Oh, Christmas!” Richard exclaimed. Araceli nodded, in deep understanding.

“They can’t see each other on the wedding day. Until the ceremony. It’s one of those traditional customs, you know. Not until the bride comes down the aisle … but Tio Jaimie demands a straight answer from both of them, or he won’t escort her down the aisle … and the Bishop is due any moment to perform the wedding, and dedicate the chapel, and …” Araceli sighed in exasperation. “What shall we do, Ricardo? I’m all out of ideas, myself. Mindy is in her wedding dress.”

“Well,” and Richard took a deep breath. “They don’t have to look at each other, do they? Mindy can stay in the room, and her beloved Xavie can be in the hallway, just outside and out of sight while your Tio Jaimie gets his concerns off his chest. Honestly …” and Richard regarded Araceli with honest appeal. “This will not cancel the party entirely, if all goes ill?”

Araceli heaved a deep sigh. “I hope not, Chef. Tio Jaimie is horrified, as this is the first that he has heard of it. Has always taken such pride in Mindy’s career; she was a Gonzalez and proud Tejano and went on to advanced education and had such a respectable position in a high-class university … as things go around here,” she added hastily. “I know, nothing like those snotty Ivy league dumps. But please – go get Mr. Penn.”

Richard looked at his handiwork – yes, all but finished, only the ornate and sugar-jeweled topper to be applied.

“I’ll back with Mr. Penn in a tick, even if I have to drag him by his bow-tie,” he replied, and Araceli heaved another sigh.

“He won’t be wearing a tie,” she explained with an air of exaggerated patience that nearly sent Richard spare. “He’s wearing a guayabera for the ceremony … you know that sort of ornate short-sleeved shirt. It’s not all that formal an affair.”

“I wish that someone had said something to me!” Richard exclaimed, having spent a pittance at Sylvester Gonzalez’ favored second-hand outlet in San Antonio for a vintage and full white-tie ensemble which fitted him to a tee without even the necessity of being altered to his measurements. He had kind of expected to look like James Bond (the suave and gallant Sean Connery iteration) in the outfit.

“We did,” Araceli replied, indulgently. “But you were so looking forward to being best man … and I think you were planning to wear it when you and Katie tie the knot – you are still planning to marry our Katie, aren’t you? You didn’t pay any attention at all when I told you about Mindy and Mr. Penn. You were busy making sugar flowers for the cake.”

“Well, that explains it,” Richard snarled. “My mind was on higher things than your cousin’s academic career in a backwater public uni. All right – I’ll go fetch Mr. Penn. In the meantime, think of what you and I ought to be saying to your uncle. And I am still planning on marrying Kate – when she gets over this … whatever snit she developed upon discovering that I am applying for full citizenship! What is it with you Gonzalez women anyway? Did someone feed you all a crazy salad with your baby food?”

(Yes, I have been working on the next Luna City installment … wherein Dr. Mindy and Xavier Gunnison-Penn get married, Richard steels himself to propose to Katie … and things happen.)

The Chapel of Love

Richard did have to admit, as the trusty and battered refrigerated van from Pryor’s Meats and BBQ bumped around that last corner in erratically-paved country lane which led to the ancestral home ranch of the many-branched Gonzales/Gonzalez clan at Rancho Rincon de los Robles, that the whole place only appeared modestly stately – and a couple of degrees less so than other historic and presumably stately structures went in Luna City and environs. The winning point for the Rancho Rincon was due to age. The Rincon de los Robles manse outscored all local competition in that regard; the magnificent and pillared classical plantation sprawl of the Wyler HQ house (copied after a famous ruined grand house in Mississippi) dated only from the late 1870s, the Beaux-Arts late Victorian commercial splendors of Town Square from the decade following, and the modest stone-built McAllister House, firmly dated from 1854. (The McAllister House was dignified by a metal plaque on a pole by the side of Route 123 designating it as a Texas Historical Monument.) The Rincon de Los Robles headquarters house now held clear victory in the age competition, as Dr. Miranda Rodriguez-Gonzalez had proved to the satisfaction of the State of Texas authorities who sat in judgement of historical matters. The very oldest wing of the Rincon del Los Robles home ranch house (the thickest-walled, darkest, and most uncomfortable part, devoid of plumbing and electricity and used principally for storage) had been proved beyond a shadow of doubt to be of late 18th Century construction, a domestic establishment founded by two sons of the minor Spanish nobleman who had been granted a lavish property on the San Antonio River, a residence continuously lived in by their descendants thereafter. The property had been considerably shrunk by two centuries of subsequent wars’ alarms, and economic vicissitudes – but due to Mindy Rodriguez-Gonzalez’s tireless efforts, the Los Robles establishment had been awarded the suitable historical plaque which made note of all this.

The formal unveiling of said plaque had been the highlight of the civic and social calendar the previous month in Luna City. That it had been positioned on the verge of Route 123 adjacent to the lay-by and turn for the gate to Los Robles, with only small signs posted half a mile in either direction notifying motorists of the presence of a historical marker was a mere bagatelle. Doctor Mindy was satisfied with the official honor paid to her family. Besides, she had more urgent matters to attend; her wedding to the peripatetic treasure-seeker, Xavier Gunnison Penn, to all appearances now the love of Dr. Mindy’s hereto arid academic life. For this event, Richard had been recruited in a dual role; as best man for the treasure-hunting Canadian, and as head caterer for all the culinary offerings aside from the main course – a whole roasted beef on a massive outdoor spit set up over a cookfire of coals which seethed like the crater of a passive volcano.

This main course was the purview of the driver of the van.  In his weekday job Andy Pryor was a petroleum engineer employed by various concerns in the shale oil business, but in private the husband of the magnificently demi-royal Patricia Wyler Pryor, doyenne of what passed for a social set in Luna City, director, and president of the drama society… also rumored to be the heir of her irascible grandfather, Doc Stephen Wyler. The second-oldest resident of Luna City, owner of the largest ranch property in Karnes County, and of most anything going in the immediate vicinity. Fortunately for all, as had often been observed, the old man mostly used his considerable social and economic powers for good, as did his granddaughter. They ruled their demesne with a light and barely perceptible hand. Patricia and her husband, with the aid of their three strapping sons, ran a custom butchering and BBQ business from a nondescript building some distance from historic Town Square. Now, Richard and Andy Pryor were on their way to the Rancho, with the wedding cake, and the various side dishes for the wedding feast all stashed on racks in the back of the van. Andy and Patricia’s oldest son, Anson had been overseeing the whole-roast-beef-onna-outdoor-spit since the day before. Richard would otherwise have wanted to know how this could be accomplished – but he was simply too busy with the wedding cake and all the various sides. The Pryors were the experts in this regard, although Richard was looking forward to picking their various brains about the process. Meanwhile, Richard’s toque, white chef’s coat – with his formal black-tie tuxedo on another hanger, shrouded in a plastic suit bag hanging from a hook in the divider in the van, was more than willing to do his duty in both roles – as caterer and best man.

The ranch house sat in a small grove of ancient oak trees, with a few desultory plantings of shrubbery and some large-leaved thickets of tropical-looking plants. The thickest of those plantings clustered around a small two-tiered stone fountain in the graveled circle before the main front door. The front prospect of the Rancho Rincon de los Robles made an uninspired gesture in the direction of formal elegance, as if designed by someone who had an elegant Southern plantation house described to them, but who had never actually seen a picture of one. The place seemed to be entirely deserted, and Richard viewed the discouraged prospect with mild alarm.

“Did we come on the wrong day?” he asked, somewhat apprehensive, and Andy grinned sideways.

“No, Ricardo – it’s all on for today. But the party is around in back.”

Andy steered the van along a barely-graveled but adequate narrow drive, leading around the side of the house. Richard was immediately reassured – there was the life of the party; strings of lights and those intricately-cut and lace-like paper banners, all flown with abandon on wires strung all across the space in the back of the house, from porches to several ancient and venerable oak trees, to the outbuildings and back again. There was the modest front of the new chapel, at some distance across what looked like a kitchen garden, flanked by an extensive complex of stables, corral, and henhouse, a garage with several tractors and four-wheel-drive vehicles parked therein … and Gunnison Penn’s ancient RV, parked in front and already adorned with more balloons, paper lace flags, and a large banner which announced, “Just Married!” in two languages. The area in between the somewhat humbler back of the sprawling old farmstead was filled in also with folding tables and chairs, and even some ordinary dining-room chairs – drafted from within, standing awkward, naked and embarrassed in the out-of-doors … Richard thought that he recognized the folding stock from the Catholic parish hall, possibly filled in with loans from the Methodists … the tables now adorned with paper tablecloths and being arrayed with centerpieces of fake flowers and garlands of real ivy, as well as droves of candles in ornate holders. The largest and longest table obviously was meant for the buffet, as it sat under a wide pavilion raised on metal legs adjacent to the back door of the old Rancho HQ house. He breathed an interior sigh of relief. All was going for the wedding as was expected. He spotted Araceli in the pavilion, giving orders to several younger members of the clan, who were carrying trays loaded with cutlery. Ah, yes – the Café kitchen brigade had everything in hand. Or maybe it was the Gonzalez/Gonzales clan kitchen brigade… and there was his right-hand person in daily command of the Café, with a notebook in her hand and a pen in the other, instead of the carafes of freshly-brewed coffee and a pitcher of cream with which she usually appeared with, at the front of the house.

“Oh, good,” she remarked, as Richard appeared from the passenger side of the van, and Andy swung the double doors at the back of the van all the way open, revealing the shelves within, stacked high with bulk food containers and boxes. “Is the cake OK? Mindy is freaking out about the cake…”

“She shouldn’t be,” Richard answered. “The cake and the topper are perfectly fine. Now that we have arrived … I will assemble them in the appropriate space.”

“Be our guest, Chef,” Araceli managed a parody of a curtsy to royalty. “The kitchen is through here.  I’ll tell Andy that it’s probably best to wheel everything up the ramp, rather than carry it all up the steps. You might want to take it all to the old butler pantry. Mind you dodge the cousins on the way through the kitchen…”

“The sisters, and the cousins and the aunts… I know,” Richard replied, somewhat grumpily.

“All you need do is to scowl at them,” Araceli replied, smartly. “You’re Richard from the Café, you know. The finest classically trained French chef and the prize of the culinary scene in Luna City, if not in the entirety of Karnes County. They all know you …”

“That’s what I’m afraid of!” Richard unsheathed the trademarked scowl from his televised Bad Boy Chef days. It had no effect whatsoever on Araceli, inured as she was through extended exposure.

“And besides,” Araceli added. “Abuela Adeliza is in the kitchen, taking command, so I would best leave it in her hands. In a bit, I’ll have to leave everything and do my maid of honor duty in getting Mindy dressed and made up for the occasion. I think that Uncle Jaimie is rather overwhelmed today. He has never coped well with this social kind of thing. And no one seriously expected Cousin Mindy ever to marry …”

Richard had never quite grasped the degree of kinship between Dr. Miranda Rodriguez-Gonzalez and Araceli Gonzalez-Gonzales, much less how exactly Dr. Mindy was kin to the man he thought of as the native laird of the Rancho – granddaughter, or niece, he suspected without much evidence. Richard also knew full well that the combined ancestral trees of the Gonzales-Gonzalez clan rather more resembled an ultra-complicated Gordian knot, which had defied for at least a century any attempt by genealogists to map anything other than the direct father-to-son line of descent of the owners of the Rancho De Los Robles. It was a general understanding that Gonzales-with-a-z were thought to be in some way descended from the oldest legitimate son of the original Spanish land grantee, and Gonzales-with-an-s were descended from the younger son. Each of the original pair; the heir and the spare, sired eighteen to twenty legitimate and less-than-legitimate offspring. Following generations until the 20th century basically repeated the same pattern, with the same score of names – often recycling names upon the death of an infant or juvenile sibling for a subsequent child and being charmingly lax in the official records with regard to marital status and the name of the maternal parent … it all had driven dedicated genealogists to a frenzy of frustration.

“It’s a tangle, indeed,” allowed the magisterial Miss Letty McAllister, the oldest inhabitant of Luna City, president emeritus of the Luna City Historical Association, when Richard had mentioned his own puzzlement in the matter, about the second year of his residency in Luna City. “But in the long run, best to just conclude that any Gonzalez and Gonzales with a connection to Luna City are cousins, first, second, removed … or any variation thereof. It saves the historians sanity in the long run … not that sanity is an overrated quality among the truly obsessed, genealogically speaking. Honestly, Stephen is of the opinion that absolute specificity only matters if you are breeding cattle or race-horses.”

“I am certain you are right,” Richard replied, and only with an effort, refrained from adding “My Lady, Your Highness, or Your Honor,” to his reply. Miss Letty McAllister was that commanding a person.

(To be continued, of course. I’m aiming for Luna City X to be done and released to the wild by mid-summer.)