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03. August 2017 · Comments Off on Progress Report · Categories: Domestic, Random Book and Media Musings

OK – so here we are on the downhill slide of the year, and the Daughter Unit and I are getting ready for the serious-marketing part of our year. The Daughter Unit, BTW, is returning from California – on the train, specifically the famed Sunset Limited – bag, baggage, laptop and all associated goodies. It will take about twenty hours – she’ll be back early Friday morning, exact time unspecified. Just about everyone in the neighborhood lately has been asking after her – either where she has been since February, or when she is coming back? Our special friends in the ‘hood miss her, I miss her, the dogs and cats miss her with especial feeling … maybe the chickens miss her too, although I suspect that creatures who lavishly crap where they sleep and eat are possibly not sufficiently sentient to feel the higher emotions.
Anyway – the marketing season for us will begin with a couple of events in San Marcos, with her origami earrings. The time in So-Cal has not been wasted, however. She returns with a nice collection of Japanese origami papers from a couple of different sources, a metric butt-load of finished product for her own enterprise (Paper Blossom Productions) and an arrangement with a local consignment shop specializing in the arty and crafty, which has paid off very well over the last month. Hopefully, the arrangement will pay off even more as the holiday gift-giving season approaches. It’s all about diverse income streams in this decade of independent enterprise, as I keep saying, since other indy producers have been saying so to me.
I am working on the next Lone Star Sons adventure collection – to be called Lone Star Glory; again, a collection of half a dozen adventures to do with Texas Ranger Jim Reade and his blood-brother Toby Shaw, to take place in pre-Civil War Texas. I have gotten ambitious – if I finish the Lone Star Glory adventures in the next month or so, we may be able to generate the next Luna City installment in time for Christmas. Which I would really want to do, as the doings of Luna City are insanely popular (as my books go). I end each one with a cliffhanger related to the plot of the upcoming book, having resolved at least two plot threads in each book. (Cliffhanger endings with the main plot unresolved are a bane and an unkindness to the innocent reader, and I would never do that in any of my books. The main plots will always be resolved – Scout’s Honor.)
I had to set the latest sewing project aside to do some housecleaning and laundry today – so that my daughter will not return home to a pit of nonfunctioning domestic despair and overflowing litter boxes. But I will pick up that project again, since nearly all the pattern pieces are cut for an 1880s bustle dress, or at least, Butterick Patterns version thereof. This was one of the patterns that I bought last fall, when they had a massive sale wherein most or all of the costume patterns were marked down to about $2 each. And, yes, in the middle of the Christmas market season, I bought every darned one of them in my size, since doing vintage dress for book events has worked out so splendidly. This one posed somewhat of a challenge, since it required a lot of materiel, for long A-line skirt, gathered apron overskirt, contrast panels, a long jacket bodice and a fair number of elaborate trimmings and ruffles. The actual construction of the pattern is not so much a challenge – but the yardage requirements of a suitable fabric and the cost thereof – is, most definitely. Until I took a page from the blog of another vintage fashion enthusiast, who also operates with a strict budget, and reworks all kinds of thrift-ship finds into authentic vintage. While sorting out the contents of the backyard shed, I found the set of curtains that I had made for the house, until we replaced those window-coverings with wooden blinds. Hmm – I had made those lined curtains myself, when we first moved into the place. Nice, heavy striped dark-blue and cream-color fabric. And I had enough dark blue velveteen left over from making a cape and bonnet for the Daughter Unit to wear in the event that we get a place at Boerne’s Dickens on Main … so it was settled in my mind. The bustle dress made from curtains. Good enough for Scarlet O’Hara, good enough for me.

23. July 2017 · Comments Off on Saturday at the Movies: Review of Dunkirk · Categories: Random Book and Media Musings

I took it into my head to see Dunkirk in a movie theater on the opening weekend. I don’t think I have done since the early nineties (when we returned from Spain, where movies showed at the base theater six months to a year after premiering.) The last time I saw a movie in an actual theater, instead of at home on DVD or on streaming video was – if memory serves – The Kings’ Speech, in 2010, or it may have been The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in 2013. We saw the latter in an Alamo Drafthouse cinema, notable for being set up in a civilized manner to serve tasty adult beverages before and during the showing, as well as equally tasty entrees. They also have a positively Soup-Naziesque attitude about talking, texting, ringing cellphones and children disturbing the movie experience – an attitude of which I regretfully approve. One toot on yer flute, or on your cellie, and you’re oot, as the saying about the woman in the Scottish cinema with a hearing horn used to go. Adding to the charm of the experience – you can book a ticket for a specific seat and showing through their website, and pay for it online in advance. Print out your ticket on your home printer, waltz into the theater at the appointed time – and yes, this is one thing I do like about the 21st century.
Back to the movie. The necessary trailers for upcoming releases reminded me powerfully about why I have not been to a movie theater for a movie since 2010 or 2013, especially a trailer for a superhero concoction called The Justice League. No, sorry; so much my not-cuppa-tea that I wouldn’t more two feet off a rock ledge to watch it, or anything else there was a trailer for. Fortunately, the pre-feature features were few and relatively brief.
Then to the main feature, which began very quietly, with a half-dozen British squaddies wandering down a narrow street on the outskirts of Dunkirk, under a fluttering of German propaganda leaflets … which set the situation as it exists, and supplies one of the young soldiers, appropriately named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), with a supply of toilet paper. Tommy is a luckless lower-ranks Candide, foiled numerous times in his efforts to get away from Dunkirk, the first of three different yet congruent stories told by the director, Christopher Nolan. Some viewers may have difficulty in following them, as they weave and intersect with each other. I did not – although how daylight and tide conditions changed abruptly from shot to shot and episode to episode in the narrative may baffle some viewers. Tommy’s soggy epic journey (he damn near gets drowned three times by my account) alternates with two other narratives: an account of the civilian boat-owning volunteers – epitomized by Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his younger son, Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and Peter’s school chum, George (Barry Keoghan). The Admiralty, under emergency orders, has begun requisitioning civilian boats for service shifting English and French troops off the beaches held in a pocket between Dunkirk and Bray Dunes.
This is historically accurate – the main harbor of Dunkirk was composed of an inner and an outer harbor. The inner was essentially unusable through German bombing by the time of the evacuation. The outer – a long sheltering mole-and-walkway – was difficult to moor large sea-going ships against, and hideously vulnerable to German bombing and strafing attacks, both to the ships and the ranks of soldiers drawn up to board them. Mr. Dawson’s substantial motor-sail yacht is one of those requisitioned to serve – because of their relatively shallow-draft – in taking troops directly off the beach to the larger ships at anchor in deeper water. (This character and account is clearly based on the experience of Charles Lightoller.) Mr. Dawson doesn’t want to turn his yacht over to the Navy and he heads out of the English harbor, (after ditching all the civilian accoutrements and taking on a load of life-preservers) with a crew composed of a pair of teenaged schoolboys.
The third element, after land and sea, is in the air; a pair of RAF Spitfire pilots, Collins (Jack Lowden) and Farner (Tom Hardy). They start on their mission to provide air cover to the evacuation, lose their flight leader even before they even get mid-way – and thereafter Farner, with a busted fuel-gage on his fighter-plane (which was top of the line in 1940) is on a tense countdown. Make his goal, achieve his mission of providing air cover for the evacuation before he runs out of fuel…
The countdown is one of the elements which makes this movie consistently suspenseful: the countdown of Farner’s fuel tanks, the countdown of Tommy’s ability to hold his breath, the arrival of the ‘little ships’ in time to do any good, the ability of Mr. Dawson’s crew to haul drowning soldiers out of the water before the oil from a sinking ship cooks off. This is punched up in the soundtrack, which is not so much music but the effect of a clock ticking, occasionally broken by a terrifying silence which means that the German dive bombers are about to attack. The soundtrack is mostly sound design, with very little music as we usually hear it. The only conventional and hummable bits are a version of ‘Nimrod’ from Elgar’s Enigma Variations in about the last five minutes. The acting is likewise impeccable from the cast, especially Tom Hardy, who as Farner, had the challenge of spending most of the movie with his face covered by his oxygen mask and goggles.
Those are the laudable elements – now the severely critical comments based on the various books on Operation Dynamo. This is one of the historical events that I was obsessively interested in as a teenager. The movie vision of the smoke column on the horizon is lame. From all reports and photographic evidence – it was huge. Really huge – as could be seen from across the channel, covering a good quarter to half the horizon as one got closer to the French side. The crowds on the beaches were also much more substantial, if the historical record is any guide. The long tracking shot in Atonement gives, I think, something more of an idea of how chaotic, crowded, and desperate the situation in the Dunkirk-Bray Dunes pocket must have been. I was also thrown out of the story a couple of times by how many times the ‘stuck under a barrier and drowning’ trope was brought out and inflicted on key characters. Really, do this no more than once per character a movie. A lovely shot of all the ‘little boats’ coming to the rescue; they all looked so pristine. It was a fantastic touch to use some of the real surviving Dunkirk ‘little boats’, but only a few were shown, out of 250 or so known to have participated. As a matter of fact, many were towed across the Channel to the evacuation zone, most of them crewed by Naval reservists (as was shown in the initial scene with Mr. Dawson’s boat), and they bustled back and forth from the shallows, ferrying troops out to the deeper-draft ships standing off-shore, rather than make the cross-channel journey independently and loaded with troops. (The largest portion of troops rescued from Dunkirk were transported to safety on destroyers – not on the ‘little boats’.) The bit about the British Army engineers kluging up a pier by driving trucks into the sea at low-tide to create a makeshift pier to load from at high-tide – that did happen. I do wish that the incident of one particular ship-captain deliberately grounding his own ship to serve as a temporary pier and floating it off again at high-tide had been included – but that act of desperate improvisation was one of many.
On the whole, Dunkirk is well worth the time and cost to see in a theater, especially this summer. Regarding the previews of coming attractions, though, it looks like it will be another four or six years before I bother going to the theater to watch another one.

Atonement – Beach at Dunkirk (2007) from Wagner Brenner on Vimeo.

12. July 2017 · Comments Off on A Square Hole … · Categories: Domestic

… In the ground, into which you pour money; that was Dave Barry’s definition of a house, which was a take-off on an earlier witticism about a yacht being a hole in the water into which you also poured money.
In my case, water and a house were both involved … in that the other night I went out to the garage to get a pan of home-made lasagna out of the deep-freeze, and noted with considerable interest that there was water everywhere. Two possible culprits – the deep-freeze itself (which spilled a considerable amount of meltwater into the garage the last time I emptied everything out and defrosted it … or the hot-water heater.
The Daughter Unit has been suggesting that some maintenance and adjustment on the hot-water heater might be in order, as she is one who enjoys long showers. I’ve been putting off draining and refilling it, because of all the stuff piled up in the garage, stuff in the way. We had agreed to sort out the garage and take care of the hot-water heater when she comes home from California, but I had to get started on that last night, after calling the friendly neighborhood service company who sees to the HVAC unit – they have a plumbing and electrical department as well. So – carried out some boxes of extraneous stuff to go to Goodwill, and a couple of boxes of … why did we have boxes of ancient mail-order catalogs out there? I guess we forgot to put them in the recycle bin and lost track. Yes, the garage is definitely getting a once-over. The trash and the recycle bin are already filled to overflowing, and yes, we are getting a new hot-water heater.
It appears that I was mistaken, when I thought that the hot-water heater had been replaced by the previous owners just before I bought the house. No, the friendly plumber informed me; it was original to the house. Which means it has been performing heroically and without failure since 1984 – darned good, considering that the usual lifespan for such is about a decade. The Daughter Unit suggests that the old one go into a plumbing museum, if only as a curiosity.
Even more critically – and adding to the expense and hassle of replacing the hot-water heater is that the local codes have changed drastically. New installs must be on a stand 18 inches above the floor, have a drip pan – which I have to say, after mopping up the leakage last night and this morning – is a very sensible notion, a special electrical connection, and other stuff which I will have to read the paperwork to totally grasp. It is being installed this afternoon, so that life in Chez Hayes will continue without interruption, in the hot water supply if nothing else. And the best part is that my credit rating is so much improved that I qualified for fairly generous terms, instead of paying for the whole thing out of pocket, draining the savings/emergency account, or go without hot water for months.
But the garage is definitely going to be sorted, first thing when the Daughter Unit comes home.

08. July 2017 · Comments Off on Dogs of Note · Categories: Domestic

Calla-Puppy; the model for Dog

As a writer whose household contains dogs, cats and chickens, it has amused me ever since my first novel to include some of those pets as characters. In To Truckee’s Trail, my daughter’s boxer-mix, Calla was dressed up somewhat with a size and intelligence to play the part of Elisha Stephens’ companion on the overland trail; Dog. Yes, his dog was named Dog – the character was not terribly imaginative. Dog makes her first appearance in the second chapter:

John looked down; not very far down at that, at one of the largest dogs he had ever seen, a huge fawn-colored mastiff bitch with a dark face. She sat quietly at his feet, regarding him with intelligent golden eyes. “Dog,” said the smith quietly, and made a quick gesture with his fingers. The mastiff bitch nudged John again, as if reminding him to be on his best behavior then, because she would have an eye on him, and obediently trotted away to settle herself underneath the wagon. From there she still regarded John and her master with those unsettlingly intelligent golden eyes. She had a clownish white splotch on her nose and another at the end of her tail. All of her toes on each foot were white, as if she wore dainty gloves.

My daughter brought Calla home with her, when she finished her second hitch in the Marines in 2006. Calla and Dog, besides having the same appearance, were both excellent travelers. Calla loved riding in the car, even on long distances, and guarded the car as zealously as she guarded the house, hopping into the driver seat and growling at anyone who came just a little too close. Alas, even though she was a mixed-breed and presumably had some hybrid vigor to count on, she was a large dog, and those breeds in her makeup were prone to age rapidly – she only lived to the age of 12.

Spike – the original inspiration for Mouse

The second dog of ours to make it into my books was Spike the shih-tzu, who came to the household as a puppy, from a couple who thought they wanted a puppy, and then decided the puppy was too much trouble to housebreak and socialize. Spike had attitude to spare, which was why we called her Spike, and adorned her with a small black leather collar studded with silver spikes. Spike was bred to be a lapdog and constant companion, and by the time we adopted her, I was already largely working from home. Her natural place was the space underneath my chair, or within three or four feet of wherever I happened to be. She was also a very good traveler, insofar as long stretches in a car; we made several long-distance journeys to California from Texas and back. She was not so agreeable to having her home routine disrupted, though: she distinguished herself by surreptitiously piddling on every one of the area rugs in my parents’ house. Spike was the inspiration for Magda Becker’s Pekinese (or rather series of Pekinese dogs) in the Adelsverein Trilogy:

There were six puppies, lively squirming little balls of fur; four of them gold like their mother, one black, and one piebald white with brindle spots. That one seemed to be more sedate, not as excitable as the others. Magda put her fingers around the pup—it was heavier that it appeared, no fragile little handful of bones and fur. It looked at her with curious eyes, as she said, “This one, Irina.”
“Very good,” Princess Cherkevsky nodded, regally. “That is a boy. Your son already brought a little collar and a bed and dish for you.”
“You and he plotted behind my back,” Magda exclaimed. She sat back on her heels, with the puppy cradled in her lap. “I know he loves dogs, but this is not a dog, it is more like a mouse!” And thus did the pup receive its name.

Spike also developed chronic health problems peculiar to dogs whose popularity leads to inbreeding. She passed away rather suddenly at a relatively young age; we think she ate some grass which had recently been sprayed with a powerful insecticide, and died almost overnight, even before we could get her to the veterinarian.

The third of our dogs to appear in my fiction is in blissful good health – and also quite firmly attached to me; Nemo, so called because we found him wandering the streets in our neighborhood. Someone had either dumped him, or moved out of a nearby rental house and left him behind. He was wary of humans, even us, at first; but since has been so eager to become one with a pack that he has even buddied up with some of the cats – to their horror and disgust. Nemo is some kind of coarse-furred terrier of no recognizable breed; black with a strange white mohawk on the top of his head. He was cast in my most recent historical, The Golden Road. as Nipper, the canine companion of the mysterious and slippery Fenian, Aloysius Polydore O’Malley:

The mule wagon was driven by a scarecrow of a man; of indeterminate years and put together in an untidy gangle of limbs, topped with a thatch of fading ginger hair. Fredi gawked at him, as he hopped nimbly down from the wagon-seat, for he was dressed in clothing which had once been fine, yet appeared to have been intended for a much shorter man. The sleeves of his coat, and the threadbare shirt underneath it barely covered his knobby wrists. He was also accompanied by a small black dog, which followed his master with equal agility; a short-furred dog with upright ears and tail, and what looked like a comical set of grizzled chin-whiskers fringing its sharp little muzzle. The dog promptly cocked a leg and pissed against the wagon-wheel.

Like Spike, Nemo is clingy – he sleeps in the dog bed under my desk during the day, at the foot of the bed at night, whines heartbreakingly if he can’t follow me and practically turns himself inside out with joy when I come back after being away for a couple of hours.

As for the cats – I have only put one of them in a story, so far – but that’s an entry for another day.

06. July 2017 · Comments Off on Another Lone Star Glory Adventure – Into the Wild · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book

(Picking up the story as I am writing this and another adventure for Lone Star Glory – the continuing adventures of Texas Ranger Jim Reade and Delaware Indian scout Toby Shaw – Part 1 is here, Part 2 here.)

Into the Wild – Part 3

“Camels!” Ned Beale exclaimed in delight, when he showed Jim and Toby their means of transport at least as far as the fabled canyon of the Colorado in the vast New Mexico Territory. Beale was a little younger than Jim, a lively and gangly young Yankee with a high sloping forehead which merged into a magnificently beaky nose adorned at the lower margin with an equally magnificent and bushy mustache. His Navy rank on a strength report was a relatively lowly one – but his functioning level appeared to be much higher, due to a number of friends in high places and to his recent daring exploits in crossing the continent several times on his own, armored with nothing but a spirit of his own recklessness. With a certain sinking of heart, Jim realized that here was another enthusiast with an insatiable appetite for adventure, for experiences and arcane knowledge. Not that there was anything amiss with such qualities, in moderation – but individuals possessing an excess of them were apt to go haring off in unexpected and usually dangerous tangents. “Ain’t they a marvel? And what better use for traversing the vast deserts than creatures ideally suited to it! They carry burdens which would buckle the knees of half a dozen mules, without complaint, go for days without food and water …”
“They look like a horse designed by a government committee, smell like Satan’s own privy, and frighten the daylights out of all the horses, mules and oxen around,” Jim replied, refusing to be moved by Ned’s enthusiasm.
“But you see, Jim – I may call you Jim, may I? And you should call me Ned, of course. They are perfectly designed by nature for the harsh climes of this new territory! What better use can we make of them… I am charged to explore the natural route to California from Texas and to see how the camels perform …Hey, Walid Ali – what do you think of their fitness for six months in crossing the southern deserts?”
“A desert – like any other, sire,” replied one of the beasts’ hired handlers, a wiry sun-burned man, who wouldn’t have appeared out of place in a Ranger company, save that his head was wrapped in a turban of fine green cloth. He spoke English fluently enough, although with a strange accent. The other handler looked off into the distance; he was an older man with a thick grey-streaked beard, who never spoke, but was usually to be found somewhere about the camel corral.
“Nonetheless, I am not riding on one of those critters,” Jim announced, flatly. “I’ll stick to the evil I know, rather than fly to that which I know nothing of.”
“You have no sense of adventure, Jim,” Ned laughed in delight. “I tell you, it’s a delightful experience – rather like rocking along in a row-boat on a mild swell … certain I cannot convince you to try it out? We’ll be away tomorrow at first light now that you are here and ready for traveling.” Ned hesitated, and then blurted, “I’m not really sure of why your fellows are detailed to join us. A Texas ranger, and a Delaware Indian, with a wet-behind-the-ears ensign and an old soldier like Owen; you must know that my fellows will be curious, having such an odd collection added on to our party at the last minute. We were supposed to test the camels, map out a good alternate road, and hurry along to California… you know, they have found gold there – and in amazing quantities, just this last autumn – and I know about secrecy and the security of missions and all that. I won’t ask your purpose in this, but the fellows – they will wonder. A word to the wise, Jim – have some convincing story to tell in answer to questions. For they will ask them, you know. Around the campfire of an evening.”
“Certainly,” Jim replied. “Should anyone ask of you – tell them that we are to recover certain records and items left in a cache on the banks of the Colorado, after the failure of the O’Neill expedition. The party was sent out at great expense, and following upon the disaster which cost the lives of so many – those records were left concealed for later recovery. Sergeant Owen is our guide in this, as he was one of that party, and Mr. Shaw serves as translator, should we encounter any of the local natives.”
Ned Beale nodded, comprehending. “Yes, that is a yarn which will convince. Although there will be embroideries upon it, trust me on that, Jim.”
Jim felt a sudden conviction that Ned was far cleverer and more diplomatic than he had let on. Best to change the subject, then. “Gold in California, you say? I had read of it, but thought it was only stories in the sensational press.”
“No,” Ned shook his head. “Tis all true about the gold. I brought the samples east myself, not three months ago. It is real and an amazingly rich find – so rich that every fortune-hunter in these States – and even farther afield – will be heading California-ward. No, strike that; Captain Reade, I am assured they will be heading to California even as we set out.”
“As long as they do not interfere with our mission,” Jim insisted, and Ned Beale laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “Nor mine as well. I tell you, Jim – I do not hunger for riches, myself. Knowledge, experiences, the sight of new horizons… all that is worth more to me than any quantity of gold. Still, ‘tis curious. The Spanish came to this place, this new world, avid for gold. And found it, now and again in rich mines and taken from the native tribes in Mexico and Peru. But they never found it here, no matter how their conquistadores searched for the Seven Golden Cities, for Quivera, the greatest of them all. It is a curious coincidence that once their hold on these places in the northern continent was shattered … that a man building a humble saw-mill should find gold, gold in such quantities to beggar the imagination.”
“An irony, indeed.” Jim replied. Another thought occurred, as he and Ned watched the camels in their enclosure, walking to and fro with their particular swaying stride. “Ned, what do you think? What do you know of our Sergeant Owen? Is he a man to be trusted?”
“I honestly do not know,” Ned replied after a moment of considering silence. “I have heard nothing disparaging to his character. But he is an enlisted man, not an officer. Two worlds, Jim – to us of the profession of arms. I would trust him with my life and the lives of my men, based on his repute. But I do not know him, having never served with him, not as you have with Mr. Shaw.” He added, with a smile, “I do not know you, either, save that Colonel Hays, whose reputation as a commander of irregular soldiers is a byword – has vouched for you to the satisfaction of my own commander – and to my own.”
“Thank you, Ned,” Jim replied. “We’ll be ready in the morning. Mr. Shaw and I are accustomed to travel light and fast – although I cannot speak for our Army contingent.”
“They’d better be ready as well,” Ned chuckled. “Or they will be playing catch-up all the day.”
“We’ll be ready,” Jim said, and strolled away to the ramshackle and rambling quarters – a crude-built dog-trot cabin of logs, from which most of the chinking had already fallen, which the commander at Camp Verde felt to be all the hospitality necessary for visitors, important or not. Toby was already sitting outside of it, cross-legged in Indian fashion, contemplating the fading sunset, a blaze of red, purple and gold on the western horizon.
“We’re away in the morning,” Jim said, softly. There was a rough bench sitting on the bit of turf outside the cabin. He sank into it. He and Lt. Barnes were bunked for the night in one part of the cabin, Sergeant Owen and Toby in the other – although Toby, as was his usual wont, had taken his bedroll and spread it out underneath a generously sheltering oak nearby.
“We’re away at sunrise,” Jim told him, “Camels and all,” and Toby nodded.
“As I expected.” He returned to his contemplation of the sunset. Very little surprised Toby. “James, do you think that we will find the missing Captain O’Neill? And that if we do – will he want to return?”
“Of course, we will find him,” Jim replied. “We’re Jack Hays’ finest stiletto-men. And he will wish to return – he is a white man, a soldier. Duty requires it. Why would he not?”
“I have been talking a little with young Barnes,” Toby replied. “He said that Captain O’Neill had a … fondness as a cadet for the tales of Fenimore Cooper, and a great interest in relics and weapons of my people, and those Others. Barnes says that he used to laugh at himself – saying that he was meant to be a wild Indian or an Arab corsair, but by mistake his soul was wrapped in the flesh and bones of a Christian. It struck young Barnes as curious, which is why young he remembered. If such is the case, your Captain may not wish to return, and what would we say to convince him?”
“I don’t know,” Jim replied. Yes, this was another dimension. “We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it, I guess.” And yet another random thought occurred to him; his own instinctive dislike of Sergeant Owen. “Toby, do you remember that treacherous Englishman, Vibart-Jones – the one involved in the Wilkinson letters, and the matter of the Spanish treasure at San Saba? I am given to wonder if he has turned up again, in disguise. The man was an actor, after all. And at a squint, Sergeant Owen looks enough like him, and the age is right…”
“No, James,” Toby shook his head, very definitely. “They are not the same man, even though there is a likeness.”
“How can you be so certain?” Jim was diverted, but not convinced. Toby considered gravely, before replying. “Two things, James; things which no man can disguise through art or effort for very long. First, the lobes of Sergeant Owen’s ears are not attached to his head, but droop, separately, to the width of my thumb. Vibart the English spy – the lobes of his ears were narrow and attached. And have you not noticed how a man favors one hand over the other, for holding a pistol, a knife, a pen? Vibart the English spy favored his left hand. You and I, and Sergeant Owen, all favor our right hand. Sergeant Owen is not Vibart. He is who he claims to be, a soldier of long service in many lands. I would say we can trust him with our lives. Perhaps not with the good name and virtue of our sisters, though.” Toby added, with a grin.

02. July 2017 · Comments Off on Another Jim and Toby Adventure! · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Old West

(Yes, I am writing a number of them simultaneously – for the next book of adventures, to be called “Lone Star Glory”. This is the set-up for one of them, to be entitled – Three Learned Men of Science.)

Three Learned Men of Science

“I have just gotten a letter from the president’s office, boys,” Jack Hays announced, on the afternoon that Jim and Toby returned from sorting out the murderous business of the Yoakum establishment at Pine Bayou. “So don’t get too comfortable. In a couple of days, you have to set out and meet a party of gentlemen at Copano and be their escort for the time that they are in Texas – no matter how long they choose to stay, or where they choose to go.”
“What does Dr. Jones have for us this time, Jack? And why do these gentlemen need the tender offices of your stiletto-men as wet-nurses?” Jim Reade hung his hat on one of the set of pegs by the door, and dropped into the nearest battered leather chair. Toby, hatless, settled with a barely-stifled groan of exhaustion onto the bearskin hearth-rug. The return from Pine Bayou had been broken by a short stay in Galveston, where Mrs. Reade had plied the two with the best food that her cook, Fat Nella, had to offer, and the very worst that she concocted with her own hands as a measure of affection for her son and his blood-brother.
“Because these gentlemen are foreigners, for one,” Jack chuckled. “And scientific representatives of his most royal majesty Prince Frederick William of Prussia, who according to Dr. Jones, intends to invest in Texas, through the medium of a consortium of noblemen. But before he sinks his noble cash in the venture, the Prince has sent three of his scientific advisors to survey the lay of the land, as it were. They will arrive with their retinue soon in Galveston, and come by coastal sloop to Copano to begin their survey.”
“We could have just stayed in Galveston and met them at the docks,” Jim stifled a yawn. Yes, and prolonged the stay with his parents, although he didn’t think he could endure much more of his mother’s disastrous attempts at baking turnovers, sweet biscuits and cakes.
“Indeed, but I did not know of their arrival before three days ago,” Jack unfolded the letter and spoke in his most reasonable and heartening tones. “And you can take a few days – but no more than three – before meeting these scientific gentlemen. You will know them, because they will be foreigners, of course. And my orders are that you should accompany them where they wish to go – and to keep them from serious trouble. There is money for the Republic involved – a thing that we are desperately short of – if they produce a favorable report.”
“Yes, we haven’t been paid in money in months,” Toby contributed from his comfortable position on the hearth-rug. “Over and above our expenses. Not that I keep count of your white man conventions.”
“At some point, all accounts will be squared,” Jack replied, ignoring the snort of skeptical derision from the hearthrug. “As men of intelligent creativity, I know that you can manage it. Prince Frederick William – or his secretary – was thoughtful enough to send their names and qualifications in his letter to Dr. Jones.”
“Give it to us now,” Jim sighed. “So that we can become accustomed to the notion of being bear-leaders to the servants of a foreign prince.”
“All right, then,” Jack’s grin broadened. “The senior of our scientific trio is the eminent botanist, Herr Professor Manfred von Brockdorff, who rejoices in the title of Graf von Brockdorff. The equally eminent geologist Dietmar Kraus is not a noble – a mere professor. And Herr Doctor Theodore Maier is a real medical doctor and surgeon, seconded from service with the Prussian army.”
“Well … they sound like a much better class of folk than the Yoakums,” Jim remarked, after taking all this in. “And they can’t possibly be any more difficult than thieves, murderers, and dog-stealers.”
“We would hope, brother,” Toby answered, but not as if he really had any real conviction.

A week later, the coastal sloop Eliza arrived and tied up at one of the three wharves at Copano. Jim and Toby had brought a handful of three horses and a pair of pack mules, staying in the house of Joseph Plummer while they waited the arrival of the Eliza. There was much excitement among the regular residents of the tiny hamlet, upon hearing that Jim and Toby were there to escort some important foreign visitors.
“A titled gentleman, you don’t say?” exclaimed the Widow Jackson, a handsome matron of about forty, who kept a tiny boarding establishment in her cottage of shell concrete, which had a view of Copano Bay from a garden planted thick with flowering cosmos, potatoes and herbs. “Well, I never!”
“You would if he offered, like a gentleman,” Joe Plummer added with a leer and the Widow Jackson ruffled like an angry hen, told him to keep a civil tongue in his head and flounced away to speak to Mrs. Plummer, although she cast indignant glances over her shoulder now and again. Joe Plummer chuckled coarsely, and remarked in a lower voice,
“Becky Jackson is tired of the single life, and on the prowl for another husband. I’d say beware, but you two fellows are a mite young for her taste. She wants an older man, one with a sizeable … property and a solid profession. Better tell your foreign fellows to steer clear, or she’ll have them in her man-trap before you can blink.”
Toby and Jim exchanged glances; Toby’s expression one of amusement, and Jim’s of mild horror.
“It might not be so bad,” Toby ventured, in judicial consideration. “Is she a good cook?”
“One of the best, I’d have to admit,” Joe Plummer admitted. “And pleasant-tempered, mostly. Old Ezra – her last husband – he had a good appetite for her vittles; everyone at his funeral say he was laid out with a smile on his face and a gut almost too big for the coffin.”

But there was no smile on the faces of anyone, when the Eliza tied up, that afternoon. And as far as Jim could see, the deck was piled high with bundles, crates and trunks – surely too much for the five men who strode off the sloop as soon as the gangplank was secured. There was a sixth man also – who seemed to be giving directions to the sailors and deckhands ready to unload the sloop.
“We may need more than two mules, brother,” Toby whispered. “If all that is theirs – and I do not see any other passengers.”
“We’ll work out something,” Jim murmured in an aside, as three men were in hearing distance and bearing down, with the other two lurking in the background. Those two – both young, fit, and under arms had a soldierly bearing about them. Jim rather wished that he had brought some of the other stiletto-men with him, even someone like Creed Taylor or Albert Biddle. Jack himself would have been a solid addition to the reception committee. Instead, he braced his shoulders and addressed his remarks to the tallest and most important-appearing of the gentlemen bearing down upon him.
“If I am addressing the Graf von Brockdorff – I welcome you again to Texas, sir. Jim Reade, Esquire, and Toby Shaw of the Delaware Nation. We have been sent by my commander, Captain Hays and President Anson Jones of the Republic of Texas to assist you as might be needed…”
“Reade?” the gentleman demanded; a burly and choleric sort, with a countenance scarred with several straight slashes which suggested he had fought with bladed weapons on a regular basis. “Hah – are those all the horses you have brought? Clearly, we will need more than that. Brockdorff – at your service.” He crushed Jim’s hand, nodded briskly towards Toby, who was doing his best to be at one with the immediate surroundings. “We will require a place to stay, while our belongings are unloaded. My servant Achterberg will see to that. My compatriots; Professor Kraus, Doctor Meier … Achterberg!” he bellowed over his shoulder, and Jim started. That was an authoritative and noble bellow if he had ever heard one. “Fuchs! Haun! Attend!”
The other gentlemen of science stood half a pace back at Brockdorff’s elbow, and Jim was aware of a sinking feeling as he introduced himself.
“Maier,” said the first; a thin and youngish man, but wearing thick glasses, which magnified watery blue eyes.
“Certainly,” Jim replied. A medical doctor, and a near-sighted one. Well – this would turn out well.
“Herr Professor Kraus,” announced the third man, in an over-loud voice. He was of middle-age, slender and lanky. His handshake was strong, his fingers callused like a working man’s. “I am greatly anticipating the pleasure of exploring the particular geology of your sedimentary formations.” A heavy coat hung on him like clothing on a scarecrow, the pockets of it weighted down with heavy objects. One of them, Jim noticed, was a large hearing trumpet. “Pleased,” Jim replied, wondering if this meant that Professor Kraus meant that he was going to search Jim’s coat pockets or something
“You will have to speak up,” Professor Maier said, when Jim introduced himself to the professor. “Kraus is very hard of hearing.”
“Never eat herring, gives me gas,” Professor Kraus announced. “Please to meet you, young man, although I didn’t catch your name. Where then are we to stay, Brockdorff, while our supplies and equipment are being unloaded?”
“We have made arrangements for your party at the boarding house of Mrs. Jackson – a very respectable widow,” Jim replied; as hers was the only house with sufficient room for guests to actually sleep in beds, rather than in a pallet on the floor of the verandah. “We did not expect … such a large party, sirs…”
“Avoid parties,” Professor Kraus grunted. “Waste of time, flouncing around when I have work to do.”
“We reduced our necessary entourage to the minimum,” von Brockdorff replied, vaguely perplexed. “Only Achterberg and the two soldiers as guards…”
Twice as many has had been expected, Jim thought – although Jack had said something about an entourage. He had definitely not mentioned the steadily growing pile of trunks, crates and bales. A scientific expedition; and he would have thought that such would have started with little, and concluded with much. As it was, this expedition was commencing with much – and what it would conclude with was anyone’s guess.
“We’ll make arrangements,” Jim answered, determinedly cheerful, although he murmured in an aside to Toby, “We’ll have to hire a wagon and teams, then. Who in Copano has such for hire?”

“Why, bless my soul – I do!” exclaimed a beaming Widow Jackson. “And my son, young Corb to drive it! I’m sure we can come to some proper arrangement – you leave that to me, young Mister Reade. Oh, my stars!” she looked down from the gate. “These furriner gents don’t travel light, do they? I’ll have to rustle up a place for them sojers of theirs to sleep.” She bustled away, leaving Jim and Toby to look at each other.
“That is one thing accomplished then, James.” Toby ventured. “So – have we any sense of where the gentlemen wish to travel?”
“North to the frontier,” Jim sighed. “And then east as far as the pine woods, then down the Brazos towards Galveston. It’s to be a wandering journey, allowing them to survey the land and make collections of plants and what-not. Von Brockdorff is also an accomplished artist and draftsman; he says he is to make a detailed record to guide Prince Frederick William and his friends. They plan a leisurely two or three months at this. I had better start drafting my first report to Jack and let him know the plan.”

(to be continued. Of course.)

01. July 2017 · Comments Off on Midsummer Miscellany · Categories: Domestic

Strictly speaking, it isn’t quite mid-summer, but half the year is gone with the end of June, and the sweltering heat of summer descended upon Texas – a heat predicted confidently to last until September at the earliest and into late October at the latest… (although in one ghastly year, it didn’t cool down sufficiently to open the windows and turn off the AC until mid-November) so where was I with this thought? Oh, yeah … planning out the schedule of events for the rest of the year, trying to keep what there is in my garden from perishing in the dire heat, the three Barred Rock chickens from pecking the littlest of the Bantam Wyandottes to death, the dogs in fine fettle, the house in a mostly-clean condition – or a condition which will not unduly alarm the Health Department – various projects for pay for the Tiny Publishing Bidness (which projects uphold my household economy) and oh, yeah … my own writing.
Of which I could not do anything yesterday – being that my pension payment was deposited in the bank, which meant that I could go and do the monthly stocking-up of the cupboard-freezer-supply closet on Friday, rather than today, the calendar first of the month. I frankly would rather have done all of this early on a Friday, and beat the madness of crowds on a weekend, and even more the weekend of a mega-holiday weekend. Especially at Granzin’s Meat Market, which is strategically located on a back road to a major local recreational destination … and therefore, there will be holiday-makers stocking up on food-stuffs for the holiday, as well as canny local shoppers like myself. Yes, it was busier than usual on a Friday morning – but the madness will truly descend on Saturday. And also at Costco, and the branch of the HEB chain which is in the relatively rich part of town and therefore which has a better and wider selection of certain preferred brand staples than that in my own local store. Yes, the HEB chain has a fine judgement on stocking neighborhood branches down to a fine science. I call it the Olive Oil Variant: that is, so many thousand in average income before taxes is correlated to the number of brands of olive oil on the shelves in the outlet. Thus – higher the average income, the greater number of brands available.
So – the first of the month shopping circuit; Costco (and/or Sam’s Club, depending) Granzins’, Tractor Supply, Trader Joe’s, and the Super-HEB, with perhaps a stop at Tuesday Morning if required. We have worked out where to get the best prices on various staples, you see – which makes a circuit of about 45 miles, takes three-quarters of a day – but sets us up for a month or more on things like pet food (cat, dog, chicken, and the wild bird freeloaders), meats, frozen and canned goods, household detergents and paper goods … all of which fill the trunk of my car or the back of my daughter’s Montero. We start with an empty Igloo cooler, and finish up with the vehicle piled high; some of the preferred pet supplies come in 35 to 60 pound bags. Which then must be hauled into the house, or to the shed, and then the various meats must be parted out and sealed for the freezer … so yes – one very long day. But I got it all wrapped up in a mere four hours, which means that my weekend is clear for more amusing things.

26. June 2017 · Comments Off on The Near-Forgotten Man · Categories: Old West

Edward Fitzgerald “Ned” Beale was a prominent 19th century hero, a celebrity, almost; a military officer, war hero, notable horseman and explorer, hero of the western frontier, good friend of several other notable frontiersmen, friend of one president, and appointed to offices of responsibility by four others – and those offices varied quite widely in scope. He was also a champion of the Native American tribes, prominent in Washington high society for decades, and seemed to lurk meaningfully in the background of key historical events at mid-19th century. Curiously, his name doesn’t readily spring to mind more than a hundred years after his death; the most prominent places bearing his name being Beale Street in San Francisco, and Beale Air Force Base, near Marysville in north-central California. One would think for all his various services to the nation and for his vast array of prominent and still-famous friends that he would be more of a household name. Perhaps he was for a while – but four decades or more of politically-correct restructuring of American history have elevated some, and reduced others to mere footnotes in dusty journals.

Beale as a young midshipman

Ned Beale was born in 1822, in Washington D.C. – the capitol of a nation barely half-a-century old, to parents with connections to the American Navy. His father was a paymaster for the service, his mother the daughter of one of the first six commanders appointed by President Washington to head the new US Navy. So, it was only natural, when after the death of his father, Ned Beale was appointed to the Naval School in Philadelphia, a precursor to Annapolis. Upon graduation from the school in 1842, he was commissioned as a midshipman, and made voyages to the Indies, South America, and Russia. Three years later he was assigned to the Pacific Squadron, the command of Robert Stockton; an able and trusted officer, who had – as Beale himself would later have in his own career – the trust of presidents, and the friendship of the influential. Beale served as Stockton’s aide and private secretary; they were part of the American delegation to Texas when the Texas Congress formally accepted annexation to the United States.

Beale’s next assignment for Stockton was – not to put too fine a point on it – a spy, ordered to conceal his nationality and sail on a Danish ship to England, to suss out British feelings and possible war preparations over the contentious matter of the Oregon boundary. Barely having completed that assignment and reported his findings to President Polk, Beale was sent off hotfoot with dispatches to rejoin Captain Stockton, whose flagship happened to be in Peru at that moment. This necessitated that Beale make the journey by sea to Panama, cross the Isthmus and make his way to Peru – all this a kind of 19th century precursor to Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Stocktons’ ship detoured to Hawaii, and arrived in harbor at Monterey, California in July, 1846. War between the United States and Mexico had already begun. The Pacific Squadron’s orders, in that eventuality, were to seize those ports along the Pacific coast – especially those in California. Stockton set about doing so with zeal and efficiency. Ned Beale was detached to serve with a US Army column which had come at speed overland from Fort Scott on the Missouri-Mississippi under the command of General Stephen Kearny. Briefly pausing to take Santa Fe, and New Mexico for the US, Kearney’s advanced column – guided by Kit Carson — arrived in California out of breath and weakened after a marathon march of 2,000 miles across country. Kearney’s advance party, augmented with sailors and Marines from the Pacific Squadron clashed with Californio-Mexican volunteers and Mexican presidial cavalry at San Pasqual, near San Diego. Both sides claimed a victory – although Kearney’s force suffered the heavier losses, they eventually took San Diego, and Ned Beale was one of the heroes. Two months after the San Pasqual fight, he was sent east with dispatches. Over the next two years, he made six cross-continental journeys on official business; one of them in disguise to make a short-cut through Mexico to bring irrefutable proof of the tremendous gold strike in the California foothills at Coloma to the federal government. Amid these expeditions, he found the time and energy to marry; the daughter of a politician from Pennsylvania, Mary Edwards, and sire three children with her.

Beale resigned his naval commission in 1851, but in no way was he done with the far west, or assignments of great import to the federal government. He returned briefly to California, to manage properties owned there by his mentor, Commodore Stockton. On his way west, he squeezed in a spot of surveying for a transcontinental rail line through present-day Colorado to Los Angeles. Two years later, he was appointed superintendent of Indian affairs in California and Nevada. Thereafter Ned Beale spent a hectic decade exploring and surveying the west, establishing a wagon road between Fort Defiance, New Mexico to a point on the Colorado River between Arizona and California – the initial phase of this project involved another project of interest to the Army – the Camel Corps. He proved to be a champion of camels in the far west; when the Camel Corps was formally disbanded at the end of the Civil War, Beale purchased some of the surplus camels and kept them at his vast California ranch property. The camels also served in a later Beale expedition to extend the road from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to the Colorado River. That same route was later followed by the Santa Fe railway, US Route 66 and the present day I-40.

In 1871, Ned Beale purchased a mansion in Washington, DC – Decatur House, notable for being almost next-door to the White House, and entertained a wide variety of guests there over the following years – guests including U. S. Grant, and prominent members of his administration. He spent one year as ambassador to Austria-Hungary, and made as much of a social splash in Vienna as he had in Washington. Doubt less his experiences on the far-west frontier – which by that point was almost legendary – coupled with his considerable diplomatic skills and ability to earn the trust of important people had a lot to do with that success.

His final years were spent between Decatur House, the California ranch, and a horse farm called Ash Hill, close to Washington. He died at Decatur House in 1893, a few years shy of the twentieth century. Sailor, soldier, spy, surveyor, explorer, diplomat, rancher, man about town – and a fine judge of horseflesh. Not many men of his time could quite equal that resume in every particular.
(Ned Beale is set to appear as a character in the next Lone Star Sons book – Lone Star Glory, which I hope to bring out by November, 2017.)

15. June 2017 · Comments Off on Another Lone Star Sons Adventure! · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book

Part two of Into the Wild, which when I finish this and five or six more like it will make up the next collection of Jim Reade and Toby Shaw adventures – Lone Star Glory

Part 2 of Into the Wild

The room was an office of sorts; a fairly workmanlike one, with several crude desks, lined with shelves of books and boxes of documents along the inner walls, and a small table and several chairs by the window. There were four men in the office, one of whom Jim knew instantly to be important, because he was Jack’s higher commander; Governor Wood. Of the other three, two were in uniform – again, the blue of the federal Army, but only the older of the pair was anyone to command respect. The younger lingered by the doorway with Sgt. Grayson, for the older officer and the gent in the expensive waistcoat had commanded the scattering of chairs by the window.
“Colonel Hays,” the older officer rose and extended his hand – a fit-appearing gentleman in middle years, his hair and impressive mustache and side-whiskers only lightly touched with grey. “My pleasure – Joe Harrell. We met briefly after Saltillo, although you had so much on your plate at that time, with the press of war to prosecute and your Rangers to command, that I will not hold it against you should you not recollect that previous occasion.”
“But I do recall you – and with appreciation,” Jack returned the courtesy. “You did us good service, my Rangers and I, after Saltillo. You were a god-send for my fellows… forgive me, I recall what men were able to do for my people, but not the rank or the office they held when doing it.”
“Supply Corps,” General Harrell returned, with good humor. “A necessary, yet underrated department. A matter of ledgers, lists, and registers, of figures and supplies. But hey – the great Napoleon himself observed that an Army marches on its stomach.”
“And is this a matter of concern to the Supply Corps?” Jack went to the point of this meeting without any fanfare, and Governor Wood sighed.
“Brass tacks,” he observed with a glance ceilingward. “That’s what I have always liked about you, Jack – a disinclination to waste time getting down to them.”
“The matter upon which you and your agents have been summoned is actually a matter of national pride; only peripherally a matter most personal to me,” answered the gentleman in the expensively ornate waistcoat. “Randall Burke, of Kentucky, Colonel Hays. I do have an interest regarding the whereabouts – or even the survival of Captain O’Neill.” The gentleman’s florid countenance turned briefly mournful. “Before his untimely disappearance, he was – he is engaged to my daughter, Rebecca. Gentlemen, if you have no daughters, you have no idea of the wiles which they can wind around your heart. My darling Rebecca has been waging a campaign of the kind which no mortal father can stand long against – find her beloved, she implores me; find him and restore him to her, or her heart will break. ‘Papa’ she begged me, ‘you have influential friends, important friends, you can surely exchange favors.’” Senator Burke offered a small and very wry smile. “I do not ordinarily trade on my office for personal consideration, gentlemen – but I must admit that if Captain O’Neill’s aged mother, a sister or an affianced other than my Rebecca had come and begged me to do what I could … I fear that I would be making the same request of you that I am making now. Find Captain O’Neill. General Harrell is among my oldest friends; he was in a position to facilitate this meeting and sponsor my request of you.”
“Understood,” Jack Hays nodded. “But I still wonder, gentlemen – since he wasn’t our concern when he was – er, misplaced somewhere in the new western territories, why should you come to us, ask my fellows for their assistance? I might have thought this was the business of the US Army.”
“And so it would have been,” General Harrell replied warmly. “But it seems there is a potential complication, one which might prove embarrassing to … to whomever. And that is why outsiders such as your compatriots are involved. The matter is of the utmost delicacy.” He cast a significant look at Governor Wood.
“Jack – I’ll be in my own office,” Governor Wood nodded. “If you wish to speak with me when the gentlemen are finished briefing you on this particular … engagement.” The Governor absented himself from the dusty office with efficient dispatch, although Jim wondered why – if this was such a matter of delicacy, why Sergeant Grayson and the unnamed young officer remained, hovering at the door as if they were hounds bidden to stay, yet uncertain of their welcome within the circle. Jack claimed the last chair, and eyed General Harrell and Senator Burke as they resumed their seats.
“So – how exactly did you come to lose track of your heroic young captain? You may speak freely, as Captain Reade and Mr. Shaw will be the Texas men of my department dispatched on this errand. And what is the exact nature of this delicate matter?”
“Sergeant Grayson is the one most able to answer that question,” General Harrell replied, “As he was part of Captain O’Neill’s exploration party, and the senior NCO remaining. Sergeant – would you explain the situation?”
“Gladly, sah!” Sergeant Grayson stepped forward, assuming an attitude of formal parade-rest before the half-circle of chairs, and fixing his eyes on the farther wall – a thing which Jim found vaguely irritating. It was as if the man were performing in a pantomime. “We set out early in the spring of last year from Shreveport, our mission being to follow the old trail to Santa Fe, and then to strike northwesterly from there, to map the uncharted wastelands, and search out a certain river – a river of significant size, which was reported by Spanish explorers many years ago. It was the conviction of Captain O’Neill that this river, if navigable by craft of any size, might provide a most expeditious route to California… The great Colorado, they call it. Means “Red” so I am told.”
“Did you locate this river, then?” Jack cut into the flow of words. “And at what point was Captain O’Neill lost to your part?”
“Indeed we did, sah!” Sergeant Grayson answered warmly. “And the portion of it which we explored – so sublime a sight as may hardly be imagined! Grooved deep into the earth, attended by mighty rock towers and cliffs striped in red, orange, gold – the colors of flame, in the sunlight of a dying day. I have seen many splendors on this earth, gentleman, but that grand river, cradled in its mighty red canyon …” he shook his head. “Captain O’Neill waxed even more poetic. He was like a boy in a toy-shop, sah, marveling at everything. Nothing would content him than to essay a venture down to the water-edge with a corporal and two private soldiers of our party, leaving me in charge of the remainder. They carried a patent collapsible boat with them, intending to venture a little way down the river. We were to be collecting geological and botanical specimens, y’see, while we waited on Captain O’Neill’s return in a fortnight.”
“That was perilous, to so split your party in that fashion,” Jack remarked, with veiled disapproval. “Especially when you are uncertain of the friendliness of the local Indian folk.”
“Not so,” Sergeant Grayson demurred. “The natives were of a nature inclined to be friendly; farming folk in the main. They make fine baskets and pottery, grow crops of maize and orchard fruit as fine as any Christian. Although they would make bonny warriors if rightly provoked, they do not live for it, as do the Comanche, and export war wholesale.”
“Well, that’s some comfort,” General Harrell remarked, in some relief. “Hear that, young Joe? No chances of death or glory against the wild Comanche for you this journey! Just bring back your old playfellows’ dearest, and that should be sufficient reward.”
“I heard, sir,” the young officer answered, with easy familiarity. “I suppose Becky will weep all over me in that case – and I will be forgiven for teasing her so mercilessly when we were children.”
“It depends,” General Harrell smiled. “Colonel Hays – my son, Lieutenant Harrell. He is newly-graduated, and will be a part of your expedition at his insistence. Captain O’Neill was an upper-classman, and much reverenced among the junior cadets. His orders, and those for Sergeant Grayson are all cut and approved. I hope that you will forgive my presumption,” he added, looking searchingly at Jack, Jim and Toby. “But for reasons of security, I prefer to involve only family and those connections of proven discretion, in addition to your people, Colonel Hays. There is one other, who will be a part of this expedition, although he is not privy to the entire story … continue, Sergeant.”
“Thank you, sah!” Sergeant Grayson fixed his gaze on the opposite wall. Jim was quite certain this was not for any intrinsic beauty of the wall itself, as it was an uninspiring collection of rough shelves, and a tattered map of Texas tacked to that part not covered with shelves and stacked with ledgers. Jim murmured an aside to his blood-brother, “So we are getting to the part about how they were able to lose their hero – and how that came to be a potential embarrassment to the Federal Army.”
“We waited for seventeen days,” Sergeant Grayson continued, still staring at the wall. “I was disinclined, sah, to split our party even further, in sending out a small detachment to search for Captain O’Neill. He was a man of his word; if he said he would return in a fortnight, then he would return in a fortnight. If he did not, he said that I should use my best judgement in that eventuality. The Captain reposed a great deal of trust in me,” Sergeant Grayson added with a touch of modest pride. “Since I have soldiered, man and boy for more than thirty years and under three flags, counting this one.”
“Likely you have forgotten more of the trade than many have ever learned,” General Harrell agreed. “As a Living Rule of the art of soldiering. I cannot say that such trust was misplaced.”
“Thank you, sah,” Sergeant Grayson unbent sufficiently to look directly at his small audience, and Jack cleared his throat. “And on the seventeenth day,” he asked, quietly.
Sergeant Grayson’s gaze snapped back to the wall. “On the seventeenth day, Corporal Mayhew staggered into our camp in a most piteous condition. The corporal was one of the party accompanying the Captain. He was nearly dead from exposure, hunger, and thirst, besides having half his ribs stove in. But he was able to tell us of what happened; on the eighth day of their explorations of the river, the boat was taken by a sudden swift current, and smashed on the rocks. Private MacLean and Private Josephson drowned in deep water, their bodies carried away in the current. Captain O’Neill’s leg was broken, most painfully, and he had an almighty crack to the skull. He could not walk, and was unconscious for some time. Mayhew was hurt only a little less severely, but he managed to pull Captain O’Neill to safety, in a little cove sheltered by a cliff overhang. He left the Captain comfortably settled in that shelter, with a water-bottle, and what he could retrieve of the supplies. He gathered wood, built a small fire, administered what doctoring he could render and went to fetch aid from our main camp. He was four or five days at that … venturing back along the riverbank, and climbing back up along the path they had followed going down. He was …” Sergeant Grayson’s harsh voice roughened. “In no very good condition, sah. He was crawling on hands and knees at the last, and only lived a day or so – just long enough to tell us of what had happened.”
“A brave young man,” Senator Burke remarked, much moved, although he must have heard the story at least once before. “And a credit to the uniform, and to his commander.”
“No, sah, in a spirit of honesty, I would beg to disagree,” Sergeant Grayson continued his rigid examination of the wall. “He was addicted to strong drink and consorting w’ women of the disreputable class. I did not think he was of the stuff that the best are made of – but he did well enough, for all o’ that, and died doing his duty.”
“Nothing in his life became him so much as his manner of leaving it, eh?” Senator Burke commented, and Sergeant Grayson appeared even grimmer than before.
“Aye so. Well, he was thorough enough – poor lad – when it came to marking his trail. We followed it easily, but upon finding the cove and cave where Captain O’Neill had been – there was nothing save the ashes of a dead fire – and a few scraps of the rubberized canvas from the remains of the boat. That was how we were certain of the place, sah; the bits of the boat, y’see. The Captain was gone. “We searched the nearby riverbanks as carefully as we could on foot, having lost use of the boat.” Sergeant Grayson’s eyes returned to the tattered map on the wall opposite. “And found no other trace of the Captain, although we found and buried Private Josephson alongside Corporal Mayhew. Having done so, we made all speed to return east and file reports, along with the maps and samples, and considered the expedition completed.”
“Ah, then – that is how they lost him,” Jim murmured to his blood-brother, as they watched this with interest. “In a delirium, fallen into the river, and carried away. No doubt of it.”
“But I do not understand the requirement for secrecy,” Jack cleared his throat. “Sad enough to lose a man in that manner – injured and alone in the wilderness, and of course his loved ones would grieve his loss, but I simply do not see this as a matter of …”
“There’s more to this,” General Harrell held up a hand. “Thank you, Sergeant – I’ll carry on from here. You will see the need for discretion when I am finished. The following spring, there was a small story in the weekly St. Louis Register which excited much comment; a tale by a pair of Mormon missionaries searching for converts among the heathen – a tale of a white man living among a tribe settled along the river … which from our calculations was not far from where Captain O’Neill and his party came to grief. It struck me as a curious coincidence and I made further inquiries. The original story was printed in the California Star – the proprietor is a Mormon, you see, and would know of such incidents involving his coreligionists. Two weeks ago, a messenger returned from California with urgent dispatches – and a fuller accounting of the missionaries visit to the Havasuopii village, including a physical description of the white man. He was tall, with sandy-colored hair, and walked with a bad limp.”
“There must be any number of white renegades and mountain men – even captives taken as children,” Jack pointed out. Jim nodded; he knew of at least a dozen such – captured as children raised as Indians, and adopted into their tribe. “What of your missing Private McLean? He was reported drowned as well – but perhaps…”
“McLean was a dark Scot, near as dark as an Indian himself,” Sergeant Grayson interjected. “And no’ what you would call tall. But I take your point, Colonel, sah – about renegades and such. But the description of this man also made note of a peculiar scar on his forehead. The Captain had such a scar, gotten in the fighting at Monterrey.”
“You see, Colonel,” General Harrell sighed heavily. “It very well might be O’Neill. And if it is – it means that an officer of this Army has deserted his duties, his loved ones – his very life among civilized people. The embarrassment to the Army, to our government, after having proclaimed him a hero, honored and decorated will be enormous, if word got out. Tt may be also that he was deprived of his memory through that blow to the head, in which case he must be returned to us, that he might be restored to family and career. In either case, we simply must resolve this matter and mystery, and do so without causing an embarrassing scandal. I know that you and your people can be trusted to be discrete; such discretion is not only the better part of valor, it is also the better part of diplomacy. Only those of us within this room know the full import of this mission.”
There was silence in the musty office for a long moment, while motes of dust danced in the slanted sunlight coming through the glazed window. Finally, Jack spoke.
“You fellows have taken in all that? Good.” He fixed General Harrell and the Senator with his sternest gaze. “Jim Reade and Toby Shaw are two of the best I have – you just say the word, and when you want them to leave.”
“Excellent, Colonel!” General Harrell beamed. “Then in two weeks, from Camp Verde – where the fifth of this venture will join you. Ned Beale – he’s a Navy man, but knows the west about as well as any of us landlubbers. There will be your lads, my son and Sergeant Grayson – only you four know the real purpose of this mission!”
“Pardon me for inquiring,” Jim spoke in his normal voice for almost the first time in this interview. “But – why Camp Verde? We can just as well depart from here. I have my own trash and traps, Mr. Shaw has his; we are in expectation of heading off into whichever direction Colonel Jack sends us on a moment’s notice.”
“Because that is where you will collect up the camels!” General Harrell replied, with a mighty laugh at the expression which had descended on all their faces – Sergeant Grayson’s excepted. Jim could only think that he had become well-accustomed to insane requirements while in service to his variable flags.

13. June 2017 · Comments Off on LAUNCHED · Categories: Luna City, Random Book and Media Musings

All righty, then – Luna City IV is fairly launched – although at present I believe that more copies of the ebook version have sold than the print version. There are already a handful of reviews, two of which (so far) plaintively complain that we are writing too slowly, and when is the next installment due for release?

Well – in this best of all possible worlds, we could (and have!) turned out a Luna City book in six months, but honestly, I hate to rush things that much. And I have another book – the next Lone Star Sons to finish in time for release at the Christmas shopping season markets. The next Luna City could be out in early next spring, or as late as June 2018. We do have the general story arc worked out, but the actual writing takes time, and these things are like a good cheese or fine wine. They have to mellow a bit, before being released for consumption by the public. Besides, there are other books to be worked on as well. Although I will reveal who is on the phone with Kate Heisel in the last scene; it’s one of her news contacts, but that bad news that she has for Richard will be revealed in the next book – A Fifth of Luna City. (There are a couple of clues as to what that bad news might be, in some of the intervals, if readers want to put two and two together.) And yes, every one of the Luna City books will end on a cliffhanger.