(Because of the enthusiastic response to The Chronicles of Luna City, and because several of those who reviewed it were wondering mightily about the cliffhanger at the end, my daughter and I have decided to push full ahead on the next installation of the story, and release it in May. One of the ongoing threads in the new tale regards a movie production coming to town, to do local shooting – at first with the enthusiastic cooperation of the residents. But then, certain things come to light about the production itself …)
Three days later, two men sat on the terrace of the Wyler home place, watching the sun slide down in the western sky, and the shadows lengthen across the formal garden below, and the green pastures beyond, where cows drifted idly hither and yon. A comfortably shabby set of rustic bentwood furniture contrasted rather oddly with the pillared splendors of the mansion built by Captain Herbert Wyler, in the first flush of his prosperity in the 1880s cattle markets. But they sat at the exact best place to watch the sun go down on the Wyler Exotic Game Ranch, and on the distant trees and church spires of Luna City, and so it was one of Doc Wyler’s favorite places, even in the heat of a Texas mid-summer. The temporary headquarters for filming extensive location shots was also within view, a prospect in the farthest meadow, and now regarded by both men with extreme distaste.
“Good of you to drop everything, and hustle all the way from Houston,” Doc Wyler said at last. The pages of the script lay on the table between them.
“You said it was an emergency in the note,” Clovis Walcott replied, as grim as s stone face on Mount Rushmore. “By god, so it is. I’d like to smash that miss-representing little weasel into a bloody pulp with my bare hands. We got taken, Doc. And taken bad.”
“That we did, Colonel – that we did. They told us what we wanted to hear, like any good convincing conman does.” Doc Wyler sounded much the calmer of the two, although the half-consumed mint julep at his side may have had something to do with his air of relative equanimity. “The thing is now … what are we gonna do about it?”
“My lawyer’s going to hear from me – first thing in the morning, if not by voicemail tonight,” Clovis sounded as if he were grinding his teeth. “And my banker, as well. I invested in this travesty – and I was near as dammit about to make it a bigger investment, on account of what those bastards said. I wouldn’t have touched this travesty with a ten-foot-pole, no matter how sweet they talked. As it stands in this script, this movie will be a disaster, all the way around. I wonder if my lawyer can make a case for fraud …”
“Ah, but there was nothing in writing about the plot itself, was there?” Doc Wyler sipped meditatively at his julep. “All a verbal understanding between honorable men doing business together on a handshake understanding … sharp practice, Colonel. It’ll be the death of this world. A man’s word used to be a bond. I’ve always said ‘trust but verify,’ but when it turns out that you can’t trust ‘em after all…”
“Thought that was Ronnie Reagan who said that,” Clovis Walcott sounded as if his own barely touched julep had just begun to mellow the edges of his fury.
“Yeah, he did – but he stole that line from me,” Doc Wyler replied. “As I was saying – if it turns out to be that you can’t verify, and don’t trust … and that you have been, in fact, lied to in the most infamous fashion – what do you do then?”
“Destroy them,” Clovis Walcott looked out upon where the temporary film headquarters had been set up; tents and generators, with tall lights on stilts, and elaborate RVs. Filming was set to begin in earnest on the outdoor scenes the following morning. “Destroy them, root and branch. Sue them into such oblivion that their grandchildren are still paying into the end of this century … I roped the Karnes Company into participating in this, on my word alone! I’ll never be able to lift up my head in Texas reenactor organizations again, if this movie shows in any venue but a midnight cable freak-fest … and even then, I know there’ll be words spoken! It’s my good name – my reputation on the line, every bit as much as the Karnes Company Living History Association.”
“Destroy them … what, with a lawyer, brandishing a brief and a court order?” Doc Wyler chuckled. “They’ll use it as publicity, and then where will you and your history enthusiast friends be? Oh, yes – I agree with the overall aim, but not the immediate means. Look, son – they’ll be done with the last filming before your lawyer can even draft the first cease-and-desist order. Time … time is against us in a legal sense … but not the opportunity for sabotage.” Doc Wyler sank another third of his mint julep, and regarded the distant movie camp with the same calculating, squint-eyed expression with which his grandfather (had he but known) had regarded such obstacles in his path as Union Army foragers, Comanche raiders, cross-border Mexican cattle rustlers, and various Kansas rivers in flood-stage. “Suppose … just suppose, you tell your Karnes Company reenactor pals about the dirty trick that’s been played on you … has been played on them all. Emphasis upon ‘them all.’”
“I’m not sure that I follow,” Clovis Walcott ventured, and Doc Wyler’s gaze returned as if from a long-distance journey to the movie camp.
“No? The scene they are to film in a week – if this schedule is to be believed – is the climactic scene. The one that they gathered all of your reenactor folks to film, in wide-screen and thrilling detail, from every perceptible angle, including a very expensive helicopter and a tall bucket-truck or two. If I have been reading this script aright … it’s the make or break for the whole production in a whole lotta ways. Now, between the two of us … we have a considerable force at our disposal… which, if we deploy them effectively, might damage this production beyond recall, and leave us with relatively clean hands. What say you to that, Colonel?”
“What can we do?” Clovis replied. “And who have we got? Who knows about the contents of this document?”
“A varied collection of volunteers,” Doc Wyler replied, briskly. “You have your reenactors, of course. As for who has seen this script, besides you and I? Chris from the Tip-Top and Jaimie’s boy, Sylvester – he was a Marine, too – like J.W. – Richard from the Café. And Benny Cordova, who was the one who put them wise to it. Those last two, I’d rather leave on the sidelines, keep their hands clean – Benny especially. But we can count on Chris and Sylvester – boots on the ground as it were. Chris’ll be one of the movie crew as the on-scene medic. Sylvester has gotten himself hired on to help with communications. I believe that your folks, though, have the very best opportunity to wreck the shoot of that big battle scene.”
“I’ll take those I can trust into my confidence,” Clovis nodded. “We’ll come up with something, my word on it.”
“And if you could find a creative use for a couple of pints of methylene blue,” Doc Wyler scratched his chin most thoughtfully. “I b’lieve I can lay hands on some in a day or two.”
“Why, and what does it do?” Clovis Walcott looked doubtful at first, but a broad grin crept across his countenance, as Doc Wyler explained. “My hat is off to you, sir – I know just how this might be used to good effect. Confusion to our enemies, Doc.” He lifted his julep glass and drank from it, looking happier than he had since reading the script.
“To confusion, humiliation, and pain.” Doc Wyler lifted his own glass, and added, “It’s an established fact, Colonel – old age, guile, and treachery will always beat out youth, speed and a handy lawyer.”