Writecross Publishing, Serpents and Scallywags
Richard "Rally" Locke is the family maverick. Rather than follow his sister and brother in getting college degrees, he decided to follow his dream and headed West right out of high school to be a ranch hand, a cowboy. But fate intervened. His riding days ended, at least for a while, when a fat bay mare scraped him off her back against a cottonwood tree and broke his leg. Returning home with a slightly shortened left leg after being laid up at the ranch house most of the winter, he was enticed into starting to learn the real estate business--all facets of it--by his father, Byron "Bul" Locke, president and CEO of The Cheviot Company in downtown Minneapolis.
The book follows Rally as he tries to catch-up with his brother, now an attorney for Cheviot, by taking night classes at the same time as he is having adventures learning property management, sales, appraising, insurance, and mortgage brokerage. Standing in his way are the current department heads, a couple of whom feel threatened by "The Boss's Son" and conspire to discourage and force Rally out. The book weaves "a tangled tale"---as one reviewer phrased it---through the labyrinth of real estate complexities, personal intrigue, and the Locke family's tooth-grinding yet often humorous and titillating saga. Since it is set in the late '50's through the turbulent '60's, there are numerous historically accurate place, event, and public figure references---a series of slices from the salami of time.
BLOOD ON THE SNOW
The Mall, Edina, Minnesota
December 9, 1958
This was the season of giving, but as the winsome blond threaded her baby into a rented stroller, she could not know she would never get to remove him.
It was also a season of taking.
Diane Johnson was one of the first shoppers into The Mall when it opened that snowy 27-degree Monday morning. As she headed for the south wing, unbuttoning her own maroon storm
coat while thumping along in matching snow boots, Christmas carols began playing. Mother and child rolled past sparkling storefronts and a revolving, two-story, white-flocked and baubled
spruce tree growing out of a mound of equally oversized toys and gaily-wrapped gift boxes.
Colored lights seemed to be everywhere, flashing off tinsel and garland, as sunlight streamed through the glass roof above them twice the height of the tree. The smells of spiced cider, hot chocolate, and fresh Danish wafted past Diane”s nose as they passed a courtyard café.
What a great place to shop, she thought, as this was a new concept, an indoor mall, a haven from the Minnesota cold. She made a mental note to come back after her doctor’s appointment, but at the moment she wanted to secure a handbag on sale before it was gone.
When the baby began to fuss, the mother stopped.
“Oh, sweetheart,” she said, bending over. “I’m sorry. I’m in such a hurry I forgot.” She pushed back the hood of the sky blue snowsuit and out popped a towhead with hair so fine the ends, like a clown wig, floated upward in all directions. She unzipped the suit and deftly stripped it off over tiny arms and legs before continuing out of the cavernous central mall and down the wide corridor.
Miffed to find the glass doors of her favorite department store still locked, she swore softly and squinted, as if it would help her blue eyes part the mottled fog of sprayed-on frost, yet
no one was in sight. For an instant her eyes focused on red satin bows on a white Christmas tree.
A memory of blood on snow, the result of a snowball to her nose as a child, flashed through her mind. She shook her head to banish the discordant image.
The clatter and chatter of more shoppers echoed down the hall, but none came her way. A man in uniform was stringing something across the entrance to the corridor. It was a good time to
go potty, she decided, wheeled the stroller around, headed down a short side hallway, and into the ladies’ rest room.
Scott, her ten-month-old son, had been fed before leaving the house and was asleep, so she gently pushed the stroller toward the far wall and hurried into the first stall. The woman in the adjoining stall left almost immediately. That was fine with Diane for, as she fumbled for a pad, a lipstick fled from her purse. Like a frightened golden rabbit, it scampered to the nearest hiding place against the other toilet. She tried to reach it and instead kicked over the whole bag.
The Midol was taking effect. Even so, bending over to scoop up the contents, Diane was seized by a cramp. She held her head in place with both hands and rocked back and forth like a chanting
monk. Her head felt thick and wobbly. It was several minutes before the spasm passed and she finished, recaptured and washed the lipstick, and began washing her hands.
Funny how the stroller looked empty from that angle, she thought. She rinsed and looked again as she reached for a second paper towel. The baby must have slumped down, but intuition jolted her. She sprinted across the tile floor with towels still in hand.
“Oh, my God!”
The empty stroller still faced the sterile white wall. Next to it a ladder extended through a dislodged, oversize ceiling tile. In disbelief, she pawed the emptiness where her baby should
have been as if the stroller had a secret compartment.
She spun around, head swiveling in a frantic search despite a mind a step behind. She turned to the three stalls and tried to push open the last one, but it was locked.
“Scott?” she called out as fear welled up in a tightening throat. Then she noticed the out-of-order sign. She looked under the door and dropped to her knees, head swimming. Shaking her
head, she staggered to her feet, steadied herself against the toilet partition, and checked the
other two stalls. Then, through tearing eyes, she focused on the ladder.
A black hole the size and shape of a child’s tomb loomed over her. With trembling hands she grabbed an icy-cold aluminum rung, swallowed hard, and started up. Her snow boot slipped
off the second rung sending her crashing into the ladder and sliding to the floor.
“Ow,” she said as she touched a bruised cheek, but she tried again. At the third rung her head was up to the ceiling. It was like looking into a refrigerator with the light out. Frigid air flowed over her making ears and cheeks tingle. She gulped hard and called into the abyss,
“Hello! Anyone up here?”
Her words were swallowed by the maw.
“Hello! Anyone? At all?” One hand flew to her lips as if to stifle the gorge. “My baby, my baby,” she whimpered.
What happened to Scott? That woman. Ignoring her tear streaked makeup, Diane
stumbled down the ladder and rushed into the hallway.
Empty! There was no one in sight. She clumped over to the mall corridor just as a lone policeman passed.
Then she screamed.