by Shirley B. Ring
Rachel Starkey Tobias was born into the Starkey family shipping empire. During the year of 1930, a hard and ugly ruin slams many in this country. The events of the era later described as The Great Depression. None of this affects Rachel. She remains one of the wealthiest women in the world. She is also one of the deadliest.
In early March, Rachel returns to the family homestead on Palmetto Key. Due to an exceptionally mild north Florida winter, she plans to prepare her spring garden early. A fresh crop of culinary herbs and other botanicals wait for her in the greenhouse.
From an off-handed conversation with Tommy Otter, an old childhood friend, she learns the island’s local banker, Jeffery Manning, is up to his old tricks of cheating those of color on their transactions. Rachel despises this and all the many other injustices vented against the less fortunate. With a little help from the unpredictable Mother Nature and Tommy, Rachel activates her plan to stop Jeffery’s shenanigans once and for all.
Two days after her arrival a freak and dangerous cold front blasts hurricane strength winds with an icy freezing frenzy upon the island. The timing is perfect. The hungry seedlings in the greenhouse will feed, grow big and strong on the blood of someone thought washed out to sea.
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With a hiss of brakes followed by the tenuous squeal of metal on metal The Local lurched and eventually came to a full stop beside the depot in Archer Florida.
Rachel Starkey Tobias breathed in a whiff of cedar as she slipped the soft cashmere sweater over her new dress. The odor clung to the clothing hung in the small cubicle during the previous six of an eight-hour train ride from Palatka.
She twisted a few natural curls of short brown hair outside the rim of her cloche hat and left the private sleeper compartment. If there were no delays due to felled trees across the tracks or engine trouble, she would be in Palmetto Key in two hours for a month long stay at the Starkey family home.
She stood on the coach platform and waited for her escort. When she heard the latch of his compartment disengage, she quickly left the train. Not now or ever in the mood for the likes of Albert Lawrence, maybe if she stayed several steps ahead it would ward off any conversation. Albert, barely and only tolerated due to his family’s close association with hers that went back at least two generations. While growing up she addressed him as uncle. Rachel, now thirty-two and he fifteen years her senior no longer used the title.
Pine planks ran from the train to the covered porch of the depot. It was impossible not to notice the planks solely positioned in front of this one particular car. The other passengers in the forward coach exited the train directly onto a thick layer of clay, sticky and wet from the previous night’s rain.
“Need some assistance, Miss Pretty Lady?” A dark young lad of maybe eight inquired. Behind him stood three others of the same age and kind, all dressed in tattered overalls and worn faded flannel shirts. Their bare feet sank into the muddy ground. If the chill of the first week of this early March morning was a bother to them, it did not show. Warily the young boys waited at a respectful distance ready to bolt if she uttered the least sound their approach was a nuisance.
Rachel carefully centered her feet in the middle of the planks so none of the mushy clay splashed onto her satin pumps. She pulled a quarter and a nickel along with a single dollar bill from her clutch. The four young boys’ eyes took on the round dimensions of a medicine ball.
“We could use a beverage and there’s enough left over so all of you can have one too.” She held the shiny coins out of reach over the head of the one who spoke to her. “If you can bring us two of the coldest bottles of Coke available, I’ll give you this as a tip.” Rachel waved the dollar and watched their eyes grow even wider. “I’ll wait for you by the steps.”
The boys bounded off to the rear of the depot, toward the Colored entrance.
“Best you not be so free about waving money around in certain places. I’m hearing things from Washington I won’t go into here,” Albert Lawrence warned. “The ongoing recession is surely a sign the nation is about to plunge deep into the affinity of Hell. Already in this great and glorious Year of our Lord of 1930 with Herbert Hoover in office, this country is in a major tailspin. Might as well have inaugurated a goat.”
As the daughter of Clara Osborn and Richard Edmund Starkey II and a widow of Douglas Elliot Tobias III, Rachel kept her counsel. She remained silent and held her expression neutral. It was rude to discuss politics in such a
public place especially with a member of the opposite sex.
If she felt a need to vent her own views on the current economic conditions, there was plenty of time to do so in a more private setting once she settled in on the island.
Obvious, from Albert’s present and past rants their opinions were to vary greatly. Rachel found it illogical to think all of this country’s woes happened so suddenly. The Nation’s tailspin, as Albert called it, began long before Herbert Hoover and his lovely wife Lou ever slept in the coveted Presidential bedchamber. Her father and older brother, Edmund, predicated the current financial problems five years ago. Clearly, the overabundance of corruption and greed rampant among the already wealthy two percent secured during the latter part of the past century finally filtered down to those who wanted more by the same means.
“It’s going to be such a lovely day. If there are no unscheduled stops I’ll be able to work in my garden on the Key this afternoon,” Rachel gushed. “Oh, I know it’s rather early in the season, but I can at least do some rudimentary preparations. The shop in Palatka has been quite busy as of late. I’m low on some of the herbal teas and tonics.”
Albert cast off the attempted change of subject once he took note there were passengers within hearing range. He puffed up enough to strain the already spread out buttons of his silk vest. “So you won’t be attending the dinner party at the White House at the end of the month?” He tapped his walking stick against a plank and loudly continued, “Why the hell I was invited, I’ll never know. It’s no secret I fully supported Al Smith. No matter he’s a Catholic and a Democrat.”
With a tremendous show of will power, Rachel stayed silent. As a long ago Lawrence outcast, Albert was no more invited to a White House function than the young children who fetched their drinks. Some how, he must have learned that the rest of his family as well as hers, including Rachel and her two brothers. were on the guest list.