On a cold overcast night the day before Thanksgiving in 1972, a young reporter named Beverly Wikowski walks into the Spar Pole Saloon. All she wants is a quote from a male chauvinist pig. She has no idea that she’ll end up on a quest to find the extorted loot of the infamous skyjacker DB Cooper.
In my last three posts, I’ve recounted the actual hijacking and its aftermath. Today, it’s time for fiction. Below is the introduction of my current work in progress, Cooper’s Loot.
On a cold overcast night the day before Thanksgiving in 1972, Beverly Wikowski stood in a dim phone booth outside the Spar Pole Saloon. Illuminated only by parking lot lights, she counted the change in her coin purse. She paused a moment to add her own smoked Salem to the three cigarette butts floating in a Styrofoam cup half-filled with old coffee on a metal shelf. It smelled as though drunks regularly urinated in the booth.
“Two dollars thirty-five cents,” said the operator.
Bev deposited nine quarters and a dime. She waited four rings before her mother answered the phone, and, god, it was loud in the house, her twenty-three year-old brother Alex from Grants Pass hollering and kids shrieking in the background.
“You’re working late again,” said her mother.
“I’m in Kelso working on a story.”
“No, Kelso, Scotland. What do you think?”
“That’s fifty miles from here.”
“There’s a really good player on the Kelso girls basketball team.”
“What’s that got to do with the Women’s Section?”
“As long as I avoid politics and crime, the editors don’t care what I write.”
“You want to talk to Sandy?”
“She’s having fun with her cousins, but I’ll get her. You’re not working tomorrow, are you?”
“No, of course…”
“Sandy!” Her mother called before Bev could finish. “It’s your mom!”
She turned and glanced across the shadowy parking lot. The saloon looked as though it had claimed its spot not long after Lewis and Clark paddled by on their way to the Pacific. Brown planks pocked with paint blisters covered the exterior, except for a boot-scuffed white door placed exactly in the center.
She’d spoken to the coach, interviewed and photographed the player. What would the men inside the Spar Pole think of their hometown hero—a girl, for Christ’s sake? One of them would blurt out some salacious or otherwise empty-headed reaction, and she’d have everything she needed to write her story.
Her readers would understand exactly what she was trying to say.
“Hey, little goose.” She turned away from the Spar Pole and pictured her girl standing beneath the avocado-colored wall phone at the edge of the kitchen. Her long hair of brick red curls, her eyes aglitter with life, just like her daddy’s had been. For an instant it felt like someone had grabbed her heart and squeezed, but Bev let the feeling pass.
“Mommy’s going to miss dinner with you, but I’ll be home to read a story before bedtime.”
“I’m fifty miles away, but I’m still close to the river.”
“Are you on a boat?”
“Would you, could you, with a goat?”
Bev grinned. “Not on a boat, not with a goat. Not on a float, but I’m wearing my coat.”
“Mommy! That’s not how it goes.”
“Oh. Maybe you’ll have to show me when I get home.”
“Love you, little goose.”
“Love you, too, Mommy.”
In a moment, her mother took the phone. “When can we expect you?” she asked.
“Let’s say seven-thirty,” said Bev.
One. Minute. The phone company voice interrupted.
“We’re having spaghetti. You want me to hold a plate for you?”
“Oh, Mom. You’re the best. Yes, please. And I’ll be there to help in the kitchen tomorrow.”
After the call Bev lingered, despite the smell of piss, as though proximity to the phone represented proximity to her daughter. Then she stepped out into the pulp fumes and the night chilled with saturated air. She tugged down on her skirt, brown and cotton, professional, well below the knees, and strode toward the door.
If it got a little too rough in there, she’d skedaddle straight out to her Volkswagen Beetle, parked right by the entry. She’d hop in, lock the door, spit rocks on her way out the parking lot. If someone jumped in front to stop her, he’d be taking a mighty big risk.
Next post: Bev encounters more than she expects.