Here’s a quick sketch

“In 1938, as Jim and Jeannie Kosciusko and their brood of six, cope with the great depression and anticipate another war, nine year old Pat Kosciusko struggles with multiplication and long division at the Elizabeth Wilder School and is leery of his fourth grade teacher, Mister Cross, who is sometimes strange and often irritable.  Unknown to Pat, Mister Cross’s odd behavior also includes a diabolical play for the charms of Helen Fitzgerald, the married fifth grade teacher in the classroom next door.

To complicate things, Helen’s husband Bryce, suspecting infidelity, hires private detective C.D. Dick, whose values and morals are often in suspense, to find out for sure.  But C.D. Dick and Bryce are fooled.  The distaff member of Mister Cross’s tryst is not Helen Fitzgerald. 

Who, then?

Concerned about a smaller commission from Bryce, the unsavory C.D. Dick, gambling that he can intimidate Mister Cross, decides on blackmail to make up the difference.  But Pat Kosciusko inadvertently overhears C.D.’s threat and Cross knows he was listening. 

Pat is a sudden problem, and Mister Cross is desperate.

What now? 

Stunned, the Kosciuskos ask for help from neighbor and confidant Charlotte Stuart, also a private tutor.  Charlotte contacts a friend and school board member.  Together, they launch a plan that reveals Mister Cross’s true partner and achieves retribution and comeuppance where appropriate.  Charlotte also cooks up a nifty scheme to blackmail the blackmailer.

Here are some thoughts paraphrasing Pat…

   ...“there was something about Mister Cross that caused Pat to feel wary and suspicious”…

...“He wasn’t like his own dad who, while mostly serious and adult-like, offered a smile and sometimes a pat on his back when he did something good.  He also taught him how to do important things like hit a baseball, throw a punch, and take apart a bike’s back sprocket…” 

…“And Mister Cross didn’t kid around, teach him how to hit a golf ball, or tell any jokes like Mister Stuart next door.  And he didn’t stand at his front porch doorway and say ‘Good morning.  How are you, Patrick?’ like Mrs. Hunsicker, their neighbor on the other side”…

…“And he didn’t look like he mowed his lawn, shoveled his walks, and painted his house like other people in the neighborhood”… 

…and some quotes from neighbor Charlotte Stuart…

…“I’ll also remind the judge, that, because you make a good share of your living taking advantage of other people’s moral lapses and indiscretions, in consequence, you barely reach the lower levels of legitimacy as a moral business.

“You wouldn’t want to test my resolve on this.  I don’t bluff.”

“This is blackmail,” said C.D. while glaring back at Charlotte.

“You don’t say,” added Charlotte with ease.”

Say hello to Gail Stuart, an eighteen year-old first year college student falsely accused of stealing a midterm exam.  Here, reason, logic, and values are thrown topsy-turvy to enable expediency and a quick fix.  Justice then becomes another word for happenstance and luck. 

Although the university’s game is rigged to favor the impossible to define greater good over the individual, his accusers have picked on the wrong guy.  The story of Gail’s exoneration is a classic example of a forthright individual trouncing a number of supercilious, unprincipled administrators at their own game.

But the story also asks: Is the function of government in a free society to rely on the natural development of independent and self sufficient individuals who will keep it free?  Or, should government strive to develop only socially cooperative, self-doubting, dependents that, without a consensus, get the jitters crossing a street. 

Along the way readers either delight or bristle at a continuous line-up of characters whose reputations vary in degree from worthy to worthless.  All have some bearing on whether Gail is found innocent or guilty as he tries to handle a full course load, a fraternity membership, and a sorority hasher’s job while operating his own retail business.  Also introduced is Rebecca, a math and physics whiz who falls in love with Gail.  How Gail saves Rebecca’s day in an altercation with a student renegade is, by itself, worth the read.

We also explore the history of the Stuart Family and how they came from Scotland to America in the 1850s, eventually settling in Minneapolis, and the story of Gail’s mother, Charlotte Fairfax Stuart, descendent of Swiss and French mercenaries who were hardly fans of civilization.  Fortunately, she was raised by the more refined British side of the family in Winnetka, Illinois.  But World War I causes a change that affects her education and attitudes, and is later reflected in her steel-like hold on principle as she conducts her own life and influences Gail as he is growing up.

Finally, our Midwest setting in the 1950s provides a compelling picture of college life and the social atmosphere of the time.  It’s often funny, producing knowing smiles and even belly laughs.  Yet, it’s also serious, comparing the uplifting character of the wholesome and forthright to the debilitating inconsistencies and hypocrisy of the unprincipled and unscrupulous. 

With One Hand Tied Behind His Back: The Life and Times of Gail Stuart is divided into three parts,What is So? How Do You Know? and What Do You Do?  It is available in one volume or in single volumes of each part.