Welcome to chapter five of “December, 1919″, a serialized novel written by Oliver Gray. New chapters will be published every Wednesday. Links to all published chapters can be found here.
“Are you insane?”
My voice bounded and then rebounded off the tinny walls of the malt warehouse like it was playing tag with itself. Virginia had asked me to stay late and help her organize the malts for the upcoming inspection, promising George we could handle it and all but demanding he go home. It felt strange to be alone with her when the kettles were cold and dormant, but it was hard to refuse her when she got her heart and mind set on an idea.
“Maybe. But what else are we going to do with this place?” she said, holding her arms up and spinning around. “I’ve been thinking about this since they first took that nonsense before Congress. We’d never be suspected of anything, given your age.”
I shrugged, unsure what to say. She kicked a sack of malt, sending a puff of dust out across the floor. “I thought you’d be more into it. You’re the perfect cover,” she said, bumping her shoulder into mine, “well you and the fish.”
A simple plan. A stupid plan. But a plan, where I’d thought of nothing. The smell of the fish would mask the smell of malts and hops, but continuing to brew, right here, under the nose of investigators, seemed crazier than trying to give a rabid wolf a bubble bath. “Aren’t you worried?” I said.
“About what?” She jumped up onto the miniature pyramid of sacks. “I’ve been reading about the Caribbean rum runners,” she said, looking half a pirate herself in the subtle glow of the moon. “They got away with it by being sneaky. So we brew at night, when no one can see the steam. You keep working at the paper,” she said, nodding inclusively at me, “and make a formal statement that the brewery is complying with the federal mandate to close down. We give the fish monger a cut, and he says nothing. We roll the finished barrels and bottles down the docks, and load them onto a boat.”
The confidence in her voice resounded, filling the entirety of the space. She stood atop that malty throne like nothing in the world could touch her, like she was the queen of the quaff, the baroness of bootlegging. For a fleeting second I wanted to jump up there with her, grab her, kiss her, throw all my inborn caution to the winds of illegal fate. But I hesitated. My mother’s rationtionality ran thick in my marrow, and my bravery scurried off into the shadows.
“What about George?” I asked, mining my brain for any excuse to temper her. “He’ll catch us way faster than the police, and, um, how exactly are we going to brew without him?”
“Leave my dad to me,” she said, as if she had any control over George. “His pride won’t let him go without work for long. Soon enough he’ll be too busy to keep up with what I’m doing. If I’m bringing in money, he’s not likely to care where it came from. As for the brewing, you and I have been doing this long enough to make a few batches ourselves.”
I shrugged again. “It all sounds pretty wild, Ginnie, but,” my voice dropped. “Why?” I turned and look around at the kernels of malt strewn near the mill. “If the government wants to ban alcohol, that’s what they’re going to do. We can find other work, and move onto something else.”
Her expression shifted from conviction to dejection. She clambered down from her makeshift throne and over to me. Taking my hand, she guided me back into the main room of the brewery, to the rows of fermenter, the gleaming kettle, the maze of pipes like the nervous system of the brewery.
“Why?” she whispered. “This is why. Your grandfather built this place, and your father made it his life. This yeast soaked mess is our home, Jack. We break the law so we don’t break our spirits.”
She ran her hand along the kettle. “I don’t know anything or anywhere else, really.” I locked my eyes to hers in a brown and green tango of romantic shyness. “I don’t know anyone else, either.” She moved in closer, putting one arm around my back and resting her head in the nook of my shoulder. “This place is my everything, and I can’t just let it disappear like it never existed.” I hugged her, relishing the closeness.
“OK.” I said.
“OK?” She looked up at me.
“But we take it real slow. And give it all up at the first sign of trouble. And don’t drag anyone else into it unless we absolutely have to.” I said, trying to build in some insurance. “Deal?”
“Deal!” She threw both arms around my neck. I thought, as her face moved near mine, that she was going to kiss me, but she instead dropped her head next to mine, filling my mouth and nose with a bushel of sweet smelling hair.
“What the hell do you two think you’re doing?” a voice growled from near the main doors. Even George’s shadow, that massive creeping silhouette, seemed angry. You could almost smell the whiskey in his words. “I leave you two alone for a minute and this shit happens. I should have suspected it. Go home, Jack, before I take you there myself.”
“George, we were just…” I said.
“I don’t want to know.” he said, almost sounding disgusted. “I’m sure it’s Virginia’s fault anyway. Always with the boys.” He stomped further into the brewery, eyes red and glossy. I could feel Virginia tensing against me, bracing herself for the coming onslaught.
“Dad, it’s Jack. We’ve known each other forever. Let’s just go home.” she said, trying to plead with the man behind the drunk.
“No. He’s not the same old Jack. Andrew made sure of that when he left the brewery to him, not me.” His words slurred slightly, like his tongue was caught in a fishing net.
I stepped forward, putting myself between father and daughter. “George, I didn’t choose how this worked out, it just did. Don’t blame me or Ginnie.” George dominated the space, looming at least a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier than me.
“I’ll blame who I want, boy.” The emphasis on the last word hovered in the air, a poisonous cloud of hate and anger. “Now move. I need to discipline my overly familiar daughter.”
“No.” I said.
George spoke next with his fist. A quick jab dropped me to my knees, ribs aching, air rushing out of my lungs. I tried to recover, but couldn’t move or catch my breath. George pulled me up by my hair.
As he pulled his fist back, knuckles white with rage, breath reeking, ready to single-handedly put me to bed, a sharp gunshot split the night in two.
To be continued…