Welcome to chapter ten of “December, 1919″, a serialized novel written by Oliver Gray. New chapters will be published every week, unless the author is hit by a car. Links to all published chapters can be found here.
“Rumor has it you gave the IRS inspector a hard time.” McGuire didn’t look up from the newspaper he was reading.
“I suppose.” I said, standing in the doorway to his cramped office. He’d just brewed coffee and the silky smell of roast swam across the room and up my nose. “I thought it was all pretty simple, really. He asked questions. I answered them.” I wanted to sit down, but McGuire made no offer.
“Rumor also has it that you’re not going to take this lying down.” He said, lifting his head and looking at me, one eyebrow raised.
I swallowed the lump of anxiety in my throat. Only Virginia knew about the malt; William had suspicions, but was far too meek to speak to anyone.
“They’re my rumors, of course,” McGuire said, after I remained silent. “Rumors that you’re going to finally put that writing talent of yours to good use. Rumors that you have some insider information into the way this “prohibition” is being handled.” He leaned back in his leather chair, folding his hands behind his head. “Rumors that a certain paper might be happy to run that story, if it’s well written.”
I stumbled to respond. “Oh. Yea. That. I probably should write something, huh?” The fear decrescendoed, but I still had to beat the fires of panic down to keep them from spreading to my face.
McGuire smiled. “Beats transcribing notes. Here.” Across the desk he slid a worn leather notebook, brow and cheeks scratched and marred by years of journalistic abuse. I opened it to find perfectly crisp white sheets beneath the covers. “The outside’s not much to look at, but I had Jason downstairs bind a whole new pad inside. That leather’s got history; it’s what I used when I first started writing.” He said, looking equal parts proud and expectant. “Time to starting taking the notes yourself, Cooper.”
I wanted to reach over the desk and hug him, but quickly returned to the doorway. McGuire wasn’t the hugging type, but this was the first time he’d done anything even bordering on paternal.
I flicked through the pages, letting the sharp edges of the brand new paper pass across the callous of my thumb. The sheets fanned a dry mustiness into my face. The smell of fresh potential. “Thank you,” I said, quieter than I intended, “I’ll put it to good use. I know just the man to talk to first.”
“Good.” He said, pushing himself and his chair away from the desk, standing, and stretching. “I’ve been doing some outside reading. Is this something you could do?” He passed a section of newspaper to me, folded over, like he was trying to shield the contents from prying eyes. The national headlines had all been centered on the coming legal changes, but this one, clearly from a small-town paper was different:
“Pottsville Brewery to Weather Coming Drought with “Near-Beer”
A low-alcohol brew had been part of Virginia’s original idea, but I had shot her down, thinking it impossible. Continued brewing, even of something barely alcoholic, would certainly keep us in malt and hops. Maybe even give us an avenue to launder some of our other, less public projects. “Near-beer.” I said, pretending to ponder.
“Yep. Looks like beer, smells like beer. There’s so little alcohol it narrowly dips under the government’s mandate. I tried some last week in the District; doesn’t taste amazing, but it’s better than nothing if you’ve got that particular thirst for suds.” McGuire said, pantomiming a swig from a very large and very imaginary mug of beer. “From what I understand it’s just watered down regular beer.”
“Potentially a small beer made with second or third wort runnings. Watering down a regular beer would create something cidery and nigh undrinkable.” I looked up at the ceiling, imagine the tiny grist you’d use to brew a beer less than one percent by volume.
“Now you sound like your father.” McGuire said, breaking my concentration with a slap on the shoulder. “Uptown is yours now; I say you keep it running through all this. I’d put a hefty bet on that being what your father wanted.”
I hung my head, picturing dad. McGuire was probably right, but the mention of him, his plans, the rest of his life, stung. “We already signed everything over to the IRS. This would have been a little more helpful a week ago. There’s no way we can go back on that now.” I said. I hoped I wasn’t being too short.
“I’ve already thought of that,” he said, as he picked up the phone. “Jess, can you please send in Mr. Schweinsteiger?” A voice on the other end complied and then hung up.
A minute later, a hulking frame, nearly 6 and a half feet, ducked to step into McGuire’s office. He was lean but muscular, square-jawed, but handsome in an imposing sort of way. “Ah, Mr. Cooper, my pleasure. Should I call you Jack?” He spoke very quickly, words painted in a fresh coat of German accent. “Oh but how rude! Let me introduce myself. Tobias Schweinsteiger, esquire.” He bowed at the waist, nearly hitting his head on the ceiling fan.
I bowed back, and took the man’s hand in an overly firm handshake. The power in his hands bordered on supernatural. I thought for a second he was going to shake my entire body in one accidentally violent greeting. “Schweinsteiger?” I asked, butchering the attempt to pronounce his name with my American inflection.
“Ya. My family has come along way from raising pigs. Now I put them in prison.” He laughed. I could have sworn the whole room shook. “Gregory says you may be in need of my services?”
Gregory. McGuire’s first name, finally. I looked over at him, and he shrugged. “Services? What is it exactly that you do?” I asked.
“I help those who have been wronged. Especially wronged by bad people. I have a reputation, you see.”
“A reputation?” I said, looking up into his grey eyes.
“Yes,” he said, “I have been practicing law in the US for sometime now, but I wasn’t always a barrister. In Germany, zey call me Der Ritter.”
McGuire chimed in. “The Knight.”
Schweinsteiger reached into his coat and pulled out a card. With a flick, he tucked it into my shirt pocket. He then lifted his right fist to his chest – as if he was holding a sword – and grinned at me.
“I protect the innocent,” he said, pride now blended into his accent. “From what I have been told, you may need some protection.”
To be continued…