The Mysterious Bookshop

 

The Noble Experiment Goes Boom!

 

It was the stereotypically smoky back room where they met.  Well off the beaten track, for Clapton Vollmer couldn’t risk being seen in the company of anyone who might be on the wrong side of the law, although he knew perfectly well that might include some of his own men.  

‘You’ve got to understand, Mort, I can’t get involved directly.  We need a go-between. And we need to meet at the cabin where no one will see us.’

‘Heck, Clap, I know that!  That’s why I was thinking...who better than Adelaide?’

What!  Using the woman they both were wooing to act as liaison for a bootlegging operation?  Maybe the bluenoses were right--maybe the fabric of decent society really was breaking down.

 

Lieutenant Jones was groggy.  He usually was after one of his ‘trips,’ but this time was different. His head felt like a watermelon, and his mouth felt like a lone cactus blooming in a desert somewhere in purgatory. Not only that, but he was lying flat on his face.  What was going on here?  He picked himself up off the floor and took note of his surroundings. He was in what appeared to be a cabin out in the middle of nowhere, for he could hear nothing but crickets and what seemed to be assorted animal noises.  There was a door on one side of the room and one opposite. He selected one at random and it was full floor to ceiling with barrels and the smell of distilled grain was overwhelming. Whiskey!  The Lieutenant tried the other door and stepped outside.  Sure enough, he was in the woods.  It began to dawn on him that this was a bootlegging operation and this must be somewhere in the countryside during the time when alcohol was illegal.

 

Sherrington Brand was lost. Really lost, as in, not sure what state he was in.  Trouble was, all the surrounding scenery looked just the same!  At this rate, he’d never be able to get this deal done and get back to his wife and infant son. Wait!  There was a filling station!  He ought to be able to get his bearings there.  As he moseyed over, it began to rain.  Swell.  Now he’d be soaked when he met up with Sissy, if he ever got there. The attendant wasn’t exactly swamped with customers and was happy to listen to Sherrington’s tale of woe, and laughed heartily when informed of the lost man’s destination.  ‘You sure are lost, bud!’ he cried.  ‘Look here.’  And he pointed on a wall map.  ‘Here’s where we are.  And here’s where you want to be.  So take this road another mile or so, then turn left onto the main street and you should find your way by daybreak!  Haw!’  Sherrington Brand groaned.  How had he gotten so far out of his way?  Oh well.  Nothing for it but to get back into the car and keep going.  It shouldn’t take until daybreak, though, the attendant had overlooked the fact that he wasn’t on foot.  Maybe he would only be a little late if he put the pedal to the metal.  Although with the clutch not working, he had to stay in first gear, which was not conducive to making good time.  So he puttered on, found his turn, and eventually, finally, came to what he thought was the right house.

Adelaide Wallace was indignant.  ‘Well, Clapton, if you won’t escort me to the dance tonight, I’ll just find someone who will!’

‘Meaning that crook Mayhew?’

‘None of your business.’

‘So it is.  Honest, Addy, it’s important business! And I told you I want you to come along and THEN we’ll go to the dance!  It won’t start for an hour yet anyway.’

‘Well, maybe I don’t want to be late.  Did you ever think of that?’

‘Then the sooner we get started the sooner we’ll get there.  Come on now.’

‘Clapton Vollmer, you are impossible!’

‘Au contraire, dear girl, in fact I am most possible.’

‘I love it when you do your Alfred Hitchcock impersonation.’

‘Alfred Hitchcock?  It’s supposed to be W.C. Fields!’

Adelaide and Clapton were dressed to the nines, planning to go to the Young Abolitionist’s Ball after the meeting was concluded.  When they got out of the roadster, the place looked dark, and was kind of spooky, with the bare branches of the trees swaying in the wind and occasionally striking the side of the house.  Heat lightning flashed in the distance.

‘Are you sure this is the right place?’

‘Sure I’m sure.  Come on.’

Vollmer strode boldly up to the front door, which was as dark as the rest of the place, but before he could knock, it opened wide to reveal one Mortimer Mayhew.  

‘Mort’

‘Clapton. I presume you’re well’

‘We’re here, aren’t we?’

‘A little overdressed, aren’t you?’

Vollmer actually blushed, a little. ‘Not for the dance we’re going to.’

‘Oooh, a dance!  Wish I had time for this nonsense, but I’ve got business here.’

‘So do I.  Let’s get to it.  Addy, wait in the kitchen, will you?  And if you want to rustle up some coffee, I wouldn’t say no.’

Adelaide stalked into the kitchen, silently fuming. The nerve!  She’d show them a thing or two!

Sherrington Brand was beginning to realize that he was in the wrong place after all.  This sure didn’t look like the new house his sister had described!  No, this place was pretty run-down and shabby-like.  Still, maybe he was close, at least, and maybe the folks in this house had a bathroom he could use.  So he walked up to the front door and knocked, bold as brass.  A tough-looking mug opened it and growled, ‘Yeah?’

‘Pardon me, sir, I wonder if you could direct me to Cavendish Avenue.’

‘Never heard of it,’

‘Oh. Well, I wonder if I might use your restroom.’

‘No.’  SLAM! went the door.  Well, that was that, then.  Brand walked over towards where his car was parked at the side of the house and stood, unsure what to do.  He lit a cigarette while he pondered his next move.  



‘So that’s it then.  That’s how many kegs we have, and we know how much we want to charge, and we will divide up the proceeds fairly. Anything else?’

‘Guess that’s about it. Let’s get some coffee.  Addy!’

 

Adelaide Wallace smiled grimly to herself.  Order her around, will he!  And make her late to the dance to boot.  Now this was interesting!  While searching the cupboards for coffee cups, she found several square glass bottles filled with an amber liquid. She uncorked one and took a sniff.  Whew!  That stuff was strong!  She wasn’t sure, but she thought this was the whiskey that everyone was making such a fuss about.  Maybe she’d just give those boobs a taste of their own medicine, and she meant that literally!

 

Lieutenant Jones heard the planning by the conspirators and was formulating a plan of his own from his vantage point in the closet.  He’d been outside getting his bearings when the others started arriving and so ducked back into the house and hid so that he could hear what was going on without being detected.

Adelaide came into the living room with a tray upon which was the coffee pot and served the coffee, a tight smile on her face.  In a celebratory mood, the men drank heartily and soon the pot was empty.  

Singing lustily at the tops of their lungs, the politician and the crime boss were having a jolly old time when the Lieutenant burst out of the closet.

‘All right, boys, party’s over!’

Instantly sober, everyone reacted very differently.  Clapton Vollmer, amateur bootlegger, future politician, and expert in self-preservation, ran out the door, jumped into his car and took off down the road so fast he left a vapor trail, leaving Adelaide Wallace behind, fuming.  

Mort Mayhew, no fool he, had ducked out the back door as soon as the Lieutenant appeared and run for the outer cellar door, hoping to make off with a keg or two in the back of his panel truck, which he was sure could outrun whatever old banger the Lieutenant had. He yanked open the door and grabbed a keg, which was all he could manage, and started running for his buggy.

 

Lieutenant Jones and Miss Wallace went in pursuit of Vollmer but the look of seething rage on Adelaide’s face, and the vapor trail,  told the Lieutenant that the man had got away.  

Sherrington Brand pitched his cigarette butt away and started for his car.  The heck with it!  He’d just keep driving until he found his sister’s house, a diner where he could get a coffee, or another filling station where he could ask directions.

The cigarette end bounded down the outside stairs leading down to the cellar where it ignited the booze-making ingredients and BOOM!  Ramshackle firewood.

 

Mayhew was knocked head over heels by the force of the explosion and raised himself up only to see the keg rolling and tumbling down the hill toward the main road.  He jumped up to chase it and had nearly caught up when the keg struck a fire hydrant and burst open, drenching him with the noxious bathtub gin.

‘I’ve got you now, you bum!’ cried the Lieutenant.  ‘Now to turn you over to the authorities--and good luck beating the bootlegging rap!’

The fire department had put out the blaze and the cops had picked up the booze-reeking Mayhew.

Lieutenant Jones and Adelaide Wallace stood outside the smoldering wreckage of the house and gazed at the carnage.  Presently the Lieutenant said, ‘There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight!’



For some hot summer reading set in the Prohibition era, have a gander at these:

The Saint is in the Big Apple rounding up miscreants.

https://www.mysteriousbookshop.com/products/charteris-leslie-the-saint-in-new-york

 

City slickers can outwit dim-witted hillbillies any day.  Can't they?

https://www.mysteriousbookshop.com/products/leonard-elmore-the-moonshine-war

 

True crime story of a ruthless criminal who invented the drive-by shooting and his gun moll Lottie, who some said was the brains behind the gang. 

https://www.mysteriousbookshop.com/products/delap-breandan-gold-rich-mad-dog-coll-an-irish-gangster

 

Questions/Comments/A working still in the backwoods?  mike@mysteriousbookshop.com

Written by Ian Kern — July 27, 2017

Specializing in Mystery Fiction and all its subgenres, including Detective, Crime, Hardboiled, Thrillers, Espionage, and Suspense.

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