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Hank and Jim Almost Get Pinched
“That’s almost the last of them,” Hank wheezed with a loud thud and clatter of bumping bottles. I silently thanked the lord. I’d spent four long hours lugging those crates of bootleg liquor into Jake’s, the whole time suffering not only from the back-bending labor, but from the constant heebie-jeebies. Every little noise was enough to make me jump. I hope it gets better as I get used to this whole business. If I have a miniature heart attack every time I see a cat, I can’t imagine making it past thirty. But Hank doesn’t let any of it get to him. He’s been bootlegging much longer than I have, nearly three years straight now. As for me, I’m still terrified that I’m going to be pinched any minute.
It’s worth it though. Ain’t no business as lucrative as booze. Hank makes sure to have the owner pay up front before we even begin unloading any of the crates. Up front, in cash, that’s Hank’s philosophy. We provide moonshine for six different speakeasies throughout the city, and most don’t give us any trouble. Jake’s place is a little tricky though. Jake himself seems like the ultimate host, all smiles, charm, and charisma. When you’re at his joint, you’ll see him walking around through the tables, acting like a real live wire, flashing a smile and telling all the sheiks and shebas, “Welcome to Jake’s Juice Joint, where’s everything’s jake!” Then he’ll laugh at his own joke and there’s something keen about the way his portly belly bounces. But in the back, it’s totally different. The smiles and charm ain’t there and it becomes all business. I’ve only been helping Hank smuggle booze for about a month now, but Jake’s already tried to cheat us seven times. Luckily, Hank knows his onions and was able to ensure the proper payment. Up front. In cash.
I rolled up my shirtsleeves as Hank sat down on the last crate to bring in to the joint. “So kiddo, whatchu planning for tonight?” He smiled up at me crookedly, in an unusual display of interest in my existence other than my skill in unloading crates. “Gonna find yourself some hotsy-totsy hoofer?”
I turned bright red. “Probably not Hank. I’ll likely head home and get some sleep for once. You have me working day and night!”
“Aww Jimbo!” he groaned, rolling his eyes at my answer. “You’re such a killjoy. Why don’t you put on your glad rags and hit the town with me. I’ll find you a bearcat, we can get some hooch, and lose all the money we made tonight on some hayburner down at the tracks. What do you say?”
Before I had a chance to answer, an automobile pulled up on the street. My heart jumped a thousand feet and Hank’s eyes were wide as hubcaps. “Let me do the talking! Don’t say anything stupid.” He jumped to his feet and clenched his fists. “And in the name of God Almighty, shut the door!”
I leapt to the door of Jake’s Joint and slammed it shut just as a police officer pulled up in front of us. As the beefy man stepped out of the car, Hank’s face wiped clear of concern and pulled a Broadway-worthy smile. “Evening officer. What can I do for you?”
My legs couldn’t stop shaking. I stood there frozen while the mustached policeman spoke with Hank.
“That wouldn’t be bootlegged alcohol in that crate, now, would it?” He spoke in a slow monotone that only prolonged my agony. “Because you know that means a one-way ticket back to the station.”
“Bootleg?” Hank exclaimed with fake surprise. “Of course not!” I held my breath. We were gonna be pinched for sure. “This is root beer for the orphanage down the street.” I had to physically push my jaw back up before the officer saw it and I gave us away.
“On the level, sir. We were bringing it by, but then my sap of a friend here got a rock in his shoe and we had to sit down wait for him to pull it out.”
“Is this true, mac?” Both the officer and Hank turned to look at me. The iron look in Hank’s eyes was enough to make me nervously nod my head. I was afraid to speak in case my voice betrayed me.
Somehow, the policeman seemed almost convinced, though I don’t know how. My sister wouldn’t even have fallen for that and she’s a right Dumb Dora. “In that case,” he said thickly, “Would you mind handing over a bottle? If it really is root beer, then I’d love to have one.”
It was over: one whiff of the contents of that bottle and the gig would be up. I was trembling anxiously, deciding in my head whether to go quietly, fight the man, or just turn right now and start running.
Then Hank spoke. “Sorry sir. You know I’d love to help out so fine a man as yourself, but you wouldn’t want to rid some poor orphan of their root beer, now, would you?”
“I guess you’re right. Well, have a nice night gentlemen.”
“You as well, sir.” I watched in disbelief as the officer got back in his car and drove off into the night.
It was a while before either of us spoke again. I was still in shock, and Hank was still smirk. After some time passed, I turned to him in disbelief. “Orphans, Hank? Really?” He just laughed and went to lift the final crate and bring it into the building. “You know you could go to hell for something like that,” I told him solemnly.
Once again, he gave me his signature crooked smile. He loaded the box into the speakeasy, and we got back in the Model T. “As long as there’s hooch in hell, I’ll be fine.”