“Bootlegging in 1927”

Kristen Clark, guest writer

I angrily clutched the newspaper in my fists, eye twitching in irritation, I couldn’t believe the utter nerve of Walt. I had worked for him as both a secretary and a part-time animator for nearly two years before I was let go. Budget cuts they said. Two whole years of nothing but annoyance, grief— hours of work really, and I was let go due to budget cuts. ‘And apparently, that wasn’t the least of their betrayal,’ I wryly thought to myself as I glared down at the article that had irritated me so badly. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, my creation, had just been sold to Mintz distribution by one Walt Disney.
Sighing, I scrubbed my hand over my face. It was too early to deal with this and it’s not like I had any real way to prove it. After all, while I did come up with the idea for Oswald, I never took legal claim over him. My stupidity.
Giving one last huff of annoyance, I pushed my chair away from the kitchen table. The table was an old wooden thing with dents, scratches, and stains. It matched the rest of our house, which similarly had dents, scratches, and stains… and dust… and paper. Mostly paper.
“Hey, squirt. You ok?” I jumped in surprise when I heard Herb, my brother, behind me. Whirling around to face him, I glared up at him.
“Don’t do that! You nearly scared me stiff!” I scolded as he moved past me in the kitchen. Herb, full-name Herbert, was older than me by sixteen years. Literally, twice my age. Herb was the only family I had left after mom had died while in labor with me, dad following not long after. Herb always told me that it was the heartbreak of losing mom that did him in; but personally, I think it was the liquor that did him in. To be honest, I could barely remember him, but what I do remember wasn’t pleasant. He always smelt fowl; with messy hair and bags under his eyes. Herb remembers them better, says’ that mom always hated the smell of alcohol…which makes the irony of Herb’s job even better.
The Clover Crown Pub, Herb’s pride and joy. It was nothing but a shoddy hole in the wall when Herb and his two friends, Russell and Lester, bought it. With smoke coated walls and rotting floorboards, in short— it was a dump. They had saved up to buy the place and bought it when I was seven. They finished fixing up the place but the time I was twelve and now it’s at least a semi-respectable pub.
I must have zoned out for too long because Herb moved to scrutinize me.
“You ok short stuff?”
I shrugged noncommittally, I wasn’t alright, not really. After being fired from Laugh-O-Gram studios, I tried to find another job. But I couldn’t find any that wanted to hire a girl— especially one with hair as short as mine. If one judges by appearances, I suppose I am a flapper (Page). The ends of my hair fell just level with my shoulders, but with curl my hair naturally had, it looked even shorter. The classic style of a flapper girl.
Herb slowly pulled me into his arms, hugging me close. I don’t know what I’d do without him. Herb knew I was struggling to find work and tried to convince me that I didn’t have to have a job. That he could support us both financially, but he knew he couldn’t do that and I wasn’t letting him either. I wasn’t burdening my brother.
“Ed?” I startled out of my thoughts at that. It was my nickname, my name being Edna. Herb rarely called me by it, preferring to make short jokes at my expense instead.
“… how about you come work with me and the guys?” I made a face as he rushed to finish.
“We could always use the help; you know that, and it’s not like you’d be performin’ or nothin’. I wouldn’t do that to you, besides I don’t like how some of the customers eye you when you come visit me anyway.”
“What would I do then, Herb? It’s not like I can move stuff for you, or help too much with the cooking. You know I can’t cook and hate doing it too.”
“You could help manage the finances. Lester is the one doing it now but he won’t mind. He’s always complaining about it, something about how we spend too much on alco- oops wait no, I didn’t mean that.” Herb panicked to cover his slip up, but the damage had been dealt.
“Alcohol? You’d better not be bootlegging, Herb! You know that’s illegal! Think of your pub! If you get caught-”
“We won’t be caught, or at least we shouldn’t. It’s just Lester, Russell, and me running it. We do it for the money. I’ll be honest since prohibition the pub hasn’t been doing so well. I didn’t want to tell you. You’d worry your head off about it if I did, but never mind that! Please, say you’ll work for me!”
I nibbled on my fingernail as I contemplated. He looks so determined, and I guess it wasn’t a bad idea really… Should I work at the pub? I mean I’d just be doing finances. I could do that easily. It’d probably make Herb feel better too, he always was a bit overprotective. But how could he keep something as big as him bootlegging from me? I paused at that thought. I knew why he kept it from me, he said it himself, I’d worry myself sick.
“I said fine. I’ll do it,” Herb lit up. “…but you have to let me at least help you with your bootlegging business.”
“Nope, no way, nuh-uh, not happening! No. No- just no. I’m not letting you do that.”
“I can’t believe I’m letting you do this.”
“I can’t either.” I chuckled, following Herb into the back rooms of the Clover Crown Pub.
Russell, dressed in worn brown trousers, held up by fraying suspenders, was rolling a line of barrels down the hall, grunting with effort. I watched him in silence as he reached the end of the hallway, removing paneling from the wall and revealing a room hidden behind it.
Twisting around, I see Lester gawking at me. The crate he held laid prone on the ground.
“What are you doing here?! Does Herb know you’re here? Ah, shoot, what all did you see?” Lester frantically asked, grabbing my shoulders and scanning the room for my brother.
“Yes, Herb knows I’m here. He brought me with him, I found out about ya’ll bootlegging too, by the way.” Lester looked petrified now. Russell, who by now had heard Lester’s shouting, looked just as ashen. All three of them were rather protective of me, but they also knew I would collectively twist all their ears off for this.
“A-a-ah, I can explain?” Lester croaked out.
“You can do that later, the point is that if you’re gonna do this— And that does not mean in any shape or form that I condone it!— you need to smarten up about it. I don’t want ya’ll tangling up with something like Al Capone. So tell me, what I can do to help.”
Three months have gone by, and a lot happened. The bombing of that school in Michigan; Santa got a pilot’s license; another issue of The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes published; the movie “It” popularizing the term “It”, “it” being sex appeal, sexuality (Sheila); and the best thing of all, I got a job! A legitimate job! The only thing that I dislike about it is this one journalist, Wilbur Robins. Literally, the most annoying person I’ve ever met. Hate him so much.
“Oi! Edna! Get moving! I need this filed, stat!” My boss, Mr. Hatchens yelled at me over the din of the main floor workroom. Working at a newspaper company was a lot more difficult than I thought, even if I’m just a secretary, it’s a lot noisier too.
“Yes sir, right away, sir!”
“Attagirl!” He clapped me on the back as grabbed the files from him and gathered them in my arms.
I had just finished filling the last of the files when I felt a shadow fall over me. Great.
“Well, hello there, Miss Wilson. Fancy seeing you here.” I glance up, and sure enough, it’s Wilbur. Bane of my existence. He’s such an alley cat and seems to think he’ll have a chance with me. Ha! Not in his wildest dreams.
“Breeze off, you dewdropper!”
“Ah, don’t be like that doll!”
“I ain’t your doll.”
“Don’t be such a canceled stamp. If you’d just let me take you out on a date with me, just one date with me! Please!” That’s it. I’ve had it.
“Fine! You know what fine. Have it your way. You wanna date with me, then meet me at the Clover Crown Pub at six o’clock tonight.” And with that, I slammed the cabinet closed, turned on my heel, and walked off. I’ll regret this later.
Yep. Definitely regretting this, I thought to myself as I stood just outside the Clover Crown Pub waiting on Wilbur. He was fifteen minutes late. Guess he didn’t want that date. Not my fault if he could talk the talk but not walk the walk.
Herb will be happy at least, I mused. He was sulking the last time I checked, overprotective lug.
“Hey! Hey! I- I’m here. I’m sorry I’m late. Hatchens held me behind after work. Says’ there’s gonna be a raid here,” Wilbur huffed out, hunching over. My blood went cold. A raid? At the pub?
“Hey, you oka— HEY WAIT!” I took off, heedless of Wilbur’s shouts. Spotting Herb, I latched on to his arm.
“Herb! Herb! We gotta go! We gotta go now!”
“W-Wah, Edna? I thought you had a date? Wait, why do we need to go? Edna, what’s going on?” I was crying now. We had to go before they get here.
“T-The cops. They’re on their way. W-Wilbur told me. We have to go, Herb!”
“Ok, ok, just give me a minute to warn Lester and Russ—”
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