Jazz played softly in the background as we all sat and sipped on glasses of illicit booze. The year was 1929. Prohibition’s grip on society was strong but the hooch was stronger. I was sitting in the basement of an apartment building in Manhattan. A large mahogany bar stretched out from the wall and gentlemen behind it served ice cold gin and whiskey that was distilled in the building. A few light bulbs hung from the ceiling, dimly lighting the secret bar.
It wasn’t by any means the bee’s knees; it had a bit of a metallic aftertaste and you never knew exactly what was in it. An old guy actually croaked after drinking a bottle, but it got the job done. I was there with a doll named Ezzy; a fiery lady with a hell of a body to boot. Next to us was another couple; Joel and Piper. Then there was Ross, the owner of the bar.
At the time, I was in my early twenties. I was young and ambitious, looking to make money and get the comfortable life. Ezzy was my girl. She was just as young and ambitious as me, and was probably even more of a go-getter. Joel and Piper were a couple of small time bootleggers. They did alright, but still had a ways to go. Ross was a marine who fought in the war. He owned the bar and even knew Capone personally, so he said.
We all sat, sipping our drinks. Ezzy enjoyed the music, Ross puffed on a cigar, and Joel and Piper discussed their business. Joel was very motivated to become a big name in the bootlegging business, but also enjoyed the creature. He was particularly sauced that night.
“I gotta go iron my shoelaces,” he said as he got up and stumbled to the restroom.
We laughed at him. Ross handed me a cigar. One of his rum runners had brought them back from Cuba. After cutting the end, I placed it in my mouth and lit a match. As I took a puff, the flame enlarging, there was a scream near the door.
People began running to the back as coppers flooded into the bar. It was a raid. The bartenders raised shotguns and opened fire on them. Gunshots rang out in the bar as a frenzy ensued.
There was a secret door in the back. Ross led us to it, running through the panicked patrons. We made it to the door and slipped through, entering the dark alleyway behind the building. We started running towards the street before Piper stopped us.
“Shit, where’s Joel?” she asked, urgently. He wasn’t there with us.
“I don’t know!” Ezzy exclaimed.
“I think he was taking a piss,” I mentioned.
“Well we can’t go back in there,” Ross said.
“Maybe he made it out,” I said, hopefully on the outside. I knew that there was a good chance that that wasn’t the case though. They stormed the place; he was either leaving in handcuffs or a body bag.
“Come on, I got a hideout across the street. We can stay there and watch for when they bring him out or leave the place,” Ross said, leading us out of the alley. We crossed the street, avoiding the officers. He brought us into the building, entering the first apartment. It wasn’t beautiful, but it sufficed for a stakeout.
We all sat around the window for about a bit, watching the officers go through the joint, hauling out all of the booze. It was painful to watch as they poured it all into the street, but all we could do was watch. After they finished they just got back into their cars and drove off. We never saw them bring out Joel.
After a minute, we were sure they were gone and decided to go back and look around. I was terrified of what we were going to find. I didn’t want to see my friend gunned down on the floor. I couldn’t even imagine what was Piper was thinking. We walked back across the street, entering the bar once again. The floor was covered with shell casing from the guns being fired. There was some blood on the floor but otherwise, the bar was empty.
Remembering him stumbling into the bathroom, I ran over to it to check. I took a deep breath and swung the door open. To my surprise, it was completely empty. We couldn’t figure out where he was. We regrouped by the door and left, walking down the street. Rain began to pour down on us. It was cold already, and the rain only added insult to injury. Piper was upset, Ross was trying to figure out where Joel had disappeared to, Ezzy was half-seas over after all she had to drink, and I was sobering up.
Ross had a Cadillac parked around the corner. He bought it because it was the same one Capone drove in Chicago. We all got in to escape the rain. He pumped the gas pedal and turned the key. The engine rumbled to a start. He threw it into gear and began driving down the street, the yellow headlamps pouring light out into the night amongst the other cars.
We started driving to Joel and Piper’s apartment, hoping that he would have gone there if he had managed to escape. After a short drive, we were arriving. Ezzy had passed out in the back seat but I was still awake and alert. I waited in the car with Ross while Piper went inside to search for Joel.
“Hey, you didn’t drop that cigar, did you?” Ross asked me.
“Yeah, Ross, I did. I was getting shot at,” I answered.
“They weren’t shooting at you, they were shooting at the bartenders. Dammit, that was a Cuban, ya bluenose.”
“Listen mister hotsy, I’ll get you another one.”
We continued to wait in the car until Piper came back downstairs. She was still upset. She came to the car and told us that their apartment was empty. My stomach churned. That wasn’t the news I wanted to hear.
“What are we gonna do?” Piper asked.
“Damned if I know,” Ross said. “Actually, I know a guy around the corner. He owns another bar. We could stop over there and see if he saw him.”
We figured it was worth a shot. Anything was at that point. We motored around the corner and a block down the street. The building was another regular brick apartment building. After waking up Ezzy, Ross led us in and we went to the back. There was a door under the stairs. Ross knocked on it. A gentleman opened it from the other side, holding a tommy gun. Ross identified himself and his relationship with the owner and we were welcomed inside.
We walked down into the basement where there was a similar bar to the one Ross had owned before the raid earlier that night. There were quite a few people in it, enjoying drinks. As we walked down to the other end to meet with the owner, a voice called out from the bar.
“Heyyyy guys! Where’d you run off to?”
We turned and to our surprise, the voice had come from Joel, who was sitting at the bar with a drink.
“Dammit, Joel!” Piper yelled. “You had me worried.” She hugged him.
He was even drunker than when we last saw him and didn’t seem to have any recollection of the raid. He seemed to be under the impression that we were all still at the first bar. Honestly, my memory is still a little hazy. I can’t say for sure that he was wrong.
We all sat down at the bar. Ezzy was enjoying the music, Ross was lighting a cigar, Joel and Piper were talking about the recent adventure, and I was drinking more metallic-tasting booze, questioning everything.