Oh boy did the government fire a blank when they hired me. The out of touch jackasses at the top never accounted for the wills and capabilities of a man taken advantage of. Mind you, it isn't just me. New York is thick with deception. You'd have to look for many miles to find a man who didn't want a drink, a man who wasn't chasing away his ghosts from the war with whisky or gin.
I stalk the streets at night, playing the part, turning over a beer barrel here or there. The big boys don't pry if you are seen to be doing even a little something, so Mr Collins plants me a keg or two every once in a while. I make a big show, chasing off the young lads that he leaves protecting the goods and then I hack the drums open in the street. There are few around here who aren't privy to my theater but if I time it right I can catch the eye of a cop. I'll finish draining the lot and give him a nod and he will return it. Mind you that nod he gives me may also be a theater. Prohibition has turned all manner of men.
My life is a good as any can be around here. I've made my community my friend and he lives behind fake walls at the back of cafe's and under trapdoors in unassuming soda shops. I have become a notorious familiarity at Chumley's, where Leland will ply me with liquor that I happily pay for as long as he agrees to keep his bootlegged alcohol pure. Too many good men have been fed smoke and died from the experience, If I am to be a traitor to my badge I would prefer to keep innocent deaths off my conscience.
It was one night at Chumley's that I met him. A man more notorious than me- Izzy Einstein- a Prohi who was as straight as a pole. He had taken out hundreds of speakeasies, arrested more landlords than I'd met in my whole career. I was propping the bar, surveying the room when I spotted him enter. He made no effort to disguise himself, he lingered at the top of the stairs as he looked about the crowded room as a eagle might observe a nest of rabbits. I quickly slid my gin down the counter away from me, where it clinked against the glass belonging to a local butcher who hazily raised his head and grunted confusedly at the jolt.
I quickly pushed my way across the melee of revelers and tables and feather clad dancers, hand clenched on my badge knowing I was the only one who had a chance of saving the bar. If Einstein had found his way into Chumley's it was too late to deny to him what he was seeing but I might be able to give Leland the chance to clear out.
"Einstein" I muttered in his ear as I stopped next to him on the stairs. He looked at me with startled suspicion and I opened my hand by my waist. He looked down at the badge resting in my palm with surprise. "You don't want to cause a scene at this one, trust me" I continued and gestured for him to follow me outside. Unwilling but evidently intrigued he followed me out the large black door into Bedford street where I coaxed him to follow me down the dark road.
"I've been on this job for a couple of weeks now", I began, hoping my muttered tone and serious manner would keep him hooked. "There is a rum-runner by the name of J.Jones who supplies this place, perhaps you've heard of him?" Einstein shook his head, but thankfully looked intrigued so I continued quickly. "Ah well you see he goes by many names, we've just got wise to his ways here in the West Village but he's proving a mighty tricky character to pin down. I've been put on instruction to get in with this speakeasy and get the son of a bitch from inside. You bustin' this gin joint tonight would rather compromise the capture of Jones, you see. I'm sorry for ruining your plans tonight Mr Einstein but this place is my home and I'll be dammed if I don't catch this son of a bitch and stop him poisoning my neighborhood with his god forsaken ways".
Now I'm not saying I was any kind of professional actor but it looked as if I had Einstein mostly believing me. I could sense a flash of suspicion in his eyes though.
"What's your name?" he asked.
"Walter Hancock sir" I lied. Something told me the speculation Einstein felt meant he was sure to make inquiries and I was trying to buy time for Leland. I would work out how to disappear later, I didn't need my real name tied to this encounter.
"Your work is legendary though Mr Einstein, It would be an honor to have you join me in catching this miscreant" I offered, hoping to add credence to my story.
Einstein didn't answer for a while, he seemed to be adding things up in his head.
"I will need to find a suitable disguise, if I have become as legendary as you claim I am sure you will not be the only one to see me". I was relieved to hear Einstein's tone dripping with ego. Flattery, it seemed, was this man's undoing.
"How long do you need to secure a camouflage?" I asked feigning impatience "I feel I am on the brink of Jone's capture and I would not like to delay and miss the chance".
I was starting to wonder if either, I should take up a career on the stage, or if Einstein wasn't quite the genius his legend made him out to be for he now seemed onboard with my deception through and through.
"I will be prepared tomorrow. I'll meet you in that gin joint at eight o' clock and we will find a corner where we will be undisturbed to plan the way forward, Goodnight Mr Hancock". Einstein turned, and with a definite hint of a strut, disappeared into the shadows of the deserted street.
I returned to Chumley's, as slowly and calmly as I was able, sought Leland and told him to shut up for the next week or risk loosing his bar and his freedom. The entire congregation in the room that night helped disguising the room as a bookshop, each gleefully taking a bottle of spirit to their homes and returning with armfuls of books to stack on shelves and tables. Looking around at the transformed room I was struck with a sadness that I would miss the look on Einstein's face when he returned in some strange outfit to find not a bar but a bookshop, closed for the night.
After that, Chumley's stopped using the big black door completely and devised a new, creative entrance, with a new password, neither of which I dare tell you, lest you reveal it to Einstein. After a few sightings of him hanging around that black door, which now sported a 'Leland's bookshop, closed for business' sign, Einstein has not been seen for many months. I do wonder if we did such a good job on that disguise, that he started to wonder if that night where his ego got the better of him was at all real. Or maybe he was ashamed of the pride that allowed himself to be fooled. Either way, Chumley's is still going strong and Leland has refused to accept so much as a penny from me ever since.
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This is fantastic, Imogen! Your opening paragraph is A++++ , in fact the first 3 or 4 are really excellent. Love the atmosphere and details. A few punctuation mistakes but easy to fix. The end could be stronger too. But I loved it :) Well done
Thanks so much Kate! I must admit I really lost the story towards the end! I spent so long trying to work out how to wrap it up and in the end I ran out of time and just kinda just gave up! Your feedback is actually really great though because it backs up what I believe to be 'good' and 'bad' about my own writing. I sometimes get really paranoid that I've written something I think is good but everyone else thinks is awful. If it makes any sense, its awesome to get feedback that aligns with what I think about my own work!
Ha ha, I confess I spent a good few years teaching high school English :)