March 1923, Tommy Malone walked down the dimly lit Brooklyn street, the dirt street soft with the heavy rainfall. Tommy stopped his trudge through the mud and hid from the rain under a drooping awning. He reflected on his day at work as he lit up a cheaply made cigarette. It had been, as always, a simple day at the factory. Everyone’s coveralls had been caked with the black grease of the machines, and the drunkards of the factory were on edge, every second seeming like an eternity due to the prohibition on alcohol.
He closed his eyes and he drew from his cigarette, then dropped it and squashed it with his muddy boot. He continued on down the street, adjusting his trench coat and bowler hat every couple of seconds to keep as dry as possible. After what seemed like months, he arrived at 2120 Hopkins Street. Walking up the concrete steps, Tommy stared at the cracked, rotting walls, deciding, “This is hardly even a life, but it’s the closest to one I got.”
All the way up, he balked at the sounds of despair that permeated throughout each floor before finally arriving home.Tommy, relieved to be home at last, proceeded to the large brown door, before noticing that it was cracked open.Without hesitation, he pulled out a heavy object from his pocket, a large revolver, loaded with ammunition. Tommy peaked in through the crack of the door. A large figure sat at the kitchen table, seemingly in waiting.
“1…2…3,” Tommy whispered, he kicked down the door and BANG!!!!
The figure at the table roused himself and ran from the table to the bedroom, locking himself in. Tommy lunged towards the door and slammed his fist shouting, “WHOEVER YOU ARE GET OUT NOW!”
The man behind the door answered quickly, saying “Tommy…T..T…Tommy, it’s me, your old pal Nick.”
At the mention of the name, his best friend before he had been shipped to Europe to fight, Tommy kicked the door down, carelessly breaking the lock before giving his old friend a hug. “I thought I’d never see you again, man!” Tommy cried with relief and excitement.
Nick sighed. “Man I thought that when those cops jumped you, you would be off to prison for life. But then I hear from a buddy that you’re back in town, after fighting in the war, so I knew I had to stop by.”
“Well it was prison or Europe. The right one’s pretty obvious.”
Tommy sat down at the kitchen table with Nick, after almost five years of separation. “I would get you a drink, but we all know the circumstances.”
The mention of the prohibition lit up Nick’s eyes, and he almost immediately said, “Well…That’s why I came here, I got an idea.”
At the mention of an “idea,” Tommy knew that it was another of Nick’s famous schemes.
“Man…I dunno, I mean I got an honest job, an honest life really. I can’t just jump right onto your schemes. Even you should know that they’re dumb anyway.”
The word “dumb” made Nick chuckle. He laughed to Tommy saying, “Come on, this is a good one. This is what we’re gonna do-”
“You just always think I’m on board, don’t ya?” Tommy interjected.
“I just know you won’t turn this one down, man,” Nick replied, his mood turning weirdly serious. “Well I got this cousin, Giovanni, he’s a taxi driver out in Kentucky. Well, he met this girl, Darla, and it turns out that Darla’s brother is into Moonshining. My cousin married Darla and he’s moving back here. I heard from him that Darla’s brother, who’s Randall by the way, that he’s pretty eager to set up some stills here in the city to get brewin’, so I’m thinkin we meet up with Randall, and we set up some stills together out here.”
“Nick…It’s time to go. I’m not going back to crime. It got me into a muddy trench in Europe dying of dysentery and bein’ shot at. I already took that choice, and prison ain’t any better.”
Tommy got up and ushered Nick to the door, but he fought stating, “Even if you do get busted, at least you’ll eat three meals a day, sleep in a warm bed every night, and if you don’t then we can be the biggest bootleggers in this city.”
Tommy pushed Nick out the door, looking into his eyes stating, “I’ll sleep on it.”
Nick jumped with joy shouting, “Trust me man, you won’t regret this! Meet me at Smilin’ Jack’s Pancakes next week so we can work things out.”
Tommy replied, “I haven’t slept yet,” before slamming the door on Nick.
Tommy walked to his room before hearing Nick shout one last thing through the door. “You won’t regret this man.”
Tommy looked at the floor, and reflected saying, “Beats this life.” He closed the door, and slept on it.
A week after Nick’s visit to the apartment, Tommy skipped work to visit Smilin’ Jacks. It was what many would call a “Greasy Spoon Restaurant,” nestled between a couple of factories in Brooklyn’s industrial district, but despite that, the food was better than government ham and cheese every day.
Tommy dressed up his best that day, wearing his trench coat and bowler hat over bits of his uniform from his army days. As Tommy walked up to the restaurant, he saw its occupants, factory workers: men and women covered in thick black grease, with calloused hands, wearing heavy boots. At least I’ll fit in. Now, where is Nick?
As Tommy walked into the restaurant a bell rung and a heavyset man in a oil stained apron appeared. “Welcome to Smilin’ Jacks, how may I help you?” he asked in a voice rattled by grunts.
“I’m lookin’ for Nick Dimaggio, he been here at all, with anyone?” Tommy responded, hanging up his hat and coat on a rack.
“Yeah, they came not too long ago, look in the back, round the bend,” he responded, trudging back to the kitchens.
Tommy didn’t give any thanks, and he walked, as told, “to the back, round the bend.” In the last booth of the row, Tommy saw Nick and his company, A man that was startlingly similar to Nick, heavyset with thinning brown hair, as well as a man with outgrown red hair, greased back into a mullet. The red-haired man had wild eyes, and he had a thick mustache peppered with droplets of black coffee. Tommy walked up to him and Nick looked back, a grin growing across his pudgy face.
He got up, giving Tommy a hug saying, “Sit down, sit down, meet the opportunity.”
Tommy sat down next to Nick, with the latter introducing the men to him. Giovanni, the man who appeared to be Nick’s cousin, stretched out his arm to shake hands. “Nice to meet you,” he said with the same accent that every Italian had in Brooklyn.
Next the red-haired man wiped off his hands, before stretching his lanky arms to shake hands. “I’m Randall, good to finally meet you,” he said with a very strong mountain accent.
“Now let’s get down to business,” Nick explained, eager to explain his proposition. “Now we all know what the stupid yuppies who run this country did about booze…They banned it, as if it were as harmful as the smoke that pours outta the factories. We all got talent, we can make some serious cash here if we work togetha.”
“Nick…Can you get to the point already?” Tommy sighed in boredom.
“Alright, alright…Now I’ve been hearin’ from some of the guys that some people are brewin their own booze, from right here in Brooklyn. I heard they’ve been pulling in some serious cash, and I’m about done with livin like a pig. It’s time we did the same. Randall, you say you’re the best brewer out in Kentucky. You think that you can do ya thing, so we can sell it just like the guys I heard about?”
Randall looked up from his plate of pancakes and swallowed the rest of his coffee, then answered, “I’m sure I can scrounge up somethin’ to make stills out here, it’ll be strong as hell, it’ll be booze.”
“Good.” Nick responded “Now, Giovanni, you got your cab company out here in Brooklyn. I want you deliverin’ shipments of juice to whoever wants it. You also make sure that they pay for it too. We’re not givin’ away our alcohol for free. So, you down?”
“Course cousin, you can count on me,” he responded, with a proud voice.
“Now what I’m gonna do is pay off cops, make sure our operation is safe. I’ll also work out the deals with clients,” Nick claimed.
“Now wait Nick, whatta ’bout me?” Tommy asked with surprise in his voice.
“Now you Tommy…well you’ll be runnin this thing. I know you learned a lot in the army, and I’m sure you could do betta than any of us. I also want you on security. See if you can contact any army buddies. If we can get a serious gang on our side. Honest cops will think twice ’bout tryin’ to mess with us.”
“Well then,” Tommy boomed, expressing his new role. “Let’s work things out. Randall, I want you to start makin’ stills. Also see if you can get anyone willin’ to work with you, teach them your trade. You, Giovanni, go to your cab company, find anyone willin’ to get their hands dirty delivering the booze. Also get some cars that can hold crates full of bottles. Now Nick, I need you to find a place to set up operations. I don’t care what you have to do to get it, just do it. Make sure it’s got space, and that it’s not too obvious. I’m gonna contact my old buddies in the army, see if I can get some of them to be the muscle. I’ll also get firepower, so I’m on that…Are we all clear?”
The group exchanged glances at each other, and they nodded slowly.
“Well then, let’s get brewin’.”
In less than a month the group had almost everything squared away. They had their base, an old factory in the part of town no cop dared visit. Randall had got a few guys off the street who showed promise, old brewery owners and vineyard workers, who accepted the job due to lack of work. They had built five stills, and they had all the chemicals and crops to make a strong moonshine. Giovanni’s cab company had plenty of willing criminals in its ranks, who all went out and stole enough trucks to make deliveries at anytime. Tommy had kept up his end of the deal, and the gang had plenty of muscle to defend shipments and deals from any customers or cops stupid enough to tread on them.
Tommy looked out to the factory floor from an old catwalk, when suddenly Nick ran up to him, pure joy in his eyes.
“Tommy!! I just got a called by some yuppies on Long Island. They heard from someone that we’re brewin big time booze, and they’re willing to pay 40,000 for 200 crates.”
The sound of hearing what Nick said made Tommy jump in excitement too. He yelled down from his catwalk to the moonshiners at the stills saying, “Hey boys, we need 200 crates in the next three days, get workin’ double time now!!!”
The brewers also yelled with excitement, and Tommy saw how their pace immediately increased after hearing the statement. He then looked to Nick saying, “Call them back, tell them that we’ll meet them in three days, and tell them to choose a location for the meetup, okay?”
“Yes sir buddy, I’m on it,” Nick answered with excitement, running back to the office.
Tommy looked down to the factory floor again. He saw the brewers brewing, the taxi drivers on standby for any minor deals, and the security on guard for any threat to their operation. For once… Nick had a good idea. Looks like it’s about to pay off. Tommy walked off the catwalk into the office, he sat down at his desk, and began to plan their first big deal.
The dark warehouse of the nameless, small Long Island town, was illuminated by old oil lamps. As the five large cabs pulled into the small yard outside, Tommy looked out the window and saw the clientele. Five silhouettes stood next to what appeared to be a large truck. Nick saw his concern saying, “This is gonna go right, trust me, I know.”
Tommy looked in his direction. “I know man…I’m just a bit on edge…this is a big deal.”
The cabs parked in random directions and the numerous gangsters got out. As Tommy stepped into the humid air he shouted to one of his nameless goons saying, “Get a sample for the clients.”
Tommy and Nick walked side by side into the warehouse, towards the clients.
“Hello…I’m Mr. Carteret,” said the middle silhouette as Tommy and his gang approached. The dim light from the street lamps gave way to a brief look at his face from Tommy.
“Show us the cash sir,” Tommy said in a gruff voice, facing the client.
One of the gangsters with Carteret stepped up to Tommy up saying with a cautious voice, “Don’t talk to Mr.Carteret like that.”
Tommy looked the muscular man in the eyes saying, “I’m sure you want booze too pal, calm down if you really do.”
He stepped back at the slight mention that he might not get any. As he did, Tommy looked eagerly at a suitcase held open by another of Carteret’s goons. Tommy quickly took the case and handed it to Giovanni, who stood behind Tommy, next to Randall. “Count it,” he said, not expecting to receive an answer.
“Now let’s get down to business Carteret,” Tommy said, grabbing a crowbar and cracking open the crate, revealing the moonshine.
“I’m sure it will be good,” Carteret claimed, grabbing the bottle from the crate.
Carteret popped off the cap, then sniffed it. He didn’t say it, but Tommy saw the wrenching look that grew across his face. Carteret silently took a sip, and relentlessly spit it up, dropping the bottle.
Tommy and his gang erupted into laughter. Tommy knelt down besides Carteret as he threw up from the unbearable mixture in the mouth of a man who drank soft liquors. Tommy gloated in his face saying, “What were you expectin’, frickin wine?”
Carteret stood up, his mouth open from what must have been a sensation of pure fire in his mouth, and remained silent.
“I hope you and your family enjoy it. BOYS!!! GET THE REST FROM THE CARS,” Tommy said before shouting to his goons.
Tommy faced Carteret, but said nothing, Carteret embodied everything he hated, the rich minority of the country. At least his money will go to good back home.
The silence of the scene however, was suddenly broken when Giovanni came running back shouting, “TOMMY!!TOMMY!! THERE AIN’T 40k IN THE CASE!!!!”
The thought of being cheated entered his head, Tommy grew furious. In an instant, he ripped a revolver from his pocket and grabbed Carteret, pushing the barrel against his head. The remainder of Tommy’s gang all pulled out the weapons as well.
“YOU THOUGHT YOU COULD CHEAT ME? WELL YOU’RE WRONG, CARTERET. GIVE ME THE REST OF THE MONEY RIGHT NOW OR I’LL BLOW YOUR BRAINS ONTO THE FLOOR!” he shouted into Carteret’s ear.
“It doesn’t have to end badly Tommy…I’ll give you the money I swear…Just…Just Please…Let me go!!!” he shouted in retaliation.
“LET GO OF MR.CARTERET!!! DON’T SHOOT…DON’T SHOOT!!!! LET US SEE THE MONEY OR WE’LL MAKE SURE YOU DON’T LEAVE ALIVE!” The screams of the gangs to each other filled Tommy’s head. The tension was high, and Tommy aimed the barrel at one of the goon’s heads.
“Don’t shoot boy…please don’t…I’ll pay you…just drop your guns,” Carteret interjected over the screams of angry men.
Carteret’s goons reluctantly dropped their weapons, and Carteret reached into his pocket, and pulled out a billfold. Tommy snatched it out of his hand and walked away, stating, “You yuppies can never be trusted.” Tommy walked off to the cabs, telling a goon, “Bring them the booze.” Ringing filled his head, and when Tommy entered the car, he fell into a deep sleep.
“You can’t just give away all our cash like that Tommy, we worked hard for it and now you just gonna give it away,” Nick protested on the crowded street.
Months had passed by since the gang’s first big deal, and the people of Brooklyn were now feeling the results. The people of Brooklyn now saw Tommy as a sort of Robin Hood, as he was giving all his profits back to them.
Tommy and walked down an old dirt street with Nick at his side. He carried a large satchel, and inside were stacks of cash, enough to provide plenty of families with months’ worth of food. As Tommy passed by homeless children and desperate factory workers begging, he gave money to each of them. Throughout the journey, Nick had constantly protested, and as they walked down this final street, Tommy finally paid attention.
“Nick I’ve struggled with these people my whole life, they’re my people, and it’s time I did something to help them along.”
Nick had a shocked look on his face, as if he had been betrayed. He finally blurted out amidst the shock. “This was supposed to be our opportunity, not these bums.”
“You know what Nick…Like it or not we’re the same as these people, so you can go now”
How can Nick be so careless, we grew up the same as all these people here, and now he just acts like he’s betta than them.
“Fine…I’m done here Tommy. You’ll find me back at the factory…I hope you straighten up or somethin!!!” Nick shouted in anger at Tommy before storming off.
“Now Nick come on. Now you know–” Tommy tried to protest before pausing and shrugging.
Letting Nick walk off, Tommy continued down the street, passing out money to whoever was in need, carefree about how Nick could retaliate.
“BIG TIME BOOTLEGGER’S A NEW ROBINHOOD” is what NYPD’s new forensic detective Leo Ford read off of the newspaper he’d bought at a stand on 8th Avenue. Never thought it would be criminals who saved Brooklyn. He walked down the street. As he walked, his assignment and his bosses’ words rung through his head.
“We need to find out who these people are. We need any leads, and I know you’re the best to find them Ford…Go out, find anything for us, then report back,” was all his boss had said.
Ford continued down the long blocks of 8th avenue, the tall buildings blocking the bright May sky. Ford was on the hunt for any leads, and he knew where he had to go. He was on the hunt for the city’s scum, the drunkards, and outcasts of NYC society, because if there was one thing he knew, it’s that they were the key.
Ford knew all the places in Manhattan to look, and it didn’t take long to get his wish.
Ford found the nameless dark alleyway that was infamous throughout the upper class of Manhattan. It was lined with beggars searching for a fix and bloodstains from constant violence over the residents’ insatiable need of narcotics and alcohol. Time to make a mark on this city for good, Leo thought before stepping into the alley.
Despite the bright daylight, the alley seemed darker than the night sky itself. Rats scurried along the muddy ground, picking up bits and pieces of god knows what from the ground, the only real edible thing they could afford to take back to their dens. Coughing and crying rang out throughout the small den, the smell of disease and rot permeating throughout. Even Brooklyn can’t be as bad as this, Leo thought, as the idea of the hardship across the East River pulled at his mind.
That’s when Leo spotted it, the silhouette of a man, obviously spoiled drunk, with a bottle beside him, filled to the brim with what smelled like moonshine. JACKPOT!!! He shook the man from his shoulder, trying rouse him from his drunken stupor. Hungover, the man barely woke up before shouting out nameless, jumbled up insults that even Ford couldn’t understand. Still shaking the man, he pleaded for him to wake up saying, “Please wake up, if you do, I can promise you a hot meal and a warm bed.” This was what ultimately roused the drunken man.
Stumbling around the dark alley, he claimed, “Les go now” before trying to walk off. Following him was easy as could be for Ford, but getting him to a diner where they could talk was the hardest part. It was as if the alcohol had made him a two-year-old again, who struggled to walk as it gathered its bearings. It got to the point where the drunken man slammed into corporate executives and blue-collar contractors as he walked down the crowded street to the nearby Tick-Tock Diner. Eventually, after a grueling attempt, Ford stumbled into the diner, with the beggars arms sprawled out on his shoulders. “Booth for two,” Ford called to a bored waitress, who instantly escorted them to a booth with a view of the street.
“What will it take for you to talk?” Ford asked the man.
“A cup of black coffee, with the irish breakfast and a side of toast and pancakes.”
Glutton, Ford thought, but he reluctantly pulled out a wad of cash and called the waiter over, paying for the feast that the beggar requested. As the beggar stared out the window in anticipation of his upcoming feast, Ford called to him saying, “Now I have questions for you. Answer, and I won’t tell them to cancel the order.”
“Ask ahead.” He replied
“I saw that you had a bottle of unregistered alcohol, where did you get it and from whom?”
The beggar’s eyes widened before shaking his head saying, “No…I can’t answer-”
“Just do it man!” Ford shouted to him, angry over his denial.
“Alright, alright,I got it from Nick Dimaggio, he and his crew are set up in Brooklyn…My buddy told me he was sellin’ so I used my cash from beggin’ and I called him. He told me he split with them, but sold me his extra bottles.”
THE KEY!!! I need to find Nick, he can lead me to the source.
“Do you have his address, or anything else I can use to find him?” Ford asked with a sense of urgency in his voice.
“I do, but it’ll cost you extra,” the man claimed, haggling his way into more cash.
Ford, enraged at the scheming of the man, threw fifty more dollars into the man’s face.
A smile spread across the man’s face. He took a scrap of paper from his pocket and handed it to Ford. “Here you go, kind sir.”
Leo immediately stood up from his seat, and remembering the deal, he pulled 200 more dollars from his pocket.
“Find yourself a nice hotel,” he said as he rushed out the door.
When he stepped into the city air, one thing was on Ford’s mind: he needed to find a payphone. Walking down the crowded streets, Ford’s eyes scanned the terrain as a hawk would. Then, he saw it, a simple, rusty phonebooth. Not even stopping for cars, he ran across the street. He inserting one quarter into the booth and dialed the number. The old phone did not even ring as Leo waited in anticipation. Then, all of a sudden, a voice picked up stating, “Who’s this?”
“This is Leo Ford I work with the NYPD, and I want to cut you a deal.”
“Straight to the point ehh,” Nick claimed with a chuckle. “Well, what’s the deal?”
“I’m lookin’ into the case involvin’ illegal bootlegging around the city. I hear you worked with one of the top rings but left. Our precinct is offerin’ you 200,000 dollars if you give up the location of the ring, and help us in our raid,” Leo told him.
“Give me a second to think,” claimed Nick.
Tommy’s been my pal all my life. I know he cheated me by givin’ away the cash but I can’t just betray him……….Tommy needs to see that he can’t just cheat me. “I’m in, it’s at an abandoned factory in the industrial district, meet me there at midnight.”
Leo sighed a breath of relief. “ We’ll be there.”
Nick hung up the phone and Leo ran down the avenue to break the good news to his boss.
Tommy stayed behind that night. He was guarding the place just in case something happened.
He sat in the office, working numbers. Due to their latest big deal, their ring was pulling in thousands of dollars a week, and it was really helping the people of Brooklyn. Tommy was roused from his work by a voice of questioning.
“Tommy?” It asked.
Tommy looked up to see Nick standing in the doorway
“What the hell are you doin’ here, Nick? I thought you were done.”
Nick had an obvious look of sorrow on his face. “Man…I…I’m sorry.”
“Why is that?” questioned Tommy, now standing up.
“Cause of this,” Nick mumbled pulling out a gun and firing.
The bullet flew quickly, and Tommy couldn’t even react. It pierced his chest and he fell to the floor, blood gushing from his chest and mouth. He tried to put pressure on the wound, but he could feel the life seeping out, along with his blood.
“Wh…Why…Why Nick–” Tommy struggled to let out, in obvious pain.
“You cheated me Tommy…I helped you start all this, and then you don’t let me take my fair due…How do you think that’s fair?” Nick shouted to him in rage. “The police are comin’ and I’m gettin a large payout for bustin’ you, so I guess I can get my revenge first before this place goes up in flames.”
“Flames? Wha…What do you mean Nick?” Tommy questioned, fearful of the mention of flames.
“If I can’t have the cash, no one will. I’m destroyin’ your empire, and leavin’ nothin’ in return for any of your goons to rebuild with,” Nick told him, proud of his plot.
“You think you’ll destroy all we worked for Nick…Guess again.” Tommy said, raising his gun in the air.
“What are yo-” Nick shouted in anger before being cut off by the sound of fired shots. Tommy’s bullet flew through the air, and with a sickening crunch, entered Nick’s head and exited out the back.
As the blood spilled out of Nick’s skull, Tommy stood up, he exited the office onto the catwalk before, BOOM!!! One of the stills went up in flames. Then Tommy saw it, gasoline was spilled all over the floor, and flames spread all over the factory floor.
No I…I need to get outta here, screw the cash, screw the stills, he thought as he ran down the stairs. As Tommy reached the landing of the steel steps, the worst thing that could happen occurred. The fire spread there as well, to the point where the whole factory floor was in flames.
I’m trapped, what should I do what should I-THE WINDOW…I could use the window.
With blood gushing out of his wounds, he stumbled up the stairs, he walked into the office as it was plunged into a cloud of smoke. The air left Tommy’s lungs and it was replaced with black smoke. I need to get out……….I need to find the window.
Tommy stumbled around the office, choking on the impure air. He coughed in agony, feeling the walls. He felt and felt before feeling a panel of glass. Tommy pulled out his gun and fired, the sound of shattering glass making way to that of fierce thunder and a raging storm. Tommy stumbled to the hole in the wall, stepping into it. Glass shards pierced Tommy skin. He couldn’t even scream, but he pushed on, stepping out onto the ledge, the rain falling on his skin and washing away the thick red blood. Tommy stood in triumph before letting go, and falling off the edge.
Tommy woke up in the back of a wagon moving down a nameless Brooklyn alley. In his daze, he could barely hear. He tried to move his hands but they were stuck in irons that were chained to the wagon. Opening his eyes, he saw hospital staff and police officers sitting around him as the wagon dragged on. He looked up at them, unable to say words as he breathed out the last of the smoke.
One of the blurry figures noticed him. Tommy could now see the man. He looked to be a young man. He wore a police uniform, with a tag that said Forensic Detective. His name tag spelled out his name: Leo Ford. He was speaking to him but Tommy could not understand. But, ringing sounds left his ear, he heard one last thing.
“You’re going away for a long time, Mr. Malone,” was what Tommy managed to make out.
I should’ve never trusted Nick. Figures he’d get me into prison. I could’ve helped those folks without the booze, gettin’ them drunk wasn’t the right way…But hey, at least I’ll have three meals a day and a warm bed to sleep in.
Tommy let out a faint chuckle, and closed his eyes, falling into a deep sleep.