Sign me up for all the latest razzmatazz about the Chronicles books and the 1920s and get the novella DESTINATIONS for FREE!!Don't miss out!

Chapter 1: Gathering Storm

Book One of the Rum Runners' Chronicles series

Chapter 1:

‘Red’ Shannon throws back his head and laughs with the joy of it. He’s invincible. The vibrations of the powerful engine travel up through his legs; his feet planted firmly on either side of the wheel as the motorboat slices a path through the waves. The sun, the sea, the wind in his face, a cargo of bootleg liquor guaranteed to fetch a good dollar behind him; it’s a mighty fine day to be alive.

There’s something about sighting land again when you’ve been but a speck on the wide blue sea. That goes double when you know there’ll be money in your pocket tonight, and your best girl on your arm. He turns and gives his accomplice, Stubbs, the thumbs up. Miami bound, they’d left Gun Cay near Bimini about an hour ago with one hundred and seventy cases of illegal whiskey and are coming up on Star Island: almost home.

Prohibition has made rum running a lucrative trade for those that have the guts for it. ‘Red’ Shannon is famous in Miami; a devil-may-care scoundrel who charms the ladies and delivers the goods.

Stubbs shouts over the wind and the roar of the mighty Liberty engine. “Looks like we got company, Skipper.”

Red spots the Coast Guard coming up quickly behind him on the starboard side. “Damn, we almost made it. Hang on, I’ll lose them in the canals.” With a sure touch, he grips the throttle and eases it forward, bringing the bow of the heavily laden thirty-foot motorboat, the Goose, a bit higher out of the water.

“They’re gaining on us,” Stubbs shouts. The bark of a gun is followed by an explosion of splinters from the wooden console near the wheel; the Coast Guard is firing on the Goose.

Red swerves hard to port. “Throttle’s wide open. We need more speed. We’ll have to toss some of it, Stubbs.”

Red steers the boat closer to shore. With each case Stubbs tosses overboard, the Goose surges ahead. Bouncing along the chop of the water, ocean spray flying up like a geyser over the gunnels, Red heads toward the yacht basin in front of the Flamingo Hotel, planning a game of hide and seek among the anchored, sleek vessels.

* * * *

The lobby of the Flamingo Hotel is a lush jungle of potted palms and tropical plants. Islands of rattan furniture are tucked into the foliage. Lazy circling ceiling fans stir the moist, warm air.

Edith Duffy follows the red carpet to the front desk; the bellhop behind her loaded down with suitcases. She’s tired, cranky, and overdressed for the weather having just got off the Orange Blossom Special from Philadelphia. The air is heavier than she remembers from the last time she was here and there’s a slight tang of salt on the back of her tongue. January on the coast of Florida is a far cry from the frozen north.

The desk clerk takes the measure of the haughty brunette beauty striding toward him and slips on his most ingratiating smile.

Frowning slightly, Edith looks around the lobby: the smartly dressed women in cotton and linen, her mountain of luggage, and finally the clerk.

“My name is Mrs. Edith Duffy. I have a reservation,” she says to the clerk as he pulls the register toward him.

A sudden commotion on the outdoor terrace off the lobby distracts them both. Startled, Edith turns. People are moving through the open patio doors toward the terrace and the railing overlooking the water. A woman shouts, and men are cheering.

Curious, the desk clerk and Edith follow. A white motorboat, closely pursued by another boat, is careening toward the marina in front of the hotel.

“What is it, a race?” she asks the clerk.

“Miami-style,” he answers with a grin, stepping past her into the sunshine.

Through a loudspeaker, a man on the second boat orders the fleeing boat to heave to. The blue Coast Guard uniforms are a sharp contrast to the casually dressed boaters. Her blood begins to race; cops chasing bootleggers. She knows this scene, although it’s been a while. The open terrace will provide the best view; Edith pushes her way to the front balustrade.

The white boat pulls ahead. The terrace crowd cheers, necks craning. The Coast Guard fires a shot across the bow of the white motorboat which, the moment it’s fired upon, turns and cuts its engines. It disappears behind a large sailboat anchored in the basin beyond the hotel’s docks.

Edith makes out the rumble of the pursuing craft as the Coast Guard slows to cruising speed, hunting among the bobbing boats and yachts. Breathless, she’s caught in the drama, gripping the edge of an abandoned chair. Like everyone else on the terrace, she’s rooting for the bootlegger. As far as she and the rest of the crowd are concerned, cops- on water or land- are always the bad guys.

Lips parted, eyes alight, this is more her style; much better than lamenting in Philly, sitting in an empty house with the drapes drawn.

Suddenly, in a spray of water, the Goose reappears and launches itself, full throttle, at the Coast Guard. Edith and the crowd on the patio cheer, whistle, and clap. Bets are wagered as the audience chatters excitedly.

“It’s Red Shannon’s boat.”   “The Coast Guard doesn’t stand a chance.”   “It’s the Goose, Shannon’s boat.”   “My money’s on Red. He’s got the luck of the Irish on his side.”

“Red’s going to ram them.” An onlooker’s shout is shrill. Edith cranes around a man blocking the action, then plants an elbow in his back and pushes him aside. The Coast Guard makes a hard right, attempting to avoid the Goose. Another cheer goes up as the Goose bashes into the guard rail of the law enforcement boat; the Coast Guard crew staggers, clutching at lines and rails.

Edith and the assembled hotel guests enjoy their ringside seats. She grins. He’s got a pair. That’s exactly what I’d do. Damn cops, I mean Coast Guard.

In retaliation, the Coast Guard opens fire on Red and his accomplice, and chaos ensues. Flying bullets and screaming women; people flee in terror as stray shots strike the balustrade of the terrace.

As the panicked crowd flow around her, bolting into the safety of the hotel’s lobby, Edith moves toward the action.

Just like the early days when I used to ride along with Mickey on a bootlegging run.

Memories of the rumble of the whiskey-six cars echo in her beating heart; she and Mickey roaring along the dark back roads around Philly.

God, it’s been years since I’ve felt like this. With sparkling eyes, a full-throated laugh, and a racing heart, she leans well over the balustrade and waves them on. “Come on, Red!”

More shots ring out, some close to where she’s standing. Only a few reckless souls remain with her on the terrace.

A gun cracks. Edith gasps and holds her breath as Red jerks, clutching at his back. He collapses over the wheel of the boat, the back of his shirt soaked in blood. Time slows, and she’s in another hotel, Mickey’s life blood pooling on the carpet beneath him.

Blood. So much blood.

She shudders and turns away, hands shaking.

Barked orders blare from the Coast Guard’s loudspeaker, yanking her back to the present. Edith can’t resist. She swivels to catch sight of the Goose. The white boat slows. Red’s accomplice scrambles to get to the wheel. The Coast Guard orders him to stand down. They come alongside the Goose and lash the two boats together while Red’s partner stands in the center of the boat swaying with the waves, hands raised in surrender.

The Coast Guard carries the unconscious Red Shannon off the Goose and lay him on the side lawn of the hotel. With the shooting over, people flow back onto the terrace. Edith stands her ground amidst the jostling, a well-placed heel of her shoe defending her turf.

Gasps erupt from the crowd over the blood and the limp body. Edith rolls her eyes. Amateurs. She’s breathed this kind of violence for the past decade or more. Sometimes the bullets were aimed at her.

The Allison Hospital ambulance arrives, its flashing lights almost invisible in the brutally bright sun. The crowd moans as Red is rolled onto a stretcher and lifted into the ambulance.

Job done, the Coast Guard return to their boat and pass near the group clustered close to the edge of the balustrade. Edith joins the crowd, catcalling, hissing, and jeering. There’s something cathartic and energizing being part of an angry mob, even a well-dressed mob on a luxury hotel’s terrace.

Handcuffed, the other man from the Goose is led away roughly by Miami sheriffs. The noisy crowd shouts encouragement to Red’s accomplice and share a few choice names for the cops.

“That guy there’s a hero, if you ask me.” The voice is male.

Edith turns to face a man in a white linen suit, a straw boater on his head. Her upper lip curls. “Pft. I try to never cheer for losers.”

The white linen suited man looks at her, amused. “What? You’re not one of those ‘drys’ are you?”

“Hardly. I was married to Philadelphia’s King of the Bootleggers.” Edith sneers, every inch the haughty queen. “I just don’t know why you’d call a putz like that a hero. In my books, anybody who gives up and surrenders is a failure.” She brushes past the man, his open-mouthed expression contrasting with his cool ensemble.

En route to the front desk, striding through the crowd, she picks up snarls and voices around her. “Red’s hands were up.”   “They shot him in the back.”   “Bloody Coast Guard.”   “He was about to surrender.”   “Shot in the back like a dog.”   “I hope that liquor they seized wasn’t bound for this hotel.”   “I’ve worked up a thirst with all this cheering.”   “Let’s go grab a drink at the bar.”

A martini would be pretty good right now. It’d cut through some of the train dust. As soon as I check in, I’ll have a shaker sent to the room.

The bellhop is buried under her luggage and ready to go. Edith signs, and slides the pen and ledger to the front desk clerk. His finger rests beside her name as he hesitates.

I’m aching for a martini. Come on, buster. “Is there a problem?”

“Mrs. Duffy. I have a letter for you.” The words ooze from the unctuous hotel clerk.

Taking it, she tips him and turns for privacy, then opens the envelope.

’Darling. Welcome to Miami. Call me when you get settled, and we’ll make plans for your visit. Mae Capone.’

I hope you enjoyed the first chapter of Gathering Storm and Edith’s arrival in Miami. If you haven’t yet met Edith Duffy, you can find her in the pages of the Bootleggers’ Chronicles series.

– Sherilyn Decter, February, 2020

Gathering Storm is available for pre-order on Amazon

March 15th, 2020.