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The Unstoppable Jennie Justo: Episode Five

Episode 5: Arrested Again ©

It’s as if the tracks are pulling the train. I figure I’m halfway between prison and home. Halfway through a long and exhausting day.

I’d been released from the Milwaukee House of Corrections earlier today, having served my sentence for selling illegal alcohol, and for running a couple of speakeasies. Since this morning I’ve been enjoying the freedom and novelty of the train trip home to Madison.

Fellow passengers head toward the dining car. Without funds, I’ll have to wait to eat until I reach home. I’m pretty sure Mama will have a great big spread laid out to welcome me. At least I hope so. Maybe not. A jailbird for a daughter is new for her. Sons in the joint are one thing, but a girl?

I find a few pennies for a soda. It’s been a while since I’ve had a sweet treat. Maybe I’ll wander down to what, before prohibition, would have been the bar car. They might have a cola or a root beer.

Perching on the stool in front of the bar, I sip on a frosty cola. Advertising doesn’t lie: cola, it really does taste like a bit of ice-cold sunshine. It’s swell to be talking to the man behind the counter. After the apes in Milwaukee, a regular Joe is a pleasant change. I even get to practice flirting, which is a bit rusty. No doubt, it will come in handy again once I get home.

Home. My little speakeasy in the basement, and a second around the corner. I ran a great gin joint, everybody said so. Mama’s been trying to keep the doors open while I’ve been gone. I can still run a great gin joint.

I’ll admit, maybe my ‘speak’ was too great. Maybe I should have kept a lower profile, been more discrete. After all, it hadn’t taken long, after my first arrest, until I found myself back in front of a judge. Even with a few extra dollars in Officer Mike’s pocket I still got picked up. I put it down to the cost of doing business.

As a businesswoman running a couple of speakeasies in Madison, I kept a mental running total of revenue and expenses. Even with the cop’s shut-eye money, I managed to clear a healthy bank balance every month.

Thanks to some aggressive promotions, my joints were the popular places for students to hang out. And thanks to my three brothers, and their bit of bootlegging on the side, I was always able to buy good hooch at a family discount.

Even though I’ve made some serious clams from running my two speakeasies, like a lot of America, I was getting sick of the restrictions during Prohibition. It was getting harder to find good hooch to serve. And though nobody got sick from drinking at my joint, a day didn’t go by where there was some story related to bad booze.

The cops were getting greedier and the bootleggers nastier. Guns and violence were a part of getting through the day. I worried about Dom and Pepe out there. My brothers sometimes had a tough time figuring things out—a couple of morons only a mother could love.

* * * *

The whole getting arrested thing was getting to be routine. The second time I had stood in front of the judge and begged forgiveness, I made sure he knew I was grateful and would be a good girl going forward.

Constable Mike, the cop I paid generously to make sure my police troubles were minimal, had been a sport and only pulled me in when he didn’t have a choice. Let’s face it, it looked bad if my place was the only one that got missed during one of the police chief’s regular raids. And as long as I got a heads up and was last on the list, it didn’t cost me too much.

It was the morning after I got sprung that second time. We’d just opened. I was wiping down the counters and Maddie was stacking glassware. Mama was in the back, counting inventory to make sure we had enough on hand for a busy holiday weekend.

A couple of guys came down the stairs and walked over to the bar. Funny how some people rub you the wrong way, even though you just met them. Trouble, I thought.

“What can I get you, fellas? A cold beer? Something stronger?” I asked.

“A couple of cold ones,” the tall one said. He slapped some dough down on the counter and he and his friend wandered over to a table in the corner.

I pocketed the money and pulled the beer. With two mugs on a tray, I sauntered over to where they were sitting.

“So, what’s a nice doll like you doing in a dump like this?” The tall one laughed. I gave him what I hoped was a wintery smile, and turned back to the bar. Immediately, he slapped me right on my tush. His friend let out a roar of laughter. Maddie looked, but I shook my head and ignored them.

“Hey babe, how about another round?”

“Sweetheart, two more for a couple of thirsty guys.”

The morning turned into a long afternoon, running beers to their table and trying to avoid the slaps, squeezes, or pinches on my rear. It was as if they believed it was part of the tip. And it was getting real stale. There was no way I’d be letting Maddie anywhere near them. Hopefully, they’d clear out soon. And not come back.

The joint got busy and, eventually, they left. But boy, if they didn’t come back again the next day, and the next. The tall one with the frisky hands was named Roy. His drinking buddy, Jake. They claimed to be a couple of salesmen, but that sure didn’t ring true. They had too much money and too much time on their hands to be salesmen.

Roy and Jake came ‘round again on Friday at supper time. I brought two beers over to the table. “Evening, fellas. You want something to eat? We got sliced ham and potato salad. There’s chicken pie just coming out of the oven.”

“Nah, just the beer, Jennie. You’re looking good tonight, darlin’. Expecting a big crowd later?”

I danced away from the hands. “You never know. Could be.” Roy pulled me onto his lap.

He and Jake laughed in a coarse way that made me cringe. I struggled to get up but he held me tight. “Now don’t go rushing off, Jennie girl. We just got here. How about you show ol’ Roy here some affection.”

I managed to push off Roy’s lap and gave his face a slap. “Bank’s closed, stronzo,” I said. I felt pretty safe calling him an asshole since he didn’t appear to understand Italian. I walked away, their laughter following me.

It was a long night. The crowd seemed especially thirsty, and once things got rolling around eleven, I lost track of Roy and Jake.

Around two, I started closing up; there were a few tables of kids, enjoying the scene and in no hurry to leave. The rest of the place had been scrubbed, and the chairs stacked so that floors could be mopped first thing tomorrow.

I was doing a quick bottle count behind the bar, and called out to Maddie, “Can you run to the back and grab two more bottles of gin? And maybe one more whiskey while you’re there?”

I expected Maddie to hear me as she’d be washing glasses in the sink. Instead, she was laughing and flirting with the last table of boys. I smiled. She was a great waitress. It’d be a shame to lose her to a wedding and domestic bliss, but that was one of the hazards of employing pretty girls in a bar.

My heart gave a little thump when I saw one of the boys at the table was Art Bramwell, my football and baseball jock crush. He was a real-live sports hero. It turned out it was both pro-sports that were trying to recruit him to the big leagues.

I hustled to get my jobs done, aching for a chance to see a bit more of Mr. Bramwell. He’d transferred in from a university around Chicago and only been in Madison a few months. With Maddie busy, I headed to the storeroom for the liquor. The storeroom was the root cellar; a place Mama still kept bags of potatoes, carrots, and onions from the garden. I scanned the crates of liquor and found the bottles I needed.

But, as I went back into the hall, I was forced to stop. Roy blocked my way. I took a step back. “Oh, you spooked me. What are you doing back here? Staff only, pal. If you’re looking for the lavatory, it’s just outside.” I took a big breath and tried to walk past.

“No, I don’t need the lavatory. That’s not what I’m looking for. How about we go back into that room, and we can finish what we started earlier tonight?” He stepped toward me, crowding me in the narrow hallway. My back bumped into the doorknob of the root cellar.

“No, I think I’d better get these bottles to Maddie. She’s looking for them.”

“Last I saw, she wasn’t missing you. Come on, Jennie, wadda-ya say. I’m a lonely guy looking for love.” Roy swayed. He was blotto, and I knew I was in trouble. He took another step closer and grabbed the doorknob.

If you’ve missed an episode, you can get them here…

Episode One

Episode Two

Episode Three

Episode Four