For the entire streetcar ride home, I pondered the new information gleaned from the station, particularly the arrests made at the party.
Only three arrests for such a large gathering was scanty, at best. True, for one officer to bring in three criminals alone, it was quite something, but if Officer Conners was so close by, why didn’t O’Neil ask for assistance? At the very least, one of them could have telephoned the station to ask for reinforcements, or a car to take the prisoners to the cells.
To only make the effort to arrest three people, and to do so alone, seemed more a token gesture than an attempt to discourage law breakers.
And I could think of only two reasons Howard White and his wife weren’t among those brought in: They had to have ties to someone on the police force or government, or Officer O’Neil was accepting bribes.
The implications continued to weigh on me as I disembarked and trekked the final distance home. So far, I’d been relying on my own wits and the courage of my friends, but I thought it might be time to go a step further.
“Hello?” I called, entering the the house. The entry was dim, but I could hear voices and movement. The smell of baked chicken meant Rose was hard at work in the kitchen.
Elizabeth’s dark face peered out at me from the back parlor. “Oh, you’re home. I–George was just looking for you. We were waiting for you to come home.” She toyed with her hair shyly.
“I’m sure he was,” I teased. If I was the one George came to see, I’d eat my cloche. “If you need me, I’ll be downstairs.”
“Thanks, Dru,” George said quietly. He smiled, wrapping an arm around Elizabeth’s waist.
I waved and trotted down to the laboratory. Producing the evidence from my bag, I lined up everything we had gathered so far: the two bottles and the fragment, the torn label, my list of names from the police station, and Daddy’s original notes from the test on the seized liquor.
Starting with the bottles, I used a magnifier to examine each one. The broken bottle had the same maple leaf shaped maker’s mark as the one from the raid.
So someone is definitely bringing in liquor from Canada, I thought. Though there wasn’t much of a label left on the broken bottle, I compared it to the one from the raid and confirmed it was of the same print quality on the same yellow paper.
The scrap I’d found by the barn, however, bore the same speckled look as the counterfeit bottle from the White’s garbage can.
Next, I looked at the chemical analysis. Daddy’s tests revealed methyl alcohol and mercury in the bottle seized. Originally, I intended to test for wood alcohol, but mercury was a much more unusual ingredient, and with such a limited supply to test, I had to choose wisely. Both bottles had the same levels of mercury–an exceedingly rare occurrence.
I was so engrossed in the work, I almost didn’t hear Elizabeth when she came down to join me.
“Has George gone home?” I asked, glancing at her over my shoulder.
She nodded, pulling up a stool beside me. “Mama’s almost done with dinner, so he thought it was time to leave. We should set the table soon. Have you had any luck?”
Sighing, I crossed my arms over my chest, staring down at the scraps I’d managed to cobble together. “I don’t know. I wish we had more of this to test.” I picked up the empty bottle, staring down at it as if I could find answers reflected on the glass. “I just don’t understand why there are two different bottles, if they have the same thing inside. Real whiskey would fetch two, three, maybe four times the price of this rotgut.”
I sank down onto the other stool. There was enough evidence on the the table that I thought the police might take an interest, but that last detail nagged at me; I had to find the answer before I could do anything.
“Maybe I should just forget about it. Does it really matter?” I wondered out loud.
Elizabeth didn’t have the answer, and neither did I. Instead, we set everything aside and went upstairs to help Rose.
The housekeeper was still in the kitchen, just taking a cake out of the oven.
“Oh, there you girls are. Would you set the table, please?” Rose asked.
Elizabeth reached for a stack of plates already waiting. I spread a dishtowel on the counter and stepped out of the way as her mother set down the steaming pan.
“Mmm, that smells so good!” I inhaled the fragrance of sugar, chocolate, and Rose’s secret ingredient, cinnamon. “Do you need any help icing it?”
Playfully, she swatted away my hand with a spoon. “Don’t you even think about it. If I let you near the icing, there won’t be any left for the cake!”
Grinning, I danced out of the way, collecting her various canisters and jars of ingredients to put away. “Oh, it looks like you’re nearly out of cocoa powder,” I said, holding up the tin.
“I just bought some the other day. It should be in the cupboard.”
Sure enough, I found another canister on the bottom shelf where she indicated. Reaching for the new tin, it was as if lightning struck me.
“Dru? Are you alright?”
“Just fine, Rose!” Hurriedly, I stuffed both tins into the cupboard and ran out to the dining room. Elizabeth was just coming back to the kitchen for the silverware. We collided in the doorway.
“Elizabeth!” I grabbed her hands, dragging her back into the empty dining room. “I’ve figured it out,” I whispered.
“Figured out what?”
“The bottles! The bootleggers–they’re taking the full bottles of whiskey and dividing them between two bottles. Then adding denatured alcohol and coloring to fill up the empty spaces. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner!”
“That seems like an awful lot of work,” she replied with frown. “Why not just sell the bottles of whiskey? They could get ten or twenty dollars a bottle for them, maybe more.”
“They’re tricking their clients into thinking they’re getting the real McCoy, when it’s really the watered down stuff. Why sell one bottle for full price, when you can split it in half and sell two?”
“But wouldn’t someone notice?”
“Not if they’re counting on their customers being drunk or in a hurry. They’re selling to the low rent speakeasies, and to individuals.” The White’s certainly had money, but the bottle I’d pulled from their garbage was a forgery; they probably weren’t familiar enough with the imported brand to recognize the switch. They thought they were buying the real thing.
“What are you going to do?”
“I think…I think it’s time to tell Mother.”