Black boots continued his work at the table. A few feet away, I spied the shards of a broken bottle. If I could reach one of the larger pieces, maybe I’d be able to cut myself free.
Getting to it without drawing his attention was another matter. The instant I tried to inch my way over to the glass, he paused in his work and looked up, coming around the table for a better view.
“Well, look who’s awake,” he said, with almost no trace of an accent. He voice sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it.
“Who are you?”
“Never mind that, girly. You won’t be here long enough for it to matter.
My mind raced, desperate to keep up with the situation. “There’s someone looking for me. She’ll know I’m gone by now.”
“That cop lady? Yeah, I know all about her. But she ain’t comin’ here. We’ve already got that taken care of.”
“What do you mean?”
“I got friends. No one comes down here, unless I want them to. No one, except you.” He glared at me. Reaching into the pocket of his coveralls, he pulled out a filthy handkerchief. “Now. I got work to do. I can’t spend all day beatin’ my gums with you.”
“Well, I can’t spend all day laying around in your root cellar, either,” I shot back.
That made him laugh, but neither it nor my struggling stopped him from tying the handkerchief around my mouth. “Now, you stay very quiet, and this will all be over soon enough.”
He left me alone in that corner. I tried to sit up. He watched me out of the corner of his eye, but didn’t say anything. I rolled my shoulders, as much to get out the kinks as to get a better look at the space.
The wall I was propped against was mostly storage. Crates and barrels, likely all full of alcohol.
The lighting was poor, leaving the far side of the cellar in shadow. Only a few kerosene lamps mounted to the walls provided illumination, and I shuddered to think what might happen if one fell. Where did the ventilation shaft come out?
I adjusted position again, trying to find a comfortable spot on the hard ground, but every shift in position brought me a little closer to the shards of glass. I only hoped he didn’t see them.
“Hey, hey! What do you think you are doing?” my captor asked.
I mumbled something useless through the handkerchief and made a show of repositioning myself, leaning back against a stack of crates. One near the top rattled slightly, the sound of glass shifting.
He glared at me, but returned to his work at the table. Several bottles were lined up in front of him, corks removed. Some were empty, some were full. I watched as he poured whiskey into each of the empty bottles until they were half full, then added the swill from the still until the liquid reached the top again.
So that’s what they’ve been doing, I thought. Cutting the smuggled import with re-distilled industrial alcohol, and passing it off as the real thing. It was just as I’d thought.
I was almost to the glass. While his back was turned, I reached for the largest piece, cupping it in one hand and sawing away at the cords binding my wrists. I was lucky; they didn’t appear to be strong ropes, just the hemp cords used in packaging. Clearly, they hadn’t planned on guests, forced or otherwise.
The ties gave in short order. But how to cut my legs free with Black Boots standing right there?
A sound above made us both look up. I was still gagged, but he shushed me anyway, reaching for a shotgun propped up by the ladder. He stood at the base, listening, the gun in one hand.
While he was distracted, I reached down and sliced through the ties on my ankles. My hands were safely tucked behind my back when he turned around again.
The sounds overhead stopped. After a moment, he lowered the gun, backing away from the ladder.
He snorted, putting it back in place.
“Don’t you go getting any ideas. The cops’ll never find this place. And even if they did, they don’t have the password.” He grinned, showing crooked teeth.
Suddenly I remembered why his voice sounded to familiar: the doorman at the club Archie took us to. Yes, that was it! That explained how the bottle got to the club–he wasn’t just the doorman, but also one of their suppliers!
He went back to the far corner, keeping the gun close, and began rifling through a box filled with the copied labels.
I didn’t think I would get another chance. Once the all-clear came, they’d take me away. Maybe alive and conscious, maybe not.
One thing I did know was if I failed, they wouldn’t want the hassle. They’d just kill me.
The crowbar they used for prying open the crates of whiskey was just above my head, resting on one of the crates. While he was distracted with the paste and labels, I reached up, snagging it.
He glanced in my direction. “What did you just do? I saw you move.”
Abandoning his work, he strode toward me. My fingers tightened on the crowbar. He bent over me. His eyes widened slightly when he saw the torn ropes draped over my ankles, but before he could say anything I was up and swinging.
The crowbar connected with his skull with a sickening crack, and he dropped like a sack of potatoes.
Ripping off the gag, I ran for the ladder, leaving the crowbar abandoned on the ground.
The trap door was heavy and awkward to open without losing my balance. I forced it up, a shower of straw and dirt raining down on my face. I gulped in a lungful of fresh air.
A hand clamped down on my ankle, tearing one foot from the ladder. I grabbed the opening and screamed, kicking out for all I was worth. The heel of my shoe connected with something. Black boots grunted but didn’t let go. I struck again and this time he gave a cry of pain. Instead of letting go, he grabbed on with his other hand, so tight I thought he meant to snap my ankle.
There was nothing solid for me to hold to. The ladder rocked under my feet. My left foot slipped off the rung, leaving me dangling from the opening.
I lashed out again, this time aiming for his face. The heel of my shoe struck just above his eye, in a place already bruised and bleeding. He stumbled back, releasing me to cover his face, blood dripping between his finger.
Finding my footing again, I scrambled back up the ladder and slammed the trap door shut. There was a latch meant for a padlock, but the lock was somewhere below. I flipped the latch closed and wedged a twig–leftover debris from the storm–into the loop.
For just a moment, I sat panting on top of the door, pulse pounding in my ears as I tried to think of my next move. Would Mother still be at the house? How long had I been in the cellar?
As if in answer, a shot echoed through the trees. I tore off after it, running toward voices–shouts.
“Mother!” I broke through the underbrush to see her tying the hands of Brown Boots behind him, one knee pinning him to the ground by the small of his back. The grass under his legs was smeared with blood; what appeared to be an exit wound on one thigh showed the source.
“Dru!” She gave the rope one more tug, then pulled me into a bone crushing hug. “Druscilla Carolyn, what were you thinking? You could have been killed! I was worried sick about you!”
“I know, Mother. I’m sorry. I just meant to follow him, but one of them caught me from behind.” I told her about Black Boots and the still under the barn.
“Do you think it will hold him there?” She asked. She stood, finally allowing her captive to sit.
He rolled over, glaring at us, and even with my limited French I could tell he said something very rude indeed.
“Quiet, you!” Mother said, pulling her revolver from the holster. “Get a move on. Back to the house.”
“You shot my leg.”
“Which means you’ll need medical attention soon. So you better get moving.”
Grumbling, he tried to stand, but couldn’t. Mother handed me the revolver. “I’ll help him. If he makes any move to escape, shoot him, Dru.”
“Are you sure?” I asked, taking the heavy weight of the gun in both hands.
Mother winked at me behind his back. “Of course. Just remember, fleeing criminals don’t get warning shots. Aim for the head.”
Her captive spluttered out protests. Following behind, I tried not to laugh. Mother had taught me to use a gun, and I was good enough to hit the broadside of a barn, at least. If the wind was right. And I fired from close range.
He didn’t know that, though.
The three of us made slow progress back to the house. After only a few steps, I heard distant sirens.
“You called for help?” I hadn’t thought there would be time.
“Mrs. Thibault was less than forthcoming, but when I went out to the car and saw you missing, I decided we needed to have another chat. I may have left the impression that I didn’t mind using force.”
“What did you do to my wife?” Brown Boots demanded, suddenly enraged. Before he could act, however, Mother slammed a knee into his injured leg. He went down onto the grass with a roar.
“Calm down. She’s fine. I handcuffed her to the the stove while I went looking for you. She’s fine. We had a lovely chat, however, all about the things you’ve been up to lately. You know, your wife is very concerned about where you go at night. I have to say, if I were in her shoes, I’d feel the same.”
Two more police cars were waiting in front of the house when it finally came into view. One of the officers searching the woods found us and helped Mother take Thibault the rest of the way. His wife was already waiting under guard in the back of one of the cars. When she saw her husband, she started screaming at him in French. They tried to put him in the same car, but every time he got close, she started beating him with bound fists. Eventually, much to the men’s amusement, he had to be loaded into the other police car, with a uniformed officer between them to make sure they both stayed put.
Mother gave one of the men directions to the barn and where to find Black Boots, Thibault’s brother. I warned them about the shotgun and the still.
“You may want to post a man by the river, as well. That’s where they’ve been receiving the smuggled goods. From what I could gather, they’re expecting another shipment tonight.”
Officer Brown tipped his hat to me and hurried off after his partner to retrieve the last suspect and the evidence.
“So what do we do now? Should we help collect the evidence from the still?”
“No. You will be riding home with Officer Bennet while I finish cleaning up here.”
“Druscilla, that’s final. I never should have brought you along in the first place.”
“But without me, you would have just had a dead end round of questioning.”
“Druscilla, get in the car. I promise I’ll tell you all about it when I get home.”
THE OHIO STATE JOURNAL
SEPTEMBER 12, 1922
BOOTLEGGERS RECEIVE MAXIMUM SENTENCE
Yesterday Jean Thibault, his brother Marc, and wife Clara were each sentenced to fifteen years in prison for bootlegging, smuggling, theft, and forgery.
The three were apprehended in July after their coffin varnish, disguised as good Canadian Whiskey and sometimes mixed with the real thing, put over a dozen people in the hospital with mercury poisoning.
Police linked the mercury content to twelve barrels of industrial alcohol reported stolen in June. The empty barrels were recovered from the Thibault still.
Jean Thibault, a glassblower by trade, created replica bottles, mimicking the distinctive shape of Hudson Castle Whiskey. Marc Thibault, a former printer’s apprentice, copied the labels. Marc left the printmaking trade at 18 however, and has been working odd jobs for many years, acting as muscle for some of the gin joints hidden around Columbus.
“With the Thibault’s arrests, we hope to shut down the last remaining holdouts in Columbus. We are a dry city, and criminals should keep that in mind. We will not tolerate this flagrant abuse of the law,” Chief French said after the verdict was announced.
“And not a single mention of you in all that,” Alexandra sighed, pushing the newspaper aside.
Elizabeth picked it up, studying the article further. “It says here they suspect an ‘unknown number of accomplices and connections, which police are investigating.’ It looks like the Thibaults are originally from Canada, and have been using the river to bring the whiskey to Columbus. Oh, Dru, you don’t think so do you? These bootleggers are such a dangerous sort! You don’t think they’ll come looking for you or your mother, do you?”
I considered carefully, unwilling to worry Elizabeth or her mother. Officer O’Neil had been arrested in connection with the case on corruption charges, and was awaiting trial. Mother was also keeping one eye open at work, I knew. But no threats had been made against either of us.
Just then, there came a knock on the door. Before I could formulate an answer for Elizabeth, Rose appeared in the parlor door. “Miss Dru, there’s a young lady here to see you. She says it’s urgent.”
I stood, smoothing down my skirt. A young woman of about twenty pushed past Rose and stood before me.
“You’re Druscilla Faust?” she looked me up and down. I did the same to her, noting her clean but worn dress, the plain hat, and mended gloves.
“Yes, I am. And you are?”
“Celia Black.” Belatedly, she held out a hand.
I took it. “How do you do?”
She gave a bob that might have been a curtsy, then held out the paper clutched in her other hand. “You’re Druscilla Faust? This Druscilla Faust?”
“It’s Dru, please.”
She held out a copy of The Union of Female Garment Workers Weekly. Just below an article about a labor strike in New York was the headline: THE DEVIL’S DUE: POLICEWOMAN FAUST AND DAUGHTER APPREHEND BOOTLEGGERS.
Before the 18th amendment, the Female Garment Workers Weekly had a reputation for being a suffragist newspaper, the closest thing to one we had in Columbus. Now though, it was considered a Red Rag, dealing with labor and arguing for worker’s rights. My friends and I had spent the morning searching the local papers for news of the Thibault trial, but this was the first paper that mentioned my mother and I and our roles in the arrests. Apparently, Chief French didn’t want it to get out that it was a female police officer and a civilian who brought them in, after one of the male officers assigned to the case was caught taking bribes.
“I remember speaking to Mary Black for this article. She came to interview Mother and I just after the Thibaults were arrested. Is she a relation of yours?”
“My sister. She’s missing. And I’d like you and your mother to find her.”
To be continued?