"Oh, come on!" I yelled as I threw my papers across the office.
I had been trying to figure out a miscalculation on a shipment, and no matter how hard I tried I just couldn't get it. The cigarette in my hand alone was not enough to calm me down. I'd smoke one after another, but none of them were able to soothe me.
The year was 1929, and the U.S. was in a period of prohibition, a ban on all production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcohol. At the time, I was hoping for the damn thing to end so I could kick my feet up and have a nice cold glass of beer without getting in trouble for doing so.
After my little temper tantrum, Harry, a good friend of mine, walked in the room to see that my hair and clothes were disheveled.
"Hey, John," he asked me laughing, "what happened in here? It looks as if a tornado just swept through."
"I...I just can't figure these calculations," I began. "No matter how many times I run through the numbers, the answer just doesn't come out right. The math just doesn't work."
"Tell you what," Harry started, "I don't bring this up in most conversations, but you're a good man. Go to the drugstore on the corner of 6th and Main tonight after work." He stuck his hand into his jacket and began to search for something. "When the soda jerk asks you what you'd like, show him this piece of paper." He pulled his hand out of his jacket and showed me the paper.
The paper read: "HSEVE AETER RNOA RTHB YMAE."
"What's it say?" I asked him.
"Oh, you needn't know that," he responded, "just give him the paper and you'll be all set." With that said, he walked out of my office, leaving me with the piece of paper.
So, at six o'clock, after I got out of work, I headed down to the drugstore that he had mentioned. I took one look at this place and said to myself, "Some cop is bound to find this place eventually." I walked in and the soda jerk looked at me.
"Sorry, pal, we're just about to close for the night," he said as he continued to clean the countertop. "Get whatever whatever it is that you want, but make it quick."
"That's alright," I began, "a friend of mine gave me this sheet of paper." I handed him the paper and he looked at it. Immediately, I saw his eyes widen.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, sir," he said nervously. "Right this way." He pointed toward the back of the store where there were two phone booths. He leaned in close to me and whispered, "Use the one on the right and dial '9.' After that, wait about a minute and someone will let you in."
After he stood straight again, I looked at him and he was shushing me. I continued to the back and went in the phone booth that he had mentioned and dialed "9."
About ten seconds went by and a guy with a scruffy voice came on the line. "Who is it?" he asked.
"My name is John Upton," I stated, "a friend of mine, Harry Millis, sent me."
"Alright, hold on a minute."
I heard some clicking on the other side of the wall and with that, back wall of the phone booth opened out into an unknown room. I noticed that I was still holding the receiver and, amazed with the secret I just discovered, fumbled as I put it back on the hook.
I glanced back at the soda jerk who looked as if he hadn't moved from his spot the entire time. He was watching and as soon as I saw him, he quickly turned away. At the time, he seemed a little suspicious, but I desperately needed a drink and let him off the hook. I began to get an uneasy feeling in my gut, but I decided to just shrug it off and walked into the dark room.
About ten feet in front of me were thick, black stage curtains, which I stumbled into and struggled to find the opening. Just ahead of that was a set of sound proof doors (I recognized them from my brother's music studio on the other side of the city). I heard a door close behind me and suddenly I was in the dark. I felt for the door and eventually found it. As I grasped the handle, my heart beat heavily, and I felt a smile on my face, which I tried to hide to show I wasn't a novice in the speakeasies.
I pulled the door open and the sound of laughter and music filled my ears. And for the first time in a long time, I could the sound of wine glasses clinking around together. I looked around as I stepped in, letting the door close behind me, and saw neatly dressed individuals everywhere. As I glanced around the room, I saw my buddy standing by the bar. I squeezed my way through the crowd and met up with him.
"John!" he exclaimed over the loud noises and shook my hand. "I'm glad you could make it!"
"This is some speakeasy you've got going here!" I shouted back at him, struggling to get my voice loud enough. "I've never heard of such a speakeasy!"
"Well, technically, this isn't a speakeasy! It's more of a club!"
"But aren't you worried that the patrolling officers can hear us in here?"
"Relax, John! The room is completely soundproof! And we've got a great lookout upstairs: the soda jerk! When an officer enters the store, he hits a button below the counter. The button actually shuts everything off in here just in case! And if need be, there's an emergency exit in the back that leads to a sewer-like system! It has a dead end, but there is a manhole cover right over there!"
I took this all in for a minute.
"Here, John, have a drink!" He handed me a glass of wine and I began to sip out of it.
The taste of the alcohol soothed my throat and was very pleasing for my tongue. After that first sip, I very nearly chugged the rest down, before Harry stopped me.
"Hey, take it easy! If you drink too quickly, you'll get drunk for sure, and then we're all in trouble!"
I put the glass down on the counter and leaned back against the wall.
"Listen, Harry..." I began before he interrupted me.
"Wait a second, my friend! I gotta go take a leak! Why don't get to know some of the people around the room?" He brought me over to tall girl with short, brown hair that ended just below her ears and a nice blue dress to match her eyes. "John, I'd like you to meet Kelly Jackman here! Kelly, this is John Upton! Now if you'll excuse me, I gotta go take that leak!" He walked away and I was left with Kelly.
"Hi, John!" she shouted over the music. "Do you want to talk some place a little quieter?"
"Yeah, sure!" I followed her over to a booth in the far corner of the room and we sat down.
"Have you ever been to a speakeasy before?"
"Yeah," I lied to her, "I've been all over the place and this is the best by far."
"What's the last one you were at?" she asked, seeing through my lie.
"Oh, that one...on the other side of town," I said, getting quieter with each word.
She began to laugh joyfully.
"Yeah, I've never been to one before."
"Don't worry about it. Neither have I."
We smiled at one another, acknowledging that we were falling.
"Freeze!" we heard someone yell out.
Everyone stopped dead cold in their tracks. I stood up from the booth and looked around for the person that yelled. There, over by the heavy soundproof doors was a police officer pointing his gun around the room, making sure no one moved.
I looked around to if anyone was gonna help. The bartender kept pouring a drink past the rim of the glass and the wine spilled over before he finally let go of the bottle.
Harry came strolling out of the bathroom buckling his belt. "So, where were we?" he asked not knowing what was going on, a smile still on his face. "Hey, what happened to the music?" He glanced over and saw the officer holding up the others. All at once, his smile disappeared and he cursed aloud, saying something I dare not repeat.
"You're all under arrest!" the officer yelled.
The bartender began to feel for something under the bar and the officer pointed his revolver at him.
"I said 'FREEZE,'" the officer yelled.
The bartender quickly pulled out a shotgun and aimed it at the officer.
Harry snuck over to the officer and turned him to knock him down, but not before he shot the bartender.
"Everybody, get out of here!" Harry yelled out. "Quickly!"
We all ran out began a descent down to the sewer-like system to escape the police, trying to cram through the small doorway all at once.
Once everyone was down there, Harry, standing in the front of the crowd, quieted everyone down. "Everybody needs to quiet down for now. We are right below one of the streets and chances are that the police are nearby." He turned to me. "You didn't tell anybody, did you?"
"No. I wanted a glass of wine just as badly as the next guy." We thought around for a minute and everybody whispered around us. "Hey, what about the soda jerk upstairs?"
"No. It can't be him. I've known him for ten years, and he never once gave us any problems."
With that said, Harry began to climb the ladder to the manhole and shushed all of us one last time before he pushed the lid open. The manhole cover was lifted and the light that we all saw were those of police cars flashing near. There were a bunch of officers standing there taking aim at Harry. He stopped in his tracks and we stood at the bottom looking up at the nice surprise. We turned to the staircase and saw more officers running down the flight, cornering us. No one escaped.
I write this as I sit in my cell at the New York county prison a year after the incident. It turns out that the police had been watching the store for some time and the soda jerk had been persuaded to help the good of the law.
I haven't seen nor heard from Kelly since that night and I gotta say that I do miss her, though I hardly knew her.
Sometimes I wish I hadn't gone to the speakeasy that night, but I admit I had a great time. I guess Harry was in the right mindset.
My sentence will be over shortly and I look forward to the new life ahead of me.