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The Jewish bootleggers of Manitoba

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Editor’s Note: It is 1922 and business is booming for Saul and Lou Sugarman –  thanks to prohibition. They have installed their sister, Rae, and her husband, Max Roter, in the town of Vera, Man., located just a few kilometres from the U.S. border. The Roters run a general store, but Max also engages in the lucrative liquor trade with notorious American bootleggers. One night, Max gets into trouble.


Max reached for his pack of Player’s Navy Cut, took a cigarette out, struck a wooden match against the counter, and lit it. He inhaled sharply, fiddling with his gold ring, and waited. He knew he had a problem that was not going to be easily resolved. And he dared not broach the subject with Lou or Saul, heaven forbid. He was certain that neither of them would be all that understanding. And who could blame them? If anyone was playing a dangerous game, it was him. He took a long drag of his cigarette and blew a puff of smoke upwards.

Other than a few howling dogs and the squeal of the Smythes’ tomcat always on the prowl, Vera was silent. Max stared outside wondering yet one more time how it was he lived in this chazerei of a town. And from his perspective, that was putting it nicely.

He heard the roar of a Packard in the distance. Opening the door of the store, he was nearly blinded by the powerful spotlight Frankie Taylor had affixed to the car. He held his hand above his eyes as Taylor came to a screeching stop.

“That six-cylinder is purring tonight, Frankie,” said Max, throwing his cigarette down and butting it with the heel of his shoe.

Taylor’s luxurious Packard Twin-Six was dark red. The auto’s white-walled tires shimmered in the moonlight and there was a gleaming silver tiger ornament affixed to the top of the hood. An extra layer of steel had been attached to the bumpers in case Taylor ever had to break through a police roadblock.

Taylor, husky, dark-haired, and ornery, exited the vehicle, and as he did so Max caught a glimpse of his shoulder holster and gun. “Sure is, Roter. But I haven’t got time for talk. Where’s the shipment?”

“Where it always is,” said Max easing himself into the soft, red leather passenger seat.

“Drive around to the back and I’ll load you up.”

Taylor got back in the car, fired up the engine with the wondrous electric starter, and they were off. Taylor drove half a block down Main Street then turned right into a dirt alley that led to a barn at the back of Roter’s General Store. Max hopped out of the car and pulled a set of keys from his jacket pocket. First, he opened the padlock that held the iron bar firmly across the warehouse door, and then the series of heavy-duty locks on the steel door itself. Once inside, he lit two lanterns and the building was quickly illuminated. There were 10 wide, sturdy shelves from floor to ceiling. On each were stacked wooden crates of whisky and other liquor. There was hardly room for a person to move.

“I want the good stuff, Roter,” barked Taylor. “None of that watered down s–t the Sugarmans have been selling. No one was happy about the last shipment I sent them.”

“You mean, Rosen?” asked Max.

“You know that’s exactly who I am talking about. Now stop talking and let’s load up the car so I can get the hell out of this
f—–g town.”

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Within 20 minutes, Max and Taylor had stocked 20 crates of booze into the back of Taylor’s Packard. The rear seat had been removed so that there was more space for the precious liquid cargo.

“That should do it,” said Max carefully placing the last crate inside the car.

Taylor surveyed the haul. “Looks good. They’ll be pleased.”

“Assuming you get across into Hampton, of course.”

Taylor flipped his hand. “When have I ever not been able to do that? Besides, this time of the night no cops or feds will be around. But just to be safe, give me a hand with these chains.”

Max grabbed the two 30-foot steel chains and helped Taylor fasten them to back of the spare tire. The chains, as he knew, stirred up a heavy cloud of dust so that even if some nosy federal agents were monitoring the border, they wouldn’t be able to see him as Taylor sped away.

With the chains on, Max cleared his throat.

“Yeah, I know what you’re waiting for, Roter. Always the Jew, right?” Taylor
snickered.

Max ignored the taunt. “It’s business, that’s all.”

Taylor pulled an envelope filled with cash from his inside jacket pocket and handed it to Max. “You gonna count it?”

“I trust you,” he said, taking the envelope.

With that Taylor was back in his car. He slowly eased his way back to Main Street and then accelerated. As he did so, a whirling dust storm flew back towards Max who ran for cover inside the store.

Max opened the envelope and shuffled through the bills. There was $7,000 in total; Lou and Saul would be pleased. He placed the money back in the envelope, grabbed the bank sack with that night’s take from the store, and moved to his small office at the rear where he kept a safe. He began to turn the combination dial when he heard a knock at the front door. Who the hell was that at this hour, he wondered.

He left the money on a table and began moving towards the door. He was nearly there when there was a crash and then flying glass shards. Max looked up to see a sawed-off shotgun through the broken window. “What the….”

The person holding the gun fired. The shell struck Max in his chest. He crumbled to the floor in a pool of blood. Calmly, the perpetrator reached through the window and opened the door.

The person touched Max’s neck, ensuring that he was dead. He was. Max’s tie clip and ring were removed. The murderer then walked to the rear office, snatched the envelope of cash and the bank bag, turned around, and quietly left the store. 


Allan Levine is an author from Winnipeg. Adapted from The Bootlegger’s Confession by Allan Levine, published by Ravenstone, an imprint of Turnstone Press. For more information, visit www.ravenstonebooks.com