Excerpt

An excerpt from a novel I’ve been writing that I need to finish. This particular passage is set during prohibition in a fictional New Brunswick town called Ducks Harbour:

Roderick Soloman sat in the saloon across from Captain Lillington. The Newfoundland born captain of the Nellie J. Banks took a swig from his bottle of Moosehead Pale Ale and, lowering it, he took a hard look at Soloman while the fingers of his free hand drummed the table. Soloman kept both hands on his own bottle, his fingernails surreptitiously scratching the label. His wife would not approve of this meeting, nor its location, he thought. Saloons were no place for moral men. Given the way he saw the others in the room drinking whisky like it was water, knowing they would soon be swaying home up the street to the row houses where they lived, he was inclined to agree. But as he was the son of Joshua Soloman and the current president and owner of Soloman Wineries, he was in no place to pass judgement on those who took to the drink.

In the corner, he recognized one of the men: George Hoyt but everyone called him Georgie Boy. He was one of his employees, driving the company truck for deliveries. Barely reaching five feet, he was a jockey before the First World War. He returned different, as men so often did, and never rode a horse again. Soloman wasn’t sure where George got his nickname but understood it had something to do with his post-war stint as a boxer. He didn’t know what a five foot man with no reach and barely any muscle on him would do as a boxer but there were tales of his ferocity in the ring. His crooked nose and cauliflower ears told that story. But that was long ago and today Georgie Boy was a known drunk who still managed to show up to work on time. George lived in one of those row houses and it was on more than one occurrence that he had to be carried from the saloon to his home where his wife sat up waiting for him in the front room, listening to the radio. George’s bar buddies would enter without knocking, deposit their charge on the sofa next to his wife, and say a hearty goodnight. His wife, Debbie, merely grunted an acknowledgement that anyone was even there. She then set to work putting him to bed there on the sofa, annoyed but relieved that he was home in the first place.

Soloman returned his attention to Captain Lillington.

“I’ve got a hold full of demerara rum from Jamaica and beer from Saint John, all heading for Prince Edward Island. And you want me to add your dandelion wine?” The old mariner asked.

“Not just dandelion. Blackberry, strawberry, blueberry. Diversification, it’s called.” Soloman clarified.

“It’s called weak piss is what it’s called. Prohibition may be the law of the land on Prince Edward Island, but the punters over there aren’t going to settle for just anything, not when there’s black rum to make for a fine Saturday night.”

Soloman knew better than to be insulted. He was opening negotiations. When the consumption of alcohol was still prohibited in many parts of the Maritimes, he knew he had to do this dance every once in awhile. The ten years prohibition took hold in New Brunswick were difficult but the winery managed to use its bottling facilities to create a line of soft drinks, the best seller of which was a golden ginger ale. But they never stopped bottling wine as they had permission to export it to foreign markets and, unofficially, it got exported back to its home base.

“Not everybody likes rum and beer,” he countered. “Perhaps the wives of Prince Edward Island would like it to go with their Sunday roasts?”

It was a hard sell, he knew. Islanders were looking for the most efficient way to get drunk. Moonshine was the chief domestic spirit where prohibition was the norm. It made, he was a told, a fine cocktail when mixed with lime cordial. Islanders were not looking for a bottle of something that could be paired with a Sunday pork roast. But he needed to keep his company’s name in the hearts and minds of those jurisdictions when prohibition was inevitably taken off the books. Otherwise, they were liable to forget about whatever it was that the Solomans had on offer in favour of the Oland and the Labatt families.

Lillington scratched his chin and was silent for a moment.

“Right,” he said at last. “Let’s talk price.”

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