The Man Who Struck Moonshine

Junior McNabb pulled into the parking lot of Uncle John’s Roadhouse and slammed on the breaks.  A cloud of red dust rose like a spectre and settled itself on a nearby sheriff’s cruiser.  ‘What th hell’s cousin Ruffe doing here?  Too late for a beer and too early for shine.  Spec he’s talkin with Uncle John bout somethin.’  Junior hopped out of his truck, an old nondescript GMC barely held together by rust and welding iron.  He let the screen door bang behind him as he walked into the road house.  Sunlight still flooded through the tall floor to ceiling windows, opened top and bottom to either in the heat or let it out, not that one could tell what was the intension.  His object was a booth catty cornered to the pool table whose contents held two men.  One was a tall and bury fellow almost out of that movie, Deliverance.  The other was a little shorter than Junior but not as wide, either.  When Junior slid into the booth one might conjure up the figures of those three brass monkeys, see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

“Bobby Ray, what’s Ruffe doing here for?  He talkin to Uncle John bout me?”

“Can’t rightly say, Junior.  Bubba and I came in lunch time and was having us a beer or two like we always do this time of day, and wouldn’t you know your cousin shows up.  He must be worried bout somethin cause his face was all screw up serious like.  I called over and said ‘Hi Ruffe.’ but he told me to shut up and mind my business.  Now he don’t have no call treat me that way.  I ain’t done nothin to him.  At least not lately.  Must be some powerful kind of bug he got in the south forty.  That’s what I think.  What about you Bubba?”

Bubbs just grunted and belched as loudly as he could, seeing how that was the main thrust of his comment.

“Well Bubba, you sure are right sage like and concise in your answers.”  Junior had used big words before to the effect that he was often esteemed the most education man in Uncle John’s Road House.

“You and your big words, like someone gonna think you a college graduate.”  Big words always bothered Bobby Ray and the people who used them bothered him even more.

“Well, I was just askin what Ruffe was doing here, that’s all.  If you don’t know then say so.  I won’t think you ignorant.  Now looky here.  I was just up at the old Deer Creek Mine just lookin around, you know.”

“Yeah, we know, you looking for something to steal like always.”  Bobby Ray was quick to interrupt as if there was a time limit on interruptin talk.

“Now hold on, Bobby Ray, you’ll get your chance to shoot your mouth off when I’m finished.”

“If you ever do finish.  Takes you the better part of an hour to get to the point.  I swear, I can almost set my watch by you and your ever lastin talk.”

“I’m gonna bust you one, Bobby Ray if you don’t keep quiet.”

Bubba slapped his hand on the table and the wood let out a groan of pain.  “Ain’t nobody bustin nobody.”

“What th hell’s going over there?  You looking for trouble?”  Ruffe had inserted himself in the conversation by long distance.  He had been temporarily distracted by the noise.

“Ain’t nothing but Bubba slapping a fly, cousin Ruffe.  Go back to sleep.”  Junior’s tone bordered on contempt but that’s the way of family near abouts.

“I’ll come over there and slap you silly, boy.”  Ruffe issued his challenge in a half serious manner so as to assert his official police authority.

“I’d like to see you try, Cousin.”  It was well known that Junior was ex Marine, having spent the better part of his enlistment in the guard house for fightin most anything on two legs.  Thus he was judged too good for the Marines and given his discharge.

Ignoring Junior’s challenge was the better part of discretion, valor not withstanding, though some would say it was the distance between the two men.  So Ruffe went back to talkin with Uncle John.

“So like I was sayin, and don’t interrupt me this time Bobby Ray, I was up at Deer Creek Mine and it came to me right sudden.  That old mine is perfect for makin shine and keepin Ruffe and his daddy off the track.  I mean it smells sorta like shine in there anyway.  And any smoke will make it out the vent holes up the mountain.  You’d have to be an Einstein or somethin to figure us making shine there.  And every body knows I’m up there all the time anyways, so like they’d never suspect what I was doing.  I mean we just got to get us some equipment and some mixins and then we can make the shine.  Bobby Ray, didn’t you say your uncle Tommy Daryl got connections in Knoxville?”

“Well, I sayin maybe he did and maybe he didn’t, that’s all.  Not like he going tell me everything he does.”

“Now Bobby Ray, either he does or you been lyin to us bout the so called smart uncle of yours.”

“No call to doubt my word.  Uncle Tommy Daryl knows people there.  Just he ain’t told me the particulars none.  Not like him to spread his private business all over town.  You can see that, can’t you?”  Bobby Ray sunk back a little on the seat as Junior leaned towards him like a county prosecutor.

“Well, it just that I was counting on your uncle to maybe give a hand.  We don’t have no distribution and we got to sell what we make.  Now I know where to get a mash tub so we can make maybe a hundred gallons of mash.  And if that private I met in the Corp played strait with me then we might get say twenty five to thirty gallons of shine.  He told me the amounts to use and I figured him for an honest fella seeing how he comes from a moonshine family.”

“Wait, what makes you think you know all about shine?  You ain’t ever made any that I knowed of.”  Bobby Ray sat up straight as if he had been insulted.

“Cause he told me the whole works.  We spent thirty days in the house together and that’s all we ever talked about.  He told me damn near everything a man needs to know about shine.  Said how I got to throw out the first few gallons and the last cause they’d make you sick.  Said the middle is where the good stuff is.  Man, it’s just clear as day, that’s all”  Junior was almost on his feet like the preacher fellas do when they get tetch by the lord.  But after all, shine is a religion, a very proud religion with millions of worshipers.  Bout that time Ruffe ambled over in his best deputy sheriff like way, hands on his hips and all.  He just might be walking the boards at a fashion show for all we can tell.

“Howdy boys, what illegal acts you hatchin this afternoon?  You know we got our eye on you three.”

“Ruffe, you lookin for trouble?  Now why don’t you take your little tin badge out to your car and take yourself home to your daddy and dinner?  Lord knows I wouldn’t want to ruin your appetite.”  Junior barely looked at Ruffe.

“Whoa, Junior, you’re talkin to the law.”

“Your daddy ain’t here, Ruffe and that’s a fact.  Now if you really want to pull your weight let’s just go over the granddad’s and let him decide.  Five rounds, ten maybe.  You know you can’t last but two against me.”  Junior stood up.  “Come on, lets go let granddad settle this.”

“No need to get hostile towards the law, now Junior.  Calm down now.  I ain’t going to pull you in.”

“You’re damn right you ain’t.  It’s take you and your paw and three of your deputy friends to do that and I know what heads I can bust if you try.”

A giant hand slapped the table and the wood uttered a great groan.  “Ain’t nobody gonna pull nobody in.  Ruffe, get on home.  Junior, sit down.”  Bubba had spoken and his word was law for the moment.  Junior may have been a scrappy fighter but Bubba was rumored to have killed three men with his bare hands alone.  Peace restored all parties went their respective ways.  They would rondevu later that evening.  Now ya got me using big words.

Junior was holding forth at the pool table about to run the rack.  He had a hot stick tonight and the side bets had changes so often it was hart to tell who, if anyone was ahead.  Little Hank seemed a bit put out that he was losing, it being unseemly for the local hustler to lose to a second rate pool player.  But as he once said,” some nights it just don’t pay to play the table.”  Bobby Ray and Bubba came in and sat at the bar.  Each ordered up a beer, least expensive drink in the place.  Junior won his rack and collected the bet.  “Take the table , Little Hank, I got business.”  Little Hank was surprised but he knew enough to take the table and recoup his winnings for the night.  Junior walked over to the bar and plunked his winnings down.  “Uncle John, how about some shine over here?”

Uncle John brought out a demijohn from under the bar and then set three tumblers up.  “Say when, Junior.”  He started pouring the first tumbler and it was a quarter full when Junior said, “When.  Pour the same for Bubba and Bobby Ray, if you please.”  The three picked up their tumblers and took a sip.  “You see boys, there’s money to be made in shine.  Now the only reason Uncle John here isn’t busted is cause the sheriff looks after him.  Uncle Charlie knows when the feds are in town and where they want to look.  And uncle John here, well they just naturally lookout for family.  So I figure they will look out for us too, we being kin and all.”

Bobby Ray voiced his opinion, “That good for you but I’m only a cousin third removed and Bubba here is at best fourth or fifth.  That don’t count much in this county.”

It was Bubba who spoke, “They’ll treat us fair, they know me.”

“Look Bobby Ray we got to get us some jugs.  Plastic be ok but they got to be gallon size.  And Bubba, you got that pot what we need.  I got a cousin that can make the coil that goes in the top.  Says he can solder the top and the coil to the pot if we get it to him by Monday.”

Bubba, ever loquacious, grunted an assent.

“Now we got to take the stuff up there at night.  Only one truck.  And then any time we go it’s by foot.  Don’t want to draw attention.  Ruffe likes to snoop around so we got to take our rifles and maybe a twelve gauge or two, like we was hunting.”  A little more shine and they was ready to stumble into their vehicles and swerve their way home.

Meanwhile is another part of the galaxy Deputy Ruffe Snow was sitting in his cruiser attempting to observe the illegal doings “Trapper” Ben Knox.  The Trapper was the local hero of all moonshiners for nearly five counties, maybe six.  His feats of derring do were legendary folklore and had earned him the rapt attention of revenuers, federal men, and local sheriffs.  Deputy Ruffe was so keen on his observing that he never noticed the big man sneaking up to his rolled down window.  Sheriff Charlie Snow was not one to waste police funds on power windows or air conditioning for his cruisers else Ruffe would never have felt a heavy hand on his shoulder.  Deputy Ruffe should have been wearing his seat belt so’d he wouldn’t get hurt trying to jump through the sun roof that didn’t exist.  “Tell your daddy not to send a boy to spy on ole Trapper.  Now get!”  It took Deputy Ruffe a full thirty seconds to come to his senses and start the car so he could get.  And get he did.

“Doggoneit that man is sneaky!”  Ruffe had put the better part of five miles between him and Trapper when he cautiously pulled to the side of the county road.  “Daddy ain’t goin like this a-tall.  No sir, not a-tall.”  Ruffe had a habit of speaking his mind aloud, often to his disadvantage.  But being a creature of god and fixed habits he had no incentive to change.  On the other hand it has been said that god watches over such creatures and might guide them a spell.  The brass monkey trio having recovered sufficiently, or so they collectively believed, were traveling in an old flatbed Ford, coming the opposite way.  It wasn’t the speed of the vehicle, for nearly everybody round these parts never met a speed limit sign they thought too much of, it was the tarp that was meant to disguise what was obviously moonshine making equipment.  “Well, daddy just might be pleased after all.” was Ruffe’s first thought.  The trio, having caught sight of the deputy switched to plan A.  Bobby Ray, being the fine driver of stock cars that he was, quickly started his detouring and back tracking.  Not that the Ford could out run a police cruiser but it in the hands of such a fine driver could certainly out think it.  Ever since Bubba had welded that nice thick piece of angle iron on to the front bumper, the Ford had been known to clear brush and small trees.  Deputy Ruffe, who knew his father set stock in his police cruisers, took care to avoid the brush when in high speed pursuit and after the better part of an hour of chasing a cat’s tail had lost sight of the trio.  “Doggoneit!  They given me the slip.  Daddy won’t like this a-tall.  No sir, not a-tall.”

After an hour or two of more roundaboutin the trio pulled up to the mouth of the old mine shaft and commenced to unloading the equipment takin it  back a couple hundred yards into the old mine.  They placed a tarp over the pile and went back to the truck.  Bubba didn’t speak much but when he got an idea it was usually well worth listening to.  “I think we ought to pile some stuff on the bed and tarp it like we never unloaded.  Ruffe likely to tell his daddy and his daddy likely to pay a social call.”  Not that what was under the tarp likely to look like moonshine making equipment, any fool can make a mistake in the dark of night.  No, it just had to be covered to fill the need to satisfy their curiosity.  And sure enough, come next morning sharp, about forenoon, the big dog himself came calling.

“I hear you boys out late last night.  Makes me a mite curious when fellas like you out running late at night.  What you got under the tarp, as if I didn’t know?”  Sheriff Charlie Snow stood about Junior’s height but was almost twice his width, the years of administrating justice hanging heavy about him.  He shuffled over to the bed of the Ford and commenced to taking a peak under the tarp.

“You got a warrant, Uncle Charlie?”  This was the social courtesy required by law and Junior was obliged to state it in a most casual manner.

“Got something to hide from me?”  Ah, the game began as each side egged the other on to higher expectations.  “Goddogit!  What you carrying this junk about for?  I swear you are a loony bunch of hooligans”  The sheriff widely known for his elegant expressions.  “Stay out of trouble, hear!”

Later that night Junior’s old GMC crept up the road towards the mine and stopped a mile or two short.  The brass monkey trio walked carefully so as to not make more noise that was customary for their purpose.  Deep in the cave they commence to setting up the equipment, getting it ready for the next night’s operation, the making of the mash.  “Now me and Bubba will come back in the late afternoon with a couple barrels and drop them off at the spring.  Then we can fill them tonight and roll them into the cave.  Meanwhile, Bobby Ray, you drop off corn and sugar about noon just up the road where we are now.  Be sure and hide it real good.”

“You don’t have to tell me what to do, Junior.  I knows enough to hides it good.  Got me a camo-flauged tarp just for that.”  Bobby Ray appeared a mite indignant at the suggestion he might need telling.

Later on in the week after the mash had fermented the trio commenced to boiling this sweet brew, coaxing out the head, which would be good for kerosine lanterns when cut with enough water.  Then came the sweet middle, ambrosia to aficionados of shine.  Dang, that’s two big words.  It was Bubba’s idea to put the liquid into whisky barrels for a spell.  Maybe a day or two so the shine could take on some classy character.  They had just finished for the day, generally speaking for it was closer to midnight if truth be known, when a large figure stood in the cave behind them.

Trapper and Bubba eyed each other in a most professional manner looking to see who was the better.  “I been eyeballing you boys a while.  I’d say you been pretty slick.  You know I was going to move my still here next month but you boys gave me a right good idea.  Give me a taste of your shine, if you don’t mind.”  Now the first golden rule of shining is you don’t drink your own ware on the job as it often leads to mistakes like getting locked up by the revenuers.  But being that the Trapper was honoring them with a visit was high praise indeed.  The Trapper took a few sips and then commenced to issue his most valued opinion.  “You boys done fine.  You got any buyers yet?”

“Well, Mister Trapper, we was going to talk to my uncle Tommy Daryl bout finding us buyers.”  Bobby Ray was most respectful in the presence of such greatness.

Trapper let out with a great guffaw.  “Don’t mean no disrespect but that man don’t know anyone in the trade.  As I see it, you got shine and no buyers and likely to run into revenuers before you sell a gallon.  I think you ought to work for me.  You make fine shine and I got buyers like Uncle John and a dozen more.  You boys meet me about sundown and we’ll move my still in here.  Maybe get a couple more of them whisky barrels for my upscale customers like the sheriff.”

“Uncle Charlie buys your shine?”  Junior was incredulous at the thought.

“Oh he do, he just don’t know it’s mine.  But he don’t know that much bout what goes round this county neither.”  Trapper replied in his most amused voice.

“Ain’t that a fact!”  Junior stated in a laughing manner.  Guffaws filled the mine shaft for a few minutes.


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