The Jewish boot­leg­gers of Man­i­toba

The Canadian Jewish News (Toronto) - - Perspectives - Allan Levine

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.”

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.raven­stone­

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