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The Tinkered Mind
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April 19th, 2020
The spirit was cold from the condenser but it was hot, the hottest there was in the state. Lucilius brought the metal pannikin to his lips and tasted the sweet fields of corn, the bubbled air of bread and the oatmeal and hazelnut of a mash now simmering in the belly of his still. Lucilius smiled and handed the tin cup off to his new employer.
The man in the pinstriped suit swigged the liquid fast, and his eyes went wide having expected a dull whiskied wine. The man barely managed to swallow. He pushed his black fedora back on his head, exposing his forehead. He looked deeply into the little tin cup, glancing quickly at Lucilius with a new found respect. He tasted the liquid again, this time slower.
“Well damn boy,” he said, nodding. The suit turned to his henchmen, “whatever he needs, no matter the cost, get it for him. Whatever hands he needs. However he sees this operation fit. No questions asked, and while I’m not here, which will be all the time, he-” the man said, now pointing at back Lucilius “is boss.”
A side of Lucilius’ smile curled up.
Within a month he had ten new fractioning columns operating. They were turning out a gallon of high proof every four minutes, and they had a separate barn for the mashes and a third for the boiling. Lucilius now had a team of ten men working near round the clock and oh lord how the money flowed in.
Devil drink, as abolitionists had come to call it was prohibited throughout the land. Lucilius was a bootlegger, and within short time his brew that he’d been spilling out of a shanty up north had brought the attention of his new employer, who had driven clear up the whole country to taste for himself the rumor that had grapevine it’s way down into the south through a lucky channel.
Lucilius had sailed with half the local police when he started and they were quick to keep everything quit in the small town, granted that Lucilius kept their bottles wet.
But the offer up from the south was too good to pass up. It wasn’t just the money for Lucilius. On his last run across the Atlantic, he’d decided to stay on the continent a while and rummage around. It had been a while since he’d puttered about the old states and he found an interesting upstart in Sweden that was pumping out vodkas that burned brighter than any star to steer by. Lucilius took on a sort of apprenticeship, learning the alchemy of it all. And now here he was in the south, commanding the biggest operation in the state, drawing in the biggest money, and soon they would be the biggest operation in the country. But it was for the tinkering it afforded Lucilius. The design of the still was what he was most interested in. He’d lured the boss’s men north with a pretty short column, but now with that pinstriped blessing, he had constructed ten different stills of different shapes and sizes and heights. All to draw his thinking in to the most efficient method of distillation.
He’d be a rich man after all of this, but he didn’t care. Now he was taking the razor of curiosity to the edge of both taste and yield. How much, he wondered and wanted, could he increase his yield and keep that sweet taste of southern corn?
There was always the risk of being raided, by the police or the feds, but the locals were in the pocket of course. Liquored up and padded well with cash to keep quiet and keep the operation safe. The feds were the largest worry, but Lucilius had a lead on that problem too.
The local agent who was assigned to the uptick in illegal liquor in the state had been a brandy connoisseur before prohibition. Lucilius had found out by luck more than anything when he’d stuck one of the operation’s men on the job of following the guy. The guy’s wife was smuggling a little wine home from a friend’s house who was making the stuff in a basement.
Lucilius whipped up a small barrel of brandy and had it sitting in the man’s living room when he came home one day. The bribe worked, and soon Lucilius had a sideline of liquor feeding the feds. Everyone was happy, and Lucilius was the spider at the center of it all.
He’d created an operation that could nearly run itself. He’d taught his guys to work the whole outfit without him, and he’d marketed himself to the boss as the brains for further innovation to keep himself from being expendable.
On this night though, he needed a bit of a change, and decided to go on one of the late night supply runs to a neighboring county. Lucilius liked to mingle with the people who enjoyed his product and he’d been cooped up in his barn of operations for a little too long.
They were bumping along in the trucks, the dim headlights barely making out the truck ahead when there was a screeching of brakes. Lucilius could hear yelling, and click-clack of shotguns.
He scrambled out the side door and ran into the woods without being seen far back in the convoy as he was, and then he tracked up towards the front of the convoy. There the head truck was surrounded by a semi-circle of feds, all with guns trained on the truck.
Lucilius breathed in deeply and calmed his nerves, and as he did, faces among the feds came into clear view. He recognized the brandy connoisseur, and several colleagues he’d started supplying.
“Stand down!” yelled one of the lead feds.
“Half you guys drink this stuff!” Lucilius shouted from the safety of the woods. A couple guns pointed vaguely in his direction, and he saw some of the men shift uneasily.
“Why threaten the lives of others for something you do yourself?” Lucilius yelled. But all the guns stayed trained on the first convoy truck.
At the back of the train of trucks, drivers started turning around, and when the feds realized, they opened fire. Metal rained horizontal as customers of Lucilius and his coworkers were torn down, in the dirt street and in the trucks. One gas tank exploded and by the end of it, the only sound was that of trickling liquor pouring out into the ground, from whence it came.