Bottles and bottles and bottles of the stuff.
It burnt your nose just to sniff them, venomous vapours streaming off their corks and caps. Each held a viscous eerie fluid, hazy and undefinable, one second it was swirling, and contained a brilliant, opalescent sheen that captured the mind's imagination and held it giddy, on the lower shelves, further away from the day-lit windows, the fluid was voluptuously dark, as exquisitely murky and mysterious as the most exotic of sins.
A rum-runners ransom in liquor, a veritable horde of hooch, In the year 1929, it was worth it's weight in gold. But today, a year later, it was all legal.
"It's not even very good. I've nipped turpentine that tastes smoother going down." Said Henry Peaks, hidden under a hat and twice his weight in trench-coat. His ratty little mouth held a cigarette limper than the two noodles he called arms.
"Well this gut-rot won't sell itself, Henry. What about Kenny Mc...Whositsname, over on Garland Street. You know, owns the Gilded Cherub...?" Marco Geraldo. Six and a half feet of muscle, gristle, and barely restrained rage. Also, suspenders and buzz-cut.
"...McGrady? That mook won't touch the stuff. He's found a legit supplier from Chicago. Apparently they make a mean gin. Frankly, Kenny only took from us after the Darmout Brothers started overcharging him on the bourbon."
"Those assholes have their place on Northburn. The... uh, I'm pretty sure it has a fox in the title..."
"The Jazz Joint? Yeah, but only cause they muscled in on Eddy the Ear. Poor guy. Heard he can only eat his meals through a straw these days. And then only when someones holding it for him." Henry took a brown, hefty bottle off the shelves, that was labelled "TWO HUNDERED PROOF, FINEST CHOICE GARUNTEEED!" and dragged it over to the water-warped lump of furniture that they used as a table. "Marco, do you ever wonder why it all happened like it did?"
Marco was casually trying to part back his hair with an inferior brand of hair-wax, but found that the quantity and the quality of the hair belonged somewhere closer to a scrubbing brush than a human head, and so instead wiped the wax across his mammoth chest, parting his chest hair evenly across his two biceps.
"It gotta be when Frankie died. Almost six months to the day, would you believe that?"
Both the fella's quickly crossed their hearts. Marco hadn't gone to church for almost two years, and Henry was Jewish, but it was a mark of respect to a man they had called their friend, their brother and their boss.
"We was about to own this town." Said Henry with a look of awe in his beady, ragged little eyes. "The Darbouts, the Francheski's Even Bobby Blanco gave us a piece of respect when Frankie was around."
Nostalgia seemed to be catching, as Marco joined in with the commemorating. "He used to just stand there and no what to say. He never had to hit anyone to get 'em to listen to him, and he always knew how to make someone shut their traps."
"Yeah. He's give 'em a look with those great big green eyes of his. Smile that smiles of him, and every politico to pimp would be butter in his fingers."
"Yeah..." Marco looked away fondly at nothing in particular. He caught himself though, and busied himself by grabbing some glasses from the crockery cupboard.
"Hey. You remember that time with Moses Sizzles?"
The story seemed to be one that they both knew, but still one they would mind retelling to one another a million times over.
"So, Sybil Raceway gets a hot tip that Moses and his boys have something hidden from The Law out on the Docks up with those slant-eyed Celestials."
"Why'd they call her Sybil Raceway, again?" Marco could never remember the names, probably one of the reasons he could never lead a gang of his own.
"Cause you ain't never seen so many people in and out of her so quick. Now anyways, Frankie, he's the smart type, and knows the scent of something big when it's screamin' on his lap. So he says to us: '"Now you two boys go turn over the chink love-house and the opium lounge and you see who's willing to play ball."' And so we go over and snatch up a squeaky little slant eye-"
"-I remember them being some o' the slantiest eyes I've ever gone seen-" Marco chimed in.
"-And so we's brings him back to Frankie, all squirmy like, I swear someones put him in Vaseline before we got to him, and Frankie just looks at him."
"With those green ol' eye's of his. Not slanty at all"
"And this little, yella fella crumbles. Like and eagle smashes a turtle, or a turtle smashes a head, or whatever, and he spills. Tells us what Moses is hiding down on the Docks, and boy is it big."
Marco took an opportunity during the pause in the tale to pour them both a considerable sized glass of the fiery amber liquid each.
"A treasure trove of the fanciest imported spirits you could think of: A million pesos worth of genuine Mezcal, worms all crawlin' through the bottom of each bottle. Crystal clear Vodka from the proletarians over in the Motherland. Rice wine from Japan so fresh you could almost still see the husks attached. And if you remember, we almost waded in like patoots to go get it ourselves."
"Man, back then we were dumber than a sack of... Elephants."
"I hears ya. But Frankie... Frankie had a mind clearer than a kike's ledger-book. Always tickin' away. So instead of us and Two Bars Charlie going to the Docks, and bustin' heads and taking the hooch, Frankie asks the little fella where Moses Sizzles was holed up."
" So. Like Satan's teapot, we get fired up and march out to Fiddlers Junker over in New Street, and while you're holdin' a baseball bat in one hand and a snub-nose in the other-"
"-and you've got a shotgun hidden in your trench-coat. You can't even see it."
"Yeah, yeah, Marco. But you ruined the story a bit. Anyway, Two Bars has his two bars and you two rush in, breakin' faces and that pelvis, when some old barfly takes out his .22 and is about to blow you one on the brain-pan when POW! I shoot him where the sun don't shine with a shotgun I've got hidden in my trench-coat all sneaky like see."
"So we go up to Moses' room and you kicks the door down like it's made 'a' cheap cheddar. Frankie walks in on behind us, see's Moses puffin' away on one of his stinky ol' cigar's and sippin' on his brandy. Frankie just gives him the look, then he says '"Everything you own on the Docks now is mine, capish?"'
"And Moses laughed at him, I remember that. I was about to go over across that desk and turn his scrawny little neck around." Marco started to turn kind of raddish-ish with even the distant memory of the fact.
"Yeah, but then he would'a been called Moses Turnaround, not Sizzles. Anyways, so Frankie grabs that glass of brandy of his, takes a sip of it, swirling the glass a little, cause that's the ritzy thing to do, and then he tosses it full into Moses's face. FWOOSH, it goes up in smoke and so does Moses."
"Yeah, I still don't get why that happened. Frankie musta' known some hocus pocus from the old country, I guess."
"... It was the lit cigar that Moses was smoking, Marco. It made the brandy catch."
"...Oh. Still, pretty clever of Frankie."
"Yeah, never seen anything like it. To Frankie!" Henry and Marco had both let their glasses full until the story was over as a mark of respect. At the point that it petered out, they both raised their glasses in salute to Frankie."
"To the smartest, greatest guy I ever knew."
"Hear hear." chirped in Henry from underneath his fedora.
They drained their glasses dry.
"...pity about how he died."
"Yeah, that fire just came outta nowhere while he was drinkin' some of the haul from the Docks."
"Marco... he was smokin' while he was drinkin'."
"...Nothing. It's just, everyone seems to have moved on and found a way to go Legit. Even Two Bar Charlie is running two bars on Elworth and Nobbs. I just know that if Frankie were still here..."
Henry's eyes drifted across the tabletop where the two's glasses sat. They weren't alone.
Marco saw it too. "I'm sorry. Must of just been a force of habit. My head's a bit fuzzy today."
Henry just gave a sad little sigh, and flicked his ashes into the third glass. Where it fizzled and was drowned.
"We've had to water down everything in this cellar so much you couldn't even get a kid drunk off the stuff. We're never going to be able to shift it."
"I bet Frankie would 'a' had a plan for it." Marco added.
"Yeah... He would have. Hey, Marco pour us another one."
The slosh and splash of the watered bourbon as it poured into each glass was so refreshing, you could have gotten drunk off the sound alone.
"To Frankie. Maybe not the smartest, but definitely the best guy I ever knew." said Henry with a heart filled with pride and starting to be filled with cheap hooch.
"Hear hear." Said Marco, gazing at the shelves of opulent scotches, murky jugs of Applejack, two bit Rum sitting next to five hundred dollar Cognac, some a little bit drunken away, all of them dusty from being on the shelves too long, and wondered how long it would take for them to drink it all from Toasts to Frankie.
Not as long as you'd think.