My short story titled MOONSHINE ON THE MISSISSIPP was purchased for Spark: A Creative Anthology, Volume V!
This is one of my favorite stories I’ve written so far. Here’s what it’s about:
The year is 1791. George Washington is the leader of the great United States of America. The Whiskey Act, passed by Madison, will tax illegal distilleries, including those of moonshiners. William Lighthouse wants a piece of the action. For far too long, he has been under the thumb of the womanizing, law breaking, shady dealing Captain Eli Cooke, but no more. William is ready to find his life’s purpose. He makes a deal with Lighthouse Harry, the Governor of Virginia, detailing the illegal moonshine trade occurring between Jim Tom, a third generation Kentucky shiner, and Avalon Standslong, an Indian son of a great Chief, negotiated by Captain Cooke himself. What William doesn’t know is that the captain has a plan that goes far beyond double crossing an old time moonshiner and an Injun Chief; when it’s all over, Mr. Lighthouse will see that his life’s purpose has been hidden inside of him all along.
The book should appear on Amazon and at other retailers in April in both print and eBook formats. In the meantime, I’m delighted to offer you a discount code, direct from the publisher, to pre-order your digital or print (or both) copy of this volume.
To pre-order your contributor copy:
- Go to http://store.sparkanthology.org, and click on Volume V.
- Add the “Trade Paperback + eBook Bundle” of Volume V to your shopping cart.
- During checkout, enter the discount code ENGLE-FRIENDS for your copy.
The code gets 35% off individual copies or subscriptions. The coupon is good for unlimited orders, but expires May 1, 2014
Now, inspired by the Discovery Channel series Moonshiners, here is the first chapter of my awesome story MOONSHINE ON THE MISSISSIPP:
PART ONE: ELI COOKE
On a perfect spring afternoon with clear blue skies and bright yellow sun, Captain Eli Cooke made a terrible mistake. A dastardly mistake. One that could’ve cost him his life. I told him not to do it, to think before he leapt, but, here now. I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me take you back to the beginning, to the night of the Governor’s Ball.
The year was 1791. George Washington presided over the great United States of America. And the topic on the forefront on everyone’s mind was alcohol, especially with the newly passed Whiskey Act to tax all illegal distilleries – moonshiners included – imposed by Secretary of State, Alexander Hamilton. A bit of a hero in my book. The March air blew cold across the Virginia plantation of Governor Henry Lee III, or ‘Light-Horse Harry’ as he was nicknamed during his service in the Continental Army. But, the air in the dining room grew heated, damn near stifling, as a debate raged like an inferno amongst the men.
“Shiners ain’t never paid no mind to the law,” said Robert Memphis, a wealthy landowner from Kentucky.
“Well, they will if they know what’s good for them,” Light-Horse Harry chided.
“Says who?” Memphis rebutted. “The government? Why, they’re sticking taxes on products they have no mind to, just to fatten their pockets.”
“Looks that way,” said Brett Bufone, a paunchy man from old money. “Bloody bureaucracy. Like being under Mother England’s thumb all over again.”
“But what about the taxes they’ll bring in?” I added.
“What about them?” Memphis asked, uncaring.
“Those taxes will be used to pay for the debt accumulated during the war. A mighty large debt, might I add, which needn’t come out of the people’s bread money, but out of their indulgence pocketbook. A sin tax.”
The Governor smiled at me, as the room silenced. “Very good point, indeed, young William.” His white hair, thin at the top, was pulled in a tight knot near the back of his head. “I could use a man like you in my circle.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said, awestruck. Me? Working for the Governor? That would be the honor of all honors.
“While it’s all nice on paper, Mr. Lighthouse, these farmers, these shiners, will be losing more money in taxes than they’ll be making in a profit. How are they supposed to feed their families?”
I considered Memphis’s comment. He leaned closer, his plump forearms resting on the table, his large index finger pointing toward me. “Just ‘cause they make spirits don’t mean they don’t have families to provide for. Do you have family, Mr. Lighthouse?”
“No, sir. I do not.”
“Hmm,” Memphis said, pushing off the table. “Then you couldn’t possibly understand any of this.”
“Having a family has nothing to do with proper taxation, Mr. Memphis,” Light-Horse Harry defended. “The stability of the Union affects the married and unmarried equally. It has no prejudice for wealth or status.”
“Kentucky farmers won’t pay,” said Memphis. “Shouldn’t have to neither, what with the larger distilleries paying less tax per barrel just because they can produce more. It isn’t fair. Those small farms will be forced to close before winter. Then what do we have? Big business. That’s all that’ll be left.” He stroked the tips of his black pencil mustache and stared with burning eyes at the Governor.
“I agree,” Bufone said. “It’s as if the government under Madison’s leadership wants small farmers to fail. They’re cutting tax breaks to the big businesses and leaving the rest to pay fines they can’t afford, forcing them to sell their farms in order to stay alive. I tell you…Mother England all over again,” he repeated.
“It’s seeds for rebellion’s what it is,” Memphis seethed.
The Governor’s lilt chimed as a clock striking midnight. “If those farmers in the west mean a rebellion, Washington won’t let them get away with it.”
“They already have the worst of it,” Bufone replied. “What with the failed attempts of our arms to protect the western frontier.” He took several short sips of his brandy, shaking his head. “Them Injuns don’t fight like gentlemen, and they’ve got the upper hand in the war.”
“Not to mention the damn Spaniards blocking off the Ol’ Mississip for trading,” added Memphis. “Why the hell they still hold claim to these lands is beyond me.”
The air was thick with cigar smoke as the colored attendants set plates of cobbler in front of each man, like dark shadows that didn’t exist, just served their purpose for the wealthy landowners.
“Where’s the Captain?” Light-Horse Harry asked, turning squinted blue eyes upon me.
“He wasn’t feeling well after supper,” I lied, knowing he must be feeling very well, shacked up with the Governor’s fiancée, Anne Hill Carter, in an upstairs bedroom.
“Too bad,” the Governor said, not sounding like he believed my fabrication at all. “Well, gentlemen, best finish our deserts and get back to the ball. I think we’ve spoken enough about politics for one evening.”
The men obliged, shoveling in cobbler and brandy before quickly returning to the festive ballroom.
The quintet played softly in the background the way crickets chirp unnoticed on a summer’s night. Men of social status and wealth decorated with mistresses on their arms spoke in boisterous voices about God only knows what. The Governor’s mansion held well over five hundred people. A marble floor mirrored real life in cold stone. Chandeliers burned fires above the powdered wigs and pressed suits careening slightly in the breeze from the open clerestory windows. I stood off to the side near the punch bowl sipping gingerly and people-watching, something I was akin to do in large crowds.
I turned. Anne stood beside me, her bosom pressing out of her tight powder blue corset.
“Evening, ma’am,” I mustered, sipping more voraciously on my punch.
“Where’s Eli?” she asked. Her black hair curled around her face, the rest sat high in a bun. She had dark, plain features, her nose and lips too small for her long face, but when she smiled, I couldn’t help but smile back.
“I thought he was with you,” I said, not thinking. My face burned. Hers blanched. “Forgive me, Miss Carter. I don’t know what I’m saying.” My eyes drifted to my dusty boots.
“It’s quite all right, William,” she said, a smile to her voice. “I’m sure I’ll find him.” She whisked away through the crowd, nodding at Senators and Congressmen, stopping to chatter with wives and mistresses – some to the same man, though only the mistress knew of the other – with all the grace and charm of a descendant of a Scottish king.
After several drinks, and no sign of the Captain, I needed to visit the latrine. I crept to the outhouse around back. The flat grounds of the yard ended in hilltops covered in dogwood trees appearing as shapeless shadows in the night. Cicadas sang erratic choruses answered by bullfrogs in the pond. A cold white moon cast through the crescent and star shaped cut-outs in the wood ceiling of the outhouse.
I jumped, splashing piss on my own leg. I peered through the slats. “Damn it, Captain! Why you gotta go sneaking up on a man when he’s doing his private business?”
“Come on out of there,” he said through laughter. “Pinch it off, William, and hurry up.”
I finished and opened the creaking outhouse door. Captain Cooke stared at me with a smile as broad as the Union. He was a handsome man with dark hair that fell to his eyes and shoulders. A trim beard shadowed his square jaw and laugh lines, like the night did the dogwood trees, and his amber eyes read me like a gambler counting cards.
“What happened to your leg?” his course voice scratched.
I glared at him with my dirtiest look.
“How were cigars and brandy with the Governor and his mindless circle of influence?”
“It wasn’t mindless,” I defended.
“Maybe not to the likes of you.”
I glared at the Captain. “You know, one of these days I’m gonna break away from you and your illegal deeds, and make a name for myself. Then how are you gonna feel?”
Eli didn’t even look at me. “No, you won’t, William.”
My shoulders hunched. “The Governor was asking for you.”
Eli looked up, reading me again.
“I told him you weren’t feeling well.” I hated lying to the Governor, especially when it was for Eli to have relations with his fiancée. But, who was I to tell Eli Cooke his business.
Eli smiled, his teeth bleached beach wood, as he slapped me on the back in approval.
“Miss Carter was looking for you,” I said disdainfully.
“I thought you were with her?”
“Mhm.” Eli nodded. “Sure was. And the colored girl attending to her.”
If there’s one thing Captain Eli Cooke didn’t have a shortage of it was women admirers; fat, thin, old, young, married, or slaved, he loved them all. At least in the moment.
I shook my head. “I don’t see how you do it, Captain.”
He pressed his open palm against his breastbone. “I’m doing my duty. Some men are born leaders, but they leave behind housefuls of women. And it’s gotta be someone’s job to make sure those woman’s needs are being taken care of while their menfolk are off…leading.”
My head tilted down, my eyebrows arched up. “Miss Carter’s got her needs well taken care of by the man of the house.”
“Not according to the sounds she was making.”
I slipped my hands into my pockets, a smirk escaping my better judgment and creeping over my lips.
Eli slapped me on the back again. “Come on, now. There’s someone I want you to meet.”