Thursday, 13 November 2014

To Catch A Warm Wind

So you’re asking me what’s the story of this photograph, and I’m saying to you, just relax and I’ll tell you.

In the old days, and by that she meant the old Savannah days, her Grandma would sit Alice on her knee and sing her a song that came from long, long before her Grandma Catherine was born. The family couldn’t remember from where it came, just that it was their song and it had been passed down through the generations.

On quiet nights, Alice could still hear her Grandma sing:
“Nothing will make you smile my love, or make your heart shine happy, until you ship is headed home, until your sail has caught a warm wind”

If Alice was being truthful, she’d have to say that she only married him because she’d thought she’d run out of options. After all, it was getting to the end of the War and she hadn’t heard from Harry in many months. It was the same story all over Washington, folks had promised each other that they’d stay faithful until the war was over, then the boy would go and get himself killed in a foreign town with a name that no one could pronounce. Putting all your eggs (or love) in one basket wasn’t the way to live in these cold days.

She’d also seen some of her neighbors settling for second, or even third best, just so as not to be left like an old maid.

Alice had moved to DC in the first days that Woodrow Wilson had become President. Now she had seen him leave and a new man, President Harding had just taken the seat in the Oval Office. It was Washington, D.C. in the year of 1921 and the world was about to change, at least for Alice.

His name was Spike, at least that’s what he told folks. Yet when they got married, Alice found out it that his real name was Cuthbert and she felt that she would probably be happier married to a Spike than to a Cuthbert; no offence to any Cuthberts out there. Spike always seemed to have money, and plenty of it to spend on his friends. One moment she had been thinking about Harry and the next, Spike was in her life without any warning.

He was the kind of person that people were attracted to, a kind of magnet. Some folks are born with magnetism and some just have to work at it. Spike didn’t have to work at anything social. People loved to see Spike come their way, with his ‘How ya doing, Fred’ or ‘Looking well, Annie’. That’s what got Alice interested, he was just plain nice. Harry was still her first love, but if she was being honest he could be hard work at times. Harry had his moods which always seemed to be at odds with hers. Whereas Spike was always in a good way and if Alice was feeling low, for any reason, he’d make sure she’d snap out of it.

Some nights they do real daring things like head to a club somewhere sassy. It was on one of those nights when they drove in an automobile, which Spike had seemed to have acquired , to a joint near the shore in Virginia.  She could hear the music with its trumpets and drums long before she saw the club, and there was the smell of a sweet tobacco in the air. The people inside were partying like it was the end of the world. At least that’s the way Alice felt.

Prohibition had been going for over a year by then and Alice wondered if maybe things just took their time to get going away from the big cities. Folks were drinking like it was going away for good (maybe it was) and the music was way, way louder than she had ever hear before.

Everyone seemed to know Spike in the club, but then didn’t they know him everywhere? They sat at the best table and were served what looked to Alice like champagne. She’d never drunk it before and given the way things worked these days she didn’t expect to at all.One glass became two and soon she started to feel mellow and the music kind of bubbled through her body like moonshine warmth – that was the way her Grandma talked. 

It must have been around two in the morning when she realised she’d fallen asleep. When she awoke Spike was nowhere to be seen yet the club was still really busy.
Alice staggered to a little room at the back of the club that was used by men and women. She’d never seen the like before. When she came out of the cubicle, a man was waiting to use the same place. She kind of nodded to the guy, smiled to herself and walked back into the club. It was then that she spotted Spike, talking to a little fat guy in the corner.

“Honey..,” Spike shouted over to her. “Come and meet, Mr Capone.”

Spike never called anyone ‘mister’, so either he was trying to impress the guy or he was scared of him.

“So this is your gal, Spike? He never stops talking about you…”

He rolled his hand as if he was asking a question and she was to answer him.


“Nice name, nice legs,Alice. I can see what you see in this gal, Spike.”

And with a slap on Spike’s back, he was gone – but not out of their lives. 

Alice found out that Mr Al Capone was the man who was going to supply the booze down the East Coast and Spike was going to be his runner, whatever that meant.

“Things are kind of difficult these days, you know how it is? A man needs a drink, Mr Capone supplies a need. It’s a simple as that.”

Alice wondered how Spike was going to be of use to the little fat man.

“How are WE going to be of use, Alice my love, my treasure.”

And with that, a cold chill ran down Alice’s neck.
Love, or at least what Alice thought was love, does stupid things to your head. It laces the blood with a drug so you don’t see what you’re looking at too closely.

Spike’s plan was simple, all Alice had to do was drive to some point, pick up the boxes (they’d be someone there to help her) and then drive her little automobile back to the club.

“It ain’t gonna cost you anything, gorgeous.” Was Spike’s final word on the subject.

But what if she got caught?

“What? What’s to worry. We’ve got every cop between here and DC in our payroll.”

So why was she needed? She wanted to say to Spike but she decided against it.

So she drove the car because that’s what people in love do. They take actions that only later seem like a form of madness. She was stopped one night by the cops but she noticed the taller one, the one with the dark hair, recognize the car and the two of them backed off. If it was this easy why didn’t Spike drive?

So she asked him that question and do you know what he did? Do you know what that dirty stinking no good rat did? He slapped her across the face so hard that her head hit off a wall.

“Now you understand, honey? You do as I say or there will be worse, much worse. Mister Capone wouldn’t like it and Mister Capone is the boss.” So all the time he’d only wanted her as a patsy.

It was then that a funny thing happened. Her mother got in touch. She’d managed to trace Alice all the way from Savannah. It was a just a note which said:

‘Harry’s back’.

And she decided there and then that she’d had enough of Spike and his life and Alice decided  she’d try and catch a warm wind. She couldn’t take the car, ‘cause they’d trace where she was and she guessed that she knew too much. So  Alice did one last run for Spike but instead of heading for the club, she drove into the center of DC and ran the car into a railing.

Then she walked away and headed home to Savannah, where the warm winds blow.

And that’s the story  - honest.


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