For this week’s Wicked Wednesday, I decided to attempt writing a short story inspired by the roaring ’20s.
Just like any other bustling day on the farm, Wednesday was no exception for Billy-Joe. Toiling under the sun’s incessant rays, he rode along the field on the tractor he’d purchased on credit. Prosperity was around the corner according to Herbert Hoover, the current president. Thus far, Billy-Joe had not seen a lot of that promise.
Wiping the sweat from his brow, Billy-Joe continued to harvest the crops from his land. Or at least what he had left of it since he’d had to sell off a fair chunk to subsidise the farm’s lack of profit. Ironically, there was now too much food, and prices for cereals had plummeted. Word had it though, a new type of farming would bring in the punters. Billy-Joe had a meeting later that afternoon with a local businessman. If things went well, his days of drudgery may become more fruitful.
Later that day, Billy-Joe freshened up after the morning’s labour. He donned his best suit and drove out to the convenience store in the nearby town. Pulling up in his black Model T, he stepped out and walked to the back of the store. A cute woman with bobbed hair was there sweeping the floor. He noticed a fancy lamp on the store’s counter.
“Is Mr Rayner here, ma’am?” Billy-Joe inquired to the brunette who nodded toward the stock room,
“May I ask who’s calling for him?” She politely asked in a sultry tone.
“Tell him, it’s Billy-Joe from Turner’s Farm, please miss.”
“Sure thing, Billy-Joe. I’m Frances, by the way. My friends call me Fran.” With that proclamation, she sauntered out to the stockroom, swaying her petite hips, humming to herself.
It wasn’t long before Mr Jim Rayner stepped into the counter area. A stocky man with a charismatic smile that made Billy-Joe immediately feel at ease.
“Howdy, young Billy-Joe, I remember your old man. He welcomed us to the area when we first moved out here after leaving the city. He’d be proud of how you’re running the farm, though I dare say times aren’t so swell for you of late.”
The senior guy paused to offer Billy-Joe a glass of neat bourbon. He’d swiftly decanted from a flagon hidden under the fancy lamp on the counter. “This is Bourbon, you know son. It’s made from corn mash in white oak barrels that have been charred slightly to give that caramelised taste. Much smoother than whiskey…go on try it, my boy.”
Billy-Joe took a sip of the amber liquid and smiled broadly at Mr Rayner. “It’s sweet, for sure, do you sell it, Sir?”
It was an innocent enough question, for the young farmer was naive. His father had been too busy working all his life to enjoy much alcohol. When he did drink, it was some bitter pale ale that reminded Billy-Joe of horse-piss. Their horses were long gone, sold off to a local riding school. They weren’t needed any longer when the modern machinery came in, eating more hay than they’d harvest.
Clearing his throat, Mr Rayner’s casual droll alerted Billy-Joe to the present time. The older man gave a full belly chuckle and exclaimed, “Hell no, this is a recipe made by my Pa. He used to own a bar in the city, you see. I learnt the distillery process, but then the prohibition kicked in and the old man lost the bar. Ended up working in a factory, making engines for those cars everyone drives. It paid the bills, but he found it a dull day’s work.
Out here in this ‘big country’ land, I sense an opportunity to set up a barn, make some of this bourbon and bottle it up to supply our local inns. You happen to know of a barn round here, Billy-Joe?”
Pondering on it a moment, for he was not the most quick-witted of fellows, Billy-Joe wrinkled his forehead, with his hands in his pockets as the realisation came that Turners Farm, once belonging to his dad, and now his very own, would be the ideal spot. Stuttering, he revealed to Mr Rayner in his excitement, that the old stables would be suitable. They were still water-tight at least.
“Bingo, my boy! That’s the ticket. Are you able to take delivery of some old white oak barrels this evening after sunset?” inquired the amiable store-owner. Billy-Joe nodded, so the elder man went on to add some instructions in a low conspiratory tone, “this has to be kept in confidence, my boy. Even Fran can’t know about it. Whaddya think… can you keep it quiet?”
Seeing Billy-Joe pause to think, he bargained with him, “that corn you’re growing won’t make much with the wholesalers. But if we make this here bourbon from it, we could be raking in several hundred dollars in a few months. You take care of the barrels and corn, and I’ll do the rest, what do you say, son?”
Billy-Joe respected Mr Rayner, so he nodded in agreement, before taking the grocer’s outstretched hand and shaking it. Weakly at first, but then as he saw the enthusiasm brimming from ol’ Jim’s wide grin he shook with more confidence. Turner’s farm was going to be rejuvenated with a new sense of purpose. That would make all these past 6 years’ sweat worthwhile at least!
Later that evening, after finishing his dinner, Billy-Joe put the last of his corn harvest in the barn. Just then, the rumble of a utility truck grumbled to a halt outside. Hearing the creak of the truck’s door, Billy went out to meet his visitor. It was Mr Rayner, and he’d bought the bourbon barrels with him. Two younger guys helped unload the barrels, while ol’ Jim went through logistics with Billy-Joe.
All supplies were to be delivered after dark, and no one was to enter the barn during the day. Once he’d given his spiel, Mr Rayner pulled an envelope from his blazer pocket and handed it to Billy-Joe. “I think you made an impression on my Fran earlier, she wanted me to give you this. But remember what I told you, she can’t know about this. Otherwise, treat her well and you have my blessing, son.”
What a day it was turning out to be. He’d admired the sweet-smelling Fran whenever he’d walked into her dad’s store but never would have guessed she’d like a land-worker like him. She seemed more cultured, singing those Jazzy ditties all around the shop as she tidied and stocked the shelves.
Opening the envelope, once back inside his house, he was leaving ol’ Jim to get on with the still set-up. A floral scent reminded Billy-Joe of his encounter that same day with Fran, as he unfolded her note. It read,
“Billy-Joe, you’ve caught my eye since you took over Turner’s farm and started running the land. After my dad leaves your place tonight, would you care for some company? I hitched a ride in his truck so I can sneak around the front as he leaves the barn… Don’t worry, I know what he has planned- it’s been his dream since we left the city. If it keeps him busy, I’ll get more time to practice my singing while he’s out of the store, nights. That’s my dream, see, I want to sing with a grand old honky-tonk, like the one in my Grampa’s bar. Hope to see you soon. I bought some more of that Bourbon from his lamp for us to share. Fran xx”
Billy-Joe was stunned and smiled to himself. He heard the barn door swinging closed. Off he went, out to lock it, calling a cheery goodbye to Mr Rayner who was loaded up his truck. Shortly, the grocer set off, driving up the farm track. As he ambled back to the porch, he saw Fran there sat on his dad’s old chair. She waved him over as she started singing the Marion Harris classic, “Tea for Two.” Then with a wink, she poured a tumbler of bourbon from her walking stick…
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