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Chapter 26

Zeke and Shorty set up shop on Depot Creek

With all that was going on the moonshine boys had to think about making a living. Zeke’s Flinn Hill operation was out of business, so Zeke and Shorty decided to partner-up and set up a still in a remote area north of Mueller Hill in a sheltered gully alongside Depot Creek. A perfect spot with a spring flowing out of the hillside and into the creek. They quietly went about buying a copper boiler, tubing, vats and a kerosene heater to do the cooking. In less than a week they were in production. Bones was put in charge of day-to-day operations. No one knew moonshining better than Bones.

Meanwhile, Dub’s place in Blakeley was open again but without a reliable source of quality hooch a speakeasy had no business. Shorty’s Rush River still has going around the clock but he’d made a decision to move every few weeks. The sneaky deputy was working overtime with the sheriff occupied with the casket factory murders.

The word spread quickly around the area that they’d uncovered two bodies.

To be continued...

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Chapter 27

Ney passes away and a mystery begins

He had been ailing for a while but, still, Ney’s passing was unexpected. In the weeks that followed, questions about the gold he got from selling his property surfaced. Yes, the banker suggested, he had cashed out and when he asked him what he was going to do with the gold he gave no indication.

Family and friends made a thorough search of the house, the outbuildings, even the saloon in East Henderson.

Nothing.

Weeks went by with no clues.

Then someone said they’d seen him spending time around the old brewery site he owned.

Could the answer be buried there?

To be continued...

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Chapter 28

“Two bodies discovered under casket factory floor”

…The headline read in Thursday’s Independent. It was the biggest, blackest headline that had appeared in the weekly since the story broke ten years earlier on Henderson losing the county seat. It was under Win Workings’ byline and publisher Buck had a short, boxed-in editorial on the front page. Workings story outlined the lurid details of the discovery but made no mention of his involvement and the sniffing dogs. It was straight-up journalism which he was very good at. Buck’s editorial exhorted the community not to panic.
“There was no reason to believe there is a killer on the loose,” the publisher wrote. “Stay calm, no need to worry, and rest assured that the authorities are on the case.”
Workings’ lead article said that the bodies had not been identified but that the county medical examiner, Dr. Jacques Duclos, was performing an autopsy. “U.S. Attorney John McGovern was on the scene today leading some to believe there might be a gang connection. There will be more news in next week’s Independent,” he concluded.

The counter copies of the Independent were sold out in the first hour.

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Chapter 29

A meeting in downtown St. Paul

The Henderson casket factory offices were on Rice Street in St. Paul. The owners spent little time in Henderson and left the onsite affairs to a hired manager. The day after the bodies were discovered the owners gathered in the smoky office on the second floor at 301 Rice.

“Dammit, Tony, how did this thing ever happen? We got the Feds crawling around the factory, no figuring what they might turn up. I don’t like heat, I hate uncertainty.”

“Relax, Harry, they got nothing on us. We’re clean, in the clear. Don’t get goosey. You show that and they might start to smell something.”

“Yah. That McGovern, especially…the U.S. Attorney…he’s the last guy we want snooping around in our business. I’ll tell you one thing right now, Tony, stay away from any of the Barker boys…especially that guy Karpis. He makes my skin crawl just looking at him.. We have to let this thing blow over. And by the way, I don’t even want to know if you knew the guys they dug out from under the floor. Keep what you know to yourself, hear?”

“Got it. Just cool your britches, Harry. Don’t blow a gasket.”

“We’re already losing money down there and with the placed padlocked until the investigation is over we’re hemorrhaging red ink. I tell you, I’m damned nervous. You should be, too.”

“I’ll take care of it.” He wondered whether Harry was going to break.

To be continued...

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Chapter 30

Doc prepares for the autopsy

The entire factory was shut down by order of the county sheriff. “We have an active crime scene here and until we’ve completed our investigation no one’s allowed in. We don’t know what else we might find.” The exhumed bodies were moved to the mortuary where Doc Duclos was preparing for an autopsy.

U.S. Attorney John McGovern was with him as Doc donned a white smock and readied his surgical tools.

McGovern broke the silence. “Obviously we need cause of death, Doc, and whether the men were killed where they were buried…or somewhere else and transported there. How long do you think it will take?”

Doc glanced at the clock on the wall. It was 11:00 AM. “Three, maybe four hours. We’ll move right along, but I’m not going to hurry.” Almost as an afterthought Doc added, “While you’re I town, John, take a few minutes and talk with Shorty Higgins. Seems Ma Barker’s boys have been nosing around here and threatened Molly O’Hara. You know Molly? She has the steakhouse south of town?”

“Of course I know her. Her husband, Mike, was from Arlington, my home town, too. What’s the problem?”

“Seems Ma B’s boys want to buy out Molly’s place and run their business out of there. Threatened to “deep six” her in the river if she doesn't go along.”

“I’ll take note of it,” McGovern said. He thought for a moment. “You know…some chance the Barker gang might be involved in the casket factory killings. Not a long shot, by any means.
“I’ll follow up on it.”

To be continued...

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Chapter 31

McGovern meets with Molly

With Doc doing the autopsies and the Federal agents combing through the American Buckram factories, the U. S. Attorney decided to check out the threats the Barker gang had reportedly made against Molly O’Gara. He was careful not to contact Shorty Higgins. He suspected Shorty was a moonshiner and he avoided direct contact with anyone involved in what was an illegal activity. So he drove directly south to Molly’s roadhouse. The steakhouse didn’t open until 4 o’clock and he found Molly in her tiny living quarters in the back.

“John…Johnny McGovern…” Molly shouted when she saw him. “It is so good to see you!”

“Likewise, Molly. You’re looking as beautiful as ever.”

“You flattering Irishman, you,” Molly answered back. “Come in, come in.”

“I’ll get right to the point for my visit. How are things going for you? I hear you might be having some problems. No holding back, Molly, we go back a few years, so level with me.”

Molly told him about the visit she’d had from two members of the Barker gang. “They want to buy me out…and keep me on to run the business. Scared the livin’ crap out of me, Johnny.”

McGovern thought for a moment, choosing words carefully. “I think I may know a way to get them to back off. It’ll take a few weeks but I’ll get words back to you.” Then he looked her square in the eye and said, “I worry about you out here. You got a guy in your life?”

“Why Johnny,” she said a wink and a smile. Then, “I know what you’re asking. No, there’ll never be another man in my life after Mike. But thank you for thinking of me. You are a true gentleman, Mister McGovern.”

As he drove the 4 miles back to Henderson a plan was forming in his mind.

To be continued...

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Chapter 32

Barker boys visit the still at Devil’s Jump-Off

The black Packard drove through Henderson around midnight. The town constable, Ben Ayer, took notice. His German police dog, King, set straight up, his ears perked, as they both watched the car turn south on the Le Sueur road. He thought to himself, Good thing they kept going. He didn’t cars like that in Henderson. Up to no good, he was sure.

The Packard rumbled across the Rush River bridge and turned west up the hill to Sand Prairie, from there weaving the gravel back roads to Devil’s Jump-Off. The last mile the driver turned off the headlights and drove by the light of the full moon. It was clear the men in the car knew where they were going.

At length, two men got out of the car and a flashlight beam marked their trail up over the ridge and into a gulley. There, a few hundred feet away, was Shorty’s Rush River still. The only sound was the quiet ripple of the stream. They moved quickly and startled Shorty before he could react.

“Easy does it…sit still and nobody’ll get hurt.”

“What the hell you want? What are you doing here?” Shorty knew they weren’t police and suspected they were mob members.

“A warning, Shorty, no more booze deliveries to Molly’s joint…not from here or the still you got out on Depot Creek. And from now on all your ‘shine production goes to us, hear?”

“Who the hell is us?” Shorty snapped back.

“Us is we” the taller of the two mobsters snarled.

“Or?” Shorty replied.

“Or we come back and put you out of business. Like permanent. Understand? Go to the cops and you and Molly are both goin’ on a one-way ride. We’ll be back.”

With that the two men faded into the dark, up the hillside and into the night.

“The sons o’ bitches,” Shorty mumbled.

To be continued...

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Chapter 33

An unnoticed observer

On a hill above Shorty’s still an extra set of eyes watched the two men who visited the still. The deputy sheriff had posted himself there an hour earlier. Now he wondered who the night visitors were. He edged ever closer to the still operation and when the men departed he trailed several hundred feet behind them.

When they reached the Packard the deputy took note and swallowed hard. “Holy crap! Only people driving cars like that are mob people. Here’s my chance to break this case wide open.” He felt for the .45 in his hip holster, switched on the flashlight he was carrying, and stepped out in front of the black Packard.

“All right, deputy sheriff here. Step out of the car…r-e-a-l slow…”

To be continued...

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Chapter 34

Doc finishes the autopsy

It was 5 o’clock when Doc finished the autopsy on the two men. He was scrubbing up when U.S. Attorney McGovern came in. “You finished, Doc? Got some answers?”

“I sure do. Both men had bullet holes in the backs of their heads. In one the slug was still in there. I’d say they were shot at close range. gangland style, you could call it. And get this…their hands were tied behind their backs.”

He continued. “Looks like they bled out before they were buried. So I’d say they were shot somewhere else and hauled there shortly before the floor was poured.”

“We can get that date and probably determine just about when it all happened,” McGovern said. “Any identify on them?”

“No, I suspect punks, low level hoods who got I over their heads and paid for it.”

“Thanks, Doc. I’m heading back to Minneapolis. The FBI will be here for a few days yet.” As he was about to leave he turned to Doc and said, “Oh, I talked to Molly. Someone’s trying to shake her down, alright. I’ve got my ideas…and maybe how to put a stop to it.

“Take care of yourself, Doc. You’re in a risky business.”

To be continued...

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Chapter 35

Shots ring out at Shorty’s still

Shorty was still trying to fit the pieces together after the men left when he heard shots. Four, maybe five, and not far away. Two different guns from the sound, he figured. He grabbed a flashlight and his own rifle and headed in the direction of the gunfire.

In the distance he heard a car engine rev up, tires screech, and again a shot fired.

When he got to the flats near the road he saw a flashlight beam on the ground and approached carefully. On the ground he saw a body…and it moved slightly as he got closer. He recognized the sheriff’s uniform, turned the man over, and shined the beam in his face. “Deputy, what in Sam hell are you doing here?”

“I’m hit…in the leg…and I think in the arm. Hurts to beat hell.”

“I see…bleeding pretty bad.” Shorty ripped off his shirt and tied a tourniquet just below the deputy’s shoulder, another around the thigh.

“Can you move?”

“I think so. Am I gonna die?”

“Not if I can help it. I’ll help you into my truck and we’ll head for Doc’s office in Henderson. Up you go…”

To be continued...

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