Adrian and William Wainwright sat down at the warped wooden table. This ambush had been planned for a week. The dimly lit pub was close to a full-house. Drunken laughter howled from every corner, desperate men gathered around the gold-dressed woman at the piano, a man with a half-tucked shirt spilling out of his braces toppled his glass onto the floor.
A glass quarter-filled with whiskey neat was brought over from the dewy-eyed waitress. Red locks gently brushed against her shoulder. As she set his drink down, Adrian grabbed her hand, his calloused thumb rubbing against her soft palms, and pressed a sixpence into it. Flashing her a smile and watching her cheeks turn pink, he closed her fingers around the coin. The ocean-eyed gangster, and eldest brother, Adrian, ran the streets in the Aston slums. Bloodying men for as much as a stolen pint, and putting a Colt between the eyes of anyone who crossed them.
Horse-racing was rich and crooked. Bookmaking numbers were large. This ambush would help gain control of territory throughout Birmingham.
In the corner of the bar, Adrian glanced to Edward Pawson and Hugh Fowles, white hair peaking beneath their toppers. Race track papers littered their tables. A month back, Hugh’s grandson had turned up on his doorstep. Fowles searched weeks for his murderer but William has never been one to make mistakes. Adrian took a sip of whiskey and raised his glass to them.
Not far from the older men, police officer Snipes tipped his custodian hat towards Adrian and William, a pawn in their gold-lined pockets. The copper lazily whistled a low tune, reached for his pocket-watch to check the time, and slipped outside. Adrian’s eyes skimmed over the pub, touching the tip of his cap to make sure the rest of the Sloggers were preparing themselves at their tables.
Adrian watched as the barmaid slinked over to the corner table. She leaned over and whispered into Edward’s ear. He passed her his empty glass and turned away. She winked at Adrian.
“What do you think about the bab?” Adrian nudged William with his elbow, flicking a match to light a cigarette.
“You’d be half-soaked. Even in a pub like this, she looks too innocent to be a whore,” William replied, picking at the cracks of his teeth with his sharpened blade.
Adrian smirked, grinding his cigarette into the ashtray. “I have to have a piss.”
The bathroom was a bodge. The faucet dripped against the ceramic and pipes moaned. Staring at the cracks in the dingy blue wallpaper, the creak of the door broke his stream. Buttoning his pants, he reached for the gun hidden in his pocket. Noticing it was the barmaid leaning up against the door, he flashed a smile, making a mental note to tell William how wrong he was. Her feet swift against the tile as she reached for his belt buckle. “You’re the handsome brother.”
Lifting his hand to touch her powdered cheeks, he felt a revolver pressed against his chest and a soft, warm voice against his ear. “I haven’t seen you in here before and I’ve seen everybody. You’ve chosen the wrong maid’s pub to mess with. Leave now and leave quietly, or I’ll make sure both you and your brother leave on a slab.” Keeping her back to the door, she slipped the revolver into the lace beneath her skirt and disappeared into the crowded pub.
As he left the bathroom, he straightened the collar on his dusty black jacket and took a deep breath to help steady himself. His feet heavy on his way back to the table. He uttered to his brother they had to go.
“Is everything alright?” His brother began to stand up.
A booming voice came from the corner, the music and conversations throughout the pub stopping abruptly. “Lads, did you think you could walk into our town without us knowing who you are? The Slogger Boys from the slums,” Fowles gestured to the empty chairs in front of him. “Stay, have a drink with us.”
Adrian glanced over his shoulder to gun barrels stuffed to the sides of his men. He looked back to Fowles and Pawson. Pawson’s hands rested against his stomach as he leaned back, eyes captive with Adrian’s. William looked over to Adrian. Adrian nodded. Pawson waved his hand to the barmaid as she brought a whiskey bottle and empty glasses over. She poured with ease. Cradling each glass in her hand. The softest sound against the wood as she set the drinks down. Pawson and Fowles lifted theirs high.
“Enjoy your last drink, lads. It’ll be the last ones you ever have.”
Ekphrastic piece inspired by Louis Moeller’s Conversation, undated, oil on canvas. Photo Courtesy of the New Britain Museum of American Art
Shayna Shattelroe is a student at Central Connecticut State University