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The Professor and the Bootlegger

April, 1927 

Howard Jenkins was feeling just as lazy as the students he was trying to teach. The windows were open to catch the fresh, spring breezes, and half the students were gazing at the clear, blue skies. The other half were, unfortunately, sleeping. His own brother, Reginald, ten years his junior, among them.

He hadn't wanted his brother in his class, but Reginald needed the history credit, and the boy figured Howard wouldn't dare fail him. He knew their parents would be gravely disappointed if Reginald didn't graduate.

Still, it was his job to teach these young people European History. They probably thought it was all about long dead people who slept in between wars. To Howard, history was a living, breathing thing with people who laughed and loved, wept and mourned, and worried about how they would feed their families.

Time to shake them up. “Mr. Jenkins,” he bellowed. He was pleased to see Reginald knock his book off the desk as he jumped to attention.

“What two Houses started the Wars of the Roses in England?

“Uh,” Reginald stammered.

“Anyone?” Howard turned to the back of the class where a pretty blonde sophomore raised her hand. “Miss Lawrence?”

Howard noted that Reginald turned his head to gaze at the young girl so swiftly, it was a wonder he didn't snap off his neck. At least he'll pay attention to the girl, he thought smugly.

“Lancaster and, um, York?” Miss Lawrence answered tentatively.

“That's correct.” But that was just the bare fact. There was a beautiful love story to be told about the first Duke of Lancaster and Katherine Swynnford.

He told him their story; a tale filled with love and longing and greed. The only thing John of Gaunt wanted more than Katherine Swynnford was a throne, and he sacrificed their love to his ambitions.

By the time he finished, Miss Lawrence and the other girls were completely mesmerized, the boys restless, shuffling their feet or shifting in their seats.

He liked to think it was his ability to bring these people to life that made his classes so popular. In reality, half the girls in his class had a crush on him, and most of the boys were there because it was rumored he told steamy stories about long ago kings and queens.

The bell rang and everyone, including Howard, came back to the present. He'd already written the assignment on the board, so the students gathered their things quickly and ran out the door. Everyone, that is, except for Reginald.

With an inward groan, Howard turned to his brother. He knew what the boy wanted to talk about and he had hoped to avoid this conversation. Reginald's last test grade was deplorable, and he knew his brother expected him to fix it. There was nothing Howard hated more than conflict.

“Reginald,” he turned and nodded.

“I'm not here to talk to you about my grades,” Reginald told him flatly.

“No?” Howard raised an eyebrow. Maybe it wasn't grades but he knew his brother wanted something.

“Yeah. I'll just take History over again next semester. It's not the only course I'll have to take over,” he told him.

“Reginald ...” Howard began.

“I know, I know. Mom and Dad will just have to face up to it.”

“I'm proud of you, Reginald,” he smiled, “unless you want me to be the one to tell them.”

“Nope. I'll do it. Have to grow up sometime, right?”

Howard was still skeptical. He couldn't look him in the eye, and Howard was more sure than ever that his brother wanted something from him.

“Right. And?”

Reginald took a deep breath and made an effort to look his big brother in the eye. It wasn't easy. Howard's soft blue eyes could turn to steel in an instant, and Reginald dreaded being pinned under that cold stare.

“Look, I need a favor, but if you're going to be like that ...”

“Suit yourself,” Howard told him, turning to erase the blackboard.

“Will you turn around and hear me out? I hate it when you go all cold and judgmental.”

Howard turned around slowly to face his brother, crossing his arms over his broad chest. He didn't bother pushing his glasses up his nose, but looked at Reginald over the rims.

“I'm listening.”

“Okay.” Reginald blew his breath out and plunged in. “I need money. I've got myself in a bit of a jam and I need a thousand dollars.”

“A thousand …,” Howard choked out, dropping his arms and straightening to his full six feet. “What the hell have you gotten yourself in to?”

“Tch-tch. Such language,” Reginald admonished him. If Howard was reduced to swearing, he was halfway toward caving. His big brother hated confrontation and if he got upset enough, he'd give in.

“I repeat. What have you gotten yourself into?” Howard asked, shoving his glasses back into place.

“See, there's this place I go to now and then to have a drink.”

“And you ran up a $1,000 bar tab?” Howard gasped, shocked. “Even speakeasies don't charge that much for illegal whiskey.”

“No, it's the back room activities. Gambling,” he hastened to add when Howard's eyes bugged out.

“G … gambling,” he stuttered. “W ... why? H ... how c ... could you?”

Stuttering was good, Reginald thought. Howard had about reached the breaking point. He was such a milquetoast … living in the past instead of enjoying the present. Reginald knew how to live. Maybe it was about time he took his big brother in hand and taught him how to have fun.

“Just give me the jack,” Reginald replied, ignoring Howard's questions.

“C … cash! Y … you want m … me to just h … hand you a thousand dollars in cash?”

“If it'll make you feel better, you can come with me to give Bruno the money yourself.”

“D … damn right I w … will,” Howard replied hotly.

“Okay, I'll pick you up at ten. Thanks, Howard. I'll see you then.” Reginald flipped Howard a wave and left the classroom, chuckling to himself. It had been ridiculously easy to get the money out of Howard and even easier to maneuver him into coming to the The Manhattan Club. Just wait until he got a load of Maisie. That bearcat would have ole' Howard doing the Black Bottom in no time flat.

 

 
 
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