This is the seventh chapter of a nine-chapter serial story to be published weekly in NeXt. The story takes place in the 1920s during Prohibition, when alcohol was illegal. It explores the life of gangsters and the harsh reality of their criminal enterprises.

Our story so far: Eddie invites Kenny to a party.

>Chapter Seven / The Party

Theda and the other women had closed the French doors from the dining room to the living room and now she wanted Kenny to help her move the table against the wall. George was in the living room, standing by the fireplace, watching the poker game by firelight and by the light of the lantern that hung over the round table.

Kenny and Theda moved the dining table, and then he rolled up the carpet. The women were picking out jazz records to put on the Victrola so they could dance.

They were flappers. You could buy those kinds of clothes in town, and some young women in Plattsburgh wore them, but Theda and her friends were real flappers, with their hair just so and their makeup just so and their stockings rolled just so and everything just like in the movies, just like in the magazines.

And when they danced to the music on the Victrola, they danced just so, just like in the movies. "Come on, Kenny!" Theda called to him. "We'll teach you!"

"I've gotta help out," Kenny said, gesturing toward the living room. He didn't know how to dance and he was wearing big farmer shoes and he knew that it wasn't smart to let Theda and her friends tease him like that with the men right in the next room, even though that's all it was, teasing.

As he walked into the living room, Eddie Nickels held up an empty beer bottle. "Hey, Sheik!" he said. "Get me another, will you?"

Kenny took the empty from Eddie, then opened a beer from the oak ice chest in the corner.

"He's gonna steal that girl away from you, you know, Eddie," one of the men said with a grin, and Kenny decided to take a chance.

"She says I remind her of her little brother," he said, as he put the full beer on the poker table near Eddie. He saw George stiffen at the joke, but the seven men seated around the table burst into laughter and the one who had made the comment reached up to slap Kenny on the shoulder.

"You're all right, kid," he said.

Kenny stood back against the wall, watching the game and waiting for someone to need another drink or a light for his cigar. He didn't understand poker, but he could add, and he knew an astonishing amount of money was being piled up in the middle of the table for each hand.

Every time somebody won, he would laugh and curse and rake the money in, and the others would curse and throw down their cards in disgust and then they'd play again. Finally, they played a hand where the bets grew so big that Kenny started to keep track in his head. He didn't know how much was already in the pot when he began to count, but there was another $1,200 added to it by the time one man showed his cards and another man slammed his down, then stood up, cursed loudly, scooped up all the money and threw it into the fireplace.

It was at least two thousand dollars; it might have been three. The price of a house. The flames licked up and the room grew bright for a moment, but by the time the money had all burnt up, the men had sat back down and another hand was being dealt.

Kenny looked across the room at George, but George just stood against the wall, his eyes saying nothing.

Friday night and Saturday night, the men played poker while the flappers danced in the dining room. During the day, the women waded in the lake in bathing suits that Meme and his aunts would not have approved of. Kenny and George were supposed to take the men fishing, but nobody was ever awake in time. The men would finally get up and have lunch and then sit on the porch talking and looking out at the lake while the women played croquet on the lawn.

Now they were all calling Kenny "Sheik," and the men kept slipping him five- and 10-dollar bills for just bringing out a drink or another plate of sandwiches. The girls giggled and teased him, but he was starting to feel more like their puppy than anything else. Still, he didn't mind.

When everyone was ready to leave Sunday, George brought out some fat trout he had bought from local boys so that all the men could go home and lie about their weekend in the woods. Eddie and Theda were the last to leave.

"Kenny, you're a good man," Eddie said to him, and shoved what turned out to be $150 into his shirt pocket. "We do this a couple times a year, get together up here. I'd like you to come work again the next time, OK?"

"Sure, OK," Kenny said, and Theda reached over to pinch his cheek as she climbed into the Pierce Arrow.

George and Kenny spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning and straightening up, and it was well past dark when they got to the farm. Kenny was already planning his next trip to the camp, and how much money he would earn and all the things he would do with it, and it took him a moment to realize that there was a light on, and that Paul's Ford was in the barnyard.

Paul met them on the porch. "Everyone's at the hospital," he said. "Raymond's been shot."

The next chapter of Hooch will be published in NeXt on March 3: The family gathers at the hospital.


Funded by the New York State United Teachers and New York Newspapers Foundation. Text copyright 2011, Mike Peterson. Illustrations copyright 2011, Christopher Baldwin.

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