No one knew the unmarked Thousand Island shoals as Will Stark did, and he staked his life on this knowledge.
Night after night he barely wriggled free of the traps set for him — once even blasting through a ten-foot wide canal with his 13-foot wide motorboat in a wild bid for freedom. Young Will’s life seemed charmed indeed, as he dodged the bullets and furious charges of the Border Patrol; but when his luck ran out, it was a cigar store Indian who miraculously rescued him.
As much as the U. S. Border Patrol hated him and pursued him as a criminal, Will Stark was admired by his parents and the people of his hometown, which we’ll call Brock Lea, on the Canadian shore of the St. Lawrence river. After all, Will was a law-abiding Canadian. If he were to be censured for breaking American laws, so could every man, woman and child in Brock Lea — in those unreal Prohibition days nearly 40 years ago.
Not only did the home townspeople respect Will for the fortune he was amassing; but they were impressed with his ingenuity in designing a boat especially for the highest paid liquor delivery service of all time. Appropriately enough, it was a tipsy craft, called the “sunfish boat,” capable of dumping a deck load of contraband in a matter of seconds.
Will was a thin, black-haired, gray-eyed kid with a great blade of a nose. He was short, bandy-legged and wiry —as the St. Lawrence Scotch-Irish are apt to be—and his mouth seemed rather small for his face. But Will looked square at the world, completely unafraid, and confident of his ability to do whatever needed to be done. He didn’t go looking for trouble, but he was sure he could take care of it, if trouble came along; and his smuggling started as a joke. As Will remarked years later, “It was just what any kid would do to show what he thought of some damn fool law that never made no sense.”
On the first day of Prohibition, Will put one bottle of Frontenac ale on the bed of his father’s farm wagon, then forked the wagon full of horse manure. He then ferried wagon and team across river to Alexandria Bay, New York, where he was questioned by U. S. Customs agents. Will managed to look so sly, furtive, conspiratorial, and scared, that even the densest of the bluecoats realized they’d have to unload the wagon.
Will and the other bystanders watched, fascinated, as the customs men toiled with the moist, steaming pile; and nobody laughed louder than Will when the agents found the bottle. One of the outraged agents was Rod Dawson, a huge bear of a man with a boxer’s broken features. He grabbed Will by the collar, marched him into the station house, and into a back office. Slamming the door shut, he wheeled around, and smacked Will square in the face.
“Now we’re even,” snarled Dawson. “Don’t ever try to pull nothing again—because I’ll remember you. Now get the hell outside and load your goddamn wagon!”
This was all right with Will. He was willing to call it quits; he’d had a laugh, he’d fetched a slap, and it seemed to him all hands had had a jolly time. But little did he, or Rod Dawson, realize they had just played the prologue to a crazy, dangerous drama. A gripping thriller in which a nimble, defenseless boy outwits and eludes an enraged and dangerous bull of a cop.
From the Stark’s riverfront farmhouse, Will could hear the furtive purl of oars all night long as skiffs, sharpies, punts—anything that could float—slipped across the dark water carrying whisky to the unfortunate Americans. But it probably would never have occurred to Will to become a smuggler if a friend, CHarly Henry, a 13-year-old schoolmate, hadn’t needed help one night.
As Will later said, “Charley comes to see me one night and asks could I help him take a load of liquor across in his skiff. He says his mother couldn’t help him again that night because she caught a bad cold when she fell in the water the night before.”
Will agreed to help, and at a summer cottage dock near Ivy Lea, he and Charley Henry met a man who turned over the whisky to them for delivery. There were 24 bottles to a bag, and bags were used because they would sink, while a wooden case would float. The man promised the boys a dollar a bag, if they got it safely across to the States, and that was good pay in those days. In comparison, a fishing guide considered himself well-regarded at $3 for a day during which he’d row his clients 30 miles. In this case each boy would receive $2 for completing a two-mile row, and to Will it seemed like finding money in the street.
The afterglow had faded in the western sky when the boys started across the river. The aloof stars gave what little light there was, and the dark bulk of the Thousand Islands seemed to form a solid mass around them. They groped their way through the tangled waterways, choosing a channel where hemlocks crowded both banks and touched gently above the water. They eased out across the Canadian channel where the current’s swift whirlpools sucked at the cedar bottom of their skiff. Staring intently into the darkness, the boys could make out shadows moving close to island shores—shadows moving close to island shores—shadows of men in boats like theirs, stealing across to America.
They slipped into International Rift—backing water with their oars to steer through the current sweeping them along — when suddenly behind them loomed the furious, gathering roar of a speedboat. The craft seemed borne on wings as it threw great hissing sheets of silvery spray away from its bow. Hard behind it, searchlight lurid in the surrounding night, roared the Border Patrol boat.
“Charley and I had only a second,” Will recounted. “We damn near pulled the oarlocks right out of the gunwales getting into the bushes before that first boat comes whizzing by, the spray dousing us. The swell she threw shoved us up against the bank and into the tree branches. Then when the water went down, it started to suck us out into the rift again—just as the Border boat came blasting by.”
In splintered instants, Will saw the formidable figure of Rod Dawson silhouetted against the searchlight glare. Will was standing in the cockpit, drawing a bead with his pistol on the boat ahead. The shots sounded flat and lost in the roar of the engines. Then, both speedboats were gone, dancing crazily through the night, and the two boys sat for a long moment hunched against the rift bank, clutching the hemlock boughs. At length they set out again, and at last turned over their whisky to the men who met them in the appointed cove above Alexandria Bay.
The night’s adventure was heady brew for an 18-year-old youth. Thoughtfully fingering the two crisp dollar bills in his pocket, Will meditated upon the fact he’d earned, in a two-hour row, precisely twice as much as a carpenter earned in a long, hard day. And who was to deny the work was a lot more interesting? Next morning, the local grapevine jangled with the news that a rumrunner’s speedboat had fetched up on a shoal, with one of the smugglers expected to recover from gunshot wounds in his neck, while the other awaited trial in the States. Will Stark learned a lesson from the incident: “By Jees,” he vowed, “they’ll never catch me!”
Will and Charley made many more trips in the tippy little skiff—meanwhile paying scant attention, as teenagers will, to vague reports that hijackers had appeared among the Thousand Islands.
Then, one bright summer morning, there was anxiety in Brock Lea. Two youngsters Will knew failed to return from a midnight row.
Later that morning a fishing guide spied the broken bow of the boys’ skiff stranded on the shelving rocks of Yeo Island. The rest of the shattered skiff drifted off the forested flanks of Grenadier Island a few miles downstream. Several days afterward, the two badly-swollen bodies were carried into view by the current that eddies past Three Sisters’ light.
There was grim speculation as to whether the Border Patrolmen or hijackers manned the speedboat that had cut the skiff in two. Perhaps it was an accident; but everyone suddenly realized rumrunning was no longer the light-hearted community game of the first weeks of Prohibition. There had been rumors of hijackings, and now, there had been death. It made Will think.
“After I saw them drowned boys I told them fellows, who took the bags from us,
that I wasn’t going to row over any more,” Will announced. “One of them guys asks me then if 1 wasn’t the kid who’d brought over that manure wagon. I says ‘yes,’ and he asks me if I could drive a powerboat; and I told him, by Jesus, I could drive anything. So, he gets me fixed up with some fellows up to Kingston.”
Kingston, Ontario, is a busy little city, home of the military college that is Canada’s West Point. During Prohibition, it was a loading port for rumrunners. Will found a 35-foot speedboat waiting for him at Kingston’s public dock. She had a 13-foot beam, and two 200-horsepower marine engines to drive her. She looked mean and sinister in her coat of dull black, and she could tote 1,000 bags of bottles within her high sides. Her registry was Canadian and her cargo manifest claimed she was bound for Montreal. Will’s pay would be a dollar a bag—if he took her safely to the States instead. In just two trips, he could make $2,000, more than a Border Patrolman earned in a year.
The black boat loaded in broad daylight, because at that time, Canadian authorities were not in the least concerned with the United States’ problem. After all, Canada was growing rich from America’s noble experiment. The Volstead Act created many new jobs in both countries, and Canada’s distilleries were working ’round the clock.
Will ogled the boat in utter fascination. This, he thought, was more like it. A man would have a chance in a boat like this—especially anyone who knew the river as well as he knew it. And, he reasoned, no one knew it as well as he, or he wouldn’t have been given the job. At any rate, this was no skiff to be cut in two, and there’d be few boats on the river that could even catch this black beauty. It didn’t matter to Will that the men who handed him the boat’s keys were a set of mugs straight from the rogue’s gallery. Aside from the thrill of manning a powerful and swift boat, the important thing to Will was the fantastic amount of pay he’d earn. All his life, Will firmly regarded money as man’s most precious possession. Will knew nothing of the mechanics of the operation, beyond leaving Kingston dock, and cruising downriver to a point above Rockport, Ontario, then threading through the island maze across to the American side below Alexandria Bay. He was just a boatman. He’d been assigned a helper, a pimply youth called Doc—because of the thick glasses he wore —and it was Doc who knew the time schedule they must follow. And it was Doc who told Will which cove had been selected for the night’s delivery. That was as far as Doe’s knowledge went, for the operation was organized like a small crude forerunner of the atom bomb-making process. Each man knowing only his small part of the whole procedure. The first trip out was ludicrously simple. The black boat slid powerfully through the dark river night, scarcely visible as it coasted through the island shadows, then eased into the appointed cove.
“You boo, Honey … I’m home!”
“Two men come out in a punt and helped us unload her,” Will reported.
“They ferried the bags to shore while we anchored a little way out in the cove with the motors idling. Doc stood ready with an ax to cut the anchor line—if any-thing happened. The men in the punt stowed the bags in a truck they’d parked in the woods; and when the truck was loaded, they gave us the money. I don’t know whether they were real officers or not, but they all had on New York State Troopers’ uniforms!”
The return trip to Kingston was absolutely carefree because, of course, there was no longer any incriminating evidence aboard. Among the boat’s papers was a receipt for cargo delivered at a certain port above Lachine on the Canadian side for truck transportation to Montreal.
A thousand dollars for a single night’s fun! It was all a glittering fantasy. Will’s father, a gnarled old stump of a man who worked frantically every day to wrench a living from the stony soil of the riverfront farm, had never made that much money in a good year.
“Dad saw the money, and he just didn’t believe it,” Will declared. “Whatever we did, Dad said, we shouldn’t put it in any bank. So we stuck it away in the box Dad had buried back of the barn—where Dad kept his money and Mother had her gold lodge pin.”
Quick success didn’t go to Will’s head, however. While many another teenager might have joyfully dropped his schooling after discovering a shortcut to gaudy opulence, Will plugged along earning average grades toward his cherished diploma. Besides, he was going to be captain of the hockey team that winter. Everybody in Brock Lea was mighty proud of Will.
Two more uneventful passages were made before Will fell afoul of the Border Patrol boat.
It had been an easy trip from Kingston to the foot of Club Island, all of it in the Canadian channel. Just as Will began to swing around the tip of the island for the run across to the American side, a searchlight stabbed out at him from the dark. It blazed from a rocky cove tucked behind the bare rock bar sloping from the pines at the foot of the island into the river. “I shoved them throttles all the way, and the bow comes right up out of water —no matter we were heavy loaded,” Will said. “Doc yells we ought to start dump-ing the load, but that was silly. We could never have thrown a thousand bags over the side before they Caught us. Besides, we knew the river, and them Border agents weren’t river men: “I lit out for the shoal that lies just under water off the foot of Mary’s Island, then just as I came up to it, I swung her hard one way around the shoal, then hard the other. When I figured I was lined up again, I slewed her back on the old course. All I could do was hope.
“Sure enough,” Will crowed happily, “they thought I was trying to dodge when made that dog-leg. They came right straight ahead. They weren’t going to be fooled. No sir! So they roared right along, and you should have seen the way they stopped. The racket they made crunching up on that rock could be heard all the way to Chippewa Bay. I cut our motors to listen—and to see if they was all right.”
The sounds carried perfectly across the silent river Sounds of heavy-voiced cursing, and Rod Dawson’s snarling bass roar.
“You fellows all right?” Will tailed solicitously. “You on there good and solid?”
He didn’t want the boat to sink, because some of the officers might not be able to swim.
“Yes, goddamn you!” Road howled. “We’re right here, and you are under arrest! C’mere!”
“I’ll see you’re picked up,” Will considerably replied.
Will gunned the black boat as the first pistol slug whined across the water past him into the darkness. Nobody hits much with a pistol, Will idly reflected as he sped away. A man with a pistol always thinks he’s going to hit something, but the man shot at just doesn’t believe he can.
Still, it was the first time anybody ever shot at him; so Will made a point of not remembering to tell anyone about the officers on the shoal until morning—figuring it only fair.
“It was a warm night,” Will recalled, “but standing up to their bellies in water all night probably cooled them off a bit. The customs fellows at the Bay came out in the morning to fetch ’em off.”
Rod Dawson, however, wasn’t exactly cooled off by the experience. He had the reputation of being the roughest, toughest, trigger-happiest law man from Cape Vincent to Massena; and being left not very high, and not very dry, on a shoal was somewhat degrading.
It didn’t soothe Rod’s temper to know that the villagers up and down both riverbanks were slapping their thighs and snickering over the story. For all its sprawling size, the Thousand Island region has a small, inter-related population and the news of Will’s triumphs flashed through the area with the speed of sound. The Thousand Islanders took added joy in the fact that Will was one of their own, while the Border Patrolman was a foreigner from Syracuse. Will became such a local hero, the younger boys at his high school began imitating his dress and way of walking.
In the meanwhile Rod Dawson vowed a mighty oath he’d get that big-nosed kid in that black boat—if it was the last thing he ever did. Within the week Rod was back on the river with a new Border Patrol speedboat. As luck would have it, he was lurking in that same Club Island cove the next time Will’s boat glided slowly past.
This time, Rod’s strategy of attack was different.
The Border boat didn’t bang on the searchlight, but slipped fast and quiet out of the cove and began to close the gap on Will’s cruising rum boat. It was Doc who finally spotted the law boat charging down on them, and Will throwing open the throttles, knew he couldn’t try the shoal trick again.
In addition to the shoal, Mary’s island has another peculiarity. A short canal separates the island near the foot. The tops of the cement retaining walls of canal lay barely awash, about ten feet apart, and there’s a crook in the canal near one end.
It was a mighty slim chance—in more ways than one—but it was the only chance Will had. He took it. He had no idea whether the canal was wide enough for his boat; and if he’d known the two canal walls were precisely three feet narrower than the beam of his speedboat, and tried to shave the shoal as close as he dared, hoping for the best. Instead, he streaked for the canal opening, and in so doing, happened on an incredible phenomenon.
Mary’s Island loomed larger and larger in the night, and the canal appeared as a little silvery waterway leading crookedly across the island. Recklessly, the boy hurled the boat at the canal, and the bow wave, pushing against the cement walls, flooded the water up and over them. Will’s boat slithered across the island, riding half a foot above the canal as on a cushion of water! Interlacing birch branches flailed the black boat’s windscreen as he tore through.
Rod Dawson hadn’t even tried to follow Will into the canal. The border patrolman figured the black boat’s pilot was deliberately going to pile his boat ashore then take to his heels—as so many other rumrunners had done elsewhere among the islands. To this day, Rod doesn’t know how Will got through the canal.
Winter came. freezing the shallows in the coves, then sending a delicate skein of ice out across the channels, finally freezing the St. Lawrence solidly enough to bear the weight of teams and wagons. Throngs of hikers trudged across the frozen river every day, each one testing the ice ahead with a long pike-pole. The men had bottles tucked into their long woolen underwear, bottles in their boots (just like history’s earliest bootleggers), and the women concealed bottles beneath their skirts. Probably two-thirds of the Canadians were tee-totalers. but Laurentian winters are long and cruel: and at this time the farms produce nothing, and there are no tourists. Consequently, prohibition in America was a Godsend to the riverbank Canadians, who ordinarily regard winter as a period of bankruptcy.
Will’s job in the black boat was naturally suspended until the Spring thaw, but he didn’t feel the need to join the smuggling pilgrims crossing the ice. Always one to stop to size things up,Will decided there just wasn’t enough money in it per trip: and besides, he was already a marked man as far as the Border Patrol was concerned. He had several thousand dollars in the box behind the barn and, with exception of a few dollars laid out for winter clothing, he’d saved every dime of it. What is more, he and his father had a plan for the money. So Will played hockey through that winter and listened, in his slightly disdainful manner, to the stories told by his friends and neighbors. They were invariably tales in which the tellers were the heroes, and the border patrolmen were the patsies.
Looking back, it’s difficult to imagine the Border Patrolmen having much of a chance to enforce the law. The border was too long: the patrolmen too few. Be-sides, the Thousand Islands were (and are) a smuggler’s paradise, and both riverbanks are crinkled with dark, wooded coves. The United States would have to station agents a yard apart all along the frontier, holding hands 24 hours a day, to stop the wholesale rumrunning.
Nor were Will and his countrymen the only thorns in the U.S. Government’s side. Also arrayed against the Federals was the population of the State of New York; and whenever the revenuers made a pinch, they’d see their case against the culprits tossed out the courthouse window. A man smuggling in a case of butter might well be sentenced by a dairy-farming judge to a year and a day in Atlanta, but a man running in a case of booze would be fined one dollar. After all, the men in the jury box were probably smuggling for themselves, and the judge on the bench at 10 a.m. would be setting ‘em up for his cronies at 10 p.m. —With liquor he likely brought from the sheriff.
In retaliation, some of the Federal agents dealt harshly with the law-deriding population, using kicks, curses, and even pistolfire, to get their way. At one point Rod Dawson had five indictments for assault outstanding against him. All Rod’s accusers alleged he’d been somewhat overzealous in the performance of his duty. One complaint stated that Dawson flew into a fit of rage and beat up a motorist when he failed to find the man guilty of smuggling.
The ice had no sooner gone banging and crashing downriver than Will, wearing a heavy Mackinaw against the Spring chill, was out on the night water again with the black boat. Once again, he played the thrilling game of tag in which the payoff for the winner was jackpot pay, and the payoff for the loser was jail—or sometimes death.
There was, however, a sort of neutral corner in this perilous game. A boat without contraband could not be seized; and many boats hotly pursued would manage to dump their loads before being apprehended. Thus, there’d be no evidence to take to a court; therefore, no arrest.
Will almost came to grief one windy Saturday when, against hist better judgment, he agreed to pilot a friend’s power launch loaded with booze across river in broad daylight. She was one of those sharp-ended old craft, long and narrow, the kind river people call “pickerel chasers.” She was powered, if that’s the word, by an antique two-lunger that couldn’t have lifted the Wright brothers a foot off the ground. Nevertheless, Will tried to buck her across, but along came the Border boat. There was no time to dump the load.
“We was up above Lyndoch Light,” Will said, “when we seen her coming. There wasn’t a thing in the world we could do; so, I just out the ax and chopped right through her bottom. I jumped over the side and swam to the nearest island then hid in the bushes. She was sunk by the time I got ashore.”
Naturally, Will felt badly about scuttling his friend’s boat, but he didn’t feel badly enough to consider replacing it. Losing a boat was just part of the game. However, with that characteristic ingenuity that has ever marked the North American. Will devised a special boat for his specialized trade. He called it a “sunfish boat,” after its oval flat deck
The “sunfish boat” was as tippy as a craft as ever set out on the wide St. Lawrence. It was purposely so. Her deck considerably overhung the narrow hull, and the gunwale, or retaining edge of the deck, was formed of loose boards secured by a rope. If pursued, the rumrunner could cut the rope with a hatchet and the boards when fall off. Then, the smuggler would kick one bag over the side and that would so unbalance the craft that she’d heel over to the opposite side—allowing more of the deckload to slide into the drink. After a couple lists, back and forth, the deck was swiftly cleared.
“She was what you’d call a gravity unloader,” Will complacently observed. “I designed her for Jimmy O’Dare. I never used her myself.”
The “sunfish boat” was an immediate success was widely copied, and was one of the reasons there are thousands and thousands of perfectly good bottles of whisky lying on the bottom of the St. Lawrence River today. Just last summer, a diver found a jettisoned load of liquor off the Alexandria Bay customs dock, of all places. The gunnysack bags had rotted, but the bottles were still tightly sealed, and the whisky inside them was as good as the day it was tapped from the charred oak kegs many decades ago.
As time went on, however, fewer and fewer “sunfish boats,” or any other kind of locally owned boats, plied the river. Farmers’ wives would still conceal bottles under their skirts whenever visiting friends or relatives in America, but there was no longer any market for liquor by the skiff load. Hardfaced strangers from New York City, Montreal, Toronto, and Chicago had come to the riverbank; and they not only procured the loads, but had it sent across in such boats as Will Stark drove. What is more than monopolized the ultimate distribution and sale.
Rumrunning had become big business, and the men who ran it simply eliminated all competition. Their business methods were simple and direct. As an example, one night three men held up and robbed Will’s friend Charley Henry, and his mother, then smashed their skiff. The Henrys retired from the field. So did all other “honest” smugglers.
The big mobs not only cut the throat of amateur competition, they also began to cut one another’s. At this point, law enforcement became far simpler for three reasons:
First, the country people on both sides of the river resented the intrusion of ill-mannered strangers-as country people will. Local juries began delivering “guilty” verdicts; local judges started handing out stiffer sentences.
Second, Canadian police agencies now began working hand-in-glove with U.S. Authorities. The Mounties didn’t like the strangers from Chicago from the United States and underselling the local liquors. They didn’t believe in reciprocal trade.
Third, as if the mobs began quarreling among themselves, police found ways and means to set mob against mob—to plant spies within the organizations. Trying to check the illegal activities of an entire population was impossible, but curbing the operation of five or six companies of banditti was something else again.
Apparently Will Stark’s employers fell victim to the ruthless feuding among the gangs controlling the river; for one evening when Will reported as usual to the cove where his black boat was to be loaded, there was no boat. Nor was there the sign of any whisky to be loaded, nor any truck, nor any of the old, ugly faces. Will waited for them until false dawn, with only a hunting owl to keep him company. The puzzled Will returned the next night, but again there was only the empty cove and the silent river. He reported again the following again the following week, and finding himself alone a third time, decided his job had vanished. Will’s conclusion couldn’t have been more correct. He never saw his confederates again—except once, years later, when he caught a glimpse of the pimpled Doc in a crowd in Toronto.
Somewhat at loose ends, Will took stock of the long summer ahead.
The future that had seemed so bright now seemed gloomy. Through with high school, there was apparently nothing to do but go to work. Will didn’t mind work, because he was born to it, as all riverfront people are. But he understandably loathed the thought of losing a job paying him a thousand dollars a night. But as luck would have it, an American cousin, Georgie Pond, suggested another way to make a smaller, but still easy living.
Georgie drove a truck for a gang of Chicagoans who owned and operated the Dawn, formerly a Canadian revenue cutter. Will could drag down fifty bucks a night, Georgie promised, just helping him on the American side. He’d unload bags from the Dawn then reload them on Georgie’s truck.
Will thoughtfully analyzed this offer. As long as he remained afloat in a fast boat among islands and shoals he knew better than any fishing guide, the odds were in his favor. But, he thought, he might be bucking the odds if he worked at a thoroughly illegal business ashore — and a foreign shore at that. Still, he accepted. Perhaps he accepted because he was, after all, only 18. Perhaps it was because $50 was nearly three times as much as a skilled Canadian worker earned in week.
Four nights on the job wen well. Then, the next night, Will’s worst fears were confirmed.
The Dawn had eased into the appointed cove above Chippewa Bay, and anchored offshore. A punt unloaded her, then Will, Georgie, and two helpers carried the bags from the punt into the woods where the truck was parked. Will was struggling up the pine-needled slope when a police whistle shrilled, and Rod Dawson’s heavy voice blared like the sound of doom:
“Stick ‘em up!”
Will wasn’t captain of his high school hockey team for nothing. His reflexes were quicksilver fast, and never faster than on that night. He scooted out from under his bag of bottles and raced, head down, toward an empty summer house that bulked darkly against the moonlit trees.
The Dawn chopped her anchor lines and roared out of the little cove never to be seen again.
The two men rowing the punt dropped their two rifles and a shotgun over the side then surrendered. Georgie Pond, and two others who’d been helping load the truck, also fled into the cottage—piling in seconds after Will slithered under a living room couch. Rod Dawson and his brother officer, Cy Talbert,, roared through the door hard after the routed rumrunners.
Rod’s brutal face was twisted into the shape he used for a grin. At last, eh could pounce on the prey he’d stalked so long. He slammed the door behind him and half-crouching, lumbered into the room. It was dark in the cottage, but no one struck a light. Patrolman Talbert suddenly collided with the wood stove, and soot billowed from the broken pipe through the gloom. From beneath his couch. Will suddenly heard the battle royal crash around the room.
The five men punched indiscriminately at any vague target, but in this sort of rough and tumble there was unfortunately never a doubt about the outcome. Rod Dawson had been an Army sergeant before World War I, and he’d been further ill-tempered in the old pro football league that flourished around Canton, Ohio, in Thorpe’s salad days.
One rumrunner was quickly floored—where he lay gasping and sick—and another was hardpressed. Then Rod caught a glimpse of the target he’d yearned to see: the shadow figure of a small man or boy. A boy with a big nose.
“At last!” Rod exulted. “At last I got that smart little runt right where I want him!”
The big cop started his punch somewhere out West, throwing all his savage 250 pounds and his entire career into it. SMASH! He yowled like a scalded cat as his huge right fist crumpled and broke on a cigar store Indian’s wooden heat.
Will owed his skin to the cottage owner’s hobby of collecting antiques. A fine old wooden Indian stood guard over him.
Rod’s unlucky punch ended the fight, although not exactly in the way he’d intended. When they heard him howl, each of the two smugglers still fighting thought the other had been badly hurt, so they both surrendered.
“Let’s take a look at ‘em,” Rod growled, and Patrolman Talbert struck a match.
The agents lit a kerosene lantern they found still hanging on the wall, and the yellow light revealed the chaotic scene of four heavily-breathing battered men and the sick wretch on the floor of a shattered, devastated cottage. The light crept a little way beneath the couch under which Will Stark was trying hard not to breathe, and he tried to shrink even further out of sight.
“There must be another one,” Rod growled. “I could have swore that big-nosed kid was in this goddam place. I could have swore I seen him run in here.”
“You keep these guys here, and I’ll search the cottage,” Patrolman Talbert volunteered.
“Make it quick!” Rod grumbled, “this goddam hand is killing me.”
Will heard footsteps coming nearer. Then, they went right past him as the agent walked through a door, searching the kitchen and bedrooms. The footsteps came back.
“Hell,” Rod snorted, he probably went right on past this dump and into the woods. The hell with him. Let’s get to town, this hand’s killing me.”
The boy under the couch listened tensely in the silence, long after the agents left the house with their captives. It was hours before Will crept out from beneath the couch to stand stealthily by window; and it was only after long minutes of searching the shadows of the empty woods, that he slipped softly out the door. Back on his father’s farm, Will once again considered the odds. He was not unnerved—merely thoughtful. Gangsters had frozen him out of his river job, and the pay for the risks ashore in the United States just wasn’t worth it. Besides, eh had too much to lose. He had a little more than $24,000 in the boxes behind the barn, and the farm was out of hock at last. Will decided to quit while he was ahead.
Will and his father spent the money slowly. It had always been Mr. Stark’s dream to have his own machine shop—he’d been a machinist before Grand father Stark had left him the encumbered farm — so together father and son built themselves a new business on Will’s quick-gotten gains.
Today Will Stark is a little bantam rooster of a man with thinning black hair, a growing round belly, and, of course, his great blade of a nose. He has a comely wife and four strapping songs to help him manage his many affairs, which include a tourist hotel, a fishing camp, a boat livery, and a boatyard. He is also a proprietor of a flourishing contracting businesses —the construction and maintenance of Thousand Island summer cottages—and he even sells gas and oil. His savings and checking accounts at the Bank of Montreal make pleasant reading, and he owned all his property, businesses, boats, and shops free and clear.
Will’s voice is sought in municipal matters; he’s been elected president of the Brock Lea school board again and again; and all things considered, he’s the picture of a man whose youthful crimes paid very well.
“Yep.” Will stated, slapping a thick, greasy hand down on a big bench vise in his marine machine shop, “Dad and I built this here boathouse and shop all by ourselves. We bought these here lathes, and falls, and tools, and all, bit by bit: and as business got better, we added the hotel and the rest of it.
“A lot of young fellows spent their money just as fast as they got it; but 1 listened to Dad, and every cent of that money is right here today, right in this place.”
He looked around at his little empire with immense satisfaction.
And Rod Dawson? What happened to him? Why, today Rod’s sitting in a New York Customs Service office. moodily-pushing papers around, thinking from time to time of his pending retirement. Ask him about the old Volstead prohibition days, and he’ll cheer up and tell stories by the hour—his eyes bright and his voice bold as he relives the days of his strength. Then he’ll sigh and tell you: “Them was the days—if it was excitement you loved. Now all we do is expedite the goddam tourist traffic.”