Category Archives: Gray Gold

Will They Ever Learn?

The novel Gray Gold is set in WWII America, but it could be fit to any time. Anywhere and every time there are rule makers, cronies set up to profit from those rules, and people willing to work around the edges of the system to make their own way. A new article at Reason.com touches on just one golden opportunity set up by modern governments.

Politicians Make Bootlegging Great Again
reason.com

When Prohibition ended in 1933, my great-grandfather, Giuseppe Marano, thought his money-making glory days were over. Having made a good living selling alcoholic beverages to willing buyers at a time when that business was illegal across the country, he and his cohorts certainly viewed the passage of the 21st Amendment as the end of a very profitable era. Except that it really wasn’t. Politicians may have formally dumped the national ban on booze, but in many places they’ve imposed enough foolish restrictions to keep bootlegging a going concern.

If you can pick up a hot 1939 Lincoln like Nick Guyon’s, skip the extra fuel tanks and set it up to run whisky.

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Desert Heat

[Nick Guyon put thought and experience into the kit of tools he took out on jobs.]

I double checked that the pull bar to the carbs was yanked full out to max efficiency. The mechanic who installed it promised the engine would sip fuel like a nun at a whisky bar that way, but if I pushed it in, he had it set to open up wide and give me a good twenty horses over the stock setup.

After I’d bought that rig and tried it out, with a big grin showing, the greasy wrench showed me a bulletin about oiling problems on the aging Ford V-12 design. I was out another sixty bucks for him to fit a secondary oil pump, but I had a hot motor that could outrun and outlast anything on the road.
I’d made a few other changes to the car, but nothing that mattered on a simple escort job like this. All I had to do was keep the truck in front of me, and scare off anyone who approached it. I couldn’t imagine anything getting it its way but a skittish road runner. But since I was technically on detail, I had a few appropriate tools.

The PI-standard snub-nose .38 revolver sat in its usual place, in a pocket holster locked in the glove box. I didn’t like anything about it, but some places that license private investigators actually insist that a .38 revolver is the only piece they carry. Go figure. Anyway, it looks harmless enough that most people aren’t put off by it.

More to my liking, and usually closer to me, was a Canadian-made 9 mm pistol. A lot of guys swear by the big fat .45 caliber rounds, but I had a baseball bat in the trunk which is about as useful for close-range slugging. Plus, when working alone I liked to bring a lot of friends with me, and the 9 mm stacks thirteen rounds under the barrel.

A classic Remington pump shotgun shared the trunk with the bat. It wasn’t real smooth, partly because I’d notched parts of it to make more noise when racking. The noise of a shotgun being pumped is enough to make a mob change its mind, sometimes.

A little food and water, besides what the other driver had handed me, a good flashlight, and an overcoat for the desert night completed my kit.

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The Waiting Game

Eventually I found a good place to wait, a rural corner store closed for the day. I was suddenly nervous. I had every reason to be anxious, but up to that point I had been too busy to let it come out.

I went through a practiced routine of exercises to kill the butterflies and settle my mind. I smoked a cigarette, too, but I would have done that anyway.

I thought about getting shot down by Angela Vickers in sixth grade. I thought about getting shot for real behind an underground casino in Newark. I thought about the current situation and decided everything that could be done to control my situation had been done. I was at peace. If things went badly it was just dumb luck.

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Gray Gold teaser – April 16, 1943; Tucson, Arizona

I skimmed the main headline stories while eating. Fighting in north Africa. Fighting in the Solomons. Federal intervention in another strike. Over a cigarette and second cup of coffee I got into my usual chore of working through the inside pages. A kitchen fire with no casualties but loss of the entire house. A war bond event coming up. A war bond event total from two days ago. A boring weather forecast.

I took my time over the classifieds. I wasn’t in the market, but used car ads said much about conditions in any city. At the beginning of rubber rationing, every car ad claimed ‘good new tires’ if it could. Very few made the claim any more. It was a cinch that the wheels of those cars were shod in ratty old shoes. The lucky ones would have gummy cheap retreads.

As I came across space-for-rent listings, I circled some and took a few notes. I needed a more permanent place to live, and a small office would be ok if it could be had cheaply enough. Just into the last paper, the Tucson Citizen afternoon edition from the day before, a short story jumped out at me.

Prominent in section B, on the front page under the fold, was the headline “Another War Truck Hijacked on NM Highways”. The article mentioned the Zelatoff company, that it was a critically needed load of copper wire and plate, and that the entire vehicle was taken. Thankfully my name wasn’t mentioned, just that, “a hired armed escort was overcome entirely by the brigands and did not even observe the direction of their escape.” I thought it was a hatchet job, but wasn’t about to call in and complain.

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Research Done Right

Hemingway spent years in Spain during the revolution before writing For Whom the Bell Tolls. Fleming went through and deep into every place James Bond worked. The American Southwest is the setting for Gray Gold and its likely sequels.

A trip through New Mexico, Arizona, and southern California was essential to this author before trying to bring alive breathing characters in those challenging deserts and bountiful orchards.

A sharp eyed reader will recognize the arrangement of this shot from the real Fort Selden, in Radium Springs, New Mexico.

The ship yards of San Diego are likely to turn up in print also.

One certain thing is that Nick Guyon spends a lot of time on the open road.

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