The Mob Bar Mob
Hope finds gin, guns, and a little black book
"Open the book, Hope," said Tucker.
He'd reserved a table for us at the Mob Bar, a retro speakeasy in the Montreal Mob Museum's basement. I was extra late because Tucker had forgotten to text me the password, so the bouncer had refused to let me in.
Once I'd received and muttered the password, "Zozzled," the bouncer had checked off "Dr. Hope Sze" in a small black notebook, tucked the notebook in the left breast pocket of his navy peacoat, tipped his matching retro police cap, and finally allowed me to enter.
I tiptoed into this dark cellar with low ceilings, brick walls, and a mahogany bar. My high heels clacked on the wooden floor, and I scanned past an elderly couple and a trio of drunk businesspeople before I spotted Tucker's blond hair and green suit gleaming under the dim, yellow light.
Just before I sat down, facing the door, a female server in a discreet black dress placed a glass of ice cubes in front of me, with a blackberry on top of the topmost cube.
"Uh, thanks." An empty glass?
She pressed a black book, titled The Snitch's Diary, onto the dark wood table, beside my right hand.
Tucker also received a book and a glass of ice.
I raised my eyebrows.
That was when Tucker told me to open the book. But the heavy hardback was stuck closed, and its pages were glued together. I sputtered, "This is a fake book!"
Tucker laughed, so I turned the book sideways and used my nails to pry open the lid. It was really a cardboard box made to look like a book. Inside lay a glass flask filled with clear liquid.
"Pretty neat, huh?" said Tucker. "You have to pour your drink yourself. They used to hide booze inside books during the Prohibition."
The server smiled and whirled away to serve the businesspeople at the next table, interrupting their chat about mergers and acquisitions.
I popped open the flask and tipped the strong-smelling alcohol into the glass. I might prefer books to booze, but I was willing to try it. "What did you order me?"
"The Hope Diamond Gin. I got the Bee's Knees."
I laughed. "They say that in the Archie comics. It means fantastic."
"Yeah. They named the drink in honour of Bee Jackson, famous for dancing the Charleston, even though she probably ripped off an African American dance called the Juba."
I sighed to myself. Ain't that always the way.
"Yeah. Gin, lemon, and honey sound good, even if it is cultural appropriation." He started to open the box, but struggled even more than I did.
"Open the book, Tucker," I said, with an innocent wink.
"I can't. It's, like, taped shut." He picked up a sharp swizzle stick.
"Don't hurt their book!"
"I'm not. The tape would hurt the book more than this stick."
Tucker's a family medicine resident like me. I know he's got good hands. Still, I kept a nervous eye out for the server. I'm pretty sure they don't want you damaging fake books at the overpriced 21st century speakeasy.
Fortunately, the server seemed more interested in the old couple by the door. The man held up his glass, showing that he wanted a refill.
Meanwhile, the white businessman next to us grumped, "What about my moonshine?"
I glanced behind me. The bartender rolled up the cuffs of his white shirt and reached for a glass.
In other words, no one noticed Tucker's surgery on the booze book. I breathed a little more easily—until Tucker opened the book and basically turned translucent. He doesn't have the half the melanin in my Asian gene pool.
"What is it?" I mouthed at him.
He shut the book, fingers trembling. "It's not mine."
"What isn't?" I whispered.
He texted to me instead of speaking. I'm guessing $20K.
I blinked at him. We went out for a drink and ended up with $20,000 in a booze book?
The bouncer seemed like an obvious choice to tell, if only because of his Prohibition police uniform, but maybe I'd been fooled by his cap and double-breasted coat. We couldn't trust anyone.
I twisted in my chair to survey the room. The tall, tattooed, toothsome male bartender stared back at me. I counted two servers, including our own; the three businesspeople at the next table who were a white man, a white woman, and a black man; us; and the elderly white couple who looked like they might have survived the Prohibition, or at least been born at the same era as my Grandma.
"Huh," I said. "So we should call the police?"
Tucker shook his head. "I don't know that this is a crime."
"Yeah, but money doesn't fall out of the sky. Or out of a book."
"Agreed. It's just … I've never seen so much money before."
Both of us were poor students. I don't think anyone outside medicine has a clue that most of us graduate with at least $200,000 in debt. So free money was awfully tempting.
Tucker exhaled and said, "Okay. We have to figure out what to do with it. Let me go to the secret room."
I started to ask, What secret room?
But he'd already leapt out of his seat, the book tucked under his green suit jacket as he headed for the door.
I whipped out my phone to research. When the U.S. banned liquor sales in 1920, people turned to speakeasies, or underground bars. Modern speakesies tend to replicate secret rooms, if only so they can charge $20 a drink.
If Tucker knew the location and password, that doorman could probably find him a good hidey-hole.
I prayed that Tucker had that password.
"Where is it?" demanded the businesswoman with a sharp nose and an ever sharper voice, drawing my attention back to my neighbors.
"I don't got it," said the oversized white businessman beside her.
I shrank down in my seat, remembered I was supposed to be cool, and stirred my drink instead. I didn't dare drink it. I had to keep every last brain cell active.
"Ronald, where'd you put it?" the black businessman beside him asked.
"In a safe place," Ronald replied. "I told you that you could trust me, Rose," he added to the sharp woman.
Okay. Ronald and Rose. Those should be easy to remember. At least they were both R names. I avoided their eyes. Both men looked ready to fight. Even Rose could probably smash me. She looked twice my age, but also gave off a vibe like she'd fight dirty.
"I told you to leave the money alone. Now where is it?" Rose issued each word deliberately and viciously. Like a bullet.
Ronald shrank away. "I sent it to the back. I used a code word."
"You idiot. What code word?" Rose snapped.
"Look, no one's mad at you, Ronald, but we need to get the money back," said the black guy.
Rose shifted closer to Ronald. "I'm mad at you. I'd cut your eyes out if Xavier here didn't stop me."
Ronald bleated back to her, "Bees."
"That's the safe word. That's how I know it goes to the right place. Bees."
"You idiot. One of the drinks here is called The Bee's Knees. In fact, I think that old lady ordered one."
Uh oh. They all turned to stare at the old lady by the door, who continued to chat with her white-haired husband. The doorman/"policeman" hovered in the doorway too, although I saw no sign of Tucker.
Rose smacked her glass on the table. "Only one way to find out."
Oh, no. I couldn't let her hurt that old couple.
I headed for the door, pretended that my feet were hurting in my stilettos (true story), and plopped in a seat at the empty table next to the oldsters so I could adjust my heels, letting the trio pass by.
"Good evening," said Rose to the old lady. "We got our drinks order mixed up. Any chance you got the wrong book?"
The tiny, bespectacled, white-haired lady pointed to her drink. "It's quite delicious, thank you."
The elderly man looked up from his black notebook, where he was making notes. "Nothing wrong with my moonshine."
"May I see your Snitch's Diary?" said Rose, now displaying a tiny gun in her hand.
I dialed 911 and prayed under my breath that Tucker would hide in some secret room, away from the door.
The doorman/cop took a step from the doorway toward the couple. "Hey, now."
"Hey, what?" She turned the gun on him.
His hand twitched, and she pulled the trigger at his left chest.
Everyone cried out.
"Rose!" Ronald gasped.
"Shut up and find my money, unless you want to go with him!"
Meanwhile, my cell phone speaker said, "911, how may I direct your call?"
"Man shot at the Mob Bar," I whispered.
"I can't hear your response, ma'am. Do you need police or ambulance?"
I didn't dare say more to 911, but I left the call live so that they could triangulate on the Mob Bar.
If cell phone reception kept working in the basement, which is a big if.
"Now get his book, you idiot," said Rose. "Xavier, you take care of everyone else."
I cringed, scanning the room for weapons. My flask rested on my table. I could break it over someone's head, but not three someone's heads, let alone one armed with a gun. Chair—not great. My stiletto, same.
The old man rose to his feet. "Now, son, we can figure out another solution to this."
"Shut up, Grandpa," said Rose.
Grandpa yanked a gun out from under his suit jacket. "If you insist."
What? Another gun? This is Canada!
Then Grandma planted her feet and locked her arms, both hand braced on her own pistol.
A third gun? You're kidding me.
I couldn't outrun three guns. I hit the deck, banging my knees before I caught myself with my hands. Plus I bit my tongue when my chin conked into the floor. Still, I was alive.
Alive enough to hear sirens wailing outside.
"Is that the cops?" said Ronald.
Cars screeched to a halt. Doors slammed.
"Kill them!" Rose shouted. "Ronald, take out the old biddies!"
"Don't do it, Ronald!"
I flinched, recognizing Tucker's voice from the hallway.
"D'you hear what I said?" Rose yelled.
"Killing them won't bring back the money!" I shouted from the floor.
"Everyone shut up!" Rose screamed.
Feet trampled down the stairs, and the police, the real police, shouted at us to put our hands up.
So did Rose and Ronald, especially once Xavier turned a fourth gun on them. Turned out he was an undercover cop.
As were "Grandma" and "Grandpa," whose aging makeup didn't hold up as well once the bartender turned up the lights full blast.
I rushed to check on the fallen bouncer. He blinked and met my eyes when I ripped open his navy peacoat and hauled up his white cotton undershirt—
—revealing only an indented bruise and pierced skin on his left breast.
Don't tell them, he mouthed at me.
He wanted to stay "dead" until the coast was clear. Smart man.
"But—" He wasn't wearing a bulletproof vest. How did he survive Rose's gunshot?
I yanked the coat closed. His black notebook thumped on the floor, a tiny bullet trapped in its back cover.
I almost laughed, but I buttoned it up until the police led Rose and Ronald out the door.
Inspired by the true story of Constable Jeremy Snow, a New Zealand police officer whose notebook stopped a bullet aimed at his heart: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/4654409/Shot-officer-saved-by-notebook
Melissa Yi is an emergency physician and award-winning writer of the Hope Sze medical thrillers. As Melissa Yuan-Innes, she has also won awards for speculative fiction, poetry, and children’s literature.