A Story of Newfoundland Screech Rum
I wave my hand. “Damn proprietor was watering down the whiskey and now he has the audacity to close.”
“Tis Sunday morning,” replied Pierre Benoit, a Newfoundlander who Uncle Sam had contracted to build the airfield at Stephenville. “He can’t serve drinks on a Sunday.”
“Is that true, corporal?”
“It’s oh oh thirty hours, sir, Sunday morning.” The corporal dropped his hand.
It was November 1941 and I was sent by the U.S. Air Force to this dry hole. Well, it would have been dry if it weren’t for all this rain, drizzle and fog. The Destroyers for Bases Agreement gave us bases here and in the Caribbean. Why couldn’t I have been posted to Jamaica?
I looked at Benoit. “Where can a fellow get a drink at this time of night?”
“I have a drop at home, if ye don’t mind driving to Port au Port.”
Being under strict orders from the Pentagon to be friendly with the locals, especially the contractors – and feeling more than a little dry – I excepted.
It was a long muddy drive to Port au Port down a road built more for horses than jeeps. We eventually came to a stop. Pierre lived in a modest home by Texas standards, but it was what the local would call a mansion. I told the corporal to stay with the jeep while Benoit and I went inside. I didn’t what anyone to take off with our ride back.
The place was cluttered. Clothes scattered about along with building materials, mostly odds and ends from the base.
He showed me to the kitchen table. I sat on a wooden chair. “Where’s your wife.”
“The misses is upstairs in bed,” he replied before disappearing into a room off the kitchen.
When he returned, he was carrying a syrup bottle. Purity was a local company that made a colorful line of syrups, which was popular with children. However, I have never seen this light brown one flavour.
“Rum from Jamaica,” he replied as he half filled the two glasses he was carrying. “I traded three kettles of salt fish for it.”
Along with being the region’s only contractor, Joe also had a shipyard and a schooner. Rum running was a popular past time here. The rum, not being black, meant that it was most likely not the finest Jamaica product, but a watered down version.
My drink looked pitifully weak. “What am I suppose to do with this? Add booze for mix.”
Benoit picked up his glass and threw the rum back as if it was water.
I tapped the table. “Fill ‘er up.” I figured I could make up for the lack of quality of this rum flavored water with quantity.
Benoit grinned and filled my glass.
I held the glass to my lips and threw it back. It hit the back of my throat like a fifty caliber tracer slicing through the night on the way to my gut. “OWWW!”
My first thought was my scream had woken Mrs., but what happen next was worse. My driver, who was outside, heard my scream and came running into the house with his pistol drawn. He pointed the gun at Benoit. “What the Cripes, was that ungodly screech?”
“The screech?” Benoit held out the bottle. “Tis the rum, me son.”
The corporal looked at me and I waved my hand for him to lower his weapon. “Put away that gun before you shoot the only source of a decent drink.”
I put my glass on the table. “I hope you’re still serving.”
I woke the next morning on the couch in my office. Apparently, the corporal thought that I would not be able to report to duty, so he put me in my office and closed the blinds. Standing up brought on my hangover. Thankfully, it was quiet. I staggered outside to find my headquarters vacant except for one of Benoit’s men who was quietly painting the mouldings in the hall.
“Where is everyone?” I ask.
“They’re all out searching for… What are they calling it? Oh yes, the Screech Rum.”
This story was written in response to Jay Dee’s writing challenge known as What Will You Write?. “It’s History” is his sixth challenge. Everyone’s free to join in. Check out his post on the “It’s History” challenge.