It was an early Saturday mornin’. The sun was just startin’ to turn the gray sky to blue. I had just finished packin’ up the last load of shine. This load would be delivered to a friend of mine up in Clemmons, NC. I had put together a nice mash with apples and honey inside it. It tasted so good I kept an extra six quarts for myself. It would come in handy when the weather got colder.
The old copper still had sat next to the North Fork Edisto River all season long. I had her up in the woods, away from pryin’ eyes. I hated to see this season end. I knew I would not be usin’ this spot again for a long time. I loved this location. A breeze ran past the still most evenin’s when I would wander out this way. You could hear the frogs and crickets in the summertime. Without any houses around to light the sky the stars would go on forever.
This was my location to get close to God. Even without my still, it’s my favorite place in South Carolina to come and think about things. The fella that owns the land is a friend of mine, and he knows I’d never harm anything. Just like the last time when I used this location, I intend to return and break down my equipment, load up all my belongin’s and take them back to the barn. When I have everything cleaned up this spot will look prettier than the day I started brewin’. I just had to complete this one last delivery.
I knew goin’ across state lines was a dangerous game. When you run moonshine to your neighbors’ homes you’re less likely to run into trouble. The police are not always in the mood to take you in on account of you deliverin’ your product to their neighbors, or kin. Makin’ deliveries is even easier if the cops, or the mayor, are customers. However, if you head across state lines they are not as understandin’. North Carolina is especially nasty because of their government run ABC cartel. Those folks keep a strangle hold on any and all alcohol bein’ sold in the state. If they find you shinin’ they won’t hesitate to throw you in jail and make an example out of you to other moonshiners who might try and come into their state.
I slowly drove my old 4×4 pickup truck down through the woods, across my buddy’s field, up past his barn, and onto the road. The sun had finally made its way up past the tree line. I was headin’ north on 601. The trees and grass were still green, but the taste of early fall was in the air. The longer mornin’ shadows off the trees reminded me cooler weather was close at hand.
I wanted to avoid the interstates. I wasn’t worried none about the police findin’ my shine as long as I was not involved in any sort of wrecks. Takin’ the smaller highway and slower speed would be the safer route, and it was a fair bit prettier.
Now, I love my old truck. She has been faithful to me for over thirty years. I painted her gray five years ago so we wouldn’t draw too much attention together. I was lookin’ forward to the drive. The country roads were mostly empty and the air had just enough bite to make it worthwhile to roll down my window. Everything was perfect as I got into the next county, but ten minutes later I saw a deputy behind me with his lights on. I looked down at my speedometer. Sure enough, I was driving just under. I pulled on over figurin’ he would go right on by, but son of a gun, he pulled in behind me.
He asked for my license and registration. His name plate said Officer Odell.
“Do you know why I stopped you?” Odell asked.
“No, sir.” I could answer right honestly.
He smiled, bent down, and looked under my truck. I could feel my butt cheeks gettin’ a little tighter. I had hid my friend’s shine in a spare gas tank. Actually, it only looks like a gas tank. It’s always used to haul my moonshine if folks need more than a few quarts.
Officer Odell handed me back my license. “Looks like you’ve got a leak,” he said. “From the smell of it I believe it’s apples. I don’t suppose you want to explain that to me.”
Now, being an old country boy, this was not my first rodeo. “Absolutely, officer. I have a buddy who makes ethanol. He was low on corn and wanted to see how apples would work. I’m testin’ it out for him in my old truck.”
“Uh-huh,” was all Officer Odell would say. He took off his glasses and looked straight into my eyes with his baby blues. “Mr. McCray. Let me make this quick because I don’t know how big your leak is. I think I know a relative of yours who goes by the name Marcus Johnson.”
I smile because I believe I know where this is headed, and I begin to nod my head slowly.
The officer smiled back and continued, “Good. I have some tape in my patrol car that should fix your leak. I’m willing to help out if you are willing to share some of your “ethanol” with me?”
Well who am I to say no? Especially when an officer is kind enough to help me fix my leak. He goes back to his patrol car and gets his gorilla tape. I crawl under and tape off the crack that evidently happened when I was drivin’ over the rocks out of the riverbed. I crawled back out from under the truck, open my door, reached behind the seat, and gave Officer Odell one of the six quarts I had kept for myself.
I said, “Much obliged.”
The officer took off the lid, took a sip and smiled. “You drive safe now.” He said as he screwed the lid back on. “Don’t let anyone else catch you with that ethanol. They may not be so understanding.”
I thanked him for his advice and started back on the road after he left me. The drive was still beautiful, and God was showin’ me His mercies. After all, if the deputy hadn’t pulled me over I wouldn’t have known my shine was leakin’ out of my secret tank. If that had kept up I was liable to be plumb dry by the time I got where I was goin’, and my friend would be powerfully disappointed.
The sky was a beautiful Carolina blue as I pulled into the south end of Mocksville, NC. I had been cruisin’ at a cool fifty miles per hour most of the trip. I didn’t have too much further to go when I passed a police car parked near Mocksville Motors. I waved as I went by, and he smiled and waved back. As I went on by I noticed the black and white police cruiser turned his lights on. I reckoned he had a call come, and so I slow down and look to see which direction he is headed. When I see him turn right I pull on over out of his way. To my surprise the fella pulled in right behind me.
Now if this were back home I wouldn’t be worried none. Even my Sheriff will let me off with a warnin’ after takin’ my shine for safe keepin’, but I was well out of state. The officer walked up and I have my window already rolled down and both my hands on the steerin’ wheel. I glanced at his badge. “Officer Alex McCoy, good mornin’ to you sir.”
He smiled and sort of looked past me into my cab. “Good morning. I need your license and registration please.”
Of course I complied, and he left for a few minutes and then came back. He had a pair of gloves on and a piece of paper. “Do you know why I stopped you?” he asked.
I shook my head, “No sir. I thought I was drivin’ right neighborly through your town.”
Alex nodded, “You were, but unfortunately, the speed limit drops to 45 and you were drivin’ 50.”
I smacked the steerin’ wheel, and the officer reached towards his gun. I slowed down and said, “I apologize, I didn’t see that speed limit sign. I promise it won’t happen again.”
Alex smiled, nodded and then handed me a warnin’ ticket. “I know it won’t. This is just a little piece of paper to remind you. By the way, Mr. McCray, did you know your left rear tire is almost flat?”
That was news to me, and explained why the truck felt squishy to drive, even with a full tank of shine in the bottom of it. I decided to answer honestly, and hopefully get the officer on his way. “No, sir. I can get out and fix that right after you leave. I have a spare under the truck bed.”
Alex said, “Go ahead and step out, and I’ll give you a hand.”
I suppose he was one of those officers who does protect and serve. He offered to lay down a few flares, and I got the jack and tools out of the back of the cab before he could see my jars. Alex met me at the tailgate while I was crankin’ down the spare from underneath the truck bed. As soon as it was down he offered to loosen the lug nuts before I jacked up the truck. He was right neighborly and very handy with that old tire.
I had just slipped off the flat tire when Officer McCoy says, “Do you smell that?”
“What?” I ask.
“Smells sort of like apples, or something sweet.”
I smile and scratch the back of my neck while I try and come up with an answer. “Well, I did drive through my neighbor’s apple orchard this mornin’ We had been out there workin’ last night puttin’ apples in the truck and then unloadin’ where he stores them on the farm. I reckon that’s what you’re smellin’.”
Officer Alex stuck his head over into the bed of the truck, sniffed, shook his head, but kept right on workin’. I was hopin’ all this work was takin’ his mind off of where that smell could be comin’ from. I tossed the flat into the bed of the truck after Alex lowered the truck back down. Then Officer McCoy started walkin’ towards the cab of the truck.
I put out my hands and said, “Let me take those. I know where they go.”
The officer smiled, “That’s alright, Lucius. I have an old pickup just like this at home. It used to belong to my dad.”
Well I knew I was about to be in a whole lot of trouble. If he moved that blanket at all he was going to find my last five quarts of beautiful apple honey moonshine. I hear him workin’ around in the back of my cab, but I’m not goin’ anywhere near it. I’m thinkin’ at this point it might be wiser to give Officer McCoy all the room he wants. I pretend to be busy checking the spare tire chain under the truck. When I stand up Alex is standing there with a clear Mason jar in his hand, and a right serious look on his face.
“Lucius, tell me something, buddy. Is this what I think it is?”
I was caught red handed. I just prayed Officer McCoy would be a merciful man. I responded, “I guess that depends. Do you think it’s water?”
Alex just slowly shook his head no. It was obvious he was not in the mood to play, but I wanted to keep things lighthearted. “Well then, it’s probably exactly what you think it is.”
Officer McCoy asked me, “Are you up here to sell this?”
“No.” I answered truthfully. “Those jars are all that’s left. I was keepin’ them for me. I’m just up here visitin’ an old friend around Clemmons.”
Alex gave me a right skeptical look, and opened the jar. He swirled it around a little bit, smelled it, and to my surprise took a sip. He closed his eyes for a few seconds and then a smile came across his lips. He twisted the top back on, and said, “You know I should haul you on in for this. There’s enough shine back here to distribute, but I believe you. This is some of the best homemade liquor I have come across in a long time. If I had made this, I’d keep it too. So here’s what I am proposing. You put four of those jars in the trunk of my cruiser and we’ll call it even.”
Before I could stop my mouth from talkin’ I answered, “But that only leaves me with one.”
Alex frowned. Then he answered in a more serious tone, “Well, the second option is that I take all your liquor and haul you off to jail.”
I didn’t allow my mouth to open now until I was ready. “Officer McCoy, please allow me to help load your liquor into the trunk of your car.”
With a simple nod of his head officer McCoy passed on by me holdin’ that first mason jar like it was his newborn son. He had the trunk open as I grabbed the other three and took them on over to him. He kindly advised me to hide that last quart under the passenger seat, and then waited for me to pull back out on the road. I watched him do a U-turn and head the other direction. Although the officer’s fee was high, I was thankful to he showed me that tire before it started to shred. That could have caused all sorts of havoc.
The rest of the trip up into Clemmons went on without incident. I met my buddy Blake back yonder a piece off Center Grove Church Road at his house. I knew he liked what I had brought him when he started to siphon it out of the tank but drank down a fair amount before lettin’ it empty it into his clean buckets. He paid me my askin’ price, but then shared some of it with me as well. Needless to say, I had to stay a fair amount longer than I had anticipated. Darla finally called me and said I should get on home.
I said my goodbyes and hit the road. My old truck drove a lot lighter now that the liquor was out of the tank. I took that old pickup, got on the interstate and practically bounced all the way home. I pulled in the driveway as the sun was just below the horizon. I was happy to see that Darla had remembered the porch light on for me. I fished out my remaining mason jar and headed to the house.
As soon as I opened the door Wobbly met me and promptly slobbered all over my work boots. I guess I still had the taste of apples from the still because that dog would hardly let me take a step before he was lickin’ those boots. Once Darla thought I had had enough, she called Wobbly into the kitchen and gave him a piece of bacon she was cookin’. I walked on in to say hello.
She took one look at me and said, “Where’s the other jars?”
I shook my head. “It’s a long story, but I guess the good Lord only thought I needed one quart for this winter.”
Darla looked back down at what she was cookin’ and said, “Good. Go put that in the pantry and don’t open it before Christmas.”
I nodded, walked into the pantry, quietly unscrewed the lid, took a long sip, and then put it away. A person should enjoy the fruits of their labor after all. I walked back out of the pantry with a smile on my face.
Darla took one look at me and said, “I know what you were doing in there. You be good.”
I smiled, went into the livin’ room, sat in my chair, turned on the television and hollered over my shoulder, “It’s y’all be good!”