Memphis Fast Fiction Home
Cameron Harper

That a was the sixth time in the last hour the negro waiter had walked past them with a tray of beer mugs on his shoulder.

Three times he’d walked past them to the polling station, mugs filled to the brim. Three times he’d walked back to the saloon he’d come from, mugs drained to the bottom.

“Should we do something about that?” Thompson said, pointing his nightstick at the waiter as he turned into the saloon.

Shrugging, Leopold pointed out that this might be the last time for anyone gets a decent drink in the whole state.

They’d been pulled from their regular beats to keep an eye on the polling station during the state’s prohibition vote. With the exception of rattling beer mugs, it had been completely uneventful.

“I’m tellin’ you, we really should do something about that,” Thompson nagged.

“Fine, fine, fine.” Leopold said, pulling a handkerchief from his breast pocket. “Waiter! Over here!”

The waiter stopped, looked anxiously at the two white patrolmen and walked over, slowly.

“There a problem, mister?”

“Your fermentation is showing,” Leopold said with a smile, draping the handkerchief over the mugs. “Bring two more for us next time you fill up.”

Memphis Note
One of the few things Tennessee has ever been ahead of the curve on was the prohibition of alcohol. The state dried out close to a decade before the rest of the country. Or, at least it was supposed to. But thanks to the loose politics of Boss Crump and select enforcement of state laws, Memphis stayed wet much longer than the rest of the state.

Amanda Yarbro-Dill

“Mister Ballard?” I asked the man sitting at a booth by himself in the back of the diner. It was lunch time, the place was bustling, which was probably what he wanted.

The man looked up from his paper and beamed a smile at me. “Excellent. Glad you came. Didn’t know if you would.”

He motioned for me to sit, and I slid in across from him.

“About your deal, sir,” I whispered, awkwardly. “I’m not sure I fully understand what you’re asking.”

“Simple proposition, easiest kind. Don’t do your job. Interfere with mine. Generally speaking, be a thick headed ass. City awards me the electrical contract because your boss’s company was too much trouble.“

I was about to give him a stern reprimand for speaking to me in such a way when a waiter dropped off several plates of food for Ballard.

“Don’t act indignant.” He said before I could respond. “Met your mayor. Know enough about this town. Morality here is as murky as the water in your river.”

He snapped his napkin out and stuffed a corner of it down his collar like a bib.

“Besides, how else could you make a few year’s salary doing nothing?”

Memphis Note
F.W. Ballard was a electrical engineer and business man the city of Memphis hired to assess a private electrical utility for purchase in the early part of the 20th century. At that point, utilities operated by getting contracts from the city, and most of those contracts gave the city the option to purchase the utility if the city deemed it in its best interest. In Ballard’s case, the company he was brought in to assess refused to cooperate, resulting in Ballard recommending the city build its own electrical grid. Which of course his company would be happy to help the city with.

Lori Brunson

“Hello, Mister…Carlton, isn’t it?” The doctor in the white coat extended his arthritic hand and a warm smile.

Thomas Carlton stood up from the overstuffed sofa, nodded and shook the proffered hand. “Yes sir, that’s right. Thomas Carlton.”

His smile never wavering, the doctor sat down behind his simple writing desk. “Why don’t you tell me what the problem is?”

“It’s my wife, sir. She’s so deep down in the bottle that I don’t think she’ll ever find her way out of it. And I hate to be this way, but I don’t think I can take any more of it.” Thomas could feel a tightness in his throat. He had to fight to keep going. “I don’t know how many calls I can get from strangers at all-night diners where she’s passed out in the bathroom.”

“You’ve come to the right place, son. The James Sanatorium has an absolutely impeccable reputation for curing all manner of addictions and nervous diseases.”

The smile held, it was starting to make Thomas uneasy.

“You’re not going to hurt her are you?” He asked, shifting nervously.

“She’s already hurt herself. All that’s left is healing.” The doctor said, his rictus beaming.

Memphis Note
The James Sanatorium originally occupied the old Raleigh Springs Hotel, a beautiful red and white painted building that looked like something transplanted from the Alps. The sanatorium had one of the best reputations of any medical facility in the South for curing people of their addictions. If some one was unable to travel to the sanatorium, the institution had its own line of mail order medicines and cure-alls. The old hotel burned down in 1912, and the sanatorium moved closer to downtown Memphis. I can’t find a record of when it finally closed or what happened to the second building, now replaced by boarded over homes.

Eric Tate

Crump fumed in the overstuffed chair, chomping on the end of a lit cigar. His aides glanced nervously at each other. They were in quite a quandary, and Boss Crump hated quandaries. The judge had ruled that he couldn’t hold both the sheriff’s and mayor’s offices at the same time, and it was too late to get their man on the ballot for the vote.

Crump leaned forward.

“You ever seen one of those trained crows that writes its own name? Stupid bird’s got no idea what it’s writing, it just knows how to put lines down on paper to get a treat.

“Now, near as I can figure, even the simplest human brain should be as smart as a crow’s.

“Gentlemen, I propose we teach the population of Memphis to scratch out a name, just like a trained crow.”

“A write-in win? Is that even possible?” Asked a man in the back.

“I once bought an election by paying the poll tax for every negro that voted for me, and even then, I only won by 79 votes. This isn’t even close to the heights of lunacy I’m willing to climb. Get to teaching crows to write, boys.”

Memphis Note
Boss Crump’s first major political mistake was attempting to hold both the offices of city mayor and county sheriff. When the courts finally ruled against him on the matter, it was too late for Crump to get his chosen man on the ballot. So, he organized a write-in campaign. And to ensure his man wouldn’t lose, his people taught illiterate voters how to write his candidate’s name,”Reichman.”

Michael Whitten

“…under arrest for the illegal distribution of an illicit substance.” Were the words Doctor Ben Friedman heard when his brain finally engaged again. He knew this moment was coming, but he still wasn’t quite ready for when it did.

The two detectives standing on his front porch looked at each other awkwardly when he didn’t respond immediately.

“You know, I considered gobbing down a whole handful of the things when I heard about what happened down in New Orleans,” Friedman said to the pair.

“Probably best you didn’t do that, Doctor Freidman.” The one that spoke gestured past Friedman, through the open door behind him. “You’ve got a family to think about, after all.”

Friedman shook his head. “I’ll have my license revoked for this. I won’t be able to practice medicine. If I’d been a man, killed myself, with the life insurance, they might’ve been able to keep the house…”

The other detective took his arm, leading him down toward the car. “Don’t ever think I’ve heard ‘been a man’ and ‘killed myself’ in the same breath before,” he said as they walked. “Less of course if it was saying how he’d never been one.

“A man that is.”

Memphis Note
In 1917, an opiate drug ring was busted in New Orleans. It lead back to a group in Memphis that was illegally distributing opium tablets, and at the heart of that group was our Doctor Friedman. He was writing thousands of false prescriptions for the drugs. The bust put an end to the largest drug operation in Memphis until the start of Prohibition.