William Kennet, 'Sailor Bill' to his friends, stood outside his large tent overlooking the village of Naramata drinking his morning coffee. He could hear his two daughters kicking up a mild fuss at his wife Sheila-Anne inside the tent, wanting griddle cakes for breakfast down at the Arawana Hotel. Myrna and Clara didn't like porridge no matter how much brown sugar and sweet cream was on it. The hotel dining room served fat and fluffy griddle cakes with butter and fruit syrups from blueberry to cherry to smother them with.
Their stubbornness made him smile. They knew what they wanted and refused to settle for less.
Stubbornness was a sign of will, and will had got him where he wanted to be in life, and at that moment building a new house in Arawana was where he wanted to be. The south Okanagan region with its acres of fruit trees and vegetables would be a goldmine for his transportation company, and the larger towns providing new customers for his other enterprises.
Three events brought him from Vancouver to the Okanagan Valley. The first was the reliable Southern Trans-Provincial Highway from Vancouver to Alberta, that skirted the south point of the valley. The second was the recent availability of gas powered refrigeration units for his trucks. The third, and most damning, was the 21st Amendment, repealing the Volstead Act and making liquor sales once again legal in the United States. Sailor Bill had made his early wealth running Canadian Club whiskey south of the border in swift, three masted sloops. But that ended on December 5th, 1933 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed the end of prohibition. Like most rum-runners, Kennet knew the end of that gravy train was coming and invested in a new form of transporting goods; refrigerated cargo trucks buying produce cheap in far flung areas and delivering it to his Vancouver warehouse as fresh as the day it was picked. The abundance of fruit and vegetables grown in the Okanagan made it a land of opportunity.
The Okanagan was a place begging to be staked, and drive his stake into its heart, he would. Like he planted his stake in Vancouver long ago as a wayward delinquent, rallying Irish and French orphans around him to form the Beatty Street Boys. They committed robberies and break-ins and thought they were rich because of it. But when he saw prohibition begin, he knew selling booze bought legal in Canada and sold illegally across the border was the way to go.
He and the few boys from Beatty Street who followed him, started with a stolen and repainted twenty foot dory, rowing it across Boundary Bay in the dead of night from White Rock to Blaine. It wasn't long before – by reinvesting their profits – they were sailing a single-masted sloop from Vancouver to Bellingham, then a two-master, then three, and soon a small fleet. During those years he grew wealthy and powerful, meeting Sheila-Anne and producing his girls, making life complete. But the tide had turned for Sailor Bill in 1933, so he turned his eyes from the sea to landward, and ultimately the Okanagan. Here he would put down roots and grow his empire even further.
"You seein' dat, Bill?"
Kennet pulled his gaze away from the lake. It was his main man and bodyguard Serge Chéret standing nearby pointing at something up the hill. Kennet looked and watched a cowboy on horseback leading a blond pony toward Arawana Road emerging from Main Street in the town above them.
"Dey got cowboys, 'ere?" Chéret chuckled.
"No, Serge. I think that's their Chief of Police."
"Don't got no Chief. They Provincials like da rest."
"I know. But people still call him Chief."
Chéret hocked and spat on the ground, following the mounted man with his eyes, "He don' look so tough."
Kennet smiled at Chéret. His man was half French and half negro, a large and capable mulatto he'd put up against any man. Chéret had fists of iron and handled the straight razor he kept in his pocket like a surgeon. Now always decked out in the finest suits and hats, he was one of the original rough Beatty Street Boys who was dedicated to Kennet and had saved his life more times than Kennet could remember.
"We'll see." Kennet said, "We don't go looking for trouble up here, Serge. Kennet Transportation Company is a legitimate trucking company and that's what we want everyone to believe. We play it friendly until we're pushed."
"Den we push back." Serge said.
"Yes. Only then." Kennet said, turning his gaze on Joe Morelli's crew working in the excavation for his new home, "But now we need to ask around. Get to know this copper before we meet him."
Chéret hocked and spat again at the thought of asking around about a flatfoot.
"And stop doing that, Serge." Kennet said as he walked toward the excavation, "It makes you seem crude and uncultured."
The breeze climbing up the hill brought the earthy scent of the lake with it and ruffled Kennet's hair as he made his way toward the building site of his new home. He missed the salt rich winds coming off the sea in his smuggler days, but did like the quiet of the small Okanagan town.
"Mister Morelli." Kennet called as he neared, Morelli lifting his head from the foundation he was creating; gluing large, glacial till stones together with thick mortar, assembling the round rocks into a perfectly level and squared foundation for the house to come.
He and his crew had reached ground level from the pit labourers had dug under his direction, including pony walls that would support the load-bearing walls above. The spaces between and around the stone walls would be backfilled and tamped to pack them tight, anchoring the house that would stand above the silt cliff that edged his property to the West.
"Yes, Mister Kennet?" Morelli set down his trowel and climbed up out of the excavation.
"How is it coming?"
"We'll have the crawlspace walls finished by the end of the week and start on the chimneys and fireplaces while the walls cure. You can schedule your carpenters to start in ten days."
"So, ahead of schedule."
"Good. That's good." Kennet said, admiring the man's craftsmanship, and appreciating that his crew kept working hard even though their boss' back was turned, "I know you live on the other side of the lake, but what can you tell me about the policeman people call Chief over here."
"Detective Corporal Brigham?"
"Is that his name? Brigham?"
"What's he like?"
Morelli shrugged, "I've never met him, but people seem to like him. I've heard he's a tough one. A man criminals don't like to mess with."
"Lays down the law with a heavy hand?"
"Yes, sir. People say he lives up to his name."
"No, his first name." Morelli squinted at Kennet, backlit by the morning sun, "Devil."
"Devil." Kennet repeated, "Good to know. Thank you Mister Morelli."
As Morelli climbed back down to his work, Kennet looked back up the hill but the cowboy was gone.
"Devil." Kennet whispered, "I guess we'll see."
"Crimes Would Pardon'd Be"