Archie was a gangster. He spent six years in a New York City orphanage. At fourteen he ran away and joined the circus. By sixteen he was working for a man who ran a speakeasy. At eighteen he was running rum in from Newfoundland and Saint-Pierre & Miquelon. When he was twenty-two he ran the bootleg operation for Jimmy ‘One-Eye’ O’Flanagan. Archie travelled all over the country and into Canada making sure Jimmy’s stuff was good. There was no point in doing anything, even selling illegal booze, if it wasn’t done well. Archie gained a reputation for knowing the good stuff from the crap cut with wood alcohol and god knows what. He also had a reputation for being intimidating but not violent. A rare gift in this world of crazed killers. At the ripe old age of twenty-three Archie was invited to oversee Jack Dragna’s bootleg operation in Los Angeles. Archie couldn’t refuse. In the first place no one refused an offer from Dragna. And, in the second place, who wouldn’t trade the slush and damp of a New York winter for Los Angeles’ sand and sun? Archie was in charge of the operation for two years. Once Prohibition ended Archie just moved into a different racket – illegal gambling. He worked as a pit boss for Nola Hahn at the Continental. Nola new what he was doing and Archie remained comfortably remunerated. The Depression certainly hadn’t reached Hollywood. Neither had the law. It was as hard to find an honest official in LA as it was to find a starlet with her natural hair colour. By 1937 the tide was beginning to shift. Judge [Wardlaw?] was on the war path and he was looking to clean up the city. IN 1938 Nola Hahn took his games north to a desert town in Nevada. In February of the same year Archie packed up his car with his clothes, about fifty thousand in cash and headed north. As Archie Edward Hewitt was a known criminal he had a friend make up some documents for Alexander Edwin Hedges who was a legitimate business man. Not certain where he was going he just headed north. He didn’t think the authorities from LA would be after him. He wasn’t wanted for violent crimes and the reformers seemed happy to simply drive the gangsters to Las Vegas. Archie decided he would start fresh. He wanted to go to a place where no body knew him, where the sun shone most of the year, where he could live a quiet, legitimate life. By the time he had this all sorted our he was in Montana. He’d heard from his rum running pals that Saskatchewan was a friendly, quiet place. With Prohibition over for the past five years the province was even quieter. Archie was also pretty sure that if anyone from California was looking for him the last place they’d want to come was Canada, let alone a place called Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He figured he’d just buy a fur coat and find ways to stay indoors in the winter. He arrive in Saskatoon on a crisp day at the beginning of March 1938. He could tell it would be a pretty town once the snow melted and the grass and trees greened. She had a wider river meandering through her with picturesque arched bridges spanning the river’s banks. There was a magnificent brick castle on the river’s west bank right in the middle of town. He later found out it was a swanky hotel – the Bessborough. He drove across the Broadway Bridge and up Broadway Avenue. The city was certainly still suffering the Depression, but the cafes and laundries and drugstores were still doing business. Archie – Alex, parked on a side street and went into the Red Robin Café. A buxom blonde in her mid forties brought him a menu and poured his coffee. She smiled and let him know she’d be right back to take his order. He ordered a hot turkey sandwich, a slice of berry pie and some more coffee. When his bill arrived he asked the waitress where he could find a paper as he was looking for work and a place to stay. The waitress told him to call her Betty and then directed him across the street to McPhee’s Drug Store. Mr. McPhee was often looking for someone to help in the shops and had some rooms above it. If that didn’t work out he could buy the local paper at the drugstore. He left Ruth a generous tip. Not too generous, though, he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. He walked over to McPhee’s, holding the door for two young women as they left the store. Having lived in Los Angeles for seven years Archie had seen a lot of beautiful women and he’d been with several of them. Some how they all paled in comparison to the lovely brunette who had just brushed by him. He tipped his hat toward the women. The redhead turned and giggled. The brunette simply sized him up with a knowing smile on her lips. He moved through the store, past the candy counter and the magazine racks to the druggist’s counter at the back. He rang the little bell and an older gentleman came out of a back room.
“How can I help you, sir?” Archie explained that he’d just arrived and was looking for work and a room. Mr. McPhee seemed puzzled, “Most young men aren’t coming to Saskatoon looking for work these days. What do you do, son?” Archie told the old man he knew accounting and had been in purchasing and sales for an operation in California. McPhee looked him straight in the eye, “Bootlegger and gangster?” Archie – Alex, blinked, “Yes, sir.” McPhee pointed behind himself to the door. “Rooms are upstairs. I expect you to stock shelves, unload boxes and keep the place secure nights. We don’t have much trouble, but sometimes desperate folks do desperate things. I’ve had a few boys break in looking to steal drugs to sell or take. Once a couple of men tried to walk off with the safe! Ha!” he barked, “they hadn’t dragged it as the back door before my son was down the stairs pointing the shotgun at them. Mind you, none of these are bad folks, but things have been tight around here. Most people know I’m happy to give a few bucks for a few hours of stocking shelves or sweeping up. I’ve been very fortunate since this Depression started. Now, it doesn’t pay much, ten dollars a week. But so long as you’re here nights I won’t charge you for the rooms. And, you’re welcome to Sunday dinner with me and my family. We’re just a few blocks south on Eastlake Avenue. My daughter, Lillian, is an excellent cook. You probably saw her leaving here for school. What she sees in that Sadie I’ll never know! That red head of hers is full of fluff! Anyway, if you accept my terms you’re welcome to move in right away.”
Archie agreed on the spot. McPhee was a clearly a clever and worldly man. He hadn’t flinched upon discovering his potential tenant had been a gangster. If the lovely Lillian McPhee was as clever and fearless as her father she was definitely worth pursuing.