Counterfeit Money and the Old White Kitchen

 

     Russell B. Guerin

 

My daughter Nicole has offered news of a strange case of counterfeited bills showing up in her area. Two that were pictured were hundreds, and each bears a word on the obverse as well as the reverse in a foreign language; the word means non-negotiable.

 

That word has not stopped someone from trying to negotiate, and maybe being successful.

 

This brings to mind another story of counterfeit money, and the tale took place along my beloved trails on old Highway 90 and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It begins at a place long honored in the memories of some old people, like me. That place was the White Kitchen, at the intersection of 90 and 190. This was before I-10 was even thought of, the time of this story being in the early ‘40s.

 

The White Kitchen offered excellent fried chicken and a big menu besides, but for my father, it was a place to take a break when driving between New Orleans and Clermont Harbor. His choice was simple: a cup of coffee and – in his words – “one of those good hot biscuits.”

 

Such was his habit on one particular day. As he had his coffee and biscuit, a woman went to the register to pay, and offered a twenty-dollar bill. (At this point, one might contemplate the value at that time of twenty dollars; in simple words, it was a lot of money.)

 

The server at the register looked at the bill, and after examining it declared that it was counterfeit. That did not seem to have disturbed the woman, who remarked that she had never seen one before, and could she have it back? She then paid with a different bill.

 

My father having finished his usual, he went to his car about the same time as the woman entered her own. What my dad noticed then was that a man was in the woman’s car, apparently having chosen not to go inside. My dad thought that strange, connecting it in his curiosity to the incident inside with the counterfeit money.

 

Both cars left at the same time, going east toward Mississippi, the woman’s car just ahead. My father’s happened to be a ’41 Buick Century model with a powerful engine.  Still suspicious, he accelerated, wanting to get the other car’s license number. When he got closer, her car sped away. Each time he tried to get closer, the same thing happened.

 

When he arrived at Clermont, he told us the story, and for good measure, he called the FBI in Gulfport or Biloxi. Having been in the automobile business for years, he was able to give a good description of the other car, and, as I recall, a couple of digits of the license number. We thought no more of it and went about our usual wonderful things to do in Clermont Harbor, until the next day.

 

It was then that the Times-Picayune, New Orleans edition, had a lead article, its big-print heading saying, “Counterfeit Ring Broken up in Biloxi.”

 

My father had heard no more from the FBI. Was his tip instrumental in the arrest they made? We never knew for sure, but over time, it has become for me truer and truer every year.

 

I still take old 90 out of preference as against I-10. There is so much history along the old route, and besides, it is more scenic. I do sometimes think of this story as I pass the site of the White Kitchen, washed away by a hurricane years ago.

 

I wish it were still there. I too would enjoy a good biscuit now and then.