A Miserable Business
by Ellis Parker Butler
I want to complain of one of the most outrageous affairs that has ever happened to me and ask if something cannot be done by the government or somebody to make such things impossible. I'll say right now, that if something is not done about such things mighty soon a lot of us are going to get mad and leave this country. The attitude of the laboring man is getting to be absolutely intolerable.
Last June my grandfather died and left me $86,000 and four cases of 1839 one hundred and six proof Old Mellow Meadow whiskey that his father had bought and left to him, and I had to receive it. A truck backed up at my door and dumped it, and before I knew what it was my man had put it in the cellar. When I came home it was there, and it is there now. The whiskey, I mean. I put the money in the bank.
When I came home and found that there were four cases of whiskey in my cellar I was as mad as hops. Naturally. Nobody wants the stuff. I fired my man without a recommendation, and I called up the employment agency that had supplied him to me and gave it hail Columbia for sending me such a nincompoop.
For two months I did my best to give that whiskey to my friends and acquaintances. I offered it to them by the bottle, and by the case, and by the lot, and offered to pay cartage on it, but no one would take it. You know how men are about whiskey now; they would not accept a quart of old rye or mellow bourbon or tasty Scotch or smoky Irish if you threw in a ten-year full-paid lease on a Riverside Drive apartment, with every room sunny and a doorman with gilt braid. It was hopeless. No one would take even a pint of the whiskey.
Then I tried to hire someone to take it away. I tried the garbage man and the ash man and the whole bunch of junk men, and offered them twenty dollars a case to haul the whiskey away, but they laughed at me. They said that if they started in hauling whiskey away they would never be able to do anything else -- everybody was coaxing them to haul away whiskey and brandy and gin and wine, and to dump it somewhere on a back lot or into the ocean. One hundred dollars a case would not tempt them.
I went to a stonemason and asked him if he would come to my house and dig a pit and bury the whiskey and build a solid stone and concrete wall around it with a stone and concrete top, so the whiskey would be everlastingly hidden. He said he would. He said he guessed he might get around to it in about eight years and eleven months.
I saw, then, that there was only one way in which I could get rid of the whiskey. I would have to get a crook to steal it. I went to police headquarters and asked for the names of some of the best burglars then operating in Westcote and in our part of Long Island. They asked me what I wanted a burglar for, and I said I wanted my house burglarized, and the police told me that that might be arranged, possibly. Then they asked me how large my diamonds were, and how many there were.
"Diamonds!" I exclaimed. "Do I have to have diamonds?"
"Of course. And set in platinum, too. You can't get a first-class burglar to burgle diamonds that are set in cheap stuff like gold any more. If you will furnish a sworn statement that all your diamonds are three carat or larger, absolutely pure, and set in platinum, we will see what we can do. Otherwise it would be a waste of time to try to get a first-class burglar to do a job for you."
"How about a second-class burglar?"
"They are all overworked now too," I was told. "Some of the very wealthiest families on Long Island have had applications for second-class burglars on file here for over two years, and are still waiting. We'll put down your name, if you say so, but you will have to take your turn at the end of the list. You may get a burglar of the second-class to do the job for you by 1927."
"How about a fifth-grade burglar; or a twenty-fifth grade," I asked. "I don't care what grade he is as long as I get the job done."
They looked at their register.
"Well," they said, "there's old Bill Skooks. You might get Bill Skooks. Bill has only one leg and he is paralyzed in both arms to an extent and you'll probably have to help him some -- open a window for him and help haul him in through the window and carry out the loot for him -- but you might get Bill if you pay him enough."
So I took Bill Skooks's address and went to see him. I was lucky to catch him just as he was going out for the afternoon air in his Rolls-Royce, but he told his chauffeur to wait, and I told him I had a job I wanted done in the way of burglary and house-breaking.
"Well, that's my business, all right," he said. "I'm pretty well dated up, but I'll see what I can do."
He pulled out a memorandum book and went over the pages.
"Pshaw!" he said. "I'd like to accommodate you, but the first open date I've got is June 16, 1923. I'll put you down for then, if you say so, and do the job for you that night if it is a nice night and no rain. It'll cost you the regular Burglar Union wages. What say?"
"All right," I said. "It is the best I can do, I guess. I'll engage you."
"Good enough!" he said. "What is it you want stole?"
"Four cases of fine old 1839 Mellow Meadow whiskey, that is as smooth as velvet and as fragrant as roses. When you put a drop on your tongue it fills your mouth with bliss and the nectar of Olympus is stale and dead in comparison."
Bill Skooks closed his notebook with a snap.
"Whiskey, hey?" he said with a sneer. "Nothin' doin'! Drive on, Mike; I've wasted too much time already with this poor coot."
What I want to know is what I can do to get rid of that whiskey. I can't give it away or get anyone to drink it, and I can't get any one to haul it to the dump, or to steal it. What I want to know is whether there is, somewhere, some benevolent person who will accept four cases of 1839 one hundred and six proof Old Mellow Meadow whiskey as a gift, if I throw in the $86,000 my grandfather left me as a bonus?
My address is Cell 38, Dr. Bascomb's Private Sanatorium for the Incurably Insane, Westcote, Long Island.