By Gregory Clark, March 11, 1922. Illustration by E. G. Dinsmore.
This is the story of six bottles of whiskey.
Harry, the hero, was one of those upright, fearless young men who never have liquor in their possession but who find a manly pride in letting all their office acquaintances and not-too-Intimate friends assume that they had salted down a fifty year stock in 1920.
He was the kind of fellow who never took a drink except when among strangers. His friends knew he didn’t like it and that he was no gay dog. But Harry loved to toss off a drink whenever it created on strangers the impression of a man-about-town.
And on those rare occasions when he did take drink, Harry would hasten around a sort of circuit of people he wanted to impress before the smell wore off. When they, scenting the breath that Harry was careful not to conceal from them, jocularly said –
“Aha! Where do you get it?”
Harry would blush deprecatingly and say – “Oh, just a little business drink – you know.”
As if he had been dickering with those princes of finance who are popularly supposed to keep decanters on their desks.
Well, Harry got himself into a jam.
The reputation he had accumulated as a devil of a fellow with a cellar could not but work him ill.
A bunch of the executives of the sister company in the States came up on a visit to the big Canadian plant in Toronto. And Harry’s boss called him in and said:
“Now, Harry, these boys will want a little fun. But you know my house – strictly prohibition. So I was wondering if you could stage a little party up at that well-oiled bachelor apartment of yours, eh?”
And the boss winked jovially.
Now Harry should have sidestepped right there. He could have said his stock had run out; that he had been hitting it too hard; or some similar excuse that would have been quite sufficiently man-about-townish.
But to have the boss approach him thus intimately – the president! – and wink and chuckle.
It was too much for Harry.
“Certainly, sir! De-lighted! How many will there be?”
“Well,” said the boss. “There’s five of them from the other side, and a couple more of the boys from the office, and us; that’s eight. Tonight. Can you handle us?”
“Oh, sure!” said Harry. “Tickled to death, sir.”
“That’s the boy! Have dinner at the hotel with us, then, and we’ll all drive up to your flat after.”
“Right,” said Harry, man-about-town.
And he went to his own desk outside and sat down with a buzzing head to figure out how he’d get the means for the boss’s “party.”
After about ten minutes’ thought, he felt he should go out into the fresh air. He walked up one side of Yonge street and down the other, and finally decided to telephone all the people he had got a drink from the past month or two, and try them for a half-dozen bottles.
Dropping into a soda fountain, he sat down and commenced a list.
Two names he got at once. And then no more! Two! Surely there were more. He racked his brains, but all he could recall were numerous discussions of booze, but no material evidences of it.
In the pay ‘phone booth, Harry called up the two who had actually given him drinks in the near past. Both replied in the negative.
Harry then decided he would have to disclose himself to others as a man who had no cellar. It was a sore trial. He hated to abandon his pose. But he called up eight in a row, eight bright young men-about-town – and drew blanks with all.
Harry began to wonder if they were all bluffers like himself.
Then he remembered a pimply-faced lad in the shipping department who boasted a wide acquaintance with bootleggers. Hurrying to the office, Harry went back and sought this worthy out and said –
“Say, give me the address of a good bootlegger, on the q.t., will you?”
“Say, by golly, this is too bad!” said the pimply-faced one, disgustedly. “But all my friends have been pinched. This is too bad. It’s just at the moment – perhaps some other time -“
Harry looked at his watch. Three p.m. He hastened out to the street again.
It was about 5 p.m. that it began to dawn on Harry that Toronto was perhaps, after all, a prohibition city. At noon that day, Toronto had been billowing in booze, if you could believe everybody. At 5 p.m. it was as dry as a pine cone!
So he ‘phoned the boss to say that a sudden emergency would prevent him from dining with the party, but that he would be up at his apartment ready to welcome them at eight o’clock.
“Right,” said the boss.
Then Harry hurried home to the fashionable three-roomed bachelor apartment in a select apartment house to telephone to doctors.
Doctors could only produce one bottle. But one was better than none.
First he called a doctor who was also a brother-in-law. Over his limit! Next a doctor who was a member of Harry’s canoe club. Sold out! Then three doctors in a row who had attended him at various stages from infancy up. All sold out.
He called up the canoe club. Perhaps some of the boys would be hanging around. There were three, two of whom had no end of liquor ordinarily, if you could judge by the conversation, but were just out, and didn’t know where their next crock was coming from, at the moment.
Harry felt himself losing weight.
Now we must pause to introduce the villain.
Harry’s telephone was on the wall in his apartment hallway.
Six feet along the hall was the dumb-waiter.
The dumb-waiter door was open.
In the bachelor flat above a lonely gentleman was getting himself a lonely supper.
He opened his door to the dumb-waiter shaft to see if the grocer had sent the sardines. And then he overheard Harry in his pathetic quest of hooch.
The lonely gentleman listened with interest. He kept on listening, as he ate a quiet repast of sardines and a bottle of milk.
Harry’s telephone bell rang.
He leaped from the chair where he sat in anguish, and answered.
It was the pimply-faced lad in the shipping room.
“Say,” he said, “I can get you some of that goods you was asking about –“
“Can you?” Harry shouted. “Good!”
“How much did you want?”
“Oh, six bottles,” said Harry.
“All right. A fellow will bring them up to you to-night.”
“Look,” said Harry. “I must have them before eight o’clock. Before eight, sure!”
“All right,” said the pimply one.
Upstairs, the lonely gentleman withdrew his head out of the dark dumb-waiter, softly closed the door, and went over to his telephone.
At eight o’clock the boss, accompanied by the five gentlemen from over the border and two of the senior men of the local office, arrived gladly and well-fed at Harry’s apartment.
And Harry was modestly beaming.
He helped them dispose of their coats, accepted their amiable, brotherly jests – even the boss’s – and then drew aside the green curtain that hid the alcove which was his bachelor bedroom.
And there on the bed in a row lay six gleaming amber bottles.
The excitement and whooping had barely died down, and the first cork had scarcely opened the musical program of the evening, when there came a loud, peremptory knock on the door.
The bottle was instantly recorked and hid in the waste basket. The curtain of the alcove was re-drawn. And Harry opened the door.
Two large, stern men were standing without.
“Excuse me!” said the foremost, stepping solemnly into the hushed, crowded little room. His companion followed.
They sniffed the air.
“Excuse me,” said the leader again. In a sepulchral voice. And he walked past the eight frozen gentlemen, pulled aside the curtain of the alcove, and stood in a dramatic posture, gazing at the five bottles on the bed.
“Bill,” he said, “take those.”
“Gentlemen,” he said, turning mournfully to the company, “there is one more bottle. Produce it!”
“But,” cried the boss, who was first to regain his voice, “what do you mean? This is a private house! Can’t a man give his friends a drink?”
“Gentlemen,” said the stranger sadly, “this Is bootleg liquor.”
“Go on!” cried several together, the boss loudly, Harry tremulously.
“Gents,” continued the severe big stranger, “this liquor was delivered to this apartment not ten minutes ago.”
All turned to Harry for denial; and there he stood, his head down, the picture of guilt and dejection.
“Come, gents,” said the stranger. “The other bottle.”
And the boss himself fished it out of the waste basket.
As the big man stood at the door, he said to Harry:
“I won’t take you along. I have your name and address. I can get you if I need you.”
And he closed the door.
The party lasted about ten minutes longer. The boss’s nerves were shaken.
“What did you want to get bootleg stuff for?” he demanded angrily of Harry. “I thought you had a supply of your own. You can’t tell where this thing’ll end now –“
He and his seven friends departed in an air of strained joviality about 8.30 p.m., and left Harry all alone, to lie on his bachelor bed and cuss.
Later in the evening, through the fog of remorse and vain regrets, Harry found time to wonder what all the racket was about on the floor above.
But the lonely gentleman in the flat above was no longer lonely. He had six friends in with him. And six bottles of amber hue stood upon his bachelor table.
Two of his guests were big men.
One of these was saying, as he gripped a glass with one hand and dabbed a handkerchief to his tearful eyes —
“But the fun of it was, we never mentioned the word ‘police’ once; did we, Bill? We just walked in and glared around. And there they stood – nine of ’em – and took it for granted!
“‘An, gents.’, I says, ‘If you please, the sixth bottle!'”
Editor’s Note: A “gay dog” is slang for a man given to self-indulgence.