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Alexander Botts, firebug.

EARTHWORM CITY, ILLINOIS

SEPTEMBER 24, 1958 MR. ALEXANDER Borrs EARTHWORM SALES MANAGER MIDDLEBURY INN, MIDDLEBURY, VERMONT FRANTIC TELEGRAM FROM IMPORTANT CUSTOMER, MIKE SAVONAROLA OF SAVONAROLA CONSTRUCTION COMPANY, DEMANDS IMMEDIATE DELIVERY ONE EG447 DIESEL GENERATOR SET FOR NEW MULTIMILLION-DOLLAR SKI DEVELOPMENT AT DOG RIVER, VERMONT. HAVE WIRED HIM WE CAN PROMISE DELIVERY BY END OF JANUARY, BUT NOT EARLIER. PLEASE CALL ON HIM, SMOOTH HIM DOWN, AND KEEP HIM HAPPY.

GILBERT HENDERSON

PRESIDENT, EARTHWORM TRACTOR

COMPANY

Dog River Motel

Dog River, Vermont

Wednesday, September 24, 1958 DEAR HENDERSON: Your wire reached me in Middlebury this morning. I immediately drove the company car over here, arriving this afternoon. And you certainly do not know what you are talking about if you expect me to smooth down this guy Mike Savonarola and keep him happy merely by talking to him. As I walked into his office this morning, he started pounding on the desk and yelling: "Where is that generator set? I ordered it last spring. Your dealer over in Burlington promised it for September 15. It is already over a week late. I've got to have it by next Wednesday, October 1, or I'll be in trouble sure enough."

"What sort of trouble?" I asked.

"Plenty. I've been working all summer on a contract to build this Dog River Ski Development for a bunch of promoters from New York. I've been putting in a T-Bar lift, two chair lifts, a big Gondola lift, ten miles of ski trails, a motel, a lot of other buildings, a parking lot, and-"

"So I've noticed. It looks to me as if everything is practically finished."

"All but the electric plant. I've got to get that installed or I can't meet the October I deadline."

"There's a penalty clause in your contract?"

"Yes. For every day that I'm late after October 1, I'll lose 1,000."

"That's a pretty stiff penalty," I said.

"Sure. These promoters are tough customers. But they have some plausible arguments. The contract is for several million dollars. $1,000 a day is only one-tenth of 1 percent of each million."

Yes," I said, "but $1,000 a day still seems like a lot of money just for being late with an electric set. What do they say about that?"

"They say their power line comes in here through over ten miles of national forest where they are not allowed to clear a wide right of way. If just one tree falls across the wires, all the lights in the whole place will go out, all the kitchen equipment and the oil burners will be useless, and the ski tows will stop with a lot of cash customers marooned way up in the air."

"So they really need an electric set of their own for stand-by power?"

"They wouldn't dare operate without it, Mr. Botts. They insisted on a penalty clause that included the electric set. I needed the work, so I signed the contract. I thought I could get everything finished way ahead of time. But now Henderson wires me that he can't deliver the electric set until the end of January. That's four months. At $1,000 a day it adds up to more than 120,000."

"This whole thing is ridiculous," I said. "There must be some way you can get out of paying any such tremendous penalty."

"Listen, Mr. Botts, I don't want to pay even one day's penalty. This may be a big contract, but I figured the profits so close that I can't afford to lose even $1,000."

"We ought to be able to get a set somewhere," I said.

"A few days ago," said Mike, "a salesman for the Superba Tractor Company came around and offered one of his sets at less than the Earthworm. I tried to persuade the promoters to take it."

"Certainly you wouldn't want to cheat a customer by unloading any of that Superba junk on them?"

"For $120,000 I would unload anything on anybody. But they wouldn't let me substitute a Superba. They insisted on Earthworm."

"Good for them," I said.

"That's easy for you to say, Mr. Botts. You don't have to pay out $1,000 a day in penalties."

"Couldn't you maybe rent this Superba electric set and replace it with the Earthworm when the Earthworm comes?"

"I thought of that too. But the Superba man won't rent. He wants to make an outright sale."

"I thought you said the promoters won't accept a Superba."

"They won't from me, Mr. Botts. If I fail to provide an Earthworm set according to the contract, they'll take their pound of flesh. They'll withhold $1,000 for every day I'm late. And then the big bums will turn around and save their own skins by buying a Superba set and using that for standby power."

"I guess you made a mistake when you signed this contract in the first place."

"My big mistake, Mr. Botts, was when I believed your dealer. He promised delivery of that electric set by September 15-over two weeks ahead of the deadline. And now I find that your dealer is a liar."

"No," I said, "our dealer is perfectly honest. He was relying on our Production Department-which had promised delivery by September 15."

"Then the Earthworm Production Department is a bunch of liars."

"No" I said, "I have been in touch with this situation all summer. Our Production Department is not to blame. They have been held up by unexpected failures on the part of our suppliers. If you read the fine print on the order blank you must realize that

we are not legally responsible for delays due to difficulties outside our control."

"To think," said Mike sadly, "that I trusted the Earthworm Tractor Company. And now I find that all you people know is how to pass the buck."

Mike," I said, "I do not blame you for feeling discouraged. But I have good news for you. Even though the Earthworm company is not legally liable in a case like this, it has always assumed a moral obligation for the welfare of its customers. So you don't have to worry anymore. I am hereby taking charge of this entire situation. The Earthworm Tractor Company will make good any losses you may sustain because of our failure to deliver this electric set on the date that we promised."

"You mean the Earthworm company will pay $1,000 for every day that the set is late?"

Absolutely," I said.

"Would you put that in writing?"

"Certainly." I wrote out and signed a brief note covering the oral promise that I had just made.

"That's very generous of you, Mr. Botts."

"Not at all," I said. "I am going to fix up everything so that it will not cost any of us a single cent."

"But how can you do that?"

"I haven't the faintest idea. I'll have to make my plans as I go along."

Wishing Mike a cordial good afternoon, I came over here to the motel and telephoned several of our northern New England dealers. They all reported no EG447 generator sets on hand. They did not know of any secondhand sets which might be available in their territories. However, I am not discouraged.

Tomorrow I will start calling personally on these dealers to see if I can stir something up. I have a very definite feeling that somewhere, somehow, I can locate an electric set which I can deliver to the ski development in time to beat the October I deadline.

You may address me for the next few days at the Dog River Motel, Dog River, Vermont.

Yours,

ALEXANDER BOTTS

TELEGRAM

EARTHWORM CITY, ILLINOIS

SEPTEMBER 26, 1958 ALEXANDER Borrs DOG RIVER MOTEL, DOG RIVER, VERMONT IF YOU FEEL IT YOUR DUTY TO SAVE MIKE SAVONAROLA FROM HIS OWN FOLLY IN SIGNING A CONTRACT WITH AN UNREASONABLY EXCESSIVE PENALTY CLAUSE, YOU WILL HAVE TO SAVE HIM AT YOUR OWN EXPENSE. THE EARTHWORM TRACTOR COMPANY CANNOT BE RESPONSIBLE EITHER LEGALLY OR MORALLY. GILBERT HENDERSON

Dog River Motel

Dog River, Vermont Friday, September 26, 1958 DEAR HENDERSON: am somewhat amused at your timid refusal to let the Earthworm Company back up my financial promises to Mike Savonarola. As I stated in my Wednesday letter, I made these promises with complete confidence that I could fix up everything so that it will not cost any of us a single cent. I am now pleased to report that even though I have not yet solved all of the difficulties in this case, the situation is gradually becoming so hopeful that there is no longer any real cause for worry.

On Thursday-yesterday-I drove to Burlington to see our northern Vermont dealer. He is the man who promised the electric set by September 15. 1 had talked to him the previous afternoon by telephone. He had assured me he had no electric set available. However, as I never take anything for granted, I had decided to check up on him personally. And it is well that I did so.

When I reached his establishment, I headed directly for the repair shop and warehouse, where experience has taught me I am apt to discover more in the way of important facts than if I apply at the office. Outside the shop door I noticed a heavy platform truck with a large empty packing case bearing the words EARTHWORM EG447 DIESEL GENERATOR SET. Inside the shop was the set itself-big, beautiful, and brand new. The mechanic in charge told me the set had arrived several days before. He was tuning it up and planned to have it ready for delivery on Saturday.

I thanked the mechanic, entered the office and introduced myself to the dealer. Yesterday," I said, "you told me over the telephone that you had no EG447 generator set available. But I notice that you have one out in your shop."

"That's right," he said. "I have one on hand. But it's not available. It has already been sold to a man called Joshua Chandler, who runs a summer hotel with cottages at Chandler Lake, Vermont. His order was received before the Savonarola order."

"If Mr. Chandler runs a summer hotel," I said, "he has probably shut down for the season. He won't need an electric set until next year. You should get in touch with him and persuade him to make a later delivery, and let Mike Savonarola have this set right now."

"I thought of that, Mr. Botts. But before I could get hold of him, he called me up and demanded immediate delivery. He has already made his first payment, so I'll have to send him the set as promised."

"You also promised to send a set to Mike," I said.

"I know it. Mike's set was promised for September 15. But Mr. Chandler's set was promised for last June. So Chandler comes first. Incidentally, both these promises were based on definite assurances from the Earthworm Tractor Company. I hope you realize, Mr. Botts, that these slow deliveries are making it hard for me. There was a man named Simsbury who came in just a few days ago and asked about the situation on these electric sets. Very likely I am losing a sale to him as well as disappointing Mike Savonarola. But there is nothing I can do about it."

"I am not blaming you at all. I am just trying to work out a plan that will be as helpful as possible to all concerned. Do you know why Mr. Chandler is in such a hurry for his electric set?"

No.

"In that case, I am going to find out."

I took down Mr. Chandler's address and drove over to see him. His resort is a once-fashionable but now rundown wooden hotel with a dozen wooden cottages on a bluff overlooking Chandler Lake far up in the Green Mountains. The only approach was along 15 miles of rough but beautiful mountain road.

Mr. Joshua Chandler turned out to be an amiable but rather dull-witted young man, who had inherited the property from his father. He explained some rather grandiose plans for modernizing the buildings in hopes of recapturing some of the resort's former prosperity. He insisted on showing me an adjacent waterfall known as the Bridal Veil, a pool known as Diana's Bath, and a cliff, directly in front of the hotel, with a sheer drop of 100 feet into a portion of the lake which Mr. Chandler said is 200 feet deep. This last feature is known, believe it or not, as Lover's Leap.

After over an hour of tedious conversation, I gradually managed to work around to the matter of the generator set. "I was wondering," I said vaguely, "why you need this set in such a hurry when you are just starting your reconstruction operations and will have no real use for it until next year." "I don't need it for myself," said Mr. Chandler. "I have rented it out for the winter to a man by the name of Simsbury." "And what does he want with it?" "He didn't say. He just came in here a few days ago and offered me $500 if I would insist on immediate delivery and hold it here for the winter. Apparently the set comes in a weather-proof packing case, so I could leave it outdoors."

"That is correct," I said. "The Earthworm company always goes in for quality-even in packing cases. So what did you do?"

"I signed a letter contract agreeing to his proposition. He gave me the $500 in cash and said he would be back later to check up."

"Just who is this Mr. Simsbury?"

"I don't know. I never saw him before. His address is 227 Vermont Avenue in Burlington."

"This is all very interesting," I said. "If I offered you $1,000 would you rent the electric set to me instead of to Mr. Simsbury?"

"That would be fine. But I have already signed this agreement. And I have taken the $500. So I would be dishonest to back out. You wouldn't want me to do anything dishonest, would you, Mr. Botts?"

"Certainly not," I said. "But if I can persuade Mr. Simsbury to cancel the agreement, I take it you would rent to me?"

"Of course."

"Thank you," I said. "I will now see if I can find Mr. Simsbury."

I drove to 227 Vermont Avenue in Burlington and found a large building with a sign, SUPERBA AGENCY-TRACTORS AND ELECTRIC SETS. I walked in, stated that I was interested in getting hold of a diesel electric set, and asked for Mr. Simsbury.

I was told that he is a salesman who had recently joined the Superba organization and that he was out of town on important business. He had planned to visit both Mr. Joshua Chandler at Chandler Lake and Mr. Mike Savonarola at Dog River. I walked out and drove back here to the Dog River Motel. I had learned everything I needed to know. The entire sordid plot is now revealed in all its shabby dishonesty. Mr. Simsbury had first checked that Mr. Chandler's set is the only one available in the territory. Then he had paid out $500 to tie it up for the rest of the winter. This, he obviously hoped, would make it possible for him to unload onto the Dog River Ski Development one of his miserable Superba monstrosities.

Under the circumstances most men would have been discouraged. But not Alexander Botts. Now that I understand the facts, I am in a position to plan a course of action. Legally, Mr. Simsbury has won. But morally I am in the right. I cannot permit this scheming reptile to block a perfectly legitimate sale and cheat a customer by selling him low-grade merchandise.

By fair means or foul, I am going to get possession of that set and deliver it to the Dog River Ski Development-thus saving Mike from outrageous penalty payments, and saving the ski people from being stuck with an inferior article. You can always trust me to do what is right.

Yours,

ALEXANDER BOTTS

EARTHWORM TRACTOR

COMPANY EARTHWORM CITY, ILLINOIS

OFFICE OF

GiLBERT HENDERSON,

PRESIDENT

Monday, Sept. 29, 1958 DEAR BOTTS: When I read your letter this morning I was naturally worried by your threat to get possession of that electric set "by fair means or foul." But I was not prepared for the truly disastrous results of your reckless action. After finishing your letter I picked up a copy of the Earthworm City Daily Gazette and discovered the following headline: BOTTS LOSES GENERATOR IN LAKE, SAYS COMPANY WILL PAY.

The story under the headline is so incredible I can hardly believe that even you could be guilty of such behavior. I will refrain from saying what I think of the kind of man who would light a match to investigate a gasoline leak, and then push a valuable piece of machinery into a lake 200 feet deep. I want to make it plain, however, that under no circumstances will the Earthworm company pay for your stupid blunder. And I call your attention once more to my previous letter in which I warned you that the Earthworm company will not make good on any penalty payments incurred by Mike Savonarola.

Yours,

GILBERT HENDERSON

"Alexander Botts, Firebug" will be

concluded in the next issue.
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Title Annotation:short story; Part 1
Author:Upson, William Hazlett
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1991
Words:2906
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